Monday, February 16, 2015

My Shelter in the Storm


For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble....Psalm 27:5a

I grew up in West Texas and thus weathered many fearsome, awe-inspiring thunderstorms. I must say, though, that even those were tame in comparison to what we experience here in our little corner of southern Africa.

A couple of days ago I ceased all labor to hold my terrified and shivering little dachshund mix in my lap during one such storm. To be honest, I was feeling much the same—not because of the storm outside my window, but because of the internal one raging in my mind and heart. I felt bombarded from all directions with needs of others demanding my attention, and the feelings of inadequacy began to weigh me down. I knew I desperately needed time away with my Father, to rest in His arms.

While I was sitting there pondering these things and crying out to my Abba, He gave me a precious gift—a simple reminder that He is my shelter and He will always take care of me. I watched as a lone bird who had obviously been caught in the storm finally found refuge in a short but leafy bush in front of my window. As I continued to watch through the storm, he remained securely lodged somewhere in the bowels of the leaves where I couldn't see him at all. But as soon as the sun reappeared, he flew safely away to do whatever he was supposed to be doing that afternoon.

Yes my Lord, you are my shelter in the storm—always, no matter what. When I am weak; you are my strength and my fortress and my strong tower, and you will never leave me nor forsake me. As you cared for that little brown bird, you care for me--only much more so, more than I can imagine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When Words Are Not Enough


When you are leaving elderly sick parents behind for a year and all you have to give are hugs and tears

When a friend pours her heart out to you about the trauma of caring for a depressed and addicted child

When a young relative's health has failed and she is in chronic pain and perpetual poverty

When a friend suddenly becomes a widow after over 40 years of a happy marriage

When someone you are discipling turns away from God

When a ministry partner's only living relative dies at a young age due to AIDS


And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. “I, I am he who comforted you....” Isaiah 51:11-12a

When anxiety was deep within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. Psalms 94:19

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion, “says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

...”Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, an death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3b-4
















Monday, December 8, 2014

Culture Shock

I am a hugger, one of those annoying people who gushes and loves everyone and exuberantly shows it whether or not the recipient wants my affection or not. I don't do it on purpose, it's just an extension of my personality and happens spontaneously, often even embarrassing myself.

Since we've been in Africa, I've become even more aware of this propensity in myself, and the fact that not everyone appreciates my enthusiastic greetings. People in Swaziland and South Africa are typically far more reserved than most of us from American culture. This is, of course, a broad generalization, but still an overarching phenomenon we experience. I have had to really learn to curb my natural ardor, which is considered quite rude here. Even Americans less passionate than I are generally perceived as pushy and forward in this part of the world.

So imagine my shock during my recent brief sojourn back to the U.S. I found myself on the receiving end of typical American assertive and effusive greetings. I was profusely hugged by many strangers, asked very personal questions without much introduction at all, and generally had what I now consider my "personal space" violated over and over again by very wonderful and well-meaning people, who were just acting as they have learned growing up in the U.S.

It is I who have changed, through assimilation and acculturation in my new African home. I came to the painful realization that those were the very behaviors I all too often had inflicted on my African brothers and sisters. It was a priceless lesson to me about how very important it is for me to be even more careful and more respectful of cultural norms here, and to never assume that my ways are best!

Most of all, it was a poignant reminder again of my Lord Jesus Christ leaving His perfect Heavenly home to come to earth, with all it's shocking and obtrusive sights, sounds, smells, presumptuous behaviors, rude people, and every other discomfort in a fallen world. And He did it because He loves me! Humbled and grateful once again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Grace is Sufficient

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
One month ago I set out excitedly for a prayer conference in the US. Several friends had made generous donations so I could go, and I was determined to honor their generosity by being a blessing in every way I could while I was there.

My plans came to a head-on collision with reality when less than a full day after the conference started, I became so sick I could barely crawl out of bed. Instead of being a blessing, I was completely reliant on God's grace, and that of my friends. To make matters worse, because of the overblown fears of Ebola, especially in Dallas where the conference was held, I was afraid for many to know about my illness for fear of ruining the whole conference for 1,200 + attendees. I knew my symptoms didn't match those of Ebola, but the climate was such that I knew many would worry unnecessarily.
 
Instead of being a blessing, I became a burden to those friends I knew I could trust with news of my illness. Not only was I physically debilitated (I later found out I'd somehow become host to intestinal parasites, causing fever, severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, and disorientation) but experienced an overwhelming spiritual attack as well. Fear, and an oppressive dark sense of gloom settled on my like a dark shroud when I was alone there in my hotel room until my prayer warrior roommate came to pray scripture after scripture over me, chasing the darkness away.

My disappointment was huge and the illness remained for over a week until I got on the proper medications. I have spent weeks trying to sort through my feelings of frustration, discouragement, and disillusionment. Those old questions of “why, Lord” surfaced, questions I thought I'd long ago put to rest in my joyous acceptance of God's sovereignty and goodness and perfect plans.

God is ALWAYS faithful, and so patient with me. In my heart cry to Him to understand why He allowed such weakness in me when I wanted to serve Him with all of my might, He reminded me of one of my favorite verses, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (see above).

I realized once again that I too often want to rely on my strength rather than His. It was in His mercy that He allowed me to see my desperate need for Him, and then to experience His abundant provision through my friends.

It started with my dinner companion who charitably helped me to my room and prayed over me and took care of my immediate physical needs. She in turn located my roommate who missed a great deal of the conference to unselfishly take care of my exhaustive demands. Suffice to say I'm a needy patient. Once she had to leave to catch her flight, it was no coincidence that He had preordained childhood, high school, and college buddies who lived in the Dallas area to come visit me, and the timing of the arrival of each was uncanny. Just as one had to leave, it was time for the next to arrive. I was never alone for more than a couple of minutes, and each one in turn exhibited such tender loving care. Last but not least, He'd wisely scheduled another dear friend to fly all the way back to South Africa with me, because without her patient and steady help I'd never have been able to travel. Finally, I was home in the arms of my husband, who takes his job of taking care of me very seriously.

It is only now, in hindsight, that I can sincerely say “thank you, Lord” for never leaving me nor forsaking me, and for sending so many to take care of me. It is only now that I can get past my own self-indulgent pity party over really such a silly matter considering the huge amount of true suffering in the world. And it is now that I am on my knees praising God for my weakness so that I may boast in His strength, which never, ever fails. Forgive me Father for my foolish pride. May all the glory and honor be Yours alone.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Under His Wings

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalms 36:7
 
 
We were recently driving away from the care point where I'd just led a woman's Bible study. The care point consists of some classrooms and an outdoor kitchen, and an outhouse (called a long drop here!) all surrounded by a heavy chicken wire fence. As we pulled away, we noticed some baby chicks crossing the dirt road in front of us. It was a warm day and our windows were rolled down, so the next thing we noticed was the mother hen making horrible noises, calling frantically to her baby chicks to come back to her. She was stuck inside the fence and somehow they'd gotten out. It broke my heart to see her frenetic attempts to jump over or somehow claw through the fence to reach her babies and guide them back to safety under her protective wings. I am sure she hurt herself in the efforts, but she obviously was impervious to the pain and only wanted to get to her wayward chicks to save them. Immediately the picture sprang to my mind of the Father, and his desperate, distraught attempts to call us back when we have gone astray. He would do anything, at great personal price, to bring us back under His tender loving care. In fact, he even gave His own son's life to do so. I can't get the picture of that poor chicken out of my mind, and I sure hope she was able to somehow get to her young ones and shepherd them to safety. More than that, I'll never forget the price Jesus paid to shepherd me back to a relationship with my holy Father and eternal life with Him.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"You Speak My Language"

My husband and I were recently invited at the very last moment (actually AFTER the event was supposed to have started!) to a prayer meeting in one of the communities in which we serve. The pastor who invited us is a gentle giant of a man, well-respected in the community, and precious to us for his huge heart for those he serves.

We were rushed to the meeting, which was taking place under a tent, and ceremoniously but hurriedly escorted to our seats near the front so the proceedings could start. I am a naturally shy person, and maybe you can imagine my enormous discomfort at having every trained on us, due partly to our late arrival, but most of all to the fact that we were glaringly and obviously out of place. We were white people in an area of South Africa where few white people venture. I imagined all sorts of hostility towards the honor being bestowed on us as special guests, but had no time to dwell on that because no sooner had we been seated than the pastors were asked to stand, and apparently I was to be counted in that number. Once again, I felt all eyes on me. Next, we were each called forward, one by one, to greet the crowd of about 80 people and instructed to introduce ourselves.
 
Everything was conducted in siSwati, because that is their language. I was very thankful to have my young and gifted interpreter sitting next to me to help me with the rough spots. But more than that, I was thankful for the years of diligently practicing and learning siSwati, not only so that I could follow along with most of the speeches, but more importantly because I was able to confidently stride forward and take the mic, and joyfully greet the crowd in formal siSwati, and to introduce myself in their language. Pastor Daniel was positively beaming like a proud parent as the entire gathering erupted into spontaneous and delighted applause at my efforts.

Several hours and buckets of sweat later (it was unmercifully hot under the canopy), the meeting was concluded. The change in our reception by the others was sweet—everyone rushed to greet us (in animated siSwati!), to shake our hands, and to give us warm hugs. One of the last people we said goodbye to was Pastor Daniel, who simply said, with tears in his eyes, “You speak my language.”
 
YES, dear pastor, because God has put a supernatural love in my heart for your people. I have made that effort because of Jesus and His great love. May we all have His compassion, and make the effort to understand each other, not just in diverse spoken languages, but in diverse races, cultures, families, socioeconomic conditions, trials, joys...even and especially when it is uncomfortable. This is the antithesis of political correctness that says anything is okay. This is the love of Jesus shining through to change hearts and lives through love--for His glory and for His Kingdom!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Long Life


That you may fear the LORD your God...by keeping all his statues and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Deuteronomy 6:2

Today, as we celebrate my husband's 56th birthday, I am reflecting on life and health. Many well-meaning friends and family members have inquired about whether or not we are worried about the recent Ebola outbreak since we live in Africa. In fact, even last year a precious Christian sister asked if I was “willing to sacrifice my health” by working so hard here.

When we were back in the US for the 2013-14 holiday season I was shocked at how health-obsessed our fellow Americans have become. Of course we take precautions, and try to eat right and get enough exercise. But we didn't move to the area of the world with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis for our health. And it is definitely a little harder here to find gluten-free products, or heck, even whole wheat anything. Malaria, deadly snakes, and a murder rate roughly six times higher than it is in the USA are only some of the challenges we face here, so I am just thankful for clean drinking water and three meals a day. We are not ignorant or foolhardy; neither are we heroes. We are simply doing our flawed best to be Jesus followers.

Matthew 10: 38-39 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Just last week a friend in the US died unexpectedly. We are mourning his loss. His death is a poignant reminder of something I prefer to face head-on. We are all going to die. I'd rather focus on fearing the Lord and living passionately for Him than obsessing over my own life. I feel safer right in the center of His will than anywhere else. I trust Him and His promises.

Exodus 15:26 If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.

Psalm 91:16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.

Call me crazy, but I pray we all become more concerned about our dying brothers and sisters worldwide, and being Jesus' compassionate hands and feet to those who are suffering. John Donne's classic poem speaks more eloquently that I ever will in expressing my heart.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.