Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My Hiding Place

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
Psalm 119:114
As I was waiting for the ladies who attend our regular afternoon Bible study session in small rural church on a hillside, I noticed with some trepidation the dark clouds rolling in. My husband and I were about an hour away from home, and still had to travel over dirt roads, through hostile townships, before it got dark.
My misgivings gave way as I greeted each precious eager face and hugged each weary body while the ladies trouped in having walked a ways to reach our meeting destination. Due to the obviously encroaching storm, I asked them if they wanted to continue or just go home before the rain began. These dear ones are so hungry for God's Word that they insisted I began teaching, so I started in on the story of Jezebel, a suitably dark story that seemed to match the rapidly increasing darkness outside.
It wasn't long before strong winds began gusting through the windows, which have no panes, so we were defenseless against the onslaught. I was ready to give up, but my resourceful sisters simply picked up their battered plastic chairs and moved them away from the windows to a more sheltered area of the small room. We resolutely carried on. Then the rains began. We knew immediately because the roof is made of corrugated metal, and the noise was deafening. And we were all getting wet from the many holes where the metal pieces did not completely meet.
Once again, I thought to myself, “Surely they will give up now and I can get home to my nice safe house.” I suggested we close quickly in prayer and continue with the lesson the following week. One particularly strong and sassy granny pointed to the “door” (just the large open hole where a door might someday be) at the tempest, and said, “Where will you go?” I certainly saw her wisdom—it was not prudent to venture outside even a step at that moment! So we moved our chairs as closely together as possible so we could hear each other shout, and to avoid the worst of the incessantly dripping from above us.
As I surrendered my will (yet again!) to the Lord's, I began to relish the adventure, and the joy of persevering against difficult odds, to share God's precious and holy Word together. And hallelujah we finished! And we had a lively and wonderful discussion, and a time of heartfelt prayer afterward. By the time we adjourned, the rain had slowed to a trickle, the thunder was just a distant booming, and the winds had died down to a gentle breeze. What a priceless reminder that He is with us through the storm, and that being in the center of His will is the very safest place to be, no matter the external circumstances.
Yes, John and I made it safely home before a glorious sunset!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fire in the belly

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Luke 6:29

I have recently become aware of a treasure of an African parable. Ostensibly, I minister to women here in South Africa through Bible studies and prayer groups, but the reality is I learn far more from them than they learn from me. In one of our groups we were discussing how to handle it when someone hurts us, when one of the ladies shared this powerful illustration commonly taught in their culture.

The analogy is that turning the other cheek, or overlooking an offense, is akin to swallowing a very hot chile pepper that burns all the way down into your stomach. It is painful, but there, in the fire in your belly, is where the glory of God resides.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

My South African sisters humble me with their obedience in forgiveness. Following the sacrificial example of their hero, Nelson Mandela, they have forgiven decades of the horrors of Apartheid here in South Africa. More than that, though, they follow the example of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who when being crucified on the cross to save us from our sins, lovingly said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
May the fire burn in my belly for your glory my Lord.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Press Forward

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.
Hosea 6:3

Typically I prefer warm fuzzy mammals from the animal kingdom, but the ungainly, aptly but repugnantly named dung beetle has gained my admiration. Its sheer size caught my eye the first time I saw one bumbling around the home of my hostess. In it's own grotesque way, it's kind of cute. What really won me over though was spending one afternoon waiting (always waiting here in Africa!) for others to finish their business and stumbling across a determined dung beetle rolling it's ball of dung uphill, over rocks, and finally depositing the precious load where apparently my little friend thought it belonged.

We sing a song in church with the lyrics, “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up.” I could just imagine the tencious creature humming the lyrics in mumbly beetle language under it's breath as it toiled away under the hot African sun. God gave us His beautiful creation to lead us to and teach us about Him. I am thankful for the unattractive but instructive dung beetle.

How much more have I learned from my beautiful African brothers and sisters. “Chubekele phambili” means “press forward” in siSwati. I have been so humbled, so convicted, and so blessed as I witness them pursuing the Lord, and trusing Him, over many mountains and through many trials. Help me Lord to uncomplaininly, trustingly, faithfully follow their shining example as we all follow YOUR example pressing forward with your cross towards Golgotha, and then to eternal glory.

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.