Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Taste of God

One day a while back I was trying to put into words the way that God has been working in my heart.

I was trying to express the joy and freedom yet fear and humility. I was trying to explain how I was a slave to Christ and how freeing that was. I couldn't put into words how I was (am) learning to fear God and stand in awe of His power, yet come boldly before Him as His child... a child of the Creator of the Universe!

The look on this person's face was making it painfully evident that I wasn't doing a very good job of explaining myself. I ended the conversation with something lame like, "I don't really know how to explain it. It's just amazing."

Not long after that, I heard a Christian radio announcer discussing Psalm 34:8:

"Taste and see that the LORD is good.
How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!"

That was it! Of course I couldn't explain adequately the transformation taking place in my heart on a daily basis. Each person has to taste it for themself!

I started thinking about this analogy of "tasting". It's interesting that of our five senses, God chose to use the sense of taste to describe experiencing His goodness.

You can smell something without being intentional at all (can I get a witness parents with little ones in diapers??) You can't really help it if you hear something. You may brush up against something and feel it unknowingly. Your eyes see thousands of things every day that you don't even notice.

But taste... that's something you have to be intentional about. It's something you have to make an effort to do. Think about it. It's a rare occassion that we don't purposefully put something in our mouth to taste it.

We look forward to tasting various kinds of food and drink every single day and we enjoy it.

That's how it is for us when we intentionally seek God. When we get a taste of Him, regardless of our circumstances or situations, we find that He is indeed good and His mercies are new each day (Lamentations 3:22-23).  When we experience His divine love and how He is intimately involved in every single detail of our lives (Psalm 139:16), words will fail us. When we taste His goodness, it's not something that can be put into words so that others can understand.

They gotta taste it themselves!

Oh that all would taste and see that the Lord is good!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thankful Thursday: God's Patience

As I read the e-mail my heart sank. When I got the phone call with the good news, I was ecstatic! When Richard told me about his conversation, I became worried. When we hadn't heard back, I was stressed. When I read the text, I was encouraged.

All of this in just a day's time.

At the end of the day I was emotionally drained, worried, stressed, doubtful, and confused from the emotional rollercoaster I had voluntarily put myself on. None of these were emotions sparked by the Holy Spirit but I felt like I couldn't help myself. With each new piece of news flooding my life I was being carried away by my feelings and emotions and it left me defeated and exhausted.

When we face criticism, I feel defeated.
When we face financial uncertainty, I feel fear.
When we face conflict, I feel stress.

And I find myself lingering on these emotions much longer than when we get great news about a new ministry partner or an encouraging word from a friend or a generous gift from a fellow believer. I allow the disappointments and frustrations to rule and reign in my heart instead of the peace of God. I miss the little blessings He's pouring on me because I can't get past the disappointments.

Then I realize that I'm missing, once again, the big picture. The one that shows God in control and me along for the journey. The one where God works out the details and I wait in patience and awe of how He'll pull it all together in the end.

Sometimes I forget that things just aren't up to me. I don't get to decide when or how or even if things will work out. I don't get to make things happen my way.

So many analogies come to mind with parenting.

So often I have to say to Elliott "you can't pitch a fit and get what you want" or "you can't yell 'no' and get your way". And I bet if I had a dollar for every time I've had to tell Elliott to wait patiently, we'd be millionaires! Yet somehow these ideas don't sink into my own head.

But God is so patient.

He's patient when I'm fearful again that things won't work out. He's patient when I'm angry about hurtful words from someone who doesn't know me. He's patient when I want to try to handle things on my own first. He's patient when I'm prideful and selfish. He's patient when I don't trust His wisdom.

And every time He gently reminds me that He is ultimately in control, I find myself back on my face saying, "Thank You for being so very, very patient with me."

What a good, good God we serve.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Proud, humbled Daddy.

I learned about that from a not-even-2-year-old!

Last night, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with Elliott. Ashley went to spend some time with her mom since we have been traveling so much and it was up to Popi to take care of the compact ball of energy that is my son. I love spending time with him and now that he is getting older he talks and communicates a lot more than when he was a baby. I forget sometimes that he isn’t even 2 yet because he really is like dealing with a little person now, not a baby.

Anyway, we decided to play at the house a little bit, then we went to the Army/Navy store to get a couple things. In true Elliott fashion, he played with his wooden airplane (it’s a tailwheel too so I’m proudJ) in the back seat until we got there. Once we were checking everything out he began to start up his own conversation with the man behind the counter, the man says “Hey, little buddy!, How are you?” to which my son replies,” Good, buddy – what doin’” I don’t think the salesman was expecting that.
Elliott proceeded to hand my card over and then talk about the colors of the rope and how many we had bought. As we are walking out he turns around and says, “ Bye, buddy”.

I smile and think about how personal he is with others.

Then I decide to take him to dinner. So after talking about all the options, he decided that “buh-gers” or burgers, is what he wants…..I decided to take him to Krystals because he had never been. As we walk in the first thing I notice is that there is a lady in line, with all respect, she is not the kind of person that we just flock to to try and be friends with. I don’t know her situation but she looked (and smelled) homeless, the few teeth she had were rotten and stained from cigarettes and she was about 300 lbs overweight.  (Just so everyone understands, I am not being critical or judgmental here, this is the reality). So as Elliott proceeds to the small chair that spins and decides that he is going to try each one out; I stand in line and think about what we are going to eat.
The lady in front turns around and tells me that my son is adorable, I smile and thank her and carry on a couple-sentence conversation. Then Elliott comes up and wants to “show me” his new jungle gym ( the small, round, spinning seats). She again comments on how smart he is because I was talking to him in Spanish. I ordered and sit down with him to wait on our food. She also sits down just a few seats away from me and begins to talk a little with Elliott and me. She asks about how he knows Spanish and Portuguese, talks about her own son starting school and continually mentions Elliott’s awareness and intelligence. I had the opportunity to tell her about what God was doing with us and why we were missionaries and what he had called us to do. We had a great conversation and she was a very sweet lady. Elliott also spoke with her and hammed it up a little.
After her food was ready, she told Elliott bye, as she came over to give him a five, he proceeded to fall out of his chair trying to hug her. So I helped him out and he hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. You could tell that she really was surprised and happy that he did that.

And I was convicted.

My 20 month old son had just taught me a valuable lesson – again. He has the ability to love like Christ and I don’t even think about it. The truth is, if it weren’t for him, I would not have even spoken to her. Not out of spite or judgment but just because there would have been no “need”. Yet my son saw her as a “friend” just like anybody else that smiles and waves at him. He knew that he cared enough about her to show affection and go as far as a hug and kiss.
I had the opportunity to share about Christ because my son was willing to love someone that world (and many “christians”) would mock, ridicule, judge, and stay away from. And the most amazing thing- it was totally natural for him. He didn’t have to fake it and I didn’t force him, he is a child. He has not yet had the feelings of pride or superiority or judgment. He showed love because that’s what he was shown.
He didn’t feel sorry for her, he didn’t pity her. He showed her love and affection and genuine interest (as much as a 20 month old can)

I want to be more like my son. I’ll be honest, the first thing I felt for her was pity, not love. I was sorry for her that she was the way she was, but I didn’t seek to be her friend.

Jesus disciples were his friends, not just his ministry. He loved them, he didn’t pity their nature and inferiority, he loved them, chose them and redeemed them.

I can’t wait to see what my son teaches me in the future.  I pray that he always stays as loving and accepting as he is now. I can honestly say that I was able to glorify God by sharing his plan, works and grace in our life because MY son, a toddler, was willing to love.

I wonder how many more people would feel the love of Christ and be brought to a redeeming knowledge of Him if we Christians acted a little more like not-even-2-year-olds ;).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Out of Place, But In Place

I sat there watching Elliott as he slid down the slide, face first of course, and rolled off the end in a very dramatic barrel-roll kind of way. He got the biggest smile on his face and just laughed as he ran around to do it all over again for probably the twentieth time. He was in his own little world and only paused occasionally to wave at me, making sure I was just as impressed with him as he was. (I was, for the record :)

I admire his ability to adapt so quickly. He calls everyone his size a "friend" and doesn't think twice about those odd looks that children give each other as they observe other tiny people. He's wide-open and ambitious, and I love that.

Me, on the other hand, I felt very out of place in this little playground in the middle of the mall where moms were chatting and children screaming and babies nursing and pregnant bellies peeking out of jackets. I felt very out of place as I heard moms exchanging recipes and talking about the next play date or their most recent coupon deal. I can't remember the last time I went all-out grocery shopping, much less clipped a coupon and mom get-togethers are a rare occurrence for me.

My mind went back to last week when I had the same out-of-place feeling in a very different setting.

I was walking down the muddy embankment to wash my clothes in the Amazon river. I could hear the tall grass shaking as little lizards and, yes, snakes scurried away. I carefully eased onto the slippery "bolsa" (dock) and began rinsing my clothes in water that, when Stateside, I wouldn't even wash my dog in. As I leaned over to scoop up more water, I could feel the heat of the sun toasting my skin.

About that time a canoe full of Indians went past. I imagine that they weren't accustomed to seeing a pasty white woman scrubbing clothes on the bank of the river so they all stared, nudging one another to make sure that everyone got a good look. They literally didn't take their eyes off of me until I was out of sight. No one waved, no one smiled. They just stared. It's what Indians do.

And I felt very out of place.

I started talking to God about it.

"Um, You saw that, right God?" I asked Him. "I just want to be sure because sometimes I wonder why, if you knew that you were going to send me to the Amazon one day, that you would make me so different looking. Why would you give me light eyes and hair and skin? It's not that I'm upset about it, I just really do wonder why..."

He didn't really answer, in case you're wondering. And He didn't answer me at the playground yesterday when I asked why I felt so disconnected with other moms here in the States, even though I do look like them.

I know that part of it is due to the fact that we travel so much that I don't have a chance to connect on a deep level with other moms, here or in the Jung|e. That's a big part.

Richard says it's God's preparation for when we move deep into the Jung|e and I don't have access to constant communication and therefore I don't learn to depend on it. There's truth in that, too.

And maybe a little part of it is because God knows me really well and He knows that if I ever get too comfortable, it's hard for me to move. If I every really lock into a comfort zone, I don't make a lot of effort to go above and beyond for Him. It's just easier not to.

But whatever the reason, I know He has one. And even if I feel out of place physically, I know I'm ultimately in place in His plan. And even though it's a tough pill to swallow sometimes, His grace is sufficient.

He's just good like that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

They Want a New Heart, Not a New Culture

The big tank out back filled with rain water that we used to "bathe" was a nice change of pace from the filthy river water we had been using for the last week. Something about rinsing off with water that I could actually see through just made me feel a little bit cleaner, even if the clothes I put on afterward were nowhere near clean. The mud caked on the bottom of my shoes was a pleasant reminder of the slippery trek uphill we had made earlier that day and as I fumbled around in the dark trying to find my towel, I quickly realized it had fallen onto the wet and muddy wooden planks I was standing on.

I smiled because I knew this was soon to be a normal part of my life, and dispite the inconvenience, I loved it.

We settled into the small home of Lolo, a missionary Indian we had met just a few days prior. His entire house was lit by one light bulb and the thin, wooden walls did very little to muffle the sounds of babies crying and dogs barking throughout the village and did absolutely nothing to keep out the resilient mosquitoes who seemed more than pleased with the fresh feast they had found on any exposed area of our bodies.

Lolo's wife and children were out of town so he had asked a little Indian girl to come and cook us dinner: rice, plantains, and fried spam. An interesting combination, but my stomach was telling me loud and clear that it would take ants and slugs if it's all I had to offer. As I watched the sweet Indian chopping garlic cloves and slicing the ripe plantains with a skill that came as natural as breathing, I felt very incompetent. I'm supposed to live up to that? I can barely make spaghetti with canned tomato sauce!

After some light-hearted chit-chat, our new friend Lolo began to share his heart with us. Though he was an Indian himself, he was a foreigner among this particular tribe and he gave us insight on what it truly takes to reach this people group. He told of the first few years of trying to become like them, only to have threats from the locals and problems with theft.

As he shared with us stories of trial and set-backs and frustrations, the overwhelming theme of his conversation was this: Be faithful. Be a servant.

As most Indians, he made little eye contact with us as he shared. He spoke in a quiet voice and nervously squished with his fingers little ants that had scurried onto the table to carry away any leftover rice that had fallen from our plates.

He was humble, teachable. And he was a faithful servant.

For more than eight years he had been faithfully forsaking his own culture, his own habits for the sake of becoming like this tribe he was living in. He didn't do this because he had to or even because he wanted to. As a matter of fact he shared with us his youthful desires of moving to the city and pursuing a career that was much more promising than being a missionary to this people group. His birth tribe has an ancient history of conflict with this tribe that he now considers family. It was no easy transition, but he was happy because he knew God was in it.

As I sat there, smacking mosquitoes on my legs and trying to hear his whispered voice above the sounds of the village settling in for the night, I felt both overwhelmed and excited.

I was overwhelmed because I saw in a new light what it was going to mean to forsake everything for the sake of the Gospel. I've never struggled with selling all of our possessions here in the States. As a matter of fact, the closer we get to our big move, the more ready I am to get rid of it all! The idea of leaving our families is painful at times, but I console myself knowing that we will likely see them at least one a year and, with the way technology is advancing, it's likely we'll have easy communication within the next couple of years.

But as I sat there listening to what Lolo was really saying, below the surface of his stories, I was realizing something completely new to me. I am going to have to sacrifice my culture, my very nature. I am going to have to unlearn 25 years of habit and thought process. I am going to have to surrender everything about myself.

It's that serious.

He explained that we must look like them, act like them, and think like them if we ever hope to reach them. And while I guess I've thought of that before, as I sat there in this dimly lit house I realized for the first time that it really did mean everything.

He told us stories of other missionaries who had come in and tried to live like they always had in their home country, just in a different place and how the tribe always rejected them. He told of well-meaning people coming in and trying to tell them to dress different and cut their hair to please God.

"It never works," he said. "They want to know God. They want to hear the truth and have hope. But they also want to be Indians. They don't want to change their culture. They want to change their hearts."

And then I had this overwhelming feeling of excitement. It had to be the Holy Spirit inside of me, because my flesh was saying, "It's impossible, honey. Have you seen how white your skin is? One thing you won't be doing is fitting in!"

But the Holy Spirit was saying, "I've created you for this. This is just the beginning. This is the excitement in the journey. This is what it's all about: sacrificing it all of the sake of the Cross. Not just possessions, but person."

And that's when my fears began to melt and I realized that I can't do it.

No way could I ever do this. I can't forget who I am. What am I supposed to do with the years of American culture built into my mind and heart? What am I supposed to do with my manners and instincts that are in conflict with so many of the Indian traditions?

And the Holy Spirit said, "Good, you finally get it."

I can't do it, but that's the point. God can and He will. My only job is to die to myself daily.

Lolo says that they will expect our doors to always be open. So they will.
Lolo says that they will expect to be able to come to dinner without notice. So they will.
Lolo says that they will burp after the meal if they think it was good. So I pray they burp!
Lolo says that they will expect our home to look just like theirs. So it will.
Lolo says that they will expect us to have a canoe like them. So we will.
Lolo says that they will expect us to wash our clothes in the river and bathe with rainwater. So we will.

Lolo says that they won't even begin to listen to us about our God until we act like them, talk like them, and think like them.

It'll be hard to adapt to a culture so very different from my own. But if that's what it takes to break down the barriers and to reach them with the Truth for the glory of God, then by the grace of God that's what we'll do.

It's going to be hard. Really hard. But isn't God's glory worth that?

I mean, that's sort of the whole point, right?

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