Friday, July 27, 2012

for when God ups the ante

{Up (or raise) the ante: 
increase what is at stake or under discussion.}
Just when I think I’m graduating from faith school, God ups the ante.  
I’ve never recorded any of my songs in a real studio.  The closest I’ve gotten was my first year overseas, when a group of extremely talented and dedicated friends put together an amateur collection of my songs.  That collection has traveled around the world and back, and many more copies have been made than the 1000 we originally ordered, which I thought I would never be able to get rid of.  (That was the minimum number the bulk printing company who donated the copies would make… I thought surely I’d have stacks left over.  Instead, people called asking if it was ok to make more copies!)  
Now, more than 8 years later, I still get an email out of the blue every so often from someone with a copy of that album, who happened to be listening to a song of mine that morning and wanted to let me know they were blessed.  I cry every time I get one of those emails.  The miracles God did to bring that simple little recording into existence…
So, I’m still writing songs.  And this upcoming home leave, I have the chance to record in a real studio… 
And I’m gonna take it.  
Whew.  Just typing those words leaves me breathless.  
So what's at stake here?  Well, I'll be a bursting - I mean, blooming - 9 months pregnant by the time I get into the studio.  I'm not sure I'll have lung space to sing!  And even though my incredibly supportive husband (who also keeps track of our finances) assures me God's already provided what it will take to do this, it still took me a while to hear clearly from Jesus: I want you to invest in blessing.  Don't hold back.  Do this for me.  
Obviously, I’m not done with faith school yet.  {Are we ever really done til we get to heaven and see His face?}  Just when I think I’ve limboed under His lowest bar, and I’m celebrating because my back didn’t even ache this time, He drops it down one more notch.  Focuses on the next too-precious thing, the next deeper level.
Holley Gerth wrote a note this week that felt meant for me (you can read the whole thing here)… My favorite bit was this: 
On the edge of the Promised Land, [the Israelites] came to the Jordan river. When the priests stepped into the water then it parted. It always takes a step of faith to get to the Promised Land. Always. And if you wait until you’re unafraid, you’ll never cross.
Perhaps you’re in the middle of that kind of moment too, right where you are, taking your own step.  If so, we’re cheering for you. You may not be able to hear, you may not be able to see, but you are not doing this alone.
And what’s ahead of you is more than you can even imagine.
Go for your Promised Land, friend. Let nothing hold you back. Put your feet into that water and feel the dry ground of God’s goodness.
You can do this with Him–one step at a time.
So let me encourage you… when God ups the ante?  He always comes through with the faith we need to take the next step.  And the next.  And the next.  
After all, if this faith thing came naturally, it wouldn’t need to be a gift, right?  
And when we need more?  We just have to ask. 
What next faith step is God asking you to take?  What's holding you back?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

summer photos...

{For some reason, we've found an incredibly fast internet pocket, if we hang our USB modem out the window of our porch!  So here are some photos before the wormhole closes...}

The boys at a birthday party this weekend
for a foreign friend who's leaving

Will with his only two English-speaking friends

Zucchini from our garden!

Six months and counting... 

Happy summer!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

of weed-wacking and complacency

“I borrowed a weed-wacker… I’m going to go wack weeds.”
Outside, he yanks the pull-start and the buzz whirs into action, determined, fierce, a little engine with spinning blades hewing down the thick, tall, stalks smothering our yard.  
Should I be wacking weeds too?  What would it take to clean out my overgrown heart?
I hear the sizzling sound as the blades slice through tough fiber, grown so tall and rooted so deep hands would work for hours to pull them up by the roots… and then, since our yard is all weeds, there would be no yard left at all, just mounds of rumpled dirt clods all uprooted.  
How deep do my weed-roots go?
Aren’t I doing ok, really?  I mean, how bad can it really be - the state of my heart?  I’m living in another country, raising my kids to understand another culture, speak another language.  I’m strategizing about reaching out to those around me in Jesus’ name.  I’m coping with water shortages, power outtages, nasty no-see-um biting bugs, freezing cold winters and unpredictable summers.  I’m enduring isolation, loneliness, relationship stress, culture stress, all for the sake of carrying the Good News in my skin to this group of people who maybe wouldn’t hear any other way.  
So where are the weeds?  Are they really there?  Doesn’t all this giving up for Jesus count for something?

I think about my ugly attitude last night, when I overheard frustration from my husband, took it personally, and allowed myself to sink into utter despair over my own failure buttons being pushed.  

I think about how I snapped at my kids and lost patience and even (shall I say it?) got sick of the sound of them, all because I didn’t get my nap yesterday.  

I think of how I tunneled into children’s fiction books for the whole afternoon, addictively escaping deeper into a different world to shut out my own - which is filled with what?  Blessings.  Beautiful children.  A loving husband.  Potential for blessing and giving all around me.  Nature singing God’s beauty right outside my doorstep.  I blocked it all out and buried my head in the sand - and the result was a late, unorganized, inadequate dinner, an unsatisfied family, and a sick heart.  Weeds galore.  
I think of the blog post I read - no, devoured - this morning that brought tears springing sharply and made my breakfast stick in my throat.  I think how I ache for my boys to grow up that way, to love that way, to give that way… and of how little and feeble my example is, me being the person they absorb life from 24 hours a day, as I hoard their best toys and teach them to give away only the lesser, broken bits.  Ugh.  

What are they sponging from me, as I greedily hoard my own time and heartily resent interruptions, sleep deprivation, and unexpected guests?  What are they internalizing as I put my own agenda first over people, so they can see I only give out in little, limited pockets, when it suits me - instead of lavishly, without reserve, like Mary with her perfume all poured out?  

What are they subconsciously tucking away?
All inside of me aches, and I feel the prickles of all those weeds in my heart.  The buzz outside continues, relentless, driving home the question: Will you submit to those spinning blades - will you let Me mow down all this ugly so I can have room to grow goodness?
 No matter where we are in the world, or what we think we’re doing for Christ, the battlefield is in our own hearts.  I could live this whole cross-cultural sojourning life, feeling and acting holy, and convince myself I’m giving everything up for Jesus.  But without true lavish Christ-love in my heart or a true willingness to sacrifice what’s actually dear to me, I am seriously only a clanging cymbal.  

Time to invite the Weed-Wacker.  

What are some ways you convince yourself you’re “ok” spiritually?
What real weeds are subtly growing in your heart
that you need to invite the Holy Spirit to hack out?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

For those just-plain-bad days…

{This is kind of a long story, but bear with me...}

Today has been one of those days.  
Our fourth day without running water.  The water in this town runs on two pumps, and one broke last week, so because we live at the upper end of town, there hasn’t been enough water pressure for the little water there is to make it up to us.  And since it happened over the weekend, my helper (who’s really good at washing dishes without running water) wasn’t coming.  By last night we had pretty much used up every single clean dish in the house, and the smelly, slimy mountain on the kitchen counter was really starting to get to me.  Plus, no showers or laundry, so other things were starting to smell too.  
So… last night, after three days with no water, James drove down to the street pump several blocks from us that’s dribbling out a trickle, and spent two hours filling barrels with water and laboriously dumping it through a funnel into the huge vats in our basement.  This gave us enough water in our taps to do an hour-and-a-half’s worth of dishes and have a quick shower each… then our taps ran dry again.  
By this morning, we were literally down to one 5-litre bottle of drinking water, plus half a bottle of tap water to use for dishes, hands, etc.  We put a bucket of dirty canal water in the bathroom to flush the toilet with, and started using our outhouse for the necessaries!  
Besides all of this, relationships on our foreign team here have not been stellar lately, and yesterday a conversation did not go well, which was discouraging and frustrating for both James and I.  
Also, lately in the back of my mind is the constant nagging thought, What if, after we leave this company in August, we can’t create another visa option to come back next year?  What if I have to go through another exhausting complete-country-transition with a newborn, like I did after we had William? What if these next 9 weeks are all I have left with my local friends here?  What if… what if… 
With all of this going on in the background, I snap all out of proportion at my house helper this morning over a tiny thing, leaving me in tears of repentance and her in tears of… I’m not sure what.  {This happens right after I’ve just finished trying to tell her the story I read this morning: Peter walking to Jesus on the water, and starting to sink after looking around at the storm… following it up with “Yeah, I really want to learn to depend on Jesus more like that, even when my situation is really difficult…”  and so I’m now having intensely guilty feelings about “ruining” my witness by snapping at her...}  
I can feel my veneer crumbling.  As the tears start to fall, I’m apologizing to her for losing my temper, but I’m having major trouble getting my own emotions under control, and I can’t understand exactly why she’s crying.  Is it only because I snapped at her?  I know I’ve been snapping more frequently, and even though I apologize each time, I really have not been easy to live with.  Maybe this is the final straw for both of us?  When I ask her, she doesn’t answer. 
This is the first time I’ve completely crumpled in front of her, and I’m thinking hopeful thoughts about vulnerability and increasing the depth in our relationship, when she says she doesn’t want to work for me anymore.  My heart sinks.  Is this a manipulation tactic?  Does she want me to grovel and beg her to stay, and keep profusely apologizing in order to preserve the friendship?  Is that what her local friends do when they lose their tempers?  Well, the reality is, I lost my temper this morning  because she made another executive decision about something without consulting me, and that’s been happening more frequently too.  Even though she’s my friend, I do pay her wages to help me in the ways I need help (not in the ways she thinks would be helpful), and today her latest assumption was the straw that broke the back of this camel.
I try to probe deeper about her tears.  She’s got her back to me, soaping up dishes at the sink.  I’m stirring apricot jam on the stove, sniffing, big tears dropping into the pot, praying furiously for wisdom.  She stays quiet a long time.  Finally, she quietly says she’s afraid of getting pregnant again herself because (like me) she was emotional and easily angered while she was pregnant, and she’s afraid of being that way again.  Oh, great.  Definitely helps the guilt trip I’m already putting on myself.  This sudden fear of pregnancy, from the girl who had a miraculous baby after two miscarriages, and is longing to have another child?  
Can it really be fear of pregnancy?  Is it just that I’ve finally really hurt her feelings, but she just won’t tell me?  I model honesty.  I share more reasons for why I’m crying, real reasons.  I open up.  She doesn’t say a word.  Is this Central Asian-ness?  Is this just her personality?  Why won’t she talk to me?  We’ve usually been honest with each other up til now…  Lord, give me wisdom!  I’m really blowing it here!  
Despite all my best efforts, I can’t get her to talk more to me about how she’s feeling.  When it’s time for her to leave, I pay her for last week and today, tell her to take the day off tomorrow, and walk her to the gate.  On the way, I keep telling her, “The most important thing is for us to understand each other.  Please don’t go home thinking I don’t love you, or that I want to throw away our friendship.  You do understand, don’t you?”  She nods affirmative, but I’m unconvinced.  No kiss goodbye, no smile or wave.  She walks off down the street, still wiping her eyes.  I close the gate behind her, feeling completely helpless.  I make it back up the stairs into our veranda, and melt into a puddle.  
“I can’t do this, Lord!”  I wail inside.  “Why did you pick me, anyway?  I am so sinful!  So broken!  So foolish!  So helpless!  I can’t see into anyone’s hearts like You can - I’m like a blind person, fumbling around with the most precious treasure in the world, trying to give it away to people, and all the time tripping stupidly over my own feet!”
I am like Peter, exactly.  Sinking, sinking - knee-deep, thigh-deep - eyes wild and rolling, soul filled with howling wind and mountainous waves.
I sit and cry, let the tears ache out of me.  The boys are still rolling around somewhere in the house - they certainly haven’t made today easier, bickering all morning, poking at each other, taking advantage of my distraction to break all the rules.  I’ve snapped at them too this morning and felt guilty about that, especially in front of my helper who hardly disciplines her children at all and probably thinks I’m a complete ogre.  
And you know?  Some days are just like this.  

I call my husband in tears, and he lovingly listens and speaks Truth: “Jesus understands… He forgives you… we all have bad days… I’ve snapped at workers too, and had to apologize… I think part of it is certainly a spiritual attack…”  That part often does become clear when everything happens at once: water outage/team difficulties/local relationship difficulties/parenting challenges/summer heat/mosquitoes/difficulty sleeping… 
We are getting wiser about identifying attacks.  But it still doesn’t make surviving the onslaught - how about winning? - any easier while it’s happening.
I don’t have any solutions.  I just share this story to let you know that I have bad days too.  It’s not all pesto and smiles and gardening.  It’s hard, really hard, and I know you have days like this too.  Well, you’re not alone.  We’re not alone, you and me.  Jesus is ready to reach out his hand and grab us out of the water, the minute we ask Him for help.  
Thank God the preciousness of His gospel does not depend on the broken, desperate vessel it’s conveyed in… In fact, I think it’s through our cracks that His light can shine.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, 
to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.   
~2 Cor 4:7
Have you had a bad day recently?
What happened?  What did you do?