Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Winter is Past

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Winter passes. Hope begins. Life renews.

After a long season of winter, we see the green grass, observe the flowers budding, and watch as the trees extend their leaves. We hear the birds sing and smell the sweet expressions of new life all around us. Without that winter season, though, this new life would not be as vivid and our gratefulness would not be as fully realized for those little things that brighten the spring days.

So, too, are the seasons of the soul. We ought not despise the chill of the air that God perhaps is using to prepare us for the time when He will warm our hearts with His love. Without that chill, we might not completely appreciate the warmth of communing with Him as He stokes the fire within.

The monotony of the snow in making the earth one color, albeit at times a beautiful sparkling color, must not be dismissed either because that snow is nourishing the life beneath. In the same sense, the monotony of daily living must not drive us to a despondency in our walks with Him, but rather be used as a time of rest and refreshing, in order to be better prepared for the next season.

We should not let the quiet and stillness of the snow lull us into a deep sleep of the soul, but rather use this quiet for purer conversations with the Lord in prayer and Bible reading for a time of sweet communion with the One Who ordained this silent season.

O, that we would not let the winters of our souls come to nothing. May they be seen by us as a time of God's choosing. May we ask Him during these seasons how to be content and how to redeem that time with Him properly, having great expectation that when the winter passes, we will experience a new season filled with its own benefits.

And may we be reminded that all seasons of the soul are designed by the Lord to bring us closer to Him.

Spokane, WA (January 2007)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Belong

For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted my own family. I think it was an outgrowth of not having the “perfect” childhood … who does. But there were some unique trials in my growing up that did two things to me. Before Christ leading my life, it was a rejection of the traditional marriage and family. I was going to be a career woman and that was that. I was allergic to men, I told myself. It made me feel okay with such a strong rejection of what I thought was expected of me. But then, the age of 23 hit, and I knew I was making bad choices. Stupid choices and dangerous choices. I knew this was wrong and I became to feel it like a two-ton weight on my back. I yearned for wholeness. For healing. For clear-headedness on life.

Everything seemed so confusing and monumental, and not in a good way, and I craved peace.

And that’s when it changed. I looked up instead of out. I yielded upward, my life, my choices, my future, and for the first time, I began to feel a sense of belonging. A church family helped that. My own relatives guided me toward that destination. Jesus decided to give me a heart’s desire for a husband and family. Only, instead of trusting in His perfect timing and plans, I had my own idea of how it was to happen.

But He gently nudged me in the right direction.

Sibiu, Romania (December 2005)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Parable of Tom

The story that follows is something I experienced when I was living in Romania as a Peace Corps volunteer in October 2005.  I was very heavy-hearted by the “give-me” mentality that existed among the poor there. The translation of the American “Mister, can you spare a dime?” or some other request for money among our homeless is “da-mi,” which literally means “give me.” The way it comes across was very abrasive to my American sensibilities, and I was so tired of being seen as a “bancomat,” the Romanian word for an ATM machine. Even strapping, young men, who were able-bodied, would recognize I was a foreigner and say, “da-mi.” I wanted to give to true needs, and without manipulation, but it was often not presented to me in that way. I believe God was teaching me something through that experience, and that is something I’m still processing today. That is the background for this “tale” you are about to read.


There was this kind of alley cat I saw perched on the trash bin outside my apartment, while I was walking home the other night. I recognized him right away. I had seen him before, and in my mind, I remarked about him in much the same way as I had when I first saw him—boy, he looks like he’s been through a lot. As I was walking past his perfect profile on the bin, I thought that he would have made a great photograph, even a classic portrait of sorts. I stopped and looked at him more closely. I saw he had a very soft outline surrounding his body by the sun’s last rays. I saw that he had an ear that probably was deformed by a dog bite years ago. I just thought he looked cool.

So, I walked upstairs to my apartment.  Once in my apartment, I decided to take my camera to go outside and take his picture. I figured if it was God’s will that I am to take the photograph, he will still be in that same pose … or at least out there.

He wasn’t in his same pose on that garbage bin, unfortunately, but he was at least still out there. I saw him digging through the garbage looking for food, in much the same way a gypsy or a homeless drunk scavenges for hidden treasure through everyone’s refuse. I began whispering the pee-see, pee-see, Romanians do when they call for cats. It is their term of endearment rooted in the Romanian word for cat, pisica. It’s like our “here kitty, kitty.” He popped his head up out of the garbage and I started shooting off some pictures.

Onesti, Romania (October 2005)

They were not what I really wanted because the pose I really wanted was the one I had observed some five minutes before. But I kept shooting photos anyway. I walked closer to him to get a better shot. After a few more pictures, he came completely out of the garbage and walked toward me on the ledge. I thought, I better be careful or I’m going to scare him off. I took some more pictures, and finally, he jumped down. I thought to myself that he’s going to be one of those skittish cats, and run away, as if he was startled by me, or something else he had heard. Instead, he came near me, as if he wanted a pet.

Now, let me explain to you how he looked beyond the photographs. He didn’t look like an old cat. He was probably in his twenties in cat years. He was of the orange-striped variety and was very skinny. His fur was matted in many locations across his body, and his tail, although perfectly intact, was also unusually thin. He looked like he had some bumps on him from being hit or run over or who knew what else, under his fur, and when you touched them, those bumps were very hard. His eyes were a beautiful green, and he really had a perfectly-shaped face. A beautiful nose. And that very strange half-eaten left ear. Some mud-caked hair stuck out from the inside of his other ear. His toes, while wonderfully formed, were dirty with the city of Onesti. He looked like he could have been a gorgeous house cat, had anyone cared to adopt him before he began looking the way he did then.

 I thought twice before petting him, knowing there was probably a colony of fleas on him, one of those fleas more than willing to jump on me and start another colony in my house. However, my heart softened as he kept trying to come to me for affection. It’s almost like he had forgotten the routine of getting a pet. I melted, and I began to pet him.  I wondered if he would bite me or scratch me because he was not used to being touched. He didn’t do either of those things. Instead, in his soundless meow, he asked for more of my touches. He even lifted his front paws off of the ground as if to reach up to my hand. I was softened by his desire for love.

I began to think that he was probably hungry and wished that I hadn’t eaten my leftover tuna fish for breakfast that morning. However, I thought about the milk I had bought and decided to bring that out to him to drink. I go back into my house, thinking how it was so much easier to give to an animal than another human being. At least I could know beyond a shadow of a doubt this cat’s hunger was real, and he was not begging me for it. I felt this sense of freedom to be able to show kindness to another living thing that was just between me and him. No guilt or pity of mine being manipulated … just this moment in which I could give just because I wanted to. I’m not doing a great job of explaining this, but for the sake of time, I will go on.

In my house, I found something I could leave outside that could hold milk. I poured some milk into it and filled another small container in case he wanted more. I walked back outside and saw he was right where I had left him the second time—where I was petting him.

I put the milk down, and he came almost immediately to it and began drinking. I was crouched down on the ground, and I felt that there was this circle around us. I became absorbed in his drinking. A thought occurred to me that some of my students, as well as some of my neighbors, might see me and that they would all think I was a little crazy to put this much effort into a cat that wasn’t even cute. But I didn’t care. I felt this circle around us, and I trusted that it would keep others away from my moment. He drank non-stop until a big wind blew a couple of bags down onto the ground from the garbage bin. He was startled and moved away from the milk. I picked the bags up and began talking to him in English, as if he could understand me, and told him it was okay. I began to feel like I wanted to stand there as long as it took for him to finish drinking. I wanted to protect him. I wanted to be his circle.

Then, I looked at him and thought he could probably defend himself. He had already been through so much. And that’s when something began to happen in my mind. I began to look at him and transfer his life onto a human being in this world who had also been through a lot. Someone who had sin’s scars all over their body. Someone who had been damaged over time, abandoned by friends and loved ones, and was tough because they’ve had to be. Someone who you’d look at and say, this person can handle themselves. Someone who you’d think wouldn’t be very affectionate, but as you got to know them, you began to see who God had intended them to be. Someone who craved love and pleasant things to happen to them … Someone who never thought they’d be an outcast in this world, with mud caked inside their ears, with battle scars and bruises all over their body … someone with a perfectly shaped face and eyes that reveal so much more than their words were willing to say.

I began to feel sorrow for those people who end up drug addicts, who wind up in the sex industry, most of them sold into it when they were too immature to choose that life for themselves and who are so caught up in it now, that they feel it’s too late to change. I began to feel sorrow for those individuals the world leaves behind, the true children of need.

I was grateful for these thoughts God spoke to my heart about in this very strange moment with a cat, of all creatures.

Then, he was done. He lifted up his head, and I noticed his whiskers were heavy with milk. Not even finishing the seconds I had given him, he began to walk to an open spot in between some grass. He stopped for a moment, and without even looking back to the garbage bin, to the milk, or to me, he rushed off as if he had another appointment, and he did so in an even-paced stride, not stopping for anything or anyone. I wondered where he was going.

I thought to myself, that this was such an interesting moment in my life. A gift given and a gift received. I named him Tom in my mind as I walked back to my apartment.

I think, yes, Tom. Because he really is a tomcat.

Beaten up, dirty, damaged, hungry, and perfect.

Onesti, Romania (October 2005)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

I Will Never Leave You

“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”Hebrews 13:5c

My grace is sufficient for you, dear child. And though you have fallen, you are not cut off. And though you have caught a glimpse of your circumstances, do not fear. For My hand is so far reaching that in whatever pit you have fallen, I am there to pick you up and set you along your way again. This path has been trodden down by many in front of you, and this path will be trodden down by many behind you. My Spirit will forever lift you and be the breeze by which you will find every circumstance lighter. Let Me have your burdens dear child, so that you may continue along your way until I decide it's time for you to come home. Rest easy and continue your journey. I will always be with you.”

And that poor, pitiful creature may walk timidly at first. Her faith wavering a bit. But as each burden is given to her Lord, her walk becomes more confident. Her steps more sure. She glimpses more of heaven each day, each step she walks closer to her Lord. She learns to sense His hand gently guiding her, and she learns that while she was cast down, the Lord, in His tender mercy, condescended to her. He loves her so much that He died for her. Because of that, she knows she is important to Him, and she begins to trust that He will never leave her.

Onesti, Romania (April 2006)

Friday, July 05, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Beautiful

Let's just start with one of my favorite subjects in all the world—my beautiful daughter. I look at her and it never ceases to amaze me just how beautiful she is. I love her eyes, her face, her beautiful dimples when she chooses to show them. I love the curls of her hair, and the intrepid way she explores our house. I love the color of her skin and the way it feels the next day after a bath and some lotion. I love her calm ways and her intermittent intensities that mark her learning.

I love the days, weeks, months and hours that have passed in which I have gotten to know her more and more. I love her “Daughter, your heart's not in that” whines and the way she (every time!) throws her sippy cup to the floor from her high chair, as if it was going to land a different way than it did the last one-thousandth time!

I love her. I love her. I love her. But you want to know something about this love? It was not instant. I didn't feel what I feel for her today, when she entered our lives. And the beauty of it? The pure beauty of it? I know I will feel even more love for her tomorrow and the day after that, and yes, the day after that. For that is the beauty of being her mother.

(This was my second take of the FMF prompt, and it was truthfully written in a little over five minutes, which is that italicized part at the end.) 

My daughter's curls.
(Spokane, WA, July 2013)

Monday, July 01, 2013

God's Gentleness

“...Thy gentleness hath made me great.”Psalm 18:35c

Dearest Lord,

I think there is a tendency in me to view you in the opposite way of this verse, which is ironically situated between verses where David speaks of You helping him war against his enemies. As I feed on this verse, I believe I am introduced to a side of You that I need to know more about and then to follow.

Lord, there are those in Christendom, myself included (in more times than I care to admit), who are the opposite of this principle. They aren't gentle with their words in proclaiming the Gospel and Biblical truth. Perhaps I may be judging incorrectly, but I feel, rather, I believe they show and/or expose something within their own sin natures that is attracted toward a sinful anger and hate, which they then disguise in terms of God being just, hating every evil way, etc. While that is true about You, so also is the principle of You being gentle toward us, displaying perfect long suffering toward us who tempt You often with our sin and who fail daily in pleasing You. We live in a dispensation when Your grace triumphs, a time that precedes when the finger of Your wrath touches the earth.

With that said, Lord, there are others, again myself included depending on the subject, whose sin nature is attracted too far in error to the idea of Your gentleness, and they fail to stand firm against sin, for fear of controversy, not being liked, etc.

So, can I conclude there is a balance to Your gentleness that we ought to apply to our own lives?

One of the verses that has stood out to me in recent years is Isaiah 42:2, which shows a snapshot of Your humanness on earth and how You approached men. “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.” While this can clearly be applied to how You did not answer Your accusers at the time of Your crucifixion, it was illustrated to me by a pastor in a class I was taking that it also speaks of how You approached men by not raising Your voice, and, can I add, yelling at them? To me, this is yet another verse that illustrates Your gentleness.

So, why do we as Christians spend our time belittling and tearing down one another under the cloak of “standing for the truth,” when this was not Your way. Yes, You were direct in Your words against the Pharisees, for example, but if You've commanded us in other places of Scripture to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), surely it can be interpreted that was what You were doing.

You are all-knowing, possess perfect wisdom, and know the hearts of all men. While You walked this earth, Your life, Your words, and Your deeds were all motivated by a perfect love You have toward all mankind. It is our rejection of that truth on some level that makes us ugly, bitter people, who tear down instead of build up. It is also a rejection of that truth that makes us too passive toward sin and keep quiet when You call us to reach out to the lost by showing them their sin so that they may see why they need You.

And Lord, I don't understand all this perfectly myself, but there has to be a truth where we can honestly follow Your example of gentleness toward men and Your warning Spirit.

For gentleness, we can rest on Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with ALL men.” As for Your warning Spirit, as in the case of the woes against the Pharisees in Matthew 23, we can follow Your example of clearly exposing sin, yet pairing it with the same loving sentiment You had in that chapter in verse 37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

In other words, there has to be a right way of talking to and about others where we don't allow our sin natures to be attracted to a sinful hate and anger OR attracted to an unrighteous, sin-condoning “love” toward men. That we are simply true to You and Your word, in truth and love. And gentleness.

Thank You, Jesus, for Your time and the meat of Your word. Continue to open my eyes and break up the fallow ground of my heart, so that I may see and perceive You and Your truth more clearly, in order that I may produce fruit that remains for Your glory.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”—Colossians 4:6

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”—2 Timothy 2:24-26

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.”—2 Timothy 4:2

Spokane, WA (June 2009)

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