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Giving Thanks

Is it really that simple? 

I hesitated to dole out such a simplistic solution…

…to her–a former addict weighed down by years of hurt and groping in darkness

…to him–a young man striving to make the Good News known in a place that is filled with hardship and disappointments. p>

I stuck my neck out, ready to be rejected, ready for this piece of advice to put up on the shelf with other advice-that-doesn’t-see-my-situation.

But then, the replies came after a few days of trying it. It was, in fact, the antidote to negative thoughts and bitterness.
Ann Voskamp has already written the book. And she certainly wouldn’t want us to be preaching it as her message, but THE message–from THE BOOK. Do the search yourself. See how many times you find people, especially the God-Man Jesus, giving thanks. Start writing down what you are thankful for. Every. Single.Day. Try to get to 1,000 things. See what happens to your eyesight. You will be seeing things you overlook every day. See what happens to your prayers. See what happens to your heart.

New

When something is new, we all tend to put our best foot forward. We take care of the new car, wiping every spill, polishing away every scratch. Newly painted walls receive our utmost attention when the first scuff mark appears. Newness sometimes bring challenges, like when we have a new baby to care for or a new husband to adjust to, or a new home to move into.

And then there is the most important new thing–the new life we have when we come to Christ and give him all of our old stuff.  When we first experience this new life, we love to tell people about it. We bask in the newness and celebrate it and feel that we are soaring.

But of course we all know, new things don’t stay new forever. Clothes get holes in them, printers don’t work exactly as they should, children don’t do what we say, husbands have their own ideas about running the family (and they snore), walls have so many marks that it seems useless to try to clean them any more. 
Our spiritual life gets its share of dents from disappointment, scratches from sorrow and blemishes from our blundering tongues. We fall, we break down. The light of our eyes that were once on fire grow dim.

But hear the flesh-defying truth: with God there is something new every day.

Even in his Lamentation, Jeremiah could not deny:

Because of the LORD’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are NEW every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
Lamentations 3:22-23

Ash Wednesday, my traditional reading

Ash-Wednesday
by T S Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

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Domestic Pharisee

  • Phar·i·see
    noun /ˈfarəsē/
    Pharisees, plural

    • A member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity
    • A self-righteous person; a hypocrite

When it comes to housekeeping, I am a domestic Pharisee.  Keeping the outside of the dish clean. Making sure the living room is presentable for guests. Keeping the dining table clear when it’s not in use. Posting only what is nice online.

And

Piling all the unsorted, unorganized mess in the bedroom, where I can close the door–and lock it if I need to–against visitors who might wander too deep and see too much.

It’s an easy way to make people think you have it all together. They aren’t likely to open cupboards  or look behind seldom-moved pieces of furniture.

“You’re so organised!” they exclaim with amazement. They don’t know how wardrobes are falling apart on the inside. How water is leaking somewhere under the pristine countertop and causing fungus to grow. How the damp and dark places are seldom exposed to the light, how the falling down things are never reinforced and maintained to keep them going longer.

They don’t know and although I feign humility, I don’t open the mouldy cupboards for them to see the truth.

As much as I am trying to find a place for everything and put everything in it’s place, the fact is: the cupboards are full. The handed down clothes that the children can’t wear yet sit in a bag in the corner.

Matthew 23: 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Now, I am a born-again, God-fearing, Bible-thumping Evangelical Christian. I’ve read all the right books, been on the craziest mission trips, had all the best training (and I bless InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for setting me on the road to growth and learning). To top it all off, I homeschool my children, teach Sunday school, and lead a cell group. My Christian resume is superb. It’s all beautiful on the outside–most of the time.

One day the outer veneer began to wear thin. I was doing my best to keep up appearances. But she saw right through it. She didn’t confront me right away. How could she? I only see her a few times a year. She’s a fellow homeschool mom but we have very different lifestyles and methods although we are both committed to Jesus and to homeschooling. She waited 3 days and she knew she had to do it. She sent me a text and said she couldn’t get me off her mind….that she sensed a lot of anger, bitterness, and frustration in me. She offered empathy and prayers and one last exhortation: “Keep your focus right, sister.”

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“Ouch” is too mild a word but I can’t spell the kind of gut-wrenching pain I felt when I read her message.  First it was the pain of vulnerability–she (by the Holy Spirit) had seen through my activities that evening to my heart…and what she saw was not pretty. I panicked. I wanted to defend myself, to find a way to cover up the filthy interior that she had glimpsed…but I knew I couldn’t. I began to come clean. To confess to a few dear friends who put up with me on a regular basis.

You see, FOCUS was the word I had chosen as my theme for the year. I was three months into the year and severe myopia had already set in. At 8 months in now I feel the lenses are outdated again. So I am starting to write. It is one of the things I know I am to do to help keep my focus right and to help regularly cleanse the inside of the dish. I am sure I will stumble and fall. And I am just as sure that He will lovingly cushion my fall with Grace, correct my vision and set my focus right again.

The Best of 2012

These are just a few thoughts that I posted over at incourage.me.

There are plenty more bests…perhaps this will be the first of a few installments. Here goes a beginning:

Best Analogy: A sculptor in a pottery village in Hanoi telling us (through a translator) how in his line of work he can’t just have a student to train, he needs a disciple. Sculpting is hard, messy work and takes years to learn. Isn’t this a perfect picture of what disciple of Jesus must be?
(*This man is CLOSE to entering the kingdom! Pray for him!)

Best News: From a Brazilian missionary in East Timor–that she had finally seen villagers coming to Christ after 9 years of serving there. The hard ground was broken.

Best Jeans: Second hand ones I got in a thrift store. Someone had already made them soft and comfortable for me:)

Best Tea: Korean cinammon tea with wolfberries I had in a Korean restaurant (I think it may be this Gugijacha (구기자차, 枸杞子茶) – made from dried wolfberries?)

Best Song; Wake Up by All Sons and Daughters. A nice version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03YxgFrDreg

Best Kids’ CD: Boom Chicka Boom by Colin Buchanan . This guy is one crazy Aussie! He puts scripture to music in the most amazing ways–the kids do. remember.

Best (most disturbing?) Book: Jia: A Novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim

Late night Reader-Writer Ramblings

Ann Voskamp said that when she has trouble finding things to write about it’s because she hasn’t been reading enough. When I heard that,  I knew that was one of the reasons why I haven’t been writing much. As much as I know the writing is for my healing, my sanity, my introverted way of getting things off my chest, the truth is my days are full of laundry and refereeing boy-fights and pushing through checklists to get to naptime that I really don’t even want to think when the day is over. I usually do some chores in the evening and watch tv if I can stay awake. Reading feels like a luxury to me; being able to read would mean that I had some time left at the end of the day, that I didn’t fall asleep the minute I laid down on the bed at night. I keep thinking things will change–and they will as the children go older– but I don’t want the bad habits to take root and grow like a creeping vine over my soul.

I was reminded of how writing and reading are good for me (and at the same time unearthing many memories) while cleaning out old notes from college classes. I was amazed at some of the things that I read (and apparently comprehended) and wrote. I must have been a lot smarter back then.

Now I just like to watch crime shows.  I asked The Man one night, what it is about crime shows that makes people want to watch them. There are so many of them on tv nowadays and they are highly addictive. He answered, easily, lucidly—“because people like the truth. In these shows, the truth always comes out in the end.”  He was right; I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

While that may true and deep, the real reason I was watching tv that night was that I didn’t want to think about what an awful mother I had been that evening. I yelled, I jerked, I spanked the most sensitive of my three children. And I couldn’t take it back. All I could do was beg God’s forgiveness, and my son’s forgiveness and pray that God would help me change this horrible way of dealing with my children. No, I don’t want them to be disobedient…but what can I expect with the way I’ve been acting.

I told myself I should pray instead of watch tv that night. I didn’t. But I am trying to do it more now–I really need it. I have been trying to do nice things for the children to let them know I love them but somehow that is hard for me. I am much better at giving orders than I am at giving gifts. I am very demanding but not very endearing.

So I may not be writing much because I am not reading much. And I may not be loving much because I’m not praying much. My friend reminded me last week not to get too busy–that Satan uses that to keep Christians from living a fulfilled life in God. She’s right. Time to make space for the praying and the reading so that the loving and the writing will come.

Back to the US of A–Part 1: Getting here

I knew what I was getting into, but decided that it was worth it. In the end, making the trip halfway around the world with three kids in tow was not as hard as I thought it was going to be. Sleeping and eating meals on the plane with a toddler in my lap was not easy. The prayers of a worried husband and concerned friends covered us, lifted us and got us here with no real problems. I am so grateful for that. My dad and his friend drove to Chicago and picked us up, which made things so much easier once we reached the US of A.

Leaving Chicago behind and heading south meant hours of flat land covered in corn and soybean fields (and in one place, huge windmills).  This 8+ hour drive from Chicago was probably more challenging than the 21 hours in planes and airports. An early lunch at Cracker Barrel helped some. The stark reality was that we were all bone tired. #1 slept much of the time, #2 wasn’t feeling very well (read: extremely whiny), Toddler Girl was clinging to me like plastic wrap and I was ready for a break from taking care of them. My dad and his friend were patient and accommodating on what was probably the most inefficient road trip either of them had ever taken.

After multiple stops for toilet breaks, snacks or petrol, we finally arrived at my hometown and were greeted by my sister’s family, my brother’s family (minus my brother who’d gone back to Missouri to work), my grandmother and my mom–who had dinner, bedrooms, even slippers ready for us.

The boys re-connected with their cousins right away and were out in the backyard, up trees and on the jungle gym in a matter of minutes. It’s always good to see them playing so well with their cousins whom they see so rarely. Toddler Girl took a little longer to get warmed up to these people she only remembered seeing occasionally on a computer screen. She was soon joining in the fun and took an immediate liking to my 90-year-old grandmother!

We had a late dinner, baths and finally we all got to bed around 10:30pm. The boys slept right through until 7:00am. First my phone ringing with a call from Singapore (which I did NOT answer), and then Toddler Girl woke me up at 3 and 4:30am respectively. There was no getting her back to sleep, so we got up, got dressed, had a snack and milk and went outside to get the newspaper, watch the birds feeding, feel the dew and experience the coolness of the early Tennessee morning.