Sunday, December 2, 2018

How does One Find Relief from the Darkness that Lurks Inside?

I sit in the dark to write this night, yet the darkness is not overwhelming because of the tiny lights that twinkle around me.
I have memories of sitting and gazing at the lighted Christmas tree in the front corner of our darkened living room as a child. We always cut down a real tree, and we usually brought home a specimen that was less than perfect {putting it kindly!}. Most years it was tied to a nail in the wall, because we never could get it quite straight, and most years it fell down at least once. Yet once it was covered in our old family ornaments and colored lights, I could never imagine anything more beautiful.

When I reminisce of Christmases past, I smile over times of cookie decorating and carol singing, story times and special movies, once-a-year treats and the Jesse tree, gift making and present wrapping. Most of all, though, I think of sitting next to the lighted tree in a dark room and just being.

Maybe the reason I love the lights of Christmas so much is because for many years I fought the darkness almost daily. Each tiny bulb on a string pushed back the shadows that always seemed to hover at the edges of my mind. I longed for such a light to fill my very being so I would never fear again.

Jesus was my Savior, that I knew, at least on the days that Fear didn't pull me down into the drowning depths of doubt. There were days I thought I would die there, that there was no hope for me to ever walk in the light as He is in the light. Oh, how I wished for that Light to swallow me, to fill my whole self, to banish the gloom forever. Instead I battled and fought with all my strength against this monster.

How does one quantify darkness? Dark, super dark, deep darkness, pitch black, inside-of-a-cave-with-no-lights? Is it darkness or light when truth is mixed with a lie? Doesn't that just make everything murky and dim, a distortion of what is true? I live in a place where every lie is mixed with the tiniest bit of truth, and the result is like glow-in-the-dark stars on a bedroom ceiling pretending to be the night sky. We have been called to such a place to preach the gospel. Some days I have felt like I was waving a tiny flashlight with dying batteries at all the forces of darkness.

Not only is there spiritual darkness, but we live in a culture that is built on fear. There are days when it is palpable. I used  to pray myself to sleep every night in terror of what might happen while I was unconscious. Every conversation, every encounter, every moment of every day contained something to be afraid of. How I longed, pleaded for some way to loosen fear's crushing grip on my heart.

Today while I was tying Lili's dress for church, her scar flashed silvery in the light. Her broken heart used to mire me in fear. Lili had a check-up on her heart this week. The prognosis was excellent, but not the complete healing we hoped for.
This time, though, the fear did not come.

I am no longer sucked under in a sea of doubt.
I don't feel like a lone torch against the blackness of this sinful world.
I do not live in terror of the night.

How did this happen? What splintered the darkness for me?
It was getting to know the Light.

For many years I fought fear with feelings and reason. I tried to figure out why I thought the way I did, and why I felt the way I did. I tried to reason away my fears. I quoted Bible verses at my fears. I tried to pray them away or sing them away. I tried and tried and tried until I was left a weeping, troubled, fearful, trembling soul, doubtful of even God's ability to change me. I couldn't live this way any longer, but I didn't know how to change it.

As I lay weeping in bed one night, I pleaded with God for help. For some time hubby and I had been talking about what the patriarchs actually knew about God since they had so little Scripture. The next day I began reading my Bible as usual, but as I read, the Holy Spirit opened my mind to an idea ~ God revealed Himself to His people through His names. I began to mark every new name of God I found with purple highlighter, and as I marked my eyes were opened to who God is. Chapter built on chapter, and as I saw God slowly unveiled before my eyes, I could no longer live in fear. It lost its power over me when I beheld Him in His wholeness and glory.

And so here I sit. This year my mind has been renewed by God's Word. As the Christmas lights flicker 'round me I no longer cling to their temporal relief. The Darkness has been banished by the Light.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dear Friend, The Dangers of A Wandering Mind for Mamas, Missionaries, and Just About Everybody Else

Dear Friend,
If I asked you right now where your thoughts have been today, what would you say? 

When we first moved to Ghana {over 15 years ago now!}, God gave us one of the most painful yet most wonderful gifts possible ~ the gift of leaving and cleaving. We had a miniscule amount of internet access, a.k.a we had to go to a tiny shop with ancient computers and pay by the hour to do email, one email taking roughly 45 minutes to open, reply, and send. Phone calls were an option but were so expensive that I could talk to my mom about once a month at also had to be done outside, because the signal got lost inside the concrete buildings here. The gift came in that we had no choice but to learn to accept that our new life was in Ghana. If we had friends, they would be here. If we enjoyed spending time with people, they would be here. If we were going to minister, it would be here. If we were going to live, it would be here.

Though that was really, really hard, it was for our good. It allowed us to "be all here" as Jim Elliot so wisely put it. And you know what? Ghana is our home now. We love this country, her people, and the ministry and life God has called us to here.

Maybe you wonder why I'm sharing this. Most of you aren't called to move half-way around the world and leave all you know. Many of you live near those that are nearest and dearest to your hearts. Yet I've found in my own life {and maybe your life too?} that with the advent of easy, cheap internet in my pocket, I can be tempted to seek to live my life a million miles away from where I actually am.

The other day while folding clothes I caught myself thinking about people I hadn't seen in over six months. I wasn't praying for them. I wasn't thinking of sending them a letter or dropping them a note online. I wasn't remembering a special time I had spend with them. I was wondering what they might think about a choice I had made. Ummmm, what?!? I hadn't talked to them about that choice. In fact, I haven't spoken with them in half a year. I'm here. They are not. This choice has nothing to do with them, and here I was worrying about what they might think if they knew.

Why is this even possible? Because in our day of instant and impersonal connection, I have the ability to spend my life thinking about people who really don't matter in my day to day life. I can ignore my own flesh and blood family to look at pictures of people I haven't seen since college. I can ponder on what somebody, somewhere will think of a picture I took and the following caption. I can be covetous of quick affirmation rather than finding my worth in Christ.

Now please don't think I'm condemning everyone who uses the internet to communicate with others ~ I AM writing this in Ghana, West Africa, mostly to people in America, many whom I've never met. Condemnation and judgement is not my goal. But my heart is broken when I think of how often I use the internet as an escape from what is right in front of my nose.

As I spent more time thinking on this, I realized that it was pointing me to a deeper problem than I had first realized. I am naturally an "in my head" kind of person. But when I started noticing where my mind went when it was wandering, I saw the pattern on repeat. Most of the time I was not thinking about the moment I was in and what I was supposed to be doing, and on many occasions I found myself mulling over things in sinful ways: complaining, debating, mentally arguing, worrying. 

 I had to ask myself what the root of my uncontrolled mind was. The answer? Discontentment. Dissatisfaction. Disobedience. Those are dangerous things to have in my life. They might look small, but these are weeds that have deep roots and grow rapidly. They breed all kinds of other sins. Jealousy, depression, envy, anger, covetousness, all of these can quickly sprout in such a heart, and those roots can spring into bitterness that soon destroys those around you.

God knew what a powerful gift He gave us when He gave us the brain He did. He knew its capacity for good and for evil. He knew its capabilities to revel in Him or reject Him. This is why He gave us the commands for our mind that He did. And so I turn to Scriptures that I've known for a long time, but have not been applying. First, I start meditating. When my mind is on Christ, there is no room for it to roam about looking for something else to satisfy it. Secondly, I remember that what I'm given to do at any moment can and should be done unto the Lord. The full Jim Elliot quote I mentioned above goes like this, "Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God."
That is my goal ~ a mind fixed on Christ and His will for me at this moment.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Dear Friends, Some Thoughts on Highs and Lows

Dear Friends,
It's Sunday night here and the rain is pouring on the tin roof of the house behind us. It is late in the year for the rains to still be coming like this, but I'm thankful for them. Dry season is on it's way and with it, the heat. The thermometer has been inching higher every week, and I'm quite sure the rains will stop any day now. This morning in church was uncomfortably warm, which is not too surprising in a building that is fashioned much like our outdoor bread ovens here - metal roof, block walls, and very little ventilation!

As I took a few minutes to check messages and emails just now, a picture from a college friend caught my eye. It was her and an older Indian lady standing in front of a building I recognized was the church building at Dohnavur Fellowship, Amy Carmichael's home in India! How many times have I dreamed of visiting there? How many books by her or about her have I read? We even named our second daughter Isobella Carmichael after her. Why? Because she gave her all to Jesus. She loved Him and served Him and sought to honor and glorify God with her life. And she inspired us to do the same.

This week has been a full one. Busy with the best things ~ schooling my children, discipling believers, reading to my girls, preaching the gospel to unbelievers, and seeking to daily live out the two greatest commandments. These full weeks can be hard too, because they are full of the mundane things ~ washing laundry, cooking food, mopping floors, doing our monthly grocery shopping, weeding the compound, picking up government paperwork in the capital, and again seeking to daily live out the two greatest commandments.

And when I wake up tired and discouraged on Sunday morning? That is extra hard. Why do I feel this way? This certainly does feel like what I thought being a missionary would feel like. I try to put my finger on it, but can't quite manage it. I ask God for strength to do what I should do in spite of how I feel.

We get to church. A young lady I've been witnessing to for a while now is there. I invite her to another room during the Sunday school hour and continue to share the gospel with her. She listens. One of our few married couples comes to church today with their 40-day old daughter. It is time to welcome her to the world and give her her name. As I sit and listen to her father share their testimony of turning from dead idols unto the living God, and how they want to name their precious girl after a servant of the Lord so she will worship Him always, the tears slip down my cheeks.
Tonight, one of our men is doing the teaching for the evening service. He begins to share his testimony of coming to Christ. It began with a tract some nine years ago, and now that same young man has been called of God and is being trained.

All these things come to mind when I spot that picture from India. In the comments is a note ~ the Indian woman my friend is standing with in the picture was one of Amy's children. Amy's words that I copied down just this afternoon come flooding into my heart and mind:

My Vow
Whatsoever Thou sayest unto me, by Thy grace I will do it.
My Constraint
Thy love, O Christ, my Lord.
My Confidence
Thou art able to keep that which I have committed unto Thee.
My Joy
To do Thy will, O God.
My Discipline
That which I would not choose, but which Thy love appoints.
My Prayer
Love to live, live to love.
My Portion
The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.

Amy Carmichael had to face both the exciting and the boring, the romantic and the daily grind, the mountain tops and the valleys. She chose to fix her eyes on the eternal. I think I needed to be reminded to do the same.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Dear Friends, Thoughts on Habits

Dear Friends,
I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks about change and growth, hence what I wrote a few weeks ago. But I've also been meditating a good deal on surrender and habits, and the roles these play in our lives. Several years ago I began reading the books of a turn of the century {last century!} British educator named Charlotte Mason. I have quoted her from time to time here.

She was a Christian lady who believed that the Bible laid out everything we needed to understand to teach children the way God designed for them to be taught. One of the three prongs of education that she spent time writing about was habit formation. She believed that one of our duties as parents was to help our children form good habits.

The reason I've been dwelling on this so much, though, is because the farther I go in life, the more I realize how much *I* need good habits. In fact, many, many days, the reason I sin is because it is just what I normally do. I can want it to be different. I can want to change. I can even ask God for help, but if I do not first admit that what I am doing is wrong {repent} and surrender that area to the Lord, it will not permanently change.

I may manage to force myself to do differently for a while, but eventually my will power will run out, and I will go back to my old way of doing things. That is natural. That is walking in the strength of my flesh rather than walking in the spirit.

As I've seen the fruits of growth in my life, I've been asking myself what have been the catalysts that have allowed my thinking to be transformed. Time and time again, I can think back to a decision where God asked me to submit to Him. As I chose to bow my will to His, He changed my mind. I had to come to the understanding that I was wrong, and He was right. I then had a choice to follow my own way or obey His. Praise the Lord that in His mercy, He has helped me to do so.

I've learned that the more times one comes under God's authority, the easier it gets. Submission is a lot like faith ~ it has to be exercised to grow.

It doesn't end there, though. A change of mind must be followed by a change of actions. Anybody who has tried to follow a diet plan, lost weight, and then put back on the same weight understands our natural human tendencies. It is easiest to do what we've always done. If we've always eaten dessert every night after supper, the normal thing to do is to eat dessert every night after supper.

So how does one ever end the cycle of habitual sin? After repentance and submission we must form a new habit. We must replace the old habit of disobeying God with the new habit of obeying God.
At this point, you may be ready to stone me, but stick with me a little longer. God's Word talks about the principle of replacement.

Nature abhors a vacuum. When we seek to remove a sin from our lives and don't put obedience to truth in its place, we will soon fall back into our old patterns of behavior. We MUST establish a new way of thinking.

I'm just beginning to have my eyes opened to how wonderful God is in this area. He has made our minds to work in such a way that those old habits can be replaced {actually rewritten!} in our physical brains!
He wants us to become more like Him. He wants us to think like He thinks, speak like He speaks, choose what He chooses. He wants us to be little Christs on this earth, but that can only happen as we learn to daily take up our crosses. I used to think of this in very "spiritual", kinda hooky-pooky terms, but I've come to understand that it simply means doing what God wants me to do today.

As an example:

An area that God has worked on in my heart and mind is internet use. Anything that controls me {rather than me controlling it} is an addiction. I do not have an addiction to the internet, BUT it is an area where I know I must maintain good habits. I've spent time praying about it and have set these parameters over the years: 1) I do not keep my internet switched 'on' on the notifications, no vibrations, no pinging. 2) I do not get on the phone/computer until after I am done with schoolwork with my girls for the day. 3) I do not get on the internet if I have not spent time with the Lord yet that day. 4) If I feel that I am spending too much time on the internet, then I will set a limit for the day and tell my hubby {which helps to keep my accountable}. Sometimes that means one check for anything pressing, i.e. email and messages, and sometimes that means not using it for the day.

Do these things keep me from sinning in this area? Not entirely, but they certainly help. By working to establish a habit of wise internet-use, I am seeking to stop the problem before it starts. God promises a way of escape from temptation, yet so often I choose to walk straight into sin, and then ask God why He allowed me to do so.

Why do I share this? Is it because I'm perfect? Nope.
Is it because I have all the answers? Again, no.
Is it because I don't sin any more? NO.
I share this because maybe somebody, somewhere hasn't been taught these things,
or hasn't understood how God can work in his or her life to remove a besetting sin.
I can testify to seeing these things to be true not only in my own life,
but also in countless lives of others.
God wants us to walk with Him every day.
He made a way for it to happen.
Now we get to choose if we will do so  or not.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Dear Friends, Some Thoughts on Changing

Dear Friends,
I think that is how I want to begin my writing here from now on....I love sending and receiving real letters, and it helps me know where to begin when I sit down to write on Sunday nights. It may change. We'll see.
As I've thought about this little spot on the internet, I've wondered about why I write here at all. For a while I reached a point where I thought I'd stop writing altogether, because there are now so many other ways to connect online. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that *I* would be losing something by doing away with this place to take more time and space to share what God is doing in Ghana and in my heart. So I continue.
The last few years have been quieter years in my sharing here. God has been working and molding and shifting and changing me, and most days I've not known exactly what He was doing or why He was doing it. I couldn't figure out what should be shared and what shouldn't be shared, and how things all fit together and how to say any of it in a way that would be a blessing or a help rather than just a jumbled mess of my own thoughts or an embarrassment to those around me. I chose quiet as the only answer.
And now here I am at the end of a five year period of a whole lot of searching and digging and reading and stretching and learning and growing, and I am beginning to see all that God has been working on, and all I can do is praise His name.

A few weeks ago the girls called me outside to see something {this is a normal occurrence in this house...the downfalls of encouraging all that God-given curiosity, I guess!}. We have a giant, ugly weed that likes to pop up regularly on our compound, but this time they noticed that it was covered in tiny, spiky caterpillars. It was mind-boggling to see how those little, bitty guys could completely decimate a leaf. As we inspected the leaves we found these caterpillars in all sizes and stages. It became a treat to check the weed daily to see how our new "pets" were coming along.

We saw them eat and molt and move to bigger leaves and molt and eat and molt and grow and molt. It was such a living lesson in the life cycle of a butterfly, and we were having fun with this chance to observe and record all we were learning.

But then after school one day the girls called me outside to see the newest thing - a batch of the caterpillars were off the weed and on the move. We watched some rather harrowing battles between them and the ants, but a number of them made it to places they thought were safe enough to spin their chrysalises. There were several of them on the compound walls and one even attached itself to our front door.

We waited patiently, hoping to be able to catch the day those ugly caterpillars entered the world as beautiful butterflies. The girls checked dutifully. We even ran extra checks after heavy rain storms just to make sure that their 'glue' had held {of course it did.....God knew what He was doing when He created them!}, but still, we wanted to make sure.

Friday morning I heard the girls shout for me, but not in happiness. All the chrysalises we had been checking were empty. We were all disappointed, but what could we do? We had another set of caterpillars growing bigger by the day so we determined to get some of them into a jar when they moved off to spin. Saturday morning, though, the girls came running into the house shouting for the camera. They had found a few chrysalises they hadn't seen before and the brand-new butterflies were just emerging.

We spent a while watching those trembling, newly-formed creatures just sit and let their wings dry. They weren't in any hurry. They knew that their first job was to be still, to wait until it was time for the next thing - flying. But they also were wise enough to know that if they didn't do the first thing well, the second would never happen.

I imagine God sees me a bit like a caterpillar. He knows exactly how the whole life of that insect is going to work. He has it planned, each exact step following the exact one before it. There is no hurrying or rushing about, for He knows that each part of the plan is necessary to reach the final goal - butterflyhood! He also knows the mysterious way in which an ugly, spiky, grubby-looking insect can enter a fragile, shiny chrysalis and transform into something brand-new and completely different from the thing which entered.
How often do I doubt my Creator and His plan for me? I am so quick to fret when I can't make sense of what is going on in my life. I forget that He is eternal, and being so makes Him outside of time. He can see every single part of my life, from beginning to end, all at the same time. He knows how to weave together every moment, every influence, every thought, every encounter for His purpose. And greater than all of that is the truth that He wants to change me! He doesn't want me to stay a marred image-bearer, but rather, He wants to transform me {in Greek that is the same word we get our scientific term metamorphosis cool is that?!?}, and He will not be done until Christ is formed in me. 
Now I don't know where in this process I actually am. I'd love to think that I was already a lovely butterfly, but I'm pretty sure I'm still in grub stage. So I learn to wait patiently here. He is changing me, but each step is in His time and His way, not my own.