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A new decade; A continuing challenge

August 2, 2017

It is said time passes quickly; it seems true to me that decades do indeed fly by!

This is my last month to be in my 50s. One fun thing I can think of in turning 60, along with a party, cake and presents, is that I can be called a sexagenarian—just one letter away from being a sexy-genarian!

I was alarmed when I read, “Almost everyone who does not finish well fails in the second half of life,” in the book Live Like You Mean It by T.J. Addington. Knowing I am well into the second half of life, I must continue to be on guard because I desire to finish well.

As I’ve considered reasons why the second half of life might be more perilous, it makes sense!

  • We can grow overconfident trusting in our own maturity that comes from life and ministry experience. We might forget how desperately we need God’s power.
  • We can grow lazy and content in our current condition. It might be tempting to rest on our laurels glorying in past victories without much thought in pressing onward and pursuing God for future endeavors.
  • We discover what we are good at and can choose to stay in our comfort zone avoiding risks that would challenge us beyond our competencies to further reliance on Him.
  • We think we are safe from giving in to sin and become negligent, especially if we have been successful over major temptations in the past.
  • Our walk with God can grow stale as our quiet times become mere ho-hum rituals.
  • Maybe bitterness from past hurts has taken up residence and is enveloping a larger portion of our heart causing our love for God to grow cold.
  • We are tired. It takes energy to live well and as we grow older we don’t have as much vigor as we used to, but we keep living and serving like we do!

There are probably many more possible reasons for not finishing well! But there is only one person who can help us stay the course–Jesus.

By his grace, may I love Jesus with all my heart. Pursue him. Abide in him. Live for him. Pray to him. Trust in him. Know him. Hope in him. Notice all the action verbs! We keep actively pursuing God by faith whatever our age! But our actions are only effective because it is the Lord on whom we rely and He empowers us to live for him. He is the giver of the gift of eternal life, whether we are tricenarians, septuagenarians or octogenarians! One might think that 90 is really old, but look at the term–nonagenarians— ‘non age’ is how it starts!

Being old in physical age pales in comparison with the eons of eternity. Whether we are in the first or the latter half of life, we know that life continues even after physical death. Jesus invites us to relentlessly pursue him in this lifetime as well as to live with him in the eternity that is to come!

For all who are aging may we be reminded:  Stay the course. Keep eternity in your eyes. Never give up. Jesus is powerful. Jesus is worthy.

May we each finish well as we prepare for a good start on our forever after with him!

 

 

 

 

 

Uni-Tasking!

July 11, 2017

Though many years have passed, I still remember the day as a mother of four little children when I multi-tasked to the best of my ability. My baby daughter was hungry, I had to go to the bathroom, and as always there was laundry to be done. So, while sitting on the toilet I was also nursing my daughter, and since the washing machine was situated next to the toilet so I began pulling out the damp clothes that eventually needed to be hung outside to dry. I felt harried. In the midst of multi-tasking there was no cuddling my daughter (it was probably not the most comfortable nursing experience for me or her as my arm swung to and from the washing machine!) nor was there a tender moment gazing into her lovely, big brown eyes. I was thinking of the tasks that needed to be done and I was getting three done at one time! I felt that it was necessary to multi-task to finish everything I needed to do.

kids when littleWhen the kids were little, life was busy; days were full; nights could be sleepless. Nothing prevented the accumulation of things that needed to be done. I’m sure this is true for moms whether you work across cultures or not; but I think all would agree that there is added stress when living outside of your home country. There was the soaking of fruits and vegetables in bleach water, boiling drinking water—and not confusing the two! We hung clothes out to dry and thus there was a need for ironing. Dust from the Sahara blew daily through open windows on hot sunny days which resulted in more housework as well as warm sweaty bodies dirtying their clothes that caused more soiled laundry and the cycle kept repeating! Add to that time with neighbors and friends, helping the kids with homework, play time, family devotions, and settling sibling squabbles as well as marital disagreements! I was tired. I needed to multi-task to survive. I think, to some degree, I felt better about myself the more responsibilities I could juggle at one time.

And yet in hustle and bustle of life, there are other precious moments that stand out to me when it didn’t look like a lot was getting done, but my soul was being restored in simply enjoying one thing at a time!

I remember sitting in the one corner of our hot apartment where I could feel a cross breeze and nurse my baby. It was quiet. I was still. It was her and me. I could rest and take that time to enjoy the closeness of just my daughter and me. No laundry. No dusting. Just me, her, and a gentle breeze.

I set my alarm a little early so that when I got up the apartment was quiet. I put on the tea kettle, sat down by the open oven door when it was winter, and read from the Bible. I prayed. Oswald Chambers became a friend as I often read through “My Utmost for His Highest”. I sought my heavenly Father in the stillness before doors slammed and feet ran. Again, to an outsider looking in—what was I accomplishing? I didn’t appear productively busy, but I met God there and he prepared me for the day.

I remember a few late-night talks at the foot of our kids’ beds. I knew there were other things that needed to be done, I was tired, but on those occasions when I took the time to sit I heard deeper questions and enjoyed unrushed conversations with four of the most important people in the world to me. Those other things to do would be there later and would be there again next week and next month and next year. There would always be tasks. There will always be laundry.  Not so, these opportunities when my kids were living at home.

Most of my memories involving multi-tasking tend to run together—except for my proud multi-tasking moment in the bathroom which one must wonder if it was really that good of a moment! I can’t remember much about multi-tasking except that there was always more to do!

But those quiet moments, those uni-task more intense relational opportunities between me and others or me and God, stand out from all the rest and still manage to bring a smile to my face and joy to my soul.

In today’s world, I think it is way more difficult to concentrate on one task at a time. We have many time-saving devices, but we have filled our time with more devices! Our phones are dinging, face book is calling, computers are waiting—all urgently trying to divert our attention away from the important people directly in front of us. We now mentally and physically multi-task more than ever. Texting and driving, texting while talking, never quite giving anyone in front of us our undivided attention. It can seem more of a priority to connect with people around the world than the ones in our living room!

I’ve been with my grandchildren, ten of the most significant people in my world that I don’t get to see very often, and I am sad to say there is often a smart phone in my hand and multi-tasking on my mind. Before I know it, I have missed an opportunity to interact face to face one-on-one with my full attention on this little person who might not recognize by my actions that they are more important to me than anything on my phone.

Spending time with God away from my smart phone, sitting to read a book that encourages my soul, resting on a Sunday afternoon, chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee ignoring even the slighted buzz of my nearby phone, actively listening to my grandson’s imaginative story without interruptions—these uni-task opportunities are intentionally delightful and ultimately more purposeful than doing even a thousand things at once!

Maybe life shouldn’t be so focused on being productive that I lose sight of living purposefully.

Multi-tasking can possibly make us more productive; I know it makes us busier. Multi-tasking can also be a relationship buster and soul burdener.

We have one life—each day is an opportunity in which to intentionally and meaningfully choose to live with purpose. There is a time for productive multi-tasking. We must also make time for purposeful uni-tasking!

 

 

My Wheaton Moment

June 14, 2017

Years ago, our older daughter was looking at colleges. She applied to several and was accepted by all of them except one. Wheaton. She had already decided she didn’t want to go there and had chosen a different college that she was excited about. But it irked her that Wheaton didn’t choose her.

Why not? Why didn’t they want her? What was wrong with her?

I told her that it didn’t matter since she didn’t want to go there anyway. She didn’t choose them so why did it matter that they didn’t choose her?

She still wondered why.

Why not her?

I teased her about it every so often.

But no more!

I had my own ‘Wheaton moment’ last month. The church planting council I am a part of was going to nominate two people to serve on the international council of our organization. Serving on the international council was an opportunity to serve and help our mission achieve its goal of church planting among least-reached peoples. My name was mentioned along with two other names to make up the slate from which we would vote.

As I thought about this opportunity, I realized that I was already juggling several projects and had some training opportunities coming up with which I would be busy. I also thought about my strengths and wondered if they would be needed as much as what the other two people would bring. As I looked at timing, gifting and personnel, I decided to vote for the other two people.

And so did the majority of others. I was not elected onto the council.

It’s strange knowing I did not vote for me and had already decided that not being on the international council would be best for me and the council—yet after hearing that I wasn’t chosen by others, I started wondering why.

Why didn’t others vote for me to be on the council? What was wrong with me? What was I lacking? Was this a vote against my leadership capabilities? What weaknesses were people seeing? Maybe I didn’t contribute to meetings as much as I was hoping I did.

I was reeling and this shocked me. I learned a long time ago that my value as a person is not related at all to my accomplishments or to other people’s opinions of me. I know these concepts well and have applied them to my life; I’ve even taught them to others! And yet in this one instance it took only a few seconds for old doubts and long-buried feelings of insecurity based on Satan-driven lies to rise to the surface. I was left doubting my significance and value.

Why not me?

I was embarrassed that it affected me. After all, I’m 59 ¾ years old! I thought for sure I had outgrown feelings like this!

A bonus of being older is that through the years I have learned what to do when confronted with feelings that erupt from lies (you aren’t worthy, you aren’t important, your gifts aren’t needed). I forcefully waded my way through those untruths and got back to truth found in the Word of God,

In truth and by God’s power, I can be set free from feelings based on lies.

I can focus on truth. I am loved by God. I am gifted by God with gifts of his choosing. I matter to God so much that his Son died for my sins so that I could be reconciled to the Father. I am a member of the body of Christ and as such have a role to play with his power— not left to my own limited resources. The Lord has a purpose for my life and sovereignly places me where he can use me for his glory.

I thank God that has put me in this place for this time. I am confident that this decision was God’s will and praise him for his plan.

I sincerely believe that those we voted on to the council are needed and well-equipped. They will provide valuable insights and clear thinking. I am happy for God leading in this way and I pray often for this council that God will guide their steps and establish the work of their hands.

Believers in Jesus are not held captive to lies; we are not hopelessly doomed to repeatedly give in to temptation. We can choose truth and be set free.

And there is always hope that when I turn 60 I will have finally outgrown those pesky adolescent-like feelings of insecurity that occasionally flared up in those first five decades!

I gave God my life but not my toothbrush!

May 11, 2017

Lessons I’ve learned in the past continue to be an encouragement to me in the present as I seek to serve God in my small ways. Let me share one of my favorite life-impacting lessons involving a toothbrush:

During our early years in the Middle East, one morning during my quiet time I had such a burning desire in my heart for God to use me. My heart was reaching out to God. I poured out my soul before his throne. “Oh, God.” I cried. “Use me to honor your name. Whatever the cost—prison, beatings, martyrdom—I want to serve you. Take my life today to use as you see fit. You are my King and I give myself to you.” I shared this desire with others in our team. I felt so ready to lose anything for the kingdom.

Then we had a houseguest . . . again. Elliot used to come to our house a lot. He had no money, no job, and no place to stay. I would get so tired of serving tea, reheating dinner when he came late, washing the extra pajamas and sheets, and rearranging our kids so he could have a place to sleep. I grew to have a very poor attitude in my service toward this brother. Soon he stopped coming.

Later I heard he was sleeping at the bus station and not eating regularly. Stricken with remorse, the next time he called, I asked him where he had been and invited him to come see us again. You see I had had my quiet time and I was ready to give up my life for the kingdom.

Then he used my toothbrush and he left it bloody. I was angry. It was my favorite toothbrush—though I hadn’t realized it till then! He was my husband’s friend—why didn’t he choose to use my husband’s toothbrush? I would have to go buy a new toothbrush. I knew I could never find another like it. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. “God—look what happens. I did this for you. I wanted to help this guy out and what does he do? He picks my toothbrush to use and get bloody. I can’t believe it! I have to buy a new toothbrush. I liked my toothbrush. God, it isn’t fair!”

Then I heard a still, small voice. “You offered me your life. You mentioned beatings, prison, and a willingness to be martyred. All I asked from you today is your toothbrush.” 

It is easy to get grandiose in my thinking about sacrifice: anything for you, Lord; anywhere for you, Lord; anytime for you, Lord. When what God is looking for is my service to him in the here and now details of my life, the small things I have to give today. It isn’t likely that I will ever be beaten, stay in prison or be a martyr. Maybe that is why I am so ready to give myself to God for these spectacular opportunities to serve (at least it sounds spectacular in a book written by someone who survives it all).

What God wants from me is to be open day by day, minute by minute to serve him by giving him not only my life, but my toothbrush as well.

(One of my Screams in the Desert, published by William Carey Library)

My oldest son shared a new thought with me a few years ago, “Maybe he used your toothbrush before as well, but this one time he forgot to rinse it off and put it back.” I thanked him for making me aware of that possibility! Sigh.

Ripples

April 14, 2017

ripples

Don and I visited the Billy Graham Library (billygrahamlibrary.org) a few years ago and came across this plaque. It traces ripples. Edward Kimball led Moody to Jesus. God used Moody in the life of F.B. Meyer who in turn led Wilber Chapman to the Lord. Wilbur worked with Billy Sunday who invited Mordecai Ham to speak where Billy Graham came to know Jesus. Then, of course God used Mr. Graham to share the Gospel with many people around the world. It is fascinating to see what happened because of one Sunday School teacher talking to a shoe clerk about Jesus! Investing in people who invest in other people who invest in other people …. God ordains the most amazing ripple effects from the smallest acts of obedience. I am fairly certain that Edward Kimball did not know the impact this one act of obedience of sharing the gospel would have. He was simply being faithful to what God called him to do one day at a time.

I was at a retreat recently and a woman shared a picture of a fountain with me. There were individual drips of water dropping into the pooled water below, but each small drop affected the water as the ripples expanded further and further. The symbolism is beautiful!

Sometimes we may be aware when God uses us to cause ripples! We might be talking with a friend, instructing a child, performing an act of kindness and a person says thank you or somehow lets you know that God used you to change them. They then take what they learned from you and God uses them to touch other lives. Those lives touch other lives. Ripple effect in action. Even when seeing it happen, we probably can’t know in this lifetime how far the ripples go!

Most times, however we don’t know when God is using us to make ripples! Merriam Webster’s definition of ripple effect is: spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ripple%20effect). Many ripple effects are unintentional. Maybe because of small beginnings or the time it takes to trace the outcomes—whatever the reason people often live and die without knowing the full extent of the influence their lives had on others.

Part of the fascination of ripple effects is that we are unaware of what word or action may start one! It would most likely be something little that one wouldn’t think would spark a wildfire. When William Carey went to India, he wasn’t thinking about becoming the “father of modern missions”! He was simply being obedient to God’s call on his life one day at a time. When Hudson Taylor went to China, his goal wasn’t to start the China Inland Mission, but to share the Gospel with Chinese people. There are other famous names to whom ripple effects can be traced.

There are many, many more people who are not known to us but who God used to create ripple effects to accomplish his purposes around the world. Pastors, missionaries, teachers, doctors, construction workers, carpenters, nurses, homemakers, college students, teen agers, musicians, electricians and plumbers—it isn’t a person’s profession that causes ripple effects. It is trusting in Jesus and obeying God in what he has called us to do.

I think of my mother-in-law. She moved about five times as an adult and all the moves were within a one mile radius. Even so, she influenced people around the world!

She inspired several generations through her teaching and praying at church whose members lived that out in their community. Ripples.

She volunteered at a thrift store that sent Bibles to South America. Ripples

She loved people. She loved Jesus. Because of that love, she witnessed to and prayed for neighbors, co-workers, sales people, and ex-cons—just about everyone she met. Ripples.

She also raised and discipled five children. One child grew to pastor and serve the Lord in America, Italy and Africa as well as other countries along the way. Another son pastored a church for twenty-two years before God called him home. We still hear stories of Larry’s legacy that live beyond him and are influencing a new generation. The third son pastored churches in Illinois and Texas and faithfully works with young people who need Jesus. Her last son has served God in his home country as well as the Middle East, India, and Spain. Her only daughter counsels those who are hurting and need healing in their hearts and minds. Ripples.

One life given to Jesus … lived in one town for his glory … led to ripple effects felt around the world. And though she is in heaven now, her life is still rippling!

Often we look at our actions and determine if what we did was valuable based on immediate reactions and results. We have our idea of what success looks like. If it doesn’t appear that our ministry is prospering right away, then we might think we’ve failed or made a mistake. We may be tempted to give up or stop trying. We may grow discouraged and wane in our obedience to the Lord.

We forget about ripples. We overlook the Almighty One who can take one act of obedience or one step of faith and create a ripple effect for generations to come!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” Galatians 6:9

Ripples.

Team life is a little like banking!

March 16, 2017

Don and I were living overseas when our kids were younger. Our older two children went to a national private school where they learned Arabic, English and a little bit of French. It was time for a parent-teacher meeting. I was feeling rather busy and thought Don should be the parent to go there. He was also feeling rather busy and he thought I should be the one to go. We had several ‘discussions’ about this topic. In the end, I went (being a good, submissive wife) but not with a very good attitude (this pretty much cancelled out the positive aspect of submitting!). I think it would be safe to say I had a very negative, bitter attitude. I was mad…so mad that I didn’t want to talk with him or be near him.

Soon after this squabble we had a team meeting at our apartment. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but I was still so mad I didn’t care. I did not sit next to him at the meeting. Did I think no one would notice? It was apparent to my teammate that there was an issue since Don and I normally sat next to each other (and talked to each other!). After our meeting, she came up to me and asked, “Did you and Don have an argument?”

“Yes we did,” I replied. Before I could go into the unfairness of me having to go to the meeting, she simply said, “Get it fixed!”

Now, my friend is one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate women I know. When she told me what to do I knew she was right. I didn’t get angry. I wasn’t upset … maybe a little surprised but more convicted than anything! After the team meeting I did what she said. I got it fixed!

One of the reasons she could confront me and I could accept it and change my attitude, is that I knew she loved me. In the ‘bank account’ of our friendship (so to speak) she had been making many deposits. She called me to see how I was, we babysat each other’s kids, we did ministry together, we took care of each other when we were sick, we prayed for each other, we worshiped together, she was someone I could turn to when I was having an awful day. I remember one morning in particular. Picture a frazzled mom, four little kids, a pair of scissors and a cut up curtain. Before breakfast.

After the school bus picked up two of my kids and the other two were at their preschool I went to my friend’s building and knocked on her door. Unannounced and unexpected, I stood at her door crying. Still in her robe and quite busy herself, she took me in, let me cry and talk as she listened, cared, comforted and prayed with me. I left her apartment—not with solutions but with a strong sense of being cared for and supported.

Sometimes what happens on teams or any friendship is that the relationship ‘bank account’ has too many withdrawals—confrontations, criticisms, misunderstanding, poor communication—and the relationship can’t handle the strain of yet another withdrawal when there have been no positive deposits.

We have been blessed with loving team mates. These are friends who loved us enough to make regular deposits into our lives so that when it was time for a withdrawal, we knew it was coming from love and support.

There was another time when I was feeling overwhelmed with life and ministry and I thought we were handling it well. However, I guess it became obvious to our team we needed a little boost. The team took the initiative to take care of our kids and surprised us with a weekend away at a favorite hotel. We were blown away by their kindness. We came back refreshed and refueled. After that, they could have confronted us about anything and we could have handled it our relationship bank account was overflowing!

Loving teammates who care enough to proactively love us and to lovingly confront us are precious soul mates. Friendships can handle the hardships, stressors, disagreements, and differing opinions when the relationships are strong due to the loving deposits we make by caring, listening, serving and praying.

There have been a few times when we have been overdrawn on our bank account. There have always been fines, fees and spiraling consequences for bounced checks. We sadly ended up losing more money than the original amount of the overdraft! It was maddening.

It is the same thing with relationships. Loss, sadness and pain are always associated with too many withdrawals and insufficient deposits.

Have you made any deposits today?

Regret and Fear; Faith and Life

February 10, 2017

In thinking of our first cross-cultural ministry, I have a regret. Actually, I have more than one, but there is this one that I’ve been pondering.

The culture where our team ministered was resistant to the Gospel. At different times there were crackdowns on those who shared Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation with people. If there was a complaint against someone; if someone was seen as too bold or gave literature to an informant that person might be in trouble. He could be taken in for questioning and released, imprisoned, or possibly deported. We saw all three things take place among people we knew. I can’t think of any western minister who was severely tortured or martyred. I do know of national believers who were and I felt powerless to help them.

The government in that country used fear as a weapon to effectively to keep people in line. Secret police were kept busy keeping tabs on what was going on in the country. They routinely visited churches. When small groups of believers met together, some were enticed or coerced by authorities to provide information on people. As a result, some were deported and others were jailed. There was always the tension of seeking to be very wise and yet always bold when sharing the Gospel.

For someone who tends to be timid and more compliant—like me—the temptation to give into fear when under strain can feel overwhelming. I don’t like getting into trouble and I don’t like causing other people trouble! My regret is that I had let fear become a factor in my own life more often than I care to admit. As a result of that fear, guilt entered the picture especially when I shared the Gospel. This is not good for a person who is called to ministry!

I remember one time in particular feeling a heavy burden of guilt after sharing the story of Jesus with my national friend. At first she seemed excited about Jesus and His love for her, but then as she thought about consequences of choosing to believe in Him her eyes dimmed. She asked me, “Do you know what would happen to me if I believed the Gospel you are sharing?” I did know. She could lose her home, her husband, her children and her life. All that she loved could be stripped away from her for trusting in Jesus. I felt like I was inviting my friend to a life of misery and not to God’s wonderful plan for her life. In my sadness I turned to God’s Word and read Hebrews 10:32-39 soon after that encounter.

Hebrews 10: 32-39

But remember the former days, when after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

I was reminded that I should not be asking her to lose something that I myself am not also prepared to lose. Knowing and following Jesus in this life is not always easy. However, He has promised not only to never leave us, but to give peace and joy in the midst of whatever suffering we encounter in this world. He also promises us an eternal home in heaven with Him! I had to keep in mind what is to be gained in eternity, not focus on what could be lost temporarily. I was emboldened by God’s Word to keep sharing the Gospel. By faith overcoming fear, I could determine not to let the momentary overtake the eternal. This life is fleeting; the life to come is everlasting.

May God continue to help me stand firm by faith and not shrink back. May I consistently choose loving Jesus over loving temporary possessions and momentary safety. May I incessantly and fearlessly love others and point them to Jesus who is our only eternal hope in the midst of a fleeting world.