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Archive for April, 2010

Not much had changed in 36 years. The pathways were worn, and the buildings looked older – but with freshly painted Bible verses on the walls. It was the fall of 2007, and the private Latin American boarding school in this Colombian coastal city looked virtually the same as when I was a young teacher there in 1971.

I was 22 then, fresh out of college. As well as teaching all day, I had to be dorm mother to the students at night and on weekends, making sure they brushed their teeth and got to bed on time, and supervising the cleaning of their rooms and washing clothes by hand in a bucket.

Daniela, a bitter woman in her 40s, was the director of the school. She didn’t want me to make friends with the students, or even talk to them. It evidently made her jealous that the students liked me. Daniela accused me of prejudice against her because she was Colombian and I was American, even though I grew up in Latin America! She also couldn’t understand why I begged for time off to go to the beach that was just minutes from the school, or to visit my friends in the city. After all, she never went anywhere! This school was her whole life.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t stay there any longer. So one day, saying I was going on a “short vacation,” I left Colombia and went home to Mexico. I never returned.

For years I felt guilty about leaving on bad terms, without really saying goodbye. So when I had a chance to go back to Colombia in 2007, I started asking God for a chance to see Daniela, if she were still there and still alive. Amazingly, I ran into a man who knew about this small school and gave me the phone number! With fear and trepidation, I went to meet Daniela, taking a friend with me for support.

Bed-ridden for two years with diabetes that claimed both her legs and most of her eyesight, Daniela was a totally different person from the hard, angry woman I knew before. She smiled gently when I came into the room, genuinely happy to see me.

I told Daniela I had come to ask for forgiveness. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to remember that I had left under negative circumstances. There was no resentment, no anger. I was clearly forgiven. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming love for this lady, now in her 70s, who had lived a lonely and difficult life. Through my tears, I prayed for Daniela as I knelt next to her bed, aware that this was a heavenly moment.

Daniela died just a few months after I saw her. What a blessing it was to see her and ask for forgiveness. I thought I had gone for Daniela when I went to Colombia and asked for her forgiveness. But it turned out that the healing and release, the peace that came from forgiving and being forgiven, was really for me.

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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Something was terribly wrong. George’s pained expression as he listened to his friend on the phone caused the rest of our group to fall into an anxious silence. George was one of a handful of Americans who were visiting the small East Asian city where my roommate and I taught English classes. My Asian team leaders were treating us all to a Western-style breakfast buffet when we were interrupted by a phone call for George.

In obvious anguish, George hung up the phone, avoiding our concerned looks. Then, with great difficulty, he began telling us of his friend Ben, whose family has worked in a ministry in southeast Asia for about 30 years. Ben called because his son, a college student in the U.S., had just committed suicide.

My stomach churning, I poked at the eggs and fruit on my plate, sick with horror and numb with shock. The ticking of my watch pulsed in my ears. No one spoke.

Finally Sam, my Asian team leader, got up from his chair and walked over to stand behind George. Grabbing his shoulders, he squeezed them tightly, and then put his head on George’s head in a tender gesture of sympathy. Sitting down next to him, Sam gave George a cup of juice and encouraged him to take a sip. He placed a slice of bread in his hand, gently pushing it towards his mouth as if he were a toddler, trying to get him to eat. Suddenly Sam, though he’s younger than George, was assuming a fatherly role towards his suffering friend.

These two men were from vastly different cultures and didn’t even speak the same language, but at this moment of intense grief, no words were necessary. Sam’s physical presence and acts of compassion were a greater comfort than any spoken assurances would have been.

Romans 12:15 says to “weep with those who weep.” Sometimes the best thing to do for a friend who has experienced loss is simply to be there. We may not know what to say or what to do, but we can listen and share the pain. Just as the Holy Spirit comforts us in our suffering, so we can be a comfort to others. When words aren’t enough, may we be the presence of Christ to those who are grieving.

(For further help for your heart, click HERE)

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  II Corinthians 1:3-4 (NAS)


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When I was in 3rd or 4th grade and my Sunday School teacher talked about forgiving your enemies, I tried really hard to think of someone, anyone, who was my enemy. I had this image in my head of forgiveness as being a monumental act of granting pardon for a horrific crime, like Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery – And I certainly didn’t feel I had any issues that fell into that category. Any hurts I had received I kept well hidden from the world, thinking they weren’t significant.

This “stuff it and forget it” philosophy followed me into my adult life. Yes, I felt misunderstood and unappreciated by my leaders, but I just needed to be more patient and submissive. Yes, my roommate was manipulative and controlling and cruel, but I must have done something to upset her. Forgive? Me? I don’t need to forgive anyone. Forgiveness is for people with serious problems.

But when at the end of four years of teaching English in East Asia I had to return to the U.S. from physical exhaustion and spiritual burnout, I was faced with the reality that I did have a problem. After all those years of stuffing my pain, the unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment had been building to the point of explosion. A man bumped into me on the street and I almost screamed at him. A friend commented that a dish I had prepared needed more salt and I burst into tears.

I was finally able to understand the importance of forgiveness. Whether the hurt was small or large, intentional or unintentional, if I was affected by it, it’s significant. And if I was hurt, I need to forgive. As I acknowledged the emotional wounds and chose to forgive, I was able to release all the pent-up pain and be filled with the joy and peace of the Father! I have never felt such freedom!

Are you stuffing your hurts instead of acknowledging them? Is your heart being filled with bitterness because of unresolved issues from the past? When you get “bumped” by people or situations that irritate you, what spills out? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your pain isn’t important, or your hurts aren’t significant. Jesus cares about your pain. He wants you to be released. He will give you the grace to forgive. You can have freedom in Him!

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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East Asian train stations are not friendly to travelers with large suitcases. Clunking up the cement stairs to the platform with my 50-pound bag on a humid afternoon this spring, I wondered again why I was lugging this leaden weight all over the country. During the three weeks of the Fresh Start East Asia trip I had been pulling, rolling, lifting, and carrying my heavy suitcase through airports, train stations, subways, and bus stations, and my shoulders and back were complaining loudly at the mistreatment. I envied the other locals around me with their small backpacks and shoulder bags, deftly weaving in and out of the crowds, easily maneuvering the endless steps. When will I learn to travel light?

As I started up yet another long flight of stairs, my battered bag bumping behind me, I was reminded of other types of unnecessary weight I often carry around. For years I carried heavy loads of resentment and bitterness towards others. But when I finally was able to forgive, I suddenly felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I hadn’t realized how much the unforgiveness was weighing me down until it was gone. I felt so light, so free!

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Are you carrying unnecessary baggage through life? Are you weighted down by anger, disappointments, hurts, or offenses? Don’t carry those dead weights around for another day! Release your burdens to God, and let Him carry them for you. You’ll be amazed at the freedom you’ll find when you’re traveling light!

Going vertical!

MJ

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Rita* sat by herself, head bowed, as others talked and prayed in pairs at the Fresh Start seminar in East Asia. On this last day, the participants were being invited to forgive and release the one who had hurt them, as we have received the forgiveness of our heavenly Father.

Concerned that Rita didn’t have a partner to share with, I approached her hesitantly. Noticing the tears streaming down her cheeks, I sat in the empty chair next to her, feeling helpless. I didn’t have the vocabulary in Mandarin to ask how I could pray for her, much less to understand her answer!

All I could do was pray for Rita, asking the Lord to intervene. Then, in my halting Chinese, I attempted to communicate the message I felt was for her. “God is your heavenly Father. You are His daughter. He loves you.” Rita didn’t look up or respond, but noiselessly wiped away her tears.

Later when people were sharing testimonies, I was surprised to see Rita walk purposefully up to the front of the room. In a quiet voice she told of growing up as the sixth of seven children. Her father had a hot temper, often exploding in anger. Rita never felt that her father loved her or accepted her. The rejection of those early years was a deep wound that remained even after she married and had children, affecting her ability to give and receive love.

During the Fresh Start seminar, the heavenly Father had been filling Rita with His unconditional love, allowing her to finally forgive her earthly father. Now she felt she was able to love her husband and children in a way she had never experienced growing up. Rita declared that she was breaking the generational curse of rejection. A chorus of “AMEN!” boomed from the crowd of 50 plus participants. Face radiant, Rita proclaimed, “This young generation of parents in our country will love our children with the Father’s love!”

Have your parents ever failed you or disappointed you? Has your father or mother failed to be a good representation of our heavenly Father? If so, you don’t have to continue in the negative patterns of previous generations. You can choose to forgive your parents for that which didn’t match up to God’s standards. Malachi 4:6 says that if we seek the Lord, “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.”

You can make a fresh start, beginning today, for this generation and future generations to reflect the Father’s heart!

Going vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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