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Archive for June, 2010

“It seems like you want people around you to fail.”

Gloria*, a visiting friend from California, was having tea with me in my East Asian apartment, and discussing my recent conflicts with my American roommate, Anna* –  But I felt defensive at Gloria’s gentle rebuke.  What do you mean, I want people to fail?  My roommate is the problem here, not me!

Fresh out of college, Anna had breezed into my life a few months earlier, bubbling over with enthusiasm.  Everything about her new life in our small East Asian town was wonderful and exciting.  Overnight, it seemed, Anna was “best friends” with the local staff and assistant teachers at our school.   She loved all the students and they all loved her, especially her little kindergarteners, who used to be in my classes.  Now Anna was their new favorite teacher.

I found myself becoming resentful toward Anna.  I grumbled inwardly about how easy it was for her to make friends, how quickly her students came to love her, how effortlessly she seemed to transition into this foreign culture.

Gloria was right.  I had started hoping Anna would fail.  If she didn’t do well, it would make ME look better.  After all, I’d been in this country for two years already.  I’d been investing in these relationships day after day, week after week, month after month.  I’d been teaching these kids way before she got there, and would most likely continue teaching them long after she left.  This was MY territory.  I was used to being the adored foreign English teacher.  And I didn’t like having my throne upset by this perky new arrival.

But sadly, I didn’t repent when Gloria confronted me.  I felt I was justified in my feelings.  So I stewed in my jealousy and resentment – and down the road, when Anna DID start to have problems with homesickness and culture shock and interpersonal conflicts… I secretly rejoiced.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally was convicted of my sinful attitude towards Anna.  I realized that I had taken my eyes off the Lord and had been comparing myself with Anna.  I needed to repent of my jealousy, and ask the Lord to forgive me for my prideful desire for attention and admiration.  He did, and He gave me a whole new perspective (His Wisdom) towards Anna and the whole situation.  It’s amazing how the Lord can transform your heart when you humble yourself and allow your appetite for significance to be satisfied in Him!

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts…such wisdom does not come down from heaven…but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere…”
James 3:14-18 (NIV)

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

* (not her real name)

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On a warm afternoon last week, I took advantage of the bright summer sunshine to dry a load of laundry on the clothesline in our backyard.  Working on my computer in the living room, I didn’t pay attention to the sound of our next-door neighbors power-washing the back of their house, until the smell of chlorine alerted me to a looming disaster.

Unbeknown by the neighbors, chemicals from their power-washing had sprayed over the fence and onto my clothes on the line.  To my horror, I discovered huge ugly bleach stains on several articles of clothing, including my favorite blue flowered sundress, a staple of my summer wardrobe.

“They’re just clothes, they’re just clothes”,  I reminded myself over and over, struggling to compose the rising feelings of indignation. And it didn’t help matters that our neighbor was not very sympathetic.

“Well, it’s not really my fault,” she quickly defended herself when confronted with the ruined clothing.  “Your clothesline is too close to the fence.  Maybe you should move it.”

I stewed inwardly the rest of the day.  She’s not even sorry about it!  She could at least apologize!  It can’t undo the damage, but she at least owes me that much!

As I was feeling sorry for myself, I remembered stories from my Italian grandma’s years as a missionary in Mexico.  Their small house was always crowded with lively teenagers from the church, or extra guests around the table, sharing plentiful dishes of lasagna and home-made meatballs.  My grandparents’ hospitality and generosity was often put to the test, as when one of the teens broke a valuable vase, or when a friend borrowed their car and accidentally drove it off a cliff! (The friend survived, miraculously, but the car did not.)

I can still see the twinkle in my grandma’s eyes as she told me, “Well, doll, all the things we have belong to the Lord, anyway.  He’s just letting us borrow them!”

And then she would quote Hebrews 10:34, “You joyfully accepted the spoiling of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.”

Remembering my grandma’s words, I realized I needed to release my neighbors from any claim I felt I had for an apology or restitution. Asking the Lord to change my heart, I prayed for the grace to forgive.  And the next time I saw my neighbors, I was able to greet them with a smile, without any lingering resentment!

As an added blessing, my mother was able to work a miracle with dye and permanent markers to restore my blue flowered dress!  I wore it the very next day, and unless you knew what had happened, you couldn’t tell where the bleach spots had been!  Now every time I wear that dress, I’m reminded to forgive in the little things, and to “accept the spoiling of my goods with joy!”

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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Growling playfully, Teddy, my scruffy little brown and white dog, pounced at the rubber ball again and again. Fifteen-year-old Peter sprawled on the linoleum floor at Teddy’s eye level, laughing with delight at his new-found friend.

Along with the seven other teenagers who slept on the floor of this small apartment in East Asia, Peter was a refugee in hiding. These kids, aged 14-21, had all escaped from a life of hunger, fear, and death.

Peter’s story, sadly, was typical. Life in his home country had been one tragedy after another. First his father got sick. There was no available medicine or treatment, and eventually he died. Next his uncle got sick and died. Then his grandfather also died, leaving Peter, his brother, sister, mother, and grandmother to fend for themselves.

Then one day, soldiers burst into Peter’s home with guns, demanding to know why the family was giving precious food to their two little dogs when their neighbors were hungry. And without warning, the soldiers shot the dogs, taking the bodies for meat. Peter was a small, wide-eyed boy who saw it all.

It was years later when my Canadian roommate and I met Peter and the other kids in a safe-house across the border from their home country. We spent a week together in that little house during the Lunar New Year holiday – 8 teenagers, 2 foreign teachers, and one dog – making pot-stickers and rice, having English lessons, and learning about the God who binds up the broken-hearted.

Watching Peter laughing and wrestling with my dog Teddy, I was amazed at God’s loving care for this fifteen-year-old boy who had seen so much suffering. Before I ever met Peter or heard his story, God arranged for my roommate and me to spend the New Year with these kids in their tiny apartment, bringing along our friendly little dog, who would do more to heal Peter’s wounded heart than any of us could have imagined.

O LORD, You have searched me and You know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.

…You hem me in – behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139: 1-6, NIV)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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“I’ve always hated Americans,” Mary* told us through interpretation.  Sitting cross-legged on the floor of this small apartment in East Asia, listening to Mary’s story, I felt very uncomfortable.  Why was I here?  In Mary’s eyes, I was the enemy.

Mary grew up under the tyrannical, oppressive rule of an isolated East Asian nation.  All her life she’d heard about the evil Americans who were the cause of every injustice and hardship.  Every time the power went out in her city, the government officials said the Americans had shut it off.  When there wasn’t enough food to eat in her famine-ravaged country, the Americans were blamed for the shortage.

Though her government proclaimed that she was living in a “paradise on earth,” all Mary could see was poverty, hunger, fear, and oppression.  Finally, at the brink of starvation, she made a desperate escape, knowing she was risking her life.  Sneaking past the border guards who are trained to shoot to kill anyone attempting to leave, Mary managed to get across the river safely to the neighboring country, where she was taken in by a Christian family who gave her shelter, food and the love of Christ.  This family had arranged for Mary to meet me and another couple from the U.S., which is how we found ourselves sitting in a circle on the living room floor that night, listening to this amazing tale.

“When I began studying the Bible, I learned that Jesus tells us not to hate,” Mary continued softly, “but to love our enemies, and to forgive.”  She looked at the floor in silence.  “And I heard that Americans are not as I’d been told, but that many from your country love God too, and that some of you are even praying for our country.  I didn’t believe it was true, so that’s why I wanted to meet you to see it for myself.  But now I can see in your eyes that it IS true – I can see the love of God in you.”

Her voice full of emotion, Mary whispered, “Can you forgive me for hating you?”

The night Mary* met me was her first encounter with “the enemy.”  But something miraculous was happening in that meeting.  The walls of hostility were crumbling.  Because we had received Christ’s forgiveness, my American friends and I were able to extend forgiveness to Mary.  And as we repented on behalf of our country for ways we had hurt her people in the past, she was able to forgive us, her former “enemies,” as well.

Many hugs, tears, and prayers later, we left the apartment that night filled with awe that God would allow us the privilege of participating in such a holy moment. We were able to witness the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  Ephesians 2:13-14

* (Not her real name)

Going Vertical!
MJ

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