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Archive for August, 2010

Insistent ringing woke me from a deep sleep.  Stumbling out of bed, I answered the phone and heard my friend Jennifer’s voice, calling from the U.S.  Shaking my head to clear the grogginess, I tried to take in what she was telling me.  There had been a car accident.  Her sister’s husband had been driving.  The family was called to the hospital in the middle of the night.  Her sister, who had been seven months pregnant with her first baby, was killed instantly.

This must be a bad dream, I thought.  I kept praying that I would wake up and it would be over.

Less than a month earlier, I had packed up everything and moved to East Asia as an English teacher.  My roommate and I were just starting to find our way around town, getting to know our students, and beginning friendships with the local teachers at our school.  Our little northeastern town was starting to feel like home.

But after Jennifer’s phone call, I was ready to jump on the first plane back to the U.S.  My heart ached for Jennifer and her family, who seemed a million miles away.  In that moment, I doubted God’s  plan for me. I wondered if I’d made a mistake in coming to Asia.

Soon after, I received an email from a friend that addressed exactly what I was dealing with.  He described how his family had moved from Australia to Hong Kong when he was young to begin a new ministry.  Almost immediately after they arrived, however, news came of a family emergency in Australia, tempting his parents to give up their calling and move back home.

“The enemy loves to end things before they’ve even begun,” he wrote.  Though it was difficult, his family decided to stay in Hong Kong, and God greatly blessed their work in the years to come.  “It’s not a coincidence that this tragedy occurred right at the beginning of your time in Asia,” he continued, “but I’m praying for you to persevere.”

With God’s grace sustaining me, I stayed in Asia.
I talked and cried with Jennifer, my family prayed with me over the phone, and my roommate covered classes for me when I needed a break.  As I shared openly about my own loss, a local co-worker confided in me the pain of her father’s death in a car accident many years ago, and I had the opportunity to share with her the hope I have in Jesus.

That was just the beginning!  If I had left that first year, I would have allowed the enemy to rob me of all God had in store in the following four years in Asia.  Even in pain and loss, Jesus brings life and hope!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble (pressure).   But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Emphasis mine)

John 16:33 (NIV)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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TOAST WITH JAM

“Mommy, can I have toast with jam?”

Wide-eyed and hopeful, three year-old Grace looked expectantly at her mom, who was cooking breakfast on the stove.  Grace’s mom, my cousin Heather, kept stirring as she responded gently, “No, Gracie.  Not today.  Today we’re having oatmeal.  You can have toast with jam another day.”

Her lower lip began to tremble as Grace looked across the small kitchen table at her grandpa, who was spreading strawberry preserves on a slice of whole-wheat bread.  The injustice of it all was more than her little heart could take. “But Grandpa has toast with jam!  I want toast with jam!”

Turning from the stove to face her daughter, Heather repeated firmly but lovingly, “I know you want toast with jam.  But today you’re having oatmeal.  If you’re going to cry, you need to go into the living room.  When you’re done crying, come back and have your oatmeal.”

Strawberry-blonde curls shaking with her sobs, Grace ran from the kitchen and stood in the middle of the living room, wailing pitifully for everyone to hear, “I’m crying about my toast with jam!”

Sometimes I feel a lot like Grace.  Recently I was whining to a friend of mine about a girl who just got engaged.  “She’s much younger than I am – I used to babysit her!  Why is SHE getting married, when I’m still single?  It’s not fair!

Suddenly I had an image of me pouting in self-pity just like my cousin’s 3-year-old daughter – “I’m crying about my singleness!”

I could picture my heavenly Father smiling at me patiently.  “When you’ve finished crying about it, come back to Me and accept what I’ve given you for right now.”

What’s your “toast with jam”?
Is it a job?  A relationship?  An illness?  Financial difficulties?  Something you’ve prayed for but haven’t received?  Pour out your complaint to the Lord, then submit to Him and receive what He has for you.  Today it may be oatmeal.  Tomorrow it may be toast with jam.  But we can trust Him, because He knows what’s best for us.

Psalm 142:1-3
“I cry aloud to the LORD…  I pour out my complaint before Him; before Him I tell my trouble.  When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who know my way.”

Going Vertical!

MJ

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EMOTIONALLY PARALYZED

A bright pink wheelchair bumped along a dirt path amid radiant fall colors, but the young woman in the chair was not enjoying the ride.  Shifting and fidgeting in her seat, she seemed to be conflicted internally.  In a soothing yet firm voice, the man pushing the wheelchair whispered as they navigated the forest trail, “You can’t walk.  You’re not strong enough.  You need this chair.  You need me.”  Shoulders slumping in resignation, the woman finally sighed in agreement, “I guess you’re right.  I am weak.  I do need you.”

Sitting in the audience of the university student film festival that night, I could identify with the woman in the wheelchair.  When I returned to the U.S. after four intense and stressful years in Asia, I succumbed to a heavy cloud of depression that lingered for months.  Every time I started to think about a new job, moving to a new place, or starting something different, rising dread and panic would keep me in fearful indecision.

I was emotionally paralyzed, bound by the lies of the enemy.  Night after night I tossed and turned in bed, trapped in hopelessness.  “Things will never change.  I’ll be stuck here forever.”

An invitation to join the Fresh Start Asia ministry trip stirred up painful memories of failed leadership from my previous experiences in Asia.  Even though I knew the members of the team cared about me and wanted God’s best for me, I was hesitating.  I was worried that history would repeat itself and I would be hurt again.

Breaking through my anxious thoughts, God spoke to me through Isaiah 43:18-19:  “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is!” (The Message).  As I took a step of faith and joined the Fresh Start trip, God began healing my pain from the past and giving me hope for a future different from what I had experienced or imagined.

In the climax of the student film, the young woman realizes that the only thing keeping her in that wheelchair is her fear.  She defiantly stands and takes her first hesitating steps, breaking the bonds of worry, doubt, and anxiety.  Like the girl in the film, my healing process will take time, and my steps are shaky at first.  But I’m so thankful God has liberated me from paralyzing fear and despair and is leading me on the path to freedom!

Going Vertical!

MJ

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Anyone entering the ladies’ bathroom of the small Chicago church that day would have wondered at the sniffling sounds coming from under the counter next to the sink.  Curled up in the corner, I was having some private time with Jesus in the only place I could find an escape.

This was supposed to be a time of celebration – my cousin’s wedding.  The Father had brought a wonderful godly man into her life, and I was genuinely happy for both of them.  But it was a bittersweet time as I was still grieving the death of my maternal grandmother, who had passed away a year earlier.  My heart ached as I imagined how excited she would have been to see her oldest granddaughter walk down the aisle.

In all the commotion of gathering relatives, I struggled to mask my inner turmoil of emotions.  Not long after my grandmother’s funeral, I had ended a serious relationship, and I was still dealing with the effects of that difficult decision.  As I set up tables and decorated for the reception, feelings of jealousy and self-pity threatened to smother me.  “What about me?  When is it MY turn, Lord?”

The noisy chatter and hectic rushing around of aunts, uncles, and cousins during the church rehearsal was starting to make me feel claustrophobic.  Finally I took refuge in the only quiet place I could find – the ladies’ restroom.  Seeing that it was empty, I crawled into the tiny space under the counter, hugged my knees to my chest, and cried.

Flipping my Bible open, my eyes fell on Psalm 4:1, “You gave me room when I was in my distress.”  I knew the Lord was speaking directly to me.  I poured out my grief, loss, and pain to Jesus, and waited for His peace.  And He met me there.  He reminded me that He had not forgotten me.  He gave me the strength to dry my eyes, take a deep breath, and go out to join the festivities with a smile.

In the years since then, the Lord has provided room when I’ve needed it most – a tiny bedroom in Asia that I didn’t have to share with anyone, a guest room in my friends’ house in Hong Kong where I could rest, a corner in a bookstore, or a bench in a park – somewhere I can escape from the world for a few minutes and be refreshed in the Father’s presence.

There’s a note in my Bible next to Psalm 4:1 that always makes me smile.  It reminds me of that day at my cousin’s wedding when the Lord gave me an unusual “room in my distress”:
2002, Chicago – You understand when I need some space!

Going Vertical!

MJ

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