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Archive for September, 2010

LIFE’S TURBULENCE

The “fasten seat belt” light flashed as the captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing some turbulence…”

Wakened from his sleep, four-year-old Caleb sat up groggily.  This was his first international flight – twelve hours straight from Los Angeles to Beijing.  He was moving with his parents to a country he’d never been to before, to live among people he’d never met.  But when the plane started jerking and bumping through the rough clouds, Caleb didn’t ask any questions about why this was happening or when it would stop.  Instead, he searched his parents faces for their reaction.  Seeing their reassuring smiles, he was able to relax and fall back asleep.  As long as his mom and dad weren’t worried, then he wasn’t worried.

As Caleb’s mom recounted the experience to me, I was reminded of when Jesus called Peter to get out of the boat and walk to Him on the water.  As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was fine.  But when he looked around at the wind and rain, when he looked down at the swelling waves, he became afraid and began to sink.

I often focus on life’s turbulence – lack of finances, health issues, relational conflicts – until I feel I’m drowning in discouragement and hopelessness. I may not understand why something is happening.  The future may be uncertain.  But like little Caleb on the plane, if I look to my Father, my heart will be at rest.  He knows the way and is walking with me.  He isn’t worried, so why should I be?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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HEART LANGUAGE

Stomach growling, I tentatively approached the front desk of my Beijing hotel.  The Chinese part of my brain had been largely dormant since I left Asia over two years ago, and I hoped I could remember the words for what I wanted to say.

“Can ting zai na li?” The young woman at the front desk pointed in answer to my question, rattling off instructions.  Following her direction, I was soon met by the smell of fried rice and steamed vegetables, telling me that my inquiry was successful and I had found what I was looking for – the dining hall.

Immersed in the Mandarin-speaking world again on this short trip, words long buried in the recesses of my brain suddenly were on the tip of my tongue as I navigated the airport or checked in to a hotel.  If I stopped to analyze what I was saying, I would get anxious and make mistakes.  But if I just relaxed, the language I had learned and used in my years of living in Asia flowed naturally.

My 98-year-old grandmother can’t tell me what she had for breakfast an hour ago or what she did yesterday.  Her speech has been affected by several strokes, and she often has trouble finding the right words to communicate.  But when she prays at night before bed, the words flow easily, from several decades of communion with her Lord.  Although she has daily physical pain and discomfort, Grandma’s prayers are full of gratitude – “Thank You, Lord, for all Your many blessings…”

What’s your heart language?  What comes out when you’re distressed, anxious, or under pressure? Is your automatic response one of gratitude and praise to your Father?  May you and I be in the habit of constant communication with our Lord, so that words of life, joy, and thanks pour out naturally from a full heart.

“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34 (NIV)

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I had seen the airline safety demonstration countless times: “Fasten your seat belt by inserting the metal tip into the buckle…”  But something made me pay attention this time as the flight attendant pulled down the oxygen masks.

The recorded voice over the intercom continued, “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting small children or others around you.”

That phrase really bothered me.  It seemed so selfish and counter-intuitive.  Take care of myself before helping others, even an infant or an elderly person?

I was reminded of a conversation with my brother during my fourth year of teaching English in Asia.  The stress and isolation of living in a culture very different from my own, far from the support of family and friends, left me physically, spiritually, and emotionally depleted.  For months I dragged myself out of bed every day, pushing on through my depression.  I would snap at my co-workers, blow up at my students, and burst into tears at the slightest provocation.  I was a wreck.

Several co-workers and friends were concerned and gently encouraged me to take a break, but I kept insisting I was fine.  Finally my brother sat me down and told me firmly, “We don’t need you here.  You’re no good to anyone else if you’re a mess yourself.  Go home.”

His words came as a shock, but they were exactly what I needed to hear.  I took my brother’s advice and returned to the U.S. for a season of rest.  My stubbornness in forcing myself to continue when I had nothing left to give was causing more harm than good to myself and those I was trying to serve.  In trying to put on everyone else’s oxygen masks before I had secured my own, we were all suffocating!

Are you struggling to help everyone secure their oxygen mask before your own?  Did you know that even Jesus took time away from the crowds to be with His Father?  “While it was still night, way before dawn, He got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed” (Mark 1:35, the Message).

Just like Jesus, we need to first get plugged into the Source.  THEN, He will give us the grace to serve those around us.

Going vertical!

MJ

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THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE

BANG!  An explosion shattered the hot Colombian afternoon.

“What was that?”  Stan, the American reporter, looked around the schoolyard where he and his cameraman, John, were filming a free clinic put on by local doctors.

“Let’s find out! It could be a great story!”  Grabbing his camera, John started to run towards the sound of the blast.

Cautiously climbing onto the roof of a utility shed, the two journalists peered over the edge of the high cement wall.  There below, in the middle of a gathering crowd, was a body lying motionless on the street.

As John’s camera filmed the scene of the explosion, the coordinator for the medical clinic got Stan’s attention, “Did you know that grenade was meant for you?”

Slowly the story came out.  Rebel guerrillas heard there was an American TV crew filming the clinic.  Accosting a construction worker in the street, the guerrillas tried to force him to throw a hand-grenade over the wall of the schoolyard.  The worker refused, knowing there were children inside.  There was a bit of a scuffle and eventually the grenade went off, killing the construction worker as the guerrillas made their escape.  The sacrifice of one unknown man saved many lives that day in Colombia.

Back in the U.S. after the trip, Stan and his wife ran into a friend while having coffee one day.  “I was praying today,” she told them, “and the Lord gave me this verse for Stan.”

Isaiah 43:4 “Because you are precious to me, because I give you honor and love you, I will give other people in your place.  I will give other nations to save your life.”

That American reporter was my dad.  Though I was only eleven years old at the time, I was deeply impacted by how God had spared my dad’s life so dramatically.  What an amazing picture of our Father’s love for you and me.  His Son died in your place, so that you could live.  You are precious in His sight!

Going vertical!

MJ

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Recently I attended a high school graduation and ran into friends I hadn’t seen in many years.  I had to answer the dreaded question, “What are you doing these days?” at least fifteen times in the space of an hour.  Each time I gave a slightly different answer.

“I’m a freelance writer.”
“I’m a private English tutor.”
“I’m doing Spanish translation work.”
“I’m caring for my grandmother.”

All of those things are true.  But none of them would qualify as consistent, nine-to-five, full-time employment.  The fact is that I haven’t had what most people would call a “real job” for the past two years.

In those moments of uncomfortable silence when I don’t have a ready response for people’s questions, I struggle with feelings of insecurity and worthlessness.  I feel like I need to justify my life, proving my value by the things I produce, or by the dollar amounts on my paycheck.

We are a culture that categorizes individuals by their occupation.  But when I met people in Asia, they would identify themselves not by their jobs, but by their connections to others. “I’m Jenny’s mother.”  “I’m Teacher Wang’s grandson.”  “I’m your landlord’s nephew.”  Their occupations were not as important as their “guanxi,” or relationships.

My Heavenly Father tells me that my value lies not in what I do, but in whose I am.  “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Romans 8:15, NAS).

Ultimately, I am a daughter of the King.  My identity lies in my relationship to Him. He says I am precious and loved (Isaiah 43:4), and that He has a wonderful future in store for me (Jeremiah 29:11).  And He’s the only One I have to answer to.

Going Vertical!

MJ

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