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Archive for March, 2011

A BELOVED DAUGHTER

Sitting primly in her chair at McDonald’s, a thoughtful six-year-old girl with dark brown hair slowly licks her vanilla ice cream cone, careful not to let any drips fall on her clean dress.  Her dad smiles across the table as he sips his coffee.

“How was school today?” he asks gently, trying to engage her in conversation.

“Fine,” the girl replies shyly, looking down at her dangling feet.  Nervous and uncomfortable, something seems to be holding her back from relaxing and just enjoying being with her dad.  Instead, she focuses on her dripping ice cream cone.

That little girl was me.  The oldest child and the only daughter, I put great pressure on myself to be perfect – a 99% on a test wasn’t good enough.  I was so afraid of letting down my parents or my teachers.  More than anything, I wanted them to be proud of me.

Somewhere along the way, my view of God became twisted.  I felt that I had to keep up my “perfect” performance to earn His acceptance.  I was afraid of His frowning disapproval if I didn’t match up to the impossibly high standards I had set for myself.

The first public proclamation God the Father made during Jesus’ earthly ministry was after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.  A voice came from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Jesus hadn’t even started His ministry yet!  He hadn’t done anything to earn His Father’s approval.  But God didn’t say, “I’m proud of my Son for all He has accomplished.”  His pleasure in His Son wasn’t based on anything He did, but just who He was.

I can’t receive love and acceptance from my parents or anyone else until I am fully convinced of my Heavenly Father’s complete love and acceptance of me.  As I am learning to release control of my performance-driven life and accept my identity as His beloved daughter, I am finally becoming free to love and to be loved.

Fast-forward about 25 years from that first McDonald’s ice cream date with my dad.  My father is recounting the story to me over cappuccinos at Starbucks.  “I just wanted to take you out to do something fun,” he remembers.  “But you were so serious, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.”

My dad pauses and then says tenderly, “You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to worry about making a mistake.  I want you to know that I’m very proud of you and I love you.”

Eyes filling with tears, I can hear my Heavenly Father’s voice saying, “This is My beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”

Going vertical!

MJ

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NO LONGER AN ORPHAN

Frustrated at her inability to communicate with her new American family, a little Chinese girl breaks down in tears on the floor of her bedroom.  Refusing to be consoled, she wails, “Wo xiang hui zhong guo!” (“I want to go back to China!”).  Torn between two worlds, eight-year-old Fang Sui Yong of Guangzhou, China struggles with her new identity as Faith Sadowsky of Long Island, New York.

Faith had never known the security of a real family.  She was abandoned at the age of two, and lived the next six years in an orphanage and with foster families.  Though her American adoptive family showers her with affection, she has a hard time accepting their love.  Will they stop loving her one day if she misbehaves or makes them angry?  Will they send her back to China?

“In China, I didn’t know why they adopted me, and why they loved me,” Faith says in the PBS documentary Wo Ai Ni, Mommy (I Love You, Mommy).  How could this Jewish family from Long Island love an orphan in southern China before they even met her?  Confronted by these questions,  her mother smiles gently at the little girl with jet-black hair and big dark eyes. “I adopted you because I wanted a daughter to love.  I love you because you’re my beautiful daughter.”

Do you struggle with your identity? Are you letting yourself be defined by others’ opinions of you?  Do you believe that you are merely a product of your life’s experiences?  You can be free from the shame of false identity.  Our Heavenly Father invites you to be part of His family.  He chooses to love you, not because of anything you’ve done, but because you’re His son, His daughter.  You don’t have to remain an orphan any longer.  Receive your new identity as a precious child of God!

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father!”  Galatians 4:4-6 (NLT)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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WOUNDS & SCARS

“You don’t know me, but my name’s Joan and I just found out I went to the same boarding school as you!  Can I meet you?  I have to talk to you!”  Joan showed up at Debbie’s house with her young kids in tow, and they ended up talking and crying together late into the night.

Though the boarding school had a reputation for high academic standards, the director controlled the students with fear and manipulation.  Penalties for breaking the rules were severe.

“In my senior year of high school,” Joan recalled, “The director got angry at me for something, and she  locked me in a cleaning-supplies closet!”  While the rest of the class went on their long-awaited senior trip, Joan was left behind, forgotten.  She pounded on the closet door until someone finally discovered her.

“It’s difficult for me to talk about these things,” Joan confessed.  “The memories are still painful.”

Debbie shared similar stories, remembering her shame and humiliation when the director yelled at her for a minor offense in front of her classmates.  Twenty-seven years after she was a student there, Debbie decided to return to the grounds of the boarding school, seeking closure.

“God had been taking me through the process of healing, and I had made the choice to forgive the director of the school,” she told Joan.  “But I didn’t know how it would affect me to see all those familiar buildings again.  I knew that I had truly forgiven when I didn’t feel any more anger or bitterness.  Instead, I felt compassion for the director, as I thought about how she was a wounded person too.”

Though Debbie’s wounds had healed, the scars of those experiences served as reminders of what the Lord had done in her. Her scars allowed her to share the message of forgiveness, bringing healing to other wounded hearts.

Wounds heal, but scars remain.  Jesus’ scars are evidence of the suffering He underwent willingly on our behalf.  His scars are a testimony of God’s grace, and the forgiveness that He offers us.  Allow Jesus to bind up your wounds and bring healing to your heart, as you forgive those who have offended you and release the pain and hurt to the Lord.  Your scars can be a declaration of victory!

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

Going vertical!

MJ

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WHAT’S IN YOUR WELLSPRING?

“We’re going to pretend that this empty glass is Christopher’s heart,” I told the cluster of kids sitting around the table in Children’s Church.  “One morning, Christopher wakes up and sees that his older sister has eaten the last bit of his favorite Cocoa Puffs cereal.  How will that make him feel?”

“He’ll feel sad,” offered Hannah sympathetically.  “He’ll be mad!” added Mercer.

Pouring a foul-smelling concoction of soy sauce, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce into Christopher’s glass, I explained that this represented his sadness and anger. Then, we continued to talk about the events of his day, adding more dark liquid each time he was hurt or offended.  Christopher had to hold his full glass with both hands now.

“What if someone makes Christopher mad now?  What’s going to come out?”  I bumped the glass and the dirty liquid spilled out.  “Ewwww! Gross!” chorused the kids.

“So what is Christopher going to do with all this stuff in his heart?” I asked the class.  Wide-eyed, the kids waited on the edge of their seats in anticipation.  “What if we try to cover it up or make it smell better?”  I added perfume to the liquid and tied a ribbon around the glass.

“That’s not going to work!” shouted Mercer.  “It’s still there!”

As I slowly emptied the contents of the glass into a bucket, I explained that the way for Christopher to begin getting rid of his heart pollution is to pour out his heart to Jesus – telling Him all about what has hurt or offended him. Then, I poured clean water into Christopher’s empty glass and continued, “As Christopher forgives his older sister and each and every person who has hurt or offended him,  Jesus will fill his heart with His love, joy, peace, and patience and more!”

What about you?  What’s your heart full of? If someone “bumps” you today, what will spill out?  Don’t let the poison of bitterness or unforgiveness accumulate until it explodes in destructive words and behavior.

Pour out your heart to the Lord – get the poison out, give thanks to the Lord and forgive each and every person who has hurt or offended you. Then, YOUR heart will overflow from a life-giving wellspring to those around you!

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”                   Proverbs 4:23 NIV

Going vertical!

MJ

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MORE THAI SOUP PLEASE

Six-year-old Mary eyed the cans of coconut milk and twisted ginger root on the kitchen counter with suspicion.  “What’s all that stuff?” she demanded.

“I’m making something special for dinner,” I explained, pulling out cilantro and lemongrass from the refrigerator.  It was a cold, snowy night in New York, and I was cooking my favorite soup for my friend’s family.  “It’s called Thai coconut curry soup.”

Mary wrinkled her nose.  “I never had that before.  It doesn’t sound good.  I want peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”

“But this is a very special soup, with secret ingredients!” I confided in a low voice.  “Do you want to know what the secret ingredients are?”  Mary’s eyes widened and she leaned in close, intrigued.

I handed her a child-size apron.  “I’ll let you be my assistant and show you how I make the special soup.  It’s going to be delicious!”

At dinner later that night, Mary eagerly polished off a full bowl of the coconut curry soup, to her parents’ astonishment.  With great importance, she related the experience of being the chef’s helper and informed them that she knew the secret ingredients in the soup.  Something she didn’t think she would like turned out to be a wonderful new experience!

When God first asked me to serve Him as an English teacher in East Asia, I didn’t want to go.  It was something completely new and unfamiliar.  Wrinkling up my nose like Mary, I whined, “This is strange!  This isn’t what I’m used to!  I don’t think I’ll like this!  I want my familiar, comfortable life!”  But stepping out in faith, I chose to trust that my Heavenly Father knows what is best for me.  And even though some things were difficult and painful, I experienced so many wonderful and exciting new things that I would have missed had I stayed in my familiar “peanut butter and jelly life.”

God has good plans for my future – things I can’t even imagine!  Like six-year-old Mary, I have to be willing to step out of the familiar and try something new that He’s putting in front of me.  It just may be something wonderful!

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

Going vertical!

MJ

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