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Archive for October, 2011

“Who thinks you are the strongest person in this room?” People craned their necks to see who would answer my challenge in this East Asian Fresh Start seminar.

Finally a young man in his early twenties strode up to the front.  He told me his name was Chen.  Handing him a small water bottle, I asked, “Is this heavy?” Chen shook his head.  “It’s very light,” he insisted, hefting the water bottle in his hand.  “So do you think you could hold this bottle for a long time?” I prodded.  “Sure! No problem,” he grinned confidently.

“O.K. Please hold this water bottle in your right hand and stretch your arm straight out to the side.” Chen followed my instructions, as everyone in the group watched with
interest.  “Now stand there and hold that bottle until I say you can stop.”

Then I began to tell my story of getting burnt-out as an English teacher in Asia a few years ago.  Little irritations kept building as I attempted to push them down, not acknowledging how they were affecting me.

After a few minutes I paused my story to check on Chen.  “Are you still doing OK?” “Yes,” he assured me, but it was a bit more strained.  “So you can keep going?”  He forced a smile.  “Of course!”

I continued my story, but stopped again after a couple of minutes, alerted by the audience that Chen’s arm was starting to lower.  “Keep that arm straight!” I reminded him.  He reluctantly complied.

A few minutes later I paused my story once more.  I could tell by the expression on Chen’s face that it was getting more and more difficult to keep his arm up.

“Is the water bottle getting any heavier?” “YES!” he replied quickly.  “Do
you want to continue holding it?” I asked.  Chen shook his head.
“Would you like to put it down now?”  “Yes!” he said gratefully.

Relieved, Chen put the water bottle down and rubbed his aching arm and shoulder.  “It really didn’t seem heavy at first,” he explained.  “I thought I could handle it.  But the longer I held on to it, the heavier and heavier it became!”

Are you holding on to small hurts, little irritations or minor disappointments?  Mild frustrations can lead to depression, burnout, or explosive rage if not dealt with!  Don’t keep holding on to those things that steal your joy and your peace.  Lay them down!  Give them to Jesus!  He wants to give you peace and rest in exchange.  Begin to pour out your heart to Him today.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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“What about the teachers on the bus?”  Five-year-old Kevin’s high-pitched voice piped up as we finished our rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus” song.  Our English class of Chinese and Korean kindergarten students had already been through the obligatory “babies on the bus,” “mothers on the bus” and
“fathers on the bus.”  But the sharp little boy didn’t want anyone to be left out.

Smiling gently at Kevin, I asked, “Well, what do the teachers on the bus say?”  Cocking his head to one side and making a downward motion with his palms, he sang out in a sugary-sweet voice, “Sit down, please!”  I couldn’t believe it.  He nailed me.  It was EXACTLY the way I always said it!

Behind my big smiles, however, the daily pressures and stress of a very busy life in East Asia were starting to take a toll on me.  Long hours of teaching, cultural misunderstandings, team conflicts, physical weariness, homesickness, loneliness – I tried to keep it all pushed down and hidden from view.

Eventually even my adorable kindergarten students started getting on my nerves. “Teacher, I have to go to the bathroom!” “Teacher, she’s touching me!” “Teacher, he took my pencil!” “Teacher…” “Teacher…” “TEACHER!”

Forcing a smile, I took deep breaths and tried to keep my voice cheerful.  “Sit down, please!  Be quiet, please.  Stop talking, please.  Sit down, please…”

One day something inside me snapped.  Before I knew it, I exploded in rage, “BE QUIET!!!!”

Shocked into silence, the students stared at me wide-eyed.  They had never seen me get angry.  I was immediately stricken with guilt.  It wasn’t their fault that I was on edge.

Proverbs 4:23 warns, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (NRSV).  I hadn’t been guarding my heart, and I’d allowed the small daily pressures to slowly poison my wellspring.  When my students’ complaints and questions started to “bump” me, the building anger finally spilled out.  Apologizing to my students, I was forced to examine my heart and begin to resolve these issues.

What’s in your wellspring?  Is your heart being poisoned by unresolved issues of hurt, offense, and loss?  Are daily irritations and frustrations building to a point of explosion?  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify those areas that need to be cleansed and healed so that you can have a pure spring of LIFE flowing from the depths of your heart!

Going Vertical!

MJ

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Luke 6:45 (NIV 1984)

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RE-WRITING YOUR STORY

It happens almost every time.  I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in a Fresh Start seminar.  My palms start getting sweaty.  My throat starts to get dry.  Any minute now I’ll be called up to speak.  I fidget in my chair, crossing and uncrossing my legs.  I pick at a loose thread on my shirt.  Then the voice in my head starts up.

“Your story isn’t so significant.  It’s not as dramatic as other people’s stories.  You didn’t have it so bad.  It’s really not a big deal.  What’s the point of sharing?  People won’t understand.  They’ll just think you’re being overly dramatic.”             

 This scene has been repeated several times over the last three weeks as we’ve held Fresh Start seminars in different cities in East Asia.  Our team of five has taken turns sharing our personal stories of forgiveness and freedom, helping guide others through the process of healing from offense, hurt, or loss.  But almost every time I get ready to share, I start to doubt whether my story will have any impact.

Standing in front of the group, twisting my Processing the Issues of the Heart booklet in my hands, I’m still listening to the critical voice in my head. “Look at their faces!  They don’t care about your story.  They can’t relate.  You should just sit down now.  It’s not going to make any difference what you say.”

Slowly and hesitantly at first, I silence the inner voices of doubt by beginning to share my story of coming out of emotional burnout and depression.  As I speak the truth of what God has revealed to my heart and how He has been healing me, the self-condemning thoughts start to fade.  My voice becomes steadier and my tone more confident as I proclaim HIS truth as applied to my personal experience.

After sharing part of my story recently at one of the East Asian seminars, I joined two other women to hear how they were processing an issue from their own lives.  One of the women avoided eye contact as she said she didn’t have anything to share.  “After hearing your story,” she explained quietly, “I feel like my hurt isn’t so significant.  It’s not such a big deal.  It’s not as dramatic as your story.”

“You won’t believe this,” I said, shaking my head in amazement, “but I had the exact same thoughts today just before I told my story!  I believe that’s the enemy trying to keep you from bringing these issues into the light.  Your story is significant because it’s YOUR story!  How you’ve been hurt, how you’ve been affected, and how you’ve responded is important because your heart is important to God!  When you bring those hurts into the light, it’s allowing the Lord to bring His truth and healing.”

I’m reminded of the chorus of one of my favorite hymns by Fanny Crosby: “This is my story, this is my song: Praising my Savior all the day long.  This is my story, this is my song: Praising my Savior, all the day long!”  My story is significant because it’s HIS story.  It’s the story of Him at work in me.  It’s bringing praise and glory to my Father for what He’s done and is doing and will continue to do.  My story is a story of grace.  His continuing healing grace is re-writing my story of pain and unforgiveness and bitterness into a beautiful story of Jesus making something beautiful of my life.

Going Vertical!

MJ

“You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”  II Corinthians 3:3 (ESV)

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FREE TO RECEIVE

Nervous laughter.  Avoiding eye-contact.  Self-conscious smile.  Shaking his head.  The young man’s body language was communicating loud and clear his level of discomfort.  He obviously didn’t know how to handle this.

“You are wonderful!”  With a big smile, Pastor Steve continued to affirm the young man, despite his protests.  As an illustration for the Fresh Start Communication Connection workshop in this East Asian city, Pastor Steve was demonstrating giving and receiving praise and affirmation.

“You are a blessing,” Steve looked the young man in the eye, one hand on his shoulder.  “I’m so thankful for you.  I appreciate the way you serve others.  And I love your smile!”

More embarrassed laughter rippled around the room.  The others seemed to be as uncomfortable watching this exchange as the young man up front was in receiving the praise!  In this culture, accepting a compliment is considered prideful.  The proper cultural response is always to deflect personal praise.

As we continued to share about giving and receiving affirmation, one bold young woman in the group raised her hand to ask a question.  “Isn’t receiving compliments robbing God of His glory?”  Murmurs around the room indicated that others had the same thought.

“The Bible says in Psalm 139 that you’re fearfully and wonderfully made,” Steve answered.  When I say you’re wonderful, I’m just agreeing with God!  It’s giving God glory for the wonderful creation He’s made!”

As this truth began to sink in with the group, I reflected on why it’s so difficult for me to accept praise from others.  I think most of the time I don’t really believe that what they’re saying is true.  I don’t really believe that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Suddenly a deep conviction came over me.  If someone tells me “You’re wonderful,” and I deny it, I’m actually saying that God’s a liar!  If He says I’m wonderful, who am I to disagree?

The more I soak in the wonder of who GOD says I am, the more I am free to receive praise from others, if it lines up with what He says.  Receiving praise isn’t prideful – I’m just agreeing with God!  It’s not about me.  It’s all for HIS glory!  My spirit can humbly agree, “Lord, I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful; I know that full well!” (Psalm 139:14 NIV)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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BECOMING FULLY ALIVE

“I almost didn’t recognize you!” Lulu’s long curly pigtails bobbed as she shook her head.  “You look so different from what I remember!”

It was the first day of our Fresh Start workshop on this East Asia trip, and this girl with the cute glasses and contagious smile had taken an instant liking to me, asking to sit with me during lunch.  Between mouthfuls of steamed rice and fried fish, we discovered that we had met two years earlier, after a big conference in Hong Kong.

“That time when we met, you were really struggling with something.”  Lulu looked at me with concern, chopsticks hovering in the air.  “I could see it in your face.”

Thinking for a moment, I tried to recall what was happening at that time in my life.  And then I remembered.  I had just ended a serious relationship, and though I knew it was the right thing, I still struggled with feelings of discouragement and loneliness, doubting whether I’d made the right choice, and wondering if I’d ever find the right guy or if I’d ever get married.

“But now,” Lulu grinned, “You really look different!”

A lot has happened in two years.

Right after I saw Lulu that time in Hong Kong, I met the Fresh Start team at a retreat in another Asian city.  In an intense time of personal ministry, they helped me begin to process the loss and hurt from that broken relationship.  As I poured out my unmet desires to my Heavenly Father, He began to bring healing and hope.

And that was just the beginning.  Over the past two years, more issues have come up as the Lord continues to bring healing to the deep places in my heart.  Slowly I’m becoming free from past offenses as I forgive and release the pain to Him.

When I’m in the middle of the process, it’s hard to see any change.  So it was encouraging to hear Lulu confirm that there was a big difference – “Now you are more confident, more brave, and more alive!

I’m so glad my Heavenly Father hasn’t given up on me.  Even when I can’t see a difference, He is continuing to refine me for His glory and His purposes.  Day by day He is making me come more fully ALIVE!

“Those who look to Him are radiant.” Psalm 34:5a (NIV)

“The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of Your hands.” Psalm 138:8 (NIV)

Going Vertical!

MJ

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“Why don’t you move back here to Asia?”  Isabella wasn’t one to mince words.  “I can see you have a heart for this country.  You should move back here!”

I had only known Isabella for about half an hour.  Mutual friends had arranged for me to meet this young Asian woman at the beginning of my East Asia trip, to pass on a gift from the U.S.  As she helped me exchange money at the airport and find the right ticket counter to check in for my next flight, we chatted about her children and how she came to know Christ, and about the East Asian city where I had taught English for four years.

“I would love to live here again, if it’s what God has for me,” I said quietly as I finished checking my bag, received my boarding pass, and stepped away from the ticket counter.  “But it was a very difficult situation when I was in Asia before.  It was very stressful and lonely.  Before I live here again, I need to be sure that I have a good team – good support…” Suddenly my voice cracked as a knot welled up in my throat.  The effects of those years of isolation and loneliness go deep.  “I’m sorry,” I mumbled, wiping tears with the back of my hand.

With a softened expression, Isabella put her hand on my shoulder and looked directly into my eyes.  “The Lord sees your sacrifice,” she said gently.

It felt like one of those scenes in the movies when everything around you seems to go into slow-motion.  The throngs of people hurrying to catch connecting flights, the boarding calls made over the loudspeakers – all faded into a muted blur of gray.  The only thing in focus was this woman in front of me, looking at me with such compassion.

“He sees your tears.  He sees all the loneliness, all the difficult times.”  Isabella’s hand remained on my shoulder, her eyes fixed on mine.  “The Father wants to wipe away all your tears.  He will be your Husband.  He will walk with you, hand-in-hand.  When you feel alone at night, He will hold you.  You are His beautiful bride.  He loves you so much.  You are precious and beautiful in His eyes.”

I thanked Isabella and hugged her goodbye, my spirit refreshed.  It was a brief encounter – only a few minutes.  But the Lord knew I needed to be reminded of His care for me.  I needed to know that my pain was not forgotten.  In the middle of one of the world’s busiest airports, amid the bustling crowds of travelers, the Father saw MY hurting heart.  And He sent a young Asian woman to speak the words of comfort and love that I needed so desperately to hear.

Going Vertical!

MJ

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

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