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Archive for November, 2011

Amy didn’t like her dark brown eyes,” our teacher explained to my fourth grade class. “She thought blue eyes were much prettier, like her chubby baby brother had.”

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes glued to the pen-and-ink illustrations of the large spiral-bound book, I listened with rapt attention as my teacher brought to life the story of a feisty little Irish girl named Amy Carmichael.

So, believing that God hears and answers prayer, young Amy knelt beside her bed one night and asked God to please change her brown eyes to blue. She went to bed happy, confident that He would answer her prayer. But in the morning, Amy was crushed to discover the same brown eyes staring back at her from the mirror.”

Fingering one of my long braids, I sighed softly. I could identify with Amy. Every time I read of Rapunzel’s shining golden hair or Goldilocks’ curly tresses, I imagined how much prettier I would be if my stick-straight dark brown hair could be transformed into soft blonde curls.

In 1895 Amy Carmichael signed up for missionary service and sailed to India,” our teacher continued. “Horrified by the plight of young girls sold as slaves in the Hindu temples, she began to rescue and care for them. But it was dangerous work. The temple priests didn’t want the girls to leave. So in order to not attract unnecessary attention to herself as a foreigner, Amy decided to dress in the colorful native saris. She even used coffee to make her pale skin darker!”

Finally Amy realized God’s wisdom in not answering her childhood requests to change her eye color. Blue eyes would have been impossible to hide, but her dark brown eyes were the same color as the Indians that jostled her in the streets! Over the next fifty-six years, through Amy Carmichael’s rescue missions, she became ‘Amma,’ or mother, to over one thousand abandoned and abused children. All this may not have been possible if God had answered her prayer and changed her eyes to blue!”

Mouth gaping, my ten-year-old brain tried to take this in. So God has a reason for making my hair brown instead of blonde? I couldn’t imagine what that reason could be. But I thought that if Amy Carmichael could trust God’s purpose in giving her brown eyes instead of blue, then I could maybe trust Him too.

Years later, as God took me to Latin America and to East Asia, I realized that my dark hair was a blessing. I was able to blend in more with the crowd, crossing some of the cultural barriers and prejudices against outsiders. Though I certainly couldn’t pass for Guatemalan or Chinese, I didn’t stand out nearly as much as a blonde or red-head!

The God of all the universe has a specific purpose for YOU. Even if you never understand it all, you can trust Him to use everything in your life, even the difficult or painful things, for good.

I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man for my purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it.”

Isaiah 46:9-11 (NRSV)

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TALKING TURKEY

Have you ever seen a worried turkey? According to Joe Hutto, you never will.  And Joe should know.  For over a year, the naturalist and wildlife artist raised sixteen orphaned wild turkeys as their adopted “mother.”*  From the time they pecked their downy heads out of the shell to the day they ventured off on their own as fully-grown adult birds, Hutto spent every waking moment with these chicks in the Florida flatlands.

Observing his little brood, the naturalist was struck by how content the turkeys were.  Days were filled with the thrill of the hunt for grasshoppers in the tall grasses, the excitement of exploring the swamps and trees of their surroundings, and the cheerful chatter with one another in chirps, squawks and trills.  Even predatory snakes didn’t cause alarm.  The turkeys simply showed the serpent who was boss, pecking at him tauntingly, then playfully jumping out of the way when he attempted to strike.

“As humans we have this peculiar predisposition to be always thinking ahead, and living a little bit in the future,” Hutto reflected.  But these birds didn’t appear to be anxious about where their next meal would come from, or distressed if they got caught in an unexpected rain-shower.  Every challenge was a welcome adventure, and every discovery a source of pure joy.

For the wild turkeys, Joe Hutto says, “the world is not better a half a mile through the woods.  It’s not better an hour from now.  It’s not better tomorrow.  The wild turkeys reminded me to be present.”

I don’t know about you, but I could learn a few things from those turkeys.  How much time and energy do I waste worrying about things I have no control over?  I know my Heavenly Father is a good and dependable provider.  My experience shows me that He always gives me what I need.  Yet I repeatedly am consumed by anxious thoughts about my future.

Maybe Jesus was thinking about wild turkeys when He reminded us not to be anxious about tomorrow.  He says, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NLT).

What is keeping you from fully enjoying this day that God has given you?  Are worries about the future stealing your joy of the present?  You can trust Him to care for your daily needs.  Relax and follow the example of the turkeys – enjoy THIS day that He has given you!

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34, NLT

Going Vertical!

MJ

 

*Hutto, Joe. Illumination in the Flatlands. The Lyons Press: Guilford, Connecticut, 1995.

*My Life As a Turkey, © 2011 THIRTEEN and Passion Pictures (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/my-life-as-a-turkey/introduction/7268/)

 

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“Somebody ate my pumpkin pie!”  Conversation stopped and heads turned.  Our Egyptian friend Hassan pointed to the end of the dining room table. “It was right there, and now it’s gone!”

Relatives, neighbors and international students filled the house and spilled out to the back patio at my family’s big Thanksgiving celebration.  Plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce had already been scraped clean, and now everyone was nibbling slices of pumpkin pie that grandma and I had baked the day before. 

“Wasn’t me!”  “I didn’t eat it!”  Heads shook in response to Hassan’s announcement of the missing pie.  No one claimed responsibility.

Maybe it was ME, I thought.  I tried to remember how it could have happened.  I had been in and out of the kitchen, serving food and clearing away dirty dishes.  It’s quite possible that I had picked up his plate by mistake.  I started feeling guilty.  I must have eaten it. 

“Um, Hassan… I think I ate your pie,” I confessed.  “I’m so sorry.” 

Hassan looked at me in exaggerated shock.  “YOU ate my pie?  I didn’t think you would do such a thing.”  He pretended to be hurt.

“Don’t worry,” I responded hurriedly, “I think we have one more piece in the kitchen.”  Gladly accepting my offering, Hassan told me all was forgiven.  But I was thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed.  How could I have done that?  I berated myself inwardly.  I should have noticed that it wasn’t my plate.

Forking a generous mouthful, Hassan grinned mischievously.  “Mmm-mmm! This sure is delicious.  Almost as good as the first piece!”    

He laughed at my confused look.  “Nobody stole my pie,” he admitted slyly. “I ate it myself.  But it was nice of you to take the blame so I could get another piece!”

I could feel my face flush as the truth sunk in.  I had actually convinced myself that I was responsible for something I hadn’t done.  I had accepted the blame and made myself feel guilty unnecessarily.

“Guilt is sort of like spiritual cholesterol,” writes Dr. James Bradford in his article Good Guilt, Bad Guilt.  “There is the good kind and the bad kind.”  II Corinthians 7:10-11 tells us that “worldly sorrow” is the bad kind of guilt.  It leads to condemnation, shame and despair.  But “godly sorrow” is the good kind of guilt – when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sins we have committed.  Godly sorrow leads to repentance and restoration. 

Do you feel guilty for things that you don’t need to feel guilty about?  Is your guilt stemming from conviction or condemnation?  You don’t have to suffer under condemning thoughts.  Receive the Lord’s forgiveness and be free of the “bad guilt” today!

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

II Corinthians 7:10 (NIV)

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Glancing back at my almost-100-year-old grandmother calmly eating her Shredded Wheat with bananas, my mom pulled me aside to tell me about her care-giving challenges that morning.  The process of getting dressed had been interrupted several times by Grandma’s urgent need to straighten the lampshade of the bedside lamp, or smooth out a miniscule wrinkle in the bedsheets, or bend waaaay over to pick up a barely discernible speck on the floor.

Though weakened by strokes that have affected her mobility and muscle control, Grandma hasn’t lost her sharp eyesight, or her deep desire for order.  Anything out of place is distracting and distressing.  If we don’t catch her in time, she’ll pull herself up out of the wheelchair and take faltering steps across the living room, clinging to the piano or the couch, just to turn off an unattended lamp or fix a crooked picture frame on the wall.  Meals are forgotten.  Naps are abandoned.  Only when all is set right in her surroundings again can she relax enough to focus on her own personal needs.

“It’s hard to be a perfectionist in an imperfect world,” my mom concluded wryly.

Watching my grandmother, I’m reminded of myself.  I often let the imperfections of my life distress and distract me.  In The Joy of Imperfection, Enid Howarth and Jan Tras write, Perfectionism is everyone’s issue.  We inhale it with the air pollution.  We swim in it.  Perfectionism grabs us whenever we curse ourselves for being wrong, being late, being dumb.  It haunts us when we know we could have and should have done better, understood everything, and predicted all the consequences.”

Why do I demand such impossibly high standards of myself?  I need to face the reality that I am an imperfect being, and I live in an imperfect world.  People will disappoint me.  Circumstances will not go according to plan.  I will let others and myself down.

Only my God is perfect.  HE will never disappoint.  HE will never change.  And HE is not irritated with me or frustrated with me when I fall!  He knows my weaknesses, and He is gracious and understanding.  He loves and accepts me the way I am!  When I’m focusing on my failures and flaws, I will choose instead to fix my eyes on God’s perfect love and acceptance of imperfect little me – crooked lampshades and all!

As for God, His way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him.”  II Samuel 22:31 (NIV)

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