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Archive for February, 2012

Aunt Betty’s fingers move gracefully across the keys of the piano as my mom, my dad, my grandma “Abuela” and I huddle around the shared hymnal. I’ve requested one last “hymn-sing” with my dad’s sister Betty before she leaves in the morning to go home to Missouri.

Holding the hymnal with my left hand, I run the index finger of my right hand under the words for Abuela to follow along. I can tell she is fading. It’s the end of the day and she’s almost ready for bed. Abuela taps her foot slightly and nods her head a bit with the tempo as we begin to sing.

Oft times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear. We’re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair…

It’s an appropriate song for Abuela. She has plenty of reason to complain. Several strokes have left her right side weakened and forced her to become left-handed. A fading memory and a brain that gets muddled and confused with everyday details of life. Yet a hidden blessing of Abuela’s short-term memory loss is that she doesn’t remember that she fell and broke her hip last month. She doesn’t remember her trip in the ambulance, or her stay in the hospital, or the pain after the surgery. She’s cheerfully unaware of any reason to be unhappy. Those painful memories have been erased.

…But Christ will soon appear, to catch His bride away.  All tears forever over, in God’s eternal day…

What a beautiful picture of the ultimate erasing of sorrows when we get to heaven. I can just imagine my sweet Abuela, who has served her Jesus whole-heartedly, uncomplainingly her whole life, joined by her faithful husband who went ahead of her several years ago,  gazing at her Savior face-to-face at last. Why worry about minor things like broken bones and weakened limbs on this earth? When we reach the beginning of forever, I don’t think we’ll even remember those things anymore.

…It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus.  Life’s trials will seem so small, when we see Christ.

One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase.  So bravely run the race, till we see Christ.*

The chorus ends and Aunt Betty does a final trill of notes on the piano. Abuela smiles. “That’s a great song, isn’t it?” I ask. She nods.

Revelation 21:4 assures us that our sorrows will be erased in heaven. “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”  (NIV)

But we don’t have to wait until heaven to deal with our hurt, loss, and pain. Jesus tells us to cast all our cares upon him, for he cares for us (I Peter 5:7). Don’t wait another day. Give your anger, your tears, your complaints, your weariness to Him. And then, as the hymn says, “bravely run the race, till we see Christ!

Going Vertical!

MJ

*When We See Christ, Esther Kerr Rusthoi, copyright 1941 by Singspiration, Inc.

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Rivulets of perspiration ran down my back as elbows and shoulders jostled me from all directions. The odor of sweaty bodies mixed with the pungeunt smell of dried squid and medicinal herbs in the passengers’ bundles. The train station of this major metropolis in East Asia was a teeming mass of humanity, and I was caught up in the middle of it.

After two weeks in the U.S. training new recruits for our small English school, I was returning to Asia with Lorraine, a kindergarten teacher from Toronto. We had already been traveling for about twenty hours, across twelve time zones, with very little sleep, and were badly in need of a shower and a decent bed. 

Leaving Lorraine in charge of our pile of suitcases, I ventured out wearily to get train tickets for the last leg of our journey. But there were no lines for the ticket window. It was a desperate game of “first come, first serve” with each man for himself. I knew from experience that if I hung back politely, I would be there for a week and never make any progress. 

“Dui bu qi, dui bu qi,” I apologized to those I bumped into as I reluctantly forced my way to the front of the pushing, yelling crowd and thrust my bills through the window, requesting two tickets to our intended destination. 

“You’re at the wrong window,” the stone-faced employee informed me. “You need to go to that window over there.” A hand swept in the direction of another mob of impatient travelers several yards away. 

Stunned, I turned to leave, facing the frantically waving arms and urgent shouts of the crowd pressing in from all directions. My heart pounded furiously and I felt a rising sense of panic as I realized there was no way of escape. Something in me suddenly snapped.

“AAAAAHHH!” I screamed, flinging my arms out and blindly pushing people out of my way until I escaped from the claustrophobic crowd.

“Are you OK?” Lorraine looked up with concern as I stumbled over to the spot where she’d been patiently guarding our bags.

“No, I’m not OK!” I sobbed. “I want to go home!”

Poor Lorraine didn’t know what to do with me. I was shocked myself at my outburst. But this explosion wasn’t just a result of the pressing crowd at that train station. I had allowed my anger to build slowly over time until it finally got away from me.

Have you ever exploded in anger? What about feeling irritated? Anger never starts at the level of explosive rage. It starts with small irritations or minor frustrations. If left unchecked, it can develop into resentment and bitterness, and eventually into burning rage. Unresolved issues of anger are dangerous.

“Don’t sin by letting anger control you,” we are warned in Ephesians 4:26. “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (NLT). In other words, deal with those minor anger issues before they become major issues. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you WHY you are getting upset, and submit your “rights” in this situation to God. Control your anger before it controls you!

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”  James 1:19 (NIV)

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Giggling and chattering happily, the children munched on pink cookies served on heart plates. It was the Valentine’s Day party, and the three-year-old preschool class was excited. The culmination of the party was passing out cards the students had brought to share with their classmates. One by one the other teacher and I called the students to the back table where red heart-shaped bags were laid out, labeled with each child’s name and decorated with glitter and stickers. Then we helped them to place their valentines in the appropriate bags.

When it was Caleb’s turn, he eagerly pulled out a valentine printed with a photo of two gray kittens. “This one’s for Ashley,” I told him. “You can put it here in Ashley’s bag.” Dropping it in, he grinned. “She’ll like that one. Ashley likes kitties.”

The puppy valentine was for Thomas. Then one with a cat and a dog together for Madison. But Caleb’s enthusiasm was already fading. “Which one is for me?” he asked with a worried look.

“These valentines are for your friends,” I tried to explain. “And they’re giving valentines to you, too! So at the end of the day, you’ll get to take home your bag with all your valentines from your friends.”

But Caleb wasn’t convinced. He seemed afraid that he would be forgotten. Maybe nobody would give him a valentine! He would have to go home with an empty heart-shaped bag.

I’m tempted to feel that way sometimes.I give and give and give, Lord, and what do I get in return? Nothing! I’m just left with an empty heart. That’s my lot in life.”

But when I give my heart to God and surrender the painful memories, angry thoughts, and bitter grudges, He doesn’t leave me empty. Instead, once my heart is cleaned out He can fill it with His PEACE, His JOY, and His overflowing LOVE.

“Give, and it will be given unto you,” Luke 6:38 promises. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you give, it will be measured to you” (NIV).

At the end of the day, as the preschoolers were zipping up their coats and collecting lunchboxes, Caleb tentatively examined the heart-shaped bag with his name on it that we had put in his bookbag. “Are these mine?” he asked.

I smiled. “Yes, Caleb, those are valentines for you from all your friends.”

“And I can take them home and keep them?” he wanted to know.

“Yes, you can keep them.”

“Woo-hoo!” Caleb rushed out the door. He hadn’t been forgotten after all.

Going Vertical!

MJ

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INTIMIDATED NO LONGER

My stomach started twisting in knots as soon as I saw the name come up on my cell phone.

Do I have to answer it? I could just let it go to voicemail, I reasoned with myself. But I had already ignored one phone call from Julia earlier today. I better answer this one. I inhaled deeply and forced myself to speak cheerfully.

“Hello, Julia! How are you?”

“Fine, thanks. Did you get the message I left this morning?” Her tone was brisk, almost accusatory. The implied question hung sharply in the air – “Why didn’t you respond immediately?” I immediately felt myself getting defensive. Why am I so intimated by this woman?

Everything about Julia, from her perfectly styled hair to her shiny high heels, added to her image of perfect control.  At our first meeting several weeks ago to discuss my transition into her current position, I found myself intimidated by her. Though I had a master’s degree and much more experience in the field than she did, Julia’s patronizing and critical tone made me feel inadequate and unqualified. I kept telling myself that THIS time I was going to stand up to her attacks and not let her walk all over me. Yet time after time I caved in to her demands, meekly nodding my head in agreement, just to avoid a confrontation.

When I asked a trusted godly woman for counsel and prayer regarding the situation, her response was immediate and unequivocal. “It sounds like she’s intimidated of you.”

“ME? She’s intimidated of ME?” The thought had never occurred to me. “But I’m intimidated of HER!”

“She knows you have more training and background in this area than she does, and that you’re fully capable of this job,” my friend said gently. “She feels threatened by you.”

Suddenly my whole perspective changed. It’s true – Julia WAS feeling threatened, and this was her way of showing that she was in control. I asked the Father to give me His eyes to see Julia with compassion.

“Her opinion doesn’t define me,” I reminded myself as I drove to my meeting with Julia that afternoon. “My heavenly Father defines me.” And as I walked into her office, rather than the usual feeling of dread, I felt surrounded by a strange sense of quiet peace.

Julia still tried to make me feel like I was five years old and incompetent, but this time it didn’t bother me as much as before. For the first time I had the boldness to gently express my opinions and defend myself in the face of her criticism. Once I stopped letting Julia define me and looked to Jesus to define me, I was filled with a new confidence. I know who I am in Him, and I don’t have to be intimidated anymore!

Going Vertical!

MJ

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16 (NRSV)

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