December 9, 2013

RELENTLESS LOVE



¨Many waters cannot quench love...¨
Song of Songs 8:7



Relentless Love
as strong as death
tenaciously pursues.

Relentless Love
unquenched by many waters
runs unrestrained.

Relentless Love
burns like a fire
blazingly intent.

Relentless Love 
claiming its sealed one
perseveres jealously.

Relentless Love
covers a multitude of sins
surrounding protectingly.

Relentless Love
cannot be denied
hungering day and night.

Relentless Love
quiet upon being ignored
waits patiently.

Relentless Love
outlasting all waves of doubt
anchors dependably.

Relentless Love
wisely bold or shy
discerningly appropriate.

Relentless Love
wooing and entreating
intoxicatingly desirable.

Relentless Love
grieving the distance
compassionately hopeful.

Relentless Love
grounded in truth
unshakable foundation.

Relentless Love
at times mysteriously imperceptible 
whisperingly ubiquitous.

Relentless Love
unsurrendering in kindness
 stubbornly believes.

Relentless Love
waiting to slay our deepest longings
unfathomable fulfillment.

Relentless Love
sacred reality throughout the Ages
divinely passionate.

Relentless Love
chasing and sleepless
crazy about YOU.




Photo by:  Ana Murakami



December 4, 2013

HELP! FOREIGN INVASION IN MY KITCHEN!




I just returned from a trip and since it was December 1st and I was really trying to be organized this year, I actually thought of Christmas.  Some of you Martha Stewarts already saved your turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, spray painted it silver and turned it upside down to make a Santa's sleigh or something but I'm not that good yet.  But Christmas planning did come to mind and I went to the kitchen to jot down some ideas.  That is when I discovered my first problem:  all the counters are full.

What are they full of, you ask?

All things ethnic.

On any given day my kitchen would be considered fairly international, reflecting flavors & tastes acquired in different places.  But this is different.  There is a foreign invasion in my kitchen!

Let me explain...

My eldest daughter just finished a semester in Beirut.  She has lived on four continents with us. But now that she is older and traveling on her own, she is touching down in places we have not lived and absorbing things of her own.  Normally I find this very cool.  But today it is upsetting my Christmas plans!  

Here are some things I found:



Ginger root and lemon for making tea because she had a sore throat.  Ok, that´s not too bad you say, even I do that.


But do you have leftover oil from amazing Lebanese potatoes with red pepper and cilantro & onion on your counter?


How about almonds floating in a honey-coma?  I didn´t think so.


Heaps of dried fresh mint to add to teas, Argentine mate and other things.



A citrus wreath she's working on.  (I'm hoping this will have something to do with Christmas!)


Zatar, a mix of spices & sesame seeds added to olive oil that she puts on her toast in the morning.



And this takes the prize:  Her own café corner out by Dad's grill for making authentic Turkish coffee over our camping gas burner - because it HAS to be gas.  (I am not kidding.)


I threw this in for extra because it is also on my counter:  a lovely chutney pot (you know, those lovely sweet or salty mixtures of side garnishes for Indian food) that her Norwegian friend brought last week during her visit here. (My daughter had been home for barely 24 hours when she had an international guest!) That week the kitchen was filled with the delicious smells of India (where her friend had spent her semester) and Lebanon as they cooked and laughed together.

***


My friends in Spain are always sympathetic about my two girls now living far away, studying and pursuing international interests.  They can't imagine how I can possibly stand to be so far away from them.  (And it IS so very hard.)  On the other hand, they say, you raised them like that, what did you expect?  So, there it is.   I raised her to love and absorb cultures & languages and she's doing just that.

I realize that Christmas comes in lots of colours & flavours...I only ask for a little counter space!

In case there was any doubt that she had no more room in her heart for Spanish food, I found this advertisement on (naturally) the counter the other day.  It is highlighting a smoked ham leg (you may know it as prosciutto or jamón serrano), a delicacy here and very typical for the holidays.  The 3 kids have conspired to get Dad to buy one (they come in differing prices according to their quality) and they are busily on campaign!  The writing says with determination:  "We have not given up!  Love, your hungry kids." Very subtle.





So, rather in spite of myself (and my Christmas plans), I find myself opening wide my heart this Christmas to embrace the amazing variety represented within our family.  It will definitely NOT be boring.

I only ask for one thing this year:  You guessed it!  Counter space!

Like I tell our guests tongue-in-cheek:  ¨Mi casa es tu casa.  Pero mi cocina es MI cocina!¨  (¨My house is your house.  But my kitchen is MY kitchen!¨

Hoping the nations invade your kitchen this Christmas, too!




Cover photo by:  JD Hancock




November 4, 2013

QUIETLY




for KE


Quietly you leave your mark
through time-honored faithfulness
through eager offerings to assist
through gentle suggestions.

Quietly you carry on
through rain or shine
through turmoil or smooth sailing
through sadness or joy.

Quietly you do what no one else thought of
though there is no applause
or recognition
or really anything in it for you at all.

Quietly you invite others in
through your peacefulness
through your boyish grin
through your unpretentiousness.

Quietly you look after the ones you love
through steady, everyday things
through stability in motion-filled times
through love backed up with acts of kindness.

Quietly, in strength, you live
and every day the quiet things pile up
until it is quite loud
and quite wonderful.

Quietly He watches...

     ...and smiles.

And so do we.






Photo by:  Gianna Salti



November 3, 2013

LEARNING TO ACCLAIM




"Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord."
Psalm 89:15


I was thinking about what it means to "acclaim" Him. Apparently it is something learned...and there is blessing if you do.  This wondering took me to the dictionary where I read:  

"to welcome or salute with shouts or sounds of joy and approval; applaud; to announce or proclaim..."

Have I intentionally welcomed Him into my day today?  Is my heart a welcoming place for His Spirit?  Is He a welcome part of my conversations and decisions?  Do I make a place for Him and welcome Him naturally into my relationships with friends, acquaintances and co-workers?

How is my saluting of Him going today? Have I given some time to "shouts and sounds of  joy and approval"?  I know how to do that when I watch a Barcelona football match!  Can I find appropriate expressions for the King of kings who has won the Match of all Time?

Have I applauded His amazing character by emulating His life of integrity today?  Have I applauded His works today?  The quiet ones, the obvious ones, the behind-the-scene ones?  Have I taken time to notice - and then to applaud?  Have I "applauded" Him to someone else?

And how am I doing today at announcing and proclaiming Him?  In words - many or few, in my listening, in my actions & responses to people and circumstances, in silent prayers, in encouraging faith-words to someone, in robust discussion with someone antagonistic about my faith, in acts of kindness on the freeway or in a line, with boldness in a social situation or quietly over coffee with a searching friend. Proclaiming Him - the One who put a seal on my heart - should be hopefully a spillover into every day as I walk with Jesus.

I want the blessing of learning to acclaim Him.  I want to walk in the light of His presence.

Don't you?




Photo by:  Bahman Farzad

October 21, 2013

A JOURNEY OF LEADERSHIP





In these days I rise to take my place
Another step in this Love Following I do
There is trembling and a sense of awe
But also mysterious peace and a sense of right.

In my mind I walk through the faith-hall of my mentors
Remembering their teachings, the way they walked
Their history has marked me, readied me
And now it´s my turn to join in their history-making.

I yearn to honor the old but embrace the new
To learn from the past but discern the times of today & tomorrow
To give myself as a bridge between generations,
Striving to unite those playing in the same game.

I am guarding my heart and am desperate to hear
The Voice of all voices in my travellings
I am creating the space to find and feed on
The Presence that will sustain me on this path.

I ponder my Life Messages which have accumulated
And now they eagerly spill out into my words, my life
I am eager for convergence of lessons & gifting
I am longing for symmetry between the inward & outward life.

I hunger to steward my gifts from the King
As I work joyfully in this corner of His kingdom, His vineyard
Yet I never want to lose touch with my Dark Side
That I will always have need to be humble & compassionate.


I desire to be real and transparent and relevant
To weep an honest spirituality to this generation
To, in my own genuine need & through a sense of courage,
Question the common, do the unexpected, say something
     surprising.

I am singing the song that draws nations to Him
That unleashes the Springs of Life
Flooding the deserts, cascading through mountains
Uniting the ones who believe.

Today I still work hard – but I rest more
I want to laugh more, delight more, explore more
I want to work smarter so there is time for wildflowers -
And walking and music and coffee and secrets.

I am sketching the background for my children’s journey
Adding colour and depth and companionship to my husband’s
And they are amazing me and slaying me with their beauty
As they contribute to my life-canvas & pilgrimage.

Not too long ago I ran on passion & energy & vision
Today they are very much present – but they look different.
In my yesterdays I said Yes too often & to many of the wrong things.
I am learning that No can mean Yes - to something better.

There were some yesterdays of valleys & burnout
There is history of whirlwinds of activity for many good causes
There are snapshots of fatigue, of sadness, of losing the joy –
And even worse - losing myself and my soul.

Today I am just realistically content to be me - with Him.
Today there is a huge sense of privilege, of salvation, of calling.
Today I am free to lead as myself – and from my soul.
Today I am admiring His mysterious, redemptive movement in my leadership…

     …and in this step toward legacy

              …in this Love Following I do.

October 3, 2013

GOD OF THE LAST MINUTE!



The other day over coffee with an Arab friend, she made a comment that stood out to me.  She was talking about stuff going on in her life and how she was waiting...and waiting....and waiting.  Then she blurted out, ¨My God is the God of the last minute!¨  I laughed with her and said, ¨He´s my God, too!¨

The "God of the Last Minute" is not about leaving things til the last minute and expecting Him to deliver us.  (Although I confess that I´ve been guilty of that - and maybe we all have at some point!)

This is about our experiences where it seems God brings an answer at the proverbial 11th hour. There are only a few things that seem to make sense about this to me...because I'm pretty sure it's not in His character to enjoy watching us stress about it.  There seem to be some things which only waiting can produce in us.  A kind of maturing that is grown in delay...

If you have kids or have been around them long, you realize that the younger they are, the less capacity they have for waiting.  Babies have almost no tolerance for waiting.  Their world is themselves & getting their needs met and they let you know it!  As they grow, they have an increasing capacity for delayed gratification.  Toddlers continue to struggle with this, too, especially as they hit two and enter a power struggle with those around them.  Between their self-centeredness (normal for their age) and fight to be independent, it's a good thing God made them cute!  (If it weren't for that, they might not make it til kindergarten...jk!)

Knowing how to wait, then, is a sign of maturity.   And since waiting can be a form of suffering for a lot of us (I say this tongue-in-cheek: I do not mean to make light of the many deep forms of suffering), this verse seems apropos:

"...we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope."
Rom. 5:3,4

Might our own adult versions of "delayed gratification" be about these very things?  Learning perseverance, building character, developing hope in waiting?  The delay of what "gratifies" us or pleases us (translation: what we want or need) has a specific, intentional, God-injected purpose.

God's version of "last minute" looks very different from man's...



We  are  familiar with plenty of last minute things in this life...


Last minute studying
Last minute trains
       
Last minute touchups
Last minute tax returns


Last (minute) chances!


Last (minute) words.
Last minute regrets
Last minute of the day
Last minute bachelor burrito 
Last minute shopping
Last minute change of plans



A lot of last minute things in life are consequences of our own lack of organization or perhaps an unexpected crisis or interruption.

Spiritual "last minute" delays create a discipline, the discipline of waiting.  The discipline of waiting causes us to pursue spiritual exercises that we might not otherwise pursue: intercession, special, focused attention on God, perseverance in seeking Him through His Word, crying out earnestly, desperateness which drives us to grow in our capacity to trust, deeper sharing & learned interdependence on the body.  Deepened love and gratitude result from prolonged waiting - quick answers, like fast food, are meant to be inhaled quickly, grabbed on the run, not lingered over.  Real spiritual food, like a great gourmet meal, is to be savored and appreciated.  

I have observed the Lord working  this way in the life of my oldest daughter over the last year or so.  It is uncanny the way she is made to wait for answers to numerous, important things!  I believe  He is entrusting her with difficult waiting situations because He is working deeper things in her.  

We should also recognize that this is not just about our own personal character.  There are things we cannot perceive or understand that are going on in the heavenlies that God in His sovereign wisdom & timing as Lord of history is aligning for His eternal purposes.  When all is in place, He reveals our own interconnected-kingdom-answer that we need to move on.  An ever-growing faith and resting trustfulness in this Sovereign One moving things behind the scenes is another sign of maturity.

Don't grow weary, my friends!  The "God of the Last Minute" is working through the "discipline of delay"* for many unseen purposes!  Waiting for and on God are always worth it.  



*a phrase of our dear friend RA which has enriched our understanding of life with God.





Photos by:  (in order of appearance) The World According to Marty,   El Gran Toñeti,  Eastenhuh, vary, @reel,  bhamgal,  Balley,  Official US Navy Imagery,  zoomion, james seattle,  windkoh.


September 14, 2013

ROOM FOR WRESTLING



For JP, a fellow pilgrim in wrestling



Do you allow yourself times of wrestling?

You may have faith questions, identity questions, destiny questions, philosophical questions or many other kinds of dilemmas.  It seems important to God that we create space for honest reflection & feedback from God Himself and from trusted friends who know us and are safe to us.  How do we know it is important to Him?  If He desires "truth in the innermost part"(Ps. 51:6) then it seems logical that there is an invitation there for seeking it out. Sometimes deep, soulful questions & wrestlings are what drive us the deepest into the heart of God. We also see many biblical characters whom God granted a name change as they were becoming something new or understanding something in some new way about God or themselves.  I love how God marks their wrestling with a name change which reflects their impacted identity or destiny.  

One of the classics along these lines is Jacob's wrestling with God in Gen. 32.  This divine appointment seems to not have caught Jacob by surprise; rather, he intuitively prepares for it.  He seemed to know he needed this personal encounter to have the character & identity change he yearned for. It was nighttime, but "he got up" and sent his 2 wives, 11 children and all his possessions across the stream.  Then come these powerful words:  

"So Jacob was left alone..." 

 There are some wrestlings that we must face alone, head on with God Himself.  There is no other way.  Some wrestlings require a whole night, others three dark days in a tomb and others much longer.  Jacob knew what he wanted and didn't let time, the darkness of the night, separation from his family, fatigue or the pain of a dislocated hip deter him from obtaining the highly coveted blessing that would lead to a changed life.  He went from Jacob to Israel at daybreak because he "struggled with God and with men and [overcame]..."  (Gen. 32:28).

It is unfortunate that sometimes others don't give us the same time & space for our honest wrestlings.  Even in the church there is sometimes a hushed judgment on those who doubt or ask hard questions as if perhaps this assumed "lack of faith" could intimidate God.  Frankly, it may intimidate the church but it does not intimidate God!  Any good teacher knows that those who ask good, honest questions will wrap their heads around the material more readily.  Their intellectual quest is usually rewarded.  Any worthwhile lover knows that the testings & trials of love strengthen the bonds of the relationship; an untested relationship in life is not enriched by the perseverance required by testing.  A relationship put through fire has produced beautiful character, perseverance and hope (Rom. 5:3,4).

The Desert Fathers saw the lack of space in the developing church for questionings, wrestlings, dark nights, soulful yearnings and tears and responded by going away to quiet places to ponder alone with God their heartfelt queries.  Apparently, there were many followers of Jesus who flocked to see the Desert Fathers when they found no place for their own wrestlings in the traditional church.  I hope we  are getting better at this.

As you ponder your own questions, don't be overwhelmed.  Let the Shepherd of your Soul guide you in this delicate yet deciding piece of your pilgrim-journey.  He can lead you to places (physical or spiritual), bring helpful people across your path, accompany you in the necessary times of solitude, give you powerful rhemas of encouragement from the Scriptures, lead you to kyros moments in your journey and in short, lead you through it all.  He is not afraid of any of it.  Invite Him into your wrestlings and you will find a compassionate, wise, unhurried companion who knows the terrain.

In one of those deep, delightful late night talks in my living room, a friend commented to me recently that "becoming is done in a crooked line".  I like that.  A lot.  It is not a straight, predictable path.  It does not look like anyone else's. It is not paved out by the church in identical, mass production.  It is your own crooked path with your God.  And guess what?  He longs to travel it with you!  What a sense of relief & freedom when you realize you can release the burden of having to be in charge of your time of questioning and just rest in your wrestling.  He will make all things clear in their time, give you the answers He feels you need and walk through both undisguised days & honest nights with you.

Who knows what beautiful new name you will receive at the end?  It will surely be perfectly crafted to reflect you & your journey with God...







Photo by:  Nate Houle


September 2, 2013

THE SCARLET CORD (For Dysfunctional Families)



If redemption were a colour, I think it would be scarlet.

Nathanael Hawthorne's magnum opus, The Scarlet Letter, brilliantly treats themes of guilt and sin.   Victor Hugo´s powerful redemptive theme in Les Misèrables is a classic that has impacted young and old throughout generations.  But there is still no bigger masterpiece on the subject than the Scriptures themselves.  Redemption is strewn throughout its pages from start to finish.  It's kind of like, well, the main point.

The Scriptures are replete with redemptive symbolism, theology, detailed descriptions of ways to obtain it,  visual imagery, prophecy about it, personal examples and even colours embedded with redemptive meaning.  Crimson and scarlet have been deep-seated in Christian memory and tradition.  Scarlet is  a symbolic colour.  A rich, metaphorical colour.

That metaphorical quality jumped out to me this week in the story of Rahab and the scarlet cord. By her faith, evidenced by the scarlet cord, she saved her entire family from death.  A scarlet cord.  Used to identify the woman of faith, she and her family were spared from the fate of the rest of her community. (You can read the whole fascinating story yourself in Joshua 2 and 6.)  A simple, scarlet cord - reflecting her faith in promised redemption - was used to propel this sinful woman into the very "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews.  I find that astounding.  On the basis of her faith, evidenced by that scarlet cord, God even unabashedly included her title in Hebrews 11: Rahab the Prostitute.  A scarlet cord changed her life and her legacy forever.

Does your family need a scarlet cord?

Mine does.  All of us know dysfunction and sin to some degree or another in our extended families - and in our immediate families.  Mixed in with some God-fearing legacy, my own children are mindful that they have indeed inherited a mixed bag.  Between both sides of the family we have experienced divorce, addictions of various kinds, criminal activity, depression, suicide, mental illness, verbal abuse, homosexuality, homelessness, childhood abandonment, ADD, special needs children, accidental deaths and more.  All of this may not be within the definition of dysfunction but they have all certainly caused dysfunction!  It just isn't very pretty. Certainly not a legacy anyone would sign up for.

Yet did you realize that Rahab´s redemption went way beyond simply saving her and her family from physical harm on that day?  God redeemed not just her life or profession - He transformed her entire life history and legacy!  She went on to live among the Israelites (God's special chosen people), to marry an Israelite and become implanted in the very genealogy of Jesus!  As if that wasn´t enough, she bears a son, Boaz, who ultimately became the Kinsman-Redeemer of Ruth and thus, a picture of the NT Redeemer for centuries to come.  If Rahab the Prostitute can change her family line by her faith, so can you and I!  

There is hope for dysfunction.  Hope for sinners.  Hope for families.  Hope for our legacy. Hope for our future.  There is scarlet for our shame.  Scarlet for our children. Scarlet for anyone willing to put out the cord and trust in the Everlasting Redemptive God.

I hope you know and believe that there is a scarlet cord available to your family.  A cord which changes its history, its genealogy, its legacy.  A cord which changes the family's colour. A cord available to any individual willing to believe and to hang it out for the Redeemer to see...

I think it´s His favourite colour.




Egyptian artwork photographed by:  Sushma Sabnis

August 29, 2013

WRITING IN THE RAWNESS (AND FINDING HIM THERE)



In gratitude, for LC


Some of you have noticed a silence in my writing for a while.  I have been processing some heavy things that have happened in the last year.  That process took me through some dark moments.  Sometimes I felt very far away from the real me - or from God.  This particular season had a lot of "rawness" to it.  But you know what really surprised me?  The amazing reality of His presence even in the dark & faraway places we sometimes find ourselves in.  

"Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast."

Psalm 139:7-10

I know most of us "know" this.  But how many of us have really experienced Him in darkness? I'm not talking about nighttime darkness...I'm talking about deep, dark, lonely places that somehow we have been pushed into, fallen into, deceived into, sinned into...and found Him there, really there.  Found that He's not afraid or embarrassed to be there with you nor is He loathe to rescue you from there (again!).  He is with you - to redeem, accompany, guide and hold fast safely while you stumble through this dark time.

I was often surprised to discover Him in places of struggle, confusion, unbearable waiting, in places of not understanding, in places of longing, in places of sin and even deep bondage.  He was there in the complexity of body-soul-spirit healing intricacies, in the tug-of-war of decisions, in the depth of emotions.  He appeared in my blindness & denial, guided me through resentment & forgiveness, showed up in my envy when I couldn't understand the apparent resilience of others around me.  They seemed to possess a secret armour I don't have to cruise through difficulties in life.  He held me fast through all of it,  courageous and compassionate, tenacious and tender, Counselor and Warrior in all of the darkness and in all the faraway places.

A friend who was helping me process these things urged me to not stop writing.  I told her that no one would want to read what I had to write then. She counseled me, "Write in the rawness of it.  Even if it's not for the public, try to give words to this season for yourself.  He has given you writing as an outlet for talking to Him, and giving depth & colour & expression to life as you see and experience it.  Write in the rawness."  And so I have.  There is some of it that may show up later in various pieces in this venue, giving words to that season.  But for now, it was between He and I.

What has He given you to give words to the difficult seasons of life?  Is it music or dance, an art form or a sport or journaling?  What is your tool, given by the Shepherd, to help usher you through the valleys?  I encourage you to pull it out and use it when you need to - even in the rawness. No, especially in the rawness.

"If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light become night around me,'
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You."

Psalm 139:11,12





Photo by:  Palo





August 18, 2013

BIRTHDAY OFFERING (IN A FARAWAY LAND)


For my dearest firstborn experiencing life far away from home.



Today I bring You an offering...
I carry it in trembling hands
and with a heart of mixed emotions.
Finally my will & my love for You triumph
and I place it at the altar.

For love of You, Jesus,
My Beloved, My Savior, my Best Friend
I give You my birthday offering
In this faraway land.

It has always meant a celebration to me -
Family, friends, surprises, greetings.
My various cultures have bred in me
the belief that birthdays mean nearness
to ones who know & love me.

Yet this morning I read,
"The nearness of God is my good."*
And so I decided to celebrate that truth
with the One who loved me first,
with the One who dances over me with joy,
with the One who has greeted  and surprised me
and showered on and celebrated me every day of my life.

He has celebrated me -
and I have celebrated Him
on four continents these 22 years.
And today we will celebrate again...
with love & laughter sweeter than any cake
with memories more colorful than balloons & ribbons
He will dance with me and stay up as late as I like -
to share secrets & cups of tea.

It will be a wonderful birthday after all!
In this new, faraway land.
A sacrifice of praise and a celebration of love
with the very One who had the idea of me.
Who crafted me in the womb,
and who decided on my birth day,
and my destiny,
and this, my calling, to faraway places.

He has known me -
and knows me still.
"His nearness is my good."
on my birthday - and every day
in this faraway land.



*Psalm 73:28


Photo by:  Johannes Jansson

August 2, 2013

FULLY PRESENT




I am eager to find you today, to be with You.
Eager to get to my special place with You,
to pour out the longing, the needs, to sense You there.
And You are there.

With anxiety still clinging to my heart,
I start to quiet, to drop things, to notice
And I sense Your quiet delight to be here,
I sense Your peaceful, holistic attention - to me.
You are completely unhurried & unruffled as a leader.
You govern the affairs of the universe, yet right now
You are all mine, You are all here.

How do you do that?

How do You meet me with Your complete attention?
How can You be so undistracted as the Leader of the world?
How is it You never make me feel You need to go,
or that this time is a sacrifice or a burden to You
or that You are preoccupied about other things or people dear to You?
You are always fully present to me.

I long to learn this Love-Skill from You,
to imitate "fully present" to those in my life.
I know I am not omnipresent...
but I am dreadfully self-centered!
This morning it has caught in my throat,
this obsession when under fire to complete tasks
and I become prisoner to a List.
It screams demandingly at me for attention,
ignites adrenalin & focus and is given over to momentum.
It is so hard for me to stop that speed, that roaring, driven velocity.
I need Your holy help - for perspective, for choosing well,
for knowing Your mind about where - and whom - to give myself to.

Help me, dear Savior, to be saved from myself in this;
To be Holy Spirit trained to discern Your interruptions.
Whether the interruptions are physical - a knock at the door,
a ringing phone, a request to Skype...
Or mental - a prompting, a thought about someone who needs a friend,
a word, an ear or even important information.

Lord, let me be unhurried with these precious ones.
The ones You clearly put in my day, in my path.
Give me Your discernment through this time with You now,
as I hear You speak to me, let me speak
as I observe Your attentive listening to me, let me listen
as You give me gentle feedback, wise counsel, let me depend on You for that for others.

Let me be fully present to them -
As You are to me.

April 17, 2013

WHEN LIFE IS HEAVY





(for fellow struggling soldiers...your honesty slays me...and touches the heart of God)




When life is heavy
your spirit feels its weight.
Your body absorbs it, slows,
sometimes it reacts, protests with varying symptoms.
Your emotions well up & gather at the surface -
at the slightest provocation, they spill out.
Life feels messy when it's heavy.

When life is heavy
there is so little control.
You may want to fight - but be too weary.
You may want to flee - but to where?
You may want to give up - but you're in it too deep.
You are trapped.

Heaviness is not usually welcomed.
But it does hold an opportunity.

Without darkness, we would not perceive light.
Without being trapped, we could not know rescue.
Without emotion, we would be ignorant of the many dimensions of God's heart.
Without need, we could not know redemption.

When life is heavy
and all seems dark,
Invite the Spirit into that place with you.
He is not afraid to be there.
He is not surprised or dismayed by your yo-yo-ing emotions
or your honest questions or your struggling faith.

He will be quiet with you there.
He will listen carefully there.
He will just "be" with you there.

If you pay attention,
you may begin to notice that in the midst of heaviness
there is actually quite a bit of life.
It just doesn't look like what you're used to.

In this altered, needy state,
as you invite Him in,
He will begin a new revelation-work.
Ask Him to help you notice these heaviness-wrapped revelations,
these new bits of life in the dark.

They are most certainly there simply because He is there -
And He always draws us toward life.
He Himself is life.

When life is heavy...
Invite Him there
and notice the life-revelations.




Photo by: Anita nowinska



March 9, 2013

HEAVEN IS NEAR








(For my dear father-in-law who walks some of his last days on earth...
and for my precious husband experiencing the good-bye.)


Today I heard the sounds of heaven 
It wasn't loud, just light celestial notes
They floated in and landed in the room -
The background music is in place.

Today I tasted heaven 
through the sweetness that hung in the air
of someone close to going Home...
A mixture of love-laden tears & golden, honey-glory 
filtering down from above -
You could taste the love-glory there.

Today I felt heaven
as I touched his translucent cheek, held his still hand, 
whispered to him our secret father-son things.
It became palpable and I reached for it,
held it, treasured it.

Today I saw heaven
In the sacred sharing
In the waiting & wondering
about when he will cross over.
I could see him with the rays of light, a river, 
and the holy white radiance of a Face of waiting love -
And I saw his longing for it.

Today I smelled heaven's wonder
I closed my eyes & inhaled
the intoxicating perfume that had wafted into that room;
it drifted its way into my memory to leave its mark.
It filled all with a sense of wonder
at this tender drama
being lived out in our presence.

With each sense invaded
and with my spirit bearing witness,
I knew without a doubt 
That heaven is very near.
It's near for him...
But he's also made it near for me, too.




Photo by:  teguh sn

March 6, 2013

CONFESSIONS OF A CULTURAL SCHIZOPHRENIC





Hi.  My name is Pam Sider and I'm a cultural schizophrenic.

There are probably Twelve Steps somewhere to remedy this.  Or a Self Help Support Group.  All I know is, ever since I went cross-cultural, I have been OCD'ing about my identity.

Do I want to talk about it, you ask?

Well, ok.  Let's bring it into the room.

Ever since I tried blending another culture into my own culture, I have been asking myself, "Will the real Pam Sider please stand up?"  Should I be respectfully early or socially late?  Should I be spontaneous or organized?  Should I eat late or early?  Should I force feed guests or wait and let them ask for more?  Should I be friendly and make eye contact or look the other way?  Dress up or down?   Should I be my more naturally introverted self or my loud, boisterous, new-culture self?

Sometimes the answer is easy in your new culture: you do what your new local friends do. After all, this is what you were trained to do - enculturate. However, this takes a mental toll on you. Trying to simultaneously maintain your "home culture"  within your family can create an internal strain that leads to a split personality – or at least a splitting headache. To top off your first term, just about the time you've got the hang of it, you need to go back "home" and be somebody else!  

In short, you end up with attachment issues in your new culture and repression of your old culture.   This is not good.

Let's take language learning.  We have to become like a child again to be able to do this.  If you take a baby's communicative ability and put it in an adult body, you had better be ready for some issues!  Wikipedia (such a valuable & reliable source of information) describes some common symptoms of schizophrenia as including "auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, disorganized speech and thinking...accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction."  If that doesn't beat all.  That's what they told us would happen in "Cross Cultural Communicative Competency 101"!  It's really weird all the cross-over between schools of thought, isn't it?  It could mean a real breakthrough for Psychologists to know that language & cultural learning - not therapy - is one of the best ways to "get in touch with your inner child"!

Did I mention that my husband is my blissfully ignorant enabler?  (Or was it my ignorance-is-bliss co-dependent?)  Anyhow, his matter-of-fact approach to life, along with his stable emotional state, provide a placebo effect for me to continue on in my cultural identity neurosis.  As long as he lives in denial about his own mental disorder it provides the perfect environment for my own fixation on the subject.   When I project my stuff onto him, his defense mechanisms remain strong.  If I get to psychoanalyzing him, he does have a tendency to go a bit borderline on me and since I really need one of us to remain sane, I feign closure and move on.  (Is this a form of self-medicating?)

We are thinking about putting together a support group because,  sadly, we know lots of other people like us.  AA took the words right out of our mouths for what I would like to create:  "a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others recover."  The problem is, I think it's kind of important to believe that there is the possibility of recovery and I'm not sure there is a cure for cultural schizophrenia!  (Those of you positive thinkers out there are probably dying to tell me that my "inner critic is sabotaging again" but I really am just telling you how it is.)

Currently I am mixing languages, idiomatic expressions, verb tenses, traditions and cultural mores. The more the years pass, the only thing I’m improving on are my faux pas!  I can’t remember which saying is from which country & if I leave the fork & knife at 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock or scrap 'em and use my hands. The only thing I can remember about the stages of culture shock is the honeymoon stage and I know I ain’t there!

If you can relate at all to this, you are probably at least bicultural.  If like me, you have lived in and absorbed 3 or more new cultures, you more than likely have no idea who you really are on any given day.  You are a chameleon who changes with its environment, most of the time subconsciously and smoothly but other days you struggle to make sense of all the inner "you's".  You are east and you are west.  You are north and you are south.  In short, you are a global mess!!  And this, my friends, is why Member Care was invented.

Member Care is a new branch of Psychology for cross cultural workers with a Christian world view.  In addition to such Therapist Greatest Hits as "How does that make you feel?",  they inquire about how it affects your relationship with God and family.  They are like doctors of old who make house visits from far away places.  They are wonderful multi-taskers, bringing you candy from your home country, playing multiple hands of Uno with your children while simultaneously debriefing your cultural and personal traumas.  Some are specialists in subjects as varied as  PTSD, menopause, conflict resolution or how to plan for retirement. Some have no special training at all but they volunteered, someone foot the bill and here they are. They are your new best friend.  Even if you've never met them before, you find yourself spilling your guts because as we all know, you need to plan to have your crises when they are travelling to your region once a year.

If all this psychobabble is making you crazier than before you started reading this post, please, in the name of mental health,  STOP READING!  If you think you can overcome your own personal battle with cultural schizophrenia, I would dare to ask, "And how's that working for you?"  And if, like me, you need a place to confess your issue, I want you to know that this blog is a safe place.  I hold earnestly to Augusten Burroughs' advice when he said, "Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone."

No, you are not alone in your cultural madness.  Trust me, you are in good company!




P.S. Leave me a comment about your struggle with cultural schizophrenia….it’s therapeutic to share your issues in community!  (If those Member Care people want to use you as a case study, they promise to change names & places to protect the mentally innocent!)




Cartoon by:  Antonia Sundrani








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