Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Palm Sunday Christian

"As Jesus rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road...the whole mulititude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'" (Luke 19:36-38)

It is easy to praise him when things go well. I'm pretty good at that. But I'm finding out that I don't do so well during times of adversity, that somehow I feel entitled to certain things. I don't like my perfect little life disrupted by illness or inconvenience or anything that interrupts how I think things should go. "When I get what I want, do I get smug? When I don't, do I get angry? Entitlement ignores God's provision and smothers gratitude." (Bob Snyder, M.D. from "Lessons Learned on the Journey")

"How many times have I wondered how they could throw down their garments before him on Sunday and then throw their fists at him on Friday? But I'm the one in the front row...This is what happens when God doesn't meet expectations. When God doesn't conform to hopes, someone always goes looking for a hammer....I bang my frustration loud." (Ann Voskamp)

Hard times frustrate.

"His people must suffer; therefore, expect it Christian; if thou art a child of God believe it, look for it, and when it comes, say, 'Well suffering, I foresaw thee; thou art no stranger; I have looked for thee continually.' You cannot tell how much it will lighten your trials, if you await them with resignation. In fact, make it a wonder if you get through a day easily. If you remain a week without persecution, think it a remarkable thing; and if you should, perchance, live a month without heaving a sigh from your inmost heart, think it a miracle of miracles. But when the trouble comes, say, 'Ah! this is what I looked for; it is marked in the chart to heaven; the rock is put down; I will sail confidently by it; my Master has not deceived me.'" (Charles Spurgeon)

At a very low point when Liana was ill and doctors were no help and I was exhausted with worry, I read the following from Charles Spurgeon. He wrote about Jesus' prayer in the garden. How many of us will ever face what he did?

"Here are several instructive features in our Saviour's prayer in His hour of trial. It was lonely prayer. He withdrew even from His three favoured disciples. Believer, be much in solitary prayer, especially in times of trial… It was humble prayer. Luke says He knelt, but another evangelist says He fell on His face. Where, then, must be THY place, thou humble servant of the great Master? What dust and ashes should cover thy head! Humility gives us good foot-hold in prayer. There is no hope of prevalence with God unless we abase ourselves that He may exalt us in due time…It was filial prayer Abba, Father. You will find it a stronghold in the day of trial to plead your adoption. You have no rights as a subject, you have forfeited them by your treason; but nothing can forfeit a child's right to a father's protection. Be not afraid to say, 'My Father, hear my cry'... Observe that it was persevering prayer. He prayed three times. Cease not until you prevail. Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving… Lastly, it was the prayer of resignation. 'Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.' Yield, and God yields. Let it be as God wills, and God will determine for the best. Be thou content to leave thy prayer in his hands, who knows when to give, and how to give, and what to give, and what to withhold. So pleading, earnestly, importunately, yet with humility and resignation, thou shalt surely prevail.”

So I continue in prayer and watch with thanksgiving.

I think back on Psalm 100, the scripture that sustained Gracia Burnham's husband at the end as he reminded his wife to serve the Lord with gladness. But this Psalm also has some important truths. God is good. God loves us with a steadfast love. God is faithful to all generations. I will hold to that. I will be grateful for every day without suffering, but when it comes, I will not be surprised. As Charles Spurgeon says, "Christian, expect trouble." I will choose to continually praise and not pick up a hammer of frustration.

Winter of Cards

I saw a cardinal a couple of days ago admiring herself in the sideview mirror of my car. It's a sure sign of spring. The magnolias and crabapple are already in bloom. (In March?) The girls and I packed up sweaters and filled our drawers with t-shirts. But I don't have spring fever. I'm actually grieving over winter leaving us behind. I'm going to miss pots of soup simmering on the stovetop, hot tea after school with weak sunlight warming us at the kitchen table. Fred says no more fires this year. So sad. The winter sewing projects have been completed and evenings of lingering daylight will be spent instead on gardening.

We have become quite the experts at card games this winter. I'm not talking poker or gambling or even traditional games. It started on Arielle's birthday. She got Quiddler, Set, and Dutch Blitz. Then Liana got Five Crowns for her birthday and I recently needed a purchase of a few dollars to give me free shipping on an Amazon order, so I bought Wizard. Oh my! The fun we've had! Each of these games is unique with its own excitement and challenges. But if you've never played Dutch Blitz, go directly to Amazon and get it! It should be marketed as a brain stimulator to keep people sharp into old age. This game is fast and furious and requires you to pay attention and keep track of many things going on all at once. The girls are better players than I am, not surprisingly.

Our newest game Wizard has Fred hooked. Every day he gathers us to play, sometimes even interrupting school! This game moves at a little slower pace but requires some strategy and thought. Arielle caught on immediately and was beating us soundly every time. But we're slowly learning and giving her a challenge now.

The best part is the family time spent together. Maybe we moved to cards instead of board games because they are quicker to play on a busy night and easier to set up and put away. Our games bring out a lot of good-natured teasing and laughter, and since we are all very competitive, we have learned to be good winners and good losers. (How do you think it feels when your little girls win every time?) I hope our daughters will smile years from now as they recall our winter of cards.

I don't think I would want to live in a place with no seasons. Each one brings such joys. But each marks the fast passage of time with all of us growing older by the day. Maybe that's why I don't want winter to end. Life is good. I want to hold on to this time and keep my girls mine. Soon enough they will fly away. But a mom must let go.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring

The doctor said we probably have the flu. This time of year? Still, the warm temperatures and bright sunlight beckoned us to a little walk around the yard. We took pictures and looked for snakes, warmed out of brumation. The pussy willow tree is full of fuzzy buds, fluff drifting down on the newly tilled garden. Hyacinth bloom among the dead leaves of winter. We tried to find beauty in a still green-less world. Friends of ours live in a desert country fall away. They said what they miss most is the green. No trees, no grass, no plants growing anywhere. Imagine. We long for new life to begin.


"What is the nature of petitionary prayer? It is in essence rebellion - rebellion against the world in its fallenness, the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is pervasively abnormal...Petitionary prayer only flourishes where there is a two-fold belief: first, that God's name is hallowed too irregularly, His kingdom has come too little, and His will is done too infrequently; second, that God Himself can change this situation."- David Wells

Our family could use some prayer today. How about you?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wonders in the Sky

Have you looked up lately? One night at church this week on the way to our cars, we all stood gazing at the heavens with mouths open, wondering what those bright lights were. The night sky was clear and the stars glittering, so unusual outside the big city. One light had such a glow I thought it must be a satellite. But then a professor happened to walk by. He knew the answer immediately. The big bright light was Venus and right beside it, a lesser light, but spectacular because it is so far way, was Jupiter! I've never knowingly looked on Jupiter before. Then he told us to turn around and right behind us was a soft red light. He said that was Mars.

So check it out! When we got home we found the planets again and I was more able to orient their positions. It seems Venus is in the southwest, somewhat low on the horizon around 9pm. Jupiter is right next to it. Turn about 180 degrees to your left and you will see Mars, higher in the sky. I don't think the alignment of these planets will occur again anytime soon, so go outside and be amazed!

Liana and I are reading Stowaway by Karen Hesse. It is about Captain Cook's voyage around the world in search of the mysterious southern continent in 1769. It's a fascinating story based on historical documents and journals of the crew members, including a young boy who really was a stowaway. Captain Cook first stopped in Tahiti to study the transit of Venus. This is when Venus passes between the earth and the sun, like an eclipse. It will appear as a black spot on the sun. How they predicted this way back in 1769 is incredible. We are in for a treat this year because the next transit of Venus is on June 5. And the next one after that? December 2117!

The beauty and wonder of the universe always makes me think of this passage in Psalm 8: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens...when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?"

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Meeting an Author

Have you read this book? I read it a couple of years ago and highly recommend it. American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped in the Philippines by the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim terrorist group, and held hostage for a year in the jungle. They faced starvation, exhaustion, frequent gun battles, and beheadings. In the end, Gracia's husband Martin was shot and killed during a rescue attempt of the Philippine government.

How do people live as Christians in a situation like that? Gracia is very honest about her shortcomings, but also about how her faith sustained her. Her husband was a constant encouragement to her and the other hostages. He even looked for opportunities to minister to his captors to be an example of Jesus to them. He would remind his wife that Jesus said to love their enemies, and that would include these brutal men. Martin did just that. The last conversation Martin had with Gracia before his death was to quote Psalm 100. "Serve the Lord with gladness," he said. Even in their difficult circumstances.

I was much inspired by this book when I read it, so I was delighted to hear that Gracia Burnham would be speaking at my friend's church. Gracia is an unassuming woman with a great sense of humor--and great faith. She talked about her experiences in the jungle, but more about the aftermath, about forgiving enemies and extending grace to them. Many of the terrorists have since died in gun battles, but some are imprisoned in the Philippines today. Gracia has corresponded with a few of them and some have even read her book. She has forgiven them for the torture she endured and the loss of her husband. It is an amazing story.

I bought a new copy of the book and then realized Gracia was standing among the crowd at the book table. I had the opportunity to meet her. She immediately reached out to hug the girls and me and chatted with us like we were old friends. That's the kind of person she is. Knowing her story, you wouldn't expect someone so, well... ordinary. But she is an ordinary woman called to extraordinary circumstances. And because of that she has become a woman of incredible faith accomplishing great things.

Even though most of us will not be forced at gunpoint to run through a jungle, we may face other serious life trials. Will I serve the Lord with gladness no matter what? What about right now? How do I handle everyday struggles? If I have trouble with the small stuff, what happens when the big stuff comes along? But it is not my strength that matters as long as I trust in God. "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might." (Ephesians 6:10)

I just had this thought. Maybe it is precisely the trial that makes us strong, the suffering that strengthens our faith. "He knows the way that I take. When he had tried me, I shall come out as gold." (Job 23:10)

Monday, March 05, 2012

Special Day

On March 4, 2001, I climbed the Great Wall of China and heard the cries of anguish of generations of Chinese who suffered throughout history. Truly, I did. It was a sacred moment that urged me to fall to my knees. The next day, on March 5th, a child whose ancestors lived and died in this vast country was handed over to me grow up in an ordinary family in America.

Our Liana is an all-American girl. She is as much a part of our big family as anyone born into it. Adored by her big brothers, cherished by her parents, challenged by her big sister Arielle--she belongs to us. She is the fun aunt to our little ones. Baby Joseph will soon find that out.

I remember my first glimpse of her in a large government building in Guangzhou, a room filled with wailing babies and new parents attempting to soothe them. We searched the face of every baby who arrived that morning, looking for our baby to match the picture we had. Finally, there she was, wary, eyes narrowed with suspicion and resistance over this new situation. (I still see that look today.) She was quite comfortable in the arms of her caregiver, and she cried continually for hours in protest over being passed to strangers--her mother and her grandma. Her voice was high and sweet (still is) but her fiery temperament was evident from the start.

Today we celebrate the gift of Liana and the privilege of the years we've had to raise her from childhood to the young woman she will soon be. Happy Adoption Day!