the Lord saith

honey and milk are aflow in the land

beneath the lushness of olives I stand

and sing the provision of God’s ready hand

and the Lord saith, I AM.

 

when nights they are hot and they’re stale and they’re old

but tears on my cheeks like the stars are so cold

and bitter as lead is the taste of my woe

yet the Lord saith, I AM.

 

cast from my comfort the wild to roam

seeking His strength but dry to the bone

waiting and knowing He’ll yet call me home

still the Lord saith, I AM. 

 

And the Lord WAS, and the Lord IS, and the Lord IS TO COME. ~Revelation 4:8

————–

That my God’s name is I AM does not cease to awe me. He IS – all that is good, that is true, that is beautiful. No matter what my own circumstances are, whether I am spiritually thriving, or whether I am wretched and lost and generally messed up, God is still God. Even in the darkest nights where I cast Him aside, God is still infinitely good and very much present – as His name promises, and I take comfort in that. 

Advertisements

The Burden of an Outsider

A member of my family was invited to speak at a small Chinese church once, kind of as “the outside expert.” It was an evening fellowship, which our entire family attended. After the service, we were approached by the pastor and a member of the church. The pastor encouraged this member (let me call him Victor) to talk to us, and let us pray for him. I instinctively knew that this was more than just wanting to talk to the foreigners, but I was not ready for what followed.

Victor had a drug problem. He had sworn off drugs, and has managed to stay off. But it still torments him. He stays up entire nights, hating himself for what he has done. He goes through the day shaky from exhaustion. He can’t help but think about drugs. “Just seeing your water bottle,” he told us, pointing at the water bottle from which my mother took a sip, “it reminds me of the old days, and I want to take it again.” And then he hates himself again for such thoughts. And then, at night he can’t sleep, tormented by the desire for drugs, the dread of the future, the horrors of the past.

Victor spilled his guts to us. Because we were the outsiders. We came as figures of some authority to this church. We could be trusted. Part of it was that we were outside his world, and we were unable to hurt him or judge him as his family or friends might. But part of it was also, being outsiders, it was almost as if we carried greater spiritual weight.

We listened to Victor spill his guts, telling us his darkest fears and tortures he kept even from his wife. We offered what little comfort or consul we could, knowing also that he’s heard it all before. But somehow, it still seemed to bring a little comfort. We then laid our hands on him and prayed for him. It was a more sincere and desperate prayer than I’ve prayed in a long time. At the end of the prayer, Victor looked tired, but well, like after a battle well fought.

That night, I suddenly realized a little of what it meant to be a missionary. Or even just the outsider Christian. I am young. I don’t know my Bible half as well as a whole lot of people in that church. I am not as mature as I would like. I know too little of the world. I have no idea what kind of advice to give. I am young, so young in the eyes of so many. But it does not matter. I am the outsider, which can carry a lot of weight I am not worthy of. Simply by being the outsider, I will have people approach me with heavier burdens than I could dream of. Hoping to serve in a land in which I hardly belong, I will be granted to look deeper into many hearts than most family and friends. It is a terrifying thought. A sobering thought. By God’s grace, I pray that I will be able to fill these shoes far too big for me. Only by God’s grace, would I be able to extend healing in places of hurt. I myself, I know, am too weak, too immature, too self-centered to touch another’s soul.

Pray for Victor. And pray for each of us, still young, but called by God to do great things beyond our wildest dreams. I know too well how ill prepared I am. But by God’s grace, we might not make too great a mess of things.

My Grandma

Thank you for the prayers I know were offered. My Grandma passed away early Monday afternoon (their time). She is now with the Lord, whole, painless, and joyful, at peace.

I have never really lost anyone close to me before, and it was something different from what I expected. I was with a friend in New York. It was early morning, and we had been ignoring her alarm clock for a while. The sunlight streamed in the nice little apartment we were staying in. My friend finally reaches for her phone (I had none, so I gave my mother her number), and reading a message, asks, “[LS], you’ve got your glasses?”

I obligingly reach for my glasses, and she says softly, “you better read this.” It’s amazing how one realizes so easily the truth. I recall once reading of an officer in the army, who had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to a new widow. He put on his uniform, quietly rehearsing the words he knew he would not need to say. The young wife would know simply by seeing the uniformed officer on her doorstep. It was easier that way, that he would not need to speak, to explain, but simply skip to offering what comfort he could.

So I knew even as I took the phone from her. I read the short message my mother wrote, and lay back down to stare at the ceiling. I’m not sure how I felt. I’m not sure what I was supposed to feel. And so for quite a while I simply lay there wondering what the proper emotion ought to be, so I could summon it up, as long as it was not a shower of tears which would make it awkward for both me and my friend. I never know how to deal with tears.

It hit me then that I would be home in less than a month. Why did God not wait till I was home for the summer? Why did it have to happen now, when I was half a world away? I had always prayed, ever since coming to college, that if anything had to happen, let it happen when I was home for the summer. Let it happen when I could at least say my last goodbyes. It was only a month’s difference, couldn’t God have waited?

I think that was the moment I shed a tear or two. I was bitter, and while I accepted the fact that my grandmother passed away, I didn’t understand why it had to be now, so close to when I would have been home.

But the thought eventually passed, and I comforted myself that it happened now, not later, not when my sister would also be at college here on the wrong side of the world. I thanked God that at the last days of my grandmother’s life, she had my sister and my brother both, even if I had to be away. I thanked God that He blessed my grandmother so dearly, that she had almost all the family – both her son and daughter, and their spouses, their children, around her. I thanked God, I blessed His Name that He gave her such a beautiful life, one without want, a good home, good food, good family. Even though she was always very weak, very frail, I thanked God that she was never really very ill. She was healthy, as much as a tiny, frail, 80-year-old can be. Her bones bothered her, and she lay in bed a lot of the day. But I thanked God for the peace He gave her, that she had little to worry about, that she had no greater illnesses or diseases to torment her.

I also thanked God that her time in the hospital was so short. I knew it made her miserable, and she had earlier already been frustrated at how much a burden she was to our family (but oh, how dearly we loved this burden God blessed us with). Even if she had recovered, she would only have felt greater frustration at “all the extra trouble” it would have caused us as we sought a stay-at-home helper. Trouble we would so gladly have gone through! But God was kind in that, so long ago He decided her time, and He let it pass swiftly, instead of giving her a long and painful battle before that alloted day.

God gave my grandmother a beautiful life. He blessed her and our family so greatly. He loved us so. I have not yet come to terms with my grandmother being gone, that I would not see her again for such a very, very long time. I found little peace in the knowledge that she was now with the Lord. I am selfish, and though she is now in a better place, it still hurts that she is gone. But I am at peace, because God loved her, and God loved us. God has blessed us all so greatly. And I find comfort in that.

Every Act an Act of Praise

So much for writing more steadily… But to the post.

A while ago Jennifer Pharr Davis came to speak at our school. She is a well known hiker, who has hiked the Appalachian trails 16 times, and I think she holds the record for the fastest hike (45 days or somewhere close). She told a nice coming of age story, but inevitably, someone finally asked her, “but what’s the point of hiking?” (It was, of course, phrased more politely.) As a Christian, how does one justify spending so much time and energy on hiking? when it really doesn’t do much for the world or the church.

Jennifer’s answer was something along the lines of, “it’s what God made me for.” Hiking was something she loved, and on the trail she came closer to God than anywhere else. But also, it was something God made her good at.She explained that flat breasts and strong thighs – something that caused her much grief through adolescence – were perfectly suited to hiking. By utilizing the gifts that God has given, by utilizing them fully, it was an act of praise.

Praise is not simply defined as singing in church.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. ~ 1Cor. 10:31

By utilizing our talents, by enjoying what God has blessed us with, that too is an act of praise. A power act of praise. Recall at the creation? God created “the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds.” And what did He say of them? “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:21) The fish were good, not because they could fly, or sing, or do cartwheels. They were good

because they had all the qualities of fishiness. They were excellent fish, because God endowed them with beautiful fishy qualities. Does that make sense? They were good, because they were fish.

The same goes for the birds, or the animals which creep and crawl, or the plants. They were all good.

Recently, I have grown rather fond of the verse about the shouting rocks. Jesus was at the Mount of Olives, and the crowds were praising God “joyfully… in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” But Pharisees, of course, were displeased and told Jesus to rebuke them. He answers “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40) That’s a scary thought, shouting stones. But why don’t the stones shout in praise? Ought not all creation sing the praises of God? (Psalm 148)

Well, if you ask me, the stones are praising God, by merit of being very good stones. I mean, can one find a more stoney object than a stone? God made them stones, and they are beautiful stones. They are fulfilling all the duties of being a stone. And thus they are a beautiful praise.

Praise does not lie only in songs and dance, or even serving. It lies in using God’s blessings, be that in hiking, or writing novels, or learning a new language. It also lies in washing dishes – to do a good job washing dishes in a great act of praise. It lies in writing papers, in reading for class, in taking good notes. It lies in sweeping the floor, in taking the bus to work, or making a good cup of coffee. Everything can be done in a prayerful, praiseful heart. Monks once thought that manual work (e.g. gardening) was an act of worship. And I think they were right.

Learning to be Crazy

I was reminded to be crazy this week. I guess I always knew God expected the unexpected of His followers, and I thought I had no problem being different from the world, but I’m increasingly learning just how different “different” can be.

It came about that I was walking through the campus bookstore. I can never resist walking through the campus bookstore, even though I can rarely afford extra books. As usual, I stop and browse, for an extended while. One book I came across, with a pretty blue and white cover of the lovely antarctic sky and snow, was called Surrendered and Untamed: A FIeld Guide for the Vagabond Believer, by Jason Clark. Now I had lately been musing on travelings – as might be expected – and for some reason thought this was a book about someone with a wandering lifestyle. You know, the “vagabond” of the title. Otherwise I would probably not have picked it up – I tend to shy away from devotionals.

I flip open at random, landing at a chapter which begins with the author talking about this guy he knows, Westerfield, who always went about telling people how much God loved them. Hmmm…. I’m not sure I want to be the one standing at the bus stop who suddenly turns to the next person to say “God loves you, you know?” But Westerfield had done exactly that, and before I could get around to judging him, Westerfield-at-the-bus stop stops talking, and asks the man if he would pray for the man’s girlfriend and sick baby.

The Man’s eyes got wide. “How could you know that?” he asked.

“That’s how much God loves you, He put your family on my heart,” Westerfield said, and then he prayed, asking God to release His love on this guy and his family. And God did. The guy stood there in the street and cried as he experiences God’s loving-kindness through Westerfield. And when it was over, not only was this guy blessed, heaven had a new citizen! 

It was an incredible story. And I have heard too many stories like this to doubt it. God can and does speak to us in such direct manners, with such specifics.

I was once attending my grandparents’ church, which I visit about twice a year. It was the end of summer. In the beginning of summer I had come to realize that God had a calling for me. I knew exactly where I would be in three years time (though I wasn’t quite sure about the three years in between). I did not know what exactly I would be doing, but I got the main gist of the idea.

So, God have revealed part of His plan for me, and it was beautiful. But then I went home for summer, and as I took a break from school, I took a break from my future and God’s plans. By the end of the summer, I was having doubts. Did I really interpret God’s words accurately? Was I sure this was what He wanted me to do?

So I was at my grandparents’ church, and the pastor was preaching a message on something completely unrelated. It was a good message, but as he preached I kept wondering if I really knew what I was doing. Then, as the pastor closed in prayer, he said something along the lines of “I rarely do this, but I feel that the Holy Spirit had put something on my heart. Is there anyone here who plans on going into […]?”

I jerk up. Did I mention it was a congregation of 8? It was highly improbably that the pastor could have been speaking to anyone else. And there was no way that he could have known my plans and my doubts. So the pastor prayed for me. It was exactly what I needed, and the Holy Spirit had told him so, even if he did not know it was me.

God does work in such direct ways. How many times have I walked down a path, suddenly seeing someone, and wondering if I simply ought to go over and say hi? Just to let them know someone still cares. Or just because I want to chat. How many times have I squashed that instinct for fear of being weird? But once or twice, I did go and say hi, and after a little confusion as to my motive (I been mistaken for both a social worker and someone who wanted the connections to get into the pamphlet-handing-out business), the conversations turn out nicely. However, still that fear of being “different,” I only brush past the topic of Christianity. I make it known I am Christian, but I hardly – if ever – expound on the topic.

On one of the last days of being in Greece, we attended a local evangelical church. A missionary from Texas came up to greet us, and after ascertaining our identity (we from — College, here for the purpose of —, leaving Greece on —, etc), his very first question to us was, “What ministries have you done so far?”

It hit me. I had just been thinking to myself over the past few days that something was lacking in the Greece trip. It was lots of fun, I was learning a lot, but there was something I was not doing right. I had not been delving into the cities I promised I would. I had not been listening to stories of joys and tears. I was still trying to decipher the needs of the people. I was not responding. Then here comes this Texan missionary, and one of the first words out of his mouth was what of God’s work had we done in the full twenty days.

Full twenty days. So much could have been done. Paul himself hardly stayed in any city more than two or three weeks. And what have I done so far?

So where am I headed with all this? Allow me to summarize my wandering thoughts in lovely bullet points.

  • There are times when God speaks with great precision, responding directly to our needs. 
  • There are times when God puts such precise words on our hearts, other times when His directions are less clear,
  • but if so, we still ought to speak up, even at risk of being “different.”

Sometimes, for the sake of God’s love, we are told to do what we feel uncomfortable, or what the world frowns upon. I cannot claim any instances in which God gave me instructions as clearly as He did Westerfield, but I have been learning to speak to strangers. And I am not claiming that street evangelizing is the best or only way. But I think God has at times prompted me to speak up, and I have ignored him. I dearly, dearly want to reach out and help people. I dearly want to hear their stories, see their needs, and respond to those needs. But too often, I stop at hearing the story.

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
~ 1 Corinthians 9:16-17

Final disclaimer: that was a long wandering post, and I ended up somewhere I completely did not expect. I apologize that my thoughts are not fully developed, and there are too many of them to put on paper, so this is an ill-selected portion of a much bigger picture. Please do reply with comments if you disagree or have any thoughts. I would be happy to continue the discussion so as to more fully explore what I think and why, and perhaps some day offer a more concise, more polished thesis. Thank you so much for listening and responding!