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May 27, 2012

"Thus far the Lord has helped us."

This morning I sat in a bright, sunny kitchen nook eating a haphazard breakfast. Museli, retrieved from a moving box and eaten by the handful. My meals lately have been the random ones of a person who is moving. But, inspired by various friends who are doing "read through the Bible in one year" plans, my spiritual food has been more regular and healthy than it has been in a while.

I've started into 1 Samuel this week, and this morning had me reading some verses that I want to record as reminders to myself:

"Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, 
"If you return to the Lord with all your hearts,  
then put away the foreign gods...from among you, 
and prepare your hearts for the Lord
and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 
{1 Sam. 7:3-4}

"I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind."{I Sam. 2:35}

This week's move was the most convoluted move I have ever made. So much to think about, so much to do. I am feeling drained. Not just by the move, but by the business of an over-committed life. The years 2011 and 2012 have been rushing by. Feels like I'm on a hurtling train that's moving too fast to enjoy some of the slow joys of life. I hope that will change soon, as I wrap up my responsibilities here and move on to new things. I'm needing time to process all God has been teaching me, to regroup, to rest. To bask in His beauty.

But I Samuel reminds me that no matter my season, I need to return to Him. To pour my exhaustion out and be filled with His strength. To put away my addictions and idolatries and truly prepare my heart for service to Him. What kind of person does He seek after? One who does according to what is in His heart and mind. To live that way is to delight the Father, and therefore to live in the joy of His blessing. He is truly the God of real refreshment and help for this tired soul.

"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up.... He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'” {1 Sam. 7:12}

As I've been packing and moving, I've been taking photos or making mental note of how God has blessed me through His people. These memories are Ebenezers of sorts, so that someday, when I'm facing another giant, God will remind me of how He has always helped me. A few months ago I was asking God for storage and for temporary housing, and He beautifully provided for both of those needs. When I was getting stressed, He gave me rest in a friend's home in the country. God sent a thoughtful e-mail, a bowl of Thai fish curry or a friend to scrub out my stove... at just the right time. So, as I pull up the covers on Moving Day, this I "say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" {Heb. 13:6}

May 13, 2012

counting the cost of change

It is a bright and beautiful day. Summers always take a long time to arrive in Alberta, but when they come, they come. By that I mean, they come with glory. I am on my porch, soaking in rays here. Maybe for one of the last times.
There are a lot of "last times" right now. I shoveled the walk at 10540 for the last time (not as long ago as you may think!). I mowed my lawn, for the last time. Weeded at 10540, for the last time. Some of the finality makes me happy; yard work is not my cup of tea. But some of the finality makes me sad. I don't look forward to the last Bible class with my sweet children who've brightened my Sundays for four years. Or the last walk by the river with a close friend, or the last camping trip to the Rockies before The Move.

Maybe I'm melodramatic. There are a lot of "last times" because right now there are a lot of changes. There are the biggest changes, which I instigated by deciding to move. But there are the little changes too: the unexpected moving date, an extra expense, an awkward relationship that causes emotional stress, or a cancelled opportunity. I approach these changes with mixed feelings. 

I'm changing jobs. On Friday, I told the boss that I'm leaving the job I've had for almost five years. Things felt different, even coming home from work, walking through the gate, up the porch steps...after I told the boss I'm leaving. This job has been a framework of my life for a long time. It has been the force that decided my schedule, my holiday time, my wage. Soon, it will be gone.

I'm changing housing situations. If things go according to plan, I'm going to be living in diverse places for the next six months or so, and out of a duffel bag for part or much of that time. I'm excited to travel, to see people I love, to move to a new continent... but I also like to have my own space and do my own thing, so this could be challenging.

I'm changing physical locations. This move is the biggest I've ever made, geographically. I'm going literally to the other side of the world. That, in itself, is an enormous change. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Yes. Sometimes when I bask in the silence around me, even in the middle of the city, I'm reminded that that is something that will soon be gone. There will be lots of adjustments.

I'm changing host cultures.
I'm changing languages. 
I'm changing churches.

Because I am single, I sinfully use this as an excuse to dwell on feelings of loneliness in all the changes. I tell myself that having a human to walk through this season of change by my side could be helpful. But that is when I remember, that there's one major thing I'm not changing:

I'm not changing Gods. 

"For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end." (Psalm 48:14) "He knows the way that I take..." (Job 23:10).

I stopped writing this blog post to head to church for a special meeting. The most striking sentence in the sermon was this one: the element that is most missing in the North American church is sacrifice. We give, but out of our abundance. We serve, but with our spare time. And this is why we don't see the church taking huge leaps and bounds into victory—because we aren't willing to pay what it costs. He spoke of some of the personal sacrifices that God had called him and his wife to make, and reminded us that reimbursement from God was more than worth it all.

I thought of this in relation to me, to the things I'm struggling with. I thought of a quotation I saw a few years ago, "Are you content to offer Jesus that which cost you nothing?"

As excited as I am about this opportunity, these changes are costing something. So I carry this truth with me: He is (completely and utterly) worthy.

cardboard boxes and dreams

If you're like me, you sometimes wonder what God is doing. You question His ways, His timing, His thoughts. He gives you dreams, but He doesn't seem to provide the wherewithal to pursue them. Your vision of your life and the way life is going seem so disparate. You're tempted to ask Him to get on your schedule. If you need a reminder of His benevolent sovereignty, this story is for you.

For the first few years I lived in this city, the only bedside "table" I had was a cardboard box. It served its purpose, and I was perfectly content with it. But a few years ago, when my parents came to visit, they came across an affordable bedside table and bought it for me. I came home from work one day only to find my box replaced by its more durable wooden counterpart.

I almost cried.

To me, my cardboard box was much more than poor man's table. It was a symbol. A reminder that to me that this city (or earth!) was a temporary dwelling place. My dream wasn't to live here forever and the box was an everyday reminder of that.

As I have spent nearly the past five years living and working in an ordinary North American environment, I have learned countless things. This is just one: I have learned about finding joy everyday life. I've watched people groan about the daily grind, and I've (mostly) refused to participate. While they post photos of exotic vacations, I enjoy uploading photos of green onions on my cutting board or the flowers I found on my walk—because everyday life is beautiful.

But at the same time as I sought to learn contentment, I thought this season wasn't necessarily leading me toward my life goals. My dream wasn't, and isn't, the American dream. I often wondered why God had me living the American dream of a good job and progress in my career, when that wasn't what I set out for. The next normal step for someone my age would be to "settle down" and buy a house, but nothing in me wants to own a house here. (Please refer to cardboard box story). So I wondered, "What am I doing here, God?"

He hasn't been wasting His time.
He doesn't do stuff like that.

Around the same time I was introduced to working in graphic design, when I lived in rural southern Alberta, I was also introduced to chai lattes. Graphic design became my career pursuit. Chai began my introduction to southeast Asia, a part of the world I knew little about. When I moved to the city, I had opportunities to grow and expand my horizons in art, photography and design. When my life intersected with that of a gathering of believers made up of 50% immigrants from southeast Asia, my vocabulary (and girth) expanded to include foods like "samosas," "tandoori" and "naan". The kids in my Bible classes were (and are) mostly of Asian descent. I began to learn about their culture.

The first time a friend mentioned the idea of me getting a job in Asia, I resisted the idea. The culture seemed overwhelming. But as the conversation continued, off and on, over the past few years, the idea grew on me. The picture of what I might do there became clearer as my friend's company flew me to the other side of the world in February for a brief visit and lots of conversation over chai or fresh pineapple.

While I thought I was just living the North American life, I now realize that I was actually in professional, cultural and life training.
I should not have second-guessed God's sovereignty.

After consulting family, friends and leaders, I've accepted a one-year contract to work with my  American friends' company in Asia.  I am excited about this opportunity to use my professional skills to work alongside others who share my vision. If the year goes well, I may stay longer. We have many ideas how we'd love to use our presence in Asia to spread joy to individuals and communities there. 

I'm leaving the country to which most southeast Asians would love to immigrate...and I'm looking forward to it in so many ways! But when I leave Canada I will be leaving some of my dearest friends and family. I will also be limiting my ability to communicate with you as personally as I might like. But I can send some stories and news. And when we get together for chai, I can fill in some blanks...until that great day when everything God is doing is "fully known" (I Cor. 13:12).

I may also get rid of my wooden bedside table. Maybe you'd like it?

May 08, 2012

one-hit wonders and the Christian life

It is easy to be a "one-hit wonder" in the Christian life. Or just in everyday life.

Christian circles offer many opportunities to serve, some of them fairly public. But sometimes I need to ask myself: What would I still do in Jesus' name, if never noticed, thanked, or applauded? I reflect on this: if I don't get thanked, do I stop giving of my time, effort or money? Do I seek out the tasks that are in the public eye over the thankless ones, for attention? I need to search my soul for this kind of spiritual pride and self-seeking often. God points it out in me more often than not.

I can teach at camp for a week or a weekend and receive praise for my service. But will I teach Biblical wisdom to the children in my life year after year? I can volunteer my abilities for a short-term task or project, but will I keep doing those background tasks which people don't notice (except when I miss a step or make an error—then they notice!)? Inviting company over and showing them a polished house and a hearty meal is little trouble in the long term. How much more work it is for a woman to consistently establish a home where order and health are promoted.

In the past year, I have been both a manager and an employee, and a landlord and a tenant. As a result, I have come to a new appreciation for reliability and dependability as essential traits of anyone we desire to relate with in a personal or professional sphere. In our permissive Western culture, people can find an excuse to leave behind nearly any relationship, commitment or contract. Sure, they can pull off one big show. They can even look cute while doing it. But when the smoke machines are turned off and the stage is cleared, the dependable people are the ones who are there cleaning up after the act. The one-hit wonder is pulling out of the parking lot before the confetti is swept up. Because one-hit wonders don't show faithfulness.

Why is faithfulness important? Because it reflects the rock-solid, consistent, unchanging Creator who made us to reflect His image. Psalm 33:4 says that "he is faithful in all he does." Can that be said of us?

If you were to follow the past seven years of my blogging (off and on), my writing probably reflects how, as I've grown up, life has become less and less about one-time deals and more about the daily battles, the daily joys, the daily tasks. Because for most of us, life is about 98% daily routine and 2% one-time gigs.

This post, like the topic itself, is nothing mind-blowing. You say, "Yes, I know this already." I say, "Yes, you should." It is just basic godly living. But the battle for our allegiance is fought in the 98% of our lives that is routine. It's all-out war. So, we could all use a reminder. Even if it's just a one-time thing.