Thursday, April 16, 2009

Here I Raise My Ebenezers ...

"… hither by Thy help I’ve come, and we hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home." ~" Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Robert Robinson, 1758

"While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage in battle.  But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.  ... Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the LORD has helped us.'"  ~1 Samuel 7-10-12

"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them." ~Deuteronomy 4:9

For years, I have kept a little notecard I received from a high school friend. I had not seen her since graduation in 1987, but two years later, when I was contemplating quitting my job to follow God to the summer mission field, this simple note arrived in the mail. She had no idea that I was struggling with that decision, and had no idea that God was using her to remind me of His truths. The card reads:

“Sharon, Just thought I’d write you a note to let you know that I’m thinking about you. Remember Philippians 4:19, ‘And my God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’ Love, Michelle”  

I was in tears.  There was no reason she should have written that to me but that God had laid it on her heart.  Still today, every time I am tempted to think that God may not provide, I am drawn back to this note and the truths that it stands for, and my faith is strengthened.

A brief note from a friend is one of my Ebenezers.

If you were to walk into our bathroom, you would find something odd hanging on the cabinet: one simple clear plastic shower curtain ring. When we moved to Texas in 2000 to begin seminary, I found the ring lying on the counter in the bathroom of our apartment when we arrived. I almost threw it away; after all, why would I want some random shower curtain ring that someone had left behind?  But when we unpacked and began to hang up our shower curtain with the set of rings we had brought with us, amazingly ... or maybe not so amazingly ... we were one short of a complete set. 

Some may think it's silly, but I can't bear to part with it.  Nine years later this little plastic ring still reminds me of God’s provision, even in the simplest things, and that he sometimes provides even before we know we have a need.  

A shower curtain ring is one of my Ebenezers.

Whether physical artifacts like these, or memories of the times we’ve witnessed God’s incredible faithfulness, each of my “Ebenezers” has a valued place in my walk of faith.  Because we do not sense God telling us to slow down or go another way, we are continuing down the road to leave in July. No, we can’t see beyond the bend, but we are able to walk because we have witnessed God’s faithfulness; we have seen Him “come through” in the past and we know that He is able to do exceedingly more than we could ever ask or imagine!

I'm curious.  What are your Ebenezers?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Exercise in Priorities

"It is hard to begin to move when you don't know where you are moving, how to move, or if you are going to get there." ~Peter Nivio Zarlenga

"Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work." ~H.L. Hunt

"Action expresses priorities." ~Mohandas Gandhi

Our house is emptying quickly. The walls are becoming bare; the counter tops are clearing; the bookshelves now have more space covered in dust than books. As expected, the act of purging brings with it some amount of sadness, but I never dreamed I would find myself fighting back tears when deciding what to do with a copy of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who. I felt a little silly.

Despite their lingering hesitations, the kids have been wonderful troopers through this process. I gave them each a box last week and asked them to put into it books and toys and sentimental items that they would “definitely want to have in PNG.” Once they had done this, we carefully looked together at everything that was left over and multiplied our garage sale pile. Neither one of them ever complained.

Our furniture is for sale. In an effort to maintain normal for the children, most things are available "at the end of May," but just the fact that people are laying claim to them makes my tummy feel strange at times.

“It’s just stuff,” I remind myself.

And then I remind myself that I'm right.

Priorities. Certainly this process is an exercise in priorities. Which kitchen gadgets are important enough to pay to ship halfway around the world? Do we leave those two shirts behind to make room for the numerous sets of underwear and socks that my son will need for four years? Bicycles, baseball gloves, basketball, or some of each? Which towels and sheets will dry fastest in the tropical breeze? What pictures and nick-knacks will make a foreign country feel like "home?"

Last week I received word that the sister of one of my students had committed suicide.

There is a lesson in priorities there, too. I mean, seriously ... we could go overseas with just the clothes on our backs and be happy as long as we had each other, right?

What about internal priorities? Which grudges and frustrations are important enough to permanently raise your blood pressure? Can we leave behind outrageous self-expectations to make room for the truth that God loves us unconditionally despite our shortcomings? Friends, job, family, God, or some of each? Which attitudes and passions will bring the most freedom and grace to our lives? What relationships and experiences will make it all feel most worthwhile?

Maybe we need to empty our "houses." Take the pictures of the past off of the walls; remove not only the dirty dishes of hard times, but the bowls and spoons that stir up trouble for tomorrow; clear the bookshelves so that there is more space for peace and simplicity than chaos. The act of purging brings with it some amount of discomfort, and even sadness. You may find that you never dreamed you would have a hard time working through and letting go of what you used to think were "normal" experiences.

For some reason the act of "getting rid of" can seem very difficult in the moment, but after every garage sale, when I drop the last few bags and boxes off at a charity center, I experience a sense of freedom that never ceases to surprise me. Even my gait is lighter. It is as if I am released from the weight of those items. Literally.

Could it be that purging emotionally, establishing priorities and sticking to them in our emotional, spiritual, and relational lives, could bring a similar release? Would it be worth it to find a spring in your step again?

"One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." ~Psalm 27:4

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Words for Barrett's New Parents

Two weeks ago I was asked to say 3-4 minutes at a baby shower - to offer some encouraging words, or a charge, to the new parents. At first I was very hesitant, knowing that, surely, there must be many other more seasoned parents in attendance (and that turned out to be true!). But, then I thought about what God had taught me in the ten years I have been a parent, and I knew he had a message for Mark and Sarah as well.

I copy it here, in its original form, because I received some very good feedback about how meaningful it was - not just to Barrett's parents, but to many others in the room. I think there is something fundamental here that touches the hearts of all who are honored and privileged to have been given the gift of parenthood. Let us not take it lightly.

First, I just want to say, Congratulations! Nine months ago your lives changed – you will never be the same. But that is a good thing. I’m here to let you know, parenting is not difficult. It is impossible. It is impossible to parent the way you want to parent, and the way that Barrett needs to be parented without the grace and strength of our Lord Jesus.

Barrett is a precious little bundle – a beautiful sweet baby. He makes you smile. He makes you laugh. And right now he makes your heart ache with longing in a way you never knew before.

But eventually, he will come home. And then he’ll start waking you up at night. Even when you didn’t get to bed until thirty minutes ago. He will cry and wail and you won’t be able to figure out why.

He will turn his nose up at the creamed peas and spit the sweet potatoes all over his brand new outfit. Or yours.

He will try to run into the street. He will reach for the stove. He will climb up on the kitchen table and toddle to the edge before you even know he’s up there. He will figure out how to open a pocket knife. He will pull the cat’s tail and eat out of the dog’s bowl. He will throw rocks, whack trees with sticks, and collect bugs. Alive.

He will trip while running to first base and he’ll break his arm falling off his bike. He will stay out past curfew and ask for money, and want to borrow the car.

But through it all, through every stage of the journey, you will find yourself falling in love with him over and over and over again. You will wonder what you ever did before he came into your lives. You will gently sing him to sleep and then watch and wonder at his perfect, peaceful face. After he has cried for what seems like hours, though you still don’t know what started it or why he stopped, you’ll collapse in the rocking chair and find that the tears are welling in your own eyes.

You’ll introduce him to his first hamburger, or his first piece of pizza, or his first cup of lemonade, and you’ll giggle at his reaction. You will watch him as he investigates the frosting on his first birthday cake and wonder where in the world the year went.

You will teach him boundaries, warn him of danger, and correct him with loving discipline when he crosses the line. You will stroke his hair when he’s feverish and comfort him when he’s in pain. You will long for him to come to you to discuss his struggles and to trust you with his secrets. You will fall on your knees and thank God for him every single day. You will want to never take for granted what a treasure of grace he is.

But, I have found that one of the most incredible aspects of parenting, Mark and Sarah, is that through all this you will begin to discover more of Who God is. One day it will hit you - just as you desired a child, prayed intently for him … God chose you, too. Just as you love your child, so God, your Father, must love you. You discipline Barrett because you love him … and you will start to see just how wise and just is God’s loving discipline of His children. Because He is your Daddy, God hurts when you are hurting, and He laughs when you discover some new delight that he has held in store for you. He watches you intently – your perfect face – and rejoices over you with singing. God longs for you to turn to him with your struggles and needs and to trust him with your deepest secrets. You are God’s treasure.

I truly believe there are some things about God that we can only learn when we become parents. What an awesome privilege, and an awesome responsibility!As you love and teach Barrett about Jesus, you are God’s agents, building up a mighty warrior for the kingdom of God. We pray with you that he will give his heart to Jesus early in life, and that he might serve Him and love Him and know Him and long deeply for Him more and more each day. Perhaps someday the Lord will see fit to give Barrett his own special gift of grace – a child – through whom God may begin to unfold some of His great and awesome mysteries.

We love you and are so happy for you. God bless you!

We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

For the Bibleless Peoples of the World ...

(Updated 13 April 2013)