Posted in focus on faith, need a laugh?

We Laugh Here

IMG_1003The first thing people see as they enter my home, besides me that is, is the framed photo of Nancy. Nancy’s afro draws the first curious glance but the tiny caption which calls visitors to lean in close is what gets the laugh: Nancy always had thick ankles, but no one really noticed.  

Originally a Thank You card from a friend, “Nancy” so encapsulated the quirky sense of humour I enjoy, I had it framed and hung it strategically across from our front door. Why? I want people to know we laugh here. 

And just in case they miss Nancy, there are two more hints in the guest bathroom. Directly across from the throne is a pristine starched white hand towel — the kind nobody ever actually dries their hands on. On it are these words: I’m afraid there is no PMS and this is my personality. This was a gift from a sister years ago and I’ve always wondered if she was trying to tell me something. Ah well, if the shoe fits….

And finally, when the guest washes up, there is the colourful metalwork plaque behind the faucet: Mirror, mirror on the wall…what the heck happened?! 

We laugh here! And I want people to know it.

What about God? The Word? Our faith? Do people know we are believers when they come to our home. They’d have to be blind and deaf to miss it! The place is littered with Bibles, Christian books, framed Scripture. I think it is important to let people know I am a Christ follower. But before they get scared that I will beat them over the head with my faith, I want them to know, we laugh here.

Not everybody does, you know. Laugh, that is.

We have been in homes where they don’t. We have had people come to our home and thank us for the laughter. Some confide that they rarely laugh at their home. They wish they did, they add wistfully.

I’ve met many believers who talk about the joy of the Lord but they forgot to send the memo to their face.

George McDonald says: It is the Heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.

Not everybody is born with a sense of humour. I wasn’t. Just ask my sister, 10 years my senior. She shared briefly about our family of origin at my Birthday Bash last Spring and finished with this: Connie was a beautiful little girl with her wavy blond hair and blue eyes. But she wasn’t happy. Mmm-hmm, she was an unhappy child…. Then she sat down. She wasn’t kidding. I thought it was hilarious! And I am really glad she set the record straight because, obviously something changed!

I am so glad God taught me how to laugh. It involved following Him into some real suffering and challenges. But I am thrilled to report that the things that made me the maddest, that frustrated me the most, and that scared the p_ _p right out of me are the very stories I have been telling audiences for years. And we laugh. I laugh so hard I can barely get to the punch line!

Still not convinced? Here’s what the Bible says:

A feast is prepared for laughter,
and wine makes life happy,
and money is the answer for everything. Ecclesiastes 10:19

Words to live by…grin.

If your home is laugh-starved, ask God to help you set a new tone. Just follow Him, one laugh at a time. Laughter is attractive. It’s contagious. It’s healing and comforting. It releases tension. It’s a gift from God and it guarantees that when you grow up,  you’ll have wrinkles in all the right places.

Posted in focus on faith

What’s the “Fix” for Spiritual Dryness?

button-fix-it“My soul is so withered up I barely recognize it any more!” Comments like this come to me on a regular basis. I hear from people of both genders and all ages who feel frustrated, sad or even desperate because their faith has eroded. Most of them don’t know why or how it happened nor do they know how to rediscover the vibrant faith they once knew.

I understand! I was in a spiritual wilderness for at least 10 years. It was my Big Secret because I was married to a minister (and did not want to negatively impact his calling) and I was in ministry myself as a writer for religious publications. I kept asking God to fix me since I had no idea how to fix myself. 

Let me insult your intelligence by telling you something you probably already know: there is no quick fix.

But there is a fix — or at least some points to consider to guide your steps as you seek answers and direction. (For a more complete study of this topic, check out these books.)

  • If your faith had worked for you, you wouldn’t have lost it. More to the point, if the practice of your faith was mature, growing and sustainable, you would still have it. The problem is that many of us, myself included, have heart issues, old wounds, new fears, hardships (and much worse) that our faith cannot adapt to. Our faith that has worked thus far runs into trouble and begins to erode as we subtly drift away from God.
  • God hasn’t left you even though you might feel abandoned. Because most of us in spiritual dryness drift away slowly, we are blind to what caused it and where it began. As a result, we feel like a victim rather than the pilot of our own faith. Ergo: God must have moved! It surely wasn’t me! We forget (or disbelieve) the myriad times God says: I will never leave you nor forsake you. He didn’t move. You did. If you moved away, you can move back.
  • Admit the truth out loud. Break the conspiracy of silence. Just say it: “I’ve lost my faith” or “My faith no longer works” or “I don’t believe in a personal God any more.” Use your own words to say the naked truth about the current state of your soul. God can take it! You will not shock Him or hurt His feelings. He may be waiting for you to come out of denial before His redemptive work can get some traction. “When our embarrassment level is exceeded by our desperation level we are a candidate for God’s grace” (Peter Lord) Your pastor and others in your church can probably take it too. Choose a few safe people to tell so that your “secret” loses it’s hold on you.
  • Ask Him to come after you. If you aren’t praying any more, this counts as your first prayer. It’s like saying sic ’em to a dog (no disrespect intended). In fact, He is already pursuing you but you are temporarily blinded by your unbelief. What this prayer really means is that you will now be on the lookout for the invisible God. God will begin to remove the scales from your spiritual eyes and the wax from your spiritual ears.
  • Risk saying yes. Spiritual dryness is the result of mistrust and disobedience. In other words, as we drift away from God we lose faith that He is trustworthy and we stop doing what He asks. We say no, not with our lips, but with our lives. But we never stop having a vague sense of spiritual nudging. Say yes to one of those nudges.
  • Get back into (or stay in) “God’s habitat”. When hunters want to bag a moose, they don’t dress up in camo gear and hike into downtown Chicago. They head for the forests and swamps — the places moose hang out! If you are looking for God, spend as much time as possible in His territory. You know what that means but for the sake of absolute clarity here are some suggestions: the Bible, Christian books (fiction and nonfiction), church, bible study groups (real and virtual), prayer groups, music (worship band, choir, solo listening), godly friends (old and new).
  • Never lose hope. Remember there is no quick fix but there is a fix. You did not drift away in a day, you won’t come back in a day. Take it one day at a time and follow God one yes at a time.
Posted in focus on faith

Take the Spiritual Dryness Test

How do I know if my faith has run dry? Honestly answer the questions in bold test-taking-strategieswith a YES or NO — after each question is more explanation so you know exactly what’s being asked:

  • Do you operate from a sense of duty or from a spirit of gratitude? Are you trying to live a good, moral, responsible life because you feel like you should or because you are so thankful that God profoundly changed the direction of your life at some point? Where are you Right Now?
  • Have you lost (or never found) the desire to share the gospel with unbelievers? Is the Good News still good news to you? Do you find yourself looking for ways to spread this good news to others or are you quite happy to keep it to yourself?
  • Do you have to feign enthusiasm when hearing that someone has chosen to follow Christ? How do you feel when you hear that a person you know has become a believer — does it thrill you or trouble you? If it troubles you, do you pretend to be happy since that’s the “proper” religious response?
  • Are you driven by material pursuits while paying lip service to God? Where do you find your joy and your enjoyment — in the new colours you’ve chosen for your home or wardrobe or in your personal interactions with the Lord?
  • Do you go to church to “get it over with” or to encounter God? If you could do whatever you wanted to do on Sunday morning without it affecting your family or reputation or commitments, would you go to church or is there somewhere else you’d rather be? (note: every Canadian would choose the beach in Hawaii in mid-January so think of the big picture here!) In other words, are you putting in time like punching your time card at the factory — been there, prayed that — or do you attend church with a holy expectation of hearing from the living God?
  • Are you apathetic about matters of faith and spirituality, eager to change the topic when discussion arises? What do you like to talk about with your friends? I don’t mean that you have no interest in family or food or fun but if the conversation veers into spiritual matters are you pleased and ready to engage or do you silently hope the topic will be changed soon?
  • Do you pray other than to “bless the food and the hands that made it”? Has your prayer life been reduced to public display — you only pray when others are looking?
  • Is your Bible more than a Sunday accessory? Do you pick it up during the week or is it exactly where you put it when you got home from church last week?
  • Do you ever feel like a hypocrite? Like you are leading a double life? Do you have an uneasy feeling you are pretending to be something your’e not? Are you worried that your behaviour might blow your cover and reveal the emptiness inside?

How did you do? There were nine questions, what’s your ratio of yes’s to no’s?  If your number of yeses alarmed you, you’re not alone. About 80% of believers experience spiritual dryness at some point in their journey of faith.

So what do you do if you find yourself with a little spiritual sand in your shoes? Stay tuned. The next post will give you some solid tips to get you moving “God-ward” again.

Posted in focus on faith

12 Tips for the Bride/Groom (and the rest of us!)

high-society-bride-cartoonThis advice to the bride to be, given in a hurry and  “off the top of” Terry Osgood’s incredibly level head was just too good to leave in a private wedding message. With permission from the writer, a brilliant lawyer and longtime friend, here are 12 tips suitable for framing! 

As hard as it may seem to believe now, the days will come when you have serious disagreements. My advice relates to how to weather those times. 



[1] Always keep in mind the big picture. This includes your faith in the Lord, of course, but also remember that you are in this marriage for the long haul, and that your Beloved loves you. If s/he did something that hurt you, remember that s/he is committed to spend the rest of his/her life with you. When you are feeling particularly sorry for yourself, watch your wedding vows on DVD and listen to those words and the prayers from your wedding day.

[2] Especially when you disagree on an ISSUE, remember to affirm your partner. That is, separate the issue from your relationship. Issues come and go (thankfully), but your relationship does not.

[3] Always assume the best of your partner. If there are two (or more) ways that something can be interpreted, assume your spouse meant the best one.

[4] Eliminate sarcasm from your life — it serves no good purpose.

[5] Commit to communicate. This includes talking to each other, but it also includes listening, praying, and reflecting.

[6] Do not avoid difficult conversations — learn how to bring up delicate subjects early in your marriage. Difficult issues do not go away and they do not get easier.

[7] Do not assume that your partner handles conflict in the same way you do. If one partner needs to withdraw to “process” the other partner may see this as abandonment or the “silent treatment,” If you need to withdraw, explain what you are doing and why. If you need to talk, explain why this is important.

[8] Do not assume that your partner handles illness the same way you do. Some want to be pampered; some want to be left alone. Some don’t know what they want.

[9] Be sensitive to timing. Avoid bringing up difficult issues at stressful times.

[10] Remember that you will be modeling conflict resolution skills for your children.

[11] Let the small stuff go. Not every disagreement matters. See [1] above.

[12] You know that “never let the sun go down on your anger” verse in Ephesians? I misread that verse for about 40 years. (I thought it meant that one had to resolve every dispute with a partner before one could rest at night, so I made it my mission to convince my partner of my position before we could sleep.) I am now convinced that it means that you are not supposed to hold on to your own anger when you lay down. In other words, commit your partner and your dispute to the Lord before you go to sleep. If the dispute is not resolved, then give it to the Lord to worry about while you sleep. It amazes me how much better this approach works than my “stay up all night” approach.

Posted in focus on faith

Need a laugh? Find a kid!

turkish delight 008My daughter is reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to her kids, ages six and seven. I dropped off some Turkish Delight the other day to give the children during story time that evening. When the package was opened Eli, the younger sibling, burst forth, “You mean it’s real? I thought this was a make believe story!” Mommy explained that the story was fiction but the candy was real. “Candy!” Eli shouted, “I thought turkey delight was like ham!”

Telling the story of Eli’s reaction to the Turkish Delight brought grins and guffaws to my classmates the next day when I returned to my weeklong intensive course on C.S. Lewis and his works.  If you need a laugh, hang around with kids.

My granddaughter Madi, five, is a constant source of hilarity. Her mommy said to her the other day: “Madi it’s free dress day tomorrow; you can wear whatever you like.”  Madi, who considers clothing a necessary evil, jumped up and down with delight: “Woohoo! I’m goin to wear naked!”

And while travelling home after Christmas, an unsuspecting lady in the Houston Madi static hairairport noticed cherub-like, curly-headed little Madi and sweetly said, “Aw, you’re soooo cute.”
Madi was quick to set her straight: “I’m not cute; I’m dangerous! I can actually be very scary when I need to be!”

Kids are the best source of free humour I know of. If you don’t have any kids or grandkids, find a way to borrow or adopt some kids every now and then. It’s good for the soul. As long as you don’t get all creepy about it, you can even take a seat at a playground or park for a few minutes just to watch kids play. Their energy, delight, imagination and antics will lift your spirits.

A delightful thing about kids is they are honest. Kids haven’t learned political correctness, diplomacy, or evasion and redirection. They just tell it like it is.

My friend Phyllis took her preschool daughter along with her on a visit to her new neighbour. She planned to invite the woman to her church. During a lull in the conversation, the neighbour asked Phyllis’s little girl how she liked going to church. The little girl didn’t hold back: “I’m sicka hearin’ ‘bout Flippins, Floshuns, and Paul’s Pistol to the Romans!”

A longtime friend and pastor, Lou, took his six-year-old son to visit a neighbourhood family who had just had a baby. He invited them to attend his church, where, he announced proudly, “even babies have a Sunday School class where they can learn about God’s love.” After watching the newborn undergo a diaper change and noticing what looked like a withered brown string on her tummy, Lou’s little boy demonstrated how he had benefited from growing up in Sunday School: “After a baby is born,” the tyke piped up, “the doctor has to cut the un-Biblical cord, right dad!?”

dalmatianAnother of my favourite bits of kid humour is thanks to my friend, fellow author and former pastor, Murray. His little girl adored her spotted dog. Taking her and the Dalmatian with him, Murray visited some newcomers to their neighbourhood, and, you guessed it, invited them to visit his church. After Murray introduced his daughter, she introduced her beloved dog: “His name is Dexter. He’s a damnation!

Posted in focus on faith

Generosity part 3: hope for the rest of us

hubcap-treeAs the Christmas season approaches does the word “generosity” make you nervous? If so, you’re in the majority. Many of us are in a constant state of donor fatigue, inundated with requests from our kids’ schools, our churches, the natural disaster of the day (tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods and fires), starving children, missions fundraisers, telemarketers, political parties, community initiatives, door to door campaigns, and on and on and on.

We aren’t just stretched financially but many of us also have a bulging calendar and a demanding clock. Maybe you are multi-talented and you don’t want to waste it. Or perhaps you can’t bear to see an unmet need. Or maybe you look at the staggering success of colleagues and, in comparison, you feel like you have to crank it up a notch so you don’t get left behind. Maybe, like me, you read Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster book, Lean In, and you think super-woman really does exist so you just need try a little harder.

303891 The truth is Superwoman is a mythological comic figure. And no matter how much we want to be her, we can’t. (I doubt the slinky get-up would be overly flattering for most of us anyway!) We can’t say yes to every request for our time, our talent or our treasure. We have limits. We are human.

Boy that really stinks doesn’t it?!

How are we supposed to “change our world” if we are limited human beings? Well, a few of you will do and are doing huge things that grab the attention of the multitudes. But most of us, the vast majority of us, are the multitude. What about us? We want to make a difference too! Is there any hope for the rest of us?

A resounding yes! Consider these four suggestions:

Get to know and then respect your limits. Even though I wince every time, I have learned to say “no” or “not at this time” with kindness, courtesy and respect.  I agonized for a month and finally replied to a request for support from a godly, gifted, impassioned young woman with “no.” I explained that I did believe in her and in her calling and I didn’t doubt she would do great things but I have limits and her request fell outside those limits at this time. It was tough. But right.

Discern what your top one, two, at most three talents or areas of giftedness are rubber-glove-thumbs-up-20579179transparentand operate mainly from those strengths. This will require focus, discipline and, you guessed it, the ability to say no.  I know that I have two strong gifts: my hands and my humour. I use the gift of humour in lots of speaking and some writing. I use my (often rubber-gloved) hands helping my family, my friends, my community and my church.

Be ready, and willing, to scale back, take a break, or walk away from some or all of your world-changing activity if God asks for it. In July 2012, with a head full of plans and a briefcase full if solid ideas, I returned home from a professional development conference to find my husband Gerry near collapse from exhaustion. It was obvious to me he needed a wife! Being Gerry’s wife is my highest calling and greatest privilege. God didn’t have to ask me twice. I dropped the plans and ideas and quit some other things and embarked on a yearlong ministry to my dearest and best friend. During that year, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with and surgically cured  from pancreatic cancer. It was a rough road. Gerry is doing great, my daughter is almost fully recovered and I am getting back into the swing of my ministry. Did my “sabbatical” affect my work? Greatly! My invitations and influence are much reduced. But remember this: when we follow God one yes at a time, we trust Him, not our own efforts. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works (Hebrews 4:10). Either we trust He who calls us or we don’t.

Have some fun! Hug your kids or grandkids. Go for a walk on a snowy pathway. Sign snowy pathwayup for the Christmas choir. Paint a room. Curl up with a good book or your fav series on Netflix. Hop into bed early with your husband — check out this resource!

If generosity is a scary word for you right now, you are probably over-extended. Generosity flourishes in “margin” I meet very few truly stingy, selfish people. Christmas is still several weeks away, start now to create some margin–space around the edges of your life–and generosity will no longer be a scary word, but a joyful invitation to change the world one small act at a time. If the rest of us all do a little bit, it can make a huge impact. Now that gives me hope!

Posted in focus on faith

Worry Can’t Change Others

I worry. You worry. Most of us worry. Kathy Collard Miller has written a useful, practical book that can help you worry less and trust more. Read what she has to say:

Partly CloudyThere’s something deep inside of us that believes worry can change others. If someone we love has a different perspective than we do, we worry. If someone we love has a different belief about God, we worry. If someone we love has a character flaw, we worry. We just know their wrong thinking will mess up their lives.

Some of these worries may truly seem “worthy” of worry. Your mother may not know Christ as her Savior, and she has cancer. Your son may be on the street taking drugs. Your friend may demonstrate a lack of integrity at work. Another friend drives while intoxicated. You may have tried to reason, cajole, quote Scripture, even manipulate each person into changing their ideas and their behavior, but nothing has worked—not even prayer. God hasn’t changed them either. You fear something bad, really bad, is going to happen.

Even if it’s not a matter of something really bad occurring, we can easily take responsibility for someone else’s happiness and then try to change them.

A verse that has helped me in releasing that worry is:  “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15 NASB). If God has the ability to give you and me a different attitude, He can do it for anyone. He is powerful and creative. When we worry or feel like we have to change someone’s ideas, we are saying, “God, you aren’t effective enough. You aren’t creative enough to work in this person’s life. I’ve got to do it myself.”

When I think of how God creatively worked in our daughter Darcy’s life, I sense the tears coming. Darcy went to Denmark for a semester of college and requested to live in the home of a Danish family. At that time, Darcy was friendly with us, but distant emotionally.

But while in Denmark, our phone calls soon were centered on how badly her Danish “mother” was treating her— ignoring her and saying mean things to her. Larry and I were incensed, as most parents would be, and I began to worry about my daughter’s emotional health. Then my worry fueled anger toward this woman who had no right to treat my daughter like that. We suggested Darcy move to on-campus housing, but she wanted to stick it out. Since we couldn’t afford to go visit her (I would have loved to give that woman a piece of my mind), I had to stew over it … in the beginning.

Then I saw God’s work in Darcy’s life. Because of her circumstances, she began to appreciate our family as she never had before. In comparison to the way her Danish family treated her, we were looking pretty good. In fact, fabulous. I’d never heard as much love and warmth in Darcy’s voice as when we talked with her.

Shortly before she returned home, she sent a Christmas card and wrote in it:

Dear Dad, Mom, and Mark: Since I can’t be there with you for Christmas, I’m writing to tell you how much I’ll miss not being there and how much I love you all. Being away has really made me realize how awesome a family you are. I love and appreciate all of you so much! I can’t wait to come home to see you all. Give my love to the rest of the family. I’ll be seeing you on January 6. Love, Darcy.

That was in 1994. After Darcy returned, her appreciation for our family continued to rise to great heights, and it all started with something I was worried about. It’s every mother’s longing to have her child value their family. But in our case, God accomplished this through mistreatment, something I would have changed if I could. But if I had, the good results God intended would not have occurred. Even today, when we talk about that situation, Darcy remarks, “Oh, yes, God really used that in my life.”

We don’t want to thwart God’s changes in those we love, do we? We need to make sure worry doesn’t prevent His work. Let’s live like we believe Philippians 3:15: God can change others.

 BOOK SUMMARY AND BIOGRAPHY:

It is possible to worry less through trusting God more. Regardless of the storms of trials, temptations, worry, uncertainty, confusion, or regrets that you’re facing, you can trust God more. Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries offers a conversational style, personal testimonies, practical illustrations, and solid biblical teaching for breaking anxiety and the devastating effects of worry. Each chapter includes Discussion Questions for individuals or groups, along with a “Letter from God.” In addition, a profile of a woman in the Bible who struggled with or experienced victory over worry is featured in each chapter to inspire every reader to see God’s hand in her life.

Kathy Collard Miller is a speaker and author. Her passion is to inspire women to trust God more. She has spoken in 30 states and 7 foreign countries. Kathy has 49 published books including Women of the Bible: Smart Guide to the Bible (Thomas Nelson) and she blogs at www.KathyCollardMiller.blogspot.com. Kathy lives in Southern California with her husband of 43 years, Larry, and is the proud grandma of Raphael. Kathy and Larry often speak together at marriage events and retreats.

Watch book trailer here

Order Here

Posted in focus on faith

Majestic and Wild

Majestic and WildWhen you love stories and nature like I do a subtitle like TRUE STORIES OF FAITH AND ADVENTURE IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS is almost irresistible. I have read several of Murray Pura’s books, mostly fiction, and have been carried away by his storytelling mastery. So when I got my hands on this book, a non-fiction, I was eager to read it because this was the author’s real life, not his imaginings. Like most avid readers I am always a bit curious about an author’s real life.

Each chapter stands alone and has an un-preachy devotional feel. I could see the sunsets, hear the elk’s call, feel the cold shock of river water and smell the campfires in Pura’s backcountry adventures. I fell in love with his loyal dogs and I don’t even like dogs! I read this book slowly, over several weeks; savouring it like fine chocolate that I will squirrel away and nibble on over several months.

While the chapter that blew the cover on Pura’s wife Linda’s nocturnal imaginings was amusing, without a doubt, my favorite chapter was the second to last where he describes encountering a bear in Waterton National Park. My husband Gerry and I have holidayed in that very place for more than a dozen years. I have been on the hike he described and several others and his description of the breathtaking beauty there is entirely accurate.

But it was Pura’s final anecdote in the final chapter that touched my soul. Because I was once in spiritual wilderness for a long time, his description of walking into the real wilderness to heal his hurting soul was particularly poignant:

Once, I went into the wild a dead man. Death had broken my heart and I grieved. I had nothing left for wife or family or the church where I pastored. I sat among the trees and read the Bible and gave God my pain and anger and hopelessness. One by one the stars came out. At dawn, the sun rose clear of the mountains and hills. The birds moved swiftly from branch to branch. Whitetail drank at the green river. I walked with the dogs to a marshland and jumped when a bull moose with a full rack roared and splashed through the water away from us. The sun set in red and purple, the moon came back with the stars, fire warmed my face and hands, stew bubbled in a cast-iron pot. I slept in a dark as thick as a wool blanket. In the morning a breeze stirred the ashes of my fire pit and a flame shot up.

God’s words in God’s pages made more sense to me in God’s wild. After a few days I was a new man. God was as close to me as the sweet air I took into my lungs. In fact, he had never left my heart. Or left me without strength. It was just that I knew that better now. And lived again. (pp 234, 235)

If you feel like the walking dead, like God is no nearer than the Milky Way, I encourage you to step outside and take a look at the night sky — get out on your balcony or walk to a nearby park on a starry night. Just drink in the majesty of God’s handiwork. He has never left you. Let the breeze on your face be the feel of His gentle touch, let the sound of wind in the trees be His whisper as He says, “I’m right here. Call out to Me in your time of trouble and I will heal your soul.” When you step back inside, pick up His Word and read Psalm 139 as if you had written it yourself. Let the truth of His Word comfort you and give you hope.

 

Posted in focus on faith

The Nightmare of Aleppo: an eyewitness account

A Free Syrian Army fighter in AleppoThe account below, translated from Arabic, is from a Christian pastor who stayed to help his community in Aleppo. It is written from Beirut, where he has now fled.

Even though he has found refuge from the war he cannot find relief from the “nightmare” he experienced in his homeland.

He wrote: 2-Sept-13 ~ Beirut
Today I concluded my 3rd week outside of Aleppo…
And the nightmare of Aleppo — the stones, the friends, the relatives, the church, chase me in my travelling, in my sitting, in my dinner & my lunch… sometimes I feel my soul collapsing on me… in my waking, my alertness, my activity, in every meal it is close to me. It robs the energy of my mind, as I survey the variety of food in front of me– the variety that’s been missing from Aleppo!  And if this nightmare leaves me for a few minutes of quietness, i drown in the calculation of how many weeks, possibly months, have passed since the yogurt (or the chicken) has been extinct from the city, or how long has passed since we’ve seen this kind of food.
 
One day a friend invited me to eat a meal with him in a restaurant. i was perplexed– confusion & extreme unrest– to the strangeness of the place, to the variety of food, to the abundance of meat… and the feeling of dryness came over me, great dryness– I tried to bring these two together, but there is a gap between me & those I left in Aleppo.
 
As to the affect of sounds (real sounds) of battles, of artillery, of missiles, it appears as if that’s been carved inside me in such a way that will never be erased. So in Beirut, how strange it is, how often they play with fireworks– possibly every night. Until I realized these sounds were nothing but fireworks– a storm hit my heart with enough force to wet my brow with sweat!
 
And one day, I was crossing under a big bridge– the sound attacked my ears and quickly entered my heart like a storm– the sound resembled the rocket launcher as it starts spitting its fire– until I realized the situation was nothing more than cars going over the bridge, with their wheels hitting the different gaps in the cement! …I was in this daze for long enough for my friend to realize & to answer my urgent question– by telling me: There is no rocket launcher, don’t be afraid man! Don’t be afraid!
 
The height of my activity here – and maybe my only one – when I went with my family during these weeks to spend one day in the scouts camp — and the camp was by the seashore. The atmosphere was nice from all aspects: the children, the beautiful activities they were undertaking, the tent erected on the seashore, the sand, the joy of the people, add to that restful balanced weather. But inside me, it was stormy, noisy & tiring! …with me, the nightmare of Aleppo was traveling to this place!
 
And how much I walked on the sand, pacing back & forth, thinking inside me of Aleppo– 
the stones, the people, the relatives, the brothers, the sisters, the church; and added to this inside me, on that day came the new interruption of the telephone lines and internet!   What will they do?  Is there food?  Is there electricity?
Is it natural for me to enjoy here while they are in the big prison, Aleppo? The joy of the people around me — is it true? Or is it fake?  In the pit of my thoughts & feelings, in trying to measure the magnitude of the suffering of my brothers there… do I laugh their laughter? Do I play their games? Do I enjoy their entertainment?  
The reality: it was expected of me to stay till midnight — till the scouts finished their camp around the campfire; but I could not… I had to leave right after lunch!
 
In these past 3 weeks, I did not need photos or a list of names or a news item to remind me of Aleppo and who’s there. Aleppo sits beside me in my every move, my every day, 
even in writing these lines.
 
The roads to Aleppo continue to be closed to travellers, and that means more days, possibly weeks… I will live in the company of this nightmare! And how do I endure its pressure on me!
 
Spiritual wilderness is often a result of suffering, grief and loss. This pastor’s nightmare wrenches my heart. It’s easy for us to disregard the suffering of people in faraway places — out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to blame them for their own suffering — why can’t they solve their tribal differences peacefully? But the reality is they are our brothers and sisters and the conflicts date back hundreds of years and are complex. As Christians, our role is not to judge, it is to love and to do whatever we can to bring the hope of Christ to the hurting.
Please pray. If you can give to their relief, the organization Gerry and I give to is Canadian Global Response (a partner with the Canadian National Baptist Convention). The founder of CGR was born and raised in Syria and this cause is close to his heart. All money given goes directly to help Syrian people.
Posted in focus on faith

It’s all Greek to me

IMG_3324Have you ever said, “It’s all Greek to me”? What does that mean? How many Greek words do you know? Moussaka and spanakopita don’t count. None? Me too. And things aren’t likely to change on that front since I am losing brain cells faster than fat cells.

For most of my Christian life, I blindly supported the false narrative of a Christian Caste System. The people I placed at the top of the heap (the Brahmins or priestly caste) were the Bible teachers and scholars. They were closest to God. They had earned the right to have a voice. They had a message worth listening to. They were the experts.

I have never felt like an expert when it comes to spirituality. In regards to my personal journey, 10 years of spiritual wilderness took the shine right off my halo!

However, my “problem” was my call to ministry and the constant invitations to speak and write. But God! I’m not a scholar! I can’t pronounce or translate one single Greek WORD! All I have are my hands, my humor and a heart that wants to serve You. How can You use me?

His answer? Connie, most people are just like you. They don’t know Greek either! And they never will. But they have gifts – gifts I have given them. And they need encouragement to use those gifts for My sake.

  • Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the   same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. (I Corinthians 12: 4-6)

In God’s eyes, there is no difference between the man who preaches to thousands and the one who leads a small group during lunch hour at his office. There is no difference between the woman with the television ministry and the woman who brings a meal to her neighbor after she has had a baby. There is no difference between the Bible Study author who sells millions and the young mom who blogs to bring hope to her friends. All are using the gifts God gave them to be the hands and feet and voice of His Son Jesus.

What gifts has God given you? Two good hands? A sense of humor? A heart that notices the needy? Eyes that see beauty in unlikely places? Ears that hear the cries of lonely people? A nose that does not turn up in disgust for the homeless, the hapless, the helpless, the horribly disfigured? You have a voice. Don’t let false narratives silence it. Join me in saying there’s hope for the rest of us. Let’s take the message of authentic spirituality by encouraging everyday people, just like us, to keep it real.

 What do I mean, keep it real?

  • Recognize and dismantle your idols: anybody need a slightly worn “What Would Beth Moore Do?” bracelet?
  • Realize that all God-given gifts are spiritual and worthy: stop apologizing for being “just” funny or handy or creative or strong or energetic and accept that God made you that way and whatever He created, he declared to be “very good”.
  • Refuse to pretend you are something you are not: if I have a spare moment, I do not run to my desk; I run to my garden or my kitchen or the home of family or friends who need help. “Doing” feeds my soul. God made me that way. It’s okay!
  • Reject guilt that you are not a carbon copy of the saints you idolize: I love to read and listen to scholarly teachers and preachers. I admire their passion for study and their ability to gain insight from that study and their skill in conveying that insight in engaging ways. But I’m not them. And that’s okay!
    • But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12: 18-20)
  • Rejoice in who you are and let others see Jesus in your joy:The best Christian witness you or I will ever have is to be happy in Jesus. In 2004, in Surrey BC, I heard Beth Moore say, “I am happy!” Even though I have done many of her wonderful Bible studies, that is the one statement that stands out from everything else. That alone, was enough for me. I am going to go out on a limb here…I daresay the biggest reason Beth Moore is happy is because she is doing what God created her to do. She is being who God created her to be. Humans clone; God makes originals. Be the “original” God made you to be and let others see His joy in you.