Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Waiting on God

God is good – All the time;
All the time – God is good.

While this can be a cliché statement in the church, and thus carries the danger of minimization that clichés can have, it doesn’t change the fact that it is TRUE. And it’s a statement that my mind is reminding my heart of tonight and will continue to do so in the days to come.

On Friday I was informed that my presence was needed (as the minutes taker) at a meeting at our other center starting on Monday. Sunday after church, I found out that the car I was riding in would be departing at 4 a.m. the next morning. No, I wasn’t thrilled…as I’m sure you can imagine! But I’m always excited to spend time with the Kobwin family so I was looking forward to that.

As my mom says, “expectations will get you every time!” :P

I don’t remember when my cough had started this time. I know I came down with congestion & a cough on May 13th after reporting a long event. But thanks to the nasal adjustment my osteotherapist gave me the next day, lots of vitamins and a few doses of Nyquil, I didn’t feel too bad during my safari trip that Mon-Wed.

This past Sunday afternoon, I again ended up reporting a long event. I came home absolutely exhausted, and at some point the cough had come back. So I took it with me to Kobwin.

In the meantime, one of my sisters here had walked through the painful loss of her first (early-term) pregnancy. She spent almost a week in the hospital before the staff confirmed that the baby was no longer alive or inside. Watching her and her husband walk through that was painful. But in the last week and a half, I have also been encouraged by their example and testimony. No, it’s not easy. It’s HARD. But I’ve seen them lean on God, give their baby back to Him, and grow stronger in their relationship with one another.

So on Monday of this week, I woke up really early and boarded the car. It was packed, since it was also serving as transport for a staff family moving back to that general area. We ended up making three unplanned stops – two dealing with tires (one tire went flat) and another for an hour and a half on the side of the road after a hose pipe busted (or something along those lines). Instead of reaching our destination at lunch time and starting meetings then, our van didn’t reach there until around 6 p.m.

I was exhausted and ready to crash, despite having slept some in the car. But the decision was made to meet from 8-10 p.m. that night. And I was staying with a Ugandan staff member in her house rather than at the guesthouse like I expected. Which was good, because otherwise I would have hardly seen her at all, but it came with its own challenges (namely, bathroom facilities).

I think it was that night that I felt how inadequate I was for the situation – and I started praying for God’s grace to sustain me through the next days. My hostess made apologies for the dust from the roof (papyrus matting) and for the rats that lived in the roof. Thankfully I really didn’t notice the latter, but I think the former exacerbated my cough.

A young boy who came with his dad in the van I was riding in had slept almost all day on Monday. That night, he had a high fever. So as I went to bed that night, that was my prayer focus – as well as thankfulness for a very positive update I had heard in the meeting.

The health of my relationship with God has really been under fire in the past months/year. I’ve kept trying to press through, and I’ve talked about it with my mentor here. But nothing had seemed to be shifting noticeably. In the past 2.5 weeks, I’ve been going through a Beth Moore Bible study, “Believing God,” in preparation for co-leading it with another lady here starting next week. Both this study and a book my mentor and I are reading through has been bringing to life the reminders about God that I’ve needed to hear again.

So on Monday night as I prayed for the little boy, I was so encouraged to notice a difference in my heart’s attitude. There’s not a concrete way to explain it, but my belief and faith were stronger that God could and would intervene, in His time & way. That encouraged my heart, and I know it wasn’t because of ME. It is God’s grace.

The next morning (yesterday), I was so blessed to hear that he was doing ok, and that he and his father had slept well (one of my specific prayer requests).

The meetings started at about 9 a.m. and continued with only three 45-minute breaks until 9 p.m. The heat at Kobwin (especially inside buildings during the day) meant that we met outside. Which also meant that my computer battery life ended up being something of an issue. So during the last two breaks I had to walk a few minutes away to the office, the only place with sockets at the center.

By break time (10:30 a.m., which always includes tea and snacks in Uganda), I noticed that I had a headache. Thankfully I always carry ibuprofen with me, so I took one. And the rest of the day, I found myself watching the clock for when I could take one again. Each one gave me about two hours of relief, enough to carry on my responsibilities, but I was not feeling great.

The meetings finally wrapped up, and I was told we would be getting up at 5 a.m. to leave for the long drive back home to Kasana. Oh bother. I was sad that the hectic schedule meant I had barely said three sentences to any of my friends there other than my hostess. Additionally, one of the families that I’m closest to wasn’t even around, they were on leave (vacation).

I went back to the house where I was staying, packed things up, and got myself to bed as fast as I could since I was once again exhausted. My cough kept me awake longer than I wanted, until the cough drop I took started helping. Then just a few hours later, I awoke again. My skin was hot to my own touch, but I was shivering in violent spurts. I pulled the heavy blanket over me, and tried to pray and sleep again. Twice, as I prayed for peace, I immediately felt my tense, shivering body relax. Thankfully it didn’t take too long to fall back asleep.

We got on the road at around 6 this morning, and thankfully the trip back was much less eventful. The van was also roomier, since obviously we weren’t taking back the load we had carried on the way up. So I was able to stretch out on a bench seat and sleep some. But coughing and the bumpy road were not kind to my headache, in spite of still being on ibuprofen.

We safely reached home at about 2 p.m. This afternoon was our weekly staff fellowship, and I went even though I still didn’t feel great. As I forced myself to unpack to clear off my bed, I couldn’t help but think about how the last time I felt healthy for an extended period of time was probably in early March, before my last Kobwin trip and before rainy season started.

Rainy season here for me brings frequent sneezing fits (especially in the morning) and a drippy nose. Probably a reaction to the cooler temperatures and mold.

An example of the latter: I have a pair of sandals I have worn very frequently over the past year and a half. Recently, I didn’t put them on for a couple weeks because I needed to do a bit of sewing on them to shorten the elastic straps. In the meantime, mold started to grow on my sandals.

On Sunday I had given them a good scrubbing (Oh, maybe that’s why my cough came back??), and they look so clean now! It’s funny how you don’t fully realize just how dirty something has gradually gotten until you clean it thoroughly.

Anyway, It’s been a rough three months, full of ups and downs health-wise. In my room, I have a calendar with the names of God on it. Interestingly, May’s name was Jehovah Rophe, “The God Who Heals.” As I looked at the calendar this evening, preparing to flip it, I had just taken my temperature to find that I have a slight fever for the third or fourth distinct time in the past three months.

My heart wanted to scoff at the promise I had welcomed so hopefully at the beginning of May. But then I re-read May’s verse: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity; who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3). I was struck by the order of that. It’s not God’s physical healing that has priority. No, it’s the spiritual healing that every believer has received which is primary. And it’s on that basis that I can proclaim God’s goodness tonight.

So even when I was struck by another fit of shivering as I wrote this post, even though I still have a fever (101 now), I can and will continue to proclaim God’s goodness. I can and will choose to be thankful for the many blessings I have received from God, which are too innumerable to count. And I can and will rest in my salvation by grace. On our long journey north on Monday, we witnessed multiple evidences of what a blessing that is. But that’s too long of a story for an already-mammoth post. Check out my ministry Facebook page on Friday for that.

As I close tonight, yes I would appreciate your prayers. But I find in my own heart the courage to pray “God, let Your will be done” rather than demanding that I feel perfectly fine when I wake up in the morning. First item on tomorrow’s agenda, sleep in. Second item, go get a malaria test. For the third time in as many months. If it’s like the other two times, the test will come back negative, but I’ll still feel crummy for an unknown length of time. But God is still good, ALL the time.

Thursday evening update: The blood test for malaria did come back positive this time, but that was almost a relief as then the treatment is obvious. I took my second dose this evening, four more to go.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why Do I Love & Worship?

Happy Resurrection Sunday to all my brothers and sisters! :-)

Today, God has been working something in my heart and mind that I want to share in case it can also encourage/convict others.

Pop Quiz about your knowledge of Bible stories: Which of the two thieves who died on either side of Christ asked to be saved?

Thought about your answer yet? Ok, I’ll wait a minute ;-)

If you’re having trouble remembering, check out Luke 23:39-43 (emphasis mine):
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying "If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us." But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

As you can see, it was the first thief—the blasphemous one—who asked to be saved. I don’t know about you – but that’s not what I would have thought the answer was to that question. If I were some Bible scholar, I would maybe have a better understanding of what was implied by the second thief’s request for Christ to “remember” him. But I’m not…so I don’t.

But this realization in church this morning followed on the heels of a conviction this morning in my ‘prayer closet’ which was along similar themes.

Let me first back up a bit. On Good Friday, I spent a couple hours out under a tree at our Enterprise Farm journaling about something….. something that came up about a year ago from my young childhood. I felt last year that I needed to work through it more, but had delayed and delayed. God used a couple different things to bring it up again last week, and a day off work provided a good opportunity to prayerfully write about it.

As I sat down to write, I wanted to do it from the right perspective and foundation. I didn’t want to write about it out of self-pity or a ‘victim’ mentality. I wanted to write about it in a way to open my heart to Christ’s healing and redemption, which He accomplished on the Cross 2,000 years ago. And so even though I didn’t plan it that way, Good Friday helped me think about it in that framework.

Then yesterday morning I was reading Psalm 67 in my devotional time. I couldn’t help but notice, while I read, that the Psalm talks about urging all nations to praise God…..but it begins and ends with the expectation that God will bless us. So was the admonition to praise God based in selfish motives, just wanting the blessings from Him? My mind noticed it, but then I went on with my day. And when a friend later asked me what Jesus was speaking to me that day, I couldn’t think of anything – I just said I wasn’t listening well enough to hear.

Back to this morning’s conviction. I had been thinking of my friend’s question off and on. And as I was there in my ‘prayer closet,’ Paraclete revealed a piece of my heart. On Friday I felt close to God in a way I haven’t as much recently, because I was bringing to Him something that was weighing on me. I recognized that I needed healing in an area, and I was asking Him to do that in me.

In other words, my motivation was partly/primarily selfish.

So this morning, the question that came to my heart and mind was “Have I been ‘loving’ and ‘worshipping’ God for who He is? Or for what I receive from Him?” In other words, haven’t I been doing the same thing the author of Psalm 67 appears to have been doing?

It’s such an easy trap to fall into. We do need God, desperately. And because He is a loving God, He does enjoy lavishing His children with gifts of His grace (Eph. 1:7-8). But our love for and worship of God should be so much more than that….shouldn’t it?

Because the God we serve is indescribably glorious. Enthroned in Majesty. The Creator and Sustainer of all things – in ways we can’t even imagine. He is the definition of Awesome.

But our eyes are so very easily fixated on our own lives, our own problems – the things we want God to fix in us or the material things we want Him to bless us with.

Is that not asking God to save us for our own selfish reasons, as the thief on the cross did? Is that not following Jesus for what we can get out of Him, as Judas ended up doing (John 12:4-8)?

Shouldn’t we instead recognize Christ for who He is—the one who “has done nothing wrong” and who has a Kingdom where He rules—as the second thief did? Shouldn’t we pour out our most valuable and precious things simply for the sake of anointing Christ, as Mary did (John 12:1-3)?

This morning, Uncle Jonnes pointed out that the two thieves on the crosses show the two types of responses to Jesus, paralleling the contrasting responses of Mary and Judas in John 12. But which category do I really fall into? As a not-yet-fully-sanctified human, I need to be continually examining my own heart and listening for the input of the Holy Spirit in this matter.

Because this morning, there in my prayer closet, the question came to mind: “If you got NOTHING from God, would you still worship Him?” And my selfish heart had to answer a quiet “no.”

All day today, when my thoughts have gone back to these points, there’s a simple line from a song that keeps coming back to mind: “I will worship You for who You are.” And that has been the cry of my heart today. To worship both our Savior and our Father for who He is as God. Not only for what I receive as a result.

To quote my college president, “May it ever be true of us.”

Friday, March 4, 2016

Trusting God in Unwanted Circumstances

I’ve been reading through the Psalms recently. Yesterday morning, one of the ones I read was Psalm 53.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity,
There is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good, no not one. 
Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call upon God?
There they are in great fear where no fear was,
For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you;
You have put them to shame,
Because God has despised them. 
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When God brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

At the first read through, this Psalm kind of seemed disjointed. I didn’t initially see the thread of connection and flow through it all. But after looking at it for a bit, I could see it. Basically, the summary of this Psalm could be “Foolish men no match against God’s salvation.”

It made me smile as I saw it, and I thought about how encouraging that is. So often, we get focused on the rascals who seem to be able to do whatever they want. And yes, sometimes God allows evil men to have sway for a while. But in the end, they will be filled with great fear, “For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you.”

Not long after reading that, as I was walking to work, one of my fellow staff members stopped me. He asked me what other names I go by…..and I thought I knew where this was headed. When I told him my Luganda name, he told me that he had met a stranger on our campus – that spot being only a one minute walk from my house – who was looking for me by that name.

The stranger who talked to me once in the nearby town.

The creeper who has been stalking me.

He had been onsite, and not far from my place.

That was evidently a couple weeks ago. I think before he got my number and called me, and I told him “Do NOT call me again.”

On Wednesday, my fellow staff member had been in the nearby town, and three people had walked up to him and blamed him for keeping their friend (the creeper) from seeing “his friend” at New Hope (me – though I would NOT call someone “my friend” after one brief encounter).

My fellow staff member made the comment “I didn’t know I had any enemies in [the nearby town], but now I guess I do.” I explained the situation to him, and told him I was sorry he had gotten involved in it. And I did (and do) feel somehow guilty for it. The number of times my mind has tried to go back through that initial interaction, to see why this creeper thinks he can be so persistent….

But I have to keep reminding myself that I am not to blame for his unwarranted actions. My mom always says “you can’t ‘should have’ anything” – but I think it’s just human for us to think that way.
I feel like my privacy has been violated by this creeper. And now at least two of my staff members have been a bit hassled by the local people because of it. And yes, it is so tempting to be afraid.

It wasn’t until I lay down to go to sleep last night that my mind suddenly put two and two together. All day, the worry would try to come pressing back in. All day, I was waiting to talk to the church elder who has been walking through this situation with me. All day, I had been trying to remind myself not to let fear control me. But all day, I had forgotten the Truth that I read that morning:

“For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you”

And so last night, I finally prayed a Bible-based prayer about it – for the first time in all the weeks this has been going on. I prayed that God would scatter these outside ‘enemies’ who seem to be bent on getting me and this creeper together. That God would place a hedge of protection around my friends and around me. That God would place a fear of HIM into the heart of this creeper. I have no idea where he stands spiritually – and I do pray that God would work in his heart….not only to cause fear, but even to cause repentance.

So often, I fail to connect what I read in the Bible to real life. But this morning, as I read a couple more Psalms, the Spirit gave me the eyes to see it. And so I begin a new day, choosing to rest and trust in the God of my salvation. The One who can and will hear my prayers; the One who can grant me deliverance. Selah.