Tuesday, September 30, 2008


[what's brewing: a deep, dark blend]

While I was in graduate school I used to frequent a small used-book shop near the campus. One afternoon I found a small, green book of verses, prayers and poems that quickly became a favorite of mine. I don’t read it daily or even weekly, which heightens my amazement that God so often uses the words of a randomly selected reading to address a specific need in my heart. Today I opened the small book and found a prayer that perfectly articulated what my heart has been trying to say to the Lord all week. But first, let me explain how this week developed.

I recently discovered a podcast of a woman I heard speak at a conference some time ago. As I listened, I was struck by her profound gratitude for the daily covering of God’s grace in her life. She was immensely grateful for the saving grace of God, and she poured this gratitude out in worship to the Lord in a way that I have never seen before. I knew right away that, as much as I would like to tell myself otherwise, I do not have that same level of gratitude to the Lord. I express my gratitude in prayer and worship, but it does not move me the way it moves this woman.

After contemplating this realization for awhile, I have identified one critical difference between myself and the woman I was listening to: the lack of awareness of sin in my daily life.

I have somehow come to think of my sin in general categories -- specifically, the areas in which I am struggling or being molded by the Lord. I am quick to admit my sinful ways to my close friends, and I appreciate discussions with others over my failures in the pursuit to be like Christ because I leave feeling edified and encouraged. I know and believe that I am a broken sinner, dependent on God’s grace, but when I really stop to think about it, I have sorely neglected the practice of daily confession before the Lord.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve purposefully stopped to take an account of my day, confess my specific sins (whether they be blatant or silent), and ask God to forgive those specific things which offend His very character. I pray for forgiveness and for the power to change, but I am convinced that moving towards this type of daily confession would develop a keen awareness of my desperate need for grace and forgiveness, which would then result in a profound gratitude for a God who not only lavishes this grace upon me but does so freely and joyfully. Hopefully, this whole process will then ignite a passion for purity and holiness in my daily activities as well.

This type of reflection and personal confession has become the longing of my heart, and I’m inspired by what I heard in the speaker's heart. I want to overflow with gratitude for God’s forgiveness as she did, and I’m ready to develop a habit of examining my own heart before the Lord, not just discussing my struggles and failures with friends for accountability. So you can now understand my delight when I read these words of prayer, the very cry of my own heart, in the little green book today:

O God, my God, abide with me throughout the whole course of this day, and so support my weakness that, when evening comes, although none may be justified in Thy sight, I be not altogether ashamed to render unto Thee an accounting. And do Thou, in Thy mercy, pardon whatsoever shall be amiss in thought, word, or deed. Then, O Lord, let me not be blind to my sins, but discover them to me, that I may sorrow unto life and sleep not unto spiritual death; and to Thee shall be honor and praise forever. Amen.

I read it silently and then aloud in the stillness of the morning hours, so many aspects of this prayer resonating with my soul:

Abide with me.
Support my weakness,
Render unto Thee an accounting.
Amiss in thought, word, or deed.
Let me not be blind.
Discover them to me…that I sleep not unto spiritual death.
Honor and praise forever.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My First Women's Event

[what's brewing: my own concoction]

It was the day of my first women’s event in the church and to say I was nervous would be severely understated. I had written my lesson out in English two weeks earlier, translated it on my own to the best of my ability, then took it to my language lesson to get some extra editing help from my tutor. I had been reading it aloud to myself and to Jason all week, and still I felt nervous to deliver it before the group of women that would be gathered together that afternoon.

I had created a schedule for the entire event, breaking each song, game, craft and lesson down into their respective time chunks so that I could stay on track and effectively fill the 2 hour timeslot I had been planning for. I had prepared several American treats to serve in addition to the potato chips, popcorn and soda that the ladies had volunteered to bring. I showed up early to get the room set up and by the time I finished, things were looking good. The back table looked festive and well arranged for the women to grab a plate and select their treats at the appropriate time. The napkins were swirled with a feminine touch, the paper plates and plastic forks were creatively displayed and the arrangement of food on my serving trays impressed even my husband. I had my supplies set out so that I could easily move through the program without getting lost in the transitions. I was relieved that no one had come early so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to sit and make conversation when I wanted to be getting things ready, but now that I was ready to go and had 10 minutes to spare I was once again reminded of my nervousness and wished someone would show up to distract my nerves.

Three o’clock slowly turned into 3:15 and the room remained cold and empty. I couldn’t believe that I’d done all this preparation and absolutely no one had shown up. I called Jason in my shock and he reassured that the ladies would come, refuting my every doubt that we’d announced the wrong time, or forgotten to remind them last week, or perhaps I’d simply misunderstood their enthusiasm to start these events up again…

Just after I hung up the phone, I heard footsteps and turned to see two women coming through the doorway. They were followed by two older girls from the Children’s Home and my confidence was slowly being restored. By 3:40 we were still only a group of six; we were far behind my original schedule and I started to flounder, unsure if I should begin or continue to wait for the others to arrive. I had planned to start the meeting off with several songs but it seemed awkward to sing with such a small group. The games would definitely flop if we only had six participants, and I knew if we started a craft project it would be drawn out longer and longer as other showed up and started late.

The rest of the afternoon continued to reveal that my carefully laid plans held no clout here in this place. Women slowly trickled in throughout the event – one lady actually showed up as we were closing in prayer. There were awkward moments as we sang our songs with no chorus of voices to cover the missed notes and off-key voices. I floundered in trying to explain the rules of the game, and we ended up playing a new and different version of the game than I had intended. I cut the craft project out of the schedule entirely since we had started nearly an hour behind schedule. My mind ran ahead of my mouth as I shared my lesson with the ladies; I couldn’t keep my place on the page, much less deliver it with any semblance of confidence or animation. I called on someone else to say the closing prayer and was hit with a wave of relief when she said, “Amen.”

I showed up at church the next morning feeling rather embarrassed by the events of the previous afternoon. I wanted to stand up and explain that I was capable of leading a much more interesting, fun and meaningful event than the one they attended yesterday. I wanted to tell them what it was supposed to be like, and part of me wanted to blame them for showing up late and ruining the ambiance that my plan had been resting on.

And then I talked to Anna.

She explained that her disappointment over missing the meeting was doubled when she arrived at church and heard the ladies talking about the great fun they had together at the meeting. She recounted their reflections on the fun new game, the integration of music, and the challenge I had given them in my lesson. She said they had all agreed that we ought to do this more than once a month because it was so encouraging to them. I could hardly believe we were talking about the same meeting, because I’d been wondering if I could turn this into a quarterly event, rather than monthly. She explained that she wasn’t able to come because, like many women in the area, she must accomplish many tasks on Saturdays – an early morning market trip to negotiate for the best prices of the week, washing the children’s school uniforms in order to dry and press them for Monday morning, preparing lunch for the day and preparing lunch for Sunday since they’ll be at church the entire morning, etc. My embarrassment over the quality of the meeting quickly shifted to embarrassment over my own ignorance. I was humiliated that I had been offended by the tardiness of the ladies when I should have been grateful that they would take time out of their busiest work day to fellowship with other women in the church. My day of leisure is in fact their day of labor.

Several important lessons that I continue to learn as a result of that day:

* I frequently measure success by my own cultural standards, even when my plans have been adapted for proper cultural application.
* I am the only one concerned about the sound of my voice during worship; these women sing their hearts out before the Lord and may not even know when they’re off key.
*A quiet and primarily empty room is only awkward to me – these women perceive it as intimate. I perceive a situation as intimate if it was intended to be a small group in a small space. Large, empty spaces make me uncomfortable.
*God can allow others to hear His words even when I stutter, lose my place, and mispronounce the key words in my lesson.
*I need to let God set the expectations for my ministry; I will be sorely unsuccessful in telling him what it should look like.
*The presence of the Holy Spirit should be the only ambiance I rest my plans on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Roll Call!

[what's brewing: look who's on the menu...]

As much as I would like to say that I am a creative and artistic type of person, the reality is that I am not naturally that way. I always wondered if I would develop those gifts over time, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s most likely not going to happen if it hasn’t happened yet. (My friend Bethany says that everyone is an artist in their own way, so I can call myself an artist in an unconventional way. I like that.) I’m the type of person who enjoys creating things, but has to copy someone else’s ideas in order to get started. I’ve tried my hand at scrapbooking, card making, knitting, home decorating, and countless numbers of craft projects, all with the same result. If I can look at a sample or a picture in a catalog I can usually create something half way decent, but if I start with a blank slate I usually finish with a blank slate.

I’m a creativity copycat.

As I’ve slowly entered the blogosphere over the past year, I’ve realized that my copycat behaviors carryover to this realm as well. Nearly every sidebar goodie that I have on my personal blog was placed there after seeing it on someone else’s blog – book lists, world maps, countdown tickers, etc. I love to see the ideas and features that are out there that I would never think of on my own. One of the features I like to see most on blogs is a blog roll.

I love clicking through to other people’s blogs via the blog roll - not just to see what creative ideas they may for me to steal, but also to see what the lives of my fellow readers are like. I am consistently amazed by the diversity of reader’s that congregate on the same blogs, and I know that the same must be true for the readers of this very blog, Coffeegirl Confessions. Thus, we are proud to introduce The Blog Roll, aka The Coffeegirl Regulars.

Starting this week, I’d like to begin contacting you “regulars” out there to ask you if you’d be interested and/or willing to join The Blog Roll. As you maintain your “regular” status here through your comments (how else will I know you’re still a regular?) we’ll keep you on The Blog Roll and continue to build it as our group of “regulars” expands. My hope is that we will be providing one another with easy access to reading about the experiences, perspectives and reflections that are represented among us.

As you all know, Women of the Harvest (the host of this blog) is a ministry of support and encouragement for women serving cross-culturally. Coffeegirl Confessions fits into that vision by creating a forum for presenting authentic reflections and inviting you to share your perspectives and experiences in turn. The Blog Roll will help to expand that concept by putting you in easy contact with other women who know what it’s like to serve cross-culturally. Now that’s a great result, even if it does come from a copied idea. Let the roll call begin!

P.S. It struck me as funny when I realized that the word “blogosphere” up in the 2nd paragraph didn’t come up as a misspelled word on my computer. That’s the only word that seemed right, and it turns out that it’s a legitimately recognizable domain!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bring On The Rain

[what's brewing: half-empty? half-full?]

Email has taken on a whole new significance since we’ve been here, for better or worse. There are some emails that I feel I must respond to out of duty, some that quite honestly feel like work, and a handful that are simply enjoyable to read. Some people have the ability to write exactly as they talk when you’re face-to-face, and those are my favorite emails to read.

I received an email like that from a friend of mine this week. I recently wrote to her about how I am doing several months into this experience. I talked about the occasional waves of homesickness that catch me by surprise. I have felt frustrated and thrown over my stress-threshold when homesickness is added to the everyday challenges but I am slowly growing accustomed to it.

Her response has encouraged and challenged me this week. She writes:

I know you. You are choosing to live your life with purpose and to serve with great love despite your personal feelings about home. I admire that selflessness so much. The cause of Christ there is more important to you than your own happiness. This, my dear, pleases God's heart. I will pray for strength for you as you push through the work you've been asked to do... and that your heart will be overflowing with joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Joy is something He gives, and I will pray that He showers you with it this week. There's this song by MercyMe that responds to the issue of how anyone can praise the Lord in the midst of dire circumstances -- they sing, "How could my circumstances ever change who I forever am in YOU?" I love that line. It's from a song called "Bring the Rain", and I love that they're not afraid to sing it. I am going to pray that the rain in your life will bring God glory, for that is its intent (and I wouldn't say that if I hadn't been asked to walk through some rainy days myself).

This was just what I needed to hear this week.

The timing was perfect, and I absolutely love the way God can use the people in my life to remind me of his truth and love when it becomes clouded in my mind. I felt a small twinge in my stomach when I read that line from my friend's email – the cause of Christ is more important to you than your own happiness. I believe the cause of Christ is far more important than my own happiness, but somehow I forgot that this week when I was feeling overwhelmed and stretched in too many directions. My happiness is secondary to his cause and the holiness he is trying to create within me.

The rain in my life is intended to bring glory to God, and having been reminded of that, I’m ready to go dance in the rain.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

mosaic of grace

[what's brewing: sugar and spice and...]

weak vessels – deep hurts – great weaknesses – sin, mistakes, self-righteousness and pride – ordinary people – love, joy and tears – hopes, dreams and fears – broken obedience - resilience – a core of God’s strength – broken pieces – glued together with love and mercy – vulnerable – love for people and cultures – moldable clay – walking the broken road together with those around us – adventurous – unabashed love – failings filled with grace – reflecting God’s glory – reliant upon grace – courageous – cracks with God’s grace shining through them – complex threads woven into a story of incredible grace

Broken pieces held up to reflect God’s glory.

These are your words, your reflections and depictions of what missionary women are like. Your descriptions created a beautiful picture in my mind of a mosaic or a stained glass window, constructed of many broken pieces, collectively creating a beautiful image that reflects God’s glory. While reading a bit about stained glass windows, I read that the “small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, held together (traditionally) by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame.” What a great description of the support and shape that the Lord provides for our mosaic of broken pieces. He couldn’t use perfect, whole sheets of glass to create the image he wanted; instead, he works within our brokenness. He glues our broken pieces together with his love and mercy, and brings beauty from ashes.

Your honesty is refreshing to me – honest evaluations of who we are, and honest admissions of the insecurities, fear of exposure, and demands on your time that can keep each one of us from engaging fully with those around us. For me, those are some of the most interesting aspects of missionary life that can work to keep us emotionally isolated. I have been overwhelmed at times with the number of performance-based evaluations that are involuntarily placed on us, and your frequency of reading and/or commenting on this blog should not be another source of self-evaluation or expectation. My only hope is that those who are looking for (or truly needing) connection and discussion with other women will choose to let their voices be heard. Several of you have chosen to share your blog sites with us, and I am looking forward to creating a community of readers where we can engage and encourage each other around the world.

Thank you for your responses – it’s great to know you’re out there. As Kristy said this last week, together we are made of many complex threads, woven into a story of incredible grace. Let’s share that story of grace together.


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