Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Metaphorically Speaking

[what's brewing: is coffee an animal, vegetable or metaphor?]

I have been quite fond of metaphors ever since I learned what they were back in elementary school. I can imagine our teacher had an amusing time reading through the metaphor-writing exercises after that lesson, presented with the most extravagant and over the top examples of metaphorical imagery – like a...

What I like about metaphors is their capacity to concrete a concept in my mind by creating a visual image or connection to a familiar concept. Some of the most significant lessons I’ve learned in my life have come as a result of effective metaphors. Many of my favorite verses and passages, at least the ones I’m most able to remember, contain metaphors.

… so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life… Philippians 2:15

I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land… Psalms 143:6

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart… Isaiah 40:11

Recently I read a passage of Scripture (Exodus 17:8-13) that, while not literarily metaphorical, contains a powerful image that has brought all kinds of metaphorical connections to my mind. (Ever since my Biblical interpretation class in seminary I’m very cautious to suggest that any passage means any particular thing or contains metaphorical implications. But I do believe that God can use passages like this to teach us important lessons that are in line with His truth. So, in that way I am referring to this passage, even if my metaphorically inclined mind is drawing more from this than the text actually suggests.)

8) The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9) Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." 10) So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11) As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12) When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13) So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

The image of Moses sitting on the rock, exhausted and weary, with Aaron on one side and Hur on the other, together holding his hands up has burrowed deeply into my mind this week. Aaron and Hur offered this type of support when Moses could no longer do it alone, and they did so to allow God to continue working through Joshua as he had declared. They gave him a seat, they held up his hands, and Joshua overcame the Amalekites.

The metaphorical connections that this passage brings to my mind are countless, and undoubtedly greater in number since our move into a cross-cultural life. But I want to hear from you.

What does this passage bring to your mind?
What elements of the story stick out to you most?
Who are you in the story?
Who is holding your arms and bringing you a stone to sit on?
How are your arms being held up, or how are you holding the arms of others?
What do you see God accomplishing through obedience, despite weariness and fatigue?

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

And thank you for holding up my arms through your comments and companionship over the last 14 months here on Coffeegirl Confessions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Toughest Critic

[what's brewing: leave room for grace]

First of all, thank you for your gracious responses to my confession this past week. While failing to get things done is nowhere on my list of enjoyable experiences, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the relief I found in simply acknowledging my oversight and apologizing. No scrambling to recover. No rush to get something in as I would have if I’d remembered in the middle of the night. Simply taking responsibility and then letting it go.

I didn’t realize how un-like me it was to experience that type of relief until I read Kimom’s comment about being brave enough to not just take responsibility for our failures but then to forgive ourselves, without holding onto guilt.

It’s true – forgiving myself is one of my greatest challenges.

It is far easier for me to forgive others for their failures than to forgive myself. I extend much more grace to others than I am able to give myself (which is probably why I end up running myself ragged and forgetting things like writing my weekly blog post!).

I am indeed my own toughest critic.

In thinking about Kimom’s comment, I realize that I tend to think of Christ’s sacrifice as covering the serious offenses, the deep wounds and the grievous sins that we carry around. I don’t think of the little things or the general inability to perform at levels of perfection that I somehow think I need to.

And this reveals the real source I am going to for my strength to accomplish all that is on my plate, whether by choice or by circumstance: myself.

I rely on my ability to multi-task, maximize efficiency, and manage my time far more than I rely upon the grace and goodness of God. Ultimately, I know that each breath is a gift from God and therefore my ability to do anything is dependent on His sustaining grace; but practically, I rely upon my own abilities to get so many things done. Self-reliance makes it especially hard to do anything but blame myself when things don’t go as I’d planned.

As novel as these thoughts seem to be, they are all too familiar. I’ve had similar realizations in the past; I’ve wrestled with the idea of extending grace to myself in recent years. And yet this all feels so new. It’s similar to the surprise I feel when I am so encouraged by a verse I hear or read somewhere that I go to find it in my own Bible, only to see I have underlined it myself previously.

Last week I was glad to find I’m not the only one who drops the ball and then wants to give excuses for why it happened. This week I’m wondering if anyone other than Kimom and myself struggle to extend forgiveness to yourself, whether for great things or small. And I’m wondering how you deal with it.

Any thoughts? Pour yourself a cup of coffee and let’s talk.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Confession, without excuses

[what's brewing: uhhhhmmmmm...I forgot]

Well, since this blog has not only disclosed many of my own confessions but is in fact titled Coffeegirl Confessions, it would only be fitting to add another confession today in explanation of the tardiness of this blog post: I forgot. Sure there are many factors that contributed to my forgetting, but the bottom line is that in the midst of juggling too many balls this week, this one got dropped. And the strangest thing is that I didn’t even know I was dropping it until I woke up this morning, shocked and disappointed that this one slipped through my hands.

But it brings up an interesting conversation I recently had with my mom about excuses. Having found myself frustrated and unsatisfied by the excuses I’ve been offered by others lately, I have recently challenged myself to stop offering excuses and simply apologize when I haven’t managed to do something or be somewhere that I said I would.

I have realized that although it is personally satisfying to offer an explanation of the why behind my failure to pull through on something, it is ultimately an attempt to escape responsibility which is ultimately mine to be taken. I am most often uninterested in the why behind other people’s failure to pull through. I find that it is far easier for me to accept someone’s apology (if offered, which many times it isn’t because the offending party is clearly the circumstance, not the individual!) when responsibility is simply taken and no excuses are offered.

So I resolved to stop offering excuses and to simply take responsibility for the times when I would much prefer to offer an excuse or explanation of my failure to pull through. And as it often seems to go, I awoke this morning to a very unwanted opportunity to put this new resolution into action.

So to all you Coffeegirls out there, I’m so sorry to have let this slip. I dropped the ball this week and hope to pick it up today and deliver the usual weekly brew of life as I’m experiencing it in this crazy world of cross-cultural living next Tuesday. (And if for some reason I don’t manage to do that, be prepared to find some darn good excuses here next week – I don’t know if I could resist under double temptation!)

[editor's note: I forgive you, Coffeegirl.]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Can Only Imagine

[what's brewing: something sweet...]

While it’s hard to say whether the change has come as a result of my language learning, cultural adjustment or simply as a matter of time, over the past couple of months there has been a change in my experience of worship with our church family here. It’s hard to describe the difference because the shift has been slow and subtle, but it is a change that I feel in my soul and it ripples through and affects every other part of who I am. Previously my experience in worship here was guided more by tradition or habit than the true experience of worshipping my Creator.

While the setting and style of worship were obviously different than what I grew up with in North America, the idea of coming together with believers to sing and study and praise the Lord was familiar and it was easy to connect with that traditional experience. But my mind was working overtime in order to engage with it all – learning new songs, reading Scripture in a new language (and one that varies greatly from the everyday spoken language I’ve been studying) and intensive listening to understand and appreciate the sermons being delivered. I was encouraged by the experience, but it was a lot of work.

Recently I’ve noticed that the level of work needed to engaging in worship has dropped significantly. I know the songs and the music so well that my heart can engage in a way it never could before. The off-key singing and the tinny sound of the keyboard no longer distract me as much – it fits within the framework of this new worship setting. My familiarity with Scripture in our new language has increased to the point that I can usually just read along, not struggle to translate each verse into English in order to understand it. I can simply listen to the teaching and take it in without straining so much to piece it all together.

When we leave after a church service, I am encouraged and feel as though my cup has been refilled. Before, I was desperate for a Sunday afternoon nap because I’d been mentally working so hard all morning. It happened so gradually that I didn’t see it, but now that I feel the difference, I am amazed by how much it has changed my ability to connect spiritually with the people in our church.

The bond between us used to be our shared identity as children of God that unites believers around the world; now I feel like an active member of this local body of believers.

And this past Sunday, when our music team prepared a special song to share with the congregation, I suddenly realized how right it felt to hear these words sung in a new language, in this new setting, in a new way. The song was familiar to me in English, but hearing it in their language increased its meaning so much because of the many experiences that I now bring to understanding and appreciating the impact of the words to the song “I Can Only Imagine.”

Several months ago I would have experienced that song very differently, but this week my mind was overridden by my heart and I cried as I listened to the lyrics. I pictured the setting that will one day bring each one of us and the people we are working with into His presence, with all the burdens and struggles of this life finally relieved. Oh, what a beautiful picture – I can only imagine.

I Can Only Imagine
by Bart Millard

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine

I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself
Standing in the Son

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine

I can only imagine


I can only imagine [x2]

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

I can only imagine


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