Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 7: The Deathly Snows

"Goodness and love are as real as their terrible opposites, and, in truth, far more real…love is the final reality; and anyone who does not understand this, be he writer or sage, is a man flawed in wisdom."

I have to say, reading this chapter is absolutely heart wrenching (in fact, Jason asked why I inflicted the self torture on myself by choosing this book, knowing this chapter would eventually come). But it also reflects so many elements of what the ending of the physical life is meant to be for Christians. Davy’s response to the news of her illness, along with the weight of the reality of her pending death, seemed to be an overflow of the love and trust in God that had been nurtured in her heart over the years. It would be impossible to reflect that manner without the true love and peace of God dwelling richly within. Sorrow and fear remained, but Davy and Van both spoke confidently of their trust in the Almighty God, saying, “Go under the Love, dearling. Go under the Mercy.”

It’s made me wonder how I would respond and behave in that situation.What would my final words be, particularly if spoken unconsciously? If the roles were reversed, could I care for my loved one with the depth of courage that Vanauken demonstrated? Am I building a life that celebrates God’s goodness in little things in such a way that I would genuinely delight in His goodness in my final days and hours?

One passage that has spurred my thoughts this week is the description of carrying one another’s burdens:

…carrying one another’s burdens is not just a figure of speech or something meaningful only in terms of physical burdens like a trunk.Davy’s burden was not death but the fear of death. I asked her to give me that burden, a real handing over, like surrendering a trunk to a porter. An act of handing over. And I took it – also act. I then entered into the fear, her fear, with all my heart and mind and imagination, felt it, carried it along with my own fear, which was also real but other. And her burden grew lighter.

This description has really challenged me to consider my own ways of not just bearing the burdens of others, but letting others bear burdens of mine. With the first case, it is far too easy for me to partially enter into someone else’s pain – to sympathize and encourage without fully entering into the burden with them. With the second case, I am far more comfortable with bearing other people’s burdens than letting them bear mine. I’ve been thinking about the ways I may prevent other people from engaging in this form of Christian fellowship with me, and beyond that, why I prevent it.

These are the thoughts percolating in my living room – what about you?



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Find the Connection

[what's brewing: a nice Asian blend]

Find the connection between these items:

worshipping in English with other believers

shared cultural context for conversations

yummy treats from the US

laughter

prayer with other women

beauty

fingernail polish

thoughtful gifts from home

links to helpful resources for cross-cultural women

If you’re thinking, “All of these have been mentioned by CG on this blog,” you’re right.

But if you add to this list:

a haircut from a professional stylist who speaks English

an hour long pedicure

teaching from God’s word each morning

meeting with professional counselors

rest and relaxation

free time (do you remember what this is?!)

a 3-night, all-expense paid stay at a lovely hotel

Then the connection most certainly has to be:

a Women of the Harvest Retreat!

As we speak, 50 women in cross-cultural service are gathered in Thailand for the 2009 Spring Retreat. Another group of 50 women have now left to return home after their retreat experience over the weekend. My description above of the WOTH retreat falls short of the stories told in the facial expressions and quotes from the ladies at the retreat.

If you have never been to a WOTH retreat, I pray you will get to go soon. (Visit the WOTH website for the latest dates and locations for international and furlough retreats.)

If you have been to a WOTH retreat, tell us about it! What was the best part? What is your lasting memory of the experience?

Whether you’ve already been or will attend in the future, join me in praying for our dear sisters in Christ who are experiencing this special treat, a physical reminder of God’s lavish love for each one of us.

Editor's Note: WOTH is WOC on the blog due to security reasons

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 6: The Barrier Breached

"The world had changed forever by the time I replied, an instant later."

I have marked my pages with little tick marks of the passages that have struck me most, but now after reading those final pages I am caught in the emotion of the news of Davy’s inexplicably grave condition. Inexplicable, that is, but for the offering of her life that Van’s soul might be fulfilled. C.S. Lewis’ earlier response to the question regarding prayers of the holy being more efficacious resounds even more with the news of Davy’s prognosis: I presume God grants prayers when granting would be good for the petitioner and others and denies them when it would not.

The other passage that I wanted to comment on is one of the primary reasons I loved this book so much when I first read it several years ago. After being pulled into the intensity of their original, pagan love – the devotion, the commitment and the utter devotion to one another, I have enjoyed following the development of The Shining Barrier and Appeal to Love as Christ was brought into the equation. The implications of Christ breaching the barrier become clear here when Van finds himself pushing against the changes that Christ’s presence necessitates between them.

She loved me, she loved our sharing; but ultimately, all there was to share was Christ and His service.

This truth gives the proper foundation to the love they had originally. Those decisions that we all recognized as being slightly off at the beginning are rectified within this realization that “all there was to share was Christ and His service.” Sometimes I find myself longing for a closeness or completeness from Jason that I know can come from Christ alone. Even though I know that to be true, I don’t always feel it, so I find myself sympathizing with Vanuaken’s dismay over that realization but then celebrating later as he “caught up” with Davy and rejoined her in the journey towards Christ. It again affirmed that those original longings can still exist but they must be within Christ, not separate from Him. After all, for Christian and nonbeliever, there is but one spring of joy.

One specific question for you all from the following quote: It was a longing of the heart that seemingly could not be reconciled with my intellectual commitment to Christ. What longing are you, or have you, struggled to let go of because it can’t seem to be reconciled with your commitment to Christ?

There is so much more to say on this chapter, and I leave it to you all to do so! I have really enjoyed your comments and perspectives, and I again look forward to hearing from you this week.

P.S. As you being the next chapter, take my advice and keep a box of tissues nearby. We’ll have to include a Kleenex count with next week’s postings!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Coffeegirl Challenge #3 -- Painted Red

[what's brewing: something thick with meaning and color]

Get red-y, get set...it's time to vote on your favorite "Painted Red" photo. They are beautiful and global, a great montage of the creativity that represents the Coffeegirl spirit! Vote on your favorite in the top right sidebar. And as usual, get your friends to vote for you too! The winner will be announced next Tuesday and will win a $15 iTunes gift card.

Give a listen to our theme song for this challenge, Painted Red by JJ heller...click through the link for a special CG/WOTH discount!

Red #1:This is a shot overlooking the town where we live in Spain. Note all the houses are virtually identical brick, but there is one house where the owners decided to be different.



Red #2: Red fall leaves, Latvia




Red #3: Precious child, Asia


Red #4: Here's a photo of our new red helicopter that we dedicated for God's use in Cameroon, Africa. You can see our reflection in the window.



Red #5: Peru


Red #6: Red dress; this is such a beautiful little girl that I teach in Sunday School and she often wears this red dress to church.



Red #7: Praying at kids' club


Red #8: I love the idea that life (the apples) seems to continue in spite of harsh conditions, Latvia.


Red #9: Niger

Red #10: Mali

Red #11: Bottle Brush tree, Paraguay. My toddler loves to pick these flowers up from the ground and touch them to his face.


Red #12: Italy



Red #13: Flovia. She is three-years-old, HIV+ and almost died of malnourishment last year. She is now thriving in an adoptive family.

Red #14: Working women, Congo

Red #15: When I first arrived in Tokyo I wouldn't have seen the beauty in this shot, now that I'm getting ready to move to another city in Japan, well, my perspective has changed.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Chapter 5: Thou Art the King of Glory

“Blessings on you and a hundred thousand welcomes.”

I found this chapter to be an interesting read, somewhat more even keeled than the preceding chapters. I liked the diversity of the topics and found many of them to be thought provoking. I’m looking forward to hearing what captured your attention, and perhaps engaging in some friendly banter about ecumenical topics.

The primary conceptual point that struck me came from Vanauken’s discussion with Lewis about “the Island in the West” from Pilgrim’s Regress, which they describe as


…that something we long for, whether it be an island in the west or the other side of a mountain or perhaps a schooner yacht, long for it in the belief that it will mean joy, which it never fully does: because what we are really longing for is God.

There are so many things that could be qualified as the “island in the west”, but what came to my mind first was the purpose behind the utopian ideals of Van and Davy’s relationship, as well as the reason so many elements of their relationship appealed to me upon first consideration. They represent the striving for total fulfillment being offered and found one another – a desire that is not only unrealistic but misplaced because what we are really longing for is God.

The other story that I enjoyed was the morning that, after a late night and bad start to the day, Van and Davy stood silently while someone knocked on the door until the visitor gave up and went away. It was endearing because it was something I could relate to – I have reached that point of wanting to be alone and shut out the world around me. But what I really loved about this was the closing line of the story: Whoever it was…went away. Probably it was Jesus.

There are many other interesting passages in this chapter, but I’m going to end here and wait to hear about the things that were most meaningful to you. But there are two things I’d like to hear your thoughts on specifically:

1. Near the end of the chapter, Van and Davy are in the pub reflecting on their time at Oxford, returning to one another in solidarity after several years of living in such close community with their friends there, and the implications of Christianity on their longstanding plans. He writes: And we had a curious sense there at the pub, of being poised in a timeless way between two worlds. What do you think this means? Have you ever experienced a sense like that before?

2. A theme that has been presented several times is the ecumenical nature of Van and Davy’s friendships with people of many different Christian faiths – Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans. They note that these friends were united by far more – mere Christianity, as Lewis would put it – than divided them. Because it seems we are often quick to identify the differences between denominations rather than the uniting factor of Christ, I’ve been wondering how much of this unity you experience or even desire within your ministry. I was most intrigued about this idea when reading the several discussions of the Virgin Mary and her role in the Kingdom that are presented in this chapter. Any thoughts on this to share?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beauty

[what's brewing: get red-y for something beautiful]

There are times when I am overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounds me here – the unique sights and sounds of another culture, the weathered faces of people in our church that reflect years of work and endurance, the sight of children playing blissfully with simple objects like rusted bottle caps, the splendor of the landscape around me, or the incredible sunsets that cast a purple shadow on the mountains around us.

But there are other times when I am overwhelmed by what feels like an absence of beauty – faded and chipped paint everywhere I look, incomplete workmanship of homes and buildings, roadsides filled with litter, and expanses of dry ground that create dismal layers of brown dirt on everything. Even the cheap porcelain figurines that decorate many people’s homes depress me some days.

Some days the beauty in this place is so obvious it takes my words away for a moment. And other days I must look desperately for the beauty in my surroundings. I am learning to open myself up to the redefinition of beauty, a perception that I believe is partially innate but largely defined by my home culture.

This week, I am inviting you to join me in this search for beauty in the places you live. And in the spirit of Saint Valentine, we’re putting on our rose colored glasses.

Coffeegirl Challenge #3: Painted Red

Share a snapshot of (red) beauty from your part of the world!

Submit an artistic photograph (read: no self portraits or pictures of your kids holding their Valentine’s treats or dressed in matching red sweaters, no matter how cute they are!) that includes something red (doesn’t have to be all red) to Cindy Blomquist, the fabulous Editor and Creative Director of Women of the Harvest who makes this blog happen every week. The winner will receive a $15 iTunes gift card!

Photos must be received by 9am (Mountain Standard Time) on February 16, 2009.

Return to Coffeegirl Confessions on Tuesday, February 17 to view the submissions and vote for your favorite photograph. (If you submit a photo, be sure to let your friends, family and supporters know so they can click in to vote for you!)

To get your creative juices flowing, and for a dose of beauty in your week, indulge yourself in this short video created for us by Cindy: Painted Red.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Coffeegirl Book Club

Encounter with Light

"I suspected that all the yearnings I had ever felt -- when autumn leaves were burning in the twilight, when wild geese flew crying overhead, when I looked up at bare branches against the stars, when spring arrived on an April morning -- were in truth yearnings for him. For God. I yearned toward him."

Each chapter of this book contributes to the reason I love it so much. But while reading this chapter, I was convinced once more that this is the real reason I love this book so much – the Encounter with Light. I have again found many of my own thoughts and feelings in the lines of this chapter.

After years of public education, I thrived during my years at Seminary when I found myself surrounded by others who were thinking deeply about their faith. The issues that Vanauken grapples with and the insights from C.S. Lewis address many of the topics I myself have wrestled with. Of all the insightful points in this chapter, the idea I love the most is this piece of C.S. Lewis’ ponderings on ‘what the existence of the wish suggests’:


Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be,purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time.(“How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up & married! I can hardly believe it!) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.

I love this line of reasoning that reveals, or perhaps better said, confirms that we know on an unconscious level that we have been created an existence other than this worldly reality. We feel bound by time for we are created for eternal freedom; we are moved by and yearn for beauty because the presence of pain and unsightly surroundings were not intended to be part of God’s creation. Thinking in this way seems to make more sense of the human experience than anything else I’ve come across.

I also love C.S. Lewis’ response to the draw of the afterlife, focusing on the fact that God expected the Hebrews to believe in him for centuries without promising them an after-life, like “the disguised prince in the fairy tale who wins the heroine’s love before she knows he is anything more than a woodcutter.” I am dismayed at how many times belief in Jesus is depicted first and foremost as the means of getting to heaven and escaping hell. I love Lewis’ reinforcement of the truth that we are to believe in the God of the Bible because of the truth of who He is, nothing more, certainly not the benefit we receive from that truth.

The following quote is something I believe wholeheartedly, particularly at this time in history when so many base their acceptance or rejection of religion on personal experience with its followers.


The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.

This statement humbles and challenges me, reminding me that I am His ambassador, sent to represent his truth and love in this world.

And now, how about you? I love reading your comments when you find time to write and hope to hear from you again this week. Becky, I hope you’ve had some time to delve into the book now that it’s finally arrived! For those who haven’t yet spoken up, let us know what you think of the book thus far.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Daily Bread

[what's brewing: Is your cup running over? ]

I find taxi drivers to be some of the most interesting people to talk with. They usually have photos of their children displayed on the dashboard, along with other d├ęcor that serve as good conversation pieces. They often listen to the radio throughout their shift, so they are great sources for information about local happenings and big news stories, especially brewing protests and strikes. Since they spend most of their day alone, they usually seem eager to engage in conversation if given the opportunity.

I have been surprised by the number of taxi drivers who have university degrees or professional training but turned to driving a taxi when low employment rates made it impossible to find work in their field. They, like the majority of people in the country, are struggling to make ends meet. Their hours are long and their wages are low, but they do what they can to get by.

I have never seen a taxi with more than a quarter tank of gas – most commonly the gauge is resting on ‘Empty’, stretching the gas mileage of their little cars to the limit. It is not uncommon to be asked for payment early as a driver pulls into a gas station and puts in only the amount of gas that your fare can cover.

I think of this often when I pray for more understanding of what it means to pray for daily bread.

Many drivers shoo away beggars who peer into the windows of the car and plead for money, acting on behalf of their client in the back seat. Drivers silently ignore the less obtrusive beggars that populate the intersections, just as their passengers most often do. There seems to be an understanding that the drivers are in need themselves – beggars should not approach them for donations they way the approach the drivers of private cars.

Yesterday I experienced something that made a significant impact on me. As I was heading to the post office, my taxi driver stopped at a red light (only after several of the cars in front of us ran through it). A young woman stood on the median, holding the hand of her blind father. They both stood with their hands extended, silently asking for contributions to help meet their needs. I busied myself looking aimlessly through my bag – my way of dealing with the uncomfortable feeling of being stared at in the still moments of an intersection. The sounds of the outside world suddenly got louder and I looked up to see my driver lowering his window, signaling the young girl to come near. He pulled some change from his ash tray (the ‘piggy bank’ in most taxis) and placed it in her hands with the simple words, “God bless you.” And we pulled away, back into the chaos of traffic.

I cannot say for certain, but I feel it is safe to presume this driver was giving out of what he does not have. A few minutes earlier he had asked for early payment as we pulled into a gas station; he used three of my five coins to pay the bill. And then gave at least a portion, if not all, of the remaining amount away to this young woman. I felt the sting of pride and selfishness as I remembered the way I had just busied myself to avoid eye contact while this man lowered his window and gave out of his own need.

Since then I have been praying these words over and over:

Lord, keep my heart tender and aware of the needs around me. Give me eyes to see this world as you do and wisdom to discern what you are asking of me in each situation. Give me this day my daily bread; use me and the resources you’ve given me to provide daily bread for those around me.

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