Tuesday, September 29, 2009
[what's brewing: I'm trying not to guess...]
With my recent post on looking back and last week's post on containing my expectations for the present, I suppose it seems somewhat predictable that my thoughts this week are related to the future. Funny how that happens. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is that it allows me to see themes in my thought patterns that I would otherwise miss out on - a glimpse at the common thread that is running through the widely varied experiences of my daily life. And lately the theme seems to be about both time and contentment. Or perhaps more accurately, my struggle against time and quest for contentment.
I have a complicated relationship with the concept of time. The passage of time is something I hold dearly. My nostalgic nature thrives on it as I cling closely to my treasures. I find the feeling of sentimental wistfulness that emerges from looking at old pictures or turning the delicate pages of my grandfather's worn Bible so moving that it feels as if I could be transported back in time by the strength of those feelings. I am enchanted by the passage of time.
Yet I also hold a certain amount of disdain for time in its more powerful form as the holder of the unknown future. There is no speeding it up, bribing it to move faster or threatening it to reveal its secrets. It holds its position firmly - fists clenched and arms crossed, forcing me to wait, wait, wait for the natural passage of time that will answer my questions and calm my anxieties.
This nature of time not only contributes to my propensity for worry but robs me of the value of living in the present. Currently there are so many variables shifting around in my life that I'm having trouble focusing on the present and the tasks that are before me. The majority of my thoughts are caught up trying to imagine what things would be like if this or that came to pass, and by the end of the day I feel the impact of living in the solitary world of my own preoccupations despite the fact that I've been with people all day.
I am enticed to think about the future by the way it can temporarily ease my anxiety of the unknown. The satisfaction of imagining myself on the greener grass that could come with a change of circumstances enables me to forget momentarily that even I know it would look different on the other side.
In recent days my attention has been caught by the reality of what I miss when I am busy thinking about the future. I have realized how many opportunities for meaningful conversations naturally slip by when I am looking up instead of ahead. I find less joy in the work we are doing here when my heart isn't engaged because its busy thinking about the satisfaction that could be. Relationships go untended, meaningful moments are hurried past, and ultimately, contentment slips right through my fingers as I'm busy searching for it in other places.
I would love to say that I have no idea what Eve was thinking when she listened to the serpent's sales pitch and decided to take that fruit, but lately I've been seeing a lot of Eve in my own reflection. The desire to know more, the discontent of being limited by present circumstances, the appeal of instant gratification when bound by a restriction - I can understand these things.
And I can see the consequences of choosing to live in the future rather than the present. I know the disappointment that comes over me at the end of a day when I realize how disengaged I have been. I am sobered by the ways I foster discontentment in my own heart in my quest for contentment in future possibilities.
Therefore, I am setting my resolve to keep my eyes looking straight ahead, not up the road or into the sky where the world seems a happier, easier place to be. I have been brought into this world, to this place, at this precise moment to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Oh Lord, let my heart be satisfied by you alone. Let my knowledge of your faithfulness and goodness sustain me. Be the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “great expectations”? Charles Dickens, perhaps? An inspiring sermon you may have heard about having great expectations for the work God is going to do in a certain situation or setting? I have to confess that my first thought when I hear this phrase is…great disappointment.
I’m not usually such a pessimist, but it’s true – over time I have come to believe that the higher and greater my expectations are, the more likely I am to be disappointed. I would suggest that this perception is actually a part of what keeps me optimistic in many situations – my expectations are low, so I am always hopeful for what may transpire. I don’t go around expecting the worst; I just try to keep an openness of mind with most things so that I don’t set myself up for disappointment.
(I was reminded of the importance of this approach when we pulled into the gate of the summer camp we took all of the kids to for a week of fun and play. I had a distinct image in my mind of what it would be like, which was supported by the high expectations I’d gathered from various stories over the year. I only realized how unrealistic my expectations were as the gate opened and I realized that our “beach camp” was a walled-in plot of dirt in a coastal town!)
Part of my cross-cultural adjustment has been finding a healthy balance between this low-expectation approach and still waiting expectantly upon the Lord to do great things and remaining faithful as I wait. I’ve been challenged to sift through my own expectations in order to set realistic ones – weeding out elements that are based on my own cultural background and trying to develop a more realistic view for this time and place that I’m living in.
I’ve shared pieces of my cross-cultural ministry experiences (all largely stemming from my expectations) here on CG Confessions before – the good, the bad and the funny. I know that setting more appropriate expectations has become a central point in my coping strategy with some of the issues that we’ve faced here. From perusing your blogs, reading your comments and conversing with other cross-cultural ministry comrades, I have taken comfort in knowing that we’re not the only ones who seem to encounter almost comically frustrating episodes of drama in local church ministry.
After watching too many seemingly successful conflict resolution efforts dissipate within days, sometimes even hours, of seeking biblical resolution between members of our church, my expectations for genuine forgiveness have become very low. After hearing people respond to wise and truth-laden sermons by wishing So-And-So could have been there to be convicted of their sin, my expectations for repentance and confession have dropped as well.
As I have lowered my expectations to help combat my frustrations, I have also focused on reminding myself of these truths:
change is slow,
Christ’s call is radical,
and old fleshly habits can be powerfully gratifying in difficult times.
So recently I have been praying with great expectations for Christ’s transformational touch to be upon us all, while maintaining low expectations for day to day change, which has been giving me the patience I need to keep going.
And then out of nowhere, at a meeting I didn’t even want to attend because of the inter-church drama that has drying me up this week, my expectations were so greatly exceeded that I hardly knew what to think. Dissention was brewing even as the meeting was beginning and my low expectations had dropped even lower. We moved through our agenda and as I set my weary eyes on the clock, wishing I could transport myself home to bed, the Spirit began to move…
One brave woman confessed her anger towards another woman in the church and sought her forgiveness.
Another brave soul followed suit and confessed resentment and distrust towards a fellow elder in the church, who then offered his forgiveness and reconciliation in return.
A young woman on the brink of scandalous divorce exposed her hardened heart and asked for help from those around her.
Testimonies of broken patterns of alcoholism, domestic abuse and marital unfaithfulness came from several others.
Spontaneous prayer was offered over individuals as they shared their stories.
And we simply sat back and watched as our expectations (low though they may have been) were not just exceeded, but shattered by the movement of the Spirit in our presence.
And I’ve been relishing this powerful reminder of the importance of continuing to have great expectations for what God can do without expecting great disappointment as a result.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
part of a community of faith,
filled with perseverance.
love and courage, hope and prayer, faith and patience,
laughter and tears, strength in weakness, loneliness and godliness,
clear purpose and yet difficult, unclear paths to get there.
language barriers to leap over, and cultural barriers to learn,
families in 2 parts of the world.
churches (or more),
groups of friends,
sets of clothes,
of so many important parts of our lives.
who is everywhere and unchanging.
hands that cling to God and His Word,
a heart that aches for those dying without Christ who will probably never hear.
as I struggle to share in a tongue not my own of God's grace and hope;
legs and arms
that seek to serve my family and live out my relationship with God
in a way others know He is real.
whatever can fit into a suitcase
simplicity and a willingness to let go of things
lots of tears
flesh and blood...
real people with real struggles, real pain, real frustrations...
and real joys!
We are nothing more special,
nothing more note worthy,
nothing more unique
than any woman created by God;
just a "hand" or a "foot" in the body of Christ.
real people who need a really reliable God.
Amen, and thank you for your words.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
[what's brewing: last year's grind...]
As I've confessed before, I am a saver – a treasure keeper, that is. Two of the many things that I keep every year are my wall calendar and my daily planner. I keep them as a record of what filled my days in a particular year – the milestones, the events, the insignificant details that come to be fond memories over time. To my credit, I am not the only one who does this; it runs in the family. My brother-in-law has asked the same questions of my sister that Jason asks me each time I direct these items into the treasure box rather than the trash can: “Why? You’ve just copied all the significant dates into your calendar for next year – what do you need this for?” But the battle is lost for the men in our family; the calendars stay and that’s all there is too it.
Having recently copied dates into my new daily planner (it runs on the academic year, not the calendar year; I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking in terms of semesters!) I was reflecting back on the events of the last year and the many milestones that we passed. It got me wondering what I was thinking about and writing about at this time last year so I clicked back to September 2008 on Coffeegirl Confessions and found this post. Rereading your words and comments in response to the previous post, What are we made of?, warmed me through like a soothing cup of coffee in the early morning. I just loved reading your comments and reflecting on who we see ourselves to be.
I thought of the many experiences I’ve personally had since then and was struck by the depth and complexity of the events, emotions and experiences that we have collectively endured over the past year. I reconsidered the question, “What are missionary women made of?” and reflected on the different answers I might give today than I would have a year ago, which I assume may be true for some of you as well.
Because of this, and thinking of the many of you who have joined us since that post last year, I’m re-posting the following question to you all from last year’s post:
I would like to hear from YOU about the components you think should be included in the following poem. It doesn’t have to be clever or even rhyme – my goal is to hear more about you all and how you describe yourselves. If you’ve never commented before, this is your time!! Let your voices be heard!!
What are missionary women made of, made of?
What are missionary women made of?
How would you answer this today? Has your answer today changed from what it would have been last year?
I personally see now that I’m made of a far deeper dependency on others than I knew before –transparent relationships with other people are essential for me. I’m more adaptable than I ever thought I could be – what I used to see as laborious routines in everyday life are now familiar (dare I say comforting?) norms that structure my lifestyle. And I have to say I’m also made of a lot more resistance to foul odors than I ever thought possible!
How about you?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
As I went to jot something down on my calendar for next month, I was reminded that Labor Day is coming up next week in the US. Feeling the need for a day off and a fun weekend, I found myself wishing that Labor Day were observed here. We could host a barbecue, go swimming, go camping…ah, the possibilities for a 3 day weekend in the US!
My Labor Day-dreaming eventually got me thinking about the number of national holidays that are observed here, which is actually quite high though it doesn’t feel like it because we so rarely end up having the day “off” on national holidays. There are all kinds of holidays and festivals here and I still couldn’t tell you what even half of them are commemorating. One thing is for sure though - the people love to celebrate each and every one, a fact I am most often reminded of by the celebratory fireworks (more bang than beauty around here though…) that seem to be going off nearly every week.
We’ve celebrated some of the holidays with our national friends and we’ve hosted events in the Children’s Home for the major holidays, but I’d have to say that I feel little to no connection to the holidays themselves. I have no special memories connected to the historical dates here, and the festivities are more of a learning cultural experience at this point than a relaxing pastime. I don’t feel inspired to decorate in certain ways or to make certain foods to contribute to the celebrations; the traditions here don’t resonate with me.
I suppose that’s why the thought of Labor Day conjured up such different sentiments than the various local holidays than have come and gone over these summer months. I couldn’t tell you the reason that many US national holidays feel different to me, they’re simply part of my cultural identity.
And as I’m developing my cross-cultural identity, this is one of the elements that sticks out to me.
I do enjoy participating in the cultural holidays here, even if just for the insight it gives me into the people I’m living and working with. And many times I find there’s a good bit of humor tied into the various holiday traditions and festivities. Who’d have thought that running around the block with an empty suitcase would bring good luck for the New Year? Or that seeing an owl on a holiday or wedding day brings good luck?
I’m curious to hear from you all about the holidays and traditions in the countries where you are serving. Do you have any favorite new holidays, or strange commemorations that are observed? Any funny traditions or festivities, whether you understand why or not?!
As you consider it, have a happy Labor Day weekend, wherever you may be!