ANGELA BLYCKER

To know Jesus Christ more clearly, to love Him more dearly and to follow Him more nearly.

I’ll be 40 when this August comes around. On that same day our oldest son will turn 16.  Just a week later our daughter will turn 7.  And a month before our baby is due to arrive, our middle son will turn 11.

It has been years since I changed a diaper, bought a sippy cup or had to plan my day around nap times.  It is an understatement to write that I’m relieved those days are over.  I never was the girl who was eager for all those things.  Pregnancy, nursing, babies, toddlers, preschoolers — it’s all adorable. But, let’s be honest: those years are absolutely all consuming and exhausting.  Been there. Done that. Came out alive. Whew.

So, when my husband and I learned that we are expecting a baby, I did what most women probably do at this stage of life: I cried.  All the images of the above came back to me like I was being sucked in by a giant time-machine vacuum to the land of “do-over”.  My husband stared at the ceiling and let out big sighs.  Of course one knows how these things happen, but really, how did this happen?  The odds against this had been way too high.

I proceeded to wake up in cold sweats the next several weeks and vomit by day.

Initially, God and I were not on very good speaking terms.  The conversations were usually one-way and accusatory.

You never let me know about this — zero preparation!” “Do you realize we’ll be almost 60 when this child graduates from high school?“, “Did you forget we live in a foreign country now and everything will be so much more complicated? — how much more do you think I can take?” “We don’t have any room in our budget for diapers, wipes, or another round of education!” and “We don’t have the energy for this anymore! Hasn’t my body been through enough?!“and “What will the kids think!

According to the World Health Organization, every year there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions.  This corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions per day.  Research is showing that for the first time older women are having more abortions than under-18’s! 

For the very first time, if just for a moment– apart from the heart of God–, I could understand that last, horrific statistic.

We live in an uncontrollable world and as humans, we exert a tremendous amount of energy trying to control it.  Like a stun gun to my heart, this unexpected pregnancy stopped me in my path and begged the question: how will I respond when God does the unexpected? 

Because he does the unexpected over and over.  He doesn’t just allow it; he performs it.

If God were a storyteller (and actually, he’s the greatest), he employs the utterly unexpected — at the very last moment — as his favorite literary vice to bring the plot to unforgettable climax. The breathtaking ramifications shine the spotlight not on the players, but the author.  Just think about these  examples that no one saw coming:

  • God floods the earth as a means of mercy.
  • God interjects himself into human history through a child-less man named Abraham and promises to bless him with limitless descendants.  He then waits till his wife is 90 and then brings pregnancy.
  • God picks a murdering, stuttering shepherd to lead his people out of the 400 years of slavery of Egypt.
  • The Jewish people expect God to send a mighty King to rise from among them and set them free from Roman rule. God sends a baby who dies as a criminal with no regard to bringing political and economic deliverance to the Jews but, to the whole world for all time.  

The list could go on and cover nearly every recorded incident in the bible.  God is always up to the unexpected and the often, unexplained.  Those who could flow with this went the way of God and those who could not, were left in his wake because he was not and is not about to stop.

The message is clear: We either are willing to be undone and go the unpredictable way of the flowing Spirit or we stay living small, controlled and boxy lives.  

When I came to this realization, the shock of this pregnancy did not dissipate but the miracle of it, the sheer awe, became greater.  I long for the way of the Spirit; I don’t ever want to pull back from the flow.  So, I began to lay my hands on my belly and speak words of welcome, acceptance and love over this new life.  I broke the word curses I had lamented out-loud, for even in the womb the tone is set for a life of blessed acceptance or shameful rejection.

It became clear: there two paths are set before me.  One, was the way of death. It is dark, despairing, grumble-ridden and heavy with feelings of being overwhelmed.  A bitter, tight, ugly and tired woman will emerge from that path.  The other is the way of life. It is full of light.  The woman who emerges from this path laughs at the years to come without fear. She walks with a sense of dignity, beauty and grace.  I want this path; I want to become this fearless woman.

When we began to let the news leak out, the transparency of those who walk in the Way of the Unexpected God and those who tend to walk in the Way of the Controlled Life become more evident, through the responses. 

I have needed the comments of “This is going to be awesome” and “God is so amazing” and “He never places an order and then does not take care of the bill” and “Don’t you love it when God does stuff like this!”.   Yes, the empathy for my fragile heart and tired body has also been essential from my dearest friends, but not the looks of pity or the sense that this will take us backwards or simply be too much.

We tell God, we sing to him our songs of surrender.  We exclaim His wisdom and power.  We teach our children that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Yet, we too often forget that we love and serve with a God who creates a beating heart in a secret place, who brings his Spirit in flames of fire on his followers so they speak in strange tongues, who loves to sit among the harlots, who might put an evil person in a place of authority so he can pull out his glory in the last unexpected moment, who says the last will be first and the first will be last.  We have a God who does not make sense, yet at the same time is the father of truth and logic! Can we handle this untamable God? 

Forgive me my Papa God, for withdrawing my trust when you do the unexpected.  Forgive me for acting as though I am the Sovereign. Forgive me, my Mighty King for living as though you are not my ruling authority.  Forgive me, Holy Spirit for not willingly giving my body up again as an intrument of righteousness.  Forgive me, my Savior for forgetting that your grace is not too small, your tenderness not too lean and your provisions ever endless.  Forgive me, oh Artist and Author of life, for looking at your creation with the small eyes of the world and not the large eyes of eternity.  I repent.  Increase my strength to be faithful! 

Last week we had an in-depth ultrasound performed (due to my age, of course…) to check the health of our baby.  On a large screen, we saw human life the size of a peach.  The oversized head held the developing brain.  The heart beat out with triumph from the tiny chest.  The spine curved and supported the body with exactness.  The tiny legs and feet kicked and floated through the precisely measured amniotic fluid.  The arms, spindly and free, waved about and for a few moments raised their hands and then let just one hand stay up in greeting and in praise.  Five tiny fingers flexed to show off their perfection.  It was love at first sight. 

My husband and I looked at each other, sheepishly.  The God of the Unexpected had been silently weaving a new life together which he had imagined before he spoke the world into existence. He had been busy at work, ignoring completely our shock and not slowing his pace in spite of our objections.

I came home, looked intently at this photo of our son and in the aloneness of our room responded in the only way I now could: I bowed down before our Holy, Holy, Holy God.

unnamed

 

This year, my daily morning prayer goes something like this: ” I’m all yours, Jesus.  I trust you.  Fill me afresh Holy Spirit.  Empower me to be love.  Whatever, Papa God, whatever you desire today.  Whomever you send to me today. Wherever you call me, I’ll go. Whatever you ask of me, I will give. Let me live not out of my soul-ish flesh, but out of the awakened spirit, utterly dependent upon You, my very life. I belong to you.”

It has taken me nearly 4o years to come to this place of surrender.

Many years I awoke with my fists clenched, ready for the fight or to create one.  Many years I awoke with simply a plea for help to make it through another day caring for babes.  Many years I awoke with hurling my anxieties upon my Papa God, wondering how we would eat that day and pay our rent that month.  Many days I woke determined to change the world, come hell or high-water.  Many days I awoke with what felt like the burden of a thousand souls on my back. Many days I awake and need to re-learn the Gospel all over again.

I have been dealt mercies upon mercies.  

I remember well the first time I heard the languished words of Rich Mullins in 1993 as he sang these lyrics to “Hold Me Jesus“.  I was 17, alone in my room when the words drifted out of my tape player and I wept:

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin 

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

It became my spiritual alma mater, this song.  Twenty-two years later I can hardly sing along without the pages of my days mentally opening before me and showing me how much he has become my Prince of Peace.  And how surrender has finally set me free. 

Free to say, “whatever my Jesus, whatever.”  Free to not feel undone and overwhelmed when  walking down the stairs this past Sunday night into my living room to find a young woman, holding her baby wrapped in blankets, shaking like a leaf and tears running down her face.

Larsen, my oldest son and my husband had been driving back from the small town of Trinidad, through Puebla when my son spotted her.  She was standing on a street corner, worry and confusion mixed into her tears.  They stopped and made inquiry. On impulse, they brought her home. I John 1: 3-7 had tugged on their hearts: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” and “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16).

I rushed to her with motherly affection, wiped her tears, oohed over her baby and led her to a comfortable chair. Her pants like thin pajamas and her tiny rubber shoes like from a dollar store, roughened callouses pushing out the sides.  We listened to her story, observing her intonations and word choice, watching her movements and expressions.

We are not naive to the fact that sob stories exist.  But this young woman, she seemed different.  Obviously  young and indigenous, her understandings and logic were simple, almost from another time and definitely another place.  She nursed her baby bare-breasted as the mothers from the villages do and spoke:

“I come a village deep in the hills of the Sierra Navada (about 3 hours away, but an 8 hour bus ride).  I think I am seventeen years old.  Last year, I got pregnant.  The boy left our town immediately when he found out.  My parents kicked me out of the house so I have lived with my aunt.  When I gave birth, I did not know it but there were three babies that had grown in me!  Two girls and a boy.  This is my daughter Salome.  I am named Salome too.  My other two babies were born connected by skin on their backs.  They had to have a surgery, but they lived.  They are in a clinic near my village.  They will always have bad scars.  My village loaned me money for the medical care, but I must pay it back very soon or they will beat me and throw me in jail.  My aunt got me tortilla making tools so I can work to earn money, but they were taken as collateral.  The doctor at the clinic told me I have to pay to get my babies out soon or he will call the DIF (child and family services in Mexico).  I got so scared that I took all the money I had and got on a bus and came to Puebla.  I started knocking on doors to look for work, maybe I can clean houses. Other girls I have heard do that here.  One lady took me in for work.  She asked me about my life and I told her.  She got very upset and called her friend who works for the DIF.  Her friend came and I had to repeat my story.  She told me if I did not get back to my other babies by the next day she would drive to the clinic and take my babies. She was so angry!  When they were talking, I ran outside and got on a bus, any bus.  It took me to the street corner where you saw me.  I don’t know what to do.  I have to go back to my town with money and I have to get my babies.  I can still live with my aunt, but I have to be able to get my tortilla making supplies back so I can earn money.  I don’t know what to do! I must get back to my town, to my babies!”

This is her story, though her actual words were not as fluid.  We wrote down the various possible spellings of her town to find it on a map, but she could not read or write to help us identify it. We welcomed her to sleep in our home for the night and talked about options of help we could offer the next day for long term benefit.  We assured her she was safe with us.  But, she was frantic to find a way back to her town to be sure she beat the DIF worker.  We assured her this was probably an empty and cruel threat for many reasons, but she would hear none of it.   She was young, her thinking was simplistic and her fear evident.

My husband and I talked and we prayed.  We came up with a plan to help her.  It was now midnight.  Benjamin figured out bus routes to get her near her home destination.  He called a taxi to get her to the station.  I ran upstairs and got her a warm coat, stuffing the pockets with socks.  We gave her all we could financially.  Benjamin wrote a clear note attached to the gift so there would be no doubt where it came from.

As we waited for the taxi, I held her baby. We told her about the Gospel, we told her how precious she is and how loved by her Papa God are she and her children.  She listened, wide-eyed, an occasional tear flowing down her brown face.  We told her all we were doing for her was because of God’s love expressed to us.  All those mercies…

The taxi came. I wrapped a little purse around her neck and showed her how to stuff it into her shirt for safety.  Benjamin ran upstairs and got two audio bibles, giving her a quick lesson on their use.  She stared at us, no words but relief falling down her face.  I bent down into the taxi and kissed her baby’s head and her cheek, reminding her she is loved and valued.

The taxi left through our gate and the two Salomes were gone.

We locked up our house, looked at the chair where she had sat — the same chair I had nursed my own babies in, in another time and place — and walked upstairs to bed.

It was as if Jesus had come to us.

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” – Matthew 25: 44-45

Salome means “peace” in Hebrew.

The old and dear lyrics came back to me:

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

 

All these years you have held me, I whispered to Jesus.
My King of Glory, my Prince of Peace.  Now, you have let me hold you.
Salome.  Shalom.

 

 

 

woman reading bible

The following is a video I recorded on the above topic.  I’m rather unconventional in this arena, but I hope my words bring encouragement.  I’ve benefited through the years from others — in books or in person — allowing me into this personal aspect of their private world.  I  thought that perhaps you would also benefit from my experience.  I did neglect to say I usually, in addition, also include a short time of study  on a particular passage that has impressed itself on my mind.  It is from those cumulative studies that I further develop messages to teach/preach.  You’ll see below a list of some other books I use/d through the years during my daily times.  The Lord our God is jealous for you!

Various translations of the bible including the NIV, NLT, KJV and ESV

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – Madame Guyon

My Utmost for His Highest –  Oswald Chambers

Hymnals – Various

Jesus Calling – Sarah Young

Invitation to Solitude and Silence – Ruth Haley Barton

Prayers that Avail Much – Germaine Copeland

Foundations of the Christian Religion – Blaise Pascal

Life of the Beloved – Henri Nouwen

Imitation of Christ – Thomas A’Kempis

Seasons of the Lord  – Henry Lockyer

60 Love Letters – Larry Crabb

His Thoughts Said…His Father Said… – Amy Carmichael

Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons of the Beatitudes – Michael Glerup

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton

Dwelling in Phillipians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image & Word – Halstead, etc.

The World as Best as I Remember It – Rich Mullins

The Love of God – Oswald Chambers

The Business of Heaven – C.S. Lewis

Companions for Your Spiritual Journey – Mark Harris

The Necessity of Prayer – E.M. Bounds

Pilgrims Progress – John Bunyan

Draw the Circle – Mark Batterson

Selections from Spurgeon – Charles Spurgeon

A Plain Account of Christian Perfection – Charles Wesley

One Holy Passion – RC Sproul

Knowing God – J.I. Packer

Listening to the Language of the Bible – Lois Tverberg & Bruce Okkema

Blessing Your Spirit – Arthur Burk & Sylvia Gunter

The Pursuit of God & The Attributes of God – A.W. Tozer

*My husband’s particular favorite is entitled, “Made to Matter: Devotions for Working Christians” by Randy Kilgore

 

genesisToday I completed a year-long personal devotional and expositional study of the earliest concept of prayer and all the prayers recorded in the book of Genesis.  Herbert Lockyer’s classic book has been my faithful guide and will continue to lead me through the rest of the prayers of the entire bible.

Prayer, understood most simply is this: the desire, opportunity and privilege of talking with God and hearing from God.  The first instinctual prayer was natural conversation; open fellowship in the delight of existence.  The Spirit of God, through this study, has renewed in me this most beautiful, ancient and intended form of prayer.  It is the way I hear my youngest children talking with God in their rooms in the early morning hours as they dress for school. It is the way most of us grow out of, but never should.

But, I have been growing young again! Indeed, I find myself throughout my days simply enjoying His presence and speaking with Him as if we are walking in Eden together, our communion undisturbed and alive, lifted above the critical issues of the world and of my smaller daily life.

The Cross of Jesus Christ has made this dialogue, altered through the tragic entrance of sin, whole again.

It would be pages to elebrorate for you all I have “taken away” from my study, so I shall simply record in points the main thrusts of prayer in Genesis.  May you be blessed.

  • First account of “prayer” is God-initiated; man is the responder. All begins with God.
  • In the 235th year of the world, the idea of “social, corporate” prayer began.  When forgotten, decline begins.
  • Prayer brings in spiritual progress.
  • Worship, communion and sacrifice are all bound up in God’s call to us and our calling out to Him.
  • Earliest relationship (prayers) of the saints was focused on fulfilling commands and believing promises.  No emphasis on full-disclosure, but on faith.
  • All three patriarchs has to ask through prayer and wait for a child.  All had to pray (ask) for the promise to be fulfilled.
  • Loneliness, anguish and rejection = crying out prayer = God responding by both hearing and seeing.
  • Prayer gives revelation.
  • Prayer can ask for more than God initially offers to give.
  • There is no true prayer apart from deep humility, ever.
  • Intercessory prayer is the saint’s “soul sweat”.  It is hard work.
  • Prevailing intercession is the costliest service a Christian can render.
  • God never responds to prayer, acting in good or ill towards anyone, without full understanding and appreciation of their circumstances.
  • God can restrain our spirits from from intercessory prayer; when He has determined something He forbids it to be prayed about.  Not all prayers for cities and sinners are “answered”.
  • The names and blessings we can bestow on a person or place are expressions of faith equivilant to prayer.
  • It is not always wrong to ask for a “sign” when we pray to confirm God’s mind on a matter.
  • Pray according to the revealed character of God.  This has power and brings Him pleasure.
  • God will answer prayers in line with His purposed will, but He is never in a hurry to do so.  He’s been working the backstory all along.
  • Prayer changes circumstances.
  • We don’t have to be afraid to express to God, “I need this in order to do that (which you’ve called me to).”
  • God’s response often to our prayers is “fear not…I am with you.”
  • We can appeal to God’s faithfulness in the verbiage of Him as our Father.
  • We should pray not with the boldness of self-confidence but the boldness of faith.
  • The surest way to prevail with men and circumstances is to prevail with God.  His is the first and last word.
  • To live a life of prayer is to be a God-conscious person, in all things.
  • The way to die (and live!) is with blessing and prayers on our lips, our eyes heavenward.

 

 

The Benefits of Quitting Facebook.

October 28, 2015

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It’s been over a year since I shut down my Facebook account. I quit cold turkey. There have been no withdrawal symptoms whatsoever.  Some called it social suicide, a hibernation of sorts from modern society.  How would people get ahold of me and notify me of important news and happenings?  Some cheered that I joined the ranks of non-conformists.  Still others wondered how I had the “guts” (seriously?!).  We must not forget about the self-promotion aspect; my blog readership would significantly drop, book sales would plummet! Others were convinced that as missionaries living on support (ie. donations) we would lose significant funding if we stepped off the social media platform.  Honestly, the exact opposite has occurred.

I don’t believe that Facebook is something evil and is not capable of good.  I’ve experienced many good things as a result of my past membership.  It can be a valuable tool.  So, why did I do it?  Well, for the reason I hope I do most things: God told me to.

What, you say?  God?  Yes.  I believe He still speaks. I believe it’s not presumptuous or self-righteous to say this.  I believe He desires that we consult Him over matters of our daily lives.  I believe I don’t and probably you don’t, do it enough.  I believe we live not for the approval of man (that is hard), but Him.  I believe when He tells us to do or not to do something it’s for our good and His glory.  I’ve felt the good part in this Facebook resignation.

The following have been some of the benefits (I already told you the reason) of my obedience to quit:

I can focus and mind my own business better.  I can live my life and not feel the compulsion to report it.  I’m no longer my own paparazzi.  My husband taught our 6-year old daughter to ride a bike without training wheels the other day.  I sat in the grass and watched her ride up and down the common area in front of our house.  Her stringy blonde hair blew in the autumn breeze, her eyes were shining while her two brothers ran beside her, cheering.  I snapped a couple of photos on my phone, quickly sent one to each of my sisters and then sat down and simply watched her for a long time.  I did not need to share that sacred moment with hundreds of “friends”.  I did not take the time to think of a witty or precious post.  Until I quit Facebook, I had not realized how much I viewed my life through that lense of “posts” and how much my mind busied itself with composing explanations.   The images we try to create can actually minimize the actual moments of our lives. We become our greatest fans and forget how jealous God is for us.  I’m convinced He’s kept record of all the “posts” of my life.  I’m sure I will be surprised at what He deems post-worthy.

I can be more concerned about my faithfulness than my following.   Let’s face it: doing the dishes, cooking the meals, going to work, training the children and folding the laundry is not as enhancing to our egos as how many people have read and commented on our posts or joined our cause.  But the truth is the majority of the human race spends their days doing those normal things, too.  We like to create the illusion that we are saving, influencing or changing the greater world, more than our own small ones.  We are a people rather obsessed with this like no other time in history and it’s rather silly.  I live in a developing country. My husband works hard to bring clean water to people here.  I get to sit on dirt floors in off-the-road villages.  Many of the inhabitants just do what is put in front of them on a daily basis and they do it quietly. We look at this and call it poverty.  But aren’t we the ones who are impoverished because we’ve believed the lie that it is more important to be “followed” than to be quietly faithful?  If our faithfulness happens to “make it big”, that’s His prerogative. I don’t have the time or energy to ensure it.

I sleep better.  I get over-stimulated quickly.  I’m a sponge.  Images, articles and comments on Facebook often bothered my sensitive spirit.  Information was given that I did not request, that I often was not ready to receive and process.  My internal prayer list was getting man-induced and not Spirit-led.  It’s the same reason I hate TV; overall it’s intrusive, loud, opinionated, artificial and exhausting.  I have been amazed at how much more I hear from Jesus when I listen to the world less.

I have deeper relationships.  I could not keep up with the messages and my emails.  I never got into Twitter or Instagram. That would have pushed me over the edge.  I realize some personalities thrive on all of that, but I am not one of them.  I like a quiet life.  I like real email letters even if it often takes me weeks to respond.  I savor the paragraphs.  I like when a friend calls to chat and has no idea what’s going on in my life and we can truly “catch up”.  I like when people feel valued by me and not just one of rest of the commenters.  I’ve pulled out long-neglected stationary and used it.  We are not designed to know so many people.  I’d rather know a few really well.

I’m not tempted to believe I’m on trial everyday.  The verdict is already in.  We are frail creatures.  Our feelings of self-worth can rise or fall in a given day based on the comments and likes we receive on Facebook.  We might exceed mediocrity one day, but the next day we feel we had better keep up the momentum or those questions of “Am I enough? Is what I am doing enough? Am I exceptional?  Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? Does anyone notice me?” will return to haunt us.  We can spend our lives working to keep those questions answered well.  Facebook, even for those who know in their head their identity in Christ, can tempt a powerful relapse into the flesh.  The truth is that I’m not in court everyday and neither are you.  It was finished on the cross.  Because Jesus is enough, so am I.  The response is joyful gratitude.

I can experience the joy of not knowing everything.  I was not one who spent hours on Facebook, but I got carried away enough to know when so-and-so’s son lost a tooth, what Susie made for dinner, what Sam thought about the football game, how politically-minded Mister X happened to be, how good-at-40-now Mrs. Jones looks or that this boy and that girl are now in a relationship.  I love talking to people and actually being surprised!  I love running into people and not knowing what is happening in their lives! I love hearing news about others lives directly from them to me.  Have you heard the saying, “distance adds intrigue”? Yes, we need a little more intrigue.  We need some privacy.  I don’t need to show you a photo of what I look like when I wake up in the morning and neither do you.  We have a skewed view of authenticity, but that’s another topic.

I can adjust to a new culture more fully.  This one benefit  is especially personal to my situation.  Facebook can be the death of cultural adjustment for missionaries and the like.  For me, trying to reconcile two worlds on a daily basis was too much.  It hurt and confused my brain.  I can not be fully there (USA) and fully here (Mexico).  We each are made to live fully exactly where we are.  I need all the help I can get to accomplish that great feat.

There you have it.  I daresay in light of all these benefits, there is no turning back. Until God lets me know otherwise.  So, drop me an email, pick up the phone or better yet, write me a hand-written letter! Eek, on second thought, don’t.  I will not get it until next year. I have given into WhatsApp.  Try that.

The-quieter-you-become-the-more-you-can-hear.

This is the story of my husband’s day yesterday and this is the story of mine:

His:  Benjamin drove a team of fifteen college-aged students out to a cistern work site in a village about an hour away, stopping to pick up more supplies on the way.  He worked in cooperation with the local foreman in the big project of building another cistern to triple the water 300 families in this town will be receiving into their homes. There is something beautiful about helping bring water (because water changes everything, right?) to people.

Ben left the team and drove to the nearby house of a man, whom we witnessed come to Jesus last summer. He’s been reluctant to take the time for discipleship, but Ben has been faithful to keep in contact with him.  He was welcomed into his home yesterday and introduced to his new “wife” (co-habitation with the facade of marriage is common here).

“She does not understand about Jesus like you have taught me, Ben.  I don’t know how to explain it all. You’ve got to tell her; will you now?”  Ben took a seat and began to carefully explain grace vs. works, Jesus as the only mediator between God and man, how the cannon of scripture came to be, the truth of the Word and the hope of eternity with peace, purpose and joy in this life.  The wife listened intently, trying to reconcile this with the brand of Mexican Roman Catholicism she has only known.

Ben felt he said everything in the manner he was supposed to, for that time.  The husband thanked him and said now he and his wife could talk more and have Ben over again for more conversation.   There is something beautiful about opening up the well of salvation to another who is lost. 

Ben then left to wrap up the work on the cistern for the day.  Now it was time to get to the little tienda in which he leads a bible study and discussion every Wednesday evening.  They have done an overview of the basic doctrines of Christianity, delved into marriage and family and now are looking at biblical prophecy.  There is something beautiful about engaging with new believers as they wrestle with understanding the Word for the first time and open up their hearts, in trust, to ask real questions. 

On the way, he stopped by a home where a man and his wife live with their two girls.  Ben has shared many meals with them of meager tortillas and beans, listened to their stories, counseled them, given Jesus Storybook Bibles to their daughters and taught them what it is to pray.  Here, often if you want people to show up somewhere you have to drive to their homes and almost literally push them into your vehicle and drive them to the place. “Get it, let’s go!”  Ben called to this man and his wife.  They rushed to bring their girls to grandma and got in to get to the study.  There is something beautiful about pursuing people to come to truth when, in their own wallowing, they would be so reluctant to do so.

The study was engaging.  Ben arranged he would be back this Saturday morning to pick each of them up to bring them to the prayer seminar we are hosting at our church, taught by our Pastor from Florida and our short-term team.  The discussion about this and the details was anything but short in this culture that talks around in circles until they finally land on definites.  There is something beautiful about offering a place to learn and grow and be ministered to in prayer to a people who have never had the opportunity to experience such a setting in all their lives. 

After this time, Ben drove to another town about 20 minutes away to share a late supper with a pastor and his wife in their 2-room house, which also serves as their church.  They have labored in this town for 7 years and now have two families that have become disciples of Christ.  The ground, spiritually, is fiercely hard and hostile.  Ben and those two talked and prayed and schemed up a wonderful outreach to engage this town.

On Monday, we’ll bring our team to the town center.  We have a city permit to rent and set up in the basketball courts, in the shadow of the 400-year old church and ex-convent.  We’ll put up a tent with chairs underneath.  There we’ll love on children with activities and games, have a message and testimonies and then show a film to reach their hearts.  Music that Ben will play will draw them in, for folks love to gather in such a setting.  Afterwards, we’ll all head back to the pastor’s home and share a meal with his wife and his small body of believers.  We’ll love on them, strengthen them and encourage them, all together.  There is something beautiful about planning hope and offering ourselves, for the sake of the gospel all unto the Jesus we love. 

He was home by 11pm and that was his day.

Hers:  I awoke to get breakfast for our children.  The dishes and laundry met me yet again in piles, for our water supply has been intermittent.  I had to fight for joy all day, under that light.  We shared a pot of oatmeal around the table and the children ate as I read from the Psalms and from the Proverbs.  The younger two bickered a bit, again.  Sigh. We prayed for Dad, for us, for the team coming and for all the cares we have and others have that came to mind.  I drove the girl up to school while the boys ran the dogs.  I was already tired.  But there is something beautiful about a day fresh before me, even when it can all seem so routine and insignificant. 

The boys had neglected their chores before the start of school work.  Not the first time this happened.  It affected our whole family.  I had to talk firm and hard, again with reminders and consequences.  Still, there must be something beautiful about the training in character and discipline of our children.  Even when the mother wishes she could look the other way.

I sat down with our middle boy, working painfully yet again, on the structure of writing a simple paragraph.  Then we moved on to math memory cards, the study of the Mycenaean culture in ancient Greece, the bible lesson where we studied all the battles in  the book of Joshua, the learning how to use a Thesaurus and the daily editing skills.  Have I made any head-way with this boy this year, academically?  I wondered again as it can be arduous to school a boy at this wiggly age. But still.. there is something beautiful about taking part in the growth of a boy as he fumbles from learning up to more learning. 

Time to throw in more laundry and get it on the line. Time to organize some things in the school room and correct some papers. Time to unclog a toilet.  Time to wash that stack of dishes.  Time to run to the market store to pick up some produce for supper.  Time to pick up the girl from school and hear about her day as she alternates her words from Spanish to English and back again. Oh, for some quiet, but… there is something beautiful in doing daily work unto the Lord.  It all matters; it all counts. I remind myself of this truth, for it can get hard and it can get lonely and I am still, so slowly, learning the language I hear all around me.

We finish school with the oldest boy given a science test and talking with me about his study of MacBeth.  The garden needs to be weeded.  The garbages must be taken out (lock the cans to the fence, boys, so they don’t get stolen!).  The dogs need to be run again.  The chores to be finished.  The supper made and eaten.  The oldest boy bikes to his Taekwondo class, the girl run up to her ballet class.  They are all interacting with the culture and people around them.  All growing in wisdom, in stature (indeed, they are getting so tall!) and in favor with God and men.  I think.  I dearly hope.  There is something beautiful about being a mother to oversee all of this and facilitate the days, even in a land so different from the one I come have known.

Showers are done, dishes are cleared, laundry is folded.  We prayed some more, worshipped a bit, shut all the windows before another downpour started.  The oldest boy climbed up on the roof to make sure the tinaco was getting full of water again from the cistern pump — he is so handy now with these things.

I tuck in the girl.  She asked me, in the dimness of her night light how snails are born, why we can’t see wind and how it is that Jesus can hear her when she whispers to him in her bed. She wonders why he does not give her a very special friend who speaks English and why she has to be the only girl in the family.  I try to answer the best I can.  Sometimes I wish I were a walking encyclopedia or I had a magic wand.  We talk for a bit, even though I am so tired and I leave the room after I bless her.  There is something beautiful about trying to answer the questions in a little girl’s heart, so she knows she is not alone and that she is loved.

The middle son, he is up in his bed reading, “The Jungle Book“, trying to sound out the words he doesn’t know. We talk about his thoughts — BB guns, remote control helicopters, the pyramids in Egypt and how one can really know that God answers prayers and what difference it makes, really, when God says he is always with us.  He is thinking the thoughts of a boy and wrestling out the thoughts of an emerging young man, trying to make a little sense of the world he finds himself in.  Again, I am so tired, but he needs my exclamations over his delights and he needs my reassurance that all I am teaching him from the Word is really true.  There is something beautiful in these moments.

I walk downstairs to say good-night to the oldest boy, now taller than his dad and quickly catching up to me.  He is stretched out on his little couch, reading on his kindle.  I sit down next to him.  Again, I am so tired but I have not peered inside his heart in awhile.  Being older and more self-sufficient sometimes I confess, I forget.  “How are you doing, buddy?” I ask.

He starts to respond slowly, but then his words pick up speed.  There is a lot going on in that mind of his and I listen to his line of analytical thought and look at him in awe.  There is more hair emerging on his upper lip.  There is a firmness in his voice as he tells me how he has been examing elements of faith and pondering them deeply, trying to find his own way and come to his own conclusions based on the foundation we have given him.   He looks over at his bookshelf with fondness, for these are his friends when friends are hard to come by here.  I know the feeling.  He tells me of his struggles and his victories, of the little desires he has to somehow save for some things to enhance his bike and his room.  These are all important to him.  And I have not listened in awhile. There is something beautiful in really listening to your child.

“Let’s read together, will you start this book with me?” and he hands me a book on evangelism.  What a boy, what a young man!  He’s finding his wings.  He’s got dreams about his life up ahead.  He knows Dad is living his dream and calling and I am too and he rests in that, but he’s finding what it is to be his own man in all of this.  He’ll be 15 this summer and I realize with a jolt, it is all going fast.  That in the few years we have left together, I’ve got to listen often and help him fly.

Funny how the tables turn. Funny how when you serve, you sacrifice so many of your own ambitions but then find out in the giving that it is all worth it. That it is valuable to empower the growth of others, while God is good to somehow still enable yours.

 There is something beautiful in all of that.

So we read, we talked about our reading, we prayed and hugged.

I finally get a shower, folded another load of laundry, make my list of what I need to do the next day and say my own prayers. It is late and I meant to get to bed much earlier before it all begins again.  I meant to find some time to study my Spanish vocabulary, but it is all I could do that day.  “It is all, unto you O Lord,” I whisper.  Sometimes the role I usually play of being the “stay-at-home missionary” seems insignificant. My husband’s days can seem so much more valuable.  I know it is not true, but I, like any mother can sometimes entertain that lie.

I was in bed by 10:50pm and that was my day.

I remembered, as I lay on my pillow and heard the door unlock downstairs and imagined my husband sitting down to take off his work boots, the verses our friend, Kent had emailed that day in response to our thanks to all he had given last summer on the team that had come from Florida.  He responded with something beautiful:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ – Luke 17:10

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.  -Acts 20:24

Top 10 Things Learned in the Last 23 Years: From Ben in Mexico.

May 27, 2015


My husband will turn 40 this August (gulp!). We’ve been commenting often about this fact and I have been reflecting on the last 20 years that we have known each other. In light of that, I thought this blog entry was worth a re-posting. It is one of the few, if only, written by Benjamin. Little did we know at the time of this writing back in 2012 we would now be living here! God is good.

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In March after ten years, we returned to Mexico to serve as a family for two weeks.  Ben spoke to the students and staff at Puebla Christian school where he attended for six years, 23 years ago.   Here I wanted to give you a peek into the heart of my amazing husband through his words.  There are few people I have meant in my life with greater humility, honesty, perseverance, integrity,  genuine care for people (always believing the best about them), steadfast faith and daily focus on Jesus and eternity.  He’s a no-frills, self-proclaimed hands-on man and deems himself an ineffective communicator (I beg to differ as might you after you read his words) who would rather set up 12 campsites alone than speak publicly–but he also believes in doing hard things, willing to model this for his boys.  Enjoy!

Top 10 Things I’ve learned in the Last 23 Years:  

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It was not the first time I had admired a certain vase made of burl wood sitting on table against a wall in my counselor-friend’s living room.  Rounded yet uneven, it was sanded smooth to show the complexity of the grains and stood about 30 inches tall.  No human hand had carved it out from within, it was created like that.

I thought how lovely something would look inside of it and finally asked, “Why do you always keep that vase empty?”  My friend walked over to the table and turned the vase around.  The other side was riddled with holes and crevices, rough and uneven.  “See? I had to buy this when I saw it; I need the constant reminder of what I am and what this world is now until the redemption of all things. We are not yet whole, but it is coming.”

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I wrestled with hating that vase and its broken beauty. We are at once smooth and retainable and at once knarled and hole-ridden.  The tension we live is the already-but-not-yet.  But hope is true because gradually all is becoming more whole.

I know I am.

You see, becoming a confessed child of God does not end the reformation of our character into Christ-likeness; it only activates the process. Satan realizes this and still has prey on believers through their old nature, working hard to prevent us from coming into the fullness of Christ’s nature in our lives.

We reduce the Gospel when we promote that all is accomplished when we “pray the sinner’s prayer” when it fact all has just begun.  Going from death to life implies growth (Eph. 4:15).  Appropriating the shed blood of Jesus into every arena of our lives, both past and present is the process of sanctification, no matter how painful or humbling.

We are to partner with the Holy Spirit’s passion to make us whole and to display in our lives in ever-increasing and on-going measure the beauty, the power and the mystery of redemption.  We are to partner with the work he is doing in the lives of those we love all around us.

When we speak of “inner-healing” this is exactly what it really means. It has nothing to do with “trying to do better”, motivational pep-talks of recognizing my innate potential, acting as if our past holds no present influence in our lives now, simply being sure I attend church or more intake of facts and knowledge.

Information and participation that does not lead to transformation is useless. It’s just pious religiosity. And frankly, it is boring, lifeless and utterly devoid of the power of the resurrected Jesus and his gospel.   He desires salvation to be fully effective in all dimensions of our life and character.

Healing or better stated, sanctification, leads to wholeness.  Wholeness leads to more of the glory of God in our lives. His glory in our lives ushers in constant restoration.  And this enables us to truly live in shalom: replacing or providing what is needed in order to make us whole and complete.

Thank you Father, that you never let go of this process in my life. Thank you that you intend for me, wholeness.

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If you know me, you know that I’d rather be weeding my garden, reading a book or painting a picture than working in my kitchen.  I try to like being in the kitchen and do what I can to make that happen — little lamps, color, curtains, candles, inspiring quotes, some good podcasts — anything to bring enjoyment.  Living in Mexico has brought a new challenge to the hours I spend in this room.  Yes, hours.  Way more than weeding, reading or painting (those things, I have calculated, will happen more when I hit about age 52).   For starters, the counters here are painfully low for a woman who is 6”, the water is not always consistent, the produce must all be carefully soaked and dried (they are allowed to irrigate with sewer water here), a dishwasher exists only in my memories, the oven must be lit with a match and the settings are all in Celsius (thankful for an oven thermometer in Fahrenheit) and there is not the selection of ingredients one can find in the states.  I decided early on to view all of this as an adventure in creativity. It’s all not bad, just different.

Mexican food is good.

I have become familiar with the versions here in this region.  No good conversation, especially introductory ones, exist without some expositions on the food.   The fresh carrot and orange juice always puts a smile on my face. The potatoes are delicious, thanks to the rich volcanic soil. They serve a black mold that grows on corn stalks in some of their dishes and the flowers from squashes which taste horrible.  Avocados and mangos are so affordable that we eat them by the bags in high season.  Our boys adore arroz con leche on Sunday mornings from the stand down the street and tamales, cooked well in corn husks, melt in your mouth.

Our daughter knows Mexican food well, way more than American food.  She actually feels sorry for folks in the states and wonders what on earth they eat! It has taken me almost two years to figure out what exactly I am supposed to bring and how to exactly prepare it on the day it is her turn to bring lunch for her whole school (that’s what they do here).  I have made some embarrassing mistakes, like thinking chaote was a kind of melon and buying five kilos of it.  Making the jimica drink from dried flowers was an absolute mess, permanently staining some clothing items.  My daughter’s teachers have enjoyed shaking their heads at the crazy and clueless blonde mama.  I have chosen to laugh with them, though at first I wanted to cry.

The tinga de pollo wrapped in a warm tortilla on Sunday mornings wakes me up if it is especially picante. If I could still eat gluten, I would eat mole poblano weekly–that smoky mix of chili with cocoa lingers in the mouth in perfect balance. My favorite naughty snack is these peanut-fudge tasting crumbly goodness wrapped discs called mazapans.  But I have a love-hate relationship with fresh corn tortillas with limes and salt, the staple of this country.  After all, how many of them can one eat in a week’s time?

My husband chuckles when I tell him every single restaurant offers the same food; I don’t even need to look at the menu.  Again, it is good but I have rarely had a satisfying meal. Sometimes I am just plain hungry, for what I can’t always define.

When it comes to cooking for my family, I have gotten my shopping routine down: Take 5-6 hours and shop at four large grocery stores the first Saturday of the month and then every week from then on run to the market for fresh, basic ingredients.  A wanna-be organic farmer with strong leanings towards vegetarianism, I love the markets. Even if I have to dodge hanging pig heads and animal intestines within an arm’s reach.  So many gringos avoid the markets, expect for tourist purposes, but I am eager to stroll among the piles of produce, yelled at from every booth for my patronage.  Yes, I have gotten ripped off more than once.  The lesson? Learn your numbers in spanish, really well.  I’m still working on that one.

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My appreciation for the gorgeous sights and smells have more than once led my eyes and purchases to be greater than my energy to attend to all of it at home.  My children, also on more than one occasion, have caught me sketching the vegetables rather than cooking them for supper.   My husband means to make me a sign for our kitchen that reads:  “Man shall not live on salads alone.”  Why not?

Since we are a gluten, dairy, soy, canola/vegetable/corn oil and red-meat free household for health reasons, the challenge to shop and cook balanced meals is arduous.  Dry beans must be sorted carefully to remove all the pebbles, as well as rices to grind into flour.  Bread must be baked weekly from scratch in this high-altitude with the most basic of ingredients. No light almond or coconut flours here.  Even my vita-mix cannot grind almonds.  I have tried more bread recipes than I can count and landed on one that seems to work.

Our middle child, the pickiest eater (besides his mother as a child), must be both encouraged to try new foods and satisfied at the same time.  Eggs need to be cracked in a separate bowl in case they contain blood.  Water must be filtered and divided into clean jars distributed in our bathrooms and fridge, while dirty water is filled in other jugs to be ready to filter (the ongoing daily job of our eldest son).

Our latest food find, which had me about dancing in the isle, is Nestle’s brand of Corn Flakes which distinctly says, “gluten-free” and costs only about $2.50 USD.  The days we have been working in a village or the homeschool day was especially trying and I am too tired to cook, I can finally just whip out a box of this gold and some bananas and magic happens!  Once in a while we can find GF oats and polenta.  Sometimes we can get arrowroot powder, cereals, crackers, rice pastas and baking mixes brought down from the states.  I never would have believed those items could make me teary.

When we first arrived, I confess I gave a laundry list of food items to anyone who asked what they could bring down/send down to us.  I simply did not yet know how to find my food bearings in a new culture and wean off of my old ones. My taste buds were staunch and loyal.  My goodness, I look back on it now, even only a year ago, in embarrassment!  My philosophy has now become to request only what I cannot find here, make, come up with replacements for or do without because I am looking more at what is sustainable in the long-run.  

The truth is I can’t grocery shop in the states anymore.  I then tell others what is not necessary for us, but special “treats”.  Those would be things like pure-peanut crunchy peanut butter, almond butter, natural sweet pickles, mixes, crackers, cans of pumpkin and cranberries for Thanksgiving and some spices.  

More and more we miss things less and less.  It has surprised me how much, unknowingly, food is apart of who we are and what brings us a sense of comfort, fulfillment and belonging.  Missions training does not offer much in way of a theology of food, but it should.  

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For those of you who happen to be reading and find yourself in the same predicament as ours, here are some tips and recipes:

  • For cooking at 8,000 feet, add a bit more flour (and almost double the yeast) and increase the cooking time by 5-15 minutes, but not the temperature.
  • Look for street vendors/stands that have lots of frequent customers.  Take time to take note this — these are usually the places you can eat at and not get sick.  They usually use different knives and cutting boards for meat/produce and wash their things.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask places if they soak their produce in microderm.  Rarely have we found that people are offended at this question.  Some have lied and we have gotten sick. Live and learn.
  • As a general rule in larger restaurants that are not well-known, don’t eat the lettuce.  It contains many parasites if not cleaned properly.  This salad-lover heart can rarely go out for a good salad.
  • Boiling water here takes a long time and baking things seems to also take longer.  Make sure your gas tank does not get near empty when cooking or you could have an explosion in your oven…not that we have experienced that and had a casserole dish blow up into 1,000 pieces or anything.
  • Produce has no preservatives in it so unless you use it, it will go bad in about 2 days, no matter what.  Take it from me, don’t buy more than you can eat in that time, unless you like bendable carrots.
  • Get a hand-juicer from the market for oranges–the kids will think it’s a fun job!
  • Start a compost bin.  You’ll have plenty of stuff to throw in it, but keep out those squeezed limes and oranges!
  • Remember, limes are acidic (not lemons which you will rarely find here) so they will cause your body to be way less alkaline — watch that.  Buy some phH strips from the states and keep an eye on your family’s levels.  More acidic will cause more tummy/inflammation/dizzy problems and you’ll have enough in Mexico.
  • The best natural fighters against parasites I have found is doTerra lemon oil, fennel and frankincense.  Along with capsules of wormwood.  When these fail, you’ll have to resort to the drug store parasite cleanse every six months, but the whole family has to do it at the same time for the greatest effect.   Get used to diarrhea now and then — it is a common problem here no matter what you do.
  • Soak your produce in clean water with a 1/2 capful of iodine and some limes.  Then take it out and rinse it in clean water and lay it out to dry.  It’s an annoying process, but you’ll get used to it, like everything else.
  • Rinse your dishes in hot vinegar water and let them completely dry before you put them away — less chance of getting sick this way.
  • Check your watermelons before you pay for them — if you buy them on the side of the road in some places they prick tiny holes in them and fill them with dirty water to increase the weight and thus the price.  Run your hand over them with your eyes closed and you’ll detect the holes.
  • Most of the world has to think of many of these things — welcome to the majority.
  • I wish someone had told me all of this before we moved here…most of it was learned from observation, questioning and experimenting.
  • I have run out of steam, the recipes will have to be for another post.

My husband came to bed quite late the other night.

I was still reading, when I should have slept.  But I could hardly help myself.  The book, which I am still carefully reading with a pencil in hand, is a wondrous true tale.  It is a humble, elegantly written and engrossing work by a woman who lived and worked in Afghanistan for five years entitled In the Land of Blue Burqas.  I picked up the volume while we were in the states.  I was curious of the format. I wanted to understand how the author weaved together her international experience so someday soon, I might weave my own.

I am surprisingly blessed once again with the re-orientation of my mind in terms of contextualizing the gospel with gentle grace and loving my neighbor.  It will be worth a second and third read to me as a tool and an inspiration.  To anyone who wishes to be a better minister in a foreign culture and/or understand Islam, read this book.

As I was saying, my husband came home late. He sat down on the edge of the bed, looking satisfied but tired. We began to swap stories about our day.  Mine were about our children, that our cistern was empty, my conversation with a woman at a market store, an inquiry into what certain words were on yet another announcement our daughter brought home from school and my thoughts.

His were more of the same from what I had heard so many other nights before.  His words piled up in front of me like a tumble of bricks that the writer’s mind in me began placing in a neat and coherent pile.  After his reporting, he rose to go brush his teeth and come to bed, without a shower.  But he turned and sat back down, abruptly and with those tired, but clear blue eyes looked at me and spoke again, “Angel, tell me the truth.  Am I making any difference here or am I spinning my wheels?”

It is not good for a man or woman to be alone.  It is good to turn our souls inside out for one another and voice the questions that sometimes haunt us in our most vulnerable moments.

I put down my book and looked at him. I was quiet for a moment as I thought on a response that would be a good word fitly spoken.

I went over the stories in my mind from just the last three weeks, the snapshots of how he has numbered his days.

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There is the small group in the village of Trinidad he works with weekly, driving 45 minutes to sit with them on over-turned buckets in a small tienda.  He takes them through a basic course for new believers.  He will be the first to confess he is not a gifted teacher nor communicator.  Words don’t come off his tongue, even his fluent Spanish tongue, like melted butter.  He’d rather let his hands speak through the strings of his guitar or the pounding of his hammer.  But he loves, sincerely loves people, especially Mexican villagers.   The people have come to love him too and more than that, to trust him.  Which is big in this culture.  The questions they ask him are enough to break your heart or bring you to your knees.

Then there is Pedro, who Ben has explained the gospel to several times.  He does believe.  And he wants to grow.  But how do you feel the love of the Father when you are rejected by your family of origin, again and again? How do you have time to think of things other than 60-hour work week in the local cement factory where you work so you can support your wife and two daughters who live in a house the size of our dining room?  Ben meets with Pedro, every time he calls.  He sits down in their house-room and shares their beans and tortillas and counsels him in simple, yet challenging ways.  He teaches him how to pray, for Pedro has no idea what it means to talk to God.

I could not forget Victor either.  He came to church just weeks ago, with his brother who trusted Jesus just weeks before that.  He limped on crutches, looking broken in both body and soul.  Ben, drawn to anything that hurts, sat down with him after the service.  He lay hands on his twisted ankle and we both prayed for healing.  They exchanged cell numbers.  Ben called him the next day and picked him up.  He took him on his errands he had to run to pick up supplies to fix a water pump and work on setting up a new water project.  Ben listened to Victor’s story and ached for him.  He prayed for him in the car for 30 minutes straight as they drove.  Then he took him out for tacos and prayed some more.  But Victor still needs so much more healing and his wife still served him divorce papers.

Now it was a pastor in another nearby town whom he shared dinner with.  Ben had led in a team months ago to the town where this pastor works and they broke ground on where a church is to be constructed and built a cistern for their bathrooms.  They continued a friendship and now were meeting to discuss more projects.  This pastor has been hurt by so many sources and his work in shepherding his flock in challenging.  He found Ben a safe place and told his stories.  Of course, my husband responded not with articulate and lofty words nor a litany of scriptures. He response was”let me pray for you”. The taco place was all of a sudden a holy place where Ben was carrying his brother to Jesus.  “Listen, I have a team coming down in June, our church from Florida.  Tell us how for one day we can serve you, your church and town the best.  We want to bless you, we want to come along you. You tell us how.”  The pastor looked at Ben and starting laughing with joy and then wept. No agenda pushed on him, no stress to receive help he hadn’t asked for, just a wish to come and serve.

There are so many other stories. So many. Big and small.

I looked out the window at the full moon and heard the radio playing outside next door.  It belonged to the three workers, building a house next to us.  They sleep on the cement floor at nights and then get up the next morning and start working again. Ben invited them over last week for supper.  We bought a kilo of taco meat with the fixings and the boys and I made a giant fruit salad.  We welcomed them in our home and sat down to a meal together, inquiring about their work, their families and like all good Mexicans, talked about food.  They had never been invited — dirty, rough-handed and from the “lower”class– into a gringo’s house for a meal.  They relaxed soon enough and we stayed up far too late playing games.  I sent them out with a bag of food and plenty of fresh fruit, for I knew they had not been getting a balanced diet.  Ben sent them out with a bible in each of their hands. He spoke with them about the love of God as he walked them back.  He has visited them several times since then.  They are gone now.  The house is still unfinished and we don’t know if they will return.

I knew why my husband asked me this question.  I knew he felt that all of his encounters don’t seem to be producing anything.  He can hardly see that God is working and that transformation is happening.  It is slow.  It is hard.  It is tiring. Is it all enough?

I finally answered him.  “The question is not if you are making a difference, the question is if you are obeying Jesus.  I see that you are and this is all He asks.  You are making disciples and we are commanded to make disciples, not converts.  You are taking the time to love and esteem others.  I know you don’t feel like the super-missionary.  I don’t either.  We are not hip, we are not the most gifted or trained, we are not great evangelists, we would not win “parent of the year” awards, we don’t seem to have a lot of dramatic stories of deliverance or healing or mass salvation to report to our supporters, we probably will never start some huge ministry…we are pretty average and a little crazy.”  Ben smiled.

“But, let me tell you a story your older brother once told me:

When you were little and lived in Guatemala, your dad taught at a seminary.   He would drive home and go down a long dirt-road to get to your house.  At the start of that dirt road a poor family lived.  There was a little boy always playing in the dirt yard.  Your dad, no fail, would stop and greet the boy.  Sometimes he would bring him a treat, sometimes he would tussle his hair, sometimes he would tell him Jesus loved him.  It was not much, but your dad was faithful.  Well, that little boy grew up and trusted Jesus.  He went on to study God’s word.  He went on to become a pastor.  He leads a church now and feeds many with eternal words and hope.  He is making disciples and those disciples are multiplying.

You too, are the one that stops by the side of the road. So many roads.  It may not seem like much, but you are obeying in love.  God did not call us to be successful, but rather to be faithful. I am so proud of you.  So, keep on my love, keep on.”

My husband grabbed my hand.  He had never heard this story.  It meant something to him.  A little misty-eyed, he thanked me.  Then he went to brush his teeth.

I turned off my light.  When I awoke in the early morning, he was gone.  Off to another village for a meeting he had that morning.  The kids needed breakfast.  A girl needed to be taken to school and two boys needed to be homeschooled.  The laundry and dishes were piled up, again.  Ben left me a note, saying he had called a pipa (water truck).  I was still a mom, a wife, a woman in a foreign land.

And I had my own disciples to make.

 

A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus. – Dallas Willard

“Mama, she is sitting alone on the floor in the corner of my room with her plate, eating her lunch there!” cried my then 7-year old son.  This was the second time we saw Tere, our once-a-week “maid” take her afternoon lunch break this way.  Not only that, but she shuffled when she walked and swept, keeping her eyes downcast.  All of us felt like we had hired a slave, especially when we learned what the going-rate for such help is; barely $12 for eight hours of work!

In sixteen years of marriage, I never had consistent help with the basic upkeep of running a household.  It was unthinkable that I would in the US, even as a busy home school mother raising three children.  I spent many years of my childhood helping my mother clean houses and doctor’s offices and felt that sort of pampering was only for the wealthy.  But, I never knew both the expectation in Mexico in terms of house help, nor the differences and difficulty in keeping house in a dusty, dishwasher-less and at times, water-less place.

Moving to Mexico brings many changes to our family and Tere is one of them.  By her third week we had upped her wages (at the tearful request of our fiscal son who demanded to know what we were paying her).  Tere is also a follower of Jesus.  Knowing this, I asked my husband to translate this truth: When we come to Christ, He invites us all to the table to sit side-by-side and feast on all the benefits of our salvation, together.  She is our sister and we want her at our table. Aside from that, she is a fellow human made in the image of God, thus sacred and worthy of dignity.

Most families in developing countries use house help. Here in Mexico, it is no different.  There are two distinct social classes that draw a sharp line between those who are house helpers and those who hire them: the upper and lower class.  Middle class does exist, but it is quite small.  Anthropologist Geert Hofstede coined the disparity between these two main classes as “power distance”. This is a way of  measuring the extent to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders. 

Charles Tidwell, who has taught Hofstede’s power distance concepts, summarizes it well: In high power distance societies, “powerful people try to look as powerful as possible.” But in low power distance societies, “powerful people try to look less powerful than they are.”

The power distance in the United States scores a 40 on the cultural scale, making it a low power distance culture.  The United States exhibits a more unequal distribution of wealth compared to Austria, who scores an 11.  Arab countries score around an 80.  India, where we immediately think of the caste system, functions at a 77.  Mexico is higher in power distance than even India, scoring an 81! Globally, only Malaysia (the highest in the world), Guatemala, Panama and the Philippines score higher.

In a high power distance culture such as Mexico, decisions are made by a few at the top autocratically with little resistance from the lower class.  High power cultures are also prone to unethical behaviour. This is because those in the ruling class do not justify their decisions to the lower class.  Unethical behaviour gets covered up or goes undetected.  The recipe for corruption is inevitable.

The distinction between the rich and the poor in Mexico is even visually decades apart. Contradictions abound.  The upper class drive sleek and clean cars, live in nice houses with groomed yards and work in the corporate world or own small businesses.  They have walls, gates and bars around their houses for their status makes them the most vulnerable. They are predominately from Spanish descent. Their skin is light, their clothes stylish and they are usually are well-educated and bi-lingual. They are the class featured on every billboard, television show and advertisement.  They are the “haves”.

The lower class are of indigenous Indian descent.  Their skin is darker, they ride old bikes (with their whole family on it) or drive a beat-up truck, they live in brick houses with curtains for doors and windows, they sell tamales on the streets or handmade items.  They farm and plough their fields with donkeys and horses, they work in the markets, they teach in rural schools and they often hand-wash their clothes and may or may not have a bathroom in their home. Their teeth are often rotting or missing and their feet calloused and worn. They are the “have-nots”. The “haves” hardly notice the “have-nots” exist.

Recently some students from a prestigious university visited some villages an hour away for a service project and in shock commented, “I thought conditions like this only existed in Africa!”  Uh, try most of your country!

And our family?  We are an anomaly to both classes, fitting in neither.  We puzzle them, for we don’t have the money the upper-class has nor do we function in the simple ways of the lower, less educated class.  We don’t care about status and reputation in terms of our clothing and our vehicles, yet we do go to Costco every month to buy items like meats and some familiar things that cater to the upper class.  Our daughter is in ballet and attends a little private (and safe) school.  My husband happily sits down on dirt floors with farmers and gets his hands dirty next to villagers doing water projects.  We gladly eat where no gringos have probably ever been and other times dress up for a nice date.  As American guests in this country, we would be looked down upon if we do not hire house help to do our share in keeping the society functioning.  All in all, it is difficult to find our place, when there is no cultural place to be found.

Moving to a culture where the power distance is double that of the United States is one of the defining features of my cultural adjustment.

I come from a culture and a generation where the powerful don’t want to be seen as powerful.  We play down power with our casual coolness. We are better and more comfortable with egalitarian living. My husband is fond of saying “we are all naked before God.”  Whether by nature or nurture, inclusion with respect is one of the values we try to model for our children most consistently.

All through history and in biblical teaching we see the vices that destroy men: money, sex and power.  We tend to see those things as having more evil-potential than good-potential.  And some of us don’t give them much thought.  Here, I am forced to give them all a serious look.  I was not ready to enculterate into a place where I am looked upon as possessing power.  This is perhaps the last thing the heart of a missionary wants to meet.  But to the masses here, I posses what only they could be born into.  I am white.  I am American.  I have an education.  I have traveled.  I must have money and I must hold influence.  I can’t ignore how I am perceived, as much as I would dearly love to do so.  Being viewed as  powerful can easily go to one’s head.  It can make one haughty and apathetic.  On the flip-side, it can entice one to take on a theology of self-inflicted pious suffering.  Neither incarnate the Gospel.

I often think through how I should respond to power distance with the power of the gospel.

I think of Tere, of my daughter’s Spaniard classmates and families, of the village women I have gotten on my knees before and wept with them over their pain, of riding to a concert with a local storekeeper and her husband in a modern car that cost more than I dare to know, of the man who owns most of this town so is sure water gets to his properties first and the leftovers to the rest of us, and of the dark-skinned Mexicans who get off the buses in the mornings trailing down the streets to get to their work in the nicer homes.

I see it all, I live it all and I wonder.

I read the Gospels for clues on how to follow in the steps of Jesus, for I often am at such a loss.  This is all very, very hard.  He loved the poor and esteemed them, yet He invited Himself into the homes of the rich and made some His friends.  This then, is what is true:

The power of the gospel is greater than power distance.

Although in this after-Eden world, power-distance is a cultural reality, it is cannot be ultimate reality.  Power is a gift; one to be used with humble authority to serve all classes, never to subject. Throughout the New Testament, the Gospel is usually associated with power (strength; ability; moral excellence)!  See for yourself in Romans 15:18-19, I Corinthians 1:18, I Corinthians 2:4-5, I Corinthians 4:19-20, I Thessalonians 1:5 and Romans 1:16-17.

The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation!  The gospel tells us, as Timothy Keller states, “You are more sinful than you could dare imagine and you are more loved and accepted than you could ever dare hope.”  The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The gospel brings a new order to living in which believers are no longer  controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across any and every social barriers.  The gospel doesn’t give a hoot for power distance.

When I live in depths of the gospel, I live under the gaze of God.  I no longer need to care how others are perceiving me. But, I must live in godly consideration of them and as the Apostle Paul, “Be all things to all people.”   My confidence stems not from my white skin. I don’t need need to apologize for what I have been given.  I belong to Jesus and here I live as an ambassador of His gospel, in all my stumbling and fumbling and trying to make sense of it all.  It may all feel awkward at times, but I live to be about the business of my Father. Every day it looks and it feels different.

From that day forward that I spoke with Tere about the ramifications of the gospel, she now eats lunch with us. She tells us her stories as we ask, holds our hands as we pray together, looks us in the eye and is a gentle and quiet servant.  Every Thursday she is a blessing to our family who brings not only physical help, but also the sweet presence of Jesus.

I have learned to provide Tere with good lunches and at what time she prefers to eat.  I have learned to give her a bonus on her birthday and the day off.  I have learned to save up to pay her every December a month’s worth of wages, as is the custom here.  She is tired by the end of the day, I have noticed and is grateful when I drive her all the way to the bus stop, much to the looks of my neighbors who cannot believe a gringo would do such a thing.  I have learned to ask her about foods and customs and words of which I am unfamiliar.  I have learned she will not wash another dirty dish after she has done them all in the morning.  I have learned she does not like ironing.  I have learned she is slow, but meticulous.  I have learned she loves egg dishes. I have learned if I give her a gift, she will inevitably pass it on to her daughter, so I better just label it for her.

I have learned I cannot do it all here and I do need help.

I have learned that I don’t need to be embarrassed or apologetic to let my US friends know that I have a weekly helper.

I am learning that the power of the gospel is greater.  Greater than anything.

San Pedro Cholula is known for its fireworks on almost a daily basis.  Legend says there are 365 ancient Catholic churches, one for every day of the year here.  A family in the vicinity of the parish buys the homemade fireworks. Usually that family that has to pick up a couple of extra jobs out of obligation to take their turn to buy the colorful and fantastically loud explosives and offer a meal for all.  They have no alternative; do it or risk excommunication from their community and all the benefits of baptism, first communion, a blessed marriage and hope for an eternity.  The fireworks are not only tradition but many still believe that the loud pops will call the attention of deceased saints and ancestors, maybe even the Virgin herself–all who can help get their prayers answered or their loved ones out of purgatory when their piety is heard. Easter (Pascua) weekend was not different, just louder with peals of bells ringing in greater frequency.

The week leading up to Pascua, called Santa Semana  (Holy Week) elicits the bells. On Maundy Thursday, most people stay home after attending mass. The streets are empty.  This is the night they take their last shower until Saturday.  On Friday, the tone is somber with processionals going through the streets with downcast eyes, purple and white paper-cut flags, statues of Jesus on the cross or even dramatizations of Jesus carrying His cross and being nailed for all to see.  There are no bunnies or eggs, candy or decor.

On Saturday, Sabado de Gloria throwing water to passerby’s is symbolic for holy cleansing.  Because of the water shortages, the government forbids this, but in smaller towns where a river is nearby, one sees small crowds of people making their way to the water to carry on the tradition.  This is the night people bathe again.  This is the night the air fills with the music of fiestas, and alcohol is bought in great volumes, even 10 peso bottles of tequila. It seems sacrilegious. On Resurrection Day, for those that attend their parish, they wear their nicest or newest clothes.  For many this is perhaps the only day of the year they might attend church; it is no different for nominal evangelical Christians. The streets are again, void of the usual traffic.  All is quiet, the Resurrection of Jesus less of a cause for ceremony that His suffering.

In a culture where the name of Jesus is not unknown to anyone, the meaning of His death and life is strangely obscure.  Which is why, in some ways, it difficult to speak of the Gospel of Grace. Why?  Because here they are so close, yet so far away.  So very far away.  Here, Jesus stays on the cross. His suffering is still happening and the more one can share in that suffering the greater one can earn favor in heaven and heaven itself.  Which is why, when working in many of the villages where the more “simple” dwell, there is little grumbling or complaining.  They are conditioned to be content with their lot in life not out of gratitude, but more so out of the belief that if they suffer well and suffer much, divine favor will rest upon them.

Another missionary, years here longer than mine articulated his observations on Easter this way on his own blog,

“Easter morning…the resurrection of Christ and what were these Catholic faithful doing?  They were there in their work clothes with wheelbarrows doing construction on their perpetually unfinished building. The finished work of Christ on Friday somehow only leads to their own efforts to impress God and man by showing up on Easter morning for a work project.  I assume they know that Jesus rose from the dead, but there is no understanding of the power of the resurrection and the true purpose of the cross. For these people in that community, the events of the week merely point toward how great Mary is.  She loved her son and wept for him.  The Father cursed and abandoned the son.  The loving, faithful mother stayed with him and wept for him.  The son did as he was told. It’s a cultural story that results in an elevation of the maternal god who loves us and weeps for us too.  They’d better be about her business because for them, that’s where Easter left us.”

Many would not be able to articulate all this so precisely; it is hard-wired from generations of not being the ones colonized but conquered.  They are a people who carry the stories of generations past, connected in a way that would seem backward to the mindset of the independent, pioneering American.  For those called here to proclaim the power of the full Gospel, the need to reexamine and define one’s own theology of suffering based on the full counsel of God is imperative (and a good topic for another post). For the Christian churches here whether consciously or unconsciously, they do whatever they can to separate themselves from the Catholic traditions, Easter is too silent.

It comes and goes with barely a ripple, in my novice observance.  There is the knowledge of its profound importance, but the expression is lacking.  The reasons for this goes further than what I have already mentioned, but again that could be another post (biased, from my own observations and questioning).  Still, my heart missed the jubilant celebration I experienced among the believers where I come from.  Very much.  I missed the clarity and passion that the truth of our great hope brings.

Our small bi-lingual more urban church hosted a quiet Easter breakfast potluck.  A pool filled in the jar din for the two baptisms scheduled before the service.  We all gathered around nonchalantly (Mexicans are reserved in a warm sort of way).  Two went under the water from death to life, the promised power of the Holy Spirit coming upon them like the book of Acts proclaims.  One, a precious woman I prayed with just a weeks ago, comes from a background of demonic activity many of us have never seen, emerged with new light in her eyes.  I wanted to clap and holler, but I was coming from my culture in this wish.  Or was I?

We have made it a tradition to invite the church over for Easter afternoon.  What joy, after our move this past fall into a new rented house, to finally be able to open up our home again and fill it with the joy of fellowship.  It has taken me time to learn how to host here. The informality is less than what I’ve been accustomed. The way the women take over your kitchen and they take seriously that mi casa es su casa is really a delight.

It felt good this the second year around and I could relax more in the understood expectations. We ate and ate and ate, played games and then some left and some stayed to hike up our local mountain. Of course, my dear husband had to shoot off his massive homemade potato guns too and we all laughed at the flying potatoes crashing into a distant field of new crops. In the midst of our fun, there were moments of ministry through prayer and counsel.  Our body here is a broken and hurting one in many ways.  Redemption is an idea that so many cannot believe is true.  The work of establishing a healthy body here, growing in wholeness and knowledge is one that takes years.  I have much to learn.

Most of our friends have never hiked our local mountain.  They had never seen their land from tall heights.  We took them to the place where we have often gone to pray in earnest over Puebla and Cholula, for God to pour out His Spirit upon these people.  Oh, how we long for this in greater measure!  We joined hands and some of us prayed.  Again, I am longing for faith’s expression to show itself in fervency and passion as if our prayers do change things, as if they cannot be under-estimated.  I wanted to kneel and weep over this city with my brothers and sisters, but again was that coming from where I have been?  Or not?

We quietly hiked back down, tired from the day but with a satisfaction that it had been good.  As the custom here, you say good-bye to everyone with an embrace and a sort of blessing and then they eventually leave. There is no slipping out.  After the last farewell, we locked our door.  Benjamin got our happy and weary kids into bed and I stayed downstairs to sweep floors, wipe counters and gather up garbage bags to take outside.

The air was fresh, the stars were clear and my heart was full.  After awhile Benjamin came downstairs and we sat on the couch together for a moment.  Both tired, we managed a short but sincere prayer.  Gratitude for this beautiful house to share, for the mountain, for our church family, for the Resurrection.

For the hope that Jesus will continue the work of making bringing the fullness of life to the most desperate of places and people.

To Him be all the glory forever and ever, amen. tumblr_mp496402Rj1r9x307o1_1280 IMG_20150405_104439857 4RtUVUy0KQ1qJ4ECqghrS7l_vylnAx27uHafa5FOYckS=w1394-h1296-no J7faHJkZwjdnq9bZzpmPabAKEZmgvOwHFcmkc050936g=w1914-h1140-no k6SixQSTFRMQmh46VLbvyJOBdp5HLnk2Se8u52XpqQMv=w1574-h1296-no RNZUJCa6PnKgdUfB9S5kLAtmULti8NAudtveWDnuoUMM=w1914-h1028-no IMG_20150405_185651356_HDR XvXhnylg2pD0dRSJvUjnX2gJGTnp6WWKD6q1sHGflhB4=w1762-h1296-no 5mD8tbN4PkU56Zf4qQwR5c70MDBovSpDMoPDv6djL0Yo=w1916-h1010-no

The bible tells us that those who are children of God are strangers and aliens in this world. Our “true passports” are stamped with the blood of Jesus, our real citizenship in heaven.  Heaven.  It is a place we have never been, yet we know when we arrive it will feel like we have finally come to the Home of all homes and all those we’ve had here have been but a beautiful tease of what awaits us.

We all have this innate want to belong, to be home, to know that we are rooted in some place for some time, connected to something bigger than our smallness. It is all more than the instinct to nest, it is eternity set in our hearts.

Becoming a missionary in foreign soil has a way of making your roots looser—the tentacles to this world don’t attach so tenaciously. How can they when you find yourself in a place that is utterly unlike all of your cultural programing?  Your anchor is no longer hooked between the rocks of familiarity, but in Who is there when all those rocks roll away — Jesus.

At first it is jarring, this sense of rollicking over new waters. You find yourself still grasping for all that you can understand and all that can bring you comfort. But after a while, when the weaning is more complete it offers a new kind of rest.  The fact that you can abide anywhere safely, legally and with contented joy on this earth is but by His gracious hand.  This truth sinks deep.

I felt this yet again yesterday as we spent several hours at the immigration office in Puebla.  The colors of the Mexican flag decorated the long counter.  The signs, of course, all encoded in Spanish and not a blue-eyed blond in sight, albeit our family.  After our first turn at the counter, we walked across the street to a hole-in-the-wall photo shop that catered to visa needs. We slicked our hair back, removed jewelry and donned most serious expressions for the flash.  Twenty minutes later we trotted back with our packet of tiny and very expensive photos, dodging the smeared tamales dulce on the sidewalk.  After being asked the usual questions, translating our heights and weights into meters and kilos, we were all fingerprinted.

An hour later we received our visa resident cards—good for the kids and I for three years. Praise be to God! No messing around with paperwork and lawyers and so much money for a long while when then we can apply for permanent residency.  What a far cry from the boyhood days of my husband in Central America when he and his family had to drive up the US border every six months!

We are legal.  For a long stretch.  Home in a country that is all my daughter remembers as having that fond title.  Home in a land where God called us to come and abide.  Strangely home in a place that still holds more questions for us than answers.

This all has me thinking: If everything in our lives is a show in the heavenlies illustrating redemption and to declare His glory in the ages to come and to prepare us for eternity, than living here in Mexico is quite significant.  And making your home where you do now is as much this truth.

And it doesn’t hurt being legal.

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What is it that you desire?

What is it that brings you delight?

What or who do you depend to be your defense when you are being threatened?

Go ahead, jot down your gut-reactions to these questions.  We’ll come back to them.


One August, when I was between the ages of 9-11, my mother introduced me to the Psalms.  I was outside playing and she was on the edge of the driveway sitting on a blue-painted metal rocker snapping beans.  Her bible was beside her and she beckoned me to pick it up and open to the Psalms.  “You can start reading yourself now and use Grandma’s old bible”.

From that day on I would read aloud in my bed every evening from the Psalms, much to the irritation of my older sister who wanted some quiet.  It was in this Hebrew poetic book that my love affair with words began and not just any words, living words and words I could personalize.

The Psalms may be the most read book of the Old Testament and are well loved for many reasons.  Their substance resonates with our lives and experiences.  They may be scenes of rejoicing, despair, confident hope, uncertainty, or solemn moments of profound musings.  The words become our expressions and as the psalmist’s words embody our feelings and sentiments, they also lead us to a better understanding of God and a deeper encounter with Him.

The Psalms come to us today, not in musical scores as many originated, but in the form of one book made up of smaller books (Pss. 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-16, 107-150).  Psalm 1 acts as an introduction to the whole book.  In addition, the beginning and ending psalm of each of the five books are often considered key thematic transitions [taken from my copy of this wonderful companion that sits on my nightstand]. A

Among God’s gifts to us, the Psalms is one of the most desperately human yet breath-takingly divine ones, a more than necessary walking partner as we journey Home.

It was as a young reader of the Psalms, I found a certain resting place, a theme for my life and the deepest parts of my soul in Psalm 63.   The declariative and yearnful themes in Psalm 63 are all-encompasing. Indeed, some scholars have said that all of the Psalms could fit under just this one cry.  I don’t doubt it.

What is the setting of these words?  David is a fugitive of some kind.  Even though he is King (don’t expect God’s anointing on you to be without threats to your position), he is being forced to flee to the desert.  His own son, Absalom rebelled and tried to overthrow his father’s throne. According to 2 Samuel 15:23 David fled the city, crossed the brook Kidron, and went into the wilderness. This is probably the experience behind the psalm. Now listen:

1 You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
2 I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

 I have seen you in the sanctuary

    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
    they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
    and become food for jackals.

11 But the king will rejoice in God;
    all who swear by God will glory in him,
    while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

GOD MY DESIRE (vs. 1-4)

David begins by acknowledging the covenant that exists between he and God. O God, you are my God!  It stands, our restored relationship with God. We will endure because He endures eternal. Our allegiance is to no other; He is our King and we are His loyal servants and friends.  Sometimes in the swirl of life, when it seems like we are going under, all we can do is make this cry and scramble up upon this rock.

David then speaks of desire, of an earnest pursuing of God with diligence and intensity.   Yes, desire is thirst, an unfulfilled longing.  Have you ever been thirsty, truly thirsty where water was the only thing your mind could focus on is finding water?

On one of our family trips, we ran out of water in our water bottles.  The kids had just eaten a salty snack against the advice of their parents.  We were miles from no where.  They thought they were going to die.   It was an hour later that we came upon a gas station. They all bolted out of the car as fast as they could and ran for the cold fridge in the station.  They gulped down the water before we even paid for it.  And when we resumed our trip, it was like they had never been thirsty and their desire moved to something else besides what their bodies needed to survive.

Ironically enough, Jesus in the New Testament blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (for the salvation of all) for they will be filled.  He will come to them like a gas station in the middle of nowhere.  There is a power in fainting for Him.  In knowing that even though we know and declare He is our God, He sometimes feels far away.

Desperation means we have need and without sensing our need, we cannot know God. Thirst is a gift.   It causes us to seek more.  And if we seek, we will keep finding there is always more. He satisfies our thirst with even more good thirst.

Of all the people I have met in my life, it is those who have gone through intense seasons of near-dying, fainting thirst for more of God who are people of strength and stability, wisdom and inner resources to meet every crisis.  That rock of God being their God is always under their feet.

A.W. Tozer wrote “Complacency is a deadly foe of spiritual growth.”

David remembered seeing and experiencing the presence of God in the past.  His power and His glory.  His being, not simply His beneficial acts.  His thirst, his desire and his experience caused him to sing out there alone in the desert as a fugitive from his own son, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you!  I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands.” 

What do you desire?   Have you asked God to make you thirsty?

GOD MY DELIGHT (vs. 5-8)

It is after the times of dead thirst when God comes near again and fills us.  It is feasting time.  We live in the tension between fainting and feasting.  Can you see that rhythm in your own life?

We are not poor and unblessed when we are in the fainting phase, we are being prepped to fully enjoy when the feast is set before us as our souls are made full and satisfied. In those gracious times of filling, we find a rest.  We find a peace and a fulfillment, an easy satisfaction in Christ.  We need these times just as we need the times of desperation.

Thanksgiving is a day that is precious to me.  I plan the menu weeks before, we set out my grandmother’s china and silver (brought all the way to Mexico), place a bouquet of flowers on our long table and candlesticks on the side.  The children make place cards and decorations to adorn the table and we invite friends over. The table is spread with good foods and the main event is feasting, remembering that one day we will all feast together at the marriage feast of the Lamb. Our small gathering is a foreshadowing of a day that is coming.  The day feels lifted out of the normal calendar and it brings a filling that enables us to go forward with a new thankfulness and joy.

How much our God wants to give us these times and how non-chalantly we don’t even discern He is wanting to fill us.

David said that he remembered and thought of God and His ability to fill and satisfy, even out there in the stony and cold wilderness through the watches of the night.  In David’s time, the night was divided up into three “watches”, each watch representing a period in which soldiers would be alert and on post.  These would last respectively from sunset to 10 P.M.; from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M.; and from 2 A.M. to sunrise. A person aware of all the watches would be having a sleepless night. It seemed David did, due to his situation, but he did not spend the time in fretful anxiety.  He remembered God. He purposefully chose to reflect and sing.  He announced that his help was God and he clung to Him.

Has God delighted you and satisfied you to the point that even when you cannot sleep, your thoughts turn to Him and all He has done to fill you, like a lovesick man turns to dreaming about the woman he can’t wait to marry?  Do you sing in the watches of the night?  Do you reflect on Him? God, let us not be so willy-nilly we never come to this point and live in this habit!

What delights you?  Have you asked God to fill you?

Oh how I believe that God is jealous for us, that He wants to be both our desire and our delight.  When this happens, a spirit of worship  is unleashed in our lives and in our churches in a way that causes us to lift our hands in joy!  There is deadness in our lives and in our corporate gatherings if there is not desire and delight for God.

GOD MY DEFENSE (vs. 9-11)

David has no qualms about calling on God’s justice and even rejoicing in His justice, even if that means the death of his pursuing enemies (which he views as enemies of God). He is not feeling sorry for evil here, nor excusing it–he is asking for their removal.  He knows his God-given position, he is secure in his relationship with God.

I appreciate his black-and-white matter of factness here.  It is as if he is saying:  God, You are my desire and You are my delight.  Those that distract me from enjoying Your presence while I am in the position You ordained for me, as I cling to You, will be done away with.  I will go on to rejoice in You, as will all those who pledge their allegiance to You, the one true King. 

There have been many times in my life that I have encountered circumstances comprised of difficult people or issues which have so distracted me that my desire and delight in God diminished considerably.  Can you relate?  Perhaps you find yourself in such a place in this moment. Our flesh and our enemy loves to use this strategy against us, true enough? Perhaps you need to take the discerning and no-nonsense approach of David and wage your war in the same manner, echoing the truths of David in these verses and getting back to your focus of desiring and delighting in God.  That is where the peace is found.

What or who do you depend on to be your defense when you are being threatened? Have you maintained your “position” with a determination that nothing disrupt your desire, your desire and your confidence in God? 

Psalm 63:

What do you desire?  

Have you asked God to make you thirsty?

What delights you? 

Have you asked God to fill you?

What or who do you depend to be your defense when you are being threatened? 

Have you maintained your “position” with a determination that nothing disrupt your desire, your delight and your confidence in God?

Our God, make us thirsty so we know what it is to faint for you, to be in need and finally to be filled.  Do this again and again in us so we are delivered from complacency.  And when You ordain Your callings in our lives, let nothing move us. Rather, may we sing in worship in the watches of the night.  Let us discern and identify the threats against us, Your beloved children, and may You be our defense even as our souls cling to You.  Be our desire.  Be our delight  Be our confidence.  Be our lives.  AMEN.

*notes from sermon on Psalm 63 I preached on 1.18.15 in Mexico 

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