This I Used To Believe

National Public Radio in the USA used to do a segment called This I Believe, featuring short pieces on people’s most passionate and strongly held beliefs. The essays that resulted from this project span topics ranging from life as an act of literary creation to being nice to the pizza delivery guy. They are united only by the clarity and conviction each writer brings to their chosen topic.

My husband and I were talking about these stories one day when we decided to flip the premise around and discuss things that we used to believe.

There were a lot of these things. Some of these changes in belief were pretty fundamental to faith and identity. And more than a few of these changes were sparked by living overseas.

You don’t need to live overseas to grow and change. Life has a way of confronting us with differences in perspective and practice, giving us opportunities to learn new things, and inviting us to grow in empathy no matter where we’re living.

Moving overseas, however, tends to accelerate this process of change. When everything around you changes it is almost impossible not to change, too. If you open yourself at all to your new culture you will gain new ideas about what’s “normal”, and new ways of understanding right and wrong, honor and shame.

This will, over time, change some of your beliefs about yourself, life, others, and God.

Sometimes our beliefs change suddenly, much the way an earthquake alters the landscape or re-routes a river in one formative instant. Traumatic events, sudden loss, and massive life changes are often the catalysts for these sorts of sudden shifts in beliefs.

More often, though, our beliefs change slowly, in the manner of a river eroding its banks or an oil tanker changing course. These sorts of changes happen so gradually that they only become clear only when you check your rearview mirror or raise your eyes to see a different vista stretching out in front of you.  

Most of my own belief changes have happened like this – incrementally. Here are 10 things I used to believe, six moves, 15 years, and another lifetime ago.

  1. That I knew a fair few of the “right” answers to life’s big questions.
  2. That only people who said “The Sinners Prayer” and “accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior” would go to heaven.
  3. That talking people into saying The Sinners Prayer was more important than talking with them.
  4. That that which does not kill you makes you stronger.
  5. That you only really ever have one home.
  6. That living somewhere for three whole years would mean that you really understand a place and its people.
  7. That staying put in your home culture was the easier, safer (and therefore always second-best) option.
  8. That access to good hospitals isn’t really that important.
  9. That the tougher, more remote, or dangerous the place that you lived, the more cool points you earned.
  10. That cool points really mattered in the grand scheme of life.

What are some of your “this I used to believe” statements?
For those of you who live overseas, how has living cross-culturally changed your beliefs?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Website: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Resolution: To Love Relentlessly

This is true of me: I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I try and live by a motto of resolving what I want to accomplish on a particular day, a specific week, or during a particular season.

It is, however, that time of year when we reflect on the blessings of the past year, and we look with anticipation at the year ahead. And so, as you look ahead at 2013, I’d like to challenge you to seek to live in such a way this year that every component of life — every relationship, every action, and every thought — is connected to and flows from the lifeline of a relationship with God himself so that Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 13:35 would be true of us today:

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer equated this life-giving relationship with Christ as being like the cantus firmus of a piece of music, a melody that forms the basis of a multi-layered musical composition.

Some years ago, while living in Kenya, I rewrote 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, and today, I’ll revisit this passage yet again not only as it pertains to 2013, but to this very day, and every day.

Without love, my life is no more than crumbling ruins

If I speak a slew of languages, but I don’t love relentlessly, I’m nothing but a dog howling at the moon.

If I share God’s Truth with children and adults alike and have enough faith to move to foreign lands, yet I don’t have relentless love, it’s as if I’ve done nothing, and journeyed nowhere.

If I give up luxuries, opportunities and resources to serve with the poor, if I live alone beside rice paddies, but I don’t love relentlessly, I am no-one.

It matters not whether I can speak with a funny accent, pray with passion, believe without limits. Without love, my life is no more than crumbling ruins.

Relentless love never, ever gives up, even when life is tough.

Relentless love cares more whether others feel loved than whether I’m comfortable.

Relentless love doesn’t want what God hasn’t given.

Relentless love doesn’t do things to be seen or heard.

Relentless love doesn’t care about my opinion and my needs, but listens to the opinions of others, and takes it to heart.
Relentless love puts others first.

Relentless love doesn’t get angry when yet another person asks for help or misunderstands me.

Relentless love forgives, again and again.

Relentless love doesn’t rejoice when others fail.

It finds joy in truth and in seeing others discover this Truth.

Relentless love doesn’t give up, but puts up with all things knowing that it is part of God’s greater plan, and trusts that God has the best at heart. Always.

Relentless love seeks to see the best in others. It doesn’t look back and wish for better days from the past. It pushes onward, knowing that beyond this mountain, far greater things await.

Relentless love is consistent. It is not like a fleeting shadow.

Relentless love doesn’t wilt, nor dies. It’s not “on” one day and “off” another. It is consistent. You can depend on it, even though you cannot depend on things and systems, even though you cannot always even depend on other believers.

Though I don’t know or understand all at this stage, the day will come that I will understand fully. I will no longer be craving insignificant pleasures. Instead, I will grow in understanding and maturity.

Right now, I don’t see things clearly. It’s like a window splattered with mud. But the day will come that all impurities will be removed. I’ll see clearly, just as God sees me clearly. I’ll know Him as He knows me.

But for now, while we are not yet there, there are three things I can hold onto:

Trust in God, always. Believe that He is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He can do.
Let hope be the fuel that compels me to move forward: Hope in God.
And the best yet: Love relentlessly, without ever giving up, for that is the way God loved me first.

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  • What do you resolve to do this day? This year?
  • Whom do you believe God is asking you to love relentlessly?

Adele Booysen lives in Thailand and works for Compassion International

blog:  www.adelebooysen.com.

Landfill Harmonic and Redeeming Rubbish

A missionary friend shared this little video with me. Maybe us mission minded folk here at A Life Overseas can talk about it too.

 

Take a walk in our town and you will pass by large green trash bins, usually overflowing. If you see the lid of the dumpster propped open with an empty two liter soda bottle it means one thing: pilfering. You learn to not be alarmed when you walk by and hear a rustling from within. Tawny arms and legs scavenge through the refuse. Should I be ashamed that I laughed once when I saw a couple items come flying out that opening as if the bin itself spit out some parts it couldn’t chew all the way?

I have many trash tales I could tell.  This is one of my favorites. Members of our church adopted a Bolivian child. They first encountered their daughter as an infant rescued from a trash bag thrown under a bridge on the rocky banks of a dry river bed. Her name suits her perfectly: Victoria. What a story of victory her life has been. She is a vibrant child getting ready to attend kindergarten. I marvel every time I see her.

Can you love what’s been thrown out with the trash? Can you deny the opinion of others and stoop to scoop a redeemable piece out of the trash heap? Can life be found in a putrid, rotting pile?

Yes. Yes. and Yes.

No matter if our life started in a trash bag, a pristine hospital room, or a stable; redemption must be the focus.

As Mary awoke on a day like today, the day after the first Advent, she gazed at the Infant on her breast. The fate of all humanity hung on that Life, cradled in her arms. The scent of dung and unclean animals hung in the air. A pungent reminder of the task of redemption ahead.

My friends took a baby from the clutches of an early coffin in the form of a trash bag, and roared, “NO!” in the face of death. Mary held an Infant in the midst of a detestable stable, filthy darkness all around, and gave the world LIFE.

What surrounds you? When was the last time you visited a dumpster and communed with humanity? What steps have you taken towards the smelly, filthy humans living around you awaiting a Redeemer?

I am speaking in quite a literal sense, though feel free to sweep it away under the figurative rug, should you so desire.

Jesus made us a promise. This promise shares rank with other powerful statements bestowing upon us faith, hope, and love. Sweet Jesus promises: the poor we will always have with us.

In the context of keeping precious communion with Christ the disciples receive a rebuke. They took issue with the extravagant “waste” of the woman anointing Jesus. How odd our human affinity to identify waste. Jesus promises the disciples that they will always have the poor with them and that they should help them, too. Then He draws us into the heart of the matter. He tells us to keep first things first. What we see as waste, he sees as valuable, precious, and necessary. (Mark 14)

Let us first waste ourselves on communion with Christ. From that “wasted” time communing with Him we can go to the “waste” of our community and bring the sweet smelling aroma of redemption.

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Where have you wasted your life lately? Or better yet, with whom have you wasted your life lately?

 

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

Sunday’s Inspiration

The histories of hymns fascinate me. I feel connected to the flesh and blood humans who poured their life into words we let our lips form to lift our spirits. My favorite Christmas carol is no exception.

Here is the story from good ol’ wikipedia:

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems, having been written by Charles Wesley, John Wesley’s brother. A sombre man, Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his lyrics, not the joyful tune we now expect.

A hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1840, Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H. Cummings to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, that propels the carol we know today.

The creation of my beloved stanzas spanned over one hundred years. Wow! Take heart! Your efforts, coupled with those who have gone before and those yet to come, effect eternity!

Hebrews 11:39 -40 proclaims this truth after the long list of heroes of the faith:

Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. (msg)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King”

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What is your favorite hymn or Christmas carol? Why do you love it?

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– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

Fighting Fear: Peace Like A River

Last month I wrote about how much I miss the promise and illusion of safety the developed world offers when my baby is sick over here in Laos. I know, however, that the fears that underpin my longings aren’t caused by living in Laos. They are only magnified.

This month I thought I’d take another look at those fears from a different angle, and share a piece that I wrote almost a year ago now, Peace Like A River. In one of life’s painful ironies, this essay was published the day before the accident that broke Dominic’s femur. It is a piece I’ve returned to several times since then, and the triangular relationship between peace, fear and love is one I continue to puzzle over.

 Peace Like A River

Two weeks after Dominic was born, my husband, Mike, announced that he was going out for a bike ride.

“Just a 50km loop,” he said. “I’ll be back within two hours.”

I nodded and told him to have a good ride, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to cry. I wanted to clutch him and beg him not to go. I wanted to demand that he tell me how I would survive if a car hit him – which happens to cyclists all the time, you know – while he was being so irresponsible as to be out riding for fun. Fun. What was he thinking to be indulging in something so very dangerous and call it fun?

I had expected my son’s birth to deliver love into my life. What I had not expected was that right alongside love would come something else, something that would assault me more often and more viciously than I had ever imagined.

Fear.

In the weeks following the miraculous trauma of Dominic’s arrival, I found myself battling fear at every turn. I would see myself dropping the baby, or accidentally smothering him while I was feeding him in bed. The thought of unintentionally stepping on his tiny hand while he was lying on the floor made me stop breathing. Whenever I left the house I visualized car accidents. I lay awake at night when I should have been getting desperately needed sleep thinking about the plane ticket that had my name on it – the ticket for the flight that would take all three of us back to Laos.

How, I wondered, am I ever going to be able to take this baby to Laos when I don’t even want to take him to the local grocery store? What if he catches dengue fever? What if he picks up a parasite that ravages his tiny insides? What if he gets meningitis and we can’t get him to a doctor in Bangkok fast enough? What if the worst happens?

What if?

One of my favorite hymns was written by a man who was living through one such horrific “what if”. After learning that all four of his children had drowned when the ship they were traveling on collided with another boat and sank, Spafford left immediately to join his grieving wife on the other side of the Atlantic. As his own ship passed near the waters where his daughters had died, he wrote It Is Well With My Soul.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

This hymn is one of my favorites because it puzzles me. I’m awed and confused by Spafford’s ability to write these words in the face of such loss. Because of the story behind it, the song demands my respect.

Plus, I really like that image in the first line of peace like a river.

I think of this line sometimes when I’m out walking around town, for Luang Prabang is nestled between two rivers. The Mekong is a force to be reckoned with – wide, muddy, and determined. Watching the frothy drag on the longboats as they putt between banks gives you some hint of the forces at play underneath the surface. Mike likes the Mekong, but my favorite is the other river, the Khan. The Khan is much smaller, and at this time of year it runs clear and green, skipping over gravelly sand banks and slipping smoothly between the poles of the bamboo bridge that fords it.

I used to think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers. But they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most placid of rivers is going somewhere. They don’t always run clear, either. But all that silt that muddies the waters of the Mekong? It ends up nourishing vegetables growing on the riverbanks.

Dominic is five months old now and the worst of the post-natal anxiety appears to have subsided. I managed to get myself to board that plane back to Laos and it no longer terrifies me to see Mike head out the door to ride his bike to work (most days, anyway). My fear of what ifs never leaves completely, though – it’s always lurking around waiting to be nurtured by my attention and amplified by my imagination.

I used to feel like a failure that I couldn’t banish that fear altogether – that I never felt “perfectly” peaceful – but I don’t feel that way any more. I’m learning to greet that sort of fear respectfully without bowing before it. I’m learning to use it as a reminder to turn toward gratitude rather than worry. And I’ve stopped expecting peace to look like the pristine silence that follows a midnight snowfall. I’m coming to appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.

Peace like a river.

What does peace mean to you? What does it look like?
If you live overseas, have you learned anything new about peace from your host culture?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Sunday’s Inspiration

Dear Jesus,

It’s a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod’s jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won’t you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Hopefully,
Your Children

– Max Lucado, in response to this week’s school shooting in America
Read the above and more from Christian Post  here

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“God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. Its a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. . .

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. . . .

Why?  Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return.”

– Lamentations 3, The Message

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May this Sunday find you resting from worry, waiting  in hope for Messiah, and tasting the reality of Immanuel.

Struggling with something in particular? Experiencing anything deeply good? We’d love to hear about it.  You can comment here. 

The Song that Made Them Stand

Generations collide on the mission field today, like they do all over the world, I guess. The differences in the ways we view the world, the way we do life, the way we engage in other cultures can be leagues apart from those 25 years older, or younger, than ourselves. And oftentimes an error the younger crowd makes is in a sweeping dismissal of the wisdom and experience of those who’ve walked with Christ for decades. The following story is one I remember during my first year overseas in SE Asia. It’s a reminder to me still, as it was that morning, of the legacy so many seasoned missionaries are leaving behind them. 

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Today I had the gift of watching what brought the Sunday crowd to its feet.

And it wasn’t the praise chorus that I had sung at InterVarsity in college, now sung by a group of expats on foreign soil. And it wasn’t the excellent sermon on the faith of Abraham.  It wasn’t the song about God’s beauty or the one about our need to worship him.

It was a hymn– an old tune my own mama used to sing to us and one we’d sung in the church-of-my-roots in North Carolina.  It’s a song largely forgotten by the post-modernish church culture Matt and I gravitate towards; its the kind of song with 16 verses and words that remind you of Old England.

This morning, though, I remembered the goodness of those who’ve gone before, because when the first notes of Great is Thy Faithfulness began to play, the seasoned warriors rose to their feet–

unprompted, spontaneous, unified.

I looked around as these veterans of the mission field declared to God, together, “All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided,”

and I cried for the power of it.

Because these older, wiser souls had left home and family before the convenience of Skype and email.  These men and women have hacked out a life overseas, and have stuck– for years, not just months.  They have lived in the realjungles and have said many more goodbyes than these lips have uttered.  They have been weathered by the winds and fires of a life-laid-down and have tasted Stranger over, and over, and over again.

I felt like I was a child among giants.

And I was reminded, by the simultaneous rising, that the song that made them stand,

is a Truth that has enable them to.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God My Father.

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou Changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.

As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy Faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness.

Morning by morning, New mercies I see.

All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

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What wisdom have you gained from a seasoned missionary? Stories to share?

– Laura Parker, Former aid worker in SE Asia

Sunday’s Inspiration

Helen H. Lemmel’s chorus in her well known hymn gives us pause today.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

The first part of chapter 12 of Hebrews as heard through the voice of the Message Bible speaks of where we place our gaze, too:

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

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Does your soul need some adrenaline today? I am sure you are not the only one. Let us keep our eyes on the story of Jesus. May we know His grace in a deeper way.

As a way to build community that matters here, take a moment and leave a comment letting us know of something you are struggling with or something we can pray for you about. As you are leaving your comment you can take a look at some of the things others are saying and pray for them.

Peace to you.

(Photo credit: Dave Forney at The Forney Flyer)

Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”

Hudson Taylor said it, David Livingstone said it. “I never made a sacrifice.” A life spent as a foreigner, away from traditional comforts, away from family and home country, a life of talking about Jesus, in these men’s opinions was no sacrifice.

While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree. What these men did with their lives in China and on the African continent is the very definition of sacrifice.

A sacrifice is a giving up of something loved, something precious in order to gain something better.

I heard a young woman working in Uganda say that her life doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. In the next sentence she talked about hardships and how some days she doesn’t know how she will get through the day. That is sacrifice. I’m not sure what people expect a sacrifice to feel like but I think it feels hard sometimes. I think it feels like not being sure you will get through the day.

Every step of obedience, every life choice, every risk taken, whether it is getting married or not, having children or not, living overseas or not…brings with it a gain and a loss. Negating the reality of the sacrifice cheapens the reward, the sense of joy, fulfillment, purpose, the God-honoring obedience.

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:

“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”

“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”

“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones. I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

And feeling the sacrifice makes the privilege, the reward, so deeply precious, so treasured, so urgently prayed for.

Livingstone said (emphasis mine),

It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

Not a sacrifice, but rather a privilege.

Can this life not be both? Are sacrifice and privilege juxtaposed against one another or could they perhaps go hand in hand? It is a privilege to sacrifice.

Living with hair in the drain instead of my head, away from loved ones during a crisis and on everyday days, international borders between me and my kids, living like this is a sacrifice. It hurts, it tears, it might leave you weeping on the couch some nights, snortling into your husband’s shoulder. But it is not in vain. It is not without joy. It is not without faith. Feel the pain and the joy of it and then render everything sacrificed as rubbish and count the privilege as gain.

I will not say that I have never made a sacrifice.

I will say that I have never made a sacrifice in vain. I have never made a sacrifice that didn’t bring with it a deep, residing joy. I have never made a sacrifice without faith that there is a reward coming which will, like Livingston said, far outweigh these present sufferings.

With my eyes steady on the prize, I sacrifice. Never in vain, (almost) never without joy. Always with faith.

In what ways do you feel the sacrifice? Experience the privilege?

                                                                                                                       -Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

Sunday’s Inspiration

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?

Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me— watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

– Jesus, The Message, Matthew 11

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The Middle Mile

“To most of us, the most important parts of a journey are the start and finish. But the part of a trip that really tests the traveler is neither the beginning nor the end but the middle mile.

Anybody can be enthusiastic at the start. The long road invites you, you are fresh and ready to go. It is easy to sing then.

And it is easy to be exuberant at the finish. You may be footsore and weary but you have arrived, the goal is reached, the crown is won. It is not difficult to be happy then.

But on that dreary middle mile when the glory of the start has died away and you are too far from the goal to be inspired by it, on the tedious middle mile when life settles down to its regular routine and monotony–there is the stretch that tires out the traveler. If you can sing along the middle mile, you’ve learned one of life’s most difficult lessons.  It proves, as nothing else can, that character. And it gets least attention from the world because there is nothing very dramatic about it.

It’s a hard mile, for it’s too far to go back and a long way to go on. But if you can keep a song within and a smile without on this dreariest stretch of life, if you can learn to transform it into a paradise of its own, you have mastered the greatest secret of victorious living, the problem of the middle mile.”

-Vance Havner, as found in The Family Book of Christian Values

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As a way to build community that matters here, take a moment and leave a comment letting us know of something you are struggling with or something we can pray for you about. Happy Sunday, friends.

Sunday Inspiration. Sunday Prayer.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life– your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering.

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

– The Message, Romans 12

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So, today, on this Sunday, how can our community pray for you? Leave a comment with a prayer request, and we’ll intentionally lift you up this week. If you would, read the prayer request from the person who commented right above yours. Either pray for them on your own, or write them a short prayer in the comment that you leave. This is a practical way we can all offer spiritual encouragement to each other, even, literally, separated by the continents.

Bloom Where You’re Planted and All That

I’ll be honest, this missions gig hasn’t gone like I thought it would. 

When I was a teenager, I devoured books on Amy Carmichael, determined to live in some hut rescuing orphans. I wanted to “accomplish great things for God,” and I assumed that meant a dramatic adventure, namely, taking a plane somewhere.

When I had kids and my husband began feeling the pull towards a life overseas, the dream began to morph.  Now, I’d just be Amy Carmichael with Kids, my children walking amongst the impoverished, learning a sacrificial love, developing a sold-out faith on foreign soil {while at the same time maintaining a sense of national home, cultural-relevance in America, minimal transition-issues, and general up-to-date fashion sense}.

I thought before we began this journey that it would be easy to find our niche of ministry– we are working for free, after all. I assumed we would do what we came to do, and when that shifted, I assumed it’d be simple to find the gaping hole of need that we had been divinely equipped to fill. That the Story of our purpose here and role would make sense, sooner, rather thanlater. 

But, two and a half years in, and I am continuing to find that Amy Carmichael I am not, that missions can be brutal on a family, and that fog is no respecter of the Jesus-disciple. 

And I was reading just the other day in this book I happen to love, and the words caught my breath, as is often the case when I have the guts and discipline to really ask the Living Word to speak.  And it said simply this:

And now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 corinthians 13

And I’ve read that a million times, but this week, it’s struck a new chord. Because, this, this is what I so desperately need– faith, hope, love– qualities not dependent on my circumstances, missed expectations, or personal doubts.

Faith. That God is in the smack-dab-middle of writing a good Story — for me, for us, for them.

Hope. That beautiful things can rise from ashes. That the next bend could bring what we’ve been waiting for all along.

and LoveFrom God, for God, and for all his kids around me. The extravagant, never-stopping, everybody-included kind.

And I don’t know where you find yourself this weekend, what circumstance or fog or barrier weighs heavy on your soul. Maybe it’s a job you hate or money that can’t stretch far enough. Perhaps it’s a child you don’t have yet or one who’s drifted far, on purpose. Maybe it’s the  drag of the mundane or the failure of the adventure. But whatever it is, whatever circumstance threatens to speak doubt or anger or depression, my prayer for you, for me, is that these three will keep on remaining,

faith. hope. and love.

Played out in a million, daily, gritty, far-from-dramatic choices

The kinds of choices Amy Carmichael probably made, but that never made her books.

 – from the archives of LauraParkerBlog, 2012
Laura Parker, former missionary to SE Asia.