The Perspective of Returning Home

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I recently looked back at some of my early blog posts, dating back a little over thirteen years ago. I was in the middle of preparing to go to the mission field and, as I read, I was reminded of the many ways that the Lord prepared the way for me. I was single, young, determined, adventurous, and possessed a heart full of faith to follow the Lord where He was calling me. Now, all these years later, I am married with two small children, not as young as I used to be, just as determined, more cautious than adventurous, but still with a heart ready to follow Jesus as He prompts me through His Spirit.

We are heading back “home” to Canada this coming August and I am unsure whether to call it home or not. My mom passed away last year and my dad twenty years before that. My sister and her family live two hours away from where we’ll plant ourselves, and many of my close friends now live scattered across Canada.

Someone asked me recently about what was waiting for us in Canada, assuming we had jobs lined up and a place to live. “Oh,” they replied when my response was negative towards both of those things, “so you’re just waiting on God to see where He’ll lead you?”

The unknowns in my present are just as intimidating as they were when I was anticipating moving to SE Asia. But the difference now is that I have almost thirteen years of experience of walking through unknowns, following the lamp that the Lord’s provided to show the path in front of me, and the regular discipline of reminding myself of what is true.

I know He is El-HaNe’-eman – “faithful God” (Deut. 7:9 ESV). He never changes and, despite circumstances around us being uncertain, He is unwavering in His character.

I know He is Eliezer – “my God is help” (Exodus 18:4 ESV) – and Ebenezer – “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV). I’ve experienced His provisions countless times and often in the most surprising ways. Like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, I have set up various stones – some real, some in my journal, and some through a picture or other creative means – in my life as a way to honour the Lord and remember how He has moved to help me and others around me.

I know He is Immanuel – “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, and Matthew 1:23 ESV). This has been the biggest reason why I’ve been able to persevere in serving the Lord. I have never had to tackle any task, assignment, follow-up visit, language and culture lesson, visa trip, immigration question, sickness, home assignment, dangerous road, sermon or annual reunion conference by myself. He has always been with me and will always be with me. Despite Satan’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I was never alone in that village in the wooden house, never forgotten in that mountainous assignment, never left behind when my husband went off to work and I was home alone with our children. His presence has satisfied my soul, calmed my anxieties and empowered my heart.

So, I anticipate returning home with great expectations of the Lord to remain the same. I know He will lead us through new challenges and adventures, He will provide exactly what we need (and sometimes what we may think we want) and when we need it, and He will remind me that He is with us and will continue to be with us through it all.

Home has changed. And I’ve changed too. I don’t know what home even really means anymore except for it to be the place where God invites me to be, too.

If you’re returning home for the summer or for longer, which testimonies of God’s goodness is the Holy Spirit reminding you of so your soul may be strengthened?

Where Are You on the Writing Path?

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Over thirteen year ago, I began writing my blog a couple of months before I left to serve cross-culturally in Thailand.  I had wanted a place to share my thoughts, my struggles and my victories while I served in a new culture, language and country.  It’s fun to look back now and remember the situations and people I encountered and how the Lord sustained me through it all.

After a long hiatus from blogging, I made a commitment to began to write again in April and I joined an amazing community of faith-filled writers called Hope*Writers.  Through access to their online learning library, which is updated on a regular basis, and the support of the staff and community of Hope*writers on their Facebook group page, I know where I’m at in my writing journey, and how to get to where I’m dreaming to go.  I am inspired to write again and it feels like fresh air!

I’m excited to think through how the Lord might use me and my journey – my failures and successes – to encourage other women to be involved in serving God and living missionally both cross-culturally and in their own backyard, so to speak.

Hope*Writers only opens up access to join their writing and learning community a couple of times a year and next week (May 21-25) is one of those opportunities to join!

Whether you’ve thought about starting to write a blog (or start writing on it again), have an idea for a book or maybe even have published a book but you’re still interested in learning and growing as a writer, Hope*Writers is for you!

Give this short, fun quiz a try to learn where you are on the writing path and know your next step is.

This is an affiliate link but I promise I won’t ever recommend something unless I’ve tried it before and have determined it to be helpful, inspiring or both.

Looking forward to journeying with you!

Unassuming Rebels

 

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Photo credit: @fotografie_thomaswilken

In my mom’s backyard garden, there was always a persistent patch of Forget-Me-Nots.  Those tiny blue buds were a happy sight each spring, bursting forth with jubilation and triumph over their successfully large plot in a non-garden area in the yard.  They were planted, with good intentions, in the middle of a grassy spot and they did their thing – they spread.

 Every spring after my dad died, my mom would dig up a fistful of Forget-Me-Nots, roots and all, and would take them to the cemetery where my dad’s ashes had been placed in a columbarium.  There was a small, orderly garden plot directly across from the plaque behind which my dad’s urn sat and my Mom would faithfully replant those Forget-Me-Nots in new soil.

The cemetery had strict guidelines for items placed at graves, in front of columbariums and in the garden plots scattered around the grounds.  They were firm that you were not allowed to plant anything yourself but you could pay the cemetery to plant trees in memory of your loved one.  We did that one year with a black walnut tree – much like the ones in the yard where my dad grew up on his farm, outside of Wallaceburg – and they stationed a small plaque at its base identifying that it was my dad’s tree.

While the tree and the plaque were nice, there was something to be gained that was satisfying for the soul through the act of replanting these flowers. My Mom would defiantly plant those Forget-Me-Nots each year, without fail.

Yesterday, was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  Twenty-one years have passed and my mom, after her own Cancer diagnosis, joined him in heaven last September.

I may not be in Canada this spring, but when I’m there in the future, I hope to continue not only the small rebellion of planting Forget-Me-Nots, but also little acts of love that will help me remember and honour my parents.  They were quiet protesters in their own right, advocating for the voiceless, the poor, the sick and the oppressed.  Their names may never enter history books, but they left a legacy of kindness and love and of sacrificial giving of themselves.

Those tiny blue blossoms.  No matter how hard the winter, they are resilient, persistent, and multiply joy.  May we weather storms of life in an equal manner.

Keeping Your Eyes Open

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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Ever since that snake incident many years ago, when I was out for a walk outside of my village in Mae Hong Son, I’ve tried to be very aware of my surroundings.  As a deep thinker, I easily get absorbed in my thoughts and I’m not as aware of what’s around me as I should be.  My husband jokes that I am not a keen observer, which I vehemently deny, of course!  But, all joking aside, I have made a point of watching where I’m walking (I can’t tell you how many trails of biting ants have I accidentally walked through!), what may have come up through the drain in the shower in the bathroom (that story’s for another day) and keeping my eyes open for whatever else may be around.

It’s easy to fall into a navel-gazing perspective when you experience hardship, no matter your context.  Whether it’s visa challenges, discoveries of ant nests in your washing machine, interpersonal problems at work or with your neighbours, or sickness in your family – even terminal sickness – there’s value in keeping your eyes open for a shift in perspective.  Is Satan out to discourage you?  Maybe.  Is it your own sin that contributed to the trial?  Possibly.  Is the Lord at work in all circumstances?  Most definitely.

Keeping your eyes open means being aware of what is going on around you physically, but also spiritually.  It means to take notice of circumstances the Lord allows you to experience, and to rely on Him to help you persevere.  It means to trust that there’s a bigger narrative at play than what is simply in front of you.

In 2 Kings 6:8-19, Elisha and his servant found themselves surrounded in Dothan by horses, chariots and a great army from Syria.  This took place as a result of the King of Syria having learned that Elisha, the prophet in Israel, was informing the King of Israel of classified intel – “the words that you speak in your bedroom” (verse 12, ESV).

What is significant in this passage is that there are several narratives going on simultaneously.  We read of what is typically seen to man’s eye (the servant’s perspective) but we also get a glimpse of something else.  Someone else’s narrative.  God’s narrative.

Elisha could peer into that narrative and knew God’s army was there to fight for them and protect them (verses 16 and 17).  It wasn’t until Elisha prayed and asked God to show the servant what was really there that the servant could see this spiritual army.  But, it had been there all along.

What narrative am I listening to regularly?  Do I ask God to show me, tell me, reveal to me His narrative?  Do I really and truly believe that there is another narrative?

Keeping my eyes open means to not just be aware of my surroundings – what I may step on or into – but to believe wholeheartedly that the Lord is not only present but that He is defending me in ways that I will never be able to fully comprehend.  It means faith in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of confusion, and joy in the midst of suffering.

What do you need to believe about the Lord’s presence in your life?  Which narrative do you need to put aside so you can take up God’s?

Day 4: Hope #write31days

“I remember after my Dad died,” I told a friend at the Mom’s Bible Fellowship this morning, “that the depression was so bad and it was so hard.  And I’m afraid of that happening again…”

I went on to tell her that I wanted my people back in Thailand to know that we will need support for the days ahead, and I can’t go back without that in place.  When we live in a small village, with few close friends nearby, I barely can think about going back.  But yet I know we have to go back.  And get on with life and live the life we feel called to live there.  And I know Mom would’ve wanted that. But it’s still hard to go back. And I desperately hope that my grief journey is different this time round.

I want to permit myself to feel what I need to feel as I grieve, but I really want to keep the perspective that I KNOW, without any doubt, that my Mom is in heaven rejoicing, is fully healed and is with Jesus for eternity.

Five Minute Friday: Support

This afternoon, while sitting with my Mom who was just so exhausted, Matthew 11:28-30 came to mind. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest…”  That’s my Mom.  That’s me.  That’s us all.

I read the verses for Mom and was quiet again.  She sat on the bed, trembling and so unsure of what to do with herself that she couldn’t even lay back on the fluffy pillows behind her and rest.

So I sang.

“Oh gently lay your head, upon my chest, and I will comfort you like a mother while you rest…”

Oh, gently lay your head upon my chest,
And I will comfort you like a mother while you rest
The tide can change so fast, but I will stay
The same through past, the same in future, the same today 

[Chorus: ]
I am constant, I am near
I am peace that shatters all your secret fears
I am holy, I am wise
I’m the only one who knows your hearts desires
Your hearts desires 

Oh weary, tired, and worn
Let out your sighs
And drop that heavy load you hold, ’cause mine is light
I know you through and through
There’s no need to hide
I want to show you love that is deep, and high, and wide 

Oh, gently lay your head upon my chest
And I will comfort you like a mother while you rest 

-Jill Phillips

At some point in the afternoon, Mom said, “This has all been so hard on you, hasn’t it?” This.  Cancer.  The diagnosis.  The prognosis.  The expected death.  The up-coming and anticipated home-coming.

“Yes.”  But I added how if we don’t have hard times in life, we don’t grow.  I added, to reassure her, that our family has supported one another throughout this time.  When one is weak, the strong encourage.  When that person is weak, the once-weak-now-strong-ones do the strengthening.  “And we’ll keep doing that, Mom.”

Five Minute Friday (FMF): Surprise

It shouldn’t have been a surprise for me this morning when we all accidentally slept in and grumbleness followed.  My firstborn takes after me – when I’m hungry, I’m grumpy.  It’s the sad tale of the sleep-deprived Mom who would like very much to sleep in but is too hungry to do so.  Not really so sad.

But when my 2 and three quarter year old whined her way through breakfast, I thought to myself, “I really do need to get up earlier each day, even if I am tired.”  Getting food in our bellies sooner and food in our (my) soul in quiet before the house wakes up.

Our family are night owls by nature, but I want to be a morning person.  I feel like it’s a necessity these days.  Wake up with the sun (6:30am) and sit with my coffee and Bible and Saviour.  I need it.  My soul needs it.  It won’t be a surprise to me how much more awake and alive I’ll feel after persevering to make this change in my life.

This sleep-deprived Mom needs it.

[Note: About Five Minute Friday]

yearly miracles

“Waiting, trusting, and hoping are intricately connected, like golden strands interwoven to form a strong chain.  Trusting is the central strand, because it is the response from My children that I desire the most.   Waiting, and hoping embellish the central strand and strengthen the chain that connects you to Me…” 

-p.75, March 12, “Jesus Calling”, by Sarah Young

One of the things I LOVE about Thailand is that no matter what season you’re experiencing – hot, rainy, cold, and, of course, smokey season – there are always new flowers blooming.  Bursting in colour along roadsides, mountainsides, in your garden, and in the ditch by the dirty canal.  From the lowest level next to the dirt, to the highest branch and beyond.  The continuous stream of buds of various sizes, colours, intricacies and smells are not limited to only one short growing season each year.

But many of these flowers only bloom once a year.  They take turns being quiet while their neighbour blooms, taking centre-stage.

As a gardener, caring for the plants in your yard, you plant, water, fertilize where applicable, and wait for the crop to yield its produce.

Tawee’s the gardener in our family.  It’s his therapy of sorts – spending time out in nature, silently praying conversations with God, hanging out with our dog and two cats and creatively cultivating the vegetables, flowers and other plants in our yard.  He is constantly grabbing seeds, branches or other living items from wherever we happen to be (or stop along the side of the road) to plant in our garden.  I’m amazed at how a leaf planted in dirt will produce roots and the eventual entire plant.  Or how the stick planted by the small creek that runs beside our property will leaf, grow in size and become a small tree.  He loves the surprise of seeing whether or not something he brought home will thrive in our yard, and what it will look like when it flowers or seeds or spreads in a certain area of the garden.  I love it too.

The biggest surprise is when he doesn’t suspect a plant to behave in a certain way and then it tricks us all.

The latest example is a leafy, rooty orchidish (but not) type plant that he expected will just have nice green leaves and hang from a basket in the tree.  But all of a sudden there is a cluster of small, white, strangely shaped buds.  What will happen next?  What did he bring home?  Several days later, the funny buds pop open and a friendly little white flower with some pink detail smile broadly and boast a beautiful yet delicate fragrance.

A little miracle in the garden.  A once a year miracle.

90. Miracles in all shapes and sizes.
91. Blooms in every direction and colour.
92. A dear husband with two green thumbs (and a love for flowers and all things that grow!).
93. The surprises of nature.
94. The Ultimate Artist, Gardener and Creator.

[Note: I’ve since discovered that these are not orchids at all but are hoya!]

a shaking – One Thousand Gifts

It grieved me to hear what she was saying.  After the split of an influential church in Thailand, she was more than disillusioned.  She and her daughter both.

Her adult daughter was the first of the two that I met.  Sometime late last year on a trip to another city.  She’s a friend of a friend.  When the daughter found out that I was a Christian missionary, she immediately told me that she used to be a Christian too.  Her church split.  It was messy.  Incredibly messy.  And she left the church and returned to Buddhism.

She said it so matter-of-factly.  But I wondered where her heart was really at.

The mother moved away to a larger city down in Central Thailand and was warmly welcomed to her new neighbourhood by a loving group of Mormons.  They came to her house and helped her with various things that needed fixing.  They showered her with love and support.  They gave her another book – in addition to the Bible.  The Bible alone wasn’t enough.  They taught her, equipped her, shaped her thinking, hopes, desires, future dreams.

I heard all this in the middle of a street market on Sunday evening.  Crowds streamed like a river around the small cluster that we formed in the middle of the walking street.  Mother and daughter were enjoying a few days together in a city in which neither of them lived anymore.  Introductions were made, jokes were shared, smiles and laughter floated up into the night sky.  And then the daughter told us that her mother was also a Christian.  And so the story unfurled.

Heartbroken I listened.  Desperately wanting to say something, anything to encourage her to return to the one and only Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Grace and nothing else but grace.  Jesus Christ alone.

“Mother,” I said, calling her the polite title in Thai.  “The Bible that you had when you went to church here in Chiang Mai, do you still have it?”

“Yes,” she replied, smiling.  “And the Mormons gave me another book as well.”

“I think the one that you used when you lived here is better.  You only need that one.”  My words fell flat.

“Oh the Mormons use both.”  And still she smiled at me.  Polite.  Polite as ever.

It was time to start heading home and we all began walking in the same direction.  I told the mother that I would pray for her.  She, in her friendly way, put her arm around my waist and I put mine around her shoulders and we walked and talked some more.

I reminded her of the words in the Bible that say not to add or take way from the words that are written there.

“If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18-19

“Yes!” she answered enthusiastically.

“And,” I said, “thank God for the truth that Jesus spoke.  His words are true.”

“Yes, thank God for that Jesus’ words are true.”

I knew her thoughts hadn’t changed by what I’d said but I hoped and still hope and pray that at least she would think about what we had talked about.

By this time, we had to part ways and as we hugged I told her again that I’d pray for her.  Her daughter hugged me as well.

Dear Dear and I talked about what had just happened and commented in how it had seemed that the daughter, our friend, had purposely revealed to us her Mother’s new found faith in Mormonism, as if she too was concerned for her mom but didn’t know how to address it.  We talked about how it was the beginning of a relationship with her mom and a continuation of one with her daughter and how we can build on what we shared tonight.  We talked about how quickly the mother taken to me.  Even in the silence that then followed we talked; our silence communicating the depth of the sadness over what we had heard.

Days later the silence is with me in my truck.  At work.  In my home as I cook dinner.

And I pray.  For the mother to return to the only true Gospel.  For more opportunities to build on these relationships.  For the daughter, our friend, to return to following the Lord Jesus Christ with all of her heart, soul and mind.

For others who were so deeply affected by a church split that shook the lives of Thai across many areas of at least Northern Thailand.

For me to grow in loving others better – believers and non-believers alike.  For the body of Christ to step out of our comfort zones, out of our routines, to risk getting messy by being involved in loving ways in other people’s lives.

And my list continues…
10. Bundling up in cosiness sent from Canada with love.
11. Unexpectedly cool weather in hot season.
12. Rain washing all things new.
13. Cats who cuddle up on laps.
14. New-found coffee shops with close close friends.
15. Finding new corners that produce great productivity.
16. Hot Earl Grey Tea on cold days.
17. Cold, iced Earl Grey Tea on hot days.
18. Dry weather for getting laundry done after days and days and days of non-stop rain.
19. Last minute get-togethers with fun friends.

And now for some of those ugly things that turn beautiful…
20. Things that shake us and spur us on to know Him deeper and share Him more broadly and boldly.
21. New awakenings.
22. Opportunities just waiting for redemption.
23. Stories that aren’t yet finished.
24. Transformation in process.
25. The smoothing out of the rough bits in one’s life.
26. Diamonds on the verge of being formed through high-pressure, high-temperature conditions.
27. Waiting and relying on Him to move because that’s the only way forward.

“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”  Ephesians 3: 20, 21

28. His love.
29. His power.
30. His thoughts and imagination.
31. The Word of God.
32. The Gospel of grace.
33. Grace.
34. Forgiveness.
35. Hope.

“the credit belongs to the man… in the arena…”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”      -Theodore Roosevelt