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 14: Try #write31days

In Mom’s last month of life, after she had recovered from a very low point at the end of August, she kept saying something that made me cringe inside.  “I’m working on getting better.”

I mean, I appreciated that she was trying to voice a desire to heal, to improve, to have more energy, to be able to eat better, to maybe even walk again, but the reality was that she wasn’t getting better.  She was dying.  We all knew it.  She understood it.  And yet she would say periodically that she was trying to get better.

My heart would crumble with feelings of sadness and love and a desire for my Mom to not have to say those words.  I longed for a different ending to her story.  I longed for my Mom to feel that she didn’t have to please us – her daughters and sisters.

Day 9: Plan #write31days

A part of the bigger picture at play is the relationship between my sister and me (see!  here I am wondering if it’s me or I, like I mentioned yesterday).

Since the end of June, my sister and I, and our children (my four year old and 21 month old, and her 21 month old), and my brother-in-law and other various relatives (aunts, cousins, close friends), and my husband on two visits, have been living together in our childhood home.  This sort of living situation is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you!  It’s been stressful and beautiful, fun and crazy, annoying and lovely.

But through it all, my sister and I have been forced to deal with our conflict, and, as a byproduct, we have grown much closer than ever before.  And that is something my Mom would’ve loved.  She didn’t plan to get sick and die, but I know her heart for our lives and our relationship was that we would grow to become close friends, and not just sisters.

Five Minute Friday (FMF): Work

It’s been a long, long time since I last wrote on here.  I remember when I first came to the missions field and I had no lack of things to write about.  I also didn’t have children or a husband and did have such a thing as “me time” outside of my work responsibilities.  Somewhere along the way, it became work to carve out time for things I used to enjoy doing.  I guess life is like that.

My Mom has been sick for a while now, although we only found out in June.  It’s a job in itself to be caring for someone else, even when that someone is one whom you dearly love and it is actually a joy and a gift to be able to serve her in these ways.  But that shift from daughter to caregiver is a hard switch.  It’s a flip that is too abrupt and liable to cause whiplash if there was even time to think about it.

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.

‘Lord, here is my human weakness…’

“”It is a thrilling discovery to make,’ writes J.S. Stewart, “that always it is upon human weakness and humiliation, not human strength and confidence, that God chooses to build His kingdom; and that He can use us not merely in spite of our ordinariness and helplessness and disqualifying infirmities, but precisely because of them…. Nothing can defeat a church or soul that takes, not its strength but its weakness, and offers it to God to be His weapon. It was the way of Francis Xavier and William Carey and Paul the apostle. ‘Lord, here is my human weakness. I dedicate it to Thee for Thy glory.’ This is the strategy to which there is no retort. This is the victory which overcomes the world.”” -“Spiritual Maturity” by J. Oswald Sanders, p. 45

do not be anxious…

” ‘I will go before you and will level the mountains. This message,’ wrote Hudson Taylor, ‘is a word of cheer from the Master himself; it has been a feast to my soul and a pillow for my head. It is just as fresh and prized today as it has been in the months that are passed – amongst difficulties that have each seemed to turn to be almost insurmountable.

” ‘Satan would have us try today to bear tomorrow’s burdens with only today’s grace and would dismay us with anticipation of troubles which loom in the distance, leading us to disobey the directions: “Do no worry about tomorrow”, “Do not be anxious about anything”; but what a privilege it is to be permitted to rest upon the assurance: “I will go before you; you will not be without a guide”, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” “I will level the mountains, and when you come to them you will find insurmountable difficulty already removed, that your enemies, like Jehoshaphat’s, have slain themselves , that you have to strip off the spoils”, and “O make the valley one, not of conflict, but of praise – a Berachah.”

” ‘Again and again it has been so in China, and doubtless many at home can bear the same testimony. A difficulty in the family which they were powerless to cope with, a perplexity in the profession or business, a spiritual difficulty, or one connected with service for the Lord, has threatened to disturb the peace and to fill with dismay, but it has been rolled upon the Lord, and given over to him to manage or arrange; the command has been obeyed: “In everything, by prayer and petition, thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” and the peace promised peace of God garrisoning the heart has kept the care and worry outside until the time came to find the trouble bereft of its sting, the mountains levelled. Perhaps there are few who can look back without seeing that such cares as have been borned ought to have been dealt with and dismissed.’ “

-words from Hudson Taylor, in “Radical Discipleship”, by Roger Steer, p. 84-85

dying in the process

I keep thinking about how God not only CAN do the impossible but delights in doing so

but usually it requires some sort of death or pain for the person wanting this impossible thing to happen

like Lazarus coming back from the dead

or Peter walking on water

but I’m still working out if it’s in EVERY case that there’s that “dying”

or if it’s simply a faith thing and a surrendering of one’s self to God – which can sometimes seem like dying I guess

but even then there’s no guarantee

Abraham had no guarantee that God would save Isaac – but yet Abraham trusted God and knew Him to be faithful

he knew that God could raise Isaac back from the dead (Heb. 11:19)

Mary and Martha had to go through the grief and pain of losing their brother

Lazarus actually had to die

Peter possibly could’ve been stepping out to his death by stepping out over the edge of the boat…

it’s not that God delights to give us pain and make us go through that “dying”, whether literally or figuratively

but just that the outcome is so amazing

and I guess He’s teaching us in that process of “dying”

waiting for Him to do the “impossible” thing

and ultimately He’s glorified

and we’re matured

[See afterthought to this post…]