A Strong Weapon

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So there’s this verse in Revelation that gives us a peek into the future and how the story will end. It says the Christians overcame the enemy, that ancient serpent, by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.

“Testimony” is a powerful word, more than we usually realize. Among other things, I think it means telling our story, and not keeping truth to ourselves.

Listening to each others’ stories–giving testimony to what God has done–can be strengthening, encouraging, and helps keep us from feeling alone in our life experiences. This can be a method of spiritual warfare, fighting shoulder to shoulder, and reminding each other to keep heart.

However.

Does listening to someone’s testimony also sometimes take you aback, just for a second? It does for me.

Not often, but now and then, I hear or read a glowing testimony and it leaves me with a little thud inside. I don’t mean to be cynical. I don’t want to be hard or skeptical. But sometimes I want to say, But what if that necessary phone call hadn’t come 5 minutes later? What if that long night of the soul hadn’t been relieved the next month? Would He still be great and faithful and a help in time of need? Is your good story the reason you love Him?

I ask this because sometimes your testimony doesn’t have a tidy, happy wrap-up where all the pieces fit and everyone is smiling and the house looks like a catalog. Mine doesn’t, anyhow. Don’t get me wrong–I love my life, and I laugh a lot, but I also weep a lot and my heart gets shattered regularly.

Because we’re on a battlefield and it’s not pretty. There are cosmic-sized wagers going on over every soul. There is a snake who is bent on killing and destroying saints, and he fights ugly.

Beyond that, God is generous and merciful and long-suffering, but He will not be bargained with. He’s not a genie for us to rub and get our pet wishes. His purposes are wondrous but unsearchable, and we very often don’t see through His infinite decisions.

So sometimes your story script has the doctor saying words you don’t want to hear..

Or your husband absconds.

Or your old Bible and journal are stolen along with your van.

Or the troubled relationship stays troubled.

You can add your own list of griefs and losses, and they are real and not just something to brush away with a pat answer.

Those stories don’t come out so quickly in a prayer and praise service when the moderator asks for testimonies. Because it feels weird to tell a story without a sweet ending. Or it hurts so much that we’re afraid we’ll bawl all over the pew.

But that grief? That loneliness?

That’s your testimony, and a powerful one that can be used to wreck the enemy. Because if it’s about how you’re talking to God about it, your story includes trust.

The people we consider giants of faith were probably sometimes silent when their friends gave sparkling accounts of how God came through for them. They were misused, misunderstood, and didn’t get what they were asking God for. But they are the witnesses in the grandstands now, cheering for us, saying “Keep going! Keep talking to Jesus–look at Him! The best part of your story is still coming!”

Think of Hannah, who was blubbering so desperately that she was mistaken as a drunk. Before she knew how her story would finish, she was beating on God’s chest, imploring, not denying her raw ache. I bet she’s in the grandstands now, saying, “Go on–tell God how much it hurts–He can take it! He has the whole world in His hands–you can TRUST Him–He’s SAFE!”

God’s blessing comes to the one who trusts, the Psalmist says, and trust means being honest with God.

Trust doesn’t insist on answers and solutions.

Trust weeps because she knows her God sees and collects her tears.

Trust says “though He kills me, I will trust.”

And “even if He doesn’t deliver us, we will not bow down.”

And “even if the fig tree doesn’t bud, I will rejoice in God.”

Trust never swaggers but croaks out, “I believe; please help my unbelief.”

Trust holds onto His promises and believes His goodness even when the agony doesn’t end and the answer doesn’t come in 5 minutes or one week.

Sometimes I think our tidy testimonies are fine and good but border on implying “God did x,y,z for me, and so now I know He’s big and trustworthy.”

I think the saints’ stories that defeated the enemy were not the chirpy, tidy, sparkling testimonies that are often in the periodicals or the Sunday morning share times. They were the stories that said, “Life stinks right now–my brother got sawed in two pieces yesterday–but I know God is still good.” (Please don’t hear me knocking beautiful, glad stories of God’s provision. The point here is that those aren’t the only stories out there, and what then?)

Trust is most visible in the dark, in the loneliness, in the scary diagnosis, in the fallout from the enemy’s attack. Trust is maybe the loudest, clearest defeat to the enemy.

It says we will go down fighting for Light and Truth and we will not swallow lies or follow the mini-gods of pleasure and ease or despair that tantalize us.

He blesses trust with His presence, the greatest gift possible.

And His presence defeats the enemy.

That’s why your testimony is worth so much.

A Fast From Buying Clothes

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It started out mostly from a whim, and then from the intrigue of a challenge.

I like to be pushed, and I like the idea of minimalism and less consumerism.Could I really do this? Could I stick it out for a whole year? I decided to try.

So at the end of February 2014 I agreed with myself that I wouldn’t buy any clothes until March 1, 2015.

It was a really good experience, a good year. I learned valuable things such as:

  • contrary to what I used to think, a woman really can have too many scarves.
  • you save great amounts of time and money walking past used clothing stores.
  • you save great amounts of regret if you don’t walk inside used clothing stores.
  • life goes on even after you walk away from something you really, really want
  • there’s always next year
  • if you don’t wear a jacket more than twice a year, you can get rid of it painlessly.

Some things that helped:

  • I told a couple friends what I was doing, so they could hold me to my word
  • I liked the clothes I had (most days)

Part of what took me to this kind of action is that I’m moving out of the country this summer. After living here 5 years, I’ll need to condense my stuff into probably no more than 2 suitcases. Every piece of clothing will need to be weighed (literally) and culled according to its value and serviceability.

It’s a great discipline for someone like me who idealizes doing with less and simplifying life. I’m not interested in being shabby and thread-bare, but I despise being bothered with stacks and shelves and boxes of Stuff to Wear.

Probably it’s harder for a Mennonite to maintain a good working philosophy of buying clothes when you/I can find them so cheaply. In our Polish backwater town, there are more used clothing stores on any given block than I’ve seen in any other town, and the siren call is out there every day. It appeals to our thrill of the chase, and the victory of getting more with less.

But sometimes, for whatever reason and whatever season, it’s good to say a hearty, clarifying NO. It’s surprisingly freeing. Part of discipline, I think, means carrying out a decision that you made well before the heat of the moment. It’s empowering to walk past something you really want and to know that it didn’t get the best of you.

And now that I can buy clothes again, I’m having fun, fun, fun!

Maybe it’s because I have a hard time moderating moderation and tend toward being all-or-nothing. Maybe it’s because I treasure the privilege I have now to buy some nice things.

Two anecdotes:

  • The day before March 1 was a Saturday and I had some free time, so I asked my friend to come with me to give me advice on buying a piece of fabric for a Simple Clothing Project that I’d been dreaming about for months. I bought it (it was more expensive than I’d expected) took it home, did what the recipe said, and it was a dismal failure.  I think there’s hope for it, but for now, it’s crumpled up on the floor, waiting for its redemption. I don’t think it’s a punishment for breaking the fast a day early but maybe it’s a lesson about not rushing into things and being humble enough to do a trial run first.
  • The one time I allowed myself to go into a used clothing store (to buy scarves for a project I was doing for friends) I saw this perfect, beautiful linen/cotton white top. It was really painful to walk away from it, but I managed. It haunted me for a long time. Would I ever find one so perfect again? Months later, I went to Jerusalem and was shopping in the old city and several times I walked past a white top that caught my eye. My friends said I should just ask about the price. I did, and about 15 minutes later, left the shop, wearing the piece! In the process, I learned how to bargain, which was hysterically fun. Do I miss that first linen top? Not for a skinny minute.

To wrap up: fasting isn’t fun. I haven’t girded up my courage yet to fast from second helpings or from chocolate. A year’s clothing fast was the thing I needed to do that was hard, but not impossible.

I don’t know what you’re grappling with, but you might need a fast from whatever it is that is getting the best of you. It could be music, work, entertainment, stuff, people–anything. For some do-able season, for some honorable reason, can you say NO? The discipline will make you stronger than you realized you could be and teach you surprising things.

Who knows? You might learn to bargain with a dramatic Middle Easterner.

 

 

An Epiphany About Running

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Last week I flew from Warsaw to Tel Aviv in order to spend Easter with my friends in Jerusalem. Sound exotic? Yes, it was. I’m still floating.But this is not a travel blog, though I dream of that. This is about an epiphany I’m still living with.

The plane was filled with Polish Jews and there was a beautiful, exquisite atmosphere with the families mingling and smiling and comparing notes. “We’re going for Passover in Jerusalem then rent a car and travel further. What? You too?” Polish Jews have suffered so much in this country, and I could feel the pulsating home-coming atmosphere and was so happy for them.

Wedged between two pleasant gentlemen, one wearing a kippah and editing his movie of a rabbinical school, I opened my Bible to Luke’s account of the resurrection. I wanted to enter into the story as much as possible in the next several days. I wanted to hear and see and smell what Jesus and His loved ones did. (As it turned out, it seemed that I could only see the same sky they did, because not much else is the same, but that’s ok. The journeys of the heart are what really change us, I think, not a physical pilgrimage.)

Luke says the women found the tomb empty and heard the angels say that Jesus was no longer dead, and then went back to tell “all the others” about it. You know how women are when they get to be the first to tell someone their exciting news.

This was the best news that could ever happen, and to the disciples, Luke says it was idle tales.

Empty words.

Jibberish.

Jesus had repeatedly confided in these men. He’d told them He would die and rise again. He’d done what He could to prepare them for the devastation they would feel, but it did not compute for them. Now this morning they were so crushed that they couldn’t let themselves believe what the women were saying.

Do you know how blankety-blank hard it is to sustain hope? It’s easier to write it off as nonsense and foolishness and tell yourself not to care anymore.

Mark says the disciples didn’t believe the women nor Cleopas and his friend from Emmaus who had walked and talked with Jesus that day. It’s pretty much impossible to believe news about a miracle when you watch all your hopes dangle on a bloody cross in an earthquake.

When everything you counted on is gone.

When you don’t even have the remains of what you loved.

But Peter ran, Luke noticed. John’s version includes himself in the running. Peter had loved Jesus the most boisterously, the most rashly, and he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard but he had to check, just in case, and the men couldn’t wait or walk calmly.

They ran, and I weep over their eagerness and their stunning bravery. They ran head-long into the situation that held the potential to break their hearts even more–if it’s possible to break a heart that’s already pulverized. There was no precedence for what Jesus did, and they had no proof of the women’s words being true.

Except they had Jesus’ words earlier, which is life and power in itself.

Wedged in a tight airplane seat, I tried to surreptitiously wipe my tears on my scarf because I didn’t want the men to get worried about me crying.(“No, no, I’m ok–I’m not scared of flying–everything’s ok!” I would have said.) But I can’t stop crying about it even now. There is maybe no other scene that speaks so powerfully to passion and longing and life than this one–of the men running toward what they coudn’t believe.

There are half a million things I hope for myself and those I love. Sometimes I get a tiny glimpse of how things could be. How a miracle would change things for them or me. How we could enter more fully into what we were created for.

But it feels so impossible, so far away, that I write it off as pish-posh. Or I believe the lie that we don’t deserve these miracles. Or we’re not one of the lucky ones and God is handing out miracles to others but forgot about me and my people for awhile .

And lies and fanciful tales don’t sustain and don’t give life. In fact, they starve me. Poison my system. Shut me down. Keep me from running.

With the power that woke Jesus from the dead, I want to run toward the things He wants to show me. Not wait around and see what happens. Not discount it as excitable women’s words.

The best thing that could happen had just happened, and Peter couldn’t believe it, but he still ran, and by the Lion’s mane,  that’s how I want to live.

 

 

The Hardest Peace, book recommendation

 

Hardest Peace  I first heard about Kara Tippets when I read a letter she wrote to a young lady who was suffering from cancer and planning a physician-assisted suicide because she didn’t want to fight it and suffer the ravages that were sure to come. Kara has cancer too, and could identify completely with the lady’s pain and fears, and Kara plead for her to look for beauty and hope, because it’s there.

The letter was so beautiful and compelling that I went to Kara’s blog to read more of what she wrote. She was an English major, so it figures that she has a way with words. I loved what she wrote, but I left the blog and didn’t go back to it for awhile because it felt voyeuristic to read about the body blows the cancer was wrecking on her.

But I went back when I realized the wonder of how Kara writes with beauty and grace about their immeasurable pain and sorrow, and it showed me how grace and light is always bigger than whatever darkness is around. I started following her on Facebook because I wanted to bear witness to that light and strength and joy.

Kara is 38, a wife of a church planter, and mother of four children. They never expected their story to look like this–beautiful, but not pretty, as she says.

I was restless this week for a good book, found Kara’s book, The Hardest Peace, on my house-sister’s bookshelf, and finished it today. It undid me in many ways. I cried through most of it. It is poetic and heartbreaking and honest and brave and anointed. Everyone should read it, but you should probably have someone to debrief with.

Kara is home from hospice now, her hair is growing back, but she’s writing less and less. Most mornings, I wake up and wonder if she’s still with us. There is a network of believers laced all over the globe, praying for her, supporting the beautiful family, waiting with them in wings before she enters the throne room. This waiting is sacred, crushing, unbelievably cruel, and beautiful.

Mixed Media

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I’d been breathing different air all day because of a lighter teaching load, and a field trip to the library for my babies’ class, my affectionate term for my six and eight year olds. We read Dr. Suess stories in honor of his birthday yesterday and ate marshmallows and, back at school again, colored green eggs and ham pictures for the wall.

A side-note: In this school, we LOVE Dr. Suess! He makes our job easier and more pleasant in many ways. I love the magic of the babies stumbling to sound out English and hearing words fall off their tongues and catching the hang of the rhythm even if they don’t understand all the words. I laugh with them at all the crazy creatures and the colorful feet. If you’re trying to elicit language, these stories help!

Then I had a no-show student, and another cancelled, so I could go home early. On the way, I walked past a gift and art supply shop, and stopped to see the new window display and gasped at the beautiful new mugs. Every day, this proprietor changes at least one of the three window displays and I get huge pleasure out of just looking at things as I walk past. They’re always closed when I pass in the evening, but now I was earlier than normal, and remembered I needed some paper for a project and couldn’t resist the siren call.

This shop is cram-jam full of porcelain and glass and canvases and frames and notebooks. The walls behind the counter are covered and double-stacked with paint tubes, brushes, pastels, and more pens and pencils. I always imagine the paint flying out of all the tubes to create fantastic bright swirling designs in the space above it. This place holds endless possibilities to plan and dream about but I knew I had to keep moving because it was minutes before the shop closed and I didn’t want to make them impatient.

The younger shop assistant helped me graciously with a mixture of English and Polish and found the paper and pen I needed. The older lady appeared in her fluffy, elegant, white chignon, looking the perfect part of an art patron. I paid, but couldn’t quite leave. I just stood a couple seconds and looked around and sighed and said smiling, “I want many things.”

A rollicking chuckle came out of the girl, and she said, “Me too!”

Laughing with a stranger who speaks a different language from me is simply wondrous.

Shining Armor?

knight-602103_1280My cousin Caleb Mast is married to Sandra, and together they are a dynamic, beautiful team. Sandra is the guest writer in today’s post. Thanks for your wise words, Sandra!

Valentine’s Day is  another one of those holidays God has been speaking to me about, and I think it goes back to Caleb challenging my life in that of having a learning heart. A restless heart that never ceases to crave more. A heart searching for God, and what He desires of me.

And so this Valentine’s Day, I want to show the world and encourage other Christians as to what true love and romance is.

Soon after Caleb and I started dating, one of my best friends also starting dating. It was a wonderful time of sharing our excitement of budding love, and also sharing the painful part of letting go of our single-hood and the dreams we had dreamed in exchange for learning submission to God by way of following and submitting to a man. We both have similar personalities and our boyfriends (now our husbands!) also had similar personalities, which added an even greater depth to our discussions. In one of our many conversations, we were talking about the common “Knight in shining Armor” idea and how we thought that it was more than a little twisted in its descriptive name. We both concluded that we did not end up with a knight in shining armor… and neither did we wish too!

Here’s why:

The mental picture I get with the whole knight-in-shining-armor deal is a knight on his snow-white horse with shining, smooth, and spotless armor. Think about it. Would you really want a knight wearing an armor that is still smooth and spotless?? Somehow, by the grace of God, I ended up with a knight in weather-worn, muddy armor full of dings and dents, riding a tired and sweating horse! My knight isn’t the knight sitting proudly on his snow-white horse, with the sun glistening off his smooth and shiny helmet and sword.

My knight has fought too hard to have a spotless armor. He’s fought the dragons head-on, muddying his armor, taking the brunt of the blows, and bloodying his sword. Now THAT kind of mental picture has my heart pumping!!

I’m not sure why I had to give that intro to what I’m really dying to write about, but… that is my hero. That is my Caleb, my lover, my gift from God! He’s not the hot dude in the sporty outfit and hot-shot ride. He’s the hot dude wearing dirty jeans, sweating hard as he shovels mud out of a neighbor’s flooded house for hours. He’s the hero respectfully acknowledging older people and honoring authority in words and actions. He’s the mysterious guy in the background. You’ll see him spending time with the underdog before seeing him on a platform with everyone’s attention on himself.

To me, true love isn’t about Caleb buying me flowers, opening the doors for me, or singing me love songs, even though he does all this and more, making me laugh and melting my heart time and again.

True love, one worth celebrating, is about him making the effort to daily pray for me and with me. It’s watching him tell our little son, Desmond, about Jesus, praying with him for orphans around the world, witnessing to others while Desmond watches, desiring to be an example to him and open his heart and mind to the bigger picture.

It’s about him loving people even if they are disagreeable and hard to love. It’s about him respecting his parents even when he doesn’t see eye to eye with them on everything. It’s about him accepting my family and all our weird quirks that continue to surprise him. It’s about those moments when he comes to me with slumped shoulders and confesses some of the weaknesses God has brought to his attention. It’s about watching him do hard things, about him keeping the goals he sets. It’s about him standing up in church and baring his heart, even when I know not everyone agrees or understands him. It’s about him choosing to forgive me when my selfish side controls my actions and words and hurts him deeply.
THAT makes me really melt. That makes the tears fall as I realize what a hero God gave me. Caleb exemplifies Jesus to me, and  challenges me to a closer walk with Him, the Greatest Hero of All.

All that said, don’t think I always have this respectful, awe-like attitude towards Caleb. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes—mostly because I don’t feel as patient and loving as Caleb is—I criticize his niceness, and get impatient with how patient he is with difficult people. That’s why I need moments like this to reflect and help me remember what true gallantry really is!!

Our marriage and home has been a green house for me. Honestly, the more I’m with my husband, the more I grow spiritually. I love the late-night discussions we have, the tears we shed for the lost souls we personally know and those we don’t, the prayers we pray for those we love deeply and those we need God’s grace to love at all.

I love when, after timidly sharing with him a wild idea I have, he says “go for it”. And how I feel believed-in even if the idea is pretty crazy. And vice versa. I love watching him step out and do hard things and cheering him on. I love being accountable to each other in big and small ways.

I love when he comes home from work, and I love sending him off to work. Because I know he’ll use his spiritual armor. I know he’ll use his spiritual sword. I know satan trembles. I know God smiles. And when he comes home, I help him dress his wounds… on my knees. And then we rehearse the victories. And pray and cry together and do whatever is necessary to prepare for the next day’s battle.

That’s my knight in muddy armor.

Maybe the world won’t notice. Maybe the church won’t notice. But those hungry for a battle worth fighting for will notice.

One of my greatest wishes while living where God has called us is to impact youth with a godly example of marriage and true love. This generation is fast falling. Young kids are wrapped up in finding love. They are really young kids, desperate for a very warped version of love.

I both tremble and grieve at the young girls I see walking around seductively, placing themselves in dangerous situations, longing for affirmation, attention, and love. I grieve for the young boys I see through the window shades, playing video game after video game filled with blood, guts and gory actions just to have something to do… and maybe feel half like a heroic warrior?

It’s all satan’s counterfeits to temporarily fill the gaping hole only God can fill! TVs are numbing the pain, distracting them from the gnawing hunger for love and fulfillment and meaning in life.

Yet even more saddening then all of this to me is some of the attitudes I’ve heard from Christians.  “I can’t see how they can spend so much time watching TV and playing such horrible video games!” “It’s so sad that they can’t find better things to do.” And many other glib and naive comments.

Is it really any wonder this is what kids are doing? Who’s fault is it that they don’t have anything better to do? Who, WHO will exemplify any other option if we don’t spend time with them and open our hearts and homes to them?

Yes, open our homes to these “terrible, heathen” children and youth. My heart’s cry is to bring them into our home and, by God’s grace and mercy, give them a taste of heaven on earth. I pray continually God’s presence to fill our home so that those who walk inside the doors will immediately both feel and “smell” something different.

Because WHO is going to show these children there IS true meaning in life, there IS tangible joy, deep peace and fulfillment in life? Obviously not their parents, who themselves are not sure of their sexuality, have multiple partners, and are also lost in trying to find meaning to their lives.

And sadly, too many Christians are more worried about getting their hands dirty than for the salvation of these precious souls. So who, WHO will show them JESUS?? Who will love them, disciple them, and by their victorious, Christ-filled life show them there is hope? That true love is not red and pink hearts, roses, kisses, and sex??

So I share all this to hopefully pass along by burden for this generation. They ARE watching us, whether we know it or not. Often the judgemental, holier-than-thou attitudes we have are exactly what turn them away from Jesus and convince them their “fun” lives are worth the pain and emptiness they feel deep down.

Let’s spend more time in God’s Word, bathe ourselves in His presence (where fullness of joy alone is found), ask for His love to overtake us, and live out of THAT! Let’s open our homes to kids seeking love and affirmation, let’s showcase Christ and His bride in our marriages and homes so these kids can see there is something different out there… there IS another option than what they too often see!

We can’t force them to drink of the Living Water but we can show them there IS living water and that it is more than enough, and we can make them thirsty for it themselves!

This Valentine’s Day I am grateful for a love-filled marriage, for a Godly and loving husband, for a brave and bold leader, for how much Caleb has taught me by example, and I want to share my blessings with those hungry for something greater.

We’ve been blessed to be a blessing!!

 

Even in Australia

A couple Sundays ago, I was bogged down in terrible language fatigue. I was lost most of the morning in the general assembly, and also later when (trying to) talk Polish with friends. It was like my tongue was thick with fur and my brain was frozen, gooey molasses, and I don’t want to admit it, but I was so disheartened I went to bed and cried.

The next day, I spent several hours at my friend’s house. She fed me and made me tea and her children were angelically happy and quiet and friendly. She and I talked of life and questions with no answers and miracles, and it was most relaxing and soul-nourishing.

While I was driving home, it came to me: those hours were Polish submersion and I hadn’t even thought of it. My friend knows enough English that I could switch to that when I got stuck, but language was no barrier that day. I was amazed.

I told this story to my Polish-friend-who-lives-in-Ireland, and she nodded with a simple explanation: “Good days, bad days.” She knows what she’s talking about it, and she’s right.

Saturday I trotted over to the market to buy my fix of pickles. The sun was trying to shine, it was a weekend, there was a dusting of snow around–it was a nice morning. But all the adults I passed were scowling. They met my eye with such misery and coldness that it made me shiver and want to cry and keep my eyes to the ground.

But the little girls in the line behind me were enjoying the snow, throwing little snow balls at each other, and one snowball nearly flew into the pickle barrel. The twinkly-eyed lady who fishes out the pickles for customers looked up and SMILED! She didn’t scold the girls for disturbing her, and I wanted to hug her. She and the little girls were the only bright spots in the market.

Then I walked down another street, past more Very Grumpy People, and my heart was breaking for their bleakness and joy-less expressions. I walked past this fire hydrant, a colorful character who is slowly reclaiming this town from its former grim communist grey.

Here he is in the summer:

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but Saturday, in the cold wind and snow, someone had carefully put a stocking cap on his head. I chuckled aloud, and felt better the whole day.

Good days, bad days. Bad minutes, good minutes.

I tend to be all-or-nothing, so when it’s a bad day, it’s a Really Horrible Terrible Day and nothing will ever be right again. When I grow up, I hope I can remember to keep calm and not panic because the good minutes always come again.

Even in the winter, even in Poland.

*Photo credit: Ola Kierska