Ambushed

Recently something surprised me and upset me to tears.  It was a small thing, but still “I don’t like surprises,” I told my husband.  “Well, I don’t like bad surprises,” I clarified as he was helping me pray about it.  I haven’t had many bad surprises in my life, but I go to pieces when I feel ambushed.  I sit down and wilt.  The Lord began to guide my startled heart and steady me with truth. 

Later that day I felt a worthy whisper to my soul, “What about all the good surprises?”  I stopped what I was doing and took in the question?  I liked it.  God was leading me to recollect and recount His goodness.  

That evening my husband was giving a live devotional teaching and I sat behind the camera listening.  Near the end of his talk he mentioned his mother who recently died and about how God had given him a comforting picture of her.  It’s a real picture of her actually.  We found it two months ago when we were going through albums.  She was younger, looking up and away, her eyes wide, bright and happy.  I’ve wondered what caused her such delight in that photo because what she is looking at is out of our view.  My husband says this is the picture that God has impressed on his mind.  He sees it as his mother’s glad surprise when she arrives in heaven.  When my husband uses the word surprise I’m arrested.  As he continues to share with his followers, God is speaking to me.  “Heaven will be the best good surprise.  It will be astonishingly good.”

As I lay in bed that night I have time to recount God’s good surprises.  My list begins when I am a young girl with my dad leaving new shoes by my bed during the night, shoes my mom asked him to pick up during his late shift at work.  I remember winning a poster contest.  I recall a hum drum evening turning on a happy dime with the announcement that we were going to the Dairy Queen.  There were many surprising blankets of snow.  I remember the day my dad accompanied us ice skating and we arrived home after dark to a cozy supper laid out by mom, a scene etched in my mind.  And then, there’s the surprise of Christmas presents.  So much kindness wrapped up under our tree…  I’ve spent many nights now recounting God’s goodnesses and I’ve yet to make it out of my childhood memories before I fall asleep.  I should work the list backwards next time. 

As a church we are reading the Bible through.  Recently we encountered one of my favorite stories. It’s about David when he was ambushed.  David had been through a lot, running for his life from King Saul, living hand to mouth, camping out in enemy territory, trying not to make any mistakes in his conduct.  He and his fighting men arrive back at their camp in Ziklag to find it destroyed by fire, their wives and children carried off by the Amalekites.  It was awful.  The Bible says that “David and his men wept aloud until they had no more strength left to weep.” (1 Sam. 30:4)  And that “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him.”  They were so bitter in spirit over their loss. 

At this juncture David did two important things.  First, the Bible says he “found strength in the Lord his God.”  This is a habit that David had cultivated.  Second, David did not accuse the Lord, but “inquired” of Him.  “Shall I pursue this raiding party?  Will I overtake them?” he asked.  (1 Sam. 30:8)

“Pursue them,” the Lord answered.  “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”    

It was an arduous battle but God led David and his men.  They fought for and retrieved everyone and everything.  Nothing was missing.  Plus, there was plunder.  So much plunder that David sent some as gifts to those in all the places he and his men had roamed.  It’s interesting to note that David did not think, “Surely after all I have been through I deserve this wealth.  I will keep it for myself.”

In this story we learn how to handle an ambush, a bad surprise, heartache, despair, betrayal, terrible news, whatever…  Here David shows us how true royalty behaves, for we are God’s royal sons and daughters.  And with God’s promises and His counsel there is always a way forward when we feel devastated.  Strengthening ourselves in God during any trouble, and inquiring of him, these are good things to learn and be practicing.

I think this attack at Ziklag was probably David’s toughest moment on the way to what God had anointed him for and promised him, the kingship.  Scripture proves that there is often a great and difficult battle before a breakthrough and a shift in the kingdom. 

After this struggle to retrieve their families, King Saul who has hunted David for years dies.  And things begin to shift.  We see this at the cross of Christ as well.  That was a very dark day, a day of betrayal, desertion, abuse, loneliness, suffering…  Jesus inquired of the Father and pressed through in obedience, paying for our sins.  He rescued us from our enemy.  He brought us back home to God.  A kingdom shifted.  A great and glorious surprise for all mankind. 

What has the enemy run off with that belonged to you?  Do things appear lost or over?  Maybe they’re not.  Strengthen yourself in the Lord.  Inquire of him.  Is he telling you to go after something? 

He did me.    

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood… Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray…. Ephesians 6: 10-11, 16-18 NIV

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 NLT

The King is Coming

We are in the midst of a pandemic, the global outbreak of a deadly virus, and all but essential businesses have been shut down.  Just like that, in a matter of weeks, no concerts, no sporting events, no March madness, no school or college campus classes, no church gatherings.  Even the Olympics have been cancelled.  Everyone is ordered to stay at home. 

What is God up to I wonder?  What is he doing?  And what does he desire to do in me?  Do I need to repent?  Let me do it.  Do I need to change my ways?  Let me do it.  Have I taken up an idol and allowed my heart to be divided?  Let me cast it down now for Jesus alone.  God alone.  These are thoughts that run through my mind.     

This past week I was FaceTiming my mom and she reminded me of a song called “The King is Coming.”  As a young girl I remember hearing Doug Oldham sing it.  It’s a very visual song and the scenes always played out in my mind when I heard it.  In the middle of our conversation my mom began reciting the words. The old scenes came back as I listened…

The marketplace is empty
No more traffic in the streets
All the builders’ tools are silent
No more time to harvest wheat
Busy housewives cease their labors
In the courtroom no debate
Work on earth is all suspended
As the King comes thro’ the gate.
O the King is coming
The King is coming…

I’ve been thinking about that song all week.  Never in my lifetime did I expect to see such a dramatic suspension of the world’s activities.  I’m still in shock.  And awe.  It makes me wonder, is it time for this prophecy to be fulfilled?  Is the King, Jesus, coming?  Who could clear a room quicker than God?  And why would he?  Why the suspension of activity?  Is it a holy hush?  Is God clearing the way for a greater entrance into my heart or his great entrance into the world?  I feel him directing my soul toward higher realities.  I see how I’ve been consumed with “my little kingdom” things.

One night on my couch, I’m listening to the song again.  It’s over and I’m thinking.  Truths are rushing in.  Today I pen them…        

There is a greater courtroom to consider  
A higher judge
A grander debate
A better business to be done
A more worthy race to run
There is a greater glory
One more worthy
Of our cheers than men
A higher arena
A greater drama
There is a grander stage
Truer songs
Words more worthy of our breath
Higher bread
Truer gold
A greater exchange to invest in
The gold of salvation
The ransom of men
For our King comes soon
Through the gate
There’s no time to sleep my soul
Be shaken now awake    

“…we wait for the blessed hope, that is the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:13 EHV

“Leave Room in Your Cart”

Last night I watched the news and began to worry.  What if supplies run out and we have to spend 2 weeks on lock down for this Corona virus.  Do we have all we need? 

This morning I showed up at Kroger before the doors opened.  I did not grab a cart but went straight for the toilet paper.  When I had 2 packages I went back for a cart and began my hunt for two weeks’ worth of groceries, dried beans, yogurt… I was trying to remind myself to be kind and gracious which is a stretch for me when I’m worried and wanting.  If I could just get my stuff for two weeks I would be unworried and comfortable, then I could be kind and gracious.   

In the checkout line the lady behind me looked at my supplies and said, “Oh, they had Clorox spray? I didn’t know they had Clorox spray?”  “Would you like one?”  I asked.  “I picked up two and don’t really need both.”  She thanked me and took the one I handed her.    

As I headed for the exit I thought maybe I should just see if they still had another Clorox spray.  I could replace the one I had given away.  A little voice in my heart said “don’t… just trust.”  I didn’t heed it.  Instead I asked the gentleman at the self-checkout if I could leave my cart sit for a moment and went straight to aisle 19.  I picked up and paid for another Clorox spray (that kills 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses) and pushed my cart out the door.  I had gone four feet when something fell from my very full cart and hit the ground.  It was the Clorox spray.  The lid was now cracked and the liquid was pouring out on to the road.  As I picked up the ruined bottle what came to mind was moldy manna… 

When God supplied his people with manna in the wilderness he had one rule (Exodus 16).  Take only what you need for the day.  He was trying to teach them to trust him a day at a time.  Those who gathered to hoard found the manna molded if they kept it overnight.  I felt convicted.  I knew God brought this story to my mind as a caution to my heart.  He wants me to trust him deeply.  And this virus outbreak is a perfect opportunity for me to practice the trust I want to have.   

Will I walk by faith through this?  Will I allow my cart to be less full in order to leave room for trusting?  Will I train myself in this smaller crisis how to act in a bigger crisis?  Will I become the person I want to be when things get really hard and truly frightening?  Here is my opportunity to act on what I say I believe, that “God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory” and that His mercies are indeed “new every morning.” 

Later that day I pulled out a devotional book I had not looked at in a long time.  When I turned to the bookmarked page here is what I read:

The Cure for Care

… Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7 NASB

We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are indications of how wise we are.  We think we see the dangers of life clearly.  In reality, however, our fears are only an indication of how wicked we really are. 

As Charles G. Trumbull says,

“Worry is a sin; a black, murderous, God-defying, Christ-rejecting sin; worry about anything, at any time whatever.  We will never know victory over worry and anxiety until we begin to treat it as sin.  For such it is.  It is a deep-seated distrust of the Father, who assures us again and again that even the falling sparrow is in His tender care.”

The only way blunders and destruction can occur in our lives is when we forget to trust God.  When we take things into our own unskilled hands…

(Clippings from My Notebook– by Corrie Ten Boom)

Dear Lord,

Forgive me for trying to take comfort in a stock pile (toilet paper, paper towels, water bottles…)  I want to walk by faith and not by sight.  I want to heed your still small voice.  Teach me how to live with open hands and loose ends.  Help me to be generous like you.  Give me the grace I need to take faith steps each day.  Thank you for your Word.  It is a faithful corrector, a trainer and a guide, the truth.  Thank you for blessing me with a huge stock pile “in the heavenly realms” and “with every spiritual blessing in Christ!” (Ephesians 1:3)   

In Jesus name,

Amen.       

Finally, brothers and sisters, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… think about such things.

Philippians 4:8-9 NIV

Best Cup of Coffee Ever

We drove home from Jake’s moms one morning and stopped at McDonalds for a cup of coffee to share.  As we pulled away from the drive thru I was happy.  It was one of those moments when your heart is full and you feel thankful for the simple opportunity in front of you, a beautiful peace-filled drive with your husband. 

I removed the lid from the large coffee we were to share and poured a creamer in.  Jake had an empty Styrofoam cup in the car and as I got ready to pour half of our coffee into his cup I glanced over at him.  He was frowning.  He didn’t say anything but in an instant I realized what I had done.  He didn’t want creamer in his coffee.  I knew this.  I’d made this mistake before.  Why didn’t I remember?  My heart sank and my happy moment vanished in an instant.  I started to cry, and not just a little.  I bawled.   What on earth was wrong with me?  I have heard of crying over spilt milk, but coffee with misplaced creamer?

I had two thoughts as I began to cry.  One, I ruined it.  I ruined a beautiful moment.  And two, why couldn’t he just drink the coffee.  Soon I realized what was really going on.  I collected myself and turned to my husband who was feeling terrible.  In a nutshell I bumbled through an explanation like this, “I’m sorry.  I’m just crying because this is my issue, my big issue.  I’m scared I’ll ruin something.  I’m scared I’ll ruin something really big.  Like my chance to get into heaven.”  I know it sounds crazy but I had a history with this topic.  My husband knew about it.  We had talked about it before.  He nodded in understanding. 

I faced the open road and wondered why I was so afraid of messing up.  I looked at the coffee.  I wanted to get rid of it. I wanted to pitch it out the window…

Then it was the most amazing thing.  All I can say is that grace poured into the moment.  And a wonderful truth came to my heart.  I turned back to my husband.  “I’ve got it,” I said.  “I’ve got the truth.  Jesus will drink the coffee.” 

On the hinge of that truth things swung in a different direction.  I began thinking about the cup of sin and suffering that Jesus said he would drink when he went to the cross.  He was speaking figuratively of course but that cup he would drink held all my sins and mistakes.  Because I haven’t just ruined a cup of coffee.  That’s the least of it.  I’ve ruined opportunities and relationships, with things I’ve said or done, or haven’t said, or done.  And Jesus, my Lord, is the only person I know who will take the cup of my mistakes, past present and future, and drink it. 

What a gift.  Who of us wouldn’t wish for that?  And want that.  Want that hero to come into our lives and swallow all that stuff so we can be free.  And forgiven.  So we can smile again.  Hope again.  And try again.  Makes me want to shout Halleluiah!

I thought about this truth and felt a deep happiness.  I looked at the cup of coffee I had wanted to pitch out the window and I wanted to drink it.  Because now it was a communion cup, a celebration of Jesus sacrifice for me.  I sipped that coffee and I drank deeply of the love of God. 

My husband smiled at me.  “I want some of that coffee,” he said.  So I poured some into his cup.  He took a sip then lifted his cup up in my direction.  “Cheers.  To Jesus,” I said as I touched my cup to his.  

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matt. 26:27-28 NIV 

Hustling Mistakes

Sometimes it’s tempting to just be an armchair Christian, a Christian commentator, or a spectator, because when you’re “in the game” you’re going to have moments where you goof up, and it never feels good.  I was doing something a little out of my comfort zone, trying to do the right thing for the Lord, but I messed it up.  My heart felt right, it’s just that things didn’t go right.  I was deflated.  Why do I always blow it?  I thought.  Chalk another one up to my awkwardness.  “A” for idea.  “F” for execution. 

As I stood in the worship service that Sunday morning I was tempted to make everything about me- my failure, my wishing I could be better at stuff- which is not at all what worship is about.  Worship isn’t about looking at me.  It’s about seeing God and all that he is in spite of me- my sins and mistakes.  It’s about noticing his perfection.  And celebrating the fact that when we blow it, he’s still there, and picking up the pieces.

I had made a hustling mistake, that’s all.  It happens.  I just needed to do what good athletes do, and that is, let it go.  Get up, dust myself off, remain focused, and move forward.

As I emotionally “dusted myself off,” I remembered how I used to be a referee instead of a player.  How I sat back, watched what others did on the field, judged them, and called infractions.  I was good at that.  But, it wasn’t my job.  And one day the Lord let me know that I was to stop judging what everyone else was doing and get in the game.  Because my team needed me to be a player.

And so I’m learning that when you’re in the game, as much as you want to, you just won’t play perfectly.  Baseball players strike out.  Football players fumble.  Basketball players miss the net.  And so do Christians.  We will foul someone, we will sin, and we will make hustling mistakes, but we have to get over it.  And we do that through the cross, which is the key to being a good player and staying in the game.  We will never outgrow our need for it.  When we drop the ball, we have to turn to the cross and apply Jesus grace to the situation.

As I processed these things, my gaze shifted from my imperfect self to my perfect Heavenly Father.  I imagined him looking down at me and smiling.  Smiling because I was trying to do what pleased him, and had a heart to play.  I wasn’t looking at my failure anymore or thinking about what others might think.  I was looking at God, my Coach.  I felt he had called me aside to say, “Thanks for stepping up and giving it a go.  Now let it go.  Trust me.  Enjoy me.  Know that I take delight in watching you play.  Don’t give up.  Keep doing your best.  Thanks for being on my team.  And remember, whatever happens, we do win this thing.”

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.                                                                                                               Philippians 3:13-14 NIV  

3 Things to Do in a Storm

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet!  Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm… “Who is this?  Even the wind and waves obey him!”          Mark 4:38-39, 41 NIV

When the Lord calls you to do something, don’t be surprised if a storm comes up.  This is what happened to Jesus disciples.  They were doing exactly what Jesus had told them, heading where Jesus wanted them to go when a storm blew in.  The disciples weren’t just rattled, they were deeply terrified.  “Lord, don’t you care if we die?!”  they cried.  At this Jesus awoke, rose up, spoke, and all was calm.

When a storm rises in our heart or blows in to our lives, we should cry out to God like the disciples.  They didn’t pray a pretty prayer.  It wasn’t polished or composed.  It was honest, desperate and uncensored.  “Lord, don’t you care….?” they cried.  Storms will bring these kinds of prayers up and out of us.  And that is important.

When we cry out to Jesus, he will take command.  Our voices have no authority over wind and waves. But Jesus voice carries authority over all he has made.  Everything.  And everyone.  We should wait for him to speak to whatever assails, “Quiet down!”  “Stop that!”  “Be still!”  He will.

The disciples made it through.  They arrived where Jesus wanted them to go.  They were tossed about, but they weren’t traumatized.  Yes, their clothes were wet and their hair was windblown, but their hearts were awash in wonder.  “Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey him?!”  they now cried, for they had witnessed things they thought were impossible.

Like these disciples I often think I need to wake Jesus up to what is happening with me; I act like I’m pounding on God’s door, “Help me bail this water!  I’m going under!”  But the truth is Jesus wants to awaken me to who he truly is, because I don’t know.  And storms wash my eyes.  Their waves beat up against my doubts and break into my small view of God.  Storms shake me up to the fact that Jesus is far more than I ever thought he was.  And when I pass through them, I arrive on the other side to find a good chunk of my false beliefs washed away, and my doubts over what God can do dissipated.  Like the disciples, I’m wet and windblown yes, but greater still I’m on my knees wonderstruck and worshipping, saying “Jesus, I had no idea you are so powerful!  Forgive me.  I didn’t know you don’t bail water!”

Where do you need Jesus power and “Peace be still” today?  Will you let him awaken you to his command of things?

Pray an honest prayer.
Let Him speak to what threatens.
Prepare to be awestruck.

 

“Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread,
are big with mercy and will break, in blessing on your head.”
– William Cowper

 

Returning Thanks

 

One of them when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him- and he was a Samaritan.”  Luke 17:15-17 NIV

Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem when 10 lepers cried out to him in loud voices from a distance.  They were terminal, contagious, and had to keep away from others.  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”  Jesus heard their cry.  “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” he said.  And as they went they were healed.

One of the lepers returned to Jesus with praise and thanks.  The other nine walked on, why?  Were they too excited about the blessing they had received, too busy making plans?  “How should we spend this new lease on life?  What do we do with this dream come true?”  Or, were they just in such a hurry to finally be together with their family and friends?  And why would I fault them?  Weren’t they obeying what Jesus commanded?  Jesus told them “go.”  He didn’t tell them to come over and give him praise.  He didn’t call after them, “Hey, what do you say?” or “You’re welcome!”

I wonder, if I were one of the lepers, would I be the one who went back?

What made that one different?  What entered his mind?  What stopped him in his forward rushing tracks, and sent walking back, alone?  I think he realized the gravity of the situation.  He was a leper. And he was a Samaritan.  This made him a double outsider.  Maybe the others deep down thought they deserved what they finally got.  He knew he didn’t.  Jesus had seen and helped, him.  There would be no more languishing in utter despair, no longer that life sentence of hopelessness.  The weight of that blessing swung him around and swung him hard.  Walk alone?  Who cares.  “I’m healed!  I’m free!  I’m falling at Jesus feet.  Thank you Jesus!  What can’t wait for me?”

I want to be swung around.

That one leper has me thinking about the magnitude of what Jesus has done for me.  He has made it so that when God sees me he says “Clean!  Spotless! Come in!”  He’s healed my heart so I can be a life giving part of, an encouragement to, my family and community.  I don’t want to rush head long into my blessings or dash ahead with my plans.  I want to learn to be the one, the one who stops, and returns, to give thanks.

When we were overwhelmed by sins you forgave our transgressions.  Psalm 65:3 NIV

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Luke 17:17-18 NIV

Ch. 4: “Zambia, The Real Africa”

 

Our plane pulled to a stop on the middle of the tarmac.  Where was the jetway?  People were moving into the aisles so I grabbed my belongings and did the same.  I followed them to the exit as if in a trance.

Stepping out the door of the plane I took my first breath of African air, air I would he inhaling and exhaling for two years.  It was dry, hot, thicker.  I was reluctant to let it fill my lungs.  Was most of Africa sky?

Descending the metal staircase I followed the other passengers to a door in the lower level of an unimpressive cement building 200 yards away.  Was this an international airport?

When we entered the building it was cramped chaos.  I had imagined being greeted by cheerful natives singing rhythmic tunes.  Instead, African women in light blue polyester skirts and crumpled navy sweaters were hollering for immunization certificates.  African soldiers in bullet filled sashes welcomed me with machine guns.  Their eyes were dark and ominous, their faces sober and greasy.  People around me were pushing, trying to hurry.  I felt smothered.  And my nostrils were assaulted by a pungent smell that made me squint.  So it was, with shouting and pushing, machine guns, and the strong smell of native body odor, I was welcomed to Zambia.

Like cattle we squeezed through a door frame and into the next room.  Baggage claim.  There was no formal system for luggage.  No conveyor belts.  And no hurry.  A few African workers wheeled our suitcases in on rickety metal carts and unloaded them along the far wall.

The room was large and undecorated except for a pair of simple and direct posters with warnings about AIDS and sexual partners.  At a few old tables African workers stood ready to paw through clean clothes with dirty hands.

My luggage passed uninspected and Dr. Keller was soon greeting me with a smile and a hearty pat on the back.  “I was afraid you had backed out on us,” he boomed as he grabbed one of my bags.

“I’m thinking about it,” I wanted to say, but managed a smile instead and followed him through the airport.

Outside a small lawn lay like an emerald jewel.  So there was a bit of green.  Scarlet flowers bloomed around flag poles, but the Zambian national flags had wilted.

Dr. Keller’s Corolla was parked in the front.  As he loaded my bags he explained how his diplomatic license plates gave him privileged parking all over the city.  I headed for the right side of the car.

“I wouldn’t get in over there,” Dr. Keller laughed, “unless you’re planning to drive.”

“Oh,” I blinked as I changed my course.

“Everything is British here!” he expounded with delight.  “The trunk is the boot, the hood is the bonnet, the horn is the hooter, the windshield is the windscreen, and gas is petrol.”

And so, with me in the wrong side of the car and us on the wrong side of the road, we headed for Lusaka.

All kinds of Zambian men and women walked beside the road like ushers to the city.  Their ebony faces were forward and purposeful.  “Where are all these people going?” I asked.

“Everywhere,” Dr. Keller chuckled.  “They have no transport so they must walk.”

They wore the world’s hand-me-downs, old polyester suits, and silky shirts, wrap around skirts, ribbed turtle-necks, T-shirts, windbreakers, jelly shoes, flip flops, outdated tennis shoes and leather shoes from another era.  They dressed in styles that spanned three decades.

Dr. Keller provided the background music for the scenes that came and went around me, filling the silence with talk about everything from his fruit trees to how repairs were coming along on the school pool.

There were some unusual cars on the road, European models like Peugeot and Renault, and Zambian hybrids- a make and model of one car patched with pieces and parts from another.  It became apparent that tickets weren’t given for things like, loud mufflers, the emission of coal black exhaust, carrying too many passengers, or the inability to travel more than 20km per hr on a road marked 60.

Skeletons of cars haunted the roadsides. Once broken down, pillagers had descended like vultures, gutting them for parts, picking them clean to the bone.

An old green Volkswagen van sputtered along with people stuffed inside, a picture of claustrophobia.  “Public transportation,” Dr. Keller explained.  Arms, legs, and halves of bodies overflowed at the windows and doors.  The van coughed to a stop and faces grimaced as waves of bodies leaned this way and that until a passenger popped out.

We turned and entered a maze of white cinder block walls at the top of which broken glass had been pressed into a cement frosting.  Houses and yards were hidden behind the walls accessible only through large iron gates.

After a few turns in the maze we pulled up at the Keller’s residence where a Zambian guard appeared in a blue jumpsuit with a broken zipper.  His small black fingers worked the padlock and pushed the gate aside.  He stood in salute as we drove through a sparse yard and parked beside the white one-story home.

As I entered the Keller’s house I was greeted by two carved giraffes as tall as myself.  I was about to smile in admiration but a giant African mask on the wall discomforted me with its gaze.

Dr. Keller’s wife Madge soon appeared followed by another woman.  I remembered Madge from my interview in Wisconsin.  Where Dr. Keller was robust and jovial, she was thin and serious.  Madge gave me a stiff but welcoming hug and then introduced me to Jean.

Jean, a newly hired teacher in her mid-40’s, was to be my housemate.  And just as Madge was Dr. Keller’s opposite Jean was mine.  I was small and slight, she was large and looming.  I was quiet and unsure, she was loud and confident.  My hair was shoulder length and blonde, hers, a little brown cap.  When I held out my hand in greeting, Jean pumped it heartily.

The Keller’s had a lovely house built around a small atrium.  I had expected a thatched roof and matted floors, with water hauled in buckets from a well.  But, the roof was clay shingles, the floor was hardwood and the bathroom, much to my delight, was westernized, and lacked only the water pressure for a shower.

On our way to the living room we paused in the kitchen where a Zambian house worker was fixing lunch.  In the same breath Madge said, “Jackson, this is Miss Brask one of our new teachers,” and “Be sure to boil more water to run through the filter.”

“Hello Madame,” Jackson nodded to me.  “Yes Madame,” he nodded to her.

We settled on khaki couches in the living room while lunch was finished being prepared.  On the coffee table before me sat 12 magnificent stone eggs in a polished wooden tray.  I reached for the amethyst.  As I admired it Dr. Keller explained how each egg had been fashioned from a stone indigenous to Africa.  Tigers Eye, Malachite…

Next he was handing me a creamy-colored oval item the size of a small loaf of bread.  It was lightweight, slightly patterned, and had a hole in one end, which I looked in.   “Guess what this is?” Dr. Keller said.  I had no idea.  “An ostrich egg,” he smiled with delight.  I was genuinely fascinated.

Dr. Keller was a curator in his own museum of African artifacts.  In the next half hour I was shown a variety of carvings called curios, a collection of handcrafted walking sticks and a series of African oil paintings.  Each item had a story behind it, where it was purchased and how it was bargained for.  Everything was beautiful of course.

We sat down to tuna sandwiches and potato chips.  The chips had come from the commissary, a little store on the grounds of the American Embassy where specialty foods that Americans liked could be purchased.

After the blessing Dr. Keller launched into a detailed report of the six Marines posted in Lusaka.  At first I didn’t understand why he was telling me about them, but then it became embarrassingly clear that he was trying to determine which one would be the best match for me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I wanted to interrupt, but he was enjoying himself.  When he was finished and ready for my opinion, all I could say was, “I did not come to Africa to find a man.  I came to teach.”

After lunch I called home to let my parents know I’d arrived safely and was amazed by the connection.  It sounded like my parents were just down the street instead of two whole days and one large ocean away.  I drank in the sound of their voices and gave them an upbeat report of my arrival, projecting more courage than I felt.  When a lump began to rise in my throat I said, “Goodbye.”

Later Dr. Keller took us to see the school.  The American Embassy School of Lusaka was located about five minutes from the Keller’s in a large house that had been a home to the Dutch Ambassador.  As we pulled through the gate a Jacaranda tree stood like a lavender umbrella over the drive.  I thought it was enchanting.

The two story white stucco building was elegant and friendly, with rounded front steps, arched entryways, beautiful woodwork, and blue and white checkered floors.  The 130 or so faculty and students just might feel like a giant family.

My room was in the front and to the left.  It was painted light blue and was ready for occupancy with nine small desks and one larger one, mine.

I wound my way through the other rooms and happened upon a quaint little library.  All the books were unusually lovely- new, hard cover, and obviously the highest quality issued.  I had never seen so many beautiful books and was excited about the prospect of checking one out for myself once school started.  One in particular caught my attention, The Hobbit, a classic which I had never read.

The American Embassy School seemed a cheerful place and I was glad for it.

When we returned to the Keller’s I was offered a bath and a nap, and took both.

That evening we had been invited to the Harada’s for dinner so that I might meet two girls my age.  The Harada’s were Baptist missionaries.  Since I had grown up having little contact with missionaries I knew only two things; they dressed peculiar and possessed a lot of courage.  I wondered if we would eat snake meat and drink papaya juice around a bamboo table.

On the way to the Harada’s we drove by the President of Zambia spacious residence.  Two unflinching guards stood outside the black iron gate.  “President Kaunda is trying to copy Buckingham Palace,” Dr. Keller chuckled.  “You can’t take photos of any official buildings here,” he warned.  “If they see you taking pictures they think you’re plotting against them.”

“Ok,” I said.

Soon I was getting driving lessons.  We came to something called a roundabout.  “It’s the British version of an intersection,” Dr. Keller explained. ”It’s designed to keep traffic moving.”  I could see that several roads met at a circular path.  “You just enter and drive counterclockwise until you reach the road you wish to take out of it.”

A few moments later we came to a stop sign and Dr. Keller drove right on through.  “Never stop at stop signs after dark,” he called over his shoulder.  “It’s too dangerous.  You could get held up or car jacked.  Just drive right on through.  And don’t worry about it.  Everyone does it.”

The next thing I knew Dr. Keller was telling a series of stories he had heard from others in Zambia, stories about people getting robbed at gun point, in their cars, in their homes…  I began to feel frightened, but I could tell that Dr. Keller wasn’t scared at all, he was invigorated, like he was a cowboy, and this was his Wild West.

Soon we were on the edge of town swerving our way down a pot-holed road that led to the Baptist seminary.

I was surprised to find that the Harada’s also had a real house, no thatched roof or dirt floor.  And no snake meat.  A real chicken dinner was laid out near the side door.  We stood in a small living room furnished with white wicker, and my missionary stereo-types vanished when I noticed a TV, VCR and two shelves of American movies.

Wilson Harada was a soft-spoken and gentle Hawaiian man.  His wife Sarah was fair, blonde and quiet.  I liked them both.  They emanated peace.

We sat down to a nicely set table, and before we could take our first sip of lemonade, more guests arrived.  Two young ladies that were the Harada’s neighbors came bursting through the door arguing good-naturedly about who had caused who to be late.  Was it the one who was curling her hair or the one who had burned the brownies?  In a happy whirlwind, they rushed over to take their seats. and I was introduced to Allie and Tracy.

I was dumbfounded.  Speechless.  For sitting directly across from me was the girl with the China doll face.  The same girl I had seen sitting across from me the night before in the London airport.  I was just beginning to wonder about the fair-haired man she had been with when someone said, “Isn’t it amazing that Dana, Tracy and Jake all came in on the same plane?”  At this Tracy cheerfully took over the conversation telling of how she had arranged to meet Jake, a fellow missionary whom she had never seen, in London so they could fly down together.  “I told Jake over the phone that I would be wearing a teal shirt.  Then I had to spend ten minutes describing what color teal was.”  The room erupted in laughter.  “And, on the plane, when I had eaten only part of my meal, Jake asked if I was done, and devoured the rest of it.  A typical man,” she huffed good-naturedly.  As we bowed our heads for prayer, I was thinking that I had been wrong about them being together and me being alone.

I instantly liked my new friends.  Tracy was tall and slim, her dark hair cut straight across the shoulders.  She was polished yet friendly, and had come to Lusaka to produce a film that would educate the Zambians about AIDS.  Allie had been in Lusaka for a year already and was working as a book keeper for the Baptist Mission.  She was shorter, rounder, and had a head of tawny curls.  She was fun loving and warm-hearted.  When the evening ended, I found myself wishing I could go home with them.

Under a black blanket of African sky I climbed in the car with Jean and the Keller’s.  We sped through the stop signs, circled back through the roundabout, and wove once again through the white walled maze.

I fell asleep in my dad’s sleeping bag, hoping no one would be offended that I wasn’t using the bed sheets.

 

 

A Lesson in Gethsemane

I am reading about a scene in the garden of Gethsemane.  The disciples are sad, confused, and feeling threatened.  Nothing is going as they would choose.  When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus they don’t know how to handle things, “Lord, shall we strike with our swords?” they ask.  Peter doesn’t wait for Jesus to answer, but instead lashes out and cuts off a soldier’s ear.

Maybe you can relate to Peter.  Something is going to pieces around you and you don’t like it.  You feel threatened and anxious.  An injustice is happening and you’re used to drawing your sword.  You don’t know what else to do but cut off an ear.  Aren’t battles fought with aggressive action?  Piercing words?  If cutting off an ear isn’t the right response in these moments, what is?

We don’t have to wonder.  If we listen in on what Jesus said to Peter, we will hear what he may be telling us.  Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place… Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  Matthew 26:52-54 NIV

Jesus is giving Peter three truths here.  First, Peter is to put his sword back in its place.  Reacting in his usual and natural way will not work in this situation.  Secondly, no matter how things appear Jesus is in authority.  John’s gospel reports that when the Roman soldiers arrived on this scene, Jesus did not hide or hang back, but went straight to them and asked, “Who is it you want?”  When Jesus told the soldiers who he was, the entire detachment fell to the ground.  A strong indication of who was in charge of the moment.  Yes, Jesus could call on the angels.  But it wouldn’t be right.  Why?  That brings us to truth three.  Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures.  He came to prove God’s word true, to fulfill each promise and prophecy God had made through the generations.  He was here to bring salvation to people, exactly the way God said it would come.  Through the cross.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel threatened and anxious I tend to lash out.  I can see now that’s the wrong response.  It hurts others and it does not fulfill God’s plan.  I love this scene in the garden, because it gives me a blueprint for walking through things.  I want to learn to handle hard moments like Jesus did, honoring God and his word.  Next time I face a threat and cry, “Lord, shall I strike with my sword?”, I want to remember this scene, listen, and pray.  I want to hear Jesus say, “I’m in control.”  I want to put away the sword of my flesh, take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and ask a new question.  “Lord, what scripture do you want to see fulfilled in me?”  (After all, this is why I read the Bible, to know when and how to apply what is written in it, to find myself and my answers there.)  I want to learn to kneel in that garden and like Jesus pray this prayer, “Show me Lord, how to act in a way that proves your word true, your love deep, your redemption real.  Show me how to live in a way that brings salvation.”

The character and nature of Jesus is amazing in this scene.  Jesus was going through a horrendous trial, more awful than anything we could face.  And he could have been gratified that it appeared someone was standing up for him, that they cared enough to cut off an ear.  But Jesus wasn’t at all gratified by that.  He wasn’t looking for someone to cut off an ear for him.  And he doesn’t want us looking for that either.  When we are living to make people pay, we have a problem.  We’re missing the greater sacrifice.  Jesus sacrifice.  Jesus came to get us out of the eye for eye and ear for ear system.  Jesus didn’t cut off an ear as a badge of his love for us, he suffered in his own self.  He did not strike.  He was stricken.  He did not make another person pay.  He paid.  His life’s blood is on the purchase agreement of our souls.  So let’s not be looking for ears.  Jesus alone is worthy of our constant gaze.  And highest praise.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.    Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV

 

 

Heroic Virtue

     “The godly people in the land are my true heroes!” Psalm 16:3 NLT

I read this verse in the Psalms and I wonder, who do I esteem and why?  Who are the godly people in my land and what are they doing that is heroic?

I thought of my friends Mike and Sherry, missionaries, who are returning to an Asian city where they have spent years faithfully doing small, unexciting, and unglamorous things to love the Asian people and tell them about God.  I am sure they have felt at times like they are digging a spiritual inroad with a tool the size of a tablespoon.  Their kind and humble work is heroic.

I thought of my husband rising each day, to study and pray.  I thought of all the messages he has prepared week after week, come what may- aching tooth, bad back, ill mother.  The biggest thing I notice is how he keeps on going, even if things get sticky or hard.  He always presses on.  He loves what he does.  And his silent preparation and patient endurance is heroic.

I thought of my friend Martha who was bedfast for 6 months, because of a surgeon’s error.  She was mad and angry and chewed him out.  Then one day she went back to him to say, “I forgive you and I love you.  Will you fix it?”  Her courageous forgiveness is heroic.  (He did fix it.)

I think of my brother, a stay-at-home dad.  I’ve witnessed first-hand the challenges of his day.  With four kids ages 1-10 he tackles everything from bottles and diapers, to meals and laundry, crying and vomiting.  His days are chaotic, a whirlwind of activity.  He’s a servant to the young.  A man you can trust with the vulnerable.  Heroic.

These people probably won’t like that I’ve written about them this way.  But it has been good for me to take a moment to think about their lives and esteem these Christ-like qualities in their hearts.  I worship God as I value what their faith is depositing in the lives of others.  When I think of them, I’m inspired to dig with a spoon if I have to, to share the love and truth about God, to persevere in what I am called to do day after day come what may, to forgive when it’s hard and to serve the vulnerable.

There are many other people I could write about, but these few came to mind today.  So know this, all you who love the Lord, as I saw and esteemed them, so God sees and esteems you.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9 NIV