My Drawers

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Most of my life I have been able to compartmentalize my life. I think it is a natural bent that helps me concentrate well on whatever is at hand.

When I was practicing nursing, I called it “going clinical.” It helped me not to be overcome with the pain and grief and anxiety of my patients and their family. It worked well for that.

In our early years of marriage and ministry, we had to say, “Goodbye,” fairly often. By putting the people who were far away in a ‘drawer,’ I was not bothered too deeply or too often with homesickness. From time to time, I would open the ‘drawer’ and think about them, write to them, and pray for them. Most of the time, however, they were not on my mind very much.

As you can see, this was an advantage for these times and situations in my life. What you can’t see, unless you function like me, is that there are down sides to this.

I have always kept a prayer list, sometimes written down, and sometimes memorized. But if someone or a situation did not make it to my prayer list, I may not consciously think about them for a long time. This is not good for family or good friendships. I’ve worked hard in recent years to not be so black and white, in or out of my ‘drawer.’

In the past few weeks I became sharply aware of a situation I had shoved into a ‘drawer’ that really needed to be dealt with. Three very close friends, individually, asked me probing questions that made me ‘open this drawer.’ The first time, tears welled up in my eyes, I only said a few key words that she would understand what it was about, and quickly changed the subject. It wasn’t hard, we were interrupted and that was that.

The second friend was not satisfied with no explanation. I explained more about why this situation was so painful and voiced my frustration. I had come to realize that I did not cause this difficulty and I could not fix it for those involved. I told that to my friend and she said that would help her with a situation she is currently facing. Again, dealing with the situation was averted!

This last weekend a third friend asked probing questions about what was shoved into this ‘drawer.’ She has a very penetrating way of asking questions. She wasn’t concerned with the others involved. She was concerned for me and how I was reacting. I felt grief and hurt well up and begin to overflow. Then I felt anger. I literally ‘felt’ the anger. I realized that my voice was distorted.  She asked a point blank question about what I was going to do about it. I said that if it were up to me, I would never have any more to do with this situation. She shrugged her shoulders and we went back to my house and listened to some beautiful music my husband was enjoying.

So how’s my ‘drawer’ now?
My third friend’s shrug kept coming to mind. She knew that at that time, I couldn’t be convinced to do anything about it. God wouldn’t let me shut that ‘drawer’ again. In any unguarded moment, it flooded back with tears and light.

I don’t believe God means for me to open myself to more hurt in this case, but that doesn’t mean closing into the darkness of my ‘drawer,’ the people involved. By keeping the ‘drawer’ closed, I was not letting God’s light in. In the darkness, bad attitudes, thoughts, and poison were growing.

Is that the end of it? No! I realize that God cares about everyone involved in this case. But, as His daughter, He is very concerned about me. I have opened that ‘drawer’ to God. I am allowing Him to show me the truth about it. I’m allowing Him to show me how to forgive and how to show grace. I want my life to shine as His light in this dark situation. There will probably be more tears and prayers, but I don’t think I’ll ever have such darkness in there again.

Do you have some ‘drawers’ in your life that have not seen God’s light for a long time? Why not open it and let God begin to redeem that darkness for His purposes?

 

Thanksgiving 2018

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Here I was, not very thankful we had invited 8 other people to come for Thanksgiving dinner on the 5th day after our 25 hour plane flight from the US.

I slept well the first night and hoped that would help me have an easy case of jet lag. That was not to be the case. We went for a walk each morning to ease the stiff joints and aches and pains from traveling. We fell asleep at odd times in the next couple days after interrupted nights’ sleep. One afternoon I described my thinking as, “Slogging through thick mud. I eventually got there, but wasn’t sure it was worth the effort.” We managed to get to the store, get what we needed, cook ahead what we could, and got some help to clean the house.

So Thursday morning I woke in a grumpy mood. I was still exhausted and dreading all that needed to be done yet. I was sure I’d make a mess of things. I was convinced I didn’t have good ideas about how to seat everyone, how to ready the kitchen, etc. My poor husband bore the brunt of my insecurities.

But by mid afternoon, all was done that could be done until everyone arrived. I showered and rested.

Then our friends began to arrive. Each one with part of the meal. Each one ready to pitch in and do anything that needed done. None of my fears materialized!

Our friends decided to push the two tables together and crowd closer. Our kitchen counter was a smorgasbord of delicious treats! There were funny stories, good memories shared, and most of all, we all felt included.

After dessert, we gathered in the living room. We sang songs of thanksgiving and praise to God. Then we each took turns telling what we had to be thankful for in the past year. So many had encountered hard times, but felt God’s grace and help and comfort. New jobs had succeeded, a new church was being established, peace where fear had been before, a growing trust that God is good and will meet needs.

Being away from our family at Thanksgiving can be such a lonely and depressing time. Our family is so scattered. Even if we could be with one, we’d be very far from others. But as I looked around the room, I realized in a fresh and real way, that God has given us ‘family’ here in Malaysia. It is not the same as being with our own parents and children, brothers and sisters. But it is just as dear! I felt embraced and loved. I sensed a very real closeness that crosses barriers of race, nationality, and traditions. It is a love that doesn’t change when we have a bad day or feel cross. It is a love that helps us trust God when we fear.

Psalm 68: 5-6 was the theme of the night.

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; . . .”

Standing on Holy Ground

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Young couples today often ask, “Why should we marry? Our parents’ marriages are not happy. Our friends are divorcing after just a few years. Can ours last? And if it does, will it be happy?”

In the wedding ceremony we promise to love one another till death parts us. We have no idea what we will face as a couple and as individuals during the rest of our life. We have no idea how we will each change. But we determine to face all of it together.

God wants us to make that decision, to love each other for our lifetime. Making those vows publicly, He knows, will help us keep them when life gets hard. We promise to love, that is an act of our wills, not just feelings of love. There will be days we don’t like each other, but that doesn’t change our commitment to love.

God offers us another help, if we love and honor Him. He will be intimately involved in each of our lives and in our relationship. If we will listen to Him, He will help us keep our marriage strong. He prompts us to be kind and thoughtful to our mate. He shows us other, better, ways to think about those things we come to know and dislike about our spouse. He urges, even commands us to forgive, and then helps us to forgive.

Diane Zeigler wrote a beautiful song about this. She is remembering their wedding day, the birth of their baby, and later, after things had happened that could have torn them apart, but didn’t. It was standing on Holy Ground (accepting God’s involvement in their lives) that helped them keep their vows.

Holy Ground, by Diane Zeigler
There you were,
Standing up in front of all your friends
Wearing a flower in your pocket
And there I was
Taking my place beside you, all in white
Wearing my grandmother’s locket.
We said . . .

Here we stand on a holy ground
And the strongest wind will never blow us down
There are no human hands
That ever could break this vow
For we stand on a holy ground

There you were
Watching me all the while in disbelief
The moment had finally come
And there I was
Suffering the longest night with no relief
Is it a daughter or a son?
And we said . . .

Here we stand on a holy ground
And the strongest wind will never blow us down
There are no human hands
That ever could break this vow
For we stand on a holy ground

But look at me and see me now
With my weary eyes
A promise is the sweetest sound
But those words leave our lips
Before we know how far they’ll fly

Here you are
I see you standing right in front of me
I know how far you could run
And still you walk with me
Into the open fields of family
And we can see how far we have come

Here we stand on a holy ground
And the strongest wind will never blow us down
There are no human hands
That ever could break this vow
For we stand on a holy ground.

It is worth it to marry God’s way. Young people today can have good and enduring marriages if they plant their marriage on holy ground.

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 136

Changing Gears

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Changing gears is how I describe the week or two before leaving the US for Malaysia or leaving Malaysia for the US. It is also part of the week of jet lag after arrival. I like being in both places. There are things I miss in each country while being in the other. There are different rhythms of life in each country. I don’t dislike either one. But they are different. It takes a week or so to say, “Goodbye” to one life and to say, “Hello,” to the other.

It is still hard to say, “Good bye,” to good friends. I know we are just a phone call from them, but half a world from a hug

So what do I do when I’m leaving?

  • I soak up every opportunity to be with friends and family when I can be with them. It means careful planning, but the sacrifices are more than compensated.
  • I never miss the opportunity for hugs and saying, ‘I love you.’
  • I take lots of photos to jog my memories.

Then what do I do when I arrive?

  • I rest to get over jet lag and to give myself time to embrace what’s new.
  • I use email, Facebook, and other media to keep in touch with friends and family.
  • I pray for my friends both near and far as often as they come to mind.
  • I rejoice in new friends and opportunities I would never have if I stayed put where I was.
  • And I never wallow in loneliness. I sometimes cry a little, but life is too short to spend in regrets.

But no matter what I do to ease the ‘changing gears,’ there is always the ache in my heart that will never stop until I reach our heavenly home. All the pain of separations will end then, because there will be no good byes and no more tears. In that moment it will all be worth it!

While I was writing this, I realized I’m changing other gears.

Even harder than changing countries is changing ministry. In laying down Peter’s Wife, I’m laying down a ministry that I have loved. I know it hasn’t reached a lot of women, but they have been very special to me. For the handful who have written back, I’ve felt it was worth the time and effort. It was first for Peter’s Wife that I learned to build web sites. It was a monthly reminder that there are women on the field who need a touch from someone who understands their struggles.

I have to see this change as a way to reach out to more women, not just those who live and work outside their home culture. I want to reach young women who would like to hear from someone who has been where they are. I’d like to reach out to women in the ‘sandwich’ generation between children and aging parents. I’d like to be a voice of reason in an age of unbridled media sound bites. I would love this new endeavor to take off, but even if it only reaches a few, I believe it’s what I’m supposed to do at this time.

Rest

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There’s an epidemic of exhaustion. A number of my friends and those I counsel are stressed, exhausted, and falling ill. Often I hear, “I’m so busy, everyone wants a piece of me.” “I’m responsible for so many things. There are just not enough hours in the day!” “I’m so tired!”

Those who know me will recognize my three questioning.
1. How is your walk with God?
2. Are you taking care of your body: eating, sleeping, and exercising?
3. How are your relationships with family and friends?

Many, many times the answer to these questions is, “Not what it should be.”

Rest is God’s Answer
God made us. He knows how we function best. He gave us a pattern from creation. Rest! It was first mentioned in the account of creation. God went on to make Sabbath the fourth of the ten commandments. Then in explaining the commandments He said, ‘Six days you shall labour, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.’ Ex 34:21

We no longer live under the Old Testament law. Jesus gave us a new law of love. He showed us God’s grace. But, I think we ignore God’s pattern of rest at our own peril. Since He thought it was this important, it seems to me we should take it seriously.

For clergy, weekends are the busiest part of the week. If their weekly rest has to be on either Saturday or Sunday, they would never get a rest. Others also work at jobs and need to rest on different days. I don’t believe we all have to do it the same way. The grace we see in the New Testament should allow us to rest at different times. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NIVUK) I believe that means Sabbath was meant for our good, not to fulfill a law.

Sabbath is time to get the physical rest we need. It is time to process what has been happening during the week so we are not just plowing through life, but tasting the fruit from our week. There is time to stop and just enjoy hearing the birds at dawn or see the color of the flowers or the majesty of sunset. Rest is time and space to hear God’s quiet voice of comfort and direction.

My husband and I have had a weekly day of rest almost every week for most of our 48 years of marriage.

From time to time we have heard criticism of this practice. A few have thought only lazy people could take a day off every week. More have looked longingly and said they wish they could find the time.

It takes commitment to do it. We see the benefits far out weigh the necessary planning and occasional inconvenience.

This is how we do it. Over the years WHAT we do on that day has changed, but these PRINCIPLES have not changed.

  • No regular work. We don’t take meetings or schedule counseling. I don’t do any computer work, laundry, or house cleaning, etc. We even purposefully lay down discussions revolving around our work.
  • We plan relaxing things we enjoy doing together. (As much as possible, we included our children in our activities.)
  • We take time to share God’s goodness to us and those we love. We remember the highlights of the week.

Having a Sabbath rest requires not just setting boundaries for ourselves, but also for those we work with or for.

We don’t have to declare to everyone that we practice Sabbath every week. We can simply say, “We already have plans for Monday.”

I often tell those I’m email counseling, “I read your emails as soon as I can, but I don’t reply until Tuesday.”

If we always talk about it we sound like religious nuts. But when I see my friends suffering from stress, I do talk about it and encourage them to make the commitment.

Everyone who wants to embrace a practice of rest, must seek God’s wisdom in how to reorganize their life. Sometimes it means quitting some activities that take up too much time or that sap too much energy. Sometimes it means an activity is not meant for this season of life. Sometimes it means using our work time more efficiently.

Once you have a plan, stick to it. Taste and see the wisdom of God in following His plan for our lives.


To read about another family’s practice of Sabbath: The Gift of Sabbath