Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Squeezing out as Much Life as I Can : )

I read this on my lovely friend Kate's blog (I hope you don't mind my quoting & linking to you, Kate!) and just felt a big old "Amen!" about it all and wanted to share and inspire!:

"I want to SQUEEZE out as much life as I can from this time. I want to breathe deep, love people passionately, take crazy adventures, embrace risk, do one of a kind things that I've never done and will never do again, fall in love with Jesus and with a great guy, enjoy life and beauty, spend myself on behalf of the needy, get rid of guilt, run, drink coffee, deepen friendships to the point of complete confidence, be spontaneous, do what I love to do everyday, take lots of pictures, not be so serious, be with life-giving people, forgive even though it is so unnatural, live in confidence, meet new people, mentor younger girls, learn from older women, read good books, sleep enough but not too much, [...] listen to great music, go to the beach, LIVE..."


Saturday, 26 December 2009

He's My Christmas Miracle

"Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.

I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;

I will tell of all your deeds.
--Psalm 73:23-26, 28

(My life verse, given to me at birth by my Granny)

I love the spirit of love and generosity and hope this time of year seems to raise up in people-- even those who don't know the reason we're celebrating. I love how the whole world seems to take on a festive air ["O holy night, the stars are brightly shining!"]. I love the sparkling lights and gorgeous, cozy candle-lit atmospheres. Swedes do Christmas decorating well. Very simple and understated-- like a single star in a window, or a simple garland of fir boughs round the door frame.

Most of all, I love how each year He gives us the opportunity again to look back over the centuries to a tiny newborn baby resting in a manger of hay and realize anew the love that humbled Himself to such a vulnerable state to come into our broken world and save us from our own sin ["long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth..."].

It amazes me that the God of the universe wants to be mine. His attention to me in all my littleness floors me.
["A thrill of hope-- a weary world rejoices-- for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"]

I feel like I'm often sharing stories of how I've doubted His provision and worried about how I would make it, and then how He came through. I don't mean to be boring or repetitive :) This is just the route He's chosen to teach me these lessons of His faithfulness lately.

So about 2 weeks ago I found myself in such a state. I was sick with the flu, spending full days in bed and feeling useless and discouraged... And overcome with worry after checking my bank account to find it held only $10.55 to last me through December... This month has been a bad one for bills as many bills here seemingly come not monthly, but quarterly and because this is my first quarter here, I didn't know what they were going to be or when they were going to arrive. As it turns out, my electricity, internet, and transportation (trams/bus card) bills came all at once, meaning that even if there were to be enough to pay them, there would be nothing left over for rent at the end of the month, let alone groceries. And I knew it was silly (and perhaps even sinful) to worry. I knew that He'd promised to take care of me if I've committed my life to Him. I knew He'd work something out.

But still I worried. And prayed...
And begged Him to fill my heart with more faith than I know.

And my mind grasped for ways to fix it myself, to take care of it, but my body was too tired and weak to keep up with my mind. And He was there to whisper, "Trust Me. I Am enough."

And still I worried. And prayed...
And begged Him to fill my heart with more faith than I know.

I'm not sure there is a more vulnerable space as when I have no health and no finances. They're like the basics of survival in our western world. So I suppose there isn't a better space for me to find myself in to learn to rely on Him truly, deeply, radically. To truly be able to say, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but YOU are the strength of my heart and my portion forever." I'd never been able to relate to this more absolutely.

And I found a space of fitful peace. "Alright, God. I have no one but You. So do your thing. I'm waiting..."

["Fall to your knees!"]

And the next day a friend told me he was paying a bill for me in exchange for babysitting for his children. He didn't know that I had no idea how it was going to be paid this month. Only God knew...

And over the weekend someone at church handed me some money and said, "Just take it. I'm just obeying what God's telling me to do."

And then there were some Christmas gifts of money from parents, Grandma, family back home.

And I no longer have to worry about paying the rent at the end of the month. And I was able to buy some groceries to make dishes for the Christmas parties I've been to, and I might even be able to delight myself with a Christmas gift of a voucher to use at the gym like I've been praying for for months :) And I know it's only 1 month and small needs in the grand scheme of things. But it was/is big to me. And He knows that.

Now that He's provided the finances for another month, I'm praying still that He provides the healing for my body. I'm over the flu (though now it's morphed into a cold-- bless the Swedish weather!) but I'm having my first Swedish Diabetic appt. the beginning of January-- was already in for blood tests, and it just brings up the longing for Him to heal me of this disease and wipe away all the worry and inconvenience and pain and fright and strain it causes to live with.

There are a few people who started coming to mind to ask to pray over me when I started feeling stirred up about praying for healing again. One of them is an old Bulgarian man I know here. He used to be part of the church til all the issues with the leadership and a situation in the church body started coming up and having ripple effects. He is a man with an incredible gift of faith. He is a man who has seen God work in some amazing ways almost like the Apostle Paul himself saw. God has used this man to speak to me before in the most timely ways, and speak into issues in my life that this man knew nothing about. It gives me chills and brings me to my knees...

I hadn't yet rang him to ask to meet for prayer for healing. A part of me feels stupid to be so childlike, but it doesn't hurt and He has been prompting me to ask for more faith and what is faith if not 'like a child'? And then last night he randomly ended up giving me a ride to a friend's. One of the first thing he says in his thick Bulgarian accent with his trademark joyful smile, "Leah, I am so happy to see you. God has been asking me to pray for you these past few weeks."

And I could have fallen to my knees then and there, (God! You really do SEE me!!) but he went on. "I've been waking in the night crying and my soul so heavy and I ask Him, 'what is it? Why?' and He says, 'pray for My Leah'."

The thought of His heart being so full of me that He wakes His prayer warriors in the night to cover me in prayer.... Oh, I cannot express how much it means to me. How much it encourages me. This man doesn't even necessarily know what he's praying, but the Spirit does. He sees my every situation, my every need, my every longing, my every struggle, my every hope, my every circumstance, and He moves on my behalf if I throw myself completely on Him and trust Him ("They who trust Him fully, find Him fully true." -- Francis G. Havergal)

He said to me, "God wants me to tell you this, that He knows you're in a hard spot, but that He has you there for a reason, to teach you not to be afraid. And that you are not there alone."

This is the same thing He's been impressing on my heart these difficult months when I've discovered things which have been so wonky in working with this ministry, and prayerfully attempting to walk in wisdom in the situation I find myself in as a missionary here, to speak up and to remain silent as He leads, to stand for Him despite being unpopular because of it, and outrightly rebuked by respected people which makes me question everything He's so faithfully shown... It's been the fight of my life. And again.... brought me to a place where I have nothing but Him. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but You remain the strength in my heart and my portion forever."

["O hear the angel voices"]

I think I will be forever amazed that this God of all the universe pays any attention to me, let alone lets me know it in a clear, undeniable way. His love, His love, His love... It overwhelms me.
And I am more thankful than I have words for. I'm wrapped up in this love. And I want to sing it out to all the world... He loves you, He is worthy of all of your trust, and wants to do more than you let yourself think or imagine. Press into the treasure of His presence and see...

"I promise myself if I ever get frustrated with life again, if I ever get into river-deep debt, I will sell it all and move out into the woods, find some people who aren't like me and learn to love them, and do something even harder, let them love me, receive the love of somebody who doesn't share my faith system, who doesn't agree with me about everything, and I will sleep beneath the stars and whisper thank you to the Creator of the universe, as a way of reacquainting myself to an old friend, a friend who says you don't have to be smart or good-looking or religious or anything; you just have to cling to Him, love Him, need Him, listen to His story."
-- Donald Miller, 'Through Painted Deserts' pg 246

To be His... what more could I ask for?

[O night divine! O night when Christ was born..."]

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A Stumbling Drunkard on a Cold Swedish Street

I like to run at night. I think I like the cover of darkness to sweat in :)

It also means I don't meet too many people on the path and I can focus on praying as my feet pound the pavement. I don't like running. I don't do enough of it. But I love the feeling of focus it gives, the way I discover new places in my neighbourhood as I explore new streets I haven't run before, the wrestling God and I do when I'm out there, and the endorphines afterward :)

Tonight on the way back there was a man on my path sort of coming at me right down the centre. I'm not terribly skiddish but the way he didn't give over made me a little nervous and I tightened my grip on my mobile phone in my hand (because an attacker will surely give me time to phone a friend for help...!) as I jogged on toward him. The closer I got the more unsteady I saw his steps were. As I passed I smelled the unmistakable odor of alcohol, and noticed the long-neck bottle in his hand. His figure cut such a skinny, scrawny, hungry form against the tree-lined sky. And he tugged on my heartstrings there, the whiskey doing the work to warm him that his inadequate clothing surely wasn't doing.

I wish I could go on to tell a grand tale of inviting him somewhere warm and seeing him well-fed, talking to him about Jesus, praying with him...

But I can't. My interaction with him ended there as soon as I'd jogged past.

Obviously, one mustn't be silly and young girls on their own at night shouldn't invite drunk men off the street to hang out.... But it stirred me nonetheless. He represents to me the hopeless state of humanity, like a stumbling drunkard on a cold Swedish street, desperately trying to numb our aches, to warm our hearts in whatever way we can find.

And it points me to His heart, so alive with love and compassion for us, the hopeless, stumbling drunkard, that it burns like an all-consuming fire. To a heart so consumed that it stepped into stride alongside stumbling, fumbling humanity, stripped of its royal robes to a not-nearly-warm-enough pair of jeans and loose-fitting coat, and walked along with us in a pair of worn-out shoes, throwing an arm around our shoulders to help ward off the cold and to meet a hunger that goes deeper than our emptiness.

It makes me think of how safe and secure we are in our "everything's alright", middle-class churches, where a man like this one would hardly feel welcome, let's face it, and where we're generally too busy organizing our perfectly-timed, all-planned-out-and-put-together Sunday services to go out to the street to find him. Or, like me, too frightened to throw am arm around his shoulders even if we did cross paths...

And then again I see His love-- arms wide open, eyes beckoning, welcoming ALL. Regardless of the lifestyle we're starting from or how much we wreak from our heart-numbing drug of choice...

And I'm challenged again to not just preach this love, but to practice it.

For me that probably doesn't mean hugging every drunk guy I meet on the street :) But it does mean looking on him with love and compassion-- and being so connected with the Spirit of God that I'm ready and willing should the occaision for conversation arise!

What it does mean is pushing through the discomfort and annoyance of loving the difficult ones. A few people come to mind instantly for me. A transvestite who visits Rescue Mission and seeks me out to talk about what he's been shopping for lately in a fake high-pitched voice and insists on getting a hug from me despite my probably obvious discomfort (and I hate that I feel so uncomfortable!!) comes to mind... Or even harder, people close to me who hurt and take advantage of me. Talk about difficult... Can you think of your "difficult ones"? I challenge you to pray for Him to "pour out His love into your heart" for those people.

His love defines Him, so our love defines us as His-- firstly our love of Him, and out of that our love for everyone He places in our path...

I can't help but think that we prioritize so much over being passionate about being loving.
Yet, ultimately, it's the only thing that counts.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
-- Matt 22:35-40

And these 3 remain: Faith, Hope & Love. And the greatest of these is Love.
-- 1 Cor. 13:13

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Bag of Groceries

It's always in the wee hours that my mind seems to come to life with all the words I didn't write in the day and wish I had. Anais Nin once said that, “We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospection.” I do wonder how many lifetimes I've lived over the years, 'tasting life' for the second time after the world around me is breathing deeply with sleep...

I love this time of night. I love the freedom of it, the beauty of the stillness, and the way He speaks in it.

A friend turned to me today and said, "Do you need to get groceries?"
I was a bit taken aback because it seemed a kind of random, funny, irrelevant question.
But I did, actually. I was out of all the basics. Milk, butter, bread, meat. I don't keep a ton of groceries around, really, just the necessities, but I was out and intending to get more. So I said so.
And she said, "Okay, because God told me to take you grocery shopping today."

And it made me giggle.

This God. This God! I will NEVER understand Him!

It hadn't occurred to me to worry about getting groceries this week. I knew there would be enough kronor for this... I've been worried about out-of-the-ordinary weekly expenses, like affording posting gifts home to the nieces/nephew, getting a haircut, being able to afford various Christmas gifts for the family here I'm spending Christmas with, etc. Not groceries.

And so I began to argue it.
And she put her hand out as if to stop the onslaught of words and said simply, "Take it up with Him. Come on. Let's go."

And when we got to the shop some acquaintances of ours were in the parking lot with their car broken down and we were able to jump-start their battery. And I do so wonder at God's intricately interwoven plan...

And His intimate care. I can't wrap my head around His ways. But I'm not sure I'm supposed to. He asks me to trust & obey, just trust & obey. And watch Him work in His huge, all-encompassing love.

Choosing this lifestyle of soldout ministry has been difficult. Always. But especially so lately when all the foundations have kind of felt a bit pulled out from beneath me with struggles in the ministry I'm working with here.

I have learned these past few months what it means to truly have NOTHING but Him. I thought I'd experienced complete dependency before this, but I hadn't.

I have learned desperate crying out. And faithfully depending on Him, whether or not it feels like He's hearing the shouts... I guess this is what it means to put one's Hope in Him.

I have learned what it means to stand in confidence in Him despite everything coming against that. Not because I have any reason or strength to stand on my own, but because He is unchanging, immutable.

And I'm still learning these things, in His grace and patience and indescribable, limitless, all-knowing, all-consuming Love, which sees us through every situation it walks us into.

And, despite heartache and fear and restriction on earth for glory in heaven, and homesickness and heartsickness, and no approval from man, or even understanding most of the time... despite constant battles bigger than I know how to fight, constant uncertainty, insecurity, and utter foolishness in man's eyes...

... I've realized that I wouldn't trade serving Him for all the world. He is worth it all. He is worth it all. He is worth it all.

And not because of His rewards (though I know they are vast, even when I'm not always seeing them fleshed out), or because of how He grows our character through adversity (I am growing years in weeks), but because it's the most needy of Him whom He gives Himself most fully to. And He allows me to be as needy as needy can be, so that He can be all in all to me. So then, even the need is part of His provision...

I am astounded by this grace. I am astounded by this God. And that He would WANT to be wanted by me...

It's amazing what a bag of groceries you didn't even know you needed so badly will do for you.

"For the eyes of the Lord search to and fro, that He might strongly support those whose hearts are completely His." -- 2 Chron. 16:9 (NAS)
Lord, take mine completely.
"...I'm wasted; I'm so wasted on [Y]ou..."
--Angus & Julia Stone, 'Wasted'

Simple & Quick

Lei never came to church yesterday :( But keep her in your prayers! She knows where to find us...

Friday, 4 December 2009

What it's All About...

Yesterday I had the 'God-op' to of meeting a 23 year old Chinese woman who came into Rescue Mission's Secondhand looking for books. She was intrigued that I spoke English and wanted to practice hers. We got to talking and she seemed very interested that I'm in Sweden to do ministry work and admitted to reading some of the bible back in her homeland in her own language. I invited her to church on Sunday and she was very excited to hear that it's English-speaking. She was timid about coming.

"Would they mind that I'm not Christian, but Buddhist?" she asked.

I assured her that she would be totally welcome and we'd love to have her stay for a meal after and feel free to just hang with us.

And I'm excited again about the way the Secondhand exists to bring people in through the social system, yes, but also to bring customers to us with all their questions and their needs and give opportunity to build relationship. Evangelizing can be so off-putting when Christians go out of their way to find people to preach to. I am all about relationship-building, drawing people into conversation through simply caring about them and being friendly, and sharing His love naturally. I love that aspect of running a Secondhand out of our ministry-- hundreds of people troop through a day, and I have the added position of being a bit of a novelty to people; this young, cheery American who's interested in them and their stories.

And Oh! How He loves them all!

Please pray for my new friend, Lei. Making connections like this is what it's all about!
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