Monday, 29 March 2010

Odds and Ends

Our women's ministry this past weekend was a great day! Check out the details of the day here: Wish you could all join us!!

Leading worship on Sunday was kind of amazing too, in too many ways to describe here. I'm just so thankful that He is moving here. And that His love "bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. [His] Love never fails..." (1 Cor 13:7-8). The fact that He calls us to be a part of what He's accomplishing for His kingdom in this world is just almost too much for me to believe!! Goodness, I love His ever-hoping heart...

We introduced this "new" song in worship this week. Well, new to us... The Lord has really been going before me when it comes to worship-leading in this church. In the past there's been a bit of "my way or the highway" mentality about it and it's just really been too limiting and discouraging and deflating. But recently I was able to have a humble, understanding talk with the leaders and was given their blessing to do more organizing and leading of the worship! In whatever way He leads me! This is HUGE. Especially because I have always struggled with the shyness and fear of being up front. Lately the Lord is just releasing me to serve Him freely with the gifts He's given me... and I'm excited and frightened by that prospect :) But mostly just humbled and in love.

The two lines that really stand out to me-- alongside the anthem-like chorus of "Your grace is enough/heaven reaching down to us/your grace is enough for me/God, I see Your grace is enough/I am covered in Your love/Your grace is enough for me"-- are "Great is Your faithfulness, O God/You wrestle with the sinner's heart" and "Great is Your love and justice, God/You use the weak to lead the strong".... It astounds me to no end that this God would bend to wrestle with us sinners, to care to lead us to conviction again and again and again that we might repent and ask Him for Life again and again and again... He blows my mind. And that He uses the weak, the broken, the jars of clay to lead the strong, the wonderful, the talented! Gives me a bit of hope that I have a greater purpose to serve than I know, even in my brokenness.

I love worship. I love how it sets my focus to right, shifts my perspective to His face over all the circumstances. Mmmm....

May you know this Love; may you love this Lover--

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

My 4th Grade Penpals...

I got another big envelope of beautiful letters and handmade cards from my cousin's 4th grade class at their Christian school near Chicago! They are studying missionaries and sharpening their writing skills by corresponding with me. And they are all little delights :)

Today they were telling me about many things, but common themes were what they want to be when they grow up and what they are studying about currently in school. Some of the comments were just too adorable not to share!

• “I want to have a lot of money because when I have children I want to give them what they want (but not everything they want). And to get a edication when I grow up. And get everything that I need and my husband.” – Tajah
• “When I grow up I want to be president. I want to be president because I want to help change the world. I want to help make a difference. I like to help people in danger. I want to get rid of the violence. That’s why I want to be president.” – Amira
• “I have some problems with dividing 3 digit numbers. But my dad always helps me.” – Sky
• “When I grow up I want to be either a lawyer or a hair stylist. I want to be a lawyer because they make a lot of money. I want to be a hair stylist because I enjoy doing hair. I don’t think it pays enough though, so I’m sort of confused. What do you think I should be?” – Sky
• “Leah, if you were my cousin we will have so much fun together and I will say nice things to you.” – Hannah (aww!)
• “Leah, where do you work at and how long you’ve been in Sweeden and when are you going to get married and also how old are you also God loves you and so do I.” – Hannah :)
• “I want to be an attorney because I like to help people. I also want to be an attorney because I like to get my point across.” – Terreane

See what I mean??
I'm thankful to God for the little bright spots He sends with a smile :)

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Reviewing A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

When Donald Miller was approached by hollywood to write a screenplay of his own life, he was faced with the uncomfortable truth that he didn't actually have the kind of story that anyone would be inspired by to make a better story of their lives themselves. So, he set out to change that.

In typical Miller style, the reader goes along on His journey of discovery like a friend over a cup of coffee. As he works out how to write a screenplay of his life, he realizes more and more deeply the elements of 'story' at play in our own lives and begins to stick his neck out to write a better one, knowing that every character's story affects the story of the next character.
"A story is based on what people think is important, so when we live a story, we are telling the people around us what we think is important." -- Don Miller

I want everyone I know to read this book. Profound and deeply REAL, it uses a universal language, that of human story, to point the reader to God and His massive purposes for us. It inspired me to keep my eyes open to the greater story, because being aware of it affects the way we live to the core. I drank this beautiful, compassionate, authentic book up like water and desperately wanted more of it at the end!

*I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Feasting on His Grace with The Homeless

I spent tonight doing something I've never done before. I was so apprehensive beforehand. I nearly didn't go. I'm so thankful He wouldn't have that, though.

I went with the leaders of The Well (a ministry for international young people that I try to be involved with as time allows) to a Wednesday night soup kitchen that Goteborg's City Mission puts on in a beautiful old Swedish church atop a hill in my city.

I sat with homeless and needy people; the poorest of this city's poor-- the drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill and otherwise marginalized-- and was humbled by how beautiful His grace is. I worried about what we would find to talk about. Couldn't ask about family, jobs, or most other normal conversation starters, and what if no one was comfortable speaking English? But I was humbled by a kinship in our neediness for Him. And yes, I felt awkward and uncomfortable and the conversation was sometimes pain-staking (I spent part of the night learning about Swedish sport from one of the guys as we nursed our cups of coffee, and the other part trying to think of ways to draw out the sweet, smiley, slightly smelly old man to my right who happily told me that everyone there were his friends, and that he once visited London and loved every bit of it)... but I'm not sure serving Him is meant to be "comfortable" and I know love is meant to be sacrificial.

I'm convinced I came away more blessed and encouraged than any blessing and encouragement He could have given out through me.

We gathered together for a communion service in Swedish and the lovely Swedish leader of The Well whispered a translation in my ear. I can't explain how cleansing it was for my soul to stand there amidst that crowd of strangers and just be... human before Him together, and yet beloved before Him together... Mmmm.

And I'm so thankful...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Conversing with a Construction Worker...

"May God remind us daily-- no matter what kind of obstacles we face-- that we are loved and empowered by the One who brought the universe into existence with the mere sound of His voice. Nothing is impossible for Him."
--Beth Moore from 'Praying God's Word'

I just spent the morning babysitting for my friend's gorgeous 2-year-old. He calls me his Sugar-pie and tries to cuddle me literally to death. Good thing he's tiny... and cute!

At one point while he played with his dinosaurs, happily entrenched in his own little world, I sat down over a cup of coffee with the man doing some construction work on this 2-year-old's house; my old Bulgarian friend. Let's call him D. This man is unlike anyone you'll ever meet. His love for God is larger than life, as is his experience of Him and faith in Him. And he's the type to let you know it within moments of meeting him anywhere :) Not even 60 yet, this man has lived a life of Pauline proportions... and tells of it to God's glory every chance he gets.

I sat before him awestruck by the wondrous love of our God as he shared what God has done in his hollywood-epic life. I've heard bits and pieces before, but it still jars me every time. What a different life from mine. And yet, what a faithful God in both.

Growing up in a communist country but with a mind of his own, he came to the attention of the corrupt system pretty early on and by the age of 17 he was wanted by the communist officials, having never committed a crime, only he hadn't stayed in line to their liking and so posed a threat. They told his mom he was dead and sent him off to a reformatory school which he escaped from and fled the country. At 18 he found himself framed for murder and thrown into a year of solitary confinement in an Austrian prison. Can you imagine? The fright, the confusion, the frustration, the injustice... the loneliness! 18 years old! After a year the real murderer was uncovered, he was released and told to get out of the country. Housed in a hostel for refuge seekers when he crossed over into Italy, he was awoken to machine-guns in his face late one night and hauled away to prison again... His country's corrupt gov't was after him, and his photo and info was posted to police across Europe... He spent 2 years in an Italian jail on an island, being visited on and off by advocates fired up at the injustice of his imprisonment and promising him that they couldn't keep him there and that they would have him out in no time. FINALLY, he was told at random to go with some officials to a place near the border of France, and in France he would be able to go free. He didn't believe them and felt he was being set-up when they drove him to a building in the middle of nowhere, so he escaped again, walked many kilometers through the mountains to a village, only to meet someone whom was also a political refugee and told him that, indeed, that place where the Italian officials were taking him was a safehouse for refugees, and the tall fences with the intimidating barbed wire and all were to PROTECT them. At some point in the story when the Bulgarian communists were still after him, he was sitting at a street cafe with some friends and got up to get something, heard a car revving its engines and squeeling its tires, as if the driver meant to get his attention, and then before he knew what was happening, the car gunned it and drove into him, throwing him up over the hood. He doesn't remember anything after being hit, and then standing to his feet again and shooting at the driver as he sped away, but his friends watched it all from the cafe and ran out to see that he was alive, pulling up his trousers to see that there wasn't a scratch on him after an encounter where he should have died. D's eyes light up and his voice grows urgent as he tells this part. "No one would believe it, but there were witnesses! It is only the hand of God. Again and again and again, He has protected me. Before I even knew Him, He was protecting me. And it's only because of His love." If he hadn't been protected behind those prison walls those years, innocent of the crime and just a kid really, his gov't would have found him and killed him...

His tale goes on, but he didn't tell me the rest today. I know he ended up sailing away from Europe and being shipwrecked in Africa, starving in the Sahara where God fed him miraculously. In recent years the miracles have been of healings, and provision, almost every penny of which he gives away... In my point of struggling the most to know where the rent would come from this past December, he found me one day to hand me a large kronor note saying, "If you want to protest, take it up with Him. He told me to give this to you."Meanwhile, I've seen how he lives... Humble is not a low enough word for it... He's also the one whom on numerous occasions God has sent to encourage me at key moments in my time with Rescue Mission, though he doesn't know the specific journey I'm on. The Lord has woken him in the night crying and when he's asked Him where the tears are coming from, the Lord has asked him to intercede in prayer for me!!! (the thought still floors me every time I remember. What is this amazing grace and attentiveness!!!)

I am so encouraged by people's testimonies. The same Lord who has worked in D's life all these crazy years, in all these awesome, unbelievable to the unbelieving heart, especially favoured ways, this same Lord is my God, and yours. He is still just as capable of wonders, just as willing to come through for us, to lay His hands on us and shape and mold and use us for His glory! I sat there with D today and listened to him share only some of the incredible faithfulness of our God with his face all aglow, his eyes glinting with the joy of belonging to this King, and I thought, "Lord, may I radiate just a modicum of that!" I don't want His love to drop through this cracked and weak and frightened vessel in bits and pieces here and there as I gather the courage or as I am made aware afresh of His majesty. I want it to pour through like a mighty waterfall! Constant and cleansing and strong. Because He is Who He is and I am who I am and yet I am His! And He is mine!

O Lord, more faith to believe and to know what it means to be YOURS!!!!!!

I've been dwelling on 1&2 Peter last week and for the first time this line from the beginning of 2nd Peter really stood out to me. Peter wrote, "I am writing to all of you who share the same precious faith we have, faith given to us by Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour, who makes us right with God" (2 Peter 1:1). The idea of being made RIGHT with GOD... only by His grace... it just blows me away to stop and think about. But what stood out to me was this word, precious. It's a word I throw around, but not often one I team with my concept of my faith.

But how perfectly used it is here. How precious it is to have faith, faith GIVEN to us by Jesus! How precious it is to be able to know that God-- The glorious, victorious, omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful God-- is FOR us. And will move heaven and earth, unbar prison doors, render laws of gravity powerless to get in the way of His Will for our lives. We can walk in confidence, following Him. And His faithfulness is so great that He is there even when we are not following Him...

He wants us. He wants relationship with us. He sent His Son to be tortured and murdered so that He might open the way for us to know Him and come to love Him. He wants us. How can this be?! How precious it is.... I am so thankful. And I want to pour it out all over everyone, like that waterfall, like my friend D. To the glory of His precious name. Faith in Him is the only true treasure we can acquire and see grow...

"May God bless you with His special favour and wonderful peace as you come to know Jesus, our God and Lord, better and better."
--2 Peter 1:2

Saturday, 6 March 2010

And When I Cannot Stand... You Are Where I Land

I've discovered this new singer/songwriter (JJ Heller) tonight, and particularly this new song, "Where I Land..." And my heart says, "yes, yes, yes!" and my soul says, "she and I could be friends..." :)

The Lord blessed me last night with 3 friends coming over. It started as one, then became 2, then became 3, and with the emotional&physical exhaustion I've been trying to both hide and recover from, I wasn't myself at all (and felt guilty for it. Grr). But having them here just blessed me so. I made a big pot of homemade chicken soup (yum!) and a batch of chocolate-chip cookies, and even did my laundry while these 3 awesome ladies hung out at my flat, one Swede, one South African, and one Romanian. Two of them ended up staying the night-- how I LOVE that familiarity! I am so thankful for the friendships He provides!-- and we made up make-shift beds and talked all night and all day :) (fortunately my roommate is out of town). There was laughter and there was music and there was lots of girl talk. And at one point in the evening, we just ended up praying together...

And my heart was just too heavy and too full and too distant and-- I can't think of the right word... burnt out?-- to pray out, and then I work myself into feeling guilty for not speaking my prayers outloud and wanting to disappear into the floor... and in a sudden shift of subject, Anthea started to pray over me, and Sandra's gentle hand reached out and rested on my shoulder and... the tears flowed all around. It just felt like storming heaven, and being fought for, and that is SO incredibly encouraging... And, it's like the song says:

"I am lost for words
You're more than I deserve
And when I cannot stand
You are where I land..."

And I am so thankful. So needy and so Yours, Lord, to do with what You will. And so thankful.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Infection...

It's the strangest thing. I've found my chin and jaw suddenly mega-inflamed with an infection out of nowhere! I spent all day Tuesday waiting to see a Dr and get a prescription because the swelling became SO painful (pain pills don't seem to be helping anymore so there is a constant burning in my face...). There's nothing like needing medical care to make a girl really realize what it feels to be living in a foreign land! You feel SO vulnerable when you feel like you're falling apart and you don't know how the system works... I waited in a queue for 5 hours before I was seen for 10 minutes. Ugh. But I now have Penicillin for my chin infection, and folic acid drops for the sty on my eyelid!! The swelling has yet to go down. It's rendered half of my bottom lip useless. Strange sensation! The pain travels all the way down to my neck and back to my ear and it's hot all the way through... SO STRANGE!!! So hard and swollen and so much pressure in there... The Dr wants to cut and drain it if the Penicillin doesn't bring the swelling down in 2 more days... I look awful. Like I've been beaten up!

PLEASE pray with me for healing! I've never had anything like this! Brona said on Sunday that I look worn down, and then Monday night my body seemed to agree with her adding a red, swollen, infected face to the already burning red sty in my eye. My body tends to do this. Whenever I'm under too much stress, it lets me know. Breaking out in Shingles over and over and over, or developing a sty, or just going down sick. I've discovered I am a very holistic person this way. It doesn't help that my immune system is weak already from coping with Juvenile Diabetes since I was 7...

At any rate, the Lord is definitely giving me pause to think about how to keep from burning myself out. It's difficult when your job isn't a 9-5, but a lifestyle of service. Boundaries are not my strong suit (yet!) and I find more than ever this disturbing need to prove myself, to please everyone. So I've worn myself out trying to do every good thing I see needing doing, while longing to pour myself into the things He's given me passions for. I think He gives us passions for a reason, and intends for us to follow them. I'm just... sorting out how to... I've also got to learn to jealously guard my alone time, otherwise as ministry is people-based, I burn myself out being an introvert caught in an extroverted life! Some seasons emotionally I can handle more stress than others.

Hmmm. He is an adventure of the grandest kind. And I am His. So I trust that He'll sort me out as I seek Him on this. Any and all prayers would be welcomed though!!

I'm thankful for His grace which takes even an awful, painful infection and turns it into a lesson which points me to Himself...

Monday, 1 March 2010

Contemplating a Sunset

I love it when He stops me in my tracks long enough to just lift my eyes to Him. In the simple things. Like the sunset, glowing like fire in the distance over the icy horizon.

It happens EVERY DAY and how often do I take pause to just... gaze at Him in it. To think about how this moment, this intricate, individual, never-seen-before, never-to-be-seen-again sunset is the handiwork of a God who paints a new one each and every evening, just hoping we might notice, and look to Him. I believe beauty is His calling card ("For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities-- His eternal power and divine nature" --Rom 1:20).

And if we might follow that calling card to Him, then we might realize that the same hands that touch the horizon and paint it golden, knit each person together in the mother's womb ("You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb" --Psalm 139:13). What do you think He was thinking as He put His hand to His work? Do you think He was seeing all the plans and purposes He had for that individual ("'For I know the plans I have for you', says the Lord, 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.'" --Jer. 29:11) as He knit, stamping the fingertips with their own unique mark, counting the hairs on the head, and factoring the exact pigment of eye colour? Do you think He grieved over the sin that would cause this child such heartache in its brief wander through history? The sinful nature that would cause him to be born separated from this God who loved him so ("But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead." -- Eph 2:4-5)? I think if there were tears, they were ones of empathy because He knew there would be pain, that life would be hard, that the enemy would take full advantage of his permission to roam about like a roaring lion for this limited time. Empathy because He knew all of the things that would rise up to accost this little one's hopeful spirit, this little one's bend toward faith in his Creator. But there would be gladness behind the tears, because He would know as He was sending that child into the world with a kiss, that the end is good. That the end is redemption from this dying world ("Jesus gave His life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live." --Galatians 1:4). That the end is perfect reconciliation-- Hope shining on the horizon of the world's end like a giant, golden orb of unceasing light.

If only we who know will live in that longingful love, speak it out to the people around us , who may have grown blind to the hands that molded them ("We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are." -- Rom. 3:22). Speak it in our words, in our looks, in the touches of our hands. If only we who know will dwell so long in His beauty where we find it, that we begin to reflect it, becoming calling cards of His, just like the beauty (And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." --2 Cor 3:18), so that we might point the ones whom have lost their way right back to those hands that touch the sky and set it on fire, those hands which crafted their souls from breath, their bodies from dust, knit them together and sent them off with a kiss into a world where they would forget... until they're pointed back, and remember.

"Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives us, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."
-- 1 Cor 13:4-7

Thank You, Lord God, for the [reminders, convictions, inspiration] you give in your Sunsets...
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