Friday, April 20, 2018


My recent season of life has been tough.  Yes, of late you've seen me gallivanting around Europe before arriving back in the good ol' US of A, but the dark side of these adventures is that they came in the wake of quitting -- or more accurately escaping -- a very toxic work environment.  It is not possible to tell the whole story here, but I would like to share what I've been working through spiritually.  Perhaps now, after beginning to write this post at least two months ago, prior to even leaving Asia, I've had enough time of reflection to tie it together.  It's a long one-- I thought about splitting it into two posts, but ultimately decided it's better together.


In the past, I never paid much attention to the complaints of the psalmist about being surrounded by enemies, having to deal with arrogant and untrustworthy people, betrayal or suffering unjust treatment.  Honestly, though I'd enjoyed other aspects of the psalms, I kind of found all that a bit annoying and at times thought of David (author of much of the psalms) as a complainer, a whiner, or perhaps an exaggerator.  I mean, we all deal with some difficult people at some point or get treated unfairly, but most of those experiences aren't the end of the world.  And then there's the whole getting chased by an army thing-- not exactly something I could relate to.  Unless you're in the military and have been sent into a war zone, I would hazard to say that you've felt the same way.

But then I had to deal with that stuff.

Suddenly those complaints were very relevant to me.  I wasn't surrounded by an army who literally wanted to kill me, but I now know what it is like to be surrounded by enemies who attack your livelihood, your integrity, and your security and not have a good immediate option of escape.

"O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me...
They are always twisting what I say;
they spend their days plotting to harm me.
They come together to spy on me--
watching my every step, eager to kill me.
Don't let them get away with their wickedness;
in your anger, O God, bring them down."
-- Psalm 56: 1-2; 5-7

"So many enemies against one man--
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I'm just a broken-down wall or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face but curse me in their hearts."
-- Psalm 62:3-4

Every day was like walking on eggshells, having no idea what crazy new thing they would come up with next-- what crazy accusation they would levy, what crazy new rule would suddenly manifest, what crazy amount of money they would try to cheat me out of.  I felt like a hostage-- because of the financial aspect of the situation, I couldn't just leave.

"Declare me innocent, O God!
Defend me against these ungodly people.
Rescue me from these unjust liars.
For you are God, my only safe haven."
-- Psalm 43: 1-2

"In my anxiety I cried out to you,
'These people are all liars!'"
-- Psalm 116:11

"O LORD, you know all about this.
Do not stay silent.
Do not abandon me now, O Lord.
Wake up!  Rise to my defense!
Take up my case, my God and my Lord."
-- Psalm 35: 22-23

Progressively, it took over my thoughts, prayers, and seemingly every aspect of my reality.  Day and night I wrestled with what to do.  How long do I endure this?  Is it going to get better?  How long until it works out?  How long until I escape?  Do I just cut and run or do I hold out a bit longer to try and get what's owed me?

"Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can't find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.
I am exhausted from crying for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to help me.
Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs on my head.
Many enemies try to destroy me with lies..."
-- Psalm 69:1-4

"[They're] expert[s] at telling lies.
[They] love evil more than good
and lies more than truth."
-- Psalm 52:2-3

"I get nothing but trouble all day long;
every morning brings me pain."
-- Psalm 73:14

"Rescue me from the mud;
don't let me sink any deeper!
Save me from those who hate me,
and pull me from these deep waters."
-- Psalm 69:14

I started understanding the call for vengeance...

"For my enemies are whispering against me.
They are plotting together to kill me...
O God, don't stay away.
My God, please hurry to help me.
Bring disgrace and destruction on my accusers.
Humiliate and shame those who want to harm me."
-- Psalm 71:10-13

"So let sudden ruin come upon them!
Let them be caught in the trap they set for me!
Let them be destroyed in the pit they dug for me!"
-- Psalm 35:8

"Yes!" I started cheering along,  "Teach them a lesson, Lord!  Make them realize they're in the wrong!  Prove my innocence and make them pay for what they've done!  Humiliate and embarrass them!  They don't deserve success!"  

A cloud of darkness settled over my life.  But then I was out for a run in the hills (running tends to be a time of deep thinking for me) and felt a nudge that seemed to say, "But have you prayed FOR them?"

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.   
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  
 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.
For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, 
and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike."
-- Matthew 5:43-45

Truly I had done much praying ABOUT them but not FOR them.  My prayers had been 'me' focused-- how the situation could be improved to make MY life better.  I hadn't been praying FOR my enemies, only AGAINST them and FOR MYSELF.  I'd been so focused on how to safeguard my own life that I'd forgotten Jesus' command: "Bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28).

"If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?  
Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.  
If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?  
Even pagans do that.  
But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
-- Matthew 5:46-48

Right then on a sweaty subtropical "mountain" I began praying differently.  The dark cloud was still there, but it seemed a ray of sunshine broke through.  The heaviness was not quite so heavy. And though I am still shaking off the dust, I can testify that praying love over your enemies is much more freeing than praying hate.


I had this epiphany moment, but I began to wonder: how does this fit with David's prayers for vengeance in the psalms?  What about praying against "those who hate me without cause" (Psalm 69:4), calling out for God to "pour out [his] indignation upon them, and let [his] burning anger overtake them" (Psalm 69:24)?  Why does David get to pray this?  Can I pray this and still love my enemies?  At first glance it seems contradictory.

David is called by God "a man after [God's] own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), yet his psalms, his prayers, appear to stand in contention with this command from Jesus.  Can you be a man or woman after God's own heart -- obeying Jesus' command to love your enemies -- and call for vengeance at the same time?

The Lord tells us that revenge is his, stating: "I will take revenge; I will pay them back" (Deuteronomy 32:35a).  In the context of this passage he is acknowledging that Israel has enemies and has faced hard times but also that he will deal with it all at the appropriate time:

"The LORD says, 'Am I not storing up these things,
sealing them away in my treasury?
I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
and their destiny will overtake them.'"
--Deuteronomy 32:34-35

We mortals with our finite view of time are not very patient.  We want things now.  We want to see progress, results, and rewards now.  We want tangible assurance -- to see with our own eyes -- that things are happening, that things are going our way, that the Lord is working it out.  But the Lord is patient.  In his unlimited, infinite view of time he has a long-term plan-- much longer than we can conceive.  It is impossible for us to know or understand everything he is doing.  He says we will receive justice; He says our enemies will reap what they've sowed, but "in due time"-- the right time.  It is not our place to say when and how, or even if it is in this life or in the next.  God never promises that evil people will face the consequences of their actions here on earth, but he does promise eternal ramifications in the life to come.

In the mean time, we are told:

"Never pay back evil with more evil.  Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.  Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.  Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God."
-- Romans 12:17-19

Though we see David calling for revenge in his psalms, we also see him leaving it to God in his actions.  In 1 Samuel 24, David is running for his life and has the chance to kill his enemy, Saul, who is hunting him down to kill him without cause.  But instead of killing Saul, David spares him, showing mercy, stating: 

"May the LORD judge between us.  Perhaps the LORD will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you.  As that old proverb says, 'From evil people come evil deeds.'  So you can be sure I will never harm you... May the LORD therefore judge which of us is right and punish the guilty one.  He is my advocate, and he will rescue me from your power!"
--1 Samuel 24:12-13; 15

In this way, David loved his enemy: He returned kindness for evil, leaving revenge in the Lord's hands.

"Instead, 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.'
Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good."
-- Romans 12:20-21

In Psalm 35 we see that David fasted FOR his enemies, prayed FOR them, and grieved FOR them as if they were his own family or friends.  Furthermore, in 2 Samuel 1 David mourns the death of Saul, his enemy.  David did everything the Lord wanted.  Though he had troubles, though he thirsted for justice, he still loved.
 "Don't rejoice when your enemies fall;
don't be happy when they stumble.
For the LORD will be displeased with you
and will turn his anger away from them.
Don't fret because of evildoers;
don't envy the wicked.
For evil people have no future;
the light of the wicked will be snuffed out."
-- Proverbs 24:17-20 

Finally, a study of David's life demonstrates how God blesses those who do right in the face of evil.  God rewarded him for doing good, loving God, and loving his enemies-- even as he called on the Lord for justice.  And this is not the only place we see this in the Bible-- Job was blessed after having prayed for friends who were making his life more miserable than it already was.  For the sake of brevity I will not list every example here, but suffice it to end on this note:

"Don't be misled-- you cannot mock the justice of God.  You will always harvest what you plant.  Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature.  But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.  So let's not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.  Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone..."
-- Galatians 6:7-10
God hears us.  He knows.  Just keep going.  Keep praying.  Pray for justice; Act in love.  Leave revenge for the Lord.  Ultimately, eternity is in God's righteous hands, and he will see us through.  In the meantime, "Bless those who curse you..."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Even though... YET...

My life is crazy.

How many times have I stopped to wonder "Is this real life?"  When catching up with friends I am constantly reminded how abnormal all my stories are.  "You should write a book," they say.  But I wouldn't know where to begin with a book.  Maybe one day I'll see how things fit together in a story to be told, but right now I just see craziness ending in a massive question mark.

I think the more I try to plan my life, the more God laughs.  Not a malicious laugh, mind you, but more of a 'haha-she-has-noooo-idea-what-I've-got-up-my-sleeves' chuckle as He nudges Gabriel in the ribs saying "Just wait until she finds out about the next thing!" and the heavens echo with their amused laughter (because of course they're bros and do that sort of thing).

Seriously though, I know I'm not a pawn in some cosmic game played by a big supernatural being looking for entertainment, but if you had given me a run-down of what my life would be in the nine years since college back before they happened I would not have believed you.  I'm not just talking about the globe-trotting and travel stories, but I'm thinking about all of the sudden, unexpected and big changes that have come-- both good and bad.

Right now there are many things I am trying to figure out.  I know this is not a unique position; I'm sure many of you can relate, but I'm also sure that all of you relating to me right now also know how personal the feeling is-- how different your situation seems to feel from everyone else's lives.

For me, I've found the Psalms to be the best spiritual food during these times.  When I read through the psalms of David, I find a camaraderie of hope in the midst of chaos.  His life could be summed up like this:

EVEN THOUGH I'm surrounded by enemies who slander me...
EVEN THOUGH my family has turned on me...
EVEN THOUGH my friends abandon me...
EVEN THOUGH I messed up...
EVEN THOUGH life is crazy...
EVEN THOUGH I don't understand...
EVEN THOUGH I feel God is not answering me...

DESPITE all these things

... YET I will see the LORD's goodness.
... YET I will live as I should.
... YET the LORD's faithfulness endures forever.
... YET I will praise the LORD.
... YET the LORD is worthy.
... YET the LORD is for me, so I will have no fear.
... YET all the LORD's promises prove true.

This past Sunday the message was fittingly about just this sort of thing, along the lines of:
I don't understand what's going on, but I trust in your unfailing love.
When life doesn't make sense, remember:
God is all-powerful.
God is all-knowing.
God is ever-present.

I write these things because it helps me to process life and what God is teaching me.  I also hope it is useful and encouraging to you who may be going through similar things.  Let's not lose sight of our confident hope.  Let's fix our eyes on God's goodness, not our circumstances and the chaos of life, because His goodness is infinite and true, a source of calm in this crazy world.

And as David wrote:
"My suffering was good for me,
for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.
Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver."
--Psalm 119: 71-72

"The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory...
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever."
--Psalm 118: 14, 29

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Desires of Our Heart

Most, if not all, of us in Christian circles are very familiar with Psalm 37:4: "[God] will give you your heart’s desires."  We love to quote this verse saying, "God created me with this desire, so of course I should have it!" "I have this desire for a reason, so it must come true!" Or "I really, really want this, so God is leading me in this direction because He gives us our desires."  The overall consensus is typically that if you really want or enjoy something then it must be your God-given passion or destiny.  We pray hard for these desires to be filled, and ask others to pray for them with us.  Sometimes they comes to fruition; Sometimes they don't, and we just get frustrated or disappointed.  But why?

I think sometimes we just want things, not because God has ordained it as our destiny but just because we want them.  I think sometimes we use this verse as an excuse to indulge our worldly or fleshly cravings.  Perhaps the motivating factor is prestige or power, wealth or fame, comfort or ease.  Perhaps it is something we enjoy and are good at doing, so we figure it's what we're meant to do or others think it's what we're meant to do.  Or perhaps it is seen as the practical thing to do, so it just makes sense to do it.  I think we all to often latch onto this verse, claiming our desires as God-given without truly examining ourselves and our motives, without consulting God about them.  We pray for our desires to be filled, but we don't pray enough about whether or not our desires are what God wants.  We don't want to consider that, perhaps, God wants us to desire something else.

In doing so, we quote the end without the beginning.  If we actually look at Psalm 37:4, we find there is more to the verse:

"Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires."

Guess what!  There's a prerequisite to this promise!  The context doesn't say just because we desire something it's God's will for us; Rather, it's telling us if we delight in the Lord, then we will desire what He wants us to desire.  What a huge difference!  I believe we miss out on a lot of what God has for us because we don't delight in Him enough.  Sometimes our desires aren't necessarily bad or evil in and of themselves, but they're not God's best for us.  In our finite wisdom we latch onto the option which seems best to us (whether it be for reasons of wealth, passion, prestige, practicality, etc.) and pursue it.

So the question is: Have you examined yourself and consulted with God about the desires driving your life?  Are you truly open to hearing what God has to say?  Are you open to the possibility that God might say "No, that's not what I have for you"?  That God has a different plan in mind and you're going to have to trust Him that His way is better even if the reason is not obvious to you?  The root is: Are you truly willing to go anywhere and do anything God may ask of you?  

I think we often ask God for guidance with a closed mind -- a mind not willing to accept any answer we don't want, a mind not willing to accept that perhaps our dream isn't God's dream.  We ask God with our lips to reveal His will for us, but in our hearts we have a death grip on our desires or dreams that is unwilling to let go.  We pay lip service to Him to make ourselves feel better, to be able to say we've prayed about it, or to try and convince God our way is the best way.  We vie with God for Lordship of our lives. 

I think we can even struggle with this unconsciously -- we don't always realize that we're holding back.  In our minds we want to follow God.  The knowledge that God knows best is there; The knowledge that we should obey His leading is there.  But deep inside we have reservations.  Deep inside we say, "Yes, I'll go wherever you want me to go, do whatever you want me to do, but please don't tell me anything different than ______.  I really want ______."  But do we realize this is sin lurking in us?

Recently, I heard a message in which John Piper addressed the root of all evil.  He said, "Delighting in God is the root of the Commandments -- the root of obedience.  Disobedience is not the ultimate essence of evil, it is preferring anything over God... The greatness of God is magnified when you are satisfied in Him more than anything."  When we put those conditions (I'll do anything, but ______) on our obedience, on our desires, we are saying to God that we prefer something over Him.  We are saying we know better.  We are saying He is not actually our Lord.  Most of us don't struggle with whether or not we should shoplift the candy bar in the checkout line, desiring the candy bar more than obeying God's commandment not to steal; But we do struggle with "You must not have any other god but me" when we try to usurp His throne, trying to bend His will to ours, by trying to control Him.  He may not even want us to do that thing we don't want to do and He may even want us to do that thing we do want to do, but the key point is having the heart to delight in God and prefer His desire even if it crosses our own.

I'll be honest: I'm working through this right now.  I'm not trying to pretend that I've got it all figured out and you don't.  I'm the silver in the fiery furnace getting refined as things I didn't even know were there get dredged up and filtered out.  Ultimately, this post is for me to work through these questions, but I invite you to share in the journey. 

If God told you to drop everything and go spend the rest of your life proclaiming the Gospel to the headhunters and cannibals of Papua New Guinea, what would your response be?  Now you might be saying to yourself "That's so far-fetched", but someone is called to this.  Who's to say it isn't you?  So think for a moment.  Or if you're the 'send-me-to-the-ends-of-the-earth-I-want-to-go-now-the-crazier-the-better' type: If God told you to stay rather than go, what would your response be?  Or how about: If God told you to quit your high-paying job and work for a non-profit, what would your response be?  If God told you to pursue a career in a field you never considered, what would your response be?  If God told you to open your home to refugees or foster kids, what would your response be?  If God told you to give up your Saturday mornings to serve the homeless, what would your response be?  If God told you to be a friend to that person no one likes, what would your response be?  Seriously, think for a moment.  The possibilities are endless.  Are you truly willing to go anywhere and do anything God may ask of you?

Recently, in the context of anything/anywhere I told someone, "If God would clearly tell me what He wants me to do, I would do it."  Seemingly before that statement had completely come out of my mouth, I felt that still small voice say, "But you wouldn't do it willingly."  Hello, impurity coming up to the surface for dredging.  I suddenly realized I had put conditions on my willingness to obey which would result in grudging obedience depending on what He asked of me.  And this was not okay.  Immediately Psalm 51 came to mind:

"Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins...
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me...
and make me willing to obey you."

The bottom line is He's not going to call all of us to go live in the jungle or give up a career, but I think no matter what the details of our callings are we are called to be willing to go anywhere or do anything because we delight in Him.  Because once we delight in Him, we'll desire to please Him.  We'll desire what He desires above all else.  We'll trust Him and His goodness that whatever we can come up with won't ultimately be as good as what He can come up with, for His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

"But doesn't God want me to be happy?" someone will say.  "I'll be miserable if ______ doesn't come to pass.  How can I be happy if I can't fulfill my dream?"  But... where does true happiness comes from?  Is it the fulfillment of our every want and whim?  Is it the satisfaction of our flesh?  Is it an easy life?  Is it having a life everyone is jealous of?  Is it success as society measures it?

The Bible makes it clear that true happiness -- or joy -- comes from God and God alone.  It comes from believing God and rejoicing (1 Peter 1:8); It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit for those who believe (Galatians 5:22).  Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote: "The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing" (Proverbs 10:28).  The hopes of the godly result in happiness.  And where do these hopes come from?  Paul writes: "I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13, emphasis added).  The hopes (which may also be called desires -- I mean if we hope for it, then we desire it, do we not?) of the righteous come from God; They come from His promises, which are "backed by the honor of [His] name" (Psalm 138:2).  He's not going to fail us -- what glory would that bring Him?  Trusting Him results in joy, in happiness.  Giving up our desires for His desires isn't saying we're giving up being happy.  It's trading in what we think will make us happy for what God knows will bring us joy.  It's trusting his "Yes", "No", or "Not yet" is perfect because He is perfect beyond imagining; Back to my last post, it's trusting Him and His goodness.

On a final note, the verse immediately after Psalm 37:4 states: "Commit everything you do to the LORD.  Trust him, and he will help you."  Again, this verse is so often misused.  It doesn't say we'll succeed just because we say we're doing something for the Lord.  It's telling us everything we do because we're following the Lord's will come to pass with His help.  God will act on our behalf when our actions are committed to His will, His desires.

I pray I'll be able to truly say I'm willing to go anywhere and do anything at any time.  That whatever God has for me, I'll do with delight.  That I'll know the difference between what God desires and what I desire and be able to let go of any desire which isn't His.  That I'll fully surrender my will to His will.  That I'll know His heart, and it will become my heart.  That I will not be so strong-willed that I miss the things God has for me because I'm so bent on doing things my way.

I don't want a mediocre life.  In this world I have to remind myself, in the light of eternity, mediocrity is not defined by how prestigious my career is, how much money I make, or how many letters come after my name.  Perhaps His desires for me will make me a great success by the world's standards, or perhaps they will seem humble by those around me.  Either way, God knows best, and He's interested in the eternal ramifications of my life, not just the temporal.

May I be like David who wrote, "I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart" (Psalm 40:8).

"Taste and see that the LORD is good.  
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
... those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing." 
Psalm 34:8-10

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wait Expectantly

Currently, I'm in a season of waiting.  I know my time here expires in July, but I don't know what comes after.  Of course, I've been asking God.  I feel like a broken record continuously praying: "Hey God, where do I go from here?"  "Hey God, what's the plan?"  "Hi, it's me again.  Just wondering how these pieces fit together.  Looking forward to your reply."  "Hey God, I've got an idea.  Would love your input.  Call me."

And then God just says,
"Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act." (Psalm 37:7)

It's one of those non-answers that can drive you crazy, isn't it?  We come from a culture that loves to plan and have five, ten, or even lifetime plans all mapped out with every jot and tittle neatly in place.  I never realized how much of a cultural thing that is until living in China.  For example, I can surf the web right now and find academic calendars for schools in the US years ahead of time, but here there are rumors of when and how long holidays are -- sometimes even right up to within days of them.  For people new to working in China, this can be maddening.  For those of us who are China veterans, it's not ideal but we're used to it.

I've come to expect last minute (and often not thought through) decisions in the Chinese workplace.  Therefore, I can take my job here one day at a time, knowing that plans are written in pencil and accept that there's nothing I can do about it.  In fact, I am hesitant to plan anything more than a week out.  But for some reason, I have been oscillating between peace in trusting God with an unknown future (months in advance) and having to force myself to relax when I realize I've been clenching my jaw for an unknown period of time.  Why is it so difficult to fully and completely surrender saying, "God I trust you.  My future is in your hands"?  No matter how many times He has come through for me and clearly ordered my footsteps in the past, I still have a nagging deep inside which wonders if He will do it again this time.

As I've pondered this, I've begun to have a bit more compassion for the Israelites throughout Scripture.  How many times after God performed a great miracle did they turn back to self-pity and self-reliance for the next problem instead of giving it to God, trusting him to come through just as He always had before?  Sometimes it had been a long time between miracles or prophets, so the Israelites in question hadn't personally experienced the testimonies handed down to them.  But other times, the very people who had been in the midst of great miracles doubted God would come through for them the next time around.

The generation of Israelites Moses led out of Egypt is an example.  They witnessed the plagues God sent against Egypt, walked on dry land through the Red Sea, watched God destroy the Egyptian army in the very same sea and then they accused God of leading them into the wilderness to die when the only water they found was bitter.  God, of course, miraculously came through and made the water good to drink (Exodus 15:22-27).  Then (Exodus 16) He provided manna and quail from Heaven to feed them.  Each day they ate the manna God faithfully provided.  Each day the Israelites experienced a miraculous provision of their daily needs; however, one chapter later, they are thirsty again and can't find water.  Do they trust God to provide (and maybe even ask politely?) as he not only provided water two chapters before but also met so many other needs throughout the journey (including the food they had eaten that very day)?  Nope.  They complain to and blame Moses for trying to kill them by bringing them out of Egypt!

Another example which comes to mind is from the New Testament.  In Matthew 14 Jesus has been preaching to a huge crowd of 5,000 men and their families when the topic of what's for dinner comes up.  The disciples want him to send people away to find food, but Jesus says, "That isn't necessary -- you feed them."  Now I must say, if I had been one of those disciples I would have thought he was off his rocker at that moment as well.  Of course they point out to him that they only have five loaves of bread and two fish.  But Jesus responds by doing the impossible, providing enough for everyone to eat all that they wanted and leftovers for later.

Could you imagine being there watching him tear enough pieces off of one loaf of bread to feed more than 1,000 people?  Or make a fish stretch to feed more than 2,500 people??  The people sitting in the front of the crowd must have seen it happening.  Just imagine the whispers and rumors slowly making their way to the back of the crowd.  I imagine those in the back thought the message had gotten garbled through a massive game of telephone!  The disciples, on the other hand, definitely understood a miracle was happening as they had the task of distributing the insane amount of food and knew how much they had started with.  They certainly got their 10,000 steps in that day as they went back and forth, back and forth with a seemingly never ending supply of bread and fish coming from Jesus going out to a sea of people stretching into the distance.  It would have been memorable to say the least!!

That being said, one chapter later we find ourselves in déjà vu: Jesus has been preaching to a (mere) crowd of 4,000 men and their families.  He calls together his disciples and says, "Hey guys, these people must be hungry.  Let's feed them."  It's the perfect opportunity for the disciples to apply what they learned from the first lesson, right?  I mean, don't you expect a disciple to be like, "Awesome!  I've got a loaf of bread.  Here Jesus, take it.  Do that thing you did last time -- that was so cool!!!  Who else has something??"  But instead they reply, "Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?"  It makes you want to facepalm, doesn't it?  Jesus, however, patiently responds by asking how much bread they have and miraculously providing again.  

So the disciples finally learned, right?  Nope.  Just a chapter later, they are traveling when they realize no one had brought any bread and begin to argue with each other about it.  You can hear the exasperation in Jesus' reply: "You have so little faith!  Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread?  Don't you understand even yet?  Don't you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up?  Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves and the large basket of leftovers you picked up?"  Ouch.  Burn.  

Meanwhile, we (I assume I'm not the only one to do this) sit here shaking our head at them and the Israelites in Exodus as we read, saying to ourselves that we would have learned by then.  But would we have?  I can't help but wonder how many times I've made God want to facepalm and say, "Don't you understand even yet??"  And then my response would start off something like, "But this is different..."  But is it really?  All of this boils down to do I/we trust in the goodness of God our Creator.  Not do I believe in God or do I believe he has the power to do these things but will he continue to provide.  Will he continue to faithfully work out his plan for my life -- not just the lives of others -- and in a good way?  The Israelites He rescued out of Egypt needed to trust in God's goodness to lead them to the Promised Land safely and not abandon them in the desert.  The disciples needed to trust in God's goodness to provide exactly what was needed when it was needed at all times, not just that He would do it as an one-off event and abandon them the next time.  

God has provided for me in every transition I've had in life.  Every time He has come through at exactly the right time with what I've needed.  Why would he not do it this time?  I want to know the answers now, but if God hasn't revealed them yet, I don't need to know yet.  Notice, he led me to Psalm 37:7 ("Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act." -- emphasis added), not Psalm 46:10 ("Be still and know that I am God!").  He knows me.  I like action.  But He also knows that waiting periods are learning periods.  Thankfully, God is patient because sometimes I'm not the best student.  I am learning to be still.  I am learning to be patient.  I am learning to trust more.  And I am learning to dwell on the goodness of God.

This began at my last transition in late September/ early October when I didn't know what to do.  There is a song titled "King of my Heart" which repeatedly declares to God "You are good."  There's just something about declaring that simple statement that is so powerful.  This mantra got me through that transition, and it is still relevant now.  He is the Good Father who gives good gifts to His children.  I think the key to joy in every situation is to dwell on the goodness of God.  No situation can change His goodness.  It is eternal and unchangeable -- a constant is a chaotic world which brings hope in all things. 

In Psalm 5:3 David wrote: "Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly."  Wait expectantly -- not just wait.  Wait expectantly for God in his goodness to respond and provide at exactly the right time and in the right way.  His decisions are not half-baked last minute ideas of human thought.  They are perfectly planned in every way, and the parade of testimonies coming from his people and Scripture attests to this.  Therefore, this is where I am right now: I am waiting expectantly for the wonderful things ahead, dwelling in the presence of my Good Father, trusting Him with my future, and looking forward to being able to share another testimony of his provision, leading, and divine wisdom -- a testimony declaring the goodness of God.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Two years ago was the only time I was in the States during my three years in China, and it was because I got an email saying Grandmother had likely had a stroke and wouldn't survive the week.  It was a Sunday afternoon a few months before China's Great Firewall fully blocked the Gmail app on phones (everything Google is blocked over there, but at that point I could still read messages on my phone couldn't reply to them until I got on my computer's VPN).  I was on a crowded city bus in crazy weekend traffic heading home from a time of fellowship when I saw the news.  Next commenced a frenzied effort to book a last minute ticket that wasn't some crazy-insane-demand-your-first-born dollar amount, edit the rest of my students' rough drafts, holiday-ready the apartment (though somehow I left a piece of fruit on the bed in the morning... always a nice welcome home - surprise this fruit has been sitting in the tropical humidity for a month and it's happy to see you!), arrange for my students to email me their final projects, and find volunteers to mark their exams for me as the next day began final exam week.

Less than 24 hours later I began a two day journey home, with a carry on bag full of papers to grade, and finally landed in DC where my nephew Nick treated me to my first pumpkin spice latte in three years in the Dulles arrivals hall before we whisked away straight to Grandmother's bedside.  This was also the winter of Snowpocalypse, so stepping out of the terminal Mother Nature immediately reminded me what cold is.  Grandmother wasn't communicative at that point in time, but there were indications that she could hear us.  We played her favorite Gospel CDs and read to her from the Bible.  Only once did I hear her say anything -- Mom asked her if she remembered eating the Belgian chocolate Aunt Peggy had brought her in the past.  She grabbed Mom's hand, looked at her very intently, and declared "Yes, I remember!  You should bring me some!"  A few days later -- two years ago today -- Grandmother, my Dad's mom and my last living grandparent, passed into Heaven's gates and finally met her Savior at the age of 95.

But you know what?  She was born dead.  You see, she was born in 1918 during the influenza epidemic which killed 50 million people -- more than the total who had just died in World War I.  Her mom had the flu when she gave birth, and my Grandmother came out "black".  The doctor pronounced her dead and discarded her, intent on concentrating his efforts on saving her mom (which he did).  Meanwhile, her aunt took her into another room, cried out to God in prayer, and life breathed into her... for 95 years.

At her funeral, on a cold snowy day, her testimony was read.  It recounted this story and urged all of her descendants to live their lives with an attitude of thanksgiving for the miracle of life God had given her and thus given each of us.  She lived the humble life of a servant we are all meant to -- always giving and taking care of others.  She didn't do this because she was rich or because she didn't have problems -- she was widowed three times; she did it because she was thankful.

I hope I can learn to live in a perpetual state of thankfulness and to serve her legacy, Christ's legacy, better.  And I hope we can all remember to pray in faith impossible prayers as her aunt did because God enjoys the impossible.

Mary Lee Seeber
26 November 1918 -- 13 January 2014 
Fittingly, her birthday sometimes fell on Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.
-- Psalm 27:14
The LORD gives his people strength.
-- Psalm 28:8
I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, "You are my God!"
My future is in your hands...
Let your favor shine on your servant.
-- Psalm 31:14-16
The LORD says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life."
-- Psalm 32:8

Lord, help me know your leading.  Help me walk the best pathway -- not just a good one but the best -- no matter what that is.

Give me the strength and patience to know it and do it according to your plan -- not my own.

Make your desires my desires that I may stand before your holy hill.

Let your favor shine on me, shaping your best in me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

China Stories 2

After naming a lot of things I'm looking forward to in the States in my previous post it is probably appropriate to make a list of the top five things I'm going to miss about China (in no particular order except the first one).

1. People
 I've met a lot of people during my time here and will have to say goodbye to many good friends, both Chinese and fellow expats.  I think this is always the most difficult part of moving.  After living many places (including several continents), now it is impossible to be in the same place as everyone I love.

2. Cheap fresh fruits and vegetables of a large variety
 This is particularly because I live in southern China, which is sub-tropical.  I can literally eat the papaya off the tree next door, which is of course picked exactly when it is ripe not early and then shipped around the world.  Right now I live in a papaya, mango, passion fruit, banana, dragon fruit, mangosteen, lichee, melon, pineapple, and jack fruit paradise.   Pretty soon mango season will be upon us and you literally have to watch out for mangoes falling from the trees.  There are also so many different kinds of vegetables that I don't even know the English names of half of them.

3. The challenge of living in a foreign language environment 
Of course this can be frustrating at times but there is a certain triumphant feeling you get each time you overcome a new situation in that language.  It's fun and rewarding to be able to prevail over obstacles in a foreign language, whether it be arguing successfully that yes your shipment did already arrive at the train station and you know this because somebody phoned you about it or finally being able to understand that old 'auntie' who speaks with an incredibly strong country accent.

4. Cheap and efficient rail networks
 Ok so this is one area that the US is majorly behind in.  Our rail system is so outdated that it's embarrassing.  Why can't I travel across my country on high speed rail?

5. Real Chinese food
Seriously, American Chinese food is not Chinese food (just like the "Western" food here is really... well, um... not Western food.  Even if you go to P.F. Chang's instead of ordering Chinese take-out you're still eating Westernized Chinese food.  For example, the "Western" food here has been known to be things like a pizza with a sweet pastry-like crust and without any of the Italian seasonings, a Hawaiian pizza that comes with pine nuts and raisins but no pineapple, "Caesar" salad without garlic, mayonnaise and salad cream on EVERYTHING, mayonnaise trying to pose as salad cream, cakes with cherry tomatoes and peas on top that are filled with beans, the strangest ice cream flavors ever (such as corn), or a chocolate glazed doughnut filled with tuna.  In the same way, the Chinese food you think is Chinese food is not actually Chinese food.