Posted in cross-cultural, Spirituality, The Grove Velvet Ashes, Uncategorized

The Annoying Question That Turns out to Be a Gift

„Why are you single?”

If I had a penny for every time I was asked that question, I’d be rich by now!

 

Right now, I live in a place that’s full of single people (almost 50% of Berlin households). Around here, I am not odd. Well, I probably am in lots of ways but not for being single. It used to be a very different story. For a number of years, I lived in a South Asian community in England. In that context, there were no single women around. Girls got married at a young age and generally started having children pretty soon after that. I was the odd one out. In many ways – but the thing that my friends had the hardest time getting their heads around was my singleness. There was no category for me. And so the questions came. Sometimes that was annoying, often hard. I’d always wanted to be married, have a family. A real, honest answer to their questions would have been painful and very vulnerable. I wasn’t always ready to go there. Not with everyone, not in every context. At the same time, I didn’t want to give a glib answer. One that was maybe correct but not always real in my life. And so I fumbled through.

It was only years later that a friend encouraged a group of us to enter into that question more deeply. We were all serving (or preparing to serve) cross-culturally. Our backgrounds were diverse – we were from Eastern and Western Europe, and the Middle East. Mostly women but also some men. My friend, who was leading us through this, was from Eastern Europe herself and for many years had served as a single lady in a neighbouring country. And it was hard. There weren’t many single women around. Certainly not in ministry. And so the questions came, as they had for me and for so many of us. Eventually she realised it wasn’t enough to find peace in her own heart with being single (important though that was). She also longed to respond to the ever-present questions in a way that satisfied her own heart and faith, that reflected God’s love and care for every person, married or single, and that caused her audience “to bless God for her” (as my friend put it).

What an amazing way to think about this! Those awkward questions are actually a gift and an opportunity! An opportunity (and an invitation) for me to wrestle more deeply with God about my own doubts, fears and insecurities. And an opportunity to speak words of hope and healing into hearts that are equally as broken and vulnerable as my own. Because isn’t that what’s really behind many of those question. Am I enough? Whether single or married, we all ask that question.

That question, that oh so annoying question, can help open the vista beyond the immediate, the culturally strange. It can be an opportunity to share about identity, about worth, about God’s care. Beyond marital status, gender, success – the value of a person created in the image of God!

I still don’t have the perfect answer, and maybe I never will. That’s ok. It’s a journey. But I do look at those questions quite differently now.

 

If you are single, how do you answer this question in your context? If you’re married, how do you respond to comments or questions about your team mate’s singleness?

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.

 

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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Posted in Spirituality

Wonder

Seeing through the eyes of a child, I notice again the beauty of the world You created, Lord.

They touch a bush – and the leaves start to dance! What fun!

Everything is new and fresh – a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.

So much wonder!
So much excitement!

My eyes, Lord, are so used to it all. They see but don’t notice.

Oblivious to the beauty, the wonder of the small and ordinary.

Oh the joy and pride you must feel at a small child discovering this world you created. Your world, made for us, given to us.

Even now, even after the Fall, there is so much beauty! You were so extravagantly generous in creating. What an amazing reflection of your character!

I praise you for the gift of little kids in my life. For their joy at living and exploring, their wonder at the miracle of it all.

Help my eyes and heart to see the way they do!

 

Posted in Spirituality, The Grove Velvet Ashes

Let Us Go

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  (Luke 2:15 + 16)

Sometimes I wonder what became of the shepherds after this event. What were they thinking during those 30ish years that Jesus was not in the public eye? Did they talk to each other about the experience, wondering if it was even real?

And later, did they go to hear him teach? Did they come to him with their needs, with sick family members?

Were they there at his crucifixion? Did they see him after his resurrection?

Did any of them join his first band of followers?

We don’t know. Maybe some of them did. I hope so!

“Let us go!” would have looked so different in those seasons. No angels telling them where to go. Maybe no community to share the experience with, giving each other courage.

Instead the distractions of everyday life. The worries, the fears, the busyness. But also the memory of what happened. The longing to see him again. Wondering what it meant that he was the Saviour, the Messiah, as the angel had said.

What about you? What about me? What season are we in? What does “Let us go!” look like right now?

Sometimes it’s so full of excitement, of wonder. Other times it’s sheer discipline. Sometimes it feels like I’m clinging on for dear life (only to discover it’s Him holding me, not the other way around).

In some seasons, it takes a lot of courage. Going into a new place, a new culture, a new language. Being away from those I’m used to journeying with. Or realising He is calling me to new ways of coming to Him.

I wonder what happened to those shepherds. I wonder if any of them followed him. I hope so!

In the midst of challenges, of busyness, of questions, of great joy – let us go! Alone and in community – let us go! Today. This Christmas. Whatever that might look like for each of us right now.

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.

Posted in Spirituality

The Day Contentment Died

Fear. A new sensation. They had never felt this way before.

They heard wolves howling in the distance and instinctively knew they were in danger. They found a cave to hide in and waited for morning.
What a different place their world had been just a few short hours previously.
It seemed to make so much sense at the time. Just one bite of the apple and they would be like God. Turns out it was all a lie. That apple had been pure poison, destroying everything they had ever known.
Purity turned to shame.
Trust to blame.
Fellowship to hiding.
The Lord had come walking in the garden, like He did every day. But they could not face standing before Him. They were naked and ashamed, and so they hid.
Their relationship with each other – destroyed.
Their relationship with God – destroyed.
Their relationship with the rest of creation – destroyed.
Their world had been so full of treasure. Every day was full of joy and new discoveries.
And now? Now it was dark, threatening, uncertain.
Yet in the midst of it all, in the midst of darkness and fear, there was a still, small voice telling them there would be new treasures to discover.
Treasures of grace and mercy, of forgiveness. They had a first taste of that when the Lord, full of compassion, made them clothes. Nakedness and shame covered.
He made a promise that one day the power of the snake, the power of lies and deceit, would be broken.
They’d had a first taste but there would be so much more to come.
The poison powerful, invading everything.
Yet the treasure of God’s love more powerful still.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(This text came out of a writing challenge I did with some friends. Three images from Story Cubes, some connection to faith and 20 minutes.)
Thinking about contentment this week, I came back to this story. That day, contentment as Adam & Eve had known it, died. I don’t think contentment was ever straightforward. It was always a choice. When it took a while for a “suitable companion” to be found. When the snake suggested they were lacking and offered more.
Yet there was a purity and an innocence that died that day. Poison invaded the world. New treasures of grace and forgiveness were born. That’s the tension we live in, I live in.
I can celebrate Communion and marvel again at the miracle of a God who loves so deeply and gives so abundantly. Then I step out of church and contentment goes out the window because I have to wait a whole 6 minutes for my train. (I mean, what is the world coming to? Really not acceptable! Yup, I’m absolutely a spoiled Berliner!)
The tension of “holy discontent” because this world is so far from what it was meant to be. And “not so holy” discontent because things don’t work out exactly the way I would like them to.
“Do this in remembrance of me”. Oh how my heart needs to be reminded of love, of forgiveness, of hope. One day, the tension will be no more. In the meantime, I am thankful for the treasures to be found in the midst of the tension.
This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.
Posted in cross-cultural, Spirituality, The Grove Velvet Ashes

Echoes of Belonging

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place. (Miriam Adeney)

The beauty of a mosaic is in lots of broken pieces making an amazing whole. The beauty of calling different places home is that a part of my heart fits in each one of them. Yet it’s never the whole. Always there is that longing for somewhere else.

Scattered throughout my home, my routines, my life are echoes of elsewhere. I see them, I know they’re there. Others might not. It might seem like I belong here completely and yet I don’t.

It’s a beautiful longing, but also a painful one. Knowing that this side of heaven, all the pieces of my heart will never again be in just one place.

The painting above (by Sir John Everett Millais) so beautifully depicts Christ living that same reality. He belongs in this home, in this family. Yet there are echoes of the home he left – triangle shapes representing the trinity, a dove for the Holy Spirit. Every day of his life, Christ lived in that tension. Belonging in two places. For most of that time, others didn’t see that. His parents knew – maybe not fully – and treasured the words they had heard. His friends, the workers in the shop, the village? Not so much.

People who understand my reality are an incredible gift. Knowing that Christ walked this reality as well is my great comfort and a foundation that’s strong and sure.

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.

Picture credit: Tate Britain

Posted in Spirituality

Living Life One Verse At A Time

The display tells me the next train will come in 3 minutes. And it does. Only it doesn’t stop, and so there’s no way for me to get on. There are signs up – due to engineering work, trains won’t be stopping here for another week or so. There’s the promise that things will change soon. I see the progress the workers are making but the barriers are still up. “Next train in 3 minutes” almost feels like a taunt.

Life can be like that, can’t it? We have hopes and dreams, maybe promises even. Yet things never quite seem to work out, to come together. We hope, we trust, we hang on. We wait. Sometimes we see a glimpse of what we’re waiting for but it’s never quite in our grasp. Doubt starts to creep in. Is God really faithful? Is he really for me? What am I doing wrong?

I imagine Elijah must have had similar thoughts.

“So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.  Then the word of the Lord came to him.” (1 Kings 17:5-8)

Can you imagine? We’d been promised provision, water and food. At the same time, the drought he had predicted was going on. And the brook was drying up. It’s so easy for us to read on, to skip to the next miracle of provision. But Elijah was living his story one verse at a time. Just like us. There was less and less water in the brook. Elijah must have been waiting for God to do something, to intervene. Waiting, but not seeing anything. And then the water dried up completely.  We know the next chapter, he didn’t. Not until the brook had dried up. He was living his life one verse at a time.

That’s what makes waiting so hard. We don’t get to look ahead, to see how things will play out. Just like Elijah didn’t.

One step at a time, one verse at a time.

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:12)

Faith and patience. Not my strong suit but I’m trying. While living my life one verse at a time.

 

This is part of the synchroblog on waiting, to celebrate the release of Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow – out now. See more here and link up to the synchroblog here.

I had the privilege of receiving an advance copy of the book and loved it!

It can be so easy at times to forget that those familiar characters in the Bible were real people. People like us, who become frustrated, fearful, even angry, as God seemingly delays intervening in their situation. Tanya Marlow helps us overcome the distance of centuries, culture and familiarity, by taking us right into their story. As we walk through their story with them, we become more aware of our own – the waiting, the longing, but also the disappointment, sadness and resentment. And like He did with Sarah, Isaiah, John and Mary, God meets us in all of it. Very powerful! I have not had a chance yet to use the group study guide but it looks great, and I look forward to going through it soon.

 

Posted in Spirituality

It’s All Borrowed

What a timely post (as my aunt just passed away and there are other health issues going on around me) from one of my favourite bloggers.

Marilyn R. Gardner

stop watchI wrote a post for today. And I was passionate about the topic, and wrote fluidly and clearly.

I scheduled it to publish at 8:30 this morning. And then an hour after arriving at work a colleague came running. “You’re a nurse? Come quick, we need you.” 

I am not a clinical nurse, I’m a public health nurse/educator. But God gives grace for the moment and emergency mode went into high gear. Pulse taking, cold compresses, sitting on the ground with a woman I’d never met, waiting for the ambulance. It’s minutes that count. It’s moments that change lives.

And all of it? It’s all borrowed. These bodies, these lives – they’re borrowed, we don’t own any of it.

I stop by a colleague/friend’s desk afterwards, both of us usually gregarious at this time of day, laughing about our families and their (our) flaws. Known as the loudest in the…

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