Wednesday, August 07, 2019

We All Want to Belong

Have you ever wanted to recommend a book to a fictional character?  I have.  I don't know if it is a side effect of reading too much or the timeliness of the topic (belonging) in my life.  My vote is for the later.  Three characters in Tricia Mingerink's book, Midnight's Curse, wrestle with belonging which is the theme of Kristen Strong's book, Back Roads to Belonging.

Midnight's Curse opens with High King Alexander feeling on the outside of the people around him.  Even though he is the high king, he struggles to find his place.  This struggle increases as he observes the couples around him, but he has no one and feels he has no friends. This makes him vulnerable to some bad choices. His right hand man, Daemyn Rand, might look like he has it altogether, but his insecurities and past keep sabotaging the present. Elara longs to be more than a servant and jumps at the chance to go to the ball.  The glass slippers seem the answer to all her problems or are they?  The author uses this backdrop to create a fairy tale retelling of Cinderella that is both unique and unpredictable.  It is a fun read from start to finish as each character comes to grips with belonging and finding their place in the kingdom.

Why would I recommend Back Roads to Belonging to these three? First of all, Kristen reminds us that belonging starts with God.  For these three, belonging starts with the Cursebreaker (Jesus).  Only he can fill the empty places.  Belonging doesn't happen automatically sometimes you have to take the long way to get there. For the High King, Kristen might tell him that Jesus "didn't worry about being on the outside looking in.  He was on the outside looking up." Start there.  To Daemyn, she might gently say,"Belonging is not a state of your circumstances but a state of your soul."  For Elara, she might encourage her to not discount the places where she does belong instead of trying to belong somewhere that she was not designed to belong. 

This book is practical, encouraging, and most of all points to the source of all belonging.  If you have read my blog before, you probably know that I struggle with belonging and finding my place.  I related to Kristen's words and was thankful for her honest and real solutions.  Belonging is not easy, but God does have a place for us to belong, and it starts with Him.  Words I need to hear again and again.

It was a privilege to be an advanced reader for both books.  Right now, Tricia's first book, Dagger's Sleep which is a prequel to this one is only 99 cents on Kindle.  With Midnight's Curse priced at $2.99.  Excellent price for two great reads.  

Kristen's book, Back Roads to Belonging is perfect to read one chapter a day as you figure out your place of belonging.  I am hoping to go back through it again this year with a friend to process it more.

Is there a book you would love to recommend to a fictional character?  What book is it?  I would love to hear about it in the comments. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Not Letting a Bad Experience Define Your Future

We have three families on our aviation team.  This week the wives decided to go out for lunch.  Something we don't do as often as we should.  Our husbands carpooled to work so we would have a car.  I volunteered to drive since I have the most experience with a manual vehicle and also a Liberian driver's license.  

I rarely drive off of the compound because when I go off campus, my husband and I are usually together.  Driving here makes me nervous.  The traffic is crazy.  People don't follow the rules, and you have to be on high alert so you don't hit one of the motorcycles or tuk tuks that swing in and out of traffic.  The last time I drove to go shopping with a friend, my fitbit recorded it as a cardio workout.    But we were overdue for an outing and I was up for the challenge especially since this year for fearing less.

In the midst of a rainy week, the day of our outing was sunny and beautiful.  After picking up the other ladies, we were on our way.  Traffic was slower than usual.  As we got closer to our next turn, I saw that the slowdown was due to a police checkpoint.  I wasn't too worried.  The police usually let our organization's cars go on through but even if they did't our papers are always in order.  But  I was not surprised when we were pulled aside and the policeman asked for my driver's license and the car's fire extinguisher certificate.  Yep.  We are required to have a fire extinguisher in our car and with a certificate that says it is up to date and in working order from the fire department.  But remember, I said our papers are always in order.  This time they weren't.  The required paper was no where in the folder.  I called my husband thinking I was looking in the wrong place.  Nope.  To make a long story short, I didn't have the right paper.  By accident, it had been left out.  Through the grace of God, the help of a local staff person on the phone with our officer, and the officer realizing that we would just wait til the paper arrived, we were allowed to proceed to our lunch.  

We ate a wonderful lunch, shopped, and drove home without any problems.  Back at home, I breathed deep and thought about having a good cry.  Then the lies crept in. Maybe you shouldn't go out with your friends again like that.  I bet the police will stop you every time.  Is it worth it?  Do you really like living here?  Thankfully, the truth put up a fight.  I was not alone at that stop.  Both wives were active in helping me talk to the policeman and talking on the phone to my husband and staff.  I live in a country where we have traffic checks, but they were asking me to follow one of their rules.  I just happened to have the one car that was missing a needed paper even if the needed paper seemed silly.  One of my friends lived in a country where the policeman would get in your car and not leave until you paid them a bribe. Our policeman was doing his job.  This was minor, basically an inconvenience.  This one incident didn't need to define future outings.  In fact, two days later I drove without incident and with all the correct papers to meet my husband in town for a lunch date.  For some, it would have been no big deal.  For me, it was a small victory in fearing less.

For me, it is easy to let a bad experience taint how I act in the future. Maybe a friend stood you up, does that mean you never invite her out for lunch again?  Maybe you attend a new bible study and no one reaches out to you, do you at least give it one more try?  Maybe you gave someone money for a need to find out later that they didn't have that need, do you never give money out again? I want to be a person that doesn't get derailed by minor things.  I don't want to be offended easily by what others say.  I don't want to miss out on a great friendship or fun experience because of a minor incident or misunderstanding.  

I understand that my traffic stop was more of inconvenience than a bad experience.  The world is full of bad experiences causing serious that require stepping back, setting boundaries, and seeking healing.  If this is you, I am sorry that you have to go through that.  I pray that God will give you the support and help you need to not let this experience keep you from what God has for you.  

What is a bad experience that you have had lately?  How did it affect you?  How did you see God working in that situation in your life?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Lessons from the Syrophoenician Woman

Towards the end of Mark 7, Jesus exited Galilee and entered the region of Tyre, Gentile territory.  He entered a house not wanting others to know he was there.  For some reason, he needed privacy, a time away.  From previous chapters, you know he needed a rest.  He fed the 5000, calmed a storm, was confronted by the religious leaders, and healed many people in the towns they traveled through, but Jesus could not stay hidden.  The Syrophoenician woman found him and was determined to have Jesus deliver her daughter from an unclean spirit.  

As a person who needs time away from others after a busy season, I relate to Jesus and his desire to remain hidden.  On the other hand, as a mom of two dear ones, I understand this mom’s heart.  She desires for her daughter to be healed.  Mark 7:26 tells us that this woman kept asking Jesus to heal her daughter.  She was not going away until she had an answer.  In Matthew’s version of the story (ch 15), she cried out for Jesus to have mercy on her and heal her daughter.  Then Jesus does something we rarely see, he doesn’t answer her.  He basically ignores her.  The disciples fed up with her cries come to Jesus and ask him to send her away.  Here is where the story takes an even stranger turn.  Jesus responds to her request with these words, “ Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)  Basically Jesus calls her a dog as he explains that his mission is to the Jews first and then the Gentiles.  Many commentaries agree that the word used for dog here was used for little dogs that were often pets in Jewish households.  Most people would have been offended, but the women does not take offense.  She responds that even dogs receive crumbs from the children's table. For her, a crumb was enough.  Jesus’ replies back to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done to you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28)  When the woman goes home, she finds her daughter fully healed.

This woman humbles me in many ways. Here are a few things from her story that challenged me.

1.  Her focus was on who Jesus was not who she was.

This woman could have been defensive towards Jesus.  He basically called her a dog even if it was a pet dog. (For more on the meaning of this interaction see here.) Somehow the woman understood what Jesus meant and was not offended.  She focused on Jesus and what he could do.  

We live in a world where people are offended easily.  I admit it is something I struggle with.  Being offended depends on my focus.  If I am feeling insecure, I see everything through that lens.  I am easily hurt by words that were not meant to hurt.  But it I am secure in Christ, my focus is on him.  It doesn’t matter what others say.  I am better able to hear what the other person is saying.  I am better able to see their hurt or concern.  It makes for a better situation.

2. She took seriously her role as intercessor for her daughter.

The Syrophoenician woman was all in.  It didn’t matter what the neighbors thought.  She wanted Jesus to heal her daughter, and she was not going to be turned away easily.  Her prayer was not only short and humble but full of faith.  She relied on God’s mercy and preservered with her request.   The other day, I heard intercessor defined as someone who makes another’s needs her own as she prays. The Syrophoenician woman was a true intercessor.  

I know the power of prayer, but am easily distracted from it especially consistent time in prayer.  For me, consistently praying with others helps me to stay more disciplined.  These past two years, some women on my team gather every Friday morning before work to intercede for our children who are in the states while we are here.  It is a blessed time as we lay our worries and concerns at the feet of Jesus and intercede together for jobs, making right choices, and good relationships for our children.  We not only see answers to our prayers; we are becoming closer as friends.  My hope is to transfer some of this consistency to my individual prayer time.

3. She trusted that a crumb was enough to meet her need.

Jesus said her daughter was healed.  She believed it and went home to find out that it was so.  Jesus met her need in his way, and it was more than enough.  How often do I bring a need to Jesus, but I want him to meet that need in a certain way.  When I was pregnant with our son, a sonogram showed that one of his kidneys was enlarged.  I remember pleading with God to heal our little boy.  I was sure my next sonogram would reveal that everything was okay with his kidney back to a normal size, but each time it was the same.  I struggled with this.  Did I not have enough faith?  Was I not praying hard enough? Then God in his grace used a bible study fellowship teacher’s words to remind me the his ways are not my ways.  She reminded me that God is more concerned about my character and who I was becoming in Him than he is about my external circumstances.  After that, I still prayed for healing but my heart became more focused on what God was doing inside of me.  I prayed that I would be a good mother to this son.  I prayed that he would grow up to be a man after God’s own heart.  I prayed for God’s hand on the doctors who later did the surgeries on his young body.  It was a hard time, but God was faithful in his working both on the inside and the outside. 

Can you relate to any of these lessons?  Do your insecurities make it easier for you to take things personally?  Is there someone or even a people group that God is calling you to intercede for on a regular basis?  Do you trust God to meet your need in His way and His time whether it is for a job, health issue, or even relationship struggles?  I would love to pray for you.  Just leave note in the comments.