Feasting in the Wilderness

Feasting in the Wilderness

“What keeps you going?”, he asked. It’s a canned question, but meant to give veterans the chance to encourage young missionaries, I suppose. How do I answer that? What remarkable, memorable statement could I utter that would make a lasting impression, maybe even change him forever? My genuine answer, the one my heart immediately trumpeted, was just one very loud word: “Jesus!”. But that’s so expected. I’m a missionary after all, and that’s what you’d expect me to say. How boring. “Jesus, literally, truly, absolutely, keeps me going.” I told him that, not because he expected me to (he didn’t), but because this is one, true thing I know for sure-without-a-doubt.

The sun has set on our Namibia assignment. There was a day, or a week here and there, where I was able to exercise my gifts to teach and encourage others to follow Jesus Christ and know His word. Mostly though, it has been twenty-one months of isolation, of a life un-peopled, of being invisible. So, during our end-of-term review, I had to answer another question posed by my leadership: How has your emotional health been this term? I wrote one word: fragile.

The multiplied hardships that characterize a missionary life, and this assignment in particular, look like a recipe for emotional meltdown. Too often we respond to such a recipe by fighting back, demanding attention, and becoming self-focused. Our soul grows bitter, depressed and rebellious. And I could see it coming. I wasn’t immune.  But meltdown didn’t happen. My soul is healthy!

Most of my needs for friendship, companionship and to be useful (other than within my precious marriage) went unmet month after long month. But my heart danced!  How is that? I am not hardier of character or a “stronger Christian” than other people. A friend once marveled at how I could “just leave my family” for years on end and live far over the ocean. She comforted herself by telling me she supposes I don’t have the same emotions she has so being a missionary comes easy for me. I wanted to punch her, (which is proof that I’m not a “stronger Christian”). It is precisely because of my weakness that Jesus, and only Jesus, is “what keeps me going”. He is my satisfaction, my joy, my salvation, my peace, my Redeemer, my everything.

Jesus. The Holy Spirit took me deeper into the knowledge of Christ through His word. Oh! The depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! [All of the riches of his grace are mine, now, in this situation!] How unsearchable are His judgements. [He, in all His bottomless wisdom, has put me here.] How inscrutable His ways! [Who do I think I am to question His way with me?]

Jesus. God revealed. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. [I am humbled before such a matchless Master.]

Jesus. He has loved me with an everlasting love. I am not my own. [I don’t belong to me.] I was bought with a price. [He paid the price for my sin with his own life, his own blood. He bought me back from my old master, sin. So of course He will protect my wobbly faith.] “Therefore, my soul, glorify God!”

Jesus. The Great I AM. He has come to me, seeing me in my rocking boat, and has passed by, in order that I might gaze on His glory. Oh, listen my soul! It’s not that Jesus gets in the boat with me, takes my storm away and says, “It’s ok, we’re good.” He did not get in my boat but has desired to show me his glory. He beckoned me to look long at Him, at His person and identity. And then I was not afraid, or angry, or demanding to be useful. After all, why would I be?

Jesus. The one who I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. [I have committed the salvation and the preservation of my soul to him. He will keep it. I can stay in my right mind and not give myself up to an attack of doubt or panic.]

Jesus. The one the prophets foretold. The one about whom the Scriptures were written that I might know God and have eternal life. His word is written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. [The hope and comfort I need each day is to be found in Christ as I learn about Him in the Bible.]

Jesus. According to His mercy [not my usefulness] He saved me, through the washing of regeneration [I am baptized into Christ, He claims me as His own!] and renewing of the Holy Spirit [every day, he is continually renewing my soul, helping me change my mind and think rightly about him and others, and myself.]

Jesus. He daily blessed me with his presence and spooned into me the knowledge of Him. He fed me with Himself through reading His word, meditating, accepting his correction and repenting.

And so, one by one, the days passed in pondering Christ rather than myself. My fragility became my strength and my joy. I learned not to recoil from the ache in my heart, but let Jesus use it to make me more like Him, that He would be shown as glorious.

Having learned more about the measure of faith I’ve been assigned, I won’t put God to the test by seeking a second assignment that entails such isolation, though! I won’t court trouble. Trials will come without my looking for them.

Back in my home culture, where life is comfortable, I let down my guard. I know from experience that I eventually lose the fragility and my sense of utter dependence on Jesus Christ. This frightens me. I have feasted too much on Him in this wilderness to be satisfied with any less of Him in the “land of plenty”.

Romans 11:33-36; I Corinthians 7:23; II Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 1; Titus 3:5

Resources that help me to bring God’s word to bear on my soul: Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Unabridged; John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms; sermons by Aaron Messner  and daily devotion guide .

Advertisements

A Watcher for the Sojourner

A Watcher for the Sojourner

Reading Psalm 146 today, I thought of you, my friends who know what it is to move back and forth between countries, continents and cultures; who experience a life-style of goodbyes. I think of you, the expert at home decorating with whatever is on hand and accomplishing a sense of place inside of two weeks; you who search out local ingredients and invent tasty, once-in-a-lifetime meals that can’t be duplicated in the next location. I think of you, my missionary friend, my military child, who is ever conscious of the truth that we really are pilgrims here, always living in transit.

“The Lord watches over the sojourners.” Sojourner is defined as a person who is living in a place temporarily. What really grabbed my attention in this Psalm is the fact that the sojourner is mentioned right in there with the special attention the Lord pays to the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind [and I think we can say the disabled in general], the depressed in spirit, the widow and the orphan. Take another look at this list and we see those who are left behind in the mainstream of social life. They live in the margins, outside of the daily rhythm of public and domestic life. Does that seem like your life? If living is riding a pony on the merry-go-round, these people are the ones sitting on the bench watching, powerless to jump on. We who spend decades of our lives moving from one temporary place to the next are like those who lope alongside the wheel but don’t ever seem to achieve the stride necessary to leap up onto it. And it certainly isn’t going to stop for us. God knows us, my friend. He knows the trials and temptations unique to our sojourner status. He has not forgotten that we are, after all, dust. Our dust is composed of change, uncertainty and temporal transience, never quite fitting in, a part of our heart always someplace where we aren’t. There are trials and temptations that are peculiar to such dust. We are prone to particular sins and weaknesses. Our Father knows this. He knows our dust. And He has a particular promise for us. He will watch over us.

God our Father watches over the sojourner. To watch is to observe attentively over a period of time. He watches without blinking. He doesn’t watch like a casual observer; waiting to see what will happen, or for his entertainment. He is a Watcher who goes before, removing obstacles we don’t even notice. He guards our back from innumerable spiritual attacks which he knows we aren’t ready to face today. He watches for the pit carved out by the enemy to swallow up our restless soul. He watches as our guard, to protect us from misunderstandings or irreparable cultural faux pas . He watches; he sees what you, and I, don’t because we can never completely understand the culture where we are or the assignment we have. There are too many unknowns in our lives; too many blind spots. He knows the unknowns, sees what we never will and Watches out for us, you and I. He watches with intent – the intent to comfort and preserve our souls.

My friends, if our God works justice for the oppressed, frees prisoners, opens blind eyes, lifts up those who are bowed down, relieves the orphan and the widow, you can be sure that He watches you, a sojourner. And you can be confident that His watching is exactly what you need. Trust yourself to his vision and view of things. Rest your soul today, because God is your Watcher and Preserver.

Disabled But Able*

Disabled But Able*

“DBA”* is painted on the little sign that hangs on the gate. This is the only indication of the business located in the garage on the property. I entered and walked up to the open garage door. Five busy people paused mid-task when I greeted them, “Ngapi … nawa … ewa.” “Good morning. How are you? … “ There were nods, smiles and greetings returned. Though I had stopped by once before, I reintroduced myself. One young man moved a chair for me to where I could sit and observe their work. I was most welcome.

Their director, who unfortunately didn’t appear that day, had earlier indicated to me that this group could use some assistance in various areas, specifically with their cookie recipe and “they also have spiritual needs” he said. Today I was there to observe and learn.

“Kwakukanga icookie,” one lady explained as she and her colleague scooped spoonfuls of dough and placed them on the baking sheets. “We are baking cookies.” I repeat the ruKwangali phrase, the Bantu syllables rolling off my tongue and feeling oh, so familiar. This is their mother tongue and the language I might have learned had this assignment required it. Two of the young men speak English fairly well and were able to answer my questions: Do you have a printed recipe for the cookie? Might I look at it? Though one of the sighted members looked high and low, the recipe was nowhere to be found. I wonder how long they’ve been making cookies now without referring to the recipe.

I sat and just listened to their conversation. I noticed certain grammatical structures similar to the eMakhuwa I learned in Mozambique. I thought I could distinguish personal pronouns and singular nouns from their plural. I picked up on some noun classes. My heart raced as it dawned on me this could be the perfect “language immersion” environment. Rule one of language learning: listen, listen, listen. Here were five people who had been doing the same assembly line task for years and between them could turn out over 300 cookies in four hours with their eyes closed, literally— since two of them are blind! Unselfconsciously they conversed together, amicably, all morning as they scooped and flattened dough balls, put pans in and out of the oven, lifted hot cookies off the pans onto cooling racks and, finally, packaging them ten to a bag to sell in local stores. And I just listened. “If I had started coming here a year ago, I’d be fluent in this language by now,” I thought with chagrin.

My mind drifted to various language-learning environments I’ve experienced. By far, immersion is the most effective language learning recipe, if you will. Our family practiced this method in Portugal when our Spoon Lickers were very little. [Immersion = except for a few key bilingual helpers, you live and move within the local culture, avoiding contact with speakers of your mother tongue.] To get anywhere, to buy anything, to accomplish any task or errand we were forced to use Portuguese. Our children attended the local day care and went to a local school. We chose a church that didn’t have any English speakers. They have their own stories of the immersion experience — some horrific, some hilarious.

I was jerked back into the present by an automated, English voice rattling off a long number sequence followed by something like “this account owing six-hundred [Namibian] dollars, due March 9 …” then another similar message, and on it went. One of the blind gentlemen was “reading his financial statements in English” in the brilliant way technology has provided for those with his visual challenges “This guy is seriously in debt!” I realized with a start. I turned away – (“Should I be hearing this private information? Though no one else here understands, has he forgotten my presence?”) – out of courtesy, before I caught myself. I might as well look right at him, for all the difference it would make.

My eyes roved the wall. Several old posters are mounted which tell what organization has given financial support to the DBA project and the amount given. They obviously seek to receive money from donors.

Another poster declares “Our ability exceeds our disability.” For, indeed, every member has a physical disability, but you’d never know by watching them get those cookies from a state of raw ingredients to the store shelf.

The poster that intrigued me the most, though, was the paper scroll that extends from ceiling to floor entitled “Our Wish List”. It is full from top to bottom. The items higher on the list, the things absolutely necessary to their business of cookie making, all have a check next to them. Item acquired! I’m not sure how the other items fit into the business of turning out a great cookie, however: a lounge set, dishes, silverware, an espresso machine, a car …

I watch the cookies pile up. They are flat as a sheet of paper. They offer me a sample. The texture reminds me of fruit roll-ups. The flavor is pleasant. It has promise. Maybe they could be marketed as “Cookie Roll-Ups”. Their director is right, though. At some point they strayed from the procedures or ingredients indicated in the original recipe and, though there might be other reasons for diminishing sales, this betrayal of the recipe is obvious. I look back up at the Wish List, and the subtle invitations to contribute, publicizing what they believe they need to succeed in business. But, in truth, they have few orders for the cookies and only need to work two mornings a week to fill them. It isn’t a booming business. It is built on a failing cookie. These cheerful, industrious members have great ability. Unfortunately, their cookie is off the mark…

… like our souls: off the mark, sin-sick and disabled. We present a busy, industrious front, too. We have plans and dreams. Then, in the quiet stillness that catches us unaware, is there an unease? Do we sense all is not well and our soul will not be up to carrying us into a bright future? And are we hoping in the remedies our culture offers us to relieve the dis-ease? A stronger self-image maybe? Or let’s try giving the ache a politically or socially correct label in order to feel better without changing anything inside. I know some pay the witchdoctor to perform a ritual promising peace of soul. But when we awake in the wee hours, and silence surprises us, that ache is still stirring. The soul’s dis-ease is not healed by medication or the affirmation of our culture any more than the cookie will be improved by acquiring a lounge chair. There is only one way to improve that cookie: find the recipe and return to following it. There is only one source of hope for our soul.

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
for my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;

Just as the psalmist ‘preached’ to his own soul, I would remind myself, and you, to do the same. Emphasize the words that denote exclusivity. “God alone… from Him … He only … He is … in God is my … is in God.” The salvation of our soul and the healing of its dis-ease, is God’s territory alone. All that your soul requires for health is found in God through His Word; by knowing Him and obeying His instruction. The Creator of your soul offers absolutely everything your soul needs for its vital health. He is exclusive, though. It’s His way only, His Remedy only, His Provision only, or the soul is tormented for eternity. He means for us to place all our souls expectation in Him exclusively.

DBA’s business is that cookie. Our life is the soul. The soul is all we have, really. It is all there is of us that, sooner or later, slips into Eternity. Shouldn’t we, then, attend to it God’s way with no List of Alternative Hopes?

Psalm 62; 130:5; Proverbs 30:5; II Peter 1:3-4

*Not the real name.

Is That ALL?

Is That ALL?

“Is that ALL?”, I fairly shouted at God. After asking Him, beseeching Him earnestly for rain; after days of watching the storms come close but then skirt our town, the thunderheads rolled in. I had been watching them all day as they slowly crawled up to us. Before evening they arrived, and the rain did fall, hard and promising. I stood at the kitchen window to watch this answer to prayer unfold. Audibly, I thanked the God who sent it our way this time. However, the yard of sand was barely wet before the clouds released just one, final dribble, thus ending what had barely begun. And I was incredulous. I heard a loud whine – “Really, God? Is that all you’re giving us after such a long and hopeful wait?” Oops. That voice was mine. …

“Is that all?” It’s December 26th. Maybe you heard the whine from a child. Or maybe you thought it. The post-Christmas let down. Then there’s a hazy, nagging disappointment at the close of a happy event, meeting or conversation. You had somehow expected — more. And then there are the large and looming disappointments, like:

the end of a relationship – “Is this it, then? After all these years is this ALL?”,
or looking back on years of living in hard-to-be places so that some might come to know Christ Jesus, and asking “Is this it? All my life for this small handful of fruit? Really, God?”
or studying hard for that one degree that will get you that job that will get you that career …but it doesn’t work out that way and you sputter “Really, God? Is this ALL I’m to expect?”

Ah, you and I, once young, rising stars who could go anywhere and do anything. The older, wiser ones nodded and smiled, and waited to see what we’d become. The brightness has now faded into a glow. We are ordinary after all. Are you tempted to disappointment? “Is this all, Lord?” Had we expected more fruit, or more affirmation, or to be more cherished, or for more in our 401K? Let’s be careful that the questions we pose, silently or audibly, do not stem from a bitter root of chronic disappointment.

A chronically disappointed person is, at the root, a person in rebellion against God. Pow. Pretty strong statement there, but I didn’t make it up. From Genesis (or at least Exodus 16) all the way through to the apostles’ specific teachings (especially Hebrews 3:7-19) to those of faith in Christ we are warned: ungratefulness = unbelief = disobedience = rebellion = sin (= death). A chronically disappointed heart is a complaining heart. Complaining isn’t really against other people or circumstances; it is really ultimately against God. It is saying, “I am not getting my due, so therefore God isn’t really good. I would do it differently, better. I would be a better god than God.” Does this ring a bell? Know of anyone who has taken action on that premise? So, yes, this is serious stuff. My innocent outburst against the rain stopping may not have been so innocent. Our spontaneous expressions of exasperating disappointment are red flags that direct us to peer into our own hearts and identify sin that may be hiding there. Due to the eternal goodness of God, He is eager to grant us repentance.

So what does repentance look like in this case? Romans 2:4 is a good start. First, you and I must own up to our unbelief. This is called confession. Repentance means to stop going one way, to turn and go a different direction. God’s goodness is meant to turn us. We want to choose the road of chronic gratefulness instead.

… I clapped my hand over my mouth, and went to study my wall map, which is a visual tool I’ve created to help me cultivate gratefulness. This is where I note the ways God’s goodness is clearly visible to me. The map is quickly filling with notes of gracious over-and-above blessings, the sequence and timing of each one truly remarkable, gifts with my name on it from my Heavenly Father. The little “overflowing bowl” icons I draw by each note far outnumber the little icons identifying activities and outcomes that might be in the “Is this all?” category. Clearly, then, God is more interested in sustaining, supporting and encouraging me than he is in waving successes and fruits of my labor before my eyes. His will for you and me is to believe Him with a thankful heart. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord [have you?], so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving [italics mine].” Col. 2:6, 7  I am amazed, humbled. How dare I not believe in His sovereign goodness. How dare I not overflow with thanksgiving?

“It this all, then? That’s IT?” Yes, for some things it is. The time comes to recognize the end of some events, some seasons. It is with thankfulness that we do so because we know that God is good in all He does. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! [That would be you and me.] For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Ps. 107:8

At the edge of my map I have written these verses:
My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. … Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it. Is. 46:10, 11

This is NOT all!, the Only Just, Righteous, Good God has declared! There is more! He is not finished! No one, nothing, will derail or stop Him from completing His good plan for you and me, and all His creation. So, hold your tongue when the rain stops – unless it speaks from a grateful heart.

Will You Not Play?

Will You Not Play?

“Will you play cello in the small orchestra I’m assembling?” the music director asked. It was 1987, in Lisbon, where we were immersed in language learning for two years in preparation for work in Lusophone Africa. I had left my cello behind at the urging of a well-known ethnomusicologist who warned me that if the “indigenous people are exposed to western tone structure and instruments they will lose their own music”. The inference was that I would be committing an unpardonable anthropological crime if I took my cello to Africa. But I received the exhortation as godly wisdom and relinquished my hobby for the higher calling on my life: to take the word of God to a people who did not yet have it. I believed that my God would provide anything he knew I had to have to thrive in our new place. And so, I gave my regrets to the director – who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“…but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him; in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11

“I think I have a cello for you!” responded this persistent one. Sure enough, stashed away in someone’s attic languished a cello. It had been purchased years earlier at the flea market but the owner left it when she returned to her home country. It was in poor condition from lack of care and full of wood-worm holes. My heart sank as I considered the fortune required to have it repaired. The owner, knowing this, sent me the message that if I could bear the cost of repair, it was mine. I didn’t have to pray about it. This was no coincidence. God knew more about my future location than the ethnomusicologist and I received his gift with two hands (the African way of receiving with a full and thankful heart). I felt the pleasure my heavenly Father took in returning music to me. What’s more, the cost of repair turned out to be minimal, due to the exchange rate at the time. My precious Lord brought to new life what I had put to death for his sake. He gave back the part of me that gave him pleasure. I became a cellist once again. And this cello made it to Africa.

I did not commit the unpardonable, anthropological crime. Coca-cola and pop music idols from the west had already beaten us to our destination. Our “oldies” were their “newsies” and how they loved them. Rock music blared from every bar (and there are many of those). Would my little ‘ole cello, being played in the house for my family’s benefit, corrupt the homes and neighborhoods where I lived? I thought not. Definitely not.

By 2010, this instrument had done a good bit of traveling. Finally, it returned to the U.S. with me. But it had literally come unglued during the flight. The extreme climates I’d exposed it to and that final journey had done a number. I had it repaired by a master and it’s probably a better specimen than it’s ever been. “Farmboy” (affectionately named in honor of its supposed origins – but that’s another story) is fragile, though. So, when my husband and I took this recent assignment in Namibia, I left it home. With the confidence of a “seasoned missionary”, well accustomed to necessary sacrifices, I didn’t think twice about living for two years without a cello. For a “seasoned missionary” with open-ended assignments lasting a decade or more under my belt, a two-year assignment is “nothing”. I actually convinced myself, and glibly declared to my friends, “I can do anything for two years! Why, that’s a drop in the bucket of life!” Not. Almost immediately the short-term assignment took on a plodding, endless character. Clearly, the God who gave his life to save me from such pride had more to teach me regarding being “seasoned” – mainly that it’s less about my history and more about him.

My perceptive husband was noticing that I just wasn’t “the gal I used to be”. After all, I had been attached to a cello when he met me. I was “M—E—who-played-the-cello”. Turns out, “cellist” is a part of me that also delights him, even as it delights my Lord. So my man was determined to find a cello for me here. It is true that in my uncertain moments before we left for Namibia I researched “travel cello” online. I actually found one, but didn’t pursue it. My husband, possibly fearing I would go the way of Farmboy and become unglued, directed me to put in an order for the “practice cello designed for air travel”, called Prakticello. This was risky. No cellist of my acquaintance had ever heard of this “instrument”. I had never seen it nor played it in person. Hubby was blessedly insistent, though, so we took the plunge and ordered. We found a traveler willing to hand carry it to the capitol. We drove a day (each way) to retrieve it. And now, I am a cellist — again. And once again, my heart leaps at the joy my heavenly Father has over me. As if his joy over saving and redeeming me from sin’s powerful grip, and forgiving me of my pride isn’t enough, he gives me a cello too! — again! I am not really a seasoned anything. But I am seasoned by God’s presence; daily sprinkled with his loving kindness, spiced up by his generosity and perfect gifts; growing older in the certainty that it delights him to season me so.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

 

The Silent Talk Show

“Hey, lets get a pizza over at Debonairs and see if their TV is showing the World Series!” (We don’t have TV. If something big happens, like hurricane Matthew, we race over to the 2-counter food court and ask them to flip the channel to BBC News.) It had been a full day and the house was just too hot to even make a sandwich in the kitchen. Besides, Debonairs has air conditioning! It didn’t take me any time at all to convince my husband this was a good plan. He was languishing (did I mention the heat?); he grew up in a Chicago suburb; his baseball team hadn’t won a World Series in over 100 years (he missed that game) and today the final game would be played. The winner would be the champion. So, just maybe, this one game would make world news. The food court it is.

Three men were chatting away on the wall screen. No green field, no ball players, no cheering fans. Just three men flapping their mouths up and down talking about … well, the management had it on mute but we soon surmised that this was a sports talk show, most likely out of neighboring South Africa. Then, suddenly, we were looking at a Cub’s game. “Look! It is the World Series!” But alas, it was just a 5 second Cubs clip followed by an equally short clip of the Bulls in action, and then five seconds of the Bears running a play. Then we were back to the three chatty men. At least they must be talking about Chicago teams! Then there was a clip of a CEO-looking man break dancing on a soccer field, surrounded by the players watching his demonstration. The stands looked empty. Must have been a private party. Or maybe that’s how the players spend their practice time … and maybe these commentators are discussing the rigorous training and discipline characteristic of the Chicago teams … in comparison to the fun and games that comprise soccer training camp … What??? Well, we couldn’t hear a word and we don’t read lips, so we can make up anything we want, right?

Later, I got to thinking about that. Just that morning I had attempted to train several bench-fulls of men and women in a “simple” way to read the Bible for understanding – understanding that leads to application and a transformed life. Several readers of language Lu were identified. There is a Bible published in the Lu language and they had their Bibles with them. The participants were divided into small groups, with a reader in each group. The reader was instructed to read the two verses, aloud, several times to their listeners. I instructed them to identify one thing those verses tell them that God desires, or wants. I smiled to see them lean in, listen to the word being read, then discuss it. Some had the response I was hoping for. However, most gave one of three responses: 1. the reader stood and just reread the verses with no comment, or, 2. if I repeated the question the group attempted to quote the verse from memory, or 3. someone would make a [possibly] true statement about God that was totally unrelated to the verses read.

Were the readers simply decoding the words, unable to recognize punctuation and use voice inflection that lends to accurate communication? Were the listeners hearing the same way I was “hearing” the chatty men on TV? Most of the people we train have not grown up learning to think critically, rather, they are trained to obey instructions from the top, from the big chiefs (or the pastor) whose role it is to do the thinking. Words are read off the page but it is the job of someone in a “higher position” to give the words meaning and explain the sense of it. And so if pressed to answer the question “what does this verse tell us about God?” the field is open for imaginative interpretation in the event there is no answer-man around.

It’s a hallelujah moment for me whenever a woman, especially a woman, catches on. What freedom there is in being able to read the Bible herself, to know God is speaking directly to her in his word, and to learn from God when she’s alone, not being limited by a lack of available “teachers”. But whether she is a critical thinker or not, only the Holy Spirit can open ears that have been deaf to his word. I can’t make this happen. How freeing this is for me! I present the opportunity to hear the word, the Author makes it come alive. He releases the “mute” button and brings up the volume.

We woke up this morning to the online news: “The Cubs did it!!! They won!” Now I wonder what those chatty men are saying. “Wow, can you believe it? I’ve seen a lot of games, and teams and I’ve seen a lot of cities. But Chicago is the best and has the best! .. Maybe we should move there. Maybe their local station would hire us … I can break dance …”

Bye Lines

Bye Lines

“Time to say ‘goodbye’”, Sarah Brightman’s breathy crooning soared up and over the mango and the cashew trees, wafting in under our tin roof. The bar down the road, like most bars in Africa, graciously shared their music with the entire neighborhood. One raunchy, raucous rap or intrusive, throbbing rock song after another pushed it’s way into our evening routine. Then, suddenly, Sarah is singing goodbye. It seemed so incongruous, out of place – and yet, comforting in an odd sort of way.

Here are some down to earth goodbyes I have known:

“May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from the other.” One branch of my family repeats in unison this covenant made between Laban and Jacob. (Gen. 31:49) Their relationship had been strained, at best. Deceit and mistreatment are the words that come to mind. When Jacob finally left Laban’s employ they reconciled, promising not to avenge wrongs, acknowledging that God would see and hold accountable the one who sabotages their family relationships. I’m not sure why my family clan has used this as their goodbye, but it really would be an appropriate one for some of our situations.

“I hate goodbyes – I’ll just say ‘until next time’”.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The Aaronic blessing – Numbers 6:24-26

Tearful goodbyes: Standing in a circle, holding hands, various ones pray, then we sing the Doxology together. God has blessed one branch of my family with more than their share of musical talent. I love singing with them but never make it to the final “Amen” of that farewell, as I’m usually sobbing by that time. Some of those family members I will never see again this side of Heaven.

Painful goodbyes: the final visit with grandchildren before returning to Africa for another term — my small grandson spontaneously stooped down, grabbed a couple pieces of gravel from the drive and handed them to me as I got into the car – his way of recognizing my sadness and bestowing a blessing. I only registered the blessing later. At the time, it all just hurt.

I remember clearly where my brave, precious mother was sitting when I bade farewell before our final term in Mozambique. Usually positive and dry-eyed when we depart, this time her lip was trembling, her eyes pleading. I sensed within me that I’d never see her walk again. We promised to not go more than a year without seeing her. She smiled then, and released us. It was a painful departure, and it was the last time I saw her walk.

I carry deep within me my father-in-law’s goodbye. Here we were, a young couple with four little children and ten pieces of luggage at least. A crowd of dear friends and family gathered around us at O’Hare to enclose us in a tight circle and pray for us before we boarded our plane for another continent. The children were his grandchildren; the luggage, the possessions they would need for the next four years; but the young man was his own son. My husband’s dear father, and mine because hubby and I are one, gripped me in an uncharacteristic hug. And then, with his voice close to my ear he chocked out , “Please, take care of my son.” At various times in our marriage, his heartfelt “last instructions” have echoed in my mind and I remember that my husband is also someone’s beloved son whom they hope will be cherished as they have cherished him.

I have known some who pick a quarrel in the final days or hours before a goodbye that will initiate a long separation. Maybe they think: “It won’t be so painful if I convince myself they aren’t worthy of my love anyway.” This way of saying goodbye is selfish, destructive to all parties, and is like a curse on the relationship.

Goodbyes are important. The way we say goodbye can pronounce a curse, or a blessing.

Elijah bade farewell to his ardent disciple, Elisha, with a blessing – the prophetic mantle was passed on to him with all the enabling he needed to fulfil God’s calling. II Kings 2

Jesus’ goodbye to his disciples was a promise of great blessing – a clear mandate for service and the power of the Holy Spirit within them to qualify them for the work. (Acts 1) In both the case of Elijah and Jesus, their disciples received a greater blessing at the farewell than they had while living in the bodily presence of their master. They received a double portion, a blessing that saw them through to the end of their days.

How often have I bid a farewell with my mind full of my own sorrow and deprivation? Was my loved one blessed in the parting, or have I been too absorbed with my feelings about the separation to bestow a blessing?

Our family parted in July after a sweet reunion. We planned our goodbye ritual in advance: we stood in a circle, sang Mayibuye (our favorite Africa song), repeated Aaron’s blessing as a prayer, then sang the Doxology. It moved me, blessed me, and I actually made it to the “Amen” – just. Our farewell was a fitting end, sending us all our separate ways with full and happy hearts.

How do you say goodbye? I know that I want to be less concerned about expressing my personal feelings and more generous to appropriately bless.

Time to say goodbye! So, I’ll see ya’ — here, there, or in the air!