Monday, September 27, 2010

Who Me?

The one reason I didn't ever want to consider missions or even teaching abroad was because I was afraid God would ask me to go to Africa. I don't like things outside of my comfort zone.

Africa - specifically Ethiopia - was waaaaaaay outside the zone. I have a problem with claustrophobia and I'm a terrible eater when it comes to strange foods.  I admit it - I have issues.  I immediately wondered if this could possibly have anything to do with learning about how much God loved me. Oh yes it did.

I was already working for Adoption Ministry of Youth With A Mission Ethiopia but I had agreed to work on the website, create a blog, do paper work, talk with families on the phone... not to do anything crazy like actually go to Ethiopia.  But Joy (our ministry director) wanted me to go, the board paid for my ticket and my dear friend Liane was going too. It was clearly what God had in mind for me.

So my husband dropped me at LAX where I was going to fly to Washington DC and meet up with Joy and Liane and we'd continue on to Ethiopia. Then I got a call from Liane saying they had missed their flight and that I should just go ahead and go and that they'd meet me in Ethiopia - 2 days later. (There are only a few flights per week to Addis Ababa on this airline.)

Meet me in Ethiopia? Are you kidding me? Did they know this is a third world country?  Did they forget who they were dealing with here? 

(You'll notice that I'm using my large font option here for emphasis, in case you can't tell that going to Ethiopia was a teensy bit uncomfortable for me.)

Yes, Abebe would meet me at the airport and everything would be fine.  So I spent the five hours from L.A. to D.C. in unceasing prayer.  I was very spiritual.  (That's what happens to you when you face an impossible thing.) 

I'm sure I looked like someone with a serious mental health issue -no color in my skin, hands covering my face, rocking back and forth. I could not believe this was happening. But as we descended into Dulles, after wrestling with God the whole way, I finally told Him "Okay, I'll do it. You are in charge, not me. But You have to be my Traveling Companion, Travel Agent, Concierge, Interpreter and in-country Host. And please help me not throw up."

As it turned out, our flight was late and I missed the connection to Ethiopia so Joy and Liane met me there and we had two days in Washington D.C. during the peak of cherry blossom time, courtesy of United Airlines.

It was a gift. And so obviously God saying, "I love you Becky!" He would have given me whatever I needed if I'd gone on to Africa that day. But whether I went or not, He did want me to know whether or not I would trust Him.

Do you ever tell God, "Please don't ever ask me to _______"?

I'm finding that if you're praying (or even thinking) one of those prayers, while at the same time asking Him to help you know Him more, He just might use what you thought you could never do to get the other prayer answered.  That's not how I would do it but then, what do I know?

Ethiopia is a very hard place.  Millions of people are homeless, living on the streets and sleeping on a scrap of tarp or under a piece of corrugated tin.  There is no way to prepare for what you see there.  For how it smells.  For all the children wandering in the city. 

I know I was not prepared.  But the other thing I found and didn't expect was the strong faith of so many of the people I met.  They are full of joy, trusting every day that God will provide for them and serving Him in some extremely difficult circumstances. 

Abebe is our representative in Ethiopia.  He is one of the most gracious, hard-working and kind men I've ever met.  This man loves Christ with all his heart.  He also loves children and I've seen him cry more than once over a child who has no family.  He strokes their face, hugs them and treats them as I've seen him treat his own children.  He has also helped bring the Gospel to a remote village where persecution of Christians is very real.  Over 108 families have come to Christ, partly because this man has committed himself to live out what the bible says.

The love and hospitality of Ethiopia's people was very humbling to me.  Homes in Addis Ababa are not too cozy or full of pumpkin bread smells...

We went to the homes of many women who were struggling to feed their children.  Yet they insisted on serving us.

I have never felt so unworthy of someone's giving.  Never.

I know this was a long post.  I know that sharing a few pictures doesn't really convey what I experienced.  I've looked at many pictures like these that others have shared and completely missed the feelings associated with them.  You have to be there. 

But I wanted to share them because I want to encourage you not to wait as long as I did to say 'yes' to God.  It probably will look very different than my experience.  But I can tell you that there is nothing in the world like cooperating with God and taking a step of faith.  He makes it WORTH IT. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pumpkin Bread

This is, by far, the best recipe I've found for pumpkin bread.  It's moist, has just the right amount of pumpkin and it's not too sweet.  (But I'm not going to lie - it's not low cal.)

Printable recipe here
(makes 2 loaves)

8 oz. cream cheese, room temp
½ cup butter or margarine, room temp 
2 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 (15 oz.) can of pumpkin
3 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream butter and cream cheese in mixer.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time until mixed in well.  Add pumpkin and mix well, scraping sides of mixing bowl.  Combine dry ingredients and add slowly to wet mixture.  Add nuts last and mix in well.  Pour batter into 2 well-greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350° for 65 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes.  Remove from pan onto wire rack and cool completely. 

What's your favorite fall recipe?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Beach Getaway

We just got back from a rare time away with all five of us.


We went to Manzanita, the beach in Oregon where our family has vacationed for over 25 years.  Jeff and I spent part of our honeymoon there!

We played frisbee, walked on the beach, ate, shopped, watched movies, played cards and games and laughed.  A lot.

Here is my Family Vacation Slideshow.  Thank you for watching!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Pharisee Revealed - Final (but not the Last) Chapter

Chapter 3 - Humble Yourself or Be Humbled

As I grew in my knowledge of the bible, I started to notice a big gap between what I knew in my head and what I was really experiencing of God's love for me.  I began to pray "Lord, help me know Your love for me.  I want to be more like You." 

I wasn't praying, "Lord, deal with my pride" but God knew that this issue - this self-righteousness and judgmental attitude - had to go.  I'm very aware that God could easily have called me out for my sin - let it all be shown on a jumbo screen in some public forum.  I could have been exposed like Hamen was in the book of Esther.  But God didn't do that with me.

The first thing that happened after I began praying that prayer in earnest was I had to go to Africa.  (more on that in another post)  I saw up close what poverty and hunger and abandonment and hopelessness are.  I met Christians who are living their faith in very difficult circumstances yet they radiate Christ's joy and peace.  I have so much - but I deserve none of it any more than these beautiful people do.  I could not imagine what I could possibly feel self-righteous about.  It humbled me. 

Then God directed us to leave southern California and Jeff's job as a pastor there and move to Oregon, near our parents and where our girls are attending school and living.  We are not the impulsive, 'oh-well-I'm-sure-everything-will-work-out' kind of people.  We're planners and we don't throw around the phrase "God told me to..." lightly.  But we KNEW this was God so we packed up and moved, pretty confident that God would provide another job for Jeff in a short time.  That was almost 2 years ago.   It is humbling to be unemployed!  We're not worried and we don't doubt at all that we are right where we're supposed to be.  But it is humbling for sure.

We're living in my dad's house.  That's humbling.

I've worked several temp jobs that were, well, humbling.

We are waiting on God.  Waiting is humbling.

Do you sense a theme here? 

God is so amazing. If we tell Him we want to be more like Him, He will do whatever it takes to get us there. That's not a prayer for sissies. It's much like praying for patience. Or for more faith. You'd better be ready to discover - through experience - just how impatient or untrusting you are. 

In my case, there is a lot of pride to deal with.  It's everywhere in me.  And I am sick of it.  It's cost me precious time of enjoying closeness with God because it's separated me from Him in ways I'm just now realizing.  It's pretty hard to receive love from God if I'm living like I don't need Him - just crying out for help now and then when I can't figure things out on my own.  It kills me that I've done that.  But I have.

I am asking God to be brutal with me - to point out every instance of pride and help me admit it for what it is.  Apply the truth to myself.  Become an expert at recognizing my own sin, not anyone else's.  Look for ways to take the humble route not the one that's most comfortable.  I've asked Him to help me be immediately aware when I start to judge another (this habit becomes second nature) and I've pictured myself literally shoving God off His throne of judgment and climbing up onto His seat to try to take His place.  That is a horrible thought but it is what I'm doing when I harbor critical thoughts.

I have really appreciated John Fischer's book 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me).  I love his subtitle:  Finding Grace to Live Unmasked. 

I have a long ways to go but I am already experiencing a freedom and a sense of God's love that is better than anything

I'll end what is really the beginning of my story with this quote from Fischer...

"If our witness is to show people how much we need Jesus, then our witness will of necessity have in it the components of our failures, our worries, our inadequacies, our mistakes and our sins.  If we didn't have these things, we wouldn't need Jesus...  Perfect people have no witness.  They have nothing to give anyone.  You can only give what you have received."

God, I need Your love and Your grace and Your forgiveness so I can give those same things away.  Thank You for a love that overcomes my selfish pride.

This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite
in spirit and trembles at My word. 
Isaiah 66:2

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Pharisee Revealed - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - Plank Eye

I grew increasingly frustrated with people, especially those in places of authority, who I felt weren't doing their job the right way.  That should have been my first red flag.  I began to take pleasure (though I'd never have admitted it) in finding fault with teachers, ministry leaders and anyone else who 'let me down' by not living up to the standard I secretly set in my critical heart. 

One example:  I wrote a scathing letter to the dean of education at the university where I earned a degree, telling him that I thought the final exam for our program was basically a joke.  Of course I would never have had the nerve to tell him face to face - that way he couldn't defend himself or prove me wrong. 

Which brings me to an important truth about those of us who tend towards self-righteousness:  we can maintain control (very important) by devising a means of measuring and comparing that is completely up to us.  We make the rules.  And somehow, we always come out looking better than everybody else.  In our own tiny little hearts, at least.  We've put aside God's priorities of mercy and love because to face our own inadequacies and sin requires humility.  Real humility, not the kind you can pretend you have.

I'm glad there was never an illustrated sermon about what goes on in my mind and heart. 

How can you say to your brother,
'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,'
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. 
Luke 6:42

I am an expert at detecting specks.  Finding fault.

I hate writing that.  I'd rather think of myself as loving and Christ-like.  I am not.

So the name for all of this judging and critical thinking is SIN.  And SIN has a way of separating you from God - 100% of the time.

I knew what I was doing, yet I felt helpless to change.  (Romans 7 - I could have written the part toward the end of the chapter.)  God put me in circumstance after circumstance after circumstance to get this thing dealt with.  But instead of recognizing what He was up to, I simply pointed to the unfair or difficult situations and found something wrong in someone else to focus on.

(I promise this story will get better... don't give up on me.)  

Check Jessica's blog where you can read some other good examples of how God is working faithfully to harvest lumber.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Pharisee Revealed - Chapter 1

For the last several years, God has been answering a prayer of mine, prayed out of desperation: 

Help me know how much You love me. 

He is not answering it the way I thought He might, but as funny as it sounds, I knew He wouldn't.  I knew - when I began asking Him - that the answer to this prayer might shake me to the core.  I kind of worried about what I might have to face up to. 

I thought I'd share a bit of my journey - let's see if I can explain what a project I am.

Chapter 1 - The Rut (and Where it Leads)

I'm a rule-follower.  An affirmation-seeking, performance-oriented, check-things-off-my-list kind of girl.  I grew up without
I love you or I'm proud of who you are.  I don't say that as an excuse or to elicit pity - it's just the way it was. 

In the middle of junior high school, I discovered that the God I'd learned about in Sunday School was a personal God and that He wanted to be more than someone I prayed to on Sunday or if I needed something.  He wanted to take His place at the center of my life - the Master.  And I asked Him to come in.  I started reading my Living Bible and underlining it with different colored Flair markers and I began getting to know God. 

But without realizing it, I was starting off my relationship with Him in the same way I approached the rest of my life:  do these certain things and then you're good.  Look around and be sure you look as good or better than everybody else.  I had a very real desire to love Him and please Him - I was completely misguided in what that really meant.  I was also very busy controlling as many outcomes as I could.

So I got good grades and didn't get in trouble.  I never even toilet-papered anyone's house in high school because I was afraid of being caught.  I crouched on the floor of the back seat if someone parked near a teacher's house to 'decorate' his yard on the way home from Young Life.  One summer between high school and college, I stayed out until 4:00 am without calling home, talking in the car to my future husband.  (I know - it's pretty shocking.) And I think the only reason I didn't get in trouble was that my parents were so surprised that I'd do something so uncharacteristically bad.  

I stayed close to the top of my class in high school and college because I wanted to be one of the best.  While I never heard it, I knew my dad was proud of my 'status.'  

In the process of all of this 'achieving' and 'accomplishing,' there was a simmering rebellion growing on the inside.  And an ugly seed of pride taking deep root in me.  But as is usually the case with that particular condition, I didn't recognize it for what it was.

Click here to read chapter 2 and chapter 3 in this sad story.
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