Thursday, November 28, 2013

Now Thank We All Our God

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107:8-9, NIV

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next! 
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
~Martin Rinkart, ca 1636
We sang this hymn around Thanksgiving in the church of my childhood. Only this week I've learned a bit of its context, courtesy of the Nancy Leigh DeMoss devotional The Quiet Place.

In the seventeenth century, Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart served in a walled city in Sax­o­ny during the Thirty Years' War. People from surrounding villages streamed into the city for safety, taxing its resources. When the city fell under siege, the situation deteriorated further as death and disease decimated the inhabitants. Eventually, Rinkart was the lone surviving pastor, performing as many as 50 funerals a day.

His bold, faithful action met with mercy from the commander of the besieging army. The war shortly thereafter ended, and Rinkart composed the text (and possibly the tune) of this familiar hymn for a community celebration of God's deliverance.

For me, the embattled history of this hymn ennobles it. The writer was not composing platitudes beside a full table and warm hearth. He overflowed with thanksgiving to his God for a notable, needful deliverance from a desperate situation. When we find ourselves in a situation in which only God can come to our rescue, and He does, do we likewise overflow with testimonies and songs of gratitude, or do we forget the grandeur of the deliverance as soon as the need has passed?

I thank Him this Thanksgiving for His great mercy to permit trials in my life that make me desperate for Him, so that I might better see and appreciate His mighty, gracious hand of deliverance. May He make me truly thankful for His lovingkindness.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you, those of you who celebrate it as we in the U.S. do.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Home at Last {C.S. Lewis Week}

This post concludes a week of C.S. Lewis quotes to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of His passing on November 22, 1963. In case you were wondering why Narnia had not appeared yet, it's because I was saving it for last. There are so, so many beloved quotes I could share from The Chronicles of Narnia, but right now I'm drawn to bits from The Last Battle. That, for me, is the most hopeful of the books. It does not shy away from the confusion, pain, and embattlement of life but extends a vision of a future so glorious that the pain will be worth it. In that way, it dovetails with Friday's quote from The Weight of Glory.

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:

"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I've been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"


[Aslan says,] "The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

~C.S. Lewis, The Complete Chronicles of Narnia, 520, 524 {affiliate link}

Friday, November 22, 2013

Full Circle {What I'm Holding}

What shall I render to the Lord
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all His people.

I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
Psalm 116:12-14, 17, ESV

Nearly three and one half years ago, Amore and I traveled 5 hours south to spend time with his parents. In the preceding days, I had been feeling under the weather and was diagnosed and treated for a sinus infection. During that drive an unfamiliar painful pressure clamped down on my sternum and rib cage, making breathing painful, and by the time we reached our destination extreme fatigue knocked me flat. When we returned home, my doctor diagnosed an autoimmune flare and prescribed a month of bed rest, during which this blog began.

Long-time Crumbles know that this flare and specifically the chest pain triggered a cascade of other health problems, including multiple other unresolved areas of chronic pain. While these are better controlled by far than they were in the summer of 2010, none of them are completely gone. Well, except my gallbladder. That's one month gone. {Wink}

Since that difficult journey, my offline world has shrunk, mostly to the central part of my city and often only my home or neighborhood. I have traveled at most an hour and a half from my home, and that not often or easily. Amore has visited his parents a few times, but always without me. I have been waiting until I was more or less "well" to travel that road again.

As the Lord would have it, that has not happened, yet He led us to undertake this same journey, with doctors' approval, together last weekend. This trip was the daunting challenge mentioned in last week's "Living Sacrifice" post. It was clear that I should go; it was and is clear that the Lord would be with me; it was not clear whether this trip would bring some emotional healing or trigger a fresh flare of physical problems.

Do I even need to say that I was anxious? With wobbly lip and full eyes I shared my fears and need with a few friends and family, and God gave much peace in answer to their prayers. My thanks also go out to you who, not knowing details of my need, lifted me up to the God who did know.

David wrote in Psalm 34:4, "I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears." Sometimes the Lord sovereignly takes away the fear, but more often in my experience He takes me through the fear. Sometimes it proves to have been nothing to fear at all. Sometimes the fears are realized but I grow from the experience in spiritual battle. Sometimes there's a bit of both.

That particular challenge is in the rear-view mirror now. Amore is back at work and I am recovering from the exertion and easing back into the rhythms of home. The trip was decidedly challenging but ever so much better than the previous one​. Now that I've had a couple of recovery days, I don't feel any the worse for having gone. The conversations blessed me. Watching slides from the family's globetrotting history and listening to their commentary and memories was priceless. Seeing Amore soundly, repeatedly defeat two nephews at Wii baseball (with them insistently returning for more) makes me smile even in memory.

I'm glad I obeyed God by going when it would have been easier to stay. Now I have one more memorial stone, one more Ebenezer, to add to the resume of God's faithfulness in my life. It behooves me now to remember, not to forget, and to give thanks in community for His sufficient grace.
A grateful spirit should ever be cultivated by the Christian; and especially after deliverances we should prepare a song for our God. Earth should be a temple filled with the songs of grateful saints, and every day should be a censer smoking with the sweet incense of thanksgiving (Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning, November 20).

What am I holding this Friday? Much gratitude.
:: for God's sufficient, sustaining grace
:: for life coming full circle
:: for 400 published blog posts here (not much compared to many, but a personal milestone)
:: for travel mercies
:: for Ebony's good stay at Pet Paradise
:: for family
:: for laughter
:: for sharing good memories and hard ones
:: for the innkeeper's extra effort to provide a separate daily breakfast for me that I knew I could eat
:: for praying friends
:: for one more semester of ladies' Bible study completed at my church
:: for a visit from our little neighbor girl
:: for returning home to red and saffron trees in addition to the gold we left behind last week
:: for only one day of (postop gallbladderless) digestive upset on the trip
:: for bags slowly being unpacked
:: for no need to rush
:: for an arctic blast cold front that dropped our temperature nearly 40 degrees in 15 hours
:: for fingerless gloves and hooded sweatshirts
:: for a few more problem-free foods in my diet
:: for nascent plans to study God's Word with Terza
:: for Thanksgiving plans at my parents' house
:: for Thanksgiving plans 2 miles away {smile}
(gratitude list #2605-2626)

Addendum: Please pray for the people of Riga, Latvia, where at least 53 were killed when a supermarket roof collapsed Friday. You may read more of the Riga story here at CNN's page or at Hope in the Healing, written by a blogger with personal connections to Riga. Amore also served as a short-term missionary there before we knew each other.

sharing late, early, or right on time with my friends Bonnie, Ann, Laura, and Amy

Far Too Easily Pleased {C.S. Lewis Week}

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison....
2 Cor. 4:17, ESV

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Rev. 22:1-5, ESV
"If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, 25-26

I wonder, if Professor Lewis were alive today, whether he would still regard Unselfishness as our society's cardinal virtue. Perhaps Tolerance has dethroned it? Extending his argument, what then would be the Christian positive to the absence of judgment implied by Tolerance? Would it be Righteous Judgment? Or would it still, as in the former case, be Love?

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis today, November 22, I aim to share one of my favorite quotes of his daily this week. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

God's Work in the Troughs {C.S. Lewis Week}

Though he slay me, I will hope in him.
Job 13:15a, ESV

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis presents the fictional correspondence from a senior demon (Screwtape) to his nephew and junior demon Wormwood. This premise requires some mental acrobatics on the part of the reader: "the Enemy" here is God, and "Our Father Below" is Satan. Capitalized pronouns refer to the true God. This book is by turns funny, convicting, and encouraging, but always insightful. My favorite passage (below) describes how God works in the "troughs," or we might say "valleys" or "pits," of the Christian's life. While I would beg to differ with Screwtape's perspective on the relationship between God's sovereignty and human will as hinted at here, I nevertheless share this passage because it has reminded me many times to stay the course of praise and obedience in the trials of life.

"Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [God's] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself--creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. . . .  Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below [Satan] has drawn all other beings into Himself: the Enemy [God] wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
"And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
~C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 38-40 [Amazon affiliate link]
An audio version of the book, read by John Cleese, can be found on YouTube.

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis this Friday, November 22, I aim to share one of my favorite quotes of his daily this week. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord? {C.S. Lewis Week}

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis this Friday, November 22, I aim to share one of my favorite quotes of his daily this week. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Joy {C.S. Lewis Week}

“I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” 

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” 
 C.S. Lewis

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis this Friday, November 22, I aim to share one of my favorite quotes of his daily this week. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vulnerability of Love {C.S. Lewis Week}

Somo (2002?-2008)

Steinway (1993-2009)
Ebony Dog, aka Special Agent Hoover (2006?- )

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 
― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis this Friday, November 22, I aim to share one of my favorite quotes of his daily this week. Feel free to chime in with your own favorites in the comments.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Living Sacrifice

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, ESV).

Without rereading the verses in the photo above, if I were to ask you what Romans 12:1 says to offer God as a living sacrifice, what would you say? Offer yourself as a living sacrifice? Offer your heart as a living sacrifice?

To my discredit, even having memorized these verses long ago, if you had asked me to answer that question on a Bible quiz show with no time for reflection, I probably would have said "offer yourself" instead of "offer your body." I had learned the words but not digested their meaning yet.

Multiple chronic illnesses have a way of making a person reexamine her assumptions about a lot of things, and in my experience they have also taken me deeper into the Scriptures as manna to feed my deep hunger day by day. At some point in the last 3 1/2 years of health trials, it finally dawned on me that my interpretation of Romans 12:1 did not actually match the text. (I'm quick like that.) Other places do call us to offer ourselves to God, but here the Holy Spirit through Paul the apostle calls us to offer our bodies to God.

This thought has resided in me even more during these last few weeks of preparing for, undergoing, and recovering from gallbladder surgery. My surgery pain is much, much better than a week ago; my digestion's ability to adapt to the absence of the gallbladder is improving, but oh so slowly. Every time I sigh with discontent over another bowl of Cream of Wheat for breakfast or not being able to eat pizza for Sunday supper or an almond butter sandwich for lunch, the Lord reminds me that this temporary, medically-imposed "fast" from fatty and flavorful foods is one more opportunity for worship. Will I offer my body's nutritional limitations to Him as worship, or will I grumble and complain? Will I yield to Him or fight tooth and nail? In view of His abundant, glorious mercies on my life, will I offer my body as a living sacrifice?

"We must do that which we know we cannot — to prove that it’s our God who cannot fail. Our God appoints those who will disappoint — to point to a God who never disappoints.

Everything your Father has for you-- is over the fence of fear. Travel in the direction of your fears--to let God direct your life."

Another God-sized challenge awaits me towards the end of this week. The size of the "altar" intimidates me, but I believe the path of obedience in this case means leaving my comfort zone far behind in the rear-view mirror. It means presenting my body to God again, come what He wills. Where God leads, He will sustain, and I'm counting on Him to sustain and come through for me as I follow Him. Like Piglet in the Pooh stories, I am a Very Small Animal (Are there Heffalumps on I-35?); but I am a Very Small Animal with a Very Big God.

"The antidote to fear is to anchor our lives in the character of God."

When feeling discontent with the present or fear for the future, I try but often fail to remember times past when God has shown Himself strong for me in my weaknesses. I remember His faithfulness. I remember His mercies in saving me in the first place and keeping me these 26 years. And eventually I say yes. Here I am, Lord. My body is Your body. I ask that He would slay my Goliaths, give my "Isaacs" back to me, and work healing into every area of my life, but that's His prerogative. That's how sacrifice works, isn't it? The worshipper yields the sacrifice wholly to the Worshipped; it's His choice how to use it. I don't know how long my food limitations will last or how He will work in the next daunting task on the horizon, but I know He will be with me no matter what, and He will give what is absolutely, one hundred percent, the best possible providence for me and mine in this fallen world, for His glory and our good.

My desire and prayer is that this confession of how God is shaping my perspective in weakness and limitations would meet one of you at the point of your need. If it moves you to pray for me to present my body to God in worship with confidence and joy in everything He asks of me, I'm grateful. Most of all, I pray that--whether your altar is a sickroom or a boardroom, a journey or confinement, a sink full of dirty dishes or a child with a dirty diaper--you would respond to God's mercies by offering your body to Him as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him, which is your spiritual act of worship.

Thank You, Lord,
for Your mercies in saving me,
for Your mercies in keeping me,
for new treasures in old Words,
for the way Your Word meets me in my need and moves me where You want me,

for the recovery process,
for medications,
for helpful, compassionate doctors,
for second chances,
for a clean skin cancer check,

for comfort zones and leaving them,
for Your courage in my anxieties,
for the loan of a more comfortable car for the journey ahead,
for a full stomach,
for the lingering buttery fragrance of the toffee we Amore made yesterday,

for praying friends and family,
for kind souls who listen with compassion and kindness,
for my nephew and all the many others who serve and have served our nation in the military,
for words that heal and grow.
For all these and more, I thank You, Lord,
(gratitude journal #2467-2484)

Sharing in community with Ann, Laura, and Bonnie this week:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Light in Dark Places

the September 2013 full moon, before dawn

Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
and by Thy great mercies defend us
from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of Thine only Son,
our Savior Jesus Christ.
"Collect for Aid Against Perils," Book of Common Prayer 1662

Monday, November 4, 2013

One Persecuted Church and the Scriptures

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Psalm 119:97

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
Ezra 7:10

Sunday my church commemorated her annual observance of the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church with a flag ceremony. Various church members silently filed in carrying large flags representing each country regarded as monitored, restrictive, or hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amore and I had the privilege to serve in three of those countries. (Actually, we only both served in one. In the other two, I was apparently the team mascot.)  Inevitably, yesterday's ceremony brought back memories of our friends in those nations, especially in the southeast Asian land with which we had our strongest ministry ties.

Pastor H., our primary contact in the large city where Amore conducted pastoral training classes, became the pastor of his house church when he was still a very new believer. How? you might ask. Because he had the entire Gospel of John, and that was the largest portion of Scripture any member of that gathering possessed. Because it was such a treasure, he dared not carry it with him on his bicycle to and from church meetings, lest the police stop him, search him, and confiscate it. Instead, week by week he memorized the passage from which he would preach and carried it in his heart instead of his jacket pocket. To my knowledge, he had not been imprisoned for the gospel the last time we saw him, but others in Amore's class were, even on graduation day.

That festive graduation day, our last day of ministry on our last trip to that country, we spent in the upper room of  Pastor H.'s home. His house church and Amore's classes met there. The wives bustled about the kitchen area cooking our celebration luncheon. Three years of condensed seminary-style classes culminated in this day. A gold curtain and banner I could not read hung across the front wall. Amore called the men up one by one to receive their diplomas. Many of them wanted to have their photo taken with Amore and me. I had not had any responsibilities for the men's classes, but I was wearing the culturally appropriate clothing the wives had made for me, so they insisted I be in the photos too. One of the men told Amore that he didn't know what I'd been saying to the wives in our little conference, but every evening after supper all his wife wanted to do was study her Bible. He'd never seen her like that and didn't know what had gotten into her. I had been teaching them a little about Bible Study Methods; that is the greatest compliment I've ever received in my brief and sparse ministry career.

After the graduation ceremony and meal, we put on our hats and bandanas and mounted the designated motorcycles behind our drivers to return to our hotel, where we promptly changed to cooler clothes and fell into bed to sleep for 4 hours, drained by the emotions and lack of air conditioning or fans all morning due to a power outage (in a climate not unlike that of Houston, Texas).

Left to our own devices, we probably would have eaten something light downstairs in the restaurant and gone back to bed for the night, but one of Amore's students, who also translated for him, had invited us to a Campus Crusade birthday party, and it seemed very important that we go. Honestly, I think I tried my best to weasel my way out of it, but my husband's resolution held firm.

Back went the bandanas on our faces and hats on our heads (to obscure our Caucasian ethnicity). We again mounted separate motorcycles, which quickly diverged and wound around and back, across and through, around and around again back alleys and side streets. This is how the persecuted church tries to shake a police tail, I suppose. Oddly for me, I don't remember being afraid at being on the back of a motorcycle with someone I didn't know and couldn't communicate with, separated from my husband in a country where the government had every right to put me on the next flight home if they knew why I was there and wanted to make an example of me. Wonders never cease.

Finally, the motorcycle stopped. I think Amore was already there waiting for me. We were led away from the entrance into a more private room crowded with young adults of approximately college age. A cook pot was set up in the center of the room, out of which mysteriously and eventually emerged a sort of southeast Asian fajitas (spring rolls?). I tried furtively to communicate with Amore to determine what they were and whether they were safe for our foreign bellies. He told me to watch the locals and do what they did and yes, to eat (which wasn't quite what I'd asked, but no harm came to us from the food).

At some point in this process, two young ladies latched onto me, seizing the opportunity to practice their English. What was I doing in their country? they asked. Not knowing their connection to this gathering (whether they were inquirers who might inform on us or believers), I answered vaguely, "We're here teaching." What did I teach? they wanted to know. I tried in earnest to evade their questions, but to no avail. Finally, I sighed and answered, "I was teaching some women how to study their Bibles."

These girls I'd never met until now grabbed hold of my arm with both hands and exchanged glances. "We've been praying for someone to come and teach us to study the Bible. We've been praying and praying, and now you're here. You must teach us what you taught those ladies."

How many thoughts and emotions can flow through a soul at once? I felt lower than dirt for my grumbling unwillingness to come to this gathering, especially in the face of this kind of welcome. And amazed at God's orchestration of this moment. And dumbfounded at how in the world I was going to answer their question and distill 3 days of teaching into one brief conversation and without a white board, translator, or printed materials. It would have to be simple, concise, and memorable. Help, Lord!

In a most skeletal way, I outlined for them observation, interpretation, and application, and the accompanying questions, "What does it say? What does it mean? How do I respond in my relationships?" I shared with them the 5 W's and an H that all American schoolchildren learned in school when I was growing up, and which my own Bible study methods teachers believed applied just as much to Biblical observation as to literary works and journalistic inquiry. I showed them the hand rubric Prof had given us for things to look for in the interpretive process: things repeated (index finger), things related (middle finger), things alike (ring finger), things different (pinky finger), things emphasized (that thumb that sticks out so), and things true to life (palm). We may have talked through some of the ways God's Word can call us to respond in our relationships with Him, His Word, ourselves, each other, and our spiritual enemies.

Recognizing by God's grace that more content was useless if they didn't remember it, I recall making them repeat back to me until they had these basics down. Time failed for anything more. I still wonder about those girls whose names I could not understand or remember. I pray that those few small seeds have borne fruit in their lives and ministries, if nothing else giving them confidence that God wanted to speak personally to them through His breathed-out Word and through it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train them in righteousness, that they may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, slightly paraphrased).

The birthday party segment was fairly formal. Each honoree for this gathering stood up front. We sang "Happy Birthday" in our respective languages to him or her, a wrapped gift was handed to each, and then candles on a cake were collectively blown out. None of the cake was eaten. The gifts were replaced, unwrapped, on the table. Everyone slowly trickled out, a few at a time, to avoid attracting suspicion. To this day I don't know if the gifts and cake were real or just a pretense in case the police showed up demanding the reason for the assembly. What could be more innocent than a bunch of college students having a birthday meal together?

As I remember, I am in awe of these friends and many others like them across the globe... in awe and convicted by my feeble hands and knocking knees in the face of much milder afflictions. In the room where I type this are seven Bibles and one New Testament, all of which I own--so many Bibles that some sit on the shelf long enough to gather dust--without ever having feared confiscation. My friends and I bring our beverages and snacks to our comfortable Bible study room and take the most efficient route without so much as a glance in the rear view mirror for someone following us with intent to harm. I wonder if the relative ease of most of my life has dulled my appetite for God's Word. I wonder if that's what the author of Psalm 119 means by his repeated descriptions of affliction as a blessing because it impels him to seek after God's commandments.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.

It is good for me that I was afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Psalm 119:33-37, 71-72

Teach us, Lord. Teach us indeed. Give us understanding. Lead us. Incline our hearts to Your Word. Revive us in Your ways. Whet our appetites for Your truth, more than for any earthly thing. Forgive me for taking so many of Your gifts for granted, for doing so little with relatively much when my brothers and sisters around the world do so much with so little for the furtherance of Your kingdom, in the power of Your Spirit. In the name of the Word made flesh, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Thank You, my Father,
for Your Word,
for opportunities to learn it and communicate it to others,
for memories of ministering side by side with my beloved,
for hungry souls,
for good memories,
for Your grace to use foolish, unwilling servants,
for Your courageous followers,

for much improvement in my post-op pain this last week,
for new, more stringent dietary restrictions for my good,
for temporary removal of the temptation to overeat,
for a good post-op assessment today,

for bagels,
for scrambled egg whites,
 for fruit smoothies,
for the first basic Subway sandwich since surgery,

for attending church on Sunday,
for 2 more weeks of activity limitations,
for quiet date nights at home,
for grey skies and needed rain.
(gratitude list #2395-2413)