Thursday, October 31, 2013

Your money or your life #3: What money demonstrates about us

Here's my third question, after we've talked about the ownership and meaning of money (past 2 blogs):
  • How does money demonstrate our values? Habitual generosity is more an expression of life than an option or dreaded obligation for God's people. 
I'm going to be honest about our giving, not to boast (horrors) but to show what we've experienced. Paul said others would thank God because of the generosity of God's people: "You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." (2 Corinthians 9:11) May you experience the pleasures of being part of God's flow of generosity to - and through - you!

Giving seems to be both learned and caught from others. My maternal grandma worked an extra job to support missions. My paternal grandparents helped many immigrants land on their feet, housing them, giving them money, and sharing food from their hobby farm. W's and my parents assumed that since everything belonged to God, we acknowledged that with a 10% tithe - off the top of our income, before spending elsewhere. Generous offerings came in addition.

My parents, relatively poor when I was born, became wealthier in middle age. They never flaunted their money to us kids. We didn't expect luxury items: Mom sewed our clothes. We kids rarely asked for money and worked to fund our interests. (I started teaching piano when I was 13.) Our folks built a house on a nice - but average - street. I remember the day Dad drove home with a new car. I was embarrassed because it felt too showy. What if my teen peers thought we were putting on airs? I complained to Dad about why on earth we had to drive such a big "boat." He smile and said that people buying houses through his company wanted to see that he was prospering. His car expressed that.

When their money dissolved in later years, I asked Mom what she missed about being rich. "I don't miss being able to spend on ourselves. With less, it's true that life may feel uncomfortably pinched. I can live with that. But what I really miss is not being able to give during an appeal. We were generous without thinking much about it. Now we have to save and carefully monitor our spending on others. I miss giving."

That captured my attention because it reflected her heart and explained what I'd learned from my folks since childhood: it was fun to give, not just expected of us.

Giving reflects what is important to us. "Look at your checkbook and you will see your values," someone told me when I was in my 30s.

So I looked. Most checks listed the household, books, and donations. I taught piano while our kids were growing up. We'd purchased food, clothing, and kids' music lessons with that income. Called to ministry and missions, we tithed and helped fund mission projects as a normal expression of life.

Later, when I worked full-time for a while, it was pure joy to be a conduit of God's generosity to us! We supported many missionaries. Now others have begun to invest in us. How cool is that? (Join our support team here.)

Giving demonstrates what we believe, not what we say we believe. Let's get personal. Are you giving your life away or hoarding it? Living in community or living selfishly?

What would your friends and neighbors know say if they could see your expense records? What if they could monitor your outings and bank balance?

Does your management of God's resources demonstrate the values you talk about? Do your income and outlay align with the values you aspire to? With the future you dream of and hope for?

Why or why not?

Still thinking about it? Here's another post on learning to give by The Minimalist.

Read more:
*(Paul writes about giving and fundraising:) There is no need for me to write to you [Corinthian church members] about this service to the Lord’s people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you ... were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

Generosity Encouraged

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9 NIV

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Your money or your life #2: What money represents

Our dining area: nothing new in
this repurposed space, but it
represents a different direction for us
Last time, I wrote about "Whose money is it, anyway?" This time, I'm asking,
  • What does money represent? 
We gain a token of tangible value (money) in exchange for life, for hours spent working or services given. 

We never get those hours back. They've been traded for ----- well, for what? At the cost of our life-hours, we acquire shelter (rent/mortgage), food, the lust of our eyes ("wants" encouraged by advertising), and our appetites (including recreational pleasures like hobbies, sports, concerts, restaurant, excursions, and vacations).

Money itself has no real value. It is paper, ink, and coins that gather dirty fingerprints along their journey. It may be only a flash on the computer screen in an electronic transfer. However, it represents our earnings as a medium of exchange, our life swapped for stuff, goods traded for services, and a means to an end.
The Russian samovar, ready to be
rehomed. Bamboo floor samples
found in a box = a temporary counter

A few years ago I read Your Money or Your Life by Robin and Dominguez. Their premise was we barter our energy, hours, relationships, and personhood for stuff and experiences. The authors presented this stunning option: Before buying something, consider how many hours of your life you are willing to give up for it.

That revolutionized my spending. Was that bowl worth a half-hour of my life? Was the haircut and color worth three hours of my week (plus an afternoon in the hairdresser chair)? Was the meal out worth an hour of my husband's life? Sometimes the answer was yes. Many times I've forgotten to ask those questions and frittered away my time and energy. But that philosophy of money-for-life filters most major purchases.

Granddaughter K having tea
in the new space: she's worth
an investment in the future


No wonder Jesus talked so much about money. He said where our treasure is, our heart would be also. Is my treasure here? Or in heaven? As I've sold off and given away over half of our household in the last months, I marvel at what is left. We still seem have too much to dust, vacuum, and store.

What did you purchase last week (or month)? Were the hours of your life worth investing in these things? Did what you acquired - in goods, services, or relationships - provide the soul-satisfaction and meaning you expected? Did they make the world a better place for others? Did they spread the Good News of God-with-us? Why or why not?

What does your money represent? The way you spend or save your money reflects how you are investing your life - in transient or eternal ways. Think about it!

Read more:
*Do not plan harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly beside you. Proverbs 3:29 NEV

*For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NEV

*Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant. 1 Corinthians 13:4 NEV

*“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians15:55-58 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Passionate Lord, help us to live planting and sowing love. Do not harden our hearts but rather make them tender so we can live in peace and harmony with our neighbors and friends. Amen.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Your money or your life #1: Whose money is it, anyway?

"What is money? And whose is it?" I've been mulling the philosophy of money for years.

The courtyard in summer
W and I grew up in a little ethic church. One strange tradition was that our church treasurer printed and distributed an annual giving report, listing every member and their donations toward tithes, missions, and other gifts. The list was handed out each December 31when the congregation assembled. We'd spend the final hours of the current year and the first hour of the New Year sharing scripture, prayer, and personal testimonies. We also eagerly looked forward to the report to see how much we'd given - and how much others had put into God's work.

Can you imagine that? In the US, people shudder when we mention that financial list. "What? Give others access to what I give to my church? NEVER! That's between me and God." (I haven't heard anyone say, "between God and me." Interesting.) In this culture, many church boards refuse permission for their pastor to see who is tithing or giving. Never mind everyone sitting in the pews!

Why? What's the big secret, I wonder. Why are we afraid to let others know what we earn and how we spend our money? Are we over-giving and humble? Or would we feel shamed that we do so little?

One of the biggest cultural differences between our upbringing and where we live now is this idea of ownership of money and resources. So I've been asking myself,

  • Whose money is it, anyway? If God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), what do we own? Isn't the money we earn or inherit ours, to do with as we please? (Cattle represented the wealth of biblical people.)
But IS ANY OF THIS really ours?

"I work hard for my money," we may say. "I can do with it as I please." Is that true or an illusion? By Whose hand do we have health and strength to work, think, and earn the exchange of goods and services? 

If God gives us life and breath, isn't our income all His? He can give in abundance or take everything away in a heartbeat. It's all His. So why do we wrap ourselves around secret greed, possessions, and acquisition?

The courtyard, from the front steps
One of our neighbors is a landscaper. On my walks, we'd chatted briefly about God and church: he mentioned he was a member of a good church just down the road. Eventually, I hired him to work on our yard and he did a good job. When I paid him, I asked if he'd keep the yard and driveway weeded that summer.

"Sure, that would be appreciated. I need the work," he said.

I gave him a check for another $400 in advance. "I'm in a doctoral program. I don't have time to prune or weed. So please keep track of your hours. Let me know when you run out and I'll give you the next installment." We shook hands and he took the money.

He never came again. After a few months, I went to ask about our untended yard. (Thank God we live away from the street!) "Are you planning to do the work? I understand if you've been busy. But if you don't want to do it, may we have our money back to hire someone else, please?"

He looked at me angrily and stalked into the house. I waited a few weeks and came back with a photocopy of the check I'd give him. "Here's the money we paid you. We'd love for you to do the work - which is what we really need. Or please return the money."

Instead, he sent me a check in the mail a few weeks later. $99. What?

I could never find him to ask about it. I'd see him disappear into the house when I'd walk. I didn't want to stalk him. Finally I ran into him when he couldn't flee. "Hey, we gave you $400 and you gave us $99 back. Are you intending to work off the other $301 or ...?" He just glared at me and left me standing.

I was livid. This man had stolen "my hard-earned money." Should I sue him for it? Nah, I came to my senses. We're Canadian. Not big on lawsuits. I'd spend life and energy stirring strife and trouble and never get the piddly amount if he lied about his services. However, just in case, I took pictures of the yard. And discarded them. I weeded my own yard, mumbling hardships and deprivation down on him.

I'll miss our little hideaway ... 
The guy advertised his services on a sign in his yard: "Years of Experience in the Northwest." I wanted to write, "But don't pay me in advance" under his phone number, with my number as a reference. (Yup, I was bugged about it.)

Then I heard the Voice I love: "Is this your money? Isn't everything you have Mine? If so, he's stolen from Me. I know how to get back what belongs to Me." Because the landscaper claimed to be a believer, it felt easier to release him to God's accounting. That doesn't mean I didn't feel upset for the first month when he or his truck went by.

I never got the money. But here's God's grace to me - a favor unasked for @ a mere $300. I am reminded each time I pass the neighbor's yard that everything is God's. And justice and mercy (which I need every day) are His. That lesson is worth much more than my investment, don't you think?

More money perspective from my POV next time!

Your thoughts?

Read more:
The mighty God, the Lord, has summoned all mankind from east to west!

God’s glory-light shines from the beautiful Temple on Mount Zion. He comes with the noise of thunder, surrounded by devastating fire; a great storm rages round about him. He has come to judge his people. To heaven and earth he shouts, “Gather together my own people who by their sacrifice upon my altar have promised to obey me.” God will judge them with complete fairness, for all heaven declares that he is just.

O my people, listen! For I am your God. Listen! Here are my charges against you: I have no complaint about the sacrifices you bring to my altar, for you bring them regularly. But it isn’t sacrificial bullocks and goats that I really want from you. For all the animals of field and forest are mine! The cattle on a thousand hills! And all the birds upon the mountains! If I were hungry, I would not mention it to you—for all the world is mine and everything in it. No, I don’t need your sacrifices of flesh and blood. What I want from you is your true thanks; I want your promises fulfilled. I want you to trust me in your times of trouble, so I can rescue you and you can give me glory.

But God says to evil men: Recite my laws no longer and stop claiming my promises, for you have refused my discipline, disregarding my laws. You see a thief and help him, and spend your time with evil and immoral men. You curse and lie, and vile language streams from your mouths. You slander your own brother. I remained silent—you thought I didn’t care—but now your time of punishment has come, and I list all the above charges against you. This is the last chance for all of you who have forgotten God, before I tear you apart—and no one can help you then.

But true praise is a worthy sacrifice; this really honors me. Those who walk my paths will receive salvation from the Lord. Psalm 50 LB

Monday, October 28, 2013

One hundred "Yes"ses

"How did you get to this point?" someone asked us last week. "How can you leave everything behind to live on the other side of the world?"

"Just say yes." It doesn't much thinking to come up with an answer. "A hundred small 'yes'ses make a big 'YES' possible." When our habit is following Jesus, it feels natural for our feet to turn to his ways.

Do we struggle? Question? Doubt? Struggle? Wonder?

Even sometimes, offer objections?

Of course.

But each small 'yes', repeated over and over as we grow in faith, opens our hearts to consider things we would have thought were impossible. We learn to trust that the One - who delights us with small and ordinary opportunities - has prepared us for extraordinary paths.

Where are your spiritual feet taking you today? (What is your "YES!" to Jesus?)

Our yes is here: http://gokowalskis.com. Please join us by praying and giving.

Read more: 
*If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding  gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a (wo)man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13 NIV

(CS Lewis) Though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affection. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity’. The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined him- self liking at the beginning.

This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become — and so on in a vicious circle for ever.
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What's our mission?

I shared this with a class at NU in 2006, while I was alumni director. Seems apt for what we're going to do in the future. It also might encourage those still considering their own place in this world.

My Russian samovar is for sale.
There's Indonesia tea in our future
Our mission is to participate in God's kingdom. NU Alumni serve around the world. We're role models as companions, friends, spouses, parents, teachers, lawyers, doctors and nurses, ministers and social workers, or other employees. This is what I learned from watching and listening to our alumni:
  1. When the gate creaks open, follow and see where it leads. God's work is here AND there. We have to begin where we are. We nurture our spiritual life to become Christlike. Genuine expressions traits of goodness, kindness, patience, love, joy, and peace may win us friends and influence. Being egotistical and self-focused will close doors against us. Wherever we go, we must be prepared to become part of the culture.
    • Jeremy and Carissa (2000s) live in SE Asia. Jeremy grew up there and knew what to expect. However, Carissa has made adjustments to the frenetic pace where they live, raising young children and working long hours.
    • Gary and Priscilla worked as teachers in a sensitive country. They became NU scholarship donors to pass along the legacy of their family (P's Dad was an alum). In this way, they invested in students here as well as abroad.
  2. Don't wait for some grand mission. Start here and now. Get training and find a job: we become useful and experienced by engaging life. Though W and I felt called as children to spend ourselves overseas, working hard in Seattle has given us access and relationships across the globe.
  3. Every culture is full of beauty
    and lovely traditions
    • "Bones" ('70s) does relief work in S Asia. He was on the spot for efforts after the great tsunami. He loves sports so he trains young people, giving him a heart for their parents as well. 
    • Nancy ('80s) has been an AIDs worker in Africa and eastern Europe. She's had challenges like typhoid and malaria, and was flown to Paris for appendix removal and other surgery. She continues to teach, train, and develop material to educate against this horrible plague. She's relocated recently and is learning a difficult language to make the transition possible.
  4. Look at jobs, experiences, and hardships as opportunities to understand the world and interact with people. Everyone wants to be loved and welcomed - and most people want to be served.
    • Rick and Audrey founded a foundation that rescues Kenyan kids from street life. They support national efforts by raising funds from the USA. They've demonstrated their real love for those they serve by adopting two children after their own were grown and gone.
    • Greg and Kim ('90s) run homes in India and other countries. They have planted churches and taken care of many children.
  5. Don't be afraid of hard work! Working builds character. I read a study that an embassy had 4000 applicants for 4 positions. In the end, they chose people with integrity and work skills to fill those posts. Would they choose us?
    • Mark ('90s) took his family from a comfortable life in Seattle to India and Sri Lanka. They teach in schools and work with organizations against human trafficking.
  6. Don't be afraid to be yourself. Each person is uniquely designed; there are places on the planet -- "Kingdom work" -- for which we were wonderfully created.
    • A river flowing in MT: whether
      here or there, life is beautiful
    • Debbie ('80s) is an interpreter. Her home base is Seattle and she works around the USA, but she lives in Europe, funding a spiritual community by her work here.
  7. Don't be afraid of people! They are not our boss, just our manager. (God is our boss and we are accountable to Him first of all.) It may take courage to do something different.
    • Everett and Evelyn ('63) have no home. "We're homeless by choice," they told me. They live out of suitcases, traveling widely because they are unencumbered. In 2005-6, they taught at schools and conferences and mentored young people in Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Siberia, Africa, and Romania. Now past retirement age, their efforts continue unabated.
  8. And finally, don't be afraid of God! Life will be an adventure, custom-fitted to our bent. God won't give us more challenges than abilities or resources, provided we depend on Him. He promises never to abandon us no matter how difficult the journey or complicated the process of sharing Good News.
    • Where does your name belong on this list? Have you been places you'd never dreamed of? Or stayed closer to home? How have you lived an extraordinary life, whether your surroundings were ordinary or exceptional?
    • If we're following where God calls our heart, we join Him on the mission! He's taking care of us day by day.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Down they go!

First meal: artisan toast with
cranberry goat cheese and
pickled herring. (Yes, we're
eating our way through the pantry.)
How did you feel the last time you moved? Was it hard - or a relief - to go through the things that had to be left behind? Was moving away a mind trip? Did you love your arrival and the new place?

Our kids and 2-year-old granddaughter moved in with us a month and a half ago. When we negotiated living together, everyone promised not to push me into an unfinished space: I've done it twice before and it's unsettling (to say the least). So while Timo and W left for work each day, M and I have been doing cooking and doing chores around the boxes (theirs and ours) in the hallways and rooms.

The whole project started in April, after we felt called to move to Indonesia next year. We had an unfinished basement space, impossibly heaped with shelves, boxes, a commercial pool table, and years of unexamined storage. Our kids' lease was expiring in the fall; we'd need a place to stay on furloughs. After confirmation of our appointment, I sold our dining table, movers shifted the pool table into what used to be our dining room, and the project got underway.

A first look at our living room / bedroom
I planned the space while W cleared and sorted and removed. Placing the walls and plumbing on a sketch, I could almost imagine the future. There were a few bumps and re-negotiations along the way, shifts in thinking when building reality leaned against my drawings.

Slowly but surely, a home emerged. W and our son scrubbed 20 years of living off the concrete floors and painted them white. Friends helped plumb, drywall, and paint walls and ceilings the same white color. Our friend Terry wired the basement, asking, "Won't the living room be too bright with six sconces @ two bulbs each?"

I can safely say, "Nope. Just right." I'm not a friend of darkness by day.

Another side of the room
The guys dragged down our bigger furniture, while I made dozens of trips daily between the upper floor and the basement, boxes in hand. There's barely been time to wipe down the emptying spaces. Our daughter-in-law, highly pregnant, is nesting for the baby's arrival next month. She's on my heels with a washrag and vacuum. "I have a thing for deep-cleaning when I move in or out," she says. If we would have moved the normal way, I would have done that for her. Oh well, another casualty of good intentions.

Strangers have come and gone, hauling away our past life. Furniture, rugs, cookware, and decor found new homes through Craigslist and Freecycle, funding our build-out below. Reef tanks, dogs, and "future replacements" for the house ... gone. My brother purchased our friend's grand piano from the living room. Gradually we've emptied the kitchen, bathrooms, and my office.

And a comfy chair behind the
zebra hide footstool.
Monday, I packed the last of our daughter Kirsten's things into our SUV, meeting the mover who was dead-heading a run to Austin, where she lives. We'd loaned K's piano to a family in the next suburb: the mover  pushed the piano up the ramp, loaded her treasures and my Bernina sewing machine into his truck, and pulled away.

We spent our first night downstairs yesterday. The mattress is comfy and we woke when we were rested: there are no windows to tell us when the sun comes up. Before work, W sorts info on his computer, a few feet away from where I type.

Today, it seems farther up two flights of stairs to our bedroom to empty our bedroom closet than it was coming down from upstairs. But that baby and our relocation to Indonesia is waiting for no one. Off we go.

Read more:
*I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Genesis 18:27 NASB

*Christ says, "Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." Luke 11:10 NEV

*Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NIV

*Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:2-6 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Loving Father, although we were born from dust and ashes, may we ask for blessings when we are in need. When we seek you Lord, let us find you there. Reassure us that you will answer. Amen.

*(CS Lewis, to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 5, 1961: On being overconcerned about the past of others and of our own.) We must beware of the Past, mustn’t we? I mean that any fixing of the mind on old evils beyond what is absolutely necessary for repenting our own sins and forgiving those of others is certainly useless and usually bad for us. Notice in Dante that the lost souls are entirely concerned with their past. Not so the saved. This is one of the dangers of being, like you and me, old. There’s so much past, now, isn’t there? And so little else. But we must try very hard not to keep on endlessly chewing the cud. We must look forward more eagerly to sloughing that old skin off forever—metaphors getting a bit mixed here, but you know what I mean.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grace in glass

"Take the vase." I'm almost ready to leave the house to pick up recut shelves from the glass company - when I hear clear direction. "Take the vase."

I open the door to our almost-empty china cupboard. There's an 8" footed pinwheel vase on the shelf. I guess that's the one. I start to turn away when a 6" plate catches my eye.

"Take that, too."

What? I know we have to get rid of stuff, but I've often used these items in 36 years of marriage. They're expensive European crystal. The vase is perfect for flower bouquets; its graceful foot adds an inch to stems and its lip spreads open the blossoms. The plate is just right for "littles" like teabags, candies, and cookies. Oh well. I grab them both and lean them unwrapped beside me on the seat of the car.

At the glass shop, I hold one piece in each hand. There's a lady behind the counter and a women in front of it.

I hand the vase to the proprietor. "I think this is for you. Felt like God said, 'Take this. It's hers,' before I left the house. So here you go!" I hand it to her.

She takes the vase, looking stunned. I turn to the other woman. "And this must be for you. I also heard, 'Take another piece,' and this is what I saw. I guess God knew you would be here, too."

"Beautiful!" she takes it eagerly, smiling in surprise. "I'm opening a nail school in the complex so I'm meeting my neighbors. I'll treasure this! Would you come in for a free manicure?"

Sure. I'd love to. She walks out the door with her dish.

The gal behind the counter and I talk for a few minutes. She loves flowers but has never had a pretty place to put them. As we chat, I know the vase belongs to her.

"You are so much like me," she says a few times as we discover many things in common.

I pull out the money for my shelves but she waves me off. "Please, no money. I really love the vase, and I would like to do this for you in exchange. I'll keep this in my office and think of you."

We hug and agree to have lunch together another day. Who knows what God will bring about in that conversation?

While I didn't hear an audible voice yesterday morning, I'm learning to trust inner direction. This happens over and over, in many different ways. Sometimes the outcome of obedience is so bizarre or unexpected that I walk away shaking my head in wonder. Other times, like this one, I just come home with a big smile on my face.

What a blessing to me! Could I have sold the items? Maybe. For a lot more energy. Following the small voice, I have shelves, with a potential manicure and two friendships on the horizon. Who knew!

When have you experienced that still small voice? What has happened when you paid attention and trusted enough to follow through?

Read more:
*Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 2 Samuel 7:22 NEV

*Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it. Isaiah 45:8 NEV

*Through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. Galatians 5:5 NIV

*If we have died with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11 NEV

Moravian Prayer: Spirit of the heavens, shower righteousness down on us like rain. Ignite the fire of faithfulness within us, so we may let your light shine through us to all around us. In your name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Holding fast

Bolted to the wall, the new pantry:
Timo asks, "Who else has Mexican
chocolate and Asian sauces
on the same shelf?"
I'm reflecting this morning about the things we hold near and dear. There's nothing like a move to create a change in self-identity.

Yes, it's still startling and strange to be introduced as missionaries rather than professor or pastor or writer. What does that tag mean? What will it mean in the future?

We don't know. For now, we place one foot in front of the other. Letting go of the past, embracing today. We think about:
  • how grateful we are for everyday things we've considered "normal."
  • the security of the familiar, where we live and how our kids grew up.
  • the people who partner with us. "Nothing in life is free," says Mom. Others are sacrificing to send us. THANK YOU, thank you! dear supporters.
  • leaving behind our parents and children, these dear faces we'll miss and the family events we'll never attend.
  • the foods we like - here and there.
  • physical necessities and the overflow: how much we can live without!
  • people and things we don't know yet. Indo friends. Language. Traditions. Reflexes of culture. Transportation. Living arrangements.
  • the chores of relocation, here and there.
  • the Joy set before us.
So many more thoughts and shifts in assumptions cross our minds. But we can let go of everything else when we hold fast to God.

What's churning through your mind today?

Read more:
*You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 13:4 ESV

*CS Lewis, after his wife's death, from A Grief Observed: "On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there’s also ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.

"For all sorts of mistakes are possible when you are dealing with Him. Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) ‘at her elbow,’ demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in—I know how one puts it off—and faced Him. But the message was, ‘I want to give you something’ and instantly she entered into joy."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On the move

All stages of bloom, seen on my walk
We're tired but happy. We met wonderful folks at Northport church Sunday morning and at their potluck, and then spoke with a great group at Colville that evening. We didn't deliberately plan our conversational style as we invite partners for going to Indonesia. But we've been married 36 years so we know each other well; we also enjoy public speaking. It's comfortable for us to trade information and we've heard favorable comments about the duet style.

Pastors Erik Ramsey and Travis Lisenbee love their congregations - and it shows. Everyone made us feel at home, down to the cellist Susy (who made me homesick for our family string quartet, growing up.) Our weekend hosts, Mel and Connie, offered us a comfy bed and a warm welcome. And we met Aunt Eddie of Colville, famous world-over over for her decades of letters to NWMN missionaries.

Learning at LEAD in Lacey, WA
In the last two weeks, we've met hundreds of pastors and staff at four Northwest Ministry Training (LEAD) seminars. What excitement and joy these ministers have in preparing to serve. W led a session on the trustworthiness of scripture and a workshop on using technology for ministry. I shared my passion for writing: how can a blog or other writing further a church's reach? Mel Ming taught on team collaboration and empowerment, all enthusiastically received.

Monday turned out to be a profitable day, even after our morning drive from Spokane. We put up pantry shelves and took most of our food to the basement suite. Except for spices and the fridge, our edibles are in their new home. (Next: dishes and cooking utensils.)

The beautiful sky over Snoqualmie Pass
Downstairs, the kitchen sink and toilet are in (thanks, Rick!) and our friend Bud finished sanding the office drywall. The evening's work turned into a family affair: Timo painted a ceiling and hauled food, W was trimming and painting doors, and I reshelved groceries and washed empty cabinets. Kinsey cheerfully helped until I put her to sleep at 7:30.

On today's to-do list: write a 1500 word article for a magazine, sort out the donation receipting process between American and Canadian organizations, and pack up those spices. It's bit by bit, but at least we're on the move!

Our breakfast view, overlooking
NE Washington mountains
How has God set you in motion today? Or are you on your own trajectory? Remember to invest your time and energy in things that last - and you will have a reward for it.

Read more:
*God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Genesis 1:31

*Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go. Genesis 28:15 NEV

*Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:5 NEV

*By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 NEV


*To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. 1 Timothy 1:17 NEV

Moravian Prayer: O Ancient of Days, we praise you for your creation of the world and all birds, fowl, animals, and humankind you placed here as well. Empower us to be caretakers and stewards of that which you have given us.

Lord our Rock, help us to be steadfast in faith and to trust that your plan for us is perfect and according to your will. Keep us always by your side. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

DO YOU love the microphone?

I'm delighted to present a guest post by Emily Hill, who blogs at God's Disruptive Journey. She's a young pastor from Seattle who's headed for Las Vegas to help plant a church. Enjoy! (Comments here will be passed along.) Thanks, Emily.

 

The Microphone

I love the microphone.  Seriously.  Stick a microphone in my hand and I'm happy.  It doesn't really matter why.
 
"Do announcements?"  YES!  
"Emcee an event?"  ABSOLUTELY!  
"Preach a sermon?" COULDN'T BE HAPPIER!

There's so much more to life than holding a microphone, but I get that special tingle in my fingers and twinkle in my eye when I press the "on" button and take my first breath.  At that moment, anything could happen.  I could make people laugh or cry.  God could use the words He gives me to touch someone's life profoundly.  I could become an impromptu comedian when the schedule goes awry.  There is no end to the magic that can happen when you're holding a microphone.

That's why I was so surprised last night.  I was at my church's Believer's Gathering.  When the pastor called for testimonies of what God is up to, I raised my hand.  As an usher put the microphone in that raised hand, emotion swelled up inside of me.  That usually confident first breath felt shaky.  "I'm moving to Las Vegas!" I proclaimed.  I began to tell of what God was doing, both in my life and in my future home, and I felt the tears well up inside.

Tears of nervousness and fear.
Tears of excitement. Of joy.
Tears of gratitude.

When I took the microphone last night, my confidence was no longer in ME.  My confidence wasn't in whether I had a joke or anecdote to fill any awkward silences.  It wasn't in if I'd done enough homework about the city of Corinth or whatever topic I was teaching on.  My confidence was in an unseen and yet all-knowing Savior--the Lord of my life and of this move.

I've never doubted myself as much as I have over the last month in my entire life.
Can I DO this?
Will I have enough money?
What the heck am I THINKING?!
(BTW, the answers are No, No, and I have no idea!)

The thing is...  as much as I doubt myself, I don't doubt GOD.  HE has never proven Himself unfaithful.  HE is the one who can orchestrate everything.  He is the one whom I will follow.  No matter where He leads.  If it's to the desert, so be it.

So the next time I go to pick up the microphone, I get to remember this one astounding fact... My God has plans for me.  And plans for you.  And if that brings tears and shaky breath and sorrow and joy?  Well, what a beautiful story that will be.