Life This Week

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This is a short work week for most people in the United States because of Thanksgiving. But it can be a tough week because for every perfect, turkey-laden table out there, there is a person sitting alone at home overcome with loneliness and sadness. For every smiling, happy family, there is a family in tatters, ready to fall apart because of old hurt, long-held grudges, and un-grace. There are three things I’m focusing on this week:

I’m trying to live out Ephesians 4:2. This is one of those verses that is easy to agree with and seemingly impossible to live. “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” I want this to be true of me – that I would be humble and gentle with the people I see this week, including my family and friends. I want to be patient and make allowance for the faults of those around me; and I want to be met with patience and gentleness, and allowance for my own faults.

I’m inviting someone. I have been alone on Thanksgiving and I have looked around at my friends and wondered why no one invited me when they knew I would be alone. Inviting someone to your family meal changes the dynamics, and it may make other people uncomfortable, but the potential for demonstrating Christ’s love through an invite like that is sky-high. To be welcomed and loved, even for a short time, can change a life. It’s not a matter of feeling sorry for someone, it’s a matter of feeling love for them. I’m doing some inviting.

I’m thanking God on my knees with a list. This has been quite a year. As I think back over my year, I can’t do anything but fall on my knees in thanks, awe, and humility. This week, I’m going to be intentional about kneeling and listing out in thanks all the incredible blessings God has poured out on my life this year.

What does your week look like?

Is there someone you can invite?

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Life This Week

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My friends Lawrence and Martha Temfwe, who live in Ndola, Zambia, strengthen my faith and encourage me to continue to grow and surrender my life to God. They don’t do it through words, but through their lives, their example. I don’t mean their courageous acts (visiting people suffering with HIV/AIDS, carrying for orphans, building the local church), although those are important too. I am encouraged most by their faith in the small moments – when they pray together in the car before going anywhere, their devotional time at breakfast, the conversation with their boys at dinner, and their deep care about my relationship with and growth in Christ. Any time I falter, I can think of them and get back on track. What a gift it is to look around and find someone who is standing firm in faith, growing in their relationship with God, and filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Even Paul said to a church in Thessalonica, “[k]nowing that your faith is alive keeps us alive.” (1 Thess 3:8) This week,

I’m thanking God for Lawrence and Martha Temfwe. They have been such a gift to me and they model faith, courage, and love. Their faith is so alive that they keep me more alive.

I’m praying for those who are faltering. I know that there are those around me whose faith is faltering today. I’m praying that God will open my eyes to those people and that I could be their Lawrence and Martha – that I could encourage them and strengthen them through my faith.

Who encourages you in your faith?

Who can you encourage today?

Life This Week

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I returned from a two-week trip to Zambia, Africa last Thursday. Entry back to life here is always a struggle and this time has been no different. It’s extremely hard to respond to the question, “So, how was your trip?” There is simply no way to answer it in a word or two. Words that come to mind, but are still insufficient: full, hard, alive, heartbreaking, stunning, prayerful. The best words I have found are not mine, but easily could have been, I nearly gasped when I read them:

Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size – even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves suddenly cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they begin to understand why, until then, they have only half lived. In Africa the essentials of existence – light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, death – are more immediate, more intense. Visitors suddenly realize what life is for. To risk a huge generalization: amid our wasteful wealth and time-pressed lives we have lost human values that still abound in Africa.

Richard Dowden, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, at 1-2.

I have written four or five red exclamation points next to this paragraph, multiple stars, and underlines. Nothing could be more true and it is not just the first time one visits, as Dowden says, it is every time. What I experienced in Zambia was the intensity of the essentials of existence – light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, and death. Each is present in every single moment, which is why the moments are too full to take in all at once. It’s almost like you have to turn away, take a breath, and return to the moment. God is in every moment and you know it with certainty.

This week what I desire most is that I don’t slide back into the wasteful wealth and time-pressed life that I left, but that I remember and embrace the essentials of existence, so:

I’m asking God to remind me of the essentials. Light, earth, water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, and death. Life is not life without any one of these.

I’m bathing my life in Scripture. I haven’t reached a full understanding of this yet, but something about recognizing these essentials of existence is critical to living out God’s Word. Interaction with widows and orphans sparks this connection. James wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) These always seemed like separate thoughts: 1) take care of orphans and widows; and 2) keep oneself from being polluted by the world. But, I’m beginning to see they are one thought. Each enables the other. It is no wonder James also wrote: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) I am dedicating more time to reflecting on and living Scripture.

What does your week look like?

How could you bathe your life in Scripture?

Life This Week

imageThis week I will be in Lusaka and Ndola, Zambia.  I arrived in Africa on Saturday morning.  Unlike my last two trips, I am very homesick already. I am looking forward to my time and it will be good to see dear friends.  But I am really struggling with the desire to go home.  Who knows why it is so strong but I’m praying God uses this time to continue conforming me into the image of Christ. I have been praying nearly constantly for courage and strength. It is quite stunning to be in Africa. I still can’t get over it. God blows my mind. Enough rambling. This week:

I’m praying for courage and strength and health.

I’m praying God will use me in whatever way brings him glory.

I’m thanking God for the opportunities he has given. Who would have ever thought?

I’m praying for my sweet girl back home that she feels loved and secure.

I’m trusting I will encounter God today…and every day.

Life This Week

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My trip to South Africa and Zambia is upon me now. This is my third trip to Africa, yet in some ways it feels like the first. I know more what to expect, but the fears, anxieties, and uncertainties about the travel are no different. The trip is no less significant in its impact on me than it was the first time. God is faithful to grow me on this trip, when I am out of my comfort zone, totally reliant on him and those he places on my path. In quiet moments, my stomach tightens at the thought of relying totally on God. I wish it came more easily, but it is always a struggle. There is only so much letting go I can do in the routine of my life because I know how to manage things. I operate much of the time (knowingly or not) under the illusion that I control my circumstances. On a trip across the world, there is no such illusion, all control, imagined or otherwise, is stripped away. This week, I am in prayer and surrender:

I’m praying. Father, keep me safe. Keep my sweet girl safe and feeling loved while I am gone. Make the skies smooth. Defend my body against sickness and ailments. Guard my heart against fear and anxiety. Show me beautiful things, new things about who you are. Make my time fully glorifying to you. Bring me home safe, filled with your love, aware of your character, and quick to give you thanks and praise.

I’m asking for prayer. Please pray for me, especially in the moments the Holy Spirit brings me to mind. You won’t know why, but I will need you to carry me into God’s presence in that very moment.

I’m relying on God’s promises. In particular, I’m holding onto this one: “Do not be anxious, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

I will be writing as much as I can when I am gone because I know I won’t be able to help it, God will show me amazing moments, introduce me to beautiful faces, and place in me a deeper understanding of his love and provision.

What does your week look like?

Life This Week

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Today in my Scripture reading, I read Colossians 3:1-17 and realized immediately that I needed to memorize these verses. They are powerful, and convicting, and hopeful. I want to know them deep in my soul. As I read these verses aloud several times, these are the phrases that I circled or underlined with my pencil, the ones that jumped off the page or cut me just a little:

“Think about the things of heaven…” (v. 2)

“[Y]our real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (v. 3)

“lurking within you…” (v. 5)

“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (v. 10)

“he lives in all of us.” (v. 11)

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” (v. 13)

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.” (v. 15)

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (v. 17)

I’ll need to take in this Scripture in chunks. Here’s how I’ll do it with the first four verses and then will follow the same pattern for the remaining 13 verses:

I’m reading verses 1-4 aloud three times today and tomorrow. Reading Scripture aloud helps me take it in and not skip over any words. It helps me identify which words trip me up and allows me to hear what words I naturally stress based on the sentence structure. One of the times I read it aloud, I will personalize it (“Since I have been raised to new life with Christ, set my sights on the realities of heaven…”) to feel its import on my life.

I’m asking questions. Each sentence in these verses is full of meaning and there are several phrases that I don’t necessarily understand. For example, the first sentence includes, “the realities of heaven,” and the second sentence refers to “the things of heaven.” To set my eyes and thoughts on these “things” I need to understand what they are. So, I’m turning back to Jesus’ words about what the “kingdom of heaven” is like, looking through Scripture for other references to “heaven,” and reading some commentaries to see what others have said.

I’m praying. I am asking God to show me what he wants me to understand about him from this passage and how I can apply it on a daily basis as I walk in the world.

I’m writing down each verse on one of my memory cards. I carry around these colorful cards on a ring and write down Scripture I want to know or memorize. I’ll start with the first four verses, one sentence per card. I will read through them as I notice them throughout my day and practice repeating them by memory.

What does your week look like?

Is there a particular passage of Scripture you could memorize this week? How will you do it?

Life This Week

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In January 2003, I went to San Diego for the first time. I could not believe such a place existed – perfect temperatures, beautiful beaches, breathtaking sunsets. I thought it might be a good place to bring my daughter for a little vacation in the Spring, so I asked a woman working at the front desk of the hotel what it was like there in May. She barely looked up at me from what she was working on in front of her, and with extreme annoyance said, “It’s the same, ma’am.” I refrained from responding, “The same as in absolutely perfect in every way?” I am, like the woman in San Diego, incredibly skilled at taking things for granted. Surround me with beautiful things and before long, I lose my ability to see them. I take pictures as a way of putting on new eyes and intentionally opening to the beauty all around.

This weekend I spent some time in Michigan and was overwhelmed by the beauty all around. There were majestic, eye-catching things like the sunset…

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And the angry waves pushing violently toward me on the rocky beach…

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But there were also small beauties. Water droplets on a yellowing leaf…

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The glint of the sun on a ripening apple…

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Two hands, a mother’s and a daughter’s, holding abundance…

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A single rose among weeds…

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And a moment when you see that time has indeed passed…

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This week,

I’m praying for eyes that see the beauty. As soon as Monday gets rolling, I can tend to become like the woman at the front desk of that hotel in San Diego. But, I don’t want to miss a single thing, let me see all the beauty my soul can take!

I’m meditating on 1 Corinthians 10:1-10. I am not the first to take something for granted. There is a long history of us humans doing this. In the Message version of this passage, one verse says “But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much – most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.” Am I fully experiencing God’s wonder and grace?

I’m thanking God for his majestic displays and the smallest beauties. Sometimes beauty is inescapable – full harvest moons that draw your eyes and catch your breath or red sunsets that must be a reflection of heaven. Sometimes, though, beauty is smaller and less obvious. Oh, that I would see both and thank God for every single beautiful thing he puts on my path.

What does your week look like?

Do you notice the beauty around you?