Friday, August 31, 2012

Big Plastic Bags and Spluttering Engines

In February 1998, I took the plunge and bought a motorbike.  OK … a scooter. I’d resisted the idea for nearly five years since moving to Bali, thinking it was far too dangerous. 
 Then we hit a time when the US dollar was getting a fantastic exchange rate, and I realized it would stupid not to take advantage of the chance to buy a scooter at a really good price. So I did.
Good law-abiding citizen that I am, I checked into getting a driver’s license. I expected to be told that I needed to take a course or pass a test. As it turned out, I was given a license before I even knew how to drive. Go figure.
I practiced driving in the alley beside my house. It wasn’t long before I left the city and drove into the country. I loved the feel of the wind in my face, and the sound of Harley’s motor purring like a kitten as I drove through the mountains and rice terraces of Bali

Harley Junior became my primary mode of transportation. When I had to bring home groceries or carry other things, I often put them in a plastic bag, hanging the bag by the handles on a metal hook near my right knee. If the bag was a large one, I’d have to drape it over the cutout area between my knees  so it would hang over the other side and not get in the way of my feet.
There was just one problem with Harley, and the problem showed up quickly once I was using him for everyday transportation. I could drive for a little while, but then he just didn’t have enough power to keep going. He’d jerk, spit and splutter to a stop. I was really frustrated.
I have no idea how many times in those first few weeks I took Harley to a repair shop to be checked. I took all my paraphernalia off the bike and waited while the mechanic checked him out. The weird thing was that Harley never had that same problem for anyone but me.
Finally, at the end of yet another discouraging visit to the mechanic, I prepared to leave. This time, the mechanic stood beside me as I loaded my bags. He saw me drape my large plastic bag from the right side to the left … and he immediately recognized the problem.
When I draped the bag across the center, it covered the oxygen intake opening. No oxygen could get to the engine, and it couldn’t run properly. The mechanic compared it to trying to run with nose and mouth covered. It just doesn’t work.
I stopped draping the bag, even limiting what I put in it to begin with. From the time I started keeping that oxygen intake open, Harley never had another problem with a spluttering engine.
As we journey with Jesus, our souls need to “breathe”, too.  We need time with God to refresh and empower us – to fill our souls with life-giving “oxygen”. It is very easy, metaphorically speaking, to fill our lives with so many activities that we need a great big “plastic bag” to carry them all. The “bag” gets in the way, so we drape it over into other areas of our lives, and it ends up covering up that “oxygen intake”. It crowds out our time with Jesus. Eventually, our spiritual lives jerk and splutter to a stop.
Shannon Milholland has written about this same principle using a running metaphor in her post entitled “Lessons Learned On The Road –Don’t Stop Breathing”. I encourage you to click the link and check out what she has to say.
Whether you think about running, driving a motorbike, or walking with Jesus through life, the message is the same. We need oxygen in order to keep going. Not just once in a while, or for a mere fifteen minutes a day, but all the time. We need to keep that “oxygen intake opening” uncovered all day long. We need to talk to God and live in His presence in the midst of everyday activities …all the time. When we do, our spiritual motors can purr like a kitten.
I wonder …how is the motor of your soul running? Purring or spluttering? Is the “oxygen intake opening” covered and blocked, or consistently open, allowing your soul to “breathe”. If the motor is spluttering, why not undrape the bag?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tell Me "My Story"

Rachel was sitting next to me …chattering away, as usual.  I’m not sure how, but somehow, the conversation turned  to her asking something about “her story”.  

She has heard this story many times before, but she never tires of hearing the details. She asks me questions so she can hear the details again and again.  

How I had prayed for her long before I never knew her.   

How I heard about her.  

How I got carsick on the trip to her village to pick her up.  (She never lets me leave out that detail.) 

What I thought when I first saw her.  

What she “said”. (Wa-a-a-a-a!)   

Her first bottle.   

First diaper. 

First ride in the car.   

How thankful I was that God had given her to me. 

Rachel is a very busy, active little girl, and often, even as she is talking about one thing, her mind always seems to be racing on to the next thing she wants to do or say.  But not this time.  I looked over at her as I was answering her questions and saw her leaning back into her seat looking at my face with absolute rapt attention.  She was hearing “her story”.  The story of how God brought us together.  The story that affirms how very much she is wanted and loved.  At that moment, to her, nothing was more interesting.

It occurs to me that that in the Bible, God tells us “our story” as well.  Yes, it is overall the story of Jesus, and God’s plan to bring people back to Himself when we were far away from Him.  But in a very real sense, it is also “my story”. 

In the Bible, I can find the story of how much God loved me and longed for me to be close to Him.  In His Word, He tells me how he sought me out, rescued me, and brought me home.  This story tells of the rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents and comes home to the Father.  It is a story of a love so big that even my love for my daughter is small in comparison.  I have heard that story many times during my life. May I never tire of hearing it.  

For God so loved the world ... (John 3:16)
For God so loved ... ME!

This  post is taken from one of my old newsletters that was written when Rachel was four years old.  
From newsletter 20100706

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Telling God Thank You

Praising God for a beautiful sunset
Rachel and I took a ride today through some stunningly beautiful scenery. No matter how hard you try, photos can never do justice to the beauty of God's handiwork. 
We live in Bali, Indonesia. Virtually any direction you go outside of the big city, you can see vistas that take your breath away.
Travel twenty minutes one direction from our home, and you are in the foothills of Mt. Agung, Bali’s largest mountain. Twenty minutes in another direction, and you can listen to waves crashing on the shore and soak up sea breezes. In between, you pass through terraced rice fields that hold a beauty all their own.
The rice fields were what caught our attention today. We needed to do some grocery shopping. The nearest store was about fifteen miles away, and I decided to take the scenic route.
As we passed a particularly gorgeous area, I commented, “Look Rachel! Isn’t God’s creation beautiful?”
She drew in her breath as she looked around. “Yes, Mommy! It is soooo beautiful! I wish I lived here in this place. Then I could see it when I go to school and when I come home, and when I go to my friend’s house. All the time!”
I just love her sensitivity to God as He reveals Himself in creation. I remember a few years ago, I saw Rachel standing on the front porch of our home. From there, she could see palm trees, hundreds of birds soaring through the sky, with Mt. Agung towering above it all.  She stood there singing. Not loudly, but earnestly, creating her own song.
I asked her what she was doing. She said, “I’m telling God thank You for His beautiful world.” What more can you say?
Finding Thankful Moments
It is amazing how easy it is to get so busy with life that we totally miss those blessings from God that He has scattered throughout our world. His messages to us are there, all around us, but we fail to see them.
It is not hard to find the beauty in God’s creation when you live in a place like Bali, as long as you take the time to open your eyes. Thankfully, you don’t have to live on a tropical island to see God’s loving hand at work.
  • ·         Do you live in the country? Close your eyes and listen for the sounds of the birds and the crickets.
  • ·         Is it winter, just after an ice storm? Before scraping the ice off your windshield, take in the artistry of the sun glinting through the ice-encrusted twigs.
  • ·         Are you a busy mom racing to get the groceries inside and dinner fixed before your hungry kids have a meltdown? Stop just a moment, take a deep breath, and enjoy the breeze blowing through your hair.
  • ·         Is your home in the middle of a big city? If you open your eyes, you can still see evidences of God’s marvelous creation. A flower pushing its way up between the cracks in the sidewalk. Pigeons flocking around a kind-hearted person in the park who brings bread crumbs to feed them.
  • ·         Most of all, as you check on your sleeping children just before you go to bed, take a moment to marvel at the amazing gift God has given you by entrusting these little ones to your care.
You may not think you are gifted to create a song of your own. That doesn’t matter. You can still take a moment to “tell God thank You” for the amazing creation He has prepared for you to enjoy. He has given all that as part of His love gift to you. Enjoy it. And let your amazed and thankful heart be your love gift back to Him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You Can Work Anytime

Today is a red-letter day here in Indonesia. No, actually tomorrow is the red-letter day, but school is closed for a full week and a half. The Balinese Hindu holidays of Galungan and Kuningan happen twice a year. Galungan always falls on a Wednesday with Kuningan coming ten days later.
The school year started in mid-July, but didn’t really get going until after Indonesian Independence Day on August 17. That was a Friday this year. Kids went back to school on Saturday. Then they were off for a Muslim holiday on the following Monday. Back to school for exactly one week. Now, they are off for a week and a half again. No wonder they have to start school so early with so many holidays interrupting the school year.
This means that Rachel is home for ten days straight. I love having her around. However, I can’t take the same extended holiday that school kids get to take. I still have to get some work done.
As she is my only child, unless one of her friends comes over to play, or she goes to her friend’s house, Rachel is kind of at loose ends when it comes to keeping herself occupied.  I will joyously celebrate the day that she becomes proficient enough at reading that a book can absorb her interest for part of her day.
But that day is not yet. We had spent much of the morning sorting through her toys, choosing some to give away, throwing away the toys that were broken beyond repair, and generally putting things back to rights.
I then sat down at my computer to get some work done. Rachel moved some of her playthings into my office to be near me. No problem to me as long as she is quiet. She took a familiar song and put new words to it … a habit she has picked up from me. At one point, I tuned in to what she was singing. It went something like this.

Monday, August 27, 2012

You Said WHAT?!?

In the small hours of the morning I was jolted out of what must have been a really weird dream. My first college roommate Nancy was standing at the sink in our dorm room washing her face. Perhaps she had dropped something in the sink, startling me awake. I sat bolt upright in bed. 

“You said WHAT?!?” I asked in a voice that betrayed shock and confusion, leaving poor Nancy mystified.
“Julie … what’s wrong?”
“You said WHAT?!?”
“Julie …”
“You said WHAT?!?”
“Julie!  Wake up! What’s wrong?”
Finally, my conscious caught up with my subconscious. “Oh … Never mind.”  I lay back down, hoping to go back to sleep.  No such luck. By that time, I was thoroughly awake. I began to chuckle.
Nancy looked at me curiously. “What?”
“You’ll never believe what I thought you said.” I had to laugh again. I thought you said, “It’s time to feed the gorillas!” We both got a chuckle out of that.
I have absolutely no idea now what could have possibly prompted a dream about feeding gorillas. After all, it happened 32 years ago. I did not get any profound spiritual lesson out of that incident at the time. However, looking back, I can see a parallel between my reaction there in my dorm room, and my reaction now when something unexpected happens in life.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

You Can't Take It Back

Last year about this time, Edy, the assistant director of the children’s home where I work, got married.  The next day, Rachel was talking about the wedding.   
She said, “I’m glad Mr. Edy got married.  If he didn’t get married, he would be all alone when he gets old…like you, Mama.”   
Of course, I wasn’t really offended by her reference to me being “old”, but I did play it up a bit, “Oh! Are you calling ME old???!!!” I asked.   
“Well, not SO old. Just kind of old.  But you are a LOT older than Mr. Edy!!!”  
 I laughed and told her that she ought to quit while she is ahead.
Rachel’s experience of saying something and then digging herself in deeper reminds me that I need to watch my words, too.  Careless words can never be taken back once they are spoken. 
When I was in my second year of college, I usually ate lunch with a group of people whose humor centered around shooting “zingers”…clever (or so we thought) little barbs that targeted the weaknesses of others sitting at our table.  We would try to outdo each other to see who could come up with the most clever “zinger”.
I am ashamed to say that I got pretty good at shooting them off…until one day, I actually noticed the face of the person I had just “zinged”.  This person tried to laugh it off, but I could see that to him it was not funny at all.   
Suddenly, I saw the habit of “zinging” people as not as clever or funny as we all thought it was.  I was ashamed of the person I was becoming.  I don’t think I intentionally did another “zinger” after that.
However, I remember one time, probably 10 years ago, that I said something to a friend that was a bit flippant, and could probably be classified as a “zinger”.  I didn’t intend to say anything hurtful, but the comment did target an area of her life that was difficult for her, and my words did hurt.  There was not anything I could say to retrieve the hurtful words.  All I could do was to say I was sorry, and be more careful after that.  Thankfully, my friend was gracious and willing to forgive.
Now Rachel’s comments were entirely innocent.  (After all, to a five-year-old, a 25-year old person probably seems almost ancient, let alone her 49-year-old mother.)  She will learn with time, as we all need to do, how to consider what she says and let only words that build others up come out of her mouth.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 
Ephesians 4:29
 (This story was first shared in my newsletter dated September 2011.)

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