Monthly Archives: September 2012

What will my obedience cost others?

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When I was in college I had to read a book called “Silence” by Shusaku Endo (1966).  It is a historical fiction novel about Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who are sent to Japan to investigate the alleged apostasy of one of their superiors.   In Japan, the church is “underground” meaning they are persecuted and can not meet in public.  When the the main character (one of the Jesuit priests) is finally betrayed and arrested, he is threatened with torture unless he commits apostasy by placing his feet on an image of Jesus placed on the floor.  He is hung upside down until he bleeds from his eyes, and yet, he still will not give in.  Then he is told that a little boy will be tortured in his place until he relents.  At the thought of his stubborn refusal hurting an innocent child, the priest relents and puts his feet on the image of Christ.  Though he is released, he is forever disgraced among the Japanese Christians.  He concludes that the apostasy of his superior was not as simple and straight forward as it appeared back in Portugal.

I have thought of this book often, and my opinion of the message behind the plot has changed as I have grown spiritually.  I am now resigned to the thought that my obedience will also cost others.

On one of the missionary group/chat pages that I am a member of someone recently opened up a long thread based on the lament of leaving behind aging parents in order to go to the mission field.  This honest missionary was deeply conflicted and pained by the grief his decisions caused his parents.  He was taking the grandchildren far, far away.  When he should have been home helping with his ailing parents, he was leaving, abandoning his post.  His obedience was costing others.

I enjoy reading the devotional “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers.  In January, the daily reading talks about this very theme.  Chambers writes:

If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins.  If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything— it is a delight.  But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal.  If we obey God, it will mean that other people’s plans are upset.  They will ridicule us as if to say, “You call this Christianity?”  We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God.  We must let the cost be paid.

When our obedience begins to cost others, our human pride entrenches itself and we say, “I will never accept anything from anyone.”  But we must, or disobey God. We have no right to think that the type of relationships we have with others should be any different from those the Lord Himself had (see Luke 8:1-3).

A lack of progress in our spiritual life results when we try to bear all the costs ourselves.  And actually, we cannot.  Because we are so involved in the universal purposes of God, others are immediately affected by our obedience to Him.  Will we remain faithful in our obedience to God and be willing to suffer the humiliation of refusing to be independent?  Or will we do just the opposite and say, “I will not cause other people to suffer”?  We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but it will grieve our Lord. If, however, we obey God, He will care for those who have suffered the consequences of our obedience.  We must simply obey and leave all the consequences with Him.

Beware of the inclination to dictate to God what consequences you would allow as a condition of your obedience to Him.  (Emphasis is mine).

Jesus himself said only if your love for God exceeds your love for your parents and siblings and children… only if your love for God makes your love for your family look like hate, will you be worthy to follow Him.  It’s not that we DO hate our family.  No, we love them, but in comparison to our love for God, family love takes a distant second place.  Let the chips fall where they may.  God will reward and repay.  God will comfort and console.

In the same way that they seized a man named Simon and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus in Luke 23:26, sometimes our commitment to pick up our cross and follow Jesus will cost  the innocent bystanders in our lives.  Our decision to be missionaries is not made only with ourselves to consider, but neither does our concern for our loved ones water down our passion to serve Christ.  Our obedience will cost others.

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My Tribe

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I used to think that “Kindred Spirits” were rare kinds of friends, few and far between.  

The other night I was thinking back over our 18 years in ministry.  There was a time in my life when I didn’t have any real friends.  I had co-workers in ministry, but I didn’t share my inner most thoughts with anyone at all.  No one took the time to get close to me, and I opened up to no one.  I blamed it on a lack of time.  I blamed it on my need for strength and my fear of weakness.  I blamed it on a need for confidentiality between pastors and congregations.  I blamed it on the fact that I saw no one around me who was exactly like me… as if that were really the only kind of person that I would enjoy being friends with.  I was very busy, but when I slowed down I was deeply lonely.  I didn’t like slowing down.

I remember the night that we “graduated” from School of Missions and we were commissioned to become missionaries.  My parents were standing somewhere in the crowd behind us, supportive, conflicted, and tearful. I was so excited to finally be in the group of people that I had longed to be a part of ever since I was 10 years old.  I was finally “in” the tribe that I had admired for so long.  Then I turned around and saw the sad-proud looks on my parents’s faces and I realized in one sinking moment that they were not coming with me.  They were not joining the club.  I was leaving one tribe to be a member of another tribe.  Yes my family would always love me like only family can, but the people who would UNDERSTAND me were other missionaries. My family was left standing on the outside, separated by more than the physical distance between counties.

More than 8 years later I have reached a new, fresh level of life in ministry.  Here overseas I have made more life-long friendships than I ever had in full time ministry in the States.  Here I have nothing but time on my side.  I have shed that old, tight friendless skin and have embraced a softer, more flexible and friendly  sort of skin.  The friendships I have here are deep and satisfying, giving and being filled up at the same time.

I can honestly say that the change probably occurred when I was pummeled into tenderness during our time at Language school.  But that time of trial and transformation is yet another point of connection that I have in common with my tribe mates and fellow missionaries.  (So I don’t begrudge one moment of the beating.)  I have never felt such deep camaraderie in ministry as I feel with My Tribe.  My cup overfloweth with friends.

Language School graduation, surrounded by our Tribe who knows “what it’s like”.

Odd Mommy Chores

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While most of the time I don’t even give a second thought to the millions of little tasks I automatically perform when in full Mommy mode, this morning I paused to consider how odd some of my chores are.

This morning I folded up all the umbrellas that had been left open to dry on the patio all week long.  I collected up all the shoes and clothing that my youngest daughter (the nudist) had abandoned in the yard and patio all week long.  I restocked the glove compartment of the car with sunscreen.  And I have big plans for scrubbing down a few outside walls that have started to mold during the rainy season (hopefully that will give me some allergy relief).  I have assigned my oldest son to spray the yard with flea killing chemicals… if it doesn’t rain today.

I also hope to fill the humming bird feeders again today.  I had neglected them when I noticed that we were getting a lot of bats flying around the house.  Considering that we have no screen windows or doors and the doors are left open whenever we are home, I don’t want a bat accidentally flying into the house one evening.  But the other day, a humming bird came right up to my kitchen window where there used to be a feeder.  It was like he was reminding me to make him some sugar water. While that may not seem like an odd chore to some people, it does feel odd to me to be taking “orders” from a creature the size of a pack of chewing gum.

Speaking of chewing gum, one of my past Odd Mommy chores has been scraping gum off the seat of the van and washing face paint off the seat belt straps.  I have washed chalk scribbles off of walls and marker off of couches and boogers off of nearly every surface imaginable.  With little ones the house, there is no limit to the odd things that must be washed regularly.

So now it’s your turn.  What Odd Chores have you performed in the line of duty as a parent?

Vegan Church

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Last Saturday morning, my husband and I went on a coffee date to Starbucks.  We drove about a half hour to a very ritzy part of town called Escazu.  (Whenever you see Costa Rica on House Hunters International it’s either a beach location or a multimillion dollar house in this part of town.)  It’s very American over there.  As a matter of fact, we just got our first Starbucks in Costa Rica and, of course, it’s in Escazu.

We noticed as we were pulling into the parking lot that there was some kind of festival or market happening down the block.  There were cute white tents like the kind they use at the Uptown Art Festival in my hometown.  So I got excited, thinking that maybe it was an art exhibit or something.  After our coffee, we wandered down to the tents to take a look.

It was an organic, vegan and whole foods farmers’ market.  There were all kinds of foods that I have never eaten before and had to read the labels to identify.  And everything was suuuuuper expensive, like $20 for a bag of hemp chips.

All the vendors had a certain look about them.  At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I finally decided that I would call the look “Rich-Modern-Urban- Spiritualist.”  If “Hippie” ever became trendy, this would be the look.  If “Boho” married “Yuppie” this would be the prodigy.  I concluded that everyone obviously “belonged” in this kind of market because of their look.

It was kind of like crashing a convention of home school moms.  Everyone sort of had the same look, except for us.  (I say this with no malice because I WAS a home school mom for many years.)  My husband and I sort of didn’t fit in.

Yep, that’s the home school mom look.

Maybe it’s because we had both showered that morning and neither one of us smelled like Patchouli.  Maybe it was because we don’t drive a hybrid car or recycle religiously… I don’t know.  But whatever were the elements required to be a member of this group, we didn’t have them.  I walked away with an odd feeling of being excluded.  (Maybe I should have bought that $30 jar of seaweed jelly just to fit in.)

I asked Josh, “What do you think people think of us?”  I mean, I pegged those people into a category upon first sight, but what category would WE fit into?  It really is difficult to see how others view you. I wonder if my husband and I have any distinguishing characteristics or fashions that would allow people to guess how we voted in the last election, how many times a week we eat fast food, and if any seaweed has ever been ingested by either of us.

Then I got to thinking about the church.  Is this how people feel when the visit our churches?  Do they feel like they need to have some “cool factor” in order to fit in?  Does our appearance communicate how rich we are?  Are we more likely to enter church with a Starbucks cup in our hands or a Bible in our hands?  Is our church language designed to give newcomers the information they need to become a member of our group, or is it exclusive so that only long time members would understand the announcements?  Do new people walk away with a vague sense of “High School Cliques Deja-Vu” or do they feel warmly accepted and excited to return?

We should give careful thought to the kind of culture we are creating at church.  We should put ourselves in the position of a Newcomer and try to see how THEY would view us.  “What would other people think of us?” is a valid question.

They won’t invite you in

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Part of learning to live within another culture is learning to observe and draw conclusions.  For example, when we lived in Mexico City I wondered why there were so many speed bumps and so few stop lights.  After a few months of observing the way Mexicans drive I decided that the speed bumps were a way to slow down on-coming traffic just enough to let you slip into the gap.  No one has to fully stop unless the whole line of traffic is backed up.  Another example comes from our first trip to Panama.  We noticed that there were plenty of stop lights at night, but during the day the lights were turned off and a police officer was directing traffic.  Why?  To create jobs during the day.  At night it’s easier to see a light than a person.  So sometimes a little time spent in observation yields great dividends in understanding the ways of this new culture.

But sometimes I just can’t connect an observation with any logical conclusion.  Sometimes I’m just stuck with a behavior that is disconnected from meaning.  For example, after two years of living in Costa Rica, we have actually seen the inside of a real Costa Rican’s home only a handful of times.  (That’s not counting all our “Gringo” friends who live in “Tico” style homes.)   So one day my curiosity just overwhelmed my patience for observation and I asked a direct question.

I was sitting around the table in the teachers’ break room with 3 other Costa Rican teachers.  I had worked with these ladies for a year and a half and not only did I really like them, I respected them.  They also understood Americans because their students were nearly all missionaries from America.  So I decided that they could handle a direct question and would give me a true answer.

I started gently.  “So, I’ve noticed something about Costa Ricans, tell me if you think it’s true.  Costa Ricans don’t invite people to their houses for dinner very often.  Is that a correct observation?”

The air around me crackled with peals of laughter and squeals of pretend shock.  Hands flew expressively into the air and over mouths and on top of heads, “Oh no!  NO!” they all affirmed, “You do NOT invite people into your home!   Only family is invited into the house.”

But WHY?  I pressed.  “The home is very private.  You might as well invite someone into your bedroom to go through your closets!” My friends all gasped at the horror of the thought.  “Once you invite someone into your home THEY ARE FAMILY and you can never get rid of them!  They can ask you for things.  They can show up any time they want.  They will stay as long as they like.  It’s such an imposition.  You have to be very certain that you really like this person, because once they come for dinner, you’re stuck with them.  And it might take 4 or 5 or even 10 years to decide if you like someone enough to invite them over for dinner.”  I guess we’re going to be here a while, in that case.

One of the teachers who had studied in America remembered how shocked she was when Americans invited her into their houses just to get to know her better.  She concluded accurately that Americans use their homes as a tool to get to know people, while a Costa Rican would prefer to go OUT for coffee to get to know someone better.

At first I was horrified to hear this thinking about how many times we had invited groups of students and pastors and other friends over to our house for dinner or a barbecue.  We’ve been making social blunders all over the place!  (But the students REALLY LOVE coming over to our American-style house.  We always draw a huge crowd.  I guess it’s a novelty.)

Then I got a little teary eyed when I thought of the few times that we had been invited to a Costa Rican’s house for dinner.  (We have actually been invited to STAY with some friends on more than one trip outside of the city.  If dinner is a big deal, then a week long visit is over the top!)  Suddenly I knew how they felt about us.  We were family.  We had been invited into the inner sanctum of familial love and closeness.  It made me so humbled and happy to know that THIS is how they feel about us.

We are far away from our real family, but God has given us friends that love us like we were family.  And that amazes and humbles me and fills me with joy.

My daughters sitting at the breakfast table at the home of our precious friends when we came for the weekend.

Planning vs. Peace

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I thought someone out there might need this today.  This is from the devotional “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young.  It is written as if Jesus is speaking to you personally.  Just thought this was a good word to end the week with…

“You will not find My Peace by engaging in excessive planning; attempting to control what will happen to you in the future. That is a commonly practiced form of unbelief. When your mind spins with multiple plans, peace may sometimes seem to be within your grasp; yet it always eludes you. Just when you think you have prepared for all possibilities, something unexpected pops up and throws things into confusion.

“I did not design the human mind to figure out the future. That is beyond your capability. I crafted your mind for continual communication with Me. Bring Me all your needs, your hopes and fears. Commit everything into My care. Turn from the path of planning to the path of Peace.”

From the Devotional “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young

“I deserve better”

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Being a big Paula Dean fan, I was tempted to transform this title to, “I deserve BUTTER”.  I still might someday make that my personal motto, but for now I better get focused *squirrel!*

“I deserve better” is the call of the wild for egoists everywhere.  It is best described as a sense of entitlement.  You might not actually come right out and say those exact words, but you think it in your heart.  You believe that you deserve something.

Some examples might be, “I’ve been good all week long and stayed on my diet, so tonight I deserve to eat a whole bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough… made with butter.”  What, why are you staring at me?  

And it can get even more sinister with things like money, “I’m working so hard lately that I deserve to buy myself those Louboutin shoes like the ones that Oprah wears.”  

Recently I listened to some old Andy Stanley leadership podcasts that talked about a few different bad behaviors that stem from a sense of entitlement.  (I’ve looked for the podcasts again and I can’t find them for the life of me, sorry.)  Especially in leaders, this sense of entitlement is particularly ugly… and particularly hard to see in yourself.  Normally everyone around you can see it clear as the nose on your face, but you are totally blind to your own faults.

So how do you know what it looks like in yourself?  It looks like jealously, taking the credit for everything, getting a big head,  never saying Thank You, not being able to celebrate the successes of others, and bragging.  It can also look like voting to give yourself stock options and a pay raise when the whole company is tanking financially… but that’s another story.

A Christian with a sense of entitlement might feel like “God owes me” for all the work I’ve done for him.  He owes me for all the sacrifices I’ve had to make for Him.

A non-believer might say  “life owes me” or “Karma owes me” or “someone else owes me”.

This is a super ugly attitude among missionaries, and believe me, I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen some missionaries live like America owes them.  (Maybe they are starting to get a little dizzy up on that pedestal.)  They say, “We’ve sacrificed so much already.  We deserve… fill in the blank with something nice.”  That’s not to say that there aren’t perks to living the missionary life style, there are.  But our attitude should be one of extreme thankfulness to God for each new blessing and humility that we should be so honored to be chosen to serve where we do.  A missionary should never have a sense of being owed something.

This is MY idea of exotic luxury… with a nanny watching my children for me.

Why is entitlement such a Dangerous Attitude?  It was Lucifer’s attitude when he tried to usurp the throne of God.  Lucifer was the most beautiful angel that God created, but he felt like God owed him more.  He felt like everyone owed him praise for his beauty and talents.  Ultimately it lead him to rebel against God and be cast to Earth in defeat.

When it comes right down to it, we should remember our rightful place.  We are servants… indentured servants bought with a price.  We have no rights, and our only “just due” is death for our sins.  We have no right to expect anything good… not even butter.  So we should be thankful for every good gift we DO receive from the hands of our loving Master.

Teach them Old Folks a thing or two…

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I really don’t know what the rules are about posting something that you read on Facebook or some other social media.  But this is a cute story that’s been floating around for some time.  (I would gladly give credit where it’s due, so if it’s yours… don’t sue me, just tell me it’s yours.)  

But the reason why I’m posting this story is because it’s about another one of those Bandwagons that we’re being pressured to climb on.  I have nothing against taking care of the environment, I just don’t believe that we should take people’s individual initiative and personal sense of responsibility away by micro-managing them through legislation.  I WANT to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but I don’t need some tree-hugger in my face for using disposable diapers.  So let’s just all put down the rhetoric… and gang up on some unsuspecting old people.  We can all be united through a common foe.  (I’m just kidding, again, don’t sue me Old People!)

Being Green

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today.  Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”  She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.  Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store.  The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.  So they really were truly recycled.
But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.  Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks.  This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings.  Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags.  But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.  
We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building.  We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.  But she was right.  We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind.  We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days.  Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room.  And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.  In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.  When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.  Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn.  We used a push mower that ran on human power.  We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.
But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.
We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.  We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.  We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances.  And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart-alec young person.  We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off.

What a gem!  Don’t you love social media… when it’s not being used to promote a bandwagon.

Don’t make me tip over your Bandwagon!

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“OH MY WORD!  You’ve GOT to try this!” my friend exclaimed as she shoved a piece of dried fruit in my face.  I took a tentative nibble.  “Isn’t that the absolute best dried prune you’ve ever tasted?”  Actually I thought it tasted like moist cardboard.  I cringed because I knew what was coming.  The Sales Pitch.  “It’s from the Organic Co-op that I’m a member of.  You can order all your food online and they deliver it right to your house!  This box of prunes only cost TEN DOLLARS!”

I really don’t like bandwagons.  I’ve blogged about them before.  Having a friend who is constantly trying to convince you that her personal choices are the best and that YOU should do whatever she is doing is absolutely exhausting to me.  You never know whether she is inviting you over for dinner or for a time-share sales pitch.  Whatever is popular or cool or “in” at the time is what your friend is peddling.  It’s an adult form of peer pressure.

Once I had a friend try to sell me a make-up system that would only cost me $75 a month. I told her that I don’t have an extra $75 a month.  I’m the girl who buys 99-cent eyeliner.  She turned up the pressure, “But don’t you think you deserve it?”  Get thee behind me Satan!

It doesn’t matter if it’s a make-up system or a co-op membership or a trendy new church or Trader Joe’s, I don’t do bandwagons.  And I don’t appreciate being manipulated with guilt either, nobody does.  I make the decisions I make for real reasons.  Nothing in my life is on autopilot.  I am very deliberate in the choices I make, always peering into the future for signs of where this road will take me.

Sometimes my choices are motivated by simple reasons like we have no money for that.

And sometimes my reasoning is not typical, but I’m OK with that.  For example, when we were raising funds to go to Mexico City we read about several schools that were available to us.  We talked to a lot of people, some with children in those schools.  On paper, The American School looked like a smart choice.  It offered International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, foreign languages and college prep classes.  It had a science lab and a computer lab.  It had a fully equipped athletic program that competed on a national level.  It looked great on paper.

drug lord’s wife- she looks like a normal mom to me.

But when we got to Mexico City and started talking to Mexicans we discovered that The American School is where all the rich diplomats’ kids and the drug-lord kids go to school.  Big red flags for us.  We know that schools produce more than a diploma.  They produce character too.  We didn’t want our kids developing a sense of entitlement and a materialistic, snobby attitude by mingling with friends who fly to Miami to go shopping each weekend.  Neither did we want them going over to play at the homes of drug-lords.  In the end we chose a small, Christian school (with no big ticket frills) that supported our family values and where the teachers prayed over the kids every day.  That was more important to us than a great track and field program or a diploma with a popular name on it.

We made our choice based on the outcome we wanted.  We want to create a certain kind of person with our children, and that means we don’t always make the same choices as everyone else.  And we’re OK with that.  All we ask is that our friends respect our decisions and not shove their bandwagon memberships in our face.  As a family we march to the beat of our own drum.  We don’t like organic prunes and we don’t do bandwagons.

Praying for the Middle East

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My heart has been heavy for the last few days.  I’ve been thinking and praying for friends and co-workers in the Middle East.  We have connections in several sensitive countries in the Middle East where anti-American protests have erupted this weekend.  From their reports, they are mostly hunkering down at home and waiting for the mobs to calm down.

They knew full well the risks they were taking in moving their families to the Middle East.  But each of them felt lead by God to live in countries that don’t like our government and don’t like us.  They knew what they were getting into.

I pray for them.

As the world rages and chaos swirls all around, I pray that my friends would have peace in their hearts and minds.  When violence and horror fill the news, I pray that peace and joy would fill their homes.  I pray that their serenity in a time of upheaval would become like a beacon of light to those looking for hope, looking for an escape.  As the Apostles in the book of Acts prayed after their arrest and beatings, “Lord let us continue to preach with boldness and courage,” I pray for courage for my friends.

While the winds of change blow violently through the Middle East, my friends hunker down under the protective wing of our Heavenly Father who sees all things and cares for those who love Him.  He is like a Mother Bird who shelters her young under her wings.  God is our refuge.  I am praying for my friends.