Thursday, January 12, 2017

Living By Faith

I have a confession to make.

Last week I talked about enjoying the seasons of life. I said God had given me a gift of being able to enjoy each season of life. As I reread my post, I realized how it sounded: 

That's not what I meant. That's not how I wanted to come across. 

First of all, if I find joy in each new phase of my life, I believe it is a gift from God and that says more about Him than it does about me.

Secondly, I do struggle with living by faith, with seeing God at work in and through me in new, different, and sometimes unwanted circumstances.

Right now I have a heartache. A mother's heartache. But I want to honor God in the midst of my pain. I want to honor Him by living by faith, walking by faith through this life. 

I used to say I couldn't wait until I got to heaven and I could have my faith perfected and my worship undistracted. But not too long ago I came to realize that I can't live by faith in heaven. When I am in heaven I will live by sight, "we will see Him just as He is." (1 John 3:2)

It is only here on earth that I can honor God by living by faith.

I'm still working on how to figure that one out. 

I know it involves knowing God, knowing His Word, obeying Him. But what I struggle with is trusting Him, trusting to the point of no longer being afraid. Afraid of the future, of life, of the what ifs, of the what if nots. Trust that believes that whatever God does, whatever God allows, is The Best Thing. I can say the words. I can quote Romans 8:28--in two languages! But do I live like I believe it?

And when I pray, do I pray in faith, or do I pray wishes? How can I know the difference? 

One day last month as I went about my necessary activities I had an ongoing conversation with God. Well, it was rather one-sided. Guess who was talking?

Over and over I asked God, "How can I live by faith?" I told Him I wanted to. I wanted to honor Him in that way in my life, but I felt so distraught, so anxious, that I knew I wasn't. I tried telling Him all about my worries. I tried asking Him to work in and through them. I tried asking for Him to work in me. I even tried thanking Him for everything good and the hard times too. (See Philippians 4:6-7) But I didn't feel like I was living by faith. 

So this is me being honest.

I do have joy in this season of life. But I also have concerns. Concerns that I sometimes swaddle my thoughts in all day long. But I also have God. And I'm seeking Him. Looking to know Him. Longing to trust Him. Wanting to honor Him. Honor Him by living by faith.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Are You Enjoying This Season of Life

When I was growing up, the only things I wanted to be "when I grew up" were a missionary, and if God allowed, a wife and mother. I worked toward being a missionary, assuming that no matter what, that was God's will, but I wasn't sure His plan included getting to be a wife and mother. That would be a bonus. During my teenage years I spent my summers on missions teams, I attended missionary conferences, and I met missionaries. I went to missionary prayer meetings. I gave to missions. Eventually, I went to Bible School, where I met a man who felt the same call of God. When God confirmed our relationship, He gave us an amazing love for each other.

Eventually, God led us to Lima, Peru. I can still picture the street we were walking along there when we came to the conclusion that our Spanish studies and adjustment to our new country were moving forward, and we wanted to try to start a family. Ten months later we were parents of a son!

I don't remember the moment we decided to try for a second child.

That brought us into a season I refused to enjoy--secondary infertility. Every month was a disappointment when it became clear that no baby was on the way. Twice babies were there, but they died in my womb early in the pregnancy. I'm pretty sure having a second child was the only thing I could talk about. If I could do it over, even not knowing that one day I would have three more children and at least six grandchildren, I wish I could trust God more and learn to appreciate what He was doing in my life during that season. I do know that I enjoyed my little boy to the fullest and got to do things with him that later I could not do with the others because I was busier.

God led us to adopt a little girl. Shortly after she joined our family, another son was born to us. Life was busy! Two babies eight months apart and a five year old. There were those days. There were those women who said things like, "Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems." And "Enjoy them now, these years go by so quickly."

Eventually God moved us to Colombia and gave us another daughter. I loved my life there. It was full of opportunities to teach women and watch new believers grow in the Lord. The ministry was exciting and fulfilling. My kids were in school. There were those days when school was hard, the kids didn't understand, and the teachers didn't understand my kids.

Health was always a struggle. Thyroid cancer followed by the onset of asthma took away my spark for quite a while.

Life moved on. One child was about to leave home. That was so hard. I would wake up in the middle of the night with a panicked feeling that he was leaving and would never live under my roof again. God must have laughed at me because He sent us on furlough for a year, and my son lived with us during his junior year of college. We got to know and love his girlfriend who today is his wife and mother of their four children.

A time of change in ministry came. My husband took on a whole new role. No longer were we missionaries together, but he was the International Coordinator of Emmaus Correspondence School. I had no idea what I would do. This was his work. It took me quite a while to find my place in our new local church.

Health problems intruded again and I had four surgeries in two years before things were resolved.

I was able to start working with the women's ministries in an administrative role. Something I never wanted to do, but God has given me joy in it, even though I still struggle to keep track of all the details. God has someone alongside me who picks up all the pieces I drop.

With one child married, two away at college, one in high school, and my husband working at an office instead of out of the home, my life became different. Then the fourth one went to college and lived on campus, even though it was only a mile away. She was home, along with other family in town, for lunch every Sunday. Were we empty nesters?

The middle two each moved back home for about a year and a half and I loved that. Then they got married and now I was a mother-in-law three times over.

All of a sudden I became a grandmother. Wasn't I much too young for this? One, two, three, and then four grandchildren four hours away. One in town. One in Germany. Three of them arrived within six months of each other. It was a little overwhelming, and a lot of fun.

Our youngest graduated from college, got a job, and got her own apartment in town. My season of life has become mom to adults, grandma, and daughter as all four of our parents are now living in the same town as us, ages 81 to 90.

I work hard at church. I'm on four committees and the head of three of them. How did that happen? I don't like administration!

...But I feel like God has given me a gift. A gift of enjoying each season of life. I always feel like I enjoy this one more than any of the others, with the exception of my secondary infertility season.

Still, if I could go back and ask that woman in her late twenties with all those little kids, she might say, "This is what I always wanted. This is the best time of life."

If I could go talk to the woman with three teens and a tween? Well...even then I remember telling people that I had never given up anything to be a missionary. I had everything I wanted.

If I could ask that woman with all those opportunities to teach other women, I know she would say it was a great time!

If I could ask the woman moving to the states, a place she had to submit to God to come to, what would she say? She was sad that her life living in Colombia was done, but excited to see what God was going to do.

If I could ask her six months later how she felt, she would have been amazed at the house God had given her, but still seeking what God wanted her to be involved in. That was a tough time, after 24 years of working closely beside my husband in ministry, now he had a fulltime "job" ministry and I was a fulltime stay at home wife and mother. But I reveled in the changing seasons of the year, each one was better than the last! Summer! Fall! Winter! Spring!

Today, I'm so busy with so many things that I'm learning to love, yes, even administration. My family is my joy...there are heartaches, there are growing pains, but I'm asking God to let me trust Him and enjoy this season of life, too.

How about you? Are you able to enjoy the season you are in now?

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

7 Best Posts of 2016

Looking back over this year of blogging, sometimes the posts I felt were most important didn't get the most hits. So I'm giving them another chance. If you missed any of these, take time read them now. These are the tips that help me most and the thoughts that have changed me the most. 

I started the year with a post about How to Clean Your Room in 60 Seconds or Less. Obviously, the room is not going to be spotless, but if your mother-in-law just pulled into your driveway, or you just want your son to make his room a place you can walk into, these tips will help you!

In May I did a post to help me (and others) not procrastinate, to get things done with time to spare so we don't get speeding tickets! What's the relation between procrastination and speeding tickets? Read here

Through a conversation with a friend, I came to think about both trials and blessings in light of eternity. This actually led to talks at women's retreats in both Colombia and Singapore! How do you hold onto your blessings and trials? How do they hold onto you?

I have a philosophy about how to draw closer to people:
Each step progressively draws you closer together. Obviously the most fun is laughing together, but in a way, they are all wonderful.

What do you pray for the most? So often it is everybody's ailments. But we need to go beyond that. I talked about that in this post, Praying for What We Cannot See.

I have an aunt who said, "Christians are strange people. We will spend our last dollar trying to stay out of heaven." Why is that? What is heaven? I thought it was worth thinking about in this post.

Finally, I came up with 9 ways plus a bonus on how to simplify your life. Each way seems like a contradiction of the previous one, but all are valid and least to me! I hope they help you.

I hope my musings help you live your life today and all through the coming year.

Happy New Year!
I look forward to being with you throughout 2017!

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas...As Told by Mary

Two years ago for our Christmas devotions my husband, daughter, father-in-law, and I each wrote a first person account of one of people involved in Jesus' birth. It was a great way to get a new look at the amazing truth of the Incarnation. We read them on Christmas with the whole family. You can read the one I wrote on Elizabeth here and the one my husband wrote as Gabriel here. This is the one I wrote about Mary.

I am Mary, wife of Joseph, the woman who was given the gift by God of bringing His Son, our Messiah, into the world to be our Savior.

I'm sure you'd like to hear my version of the angel coming to me, but, you know, even after all these years I find it hard to explain. But I'll try:

He was just there. He didn't come in, he didn't dazzle me with bright light, he just started talking. And more than anything, his greeting took my breath away!

"Greetings approved one! The Lord is with you."
I didn't know what he meant and was trying to make sense of it when he kept talking. He told me to not be afraid. That's when I realized that my heart was racing with the start and confusion.

Then he said, "God is happy with you." And he began to give me more information than I could take in, so I concentrated hard because I realized it was important. He said I would conceive a child...that it would be a boy...the boy's name would be Yeshua, Jesus in your language...that His actual identity was the Son of God...the He would be King!

And the only thing I could think of to say was, "But I'm not married!" You know how we never know what to say to someone on the spot, but two weeks later we have the perfect response? Well...I've thought about this quite a bit, and I don't think I would change my statement. I knew how important my purity was to God and the way this man, this angel, answered let me know he was from God.

He explained that God, through the Holy Spirit, would work a miracle in my body and I would have this child without losing my virginity.

I knew then that is this was an angel sent by God and I submitted to God's will for me.

I've been asked why I didn't ask him to explain it to my parents and my fiancé. But he said two things to me that just took care of everything. One was his first greeting, "The Lord is with you," and later he said, "Nothing is impossible with God." I just rested in that, believing God would take care of the details.

And, you know, He did.

I was so thrilled when the angel told me that my relative Elizabeth was expecting a baby. Thrilled for her! And thrilled for me. I needed someone to talk to who would understand. I knew Elizabeth was a godly woman and would be able to help me sort this all out in my mind. So I went to visit her. When I saw her she was delighted that I came and immediately she recognized what was happening. In response to her loving, accepting greeting, I told her the poem of praise that I had composed on the journey down.

In it I said

I rejoice in God, my Savior, who chose me to play an important part in His plan of salvation for all of us. My soul thrills at God's great mercy toward sinners.
This is not about me, but about God. He took notice of this servant girl and favored me by including me in His amazing plan of salvation.
All generations will call me blessed, but I hope no one loses sight that it was God who did great things.  
 He came down to our world to bring us salvation!

May you have the merriest Christmas ever
as you contemplate the Greatest Gift ever!

For First Person Gabriel account click here.
For First Person Elizabeth account click here.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas...As Told by Gabriel

Two years ago for our Christmas devotions my husband, daughter, father-in-law, and I each wrote a first person account of one of people involved in Jesus' birth. It was a great way to get a new look at the amazing truth of the Incarnation. We read them on Christmas with the whole family. You can read the first one here. This is the one my husband wrote. I think you will enjoy it as his humor comes through as well as his deep spiritual thinking.

Hi, my name is Gabriel. I am an angel. Unlike you might think from watching "It's a Wonderful Life", I was not a human before who died and I don’t need to earn my wings. Like I said, I am an angel. The Bible doesn't tell you when we were created, and we don't think about time like you humans do so I can't really explain it. We, as a movement, have gone on for, well, a long time. We serve God in many different ways. 

You are a very confusing people, but we understand something of how you needed a Savior and I was chosen for the special task of being involved in the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Messiah came, I got really active in human history. First, I was sent to talk to Zacharias, a priest who knew the Scriptures. He knew that there would be forerunner to announce the coming of Messiah. But when I told him he was to be the father of that child, he wouldn't believe me.  We angels don't get humans. God sends them a message and they won't believe! “Just give me a sign,” he said. How about an angel appearing? But God must have anticipated this, because he sent me with the ability to make Zacharias mute for his disbelief. When he should have come out of the temple praising and worshiping God, he couldn’t say a word.

But Elizabeth understood the Zacharias' charades, believed, said something about not having a headache that night, and we watched her worship God as her tummy grew with little John! She was an inspiration to us, allowing God's miracle to happen in her body, something that we angels can never participate in.

My next, and most famous assignment, came soon after talking to Zacharias. I didn't have any experience in talking with pretty teenage girls, especially about such a delicate subject, but God gave me some lessons. And that humble, God-minded little girl joyfully accepted the news that God was going to perform one of His greatest miracles ever, right inside her body.

I told her that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. And she accepted that.

She had a question about pregnancy outside of marriage, but again her faith embraced my explanation of the divine incarnation. We angels still contemplate what happened and we don't fully grasp it. I am sure she didn't either, though it was wonderful to observe her over the years holding her baby, watching Him grow and train Him, contemplating Him, and seeing Him as a man doing his Father's work, and although sometimes she spoke out of turn, she listened to Him and learned as she thought about His responses. 

And Zacharias? He came around when John was born and the Holy Spirit himself came down and prophesied through Zacharias. 

But I got into action again the night Jesus was born. Well, your Bible doesn't actually say it was me, but I think a number of you probably guessed that the angel that showed up to talk to the shepherds was me! But I'm not a soloist, and besides, there was a clamoring of multitudes of angels to get in on the action that night and sing at the birth of man's Messiah, so I was joined by myriads of angels and we sang "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

We angels have also observed that peace has not come to earth yet, but take my word for it. When God says something is going to happen, it always does. So make sure you are enjoying peace with God, which He offers you to take care of your sin problem And the peace of Christ which can be yours every day while you live in a world that wars instead of making peace. It is my senior colleague Michael the Archangel gets to make the announcement for believers to come up to heaven and meet their Prince of Peace face-to-face, but I hope to be right there by his side singing, or upping the voltage of the glory when we dazzle those who have believed what I said 2000 years ago, 

"I bring you good news of great joy 
which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there was born for you Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

May you have the merriest Christmas ever as you contemplate the Greatest Gift ever!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas...As Told by Elizabeth

Two years ago for our Christmas devotions my husband, daughter, father-in-law, and I each wrote a first person account of one of people involved in Jesus' birth. It was a great way to get a new look at the amazing truth of the Incarnation. We read them on Christmas with the whole family. Over the next three weeks I will share two that I wrote and one by my husband.

My name is Elizabeth…wife of Zacharias.

But you probably know me best as the mother of John the Baptist.

My husband was a priest and together we studied and pondered many things in the scriptures and determined, to the best of our ability to live according to the commandments of the Lord. —That gave us great joy.

The one sorrow and prayer in our lives was for a child. But God did not choose to bless us in that way. Finally, well, that became impossible. But we remembered Sarah and once in a while we would remind God of how much we would love to be parents.

Then the angel came.

You’ve heard the story of Zacharias in the temple being told we would have a son who would prepare the way for the Lord. Poor Zacharias, he just couldn’t comprehend what he heard. As he delicately told the angel, “My wife is advanced in years.” Like I said, it was impossible…or so we thought.

Then Zacharias came home mute. Have you ever played charades? Have you ever played for ten months straight?

Yes, in my “advanced age” I was privileged to become the mother of a boy. And this boy grew up to become John the Baptist who preached and baptized in the wilderness to help people be ready to believe in Jesus, the Christ.

But I’m a little ahead of my story.

When I was about six months along I had an even greater privilege —I was visited by my young relative, Mary. When she came into my house and called out to me, I actually felt John leap inside me! It wasn’t a regular baby kick, it was a movement of, how can I describe it? It was a movement of joy, and, somehow of…recognition!

Then God filled me with His Holy Spirit and gave me an understanding of what was happening in Mary’s life and I exclaimed, “How has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” That was a great privilege.

But even that was not the greatest privilege of all in my life.

The greatest privilege is probably expressed best by my husband…when he finally got his voice back. He, too, was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about our son: "You will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God."

That is the greatest privilege I had in my life—to understand and believe that God, through Jesus, would forgive my sin by His mercy.

I found salvation in Jesus Christ, the child born to Mary.

May you have the merriest Christmas ever

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Who is India?

Before my first visit to India in 2006, I said I wanted to see India, but only from a low flying plane--I was apprehensive of touching foot to ground. Then my husband made his first trip as International Coordinator for the Emmaus Bible Courses and I accompanied him to provide companionship, video interview men who worked with Emmaus, and wash his socks. 

India proved to be all that I had envisioned in terms of masses of people, colorful saris, pungent aromas of spice and incense, fiery foods, unsurpassable traffic, and, yes, filth. 

Our first impression, as we stepped out of the airport at midnight, our passports newly stamped and a tight grip on our luggage, was being greeted by a sea of impassive, staring faces. It felt like every eye was on us from dark and bearded faces under turbans or with noses pierced and foreheads smeared with Hindu vermilion under saris and dupattas. Our contacts were also in the crowd with a small sign that read "Fleming". Once we saw the sign we followed them, through dark and fog stepping over sleeping bodies completely enveloped in blankets, to the car.

When we arrived at their tiny apartment they said, "By the grace of God, we have arrived home." And they led us in a prayer of thanksgiving. I soon discovered that "By the grace of God" was a common phrase, but not taken lightly. Each time we ventured out we survived the traffic, our path crisscrosses by bicycle rickshaws, motoshaws, motorcycles, thousands of pedestrians, a few cows, and a multitude of honking cars and trucks. And when we walked, we also watched for piles of trash, manure, and once my husband pushed me so that I was forced to skip a step and I looked down to see that I had jumped over a large, furry dead rat.

We recently made my fourth trip to India (my husband's fifth) and I learned not what, but who India is.  

India is the woman in her late 60s who takes the kameez you hand washed to her balcony to dry and returns it not only ironed but mended.

India is the shopkeeper who pulls out half a dozen children's outfits to show you and when you say "thank you" without purchasing any, he says, "Welcome, ma'am."

India is the housewife who spends four hours cooking three kinds of curry, rice, chapatis, and sweet curds, making certain to not add the customary chillies so that the foreigner can eat it.

India is the taxi driver who uses his horn more than his brakes, improving your prayer life as he takes your life in his hands six times an hour, and then patiently waits in an impossible traffic jam for someone to start moving somewhere so he can turn around and take you home at the end of the day.

India is the university student who is so fascinated by the story of the five martyrs in Ecuador that he spends an hour interviewing your husband, nephew of Pete Fleming, for his weekly program on a local TV station.

India is the young girls visiting an ancient Hindu temple in their bright salwar kameez taking selfies and then asking you to pose for another with them.

India is the friendly Christian worker who meets your train at 7 a.m. with a smiling face and a strong arm to carry your suitcase.

India is local church elder who thanks you over and over again for taking the time to visit his church and his ministry.

India is the underfed man who looks old enough to be your grandfather, pedaling your bicycle-shaw through the wet streets for a few rupees.

India is two girls sharing one dupatta so they can both have their heads covered.

India is throngs of barefoot people streaming into a temple to pray to their gods in the hopes of warding off evil and gaining blessings.

India is the attentive faces of tribal people who have found the Lord as they listen to a sermon and learn how to study the Bible for themselves.

India is the four businessmen who invite you to sit in their berth while you ride to the next stop (where you were actually supposed to board) until your seats are vacated.

India is the college students in the train berth across from yours passing phones around to share pictures and laughing loudly, then offering you a piece of their chocolate before we all open our beds for the night.

India is the man on the train who sees you awake at 1 a.m. and asks which stop is yours, telling you the train is delayed and it won't be for an hour and a half. Later he comes back by your bunk to let you know your stop is in ten minutes.

India is the airport security woman, who takes you into a private booth to run the metal detectors over you, commenting, "You are looking very smart today in your Indian dress."

India is the Muslim man who finds an empty bunk on the train to do his prayers.

India is the believer who carries a supply of gospel tracts and hands them to every person he speaks to, even the guides in a museum.

There is no one face to India. And, as dirty as it can be, I have a love for and fascination with this nation with its hordes of people facing a lost eternity.

Won't you pray for India?

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