Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Gift (s)

Today is my birthday. To be quite honest, I was a little upset about today as we have parent conferences tonight and it irks me to be spending my special evening sitting waiting for an occasional parent to turn up when I could be celebrating. I felt like my birthday was a bit of a non event.

So ... when I awoke this morning, I said to God, I want to start by sharing my special day with just he and I. I sat down with my journal and thought about the gifts that God has given me. Outside of the obvious (Jesus), the thing that sprang to mind as I wrote this morning, was the gift of LIFE. The gift of being born. Now, I know that might sound strange to you, as you might be thinking ... "well duh! We are all born!" But the thing is, some of us were a little more unexpected. And it's often the unexpected babies that are at risk of their lives. As I reflected, my heart was filled with gratitude to God for protecting me. You see, I am not an accident. I was not a surprise to God. I was made on purpose, for a purpose. Ps 139 tells me that his eyes saw my unformed body when I was woven together in the secret place. It tells me that all my days were planned out before one of them came to be. It tells me that he laid his hand upon me. You see God had a plan.

39 years ago today, a mother pushed a baby into this world. She held the baby in her arms - loved it and then had to let it go - giving it up and surrendering it to the unknown. What tremendous love and courage that took. Today, 39 years ago, a mother loved the way that only a mother could, and then had her heart ripped with grief as she surrendered the baby she had carried over 9 months. She did not know then that God had a plan. That there was a purpose and it was beginning to unfold. She did not know that there was a family specially chosen, who would love her gift. Who would cherish her gift. Who would discipline it, guide it and see it become a woman with character. She did not know. But God did.

Today as I pondered on this, I thought of my family. I thought that is my second gift. I am grateful for their unconditional love, their patience, their perseverence in the face of adversity (I was not an easy child). They did not know what they were bringing home, but God did! Today, in large part, I am who I am because of them.

The third gift I am grateful for today is my friends. I can't even begin to describe how truely blessed I am with the friends I have. They have loved me, are honest with me, walk beside me, speak into my life and laugh and cry with me.

As I sat with God this morning, I wondered what I would say if he said to me, "what would you like for your birthday this year Sarah?" Outside of him, the thing that immediately sprang to my mind was beautiful Ruby. I want her to have the gift of life. That she would live and love and have life abundantly. That she would walk through life and not just live it!

I have had a marvellous day today ... I have skyped with friends from afar, I have had emails from family and other friends far away. I have been blessed with friends who sought me out today with cards and gifts. I had a class come into my office and sing to me. My last class of the day (7 year olds) brought me in the most beautiful box of handmade cards they had each made. Lots of love, thought and care.

I have decided that a new birthday tradition will be to start my birthday with God and my journal, reflecting on the gifts of the past year that I am grateful for. Today as I write, I am grateful for LIFE. Be blessed in yours. :)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Autumn's Story

Okay ... this one is posted with all you Southern Hemisphere people in mind. My last blog was in tune with Spring, but in some parts of the world ... its Autumn! A little background for you. We had a stunning fall last year. The colours were fantastic and I went out shooting with my camera. I was pretty rapt with some of the results. About a week later, the temperature dropped and one night we had a big wind. In the morning when I woke up, most of the leaves were stripped from the tree and scattered as far as the eye could see. My eye was drawn to the bank outside my house. The sun was backlighting the leaves and it was magical. I dived inside for my camera and began to snap. I lay on the ground and snapped. I froze ... it had plummeted to -10C and my hands were so cold and frozen at the end of it all ... they were in pain warming up! However, these leaves caught me. What caught me was the unbelievable beauty in nature's discards. Something thrown away had beauty. I was caught up in the magic of it all and started to write. Today, I was able to pick up the story and complete it. I hope you are blessed. Why don't you grab a cuppa, sit down and let me tell you a story . . .

Autumn's Story

From her perch high up, Autumn peeked through the crowd. They were dressed in vibrant colours of the season – orange, gold, rust and red.

Autumn shivered as a cool breeze gently tickled her. She felt a little drab in her green coat. Sure, there were hints of beauty with the splashes of red, but she just did not glow like the others. Many people came by with cameras. Again and again lenses focused and shutters clicked. Those leaves front and centre, preened and glowed. They swayed in the breeze and basked in the reflected admiration of the viewers.

Oh how Autumn wished for just one moment in the spotlight. People loved the beautiful … admired their dress and their ability to glow. Never did Autumn feel so alone, unnoticed and worthless.

One morning Autumn awoke to the gentle caress of dawn. She gazed down at herself in wonder. Her coat of green was transformed into glowing red. But not like all the other reds. Autumn was special. Her coat was two-toned. Not only did she have a great new coat, but the crowd had thinned out. She was centre stage. She was somebody! Autumn smiled. She shone. She swayed to the beat of the breeze. And when the crowds came, they saw her. Paparazzi moments … lenses focused, shutters clicked … people exclaimed in wonder. Autumn had arrived. This was it. This was the moment she was born for. No longer hidden from view, looking on with the green of envy. She was born to shine!

Crisp sunny days came and went – each day drawing more and more people with cameras. Autumn shone and at night, she smiled to herself as she drifted off to sleep.

One night, Autumn awoke to a flash of searing pain. Icy fingers were tearing at her. Ripping, tugging and twisting …they teased and tore until poor Autumn went tumbling and rolling to the earth below.

When the first light of morning peeped over the hill, Autumn found that she was just one of many discarded leaves – all of whom had been beautiful once upon a time. These leaves had coats that were tatty and worn. Their colours were faded mementoes of glory days gone by. She heard a faint rustling noise and as she glanced around, Autumn realised, to her horror, that she had fallen into a leaf graveyard. The faint rustling she could hear, was the dying murmour of leaves breathing their last. Autumn was stunned. Was this her destiny? To die discarded and unnoticed? Surely somebody cared. Surely somebody would notice her and lift her from where she had fallen. She did not belong here. She was alive. She was vibrant … She was Autumn! People loved her. They took photos. Her coat was unique. Somebody would remember.

As the morning wore on, a new sound reached Autumn’s ears. There was a crackle and then a very ominous crunch. This was repeated in sinister rhythm, growing louder and louder. To Autumn’s horror, a huge pair of feet came crunching across the piles of discarded leaves. In their wake, dismembered, shattered bodies were tossed carelessly to the winds. The trail of carnage stopped next to Autumn. As she looked up, a sense of hope stirred within her. The owner of the feet unzipped a large blue bag and drew out a camera. “Finally,” Autumn thought. “I am found. I am remembered. I will be rescued.” She did her best to perk up … to be noticed … to be worthy.

The feet moved. The camera pointed … up … away from Autumn.
“Hey!” cried Autumn. “Here I am! Down here.”

A voice above muttered, “wrong angle … if I can just …”


“Ow,” cried poor Autumn. “It hurts. You are hurting me. I can’t breathe. You are killing me.”

The pressure eased off, and poor wounded Autumn could only lie whimpering in pain, as the camera was put away and the feet moved off into the distance, taking her hope and dreams with them.

Many days went by, and Autumn now lay numb, broken and in despair. Her beautiful coat was tattered and spotted. The colour had faded to a nondescript brown. Autumn was dying. She was alone. Discarded. Forgotten.

As she lay still … waiting for her life to end, a faint gleam caught her eye. Autumn gazed around, and as she did, a sense of wonder stole over her. The sun was sliding up over the hill. And as it slid higher, an incredible thing was happening on the bank. Discarded leaves, broken leaves, leaves that were dead and dying, started to glow.

Autumn’s eyes widened, as sun’s long golden fingers gently caressed fragile, broken leaves. And everywhere they stroked, life appeared. Beauty emerged. Hope bloomed. Things forgotten, things discarded, were renewed with a loving touch.

Autumn hardly dared breathe. Was it possible that light might find her? She looked down at herself and a small dark voice whispered into her ear. “You are not beautiful Autumn. Your coat is dull. You are dying. You are forgotten. You are one of many. There is no hope for you.” Autumn wept.

A gentle voice spoke into her darkness and she felt the warmth of light creep across her broken body.
“Hello Autumn.”

“Who are you?”

“I am the sun. I am light. I am life. I am.”

“You know my name?”

“Yes, Autumn. I know your name. I know you. When you were on the tree, I knew you. When you fell, I knew you. As you have lain here dying and thinking you were forgotten, I have known you. I knew where you were and I have watched you. You are beautiful Autumn.”

Autumn looked down at her tattered, faded coat and turned her head away in shame.

“Please do not look at me. I am not beautiful. I am ugly. I am unworthy of your light.”

“Autumn. I created you. You are beautiful. As I am, you are. Your beauty does not come from your outward appearance. It comes from me. I am in you. Let me shine my light on you and through you.”

Autumn looked down, and as she stared at herself, she felt a golden warmth start to radiate through her body. As she watched in amazement, she was transformed. Her old tattered coat, took on a new beauty. Light started to emanate. Once again she was glowing.

“How can this be?” marvelled Autumn.

“In order to see my light, you needed to die, Autumn. There is depth to your colour now. The beauty that we see is because you are reflected in my light. This is true beauty.

Autumn smiled to herself. “What a wondrous thing it is to be loved. I thought I was loved on the tree. I felt worthy. But the people I thought loved me, discarded me. They did not know me. They did not care for me – just my coat. They trampled on me when I was broken. They tossed me aside for prettier coats. Sun, I have learnt what it is to be loved. I am somebody, because you touched me. When I was broken, and dying, you shone on me. I live, because you love.”

Sun just smiled.
“I love, that you live.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Come Away With Me ...

I love Spring in Korea. It explodes onto the trees and bushes. Literally! On Saturday morning, the cherry tree outside my window had one spray of blossom open. By Sunday night, the entire tree was in full glorious bloom and by another week, it will be another memory for the year.

The two views above are the views from my classroom window looking back over the school. There are 5 weeks between the two pictures. The snowy winter picture was taken last month (March) and the picture below was taken on Monday (April). Seasons in Korea change like the flick of a switch. These pictures say a lot to me because they illustrate one of the threads that God has been speaking to me about.

Approximately 4 weeks ago I was leaning on the playground tunnel tubes watching the children play, while on duty. (I was also having a "tired" day and the tubes were propping me up!) There was still a winter chill but there was a decidedly Spring vibe in the air. As I looked around, I could see no sign of Spring. Everything was brown and barren. There were no buds on the trees. There was no green anywhere. A cold wind was blowing and I was rugged up in my winter coat, scarf and gloves. I had a definate sense of God speaking to my spirit and saying, "Winter is over. Spring has come." My mind went to Joel 2:21 - 24
"Be not afraid, be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things. Be not afraid for the open fields are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit. The fig tree and vine yield their riches. Be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers - both autumn and spring rains as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain, the vats will overflow with new wine and oil."

Some of you (myself included) have been through a long dry season. It's seemed barren. You have wondered "how long"? Perhaps you have gifts that God has placed within you that are not being used. Perhaps you have dreams that are unfulfilled. Perhaps you have wondered if God has forgotten you! It may even seem that you are like Joseph - languishing in prison with dreams and hopes and gifts, and you see other people released while you are passed over, forgotten. What do you do? Well, to start with, here are a couple of things:

1. Know you are not forgotten.
Joseph told the cupbearer, "do not forget me" ... and he did. He was released and promptly forgot about Joseph. However God did not. Joseph was not forgotten even though an insiduous voice was probably whispering in his ear, "you are forgotten. No one knows you are here ... you are going to die down here Joseph ..." Joseph was NOT forgotten. God knew exactly WHERE he was and WHO he was. He was being prepared. Joseph had an appointed time and an appointed destiny! YOU are not forgotten. God knows YOUR name. He knows exactly where you are. He knows your appointed time and your appointed destiny. It was written in his book, before one of your days came to be (Ps 139). You are fearfully and wonderfully made, on purpose, for a purpose.

2. Sing!
Isaiah 54 says, "Sing o barren woman, you who never bore a child. Burst into song and shout for joy you who never were in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman, than her who has a husband." God often works in paradoxes. What does this verse speak of? Fruitfulness. If you are barren, SING! Worship! You WILL be fruitful.

3. Be present.
Another verse running through my mind while in Cambodia was, "Be here. The King is wild for you." Let me put that another way.
Be Here.
The KING is wild for you.
The king is WILD for you.
The king is wild for ...

The word "wild" comes from the hebrew word "hwa". It means desire, covet, wait longingly, wish, sigh, want, be greedy for, crave, prefer. Do you have any idea of how much you are loved? God is not just, "oh, I really like her/him". He is absolutely madly, deeply, passionately and wildly in love with you. We need to learn the art of being present in our moment. Right here, right now. Not to be crass here, but imagine making love with your beloved. Part of the joy of it is being present in the moment. Imagine how betrayed you would feel, if you became aware that your beloved's thoughts, feelings and emotions were somewhere else completely and not present in the moment with you. This is where we are. Whatever the season. We are right here, right now. Be here. And be loved. I wrote a song a few weeks back - one of the lines is, "be present in this place, life is wonderful ..." It is. No matter the season. BE in it.

4. Come away ...
Huh? Weren't you just saying be present? Yup ... and now I am saying come away! Remember, God works in paradoxes! While in Cambodia, I kept humming the line from the Norah Jones song, "come away with me". I read this in Song of Songs 2:10-13
"my lover spoke and said to me, Arise my darling, my beautiful one and come with me. See the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come. The cooing of doves is heard in the land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come my darling; my beautiful one, come with me." See! The King is WILD for you and he longs for you to come away with him.

This coming away time is preparation time. It's not dead time. It's pruning and refining time. Hosea 2:14 - 16
"Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and will make the valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of Egypt."

So, in all of this this morning, what am I saying?
Whatever season you are in, have hope. Come away with Him. Be present in the moment ... and ... Sing baby, SING!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Gift Of Thorns

OW! Get it out! ... ow, ow OW! It hurts!

"My grace is enough; It's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness .."

"Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and BEGAN APPRECIATING THE GIFT (caps mine). It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness."
(2 Cor 12:7 - The Message)

I am sure you have felt the cruel stab of a thorn and cried out with pain. Paul wrestled with his thorn, and as he wrestled, he pleaded with God to take it out.

I find myself thinking of Jacob and his wrestling experience (Gen 32:22-29). He wanted to be blessed and he wrestled all night, saying, "I will not let go until you bless me!" And then God (or the angel of God depending on how you read it) put his hip out of joint. Jacob limped for the rest of his life. He was a changed man. No longer did he strive, he knew God was his source and he leant on his staff and worshipped.

What have I learnt about wrestling and thorns? We don't like thorns. We don't like pain. We shy away from it and we plead with God to take it from us. We struggle, we wrestle, we fight. People, our thorns are GIFTS. Yes, you heard me right. They are gifts. They teach us that we need God. They reveal that we are crippled. They remind us that our strength is not enough. Ps 20:7 says, "some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God." The word trust (as in trust in God) comes from a hebrew word that is also translated as "remember". The word is "zakar" and it means, "call to mind". Basically the message is clear. Our thorns are gifts because they help us bring to mind who we should be leaning on. They help us bring to mind that we are not all powerful, strong and in control.

Jacob also learnt humility. After his wrestling, he went on to meet his brother. The meeting had the potential to be rather explosive. After all, Jacob had ripped his brother off big time. Yet we see Jacob meeting his brother in an attitude of humility and submissiveness.

My friend Frances used to raise and show pet lambs. One year, she had a lamb called Thunder. He was hilarious. Frances would pick him up in her arms and he would kick and bleat and struggle and then she would flip him over on his back. Suddenly he would just go limp - aaaahhh. Totally relaxed and chilled he would lie still, gazing adoringly up into her eyes.

My tumor, anaemia, meds and exhaustion bring me to my knees. I am strong. I am a fighter and these things have taken the fight out of me. They have brought me to the end of myself. And here is where the gift begins. I don't have the energy to fight. It's time for me to lay back in the arms of the one who loves me and speaks my name. And not just my name in passing, but my name - filled with meaning. Filled with love. Filled with all of who I am and ever will be. My name. Me. It's like the "being" idea. All of me, wrapped up in that one word, spoken from his lips. My job is to submit, to lay like Thunder the lamb, still in His arms, and be loved.

Isaiah 40:31 says, "but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." Lets break down a few key words here:

Wait - "Qavah" - to look for, lie in wait for, linger for, look eagerly for.

Renew - "Chalaph" - pass through, change, sprout again

Mount Up - "alah" - ascend, go up, meet, visit, spring up, grow, shoot forth

As we lie in his arms, we will be renewed, we will change and new life will spring forth. As Paul says, we need to learn to appreciate the gift of thorns. We end, and He begins.

One final thought, Psalm 103 says, "you crown me love and compassion". It is so true. But think about this, what crown did Jesus wear? If he wore a crown of thorns, surely we can accept the ONE that we are honored with?