Saturday, November 12, 2011

"I want an Oak Tree"

This week has had so many blessings. It's amazing how I feel God's hand in my life. I came to a realization today.. I don't spend enough time with God. Whether it be reading his word, praying, or just sitting in silence listening for his voice.
Saturday mornings are my favorite mornings. I go to an English Bible Study. Sarah leads the lesson, there is usually four other women, and myself. As mentioned in my prior blog- we are studying from a Ray Vander Laan book and DVD.
Today's video was great. I don't even know if that is the right word to describe it- let me think about what word would be better... It was powerful. Ray presented us with simple truths, biblical images and understanding, and finally a reassuring promise from God. The whole study is focused on walking with God in the desert. The imagery studied today included a shrub and its shade. Ray told us about how in the desert there are these trees/shrubs- Rotem , that provide shade from the intense heat of the desert. And with every lesson from Ray there is a parallel from something, maybe an object or word, in the Bible and our lives. He used this bush as a metaphor to describe how the sweltering heat of the desert can be exhausting but this bush provides some relief, some restoration because of the shade it produces.
When we walk through deserts, feeling burdened by the heat which leaves us exhausted, frustrated and uncomfortable, we need to look for 'shade'. God provides this shade. It may not be shade that diminishes all the heat, taking us out of the heat.. but enough to help us take another step, giving us strength to keep going on the path God is leading us down. God provided for the desert people, and for us, by saying hey- come sit under my tree! Then.. keep going, for I am with you.
Ray's closing words left us with this thought, God saying- Be strong and Courageous...oh, and sometimes I look like a broom tree.
The whole lesson I was thinking about my past, present and future. I felt myself internally thanking God for all the times he provided shade in my life. And how at times I demanded more shade, or passed by the shade being offered to me in the desert in order to search for 'better shade'. Sometimes it's hard to realize that the shade God provides is enough!
At times I find myself in a desert, maybe not a long, hard desert but a desert, and I inwardly wrestle, maybe grumble.. and I try to create my own shade. I was thinking about all this, overwhelmed by today's lesson, when I suddenly tuned into what other members of the Bible Study were sharing about the renewal and peace -shade- they find when they spend time with God. In his word, in prayer, in silence. Why don't I take more time to do this? Why do I let myself get caught up in checking off a list of things I feel I 'should' be doing, like reading scripture daily, praying, etc.. and why don't I just sit in silence and let myself be immersed in God's word, in his promises. I love talking, so why don't I take immediate joy in talking to my heavenly father? Or wait to listen for his reply.
I remember in this past year, when I was going through the biggest desert of my life, that I loved just being with God. I longed and desired to be in his word, to talk to him, and just sit in silence with him.. this is where I found my only hope and comfort- shade- when I was in my severest desert. I long to have that desire and reliance on God every day, walking in a valley or desert!
I decided that I want and need to start purposely setting aside a longer amount of time to be with God. Just in silence with him. To let him provide renewal in my every day life- because renewal is needed every day.. God's grace, peace and hope is something I need to cultivate time and time again. I have a tendency to start leaning on my own understanding, but this is useless.
There is so much more I could say about today's lesson.. but, I'll sum it up with these few words- Stop asking for an Oak tree and sit under the shade of the broom tree... it's enough, I promise.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Today was one of those days that I predicted all wrong. I thought it was going to be some how uncomfortable, frustrating or unpleasant.. my mood was slightly negative and I felt tired. Honestly, I just wanted to get through it- thinking back on it now- I think my attitude developed in direct correlation to my feeling of insecurity and inability. Too me, fear is one of the worst feelings to have. Now, never today did I have 'fear', but, I did expect to have discomfort. But, I didn't. It's just that simple, I had imagined the day all wrong. I had questioned myself, other people around me, and my atmosphere all wrong. And was pleasantly surprised.
Instead of struggling through every single Ukrainian letter, word or phrase I actually managed to memorize the Ukrainian alphabet, and pronounce half the words correctly. My judgment prior to starting Ukrainian lessons was that I was going to fail miserably (maybe I still will), because I had had a bad experience trying to learn a new language before. But, I also realize maybe I didn't have very much dedication then, and wasn't living in a foreign country! Haha.
I was determined to read a book on the history of Ukraine and thought- oh great, I am never going to understand this book.. I am horrible at history. So, I pulled out the book, and thought I would have to try my hardest, take notes, and understand at least half of it. But, then again, I was wrong. I actually started to really enjoy the stories in the book, and found most things quite interesting. It also provided me with more understanding to how Ukraine developed.. which is obviously the point of the assigned reading. :)
And finally, I got the opportunity to go visit some English classes. And it was so great! The teachers and students were so friendly, funny, and are always attentive to an English speaker. I am never going to get used to that... that learning a different language is so desired, and to talk to some one who is a native English speaker is a great opportunity to learn. I understand that English is a very resourceful language to know, it's becoming so universal- and therefore I am pretty lucky to have it as my native tongue.
Anyways, I anticipated perhaps some awkwardness, or that I would run out of things to say (though, that isn't usually a problem for me, ha), or whatever! But, it was so fun, and the students were so great in there English, it's so impressive.
I think one of the biggest blessings I have here is that people are so open to get to know me. Tonight after the English lesson a girl, who is almost fluent in English, came up to me and asked for my cell phone number, so that I could call her and we could just go out together, or she could show me around. It's really nice having that kind of invitation in a new place.. I really appreciate those moments.


These last few days have been a real blessing. The combination of starting Ukrainian lessons with a great teacher, getting more in the swing of youth meetings, and watching one wonderful video of Ray Vander Laan helped center my focus and understanding of God's call to me here in Ukraine.
I have always loved watching Ray Vander Laan's Bible lessons, ever since Mr. Duzan showed them in his Grade 8 Bible class. We just started a series in our English Bible Study of Ray's new book “Walking with God in the desert”. The first session was about the Israelites in the desert and their journey to the Promised Land. In the Bible the desert was a paradox... it was a dangerous place, yet a place of refuge. The desert was a place of complaining and disobedience, but a place where the Israelites followed God. The lesson examined the struggles the Israelites faced while in the desert- but it was also a time where God was called upon and was heard from continuously. There was hope and provision in a time of wandering and hardship.
Ray then used this as a parallel to our lives.. metaphorical deserts = a time of hardships, chaos, confusion, frustration.. the feeling of wandering around aimlessly. He shared stories about the times he felt like he was in a desert. And he asked himself 'why am I in this desert?'. We ask God- why are we in this desert? I don't understand.
And for myself, and probably many others, that is the moment we become humble, we become desperate, we start to search. I search for answers, and usually I start in the wrong place... I look in the world for relief, for peace and don't find it. And finally the noise of the world fades, and I find God in the desert with me. God is in the silence. Waiting for me to follow him. And finding God doesn't automatically make the desert- the hardships, the pain, the troubles- go away and easy. But it gives us the ability to make it through it. God is there with me. And you.
I have heard this metaphor of deserts before, but I needed to hear it again. I needed to be reminded. I don't feel like I am in a severe desert here in Ukraine, but, there is those moments of confusion, frustration, and wondering where God is leading me. And if I hit a desert I want to let God speak to me, to take the time to hear his voice.
There is a Hillsong praise song – 'The Desert Song'. I encourage you to listen to it, it's a song that resonates my feelings in those hard seasons of life.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Retreat Restoration

My second week in Missions was spent in Hungary. Upon seeing Budapest I made a snap decision- I needed to come back someday! I loved it. The city is beautiful, and I appreciated seeing some of the sights, as well as getting my Visa for Ukraine!
On Thursday morning the de Vuyst family and I left for Vajita, Hungary for a 'Spiritual Retreat' held for the missionaries and partners of CRWM, located in Europe. We stayed at a Christian college, International Bible School, in the guest lodge. It was a great location, especially for the missionaries with young kids, being able to go outside and enjoy nature, as well as a nice main building to hang out in.
There was about 30 of us altogether, I Believe. It was so great to meet all the different missionaries, they were all kind, sincere, a blessing to meet, and there was great conversations happening hourly.
The conference had the same format for most of the four days.. Breakfast- singing praises- then Dale Cooper- Calvin Chaplin- gave a talk every day on different topics... I thoroughly enjoyed the words he said, the stories he told, and the sincerity he bestowed. Then there was a time for us to get into small groups and discuss question related to that days topic. Then we had a time of prayer. We also got to hear from all the missionaries about their work, experiences and what they found most satisfying, and most challenging in their missionary position.
I praise God for the wonderful people I met, who love and serve God faithfully, how encouraging, and a blessing to see.
The highlight of my trip was probably hearing Dale's talk on Hope and trust. This topic lead into a discussion about fear. It really hit a sensitive spot for me, and I am reminded that I still live with fear. I would love to share something he said to us..
"We need to cultivate hope in God. See that God is Big. Have a BIG God.
God is great
God is also good.
God is directing history (My story! All of it- the trumpets, Ashes and Tears)
History has a destination, a goal.. to be with the LORD forever..
Take every moment as a gift from God & be thankful, praising God."
Perfect love, drives out fear. 1 John 4:18
..plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you Hope.. Jeremiah 28:11
Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God's will for you. 1 Thess 5:18
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5
So, it was a weekend of conversations, praises, prayer, challenges, laughing, fun and encouragement.
I also had the opportunity to have conversations with some of the students from the college. They taught me different things about their backgrounds, shared their testimonies, and I felt completely blessed.. and excited to relate to some international young people. Very cool. So, I made some news friends as well, some I refused to say goodbye- just see you later. :)

"These hands are yours
Teach them to serve
As you please and I'll reach out
Desperate to see all the greatness of God
May my soul rest assured in you"