Grumbling or Thanks Giving – It’s a Choice, Really!

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. Exodus 15:1

It has seemed appropriate to study Exodus since we have moved here to Cairo.  In a few short weeks, when our oldest son comes to visit, we’ll stand in the shade of the pyramids of Giza and stay in a resort on the shore of the Red Sea.  My mind’s eye thrills at the thought of imagining the miracle from the shore and considering Moses song of praise.

Yet as I keep reading, not a few verses beyond, I find:

“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.  When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”” (Exodus 15:22-24)

Oh how easily, shortly, my heart turns to grumbling.

We received our shipment of household goods this week!  So many prayed for the resolution of our situation and are part of that miracle; thank you, O Lord!

My oldest daughter asked a few days after we got the news that our shipment would be delivered soon, if I thought it could arrive before her birthday.  She loves strawberry cake and wanted it to be a bundt cake, and we’d been making due with the one 13 x 9 pan that I’d purchased as we waited for our baking supplies to arrive from the U.S.  I told her I would ask!

I had previously asked God for our goods be delivered before Thanksgiving so I could make a good meal for my family to ease some of the sadness of not sharing this day with aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, but now I prayed again, “God, could we please have the shipment delivered before our daughter’s eighteenth birthday to make it special?”  It arrived on the sixteenth, the day before her big day.  I felt God’s deep love for me and my family in answer to my rather frivolous request.

So, we set about making this a special day for her, and went shopping for the ingredients to make the cake.  Thinking we could shop at the US Commissary, because we are able to do so in most every other country all over the world, we set out only to be told that we couldn’t.  So, we had to make due with the ingredients that we could find and the disappointment of not making the perfect cake.

There have been many disappointments and difficulties since we’ve moved here, but if I list those, instead of all of the good, I begin to grumble and my attitude infects everyone around me.  I am still learning (“When will I ever be done learning the same lesson over and over, Lord”) to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:15 NIV) but when I do, I can avoid grumbling in the desert and focus on the hope of what God is going to do next.  Sometimes, I may have only to walk three days in the desert to taste His life giving water, others it may take years and years, but I know my God will always “work all things together for good, for those He has called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) For that I am forever grateful!

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A Cutting Time

Moving to Cairo has been the most difficult move we’ve made over the last (almost) 25 years.  And we’ve moved a lot!

 
Having been a Marine’s wife for 20 years, I am usually good at this: I know that when we land in a new place, I must push myself out of my comfort zone to meet new people, find a place to volunteer in church and find ways for my kids to connect with new friends, church and sports activities as well.

 
This move has been fraught with difficulty from the moment we decided to set out on this journey to the Red Sea: getting our contract late meant that we had to get our boots on the ground running, with no time to waste.  In the whirlwind of dealing with my dad’s death, being his executrix,  preparing for an overseas move and then arriving here one day before the boys were to start school, I have struggled to understand all that God is asking me to give up.

 
For the first time in my married life, I have found myself unable (unwilling?) to simply pick up my bootstraps, get out there and make new friends, get involved in volunteering in the church and pressing into this new community in order to get us settled here.  And it is not that people aren’t reaching out to us.  We’ve joined a small group, and this has been a good source of friendship and support and those relationships are growing.

 
I asked God when there was a ministry fair back in September if I should volunteer and the clear answer was “No.”  As we homeschool the girls, it has become very clear that I am not equipped to teach my two girls.  I have no training to help them learn to overcome whatever learning obstacles they face.  It has also become very clear that this is exactly where He is asking me to serve: in my weakness, lack of ability and heartache.

So many hard things have occurred while we are here, that I could begin to wonder, God do you understand my need? Do you know I need to do something more fulfilling than trying day after day to build these girls up when my daughter is flinging such anger my way that just accomplishing the task of getting through one school day with my faith intact seems impossible?

 
In the beginning, I was envious of Mark, getting to leave it all and go to work, to do what he enjoys and be fulfilled that he is finally doing his calling.  But over these months, God has been cutting, molding and changing my heart as he calls me to this hard, seemingly unfulfilling service

 
I know it is not a sign that He doesn’t know me, or understand my needs.  I know that the difficulties are not a sign that He is absent or doesn’t care, but rather is a walking with me to the Red Sea Road and our future miracle.  Yes, he is pruning me and taking away much that I would rather do and asking me to do the hard service of loving without seeming reward or fruit in the moment.

 
When we first came here, I knew God was sending us on the way to the Red Sea, and I thought of it mostly as La Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.  Now, I have begun to see as I’ve been studying Exodus, that much of the suffering and wandering in the desert is for a purpose.  “God did not lead them [as the Israelites approach the Red Sea] on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter, for God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex. 13:17)  I am struck that the Israelites never knew what God was thinking, and thus never knew the provision he was making for them by taking them on the longer, more difficult, road.  I know this to be true in my own life too, but so often forget in the day to day of my own small sufferings.

I am beginning to see that the way to the Red Sea leads to the miracle of God’s provision for our family. I still have to remind myself, as waves of frustration hit week after week in this place, that this is the road to deliverance, and I believe healing (whatever that means in God’s eyes) for my family.  As each trial has come this week – my stolen debit card and the news that we would have to pay $5,000 to get our household goods shipment out of customs, I’ve realized that it is an opportunity for prayer and trust in the God who has parted the Red Sea.  And it is also an opportunity for His people, my brothers and sisters to be part of that miracle, watching and waiting in prayer together so that we may all share in the miracle provision that is coming.  There is hope in the cutting!

A Nice Place to Stop

With the changing of the leaves and the dropping temperatures, a new season was arriving.  I had a busy summer getting my children to work, soccer camp and the many other summer activities that our five teens and one ‘tween were involved in.  I had expected rest and enjoyment, but instead spent even more time in the car than I do during the academic year.

At the end of the summer, I began a new season of life, caring for my elderly father.  This was a change, which perhaps I should have been better prepared for, that caught me by almost complete surprise.  I have always planned to honor my parents by caring for them when they would need me to, but hoped that season would wait until our children were raised and living on their own.

As has happened so many times, my expectations have had to be revised in order to follow God’s will during the trying times of life.  Yesterday was filled with worry over my dad and hurt over words flung at me by one of my teens.  At the end of September,  I had to let go of an opportunity that would have been very fulfilling for me, in order to serve those in my life who need me to focus on them.

Truthfully, as fall set in I felt weary and tired of giving up my dreams to make everyone else’s life work better.  But it is truly my calling, and so I ask God to adjust my attitude once more and give me contentment enough to serve as He wills.

On my own I cannot do this: focus on others by putting my own desires second.  So, I began focusing on being content, by asking the Holy Spirit to help me.  Still in this extremely busy season, I was struggling with finding time to recharge my own batteries and discouragement seemed my closest friend.  I complained a lot!

My amazing husband, has learned well not to try to “fix” my problems, so he took another tack.  He asked me how I was taking care of myself in this time.  When I began to whine about not having time for this, he told me of a concept in one of C. S. Lewis’ books (If you know which one, please share it with me) about “pleasant inns.”  He explained that the idea is that even when you are short on time, you can take a stop at one of those lovely, relaxing inns even in the midst of a busy family.

It’s been two months since I asked God to really work in my heart and I recently realized that He is answering my prayer, daily.  Last week my fifteen year old and his friend put up our Christmas tree while singing carols.  As I looked around my living room, the laughter, the warmth of the fire, praise rising past our rooftop, I knew this was one of those inns.  And they’d been happening a lot lately, as the Spirit nudges me to look around myself.  At dinner one night, the laughter rises over the aroma of tacos and my I find myself pondering joy.

I pray that you can find one of those places, even in the midst of this very busy season, to stop for a joy break here and there to let your praise rise to the One who makes our hearts to sing.

He Delights Over You With Singing

The thermometer must have reached 110 that Kansas day, but inside of the garage it felt even hotter.  I set my glass of iced tea down on the table, and began organizing my in-love’s (ok they are my in-laws-but it is more love that binds us all together than law) possessions for the garage sale that would take place the next day.  It was fun looking through old aprons that Grandma McCoy had worn, leftover fabric from Marcie’s sewing room, old straw hats, mason jars, crocks and some antique tools.  Taking a sip of tea, I reached for some plates and found one that had been obviously decoupaged with a napkin.  As I read the verse, “He will rejoice over you with singing” I was amazed!

I had been looking for this verse for over a year, even searching for it on http://www.blueletterbible.org and in various concordances and topical Bibles with no success.  I’d heard it first in a Beth Moore Bible Study I had done in Maryland, but after we moved to New York,  I couldn’t find the journal I was sure I’d written it down in.  Now, today, I’d found it.  I hadn’t imagined that this verse had been in my Bible: it was really there!  JOY!

Zephaniah, a prophet during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, descended from King Hezekiah (4 generations removed) and like his contemporary Jeremiah, preached of a coming judgment on the “Day of the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:7, 8, 10).  According to John MacArthur, Zephaniah would have prophesied from around 635 to 625 B.C (Introduction to” The Book of Zephaniah” The MacArthur Study Bible).  The book of the Law was discovered in the temple in 628 B.C. and Josiah’s reforms began.  You can read about that story in 2 Chronicles 34 and 35.   Jehoiachin becomes King of Judah and in 597, Judah is taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar.

The first chapter of Zephaniah records God’s coming judgement on his people for their many sins, but mainly idolatry (1:4).  Then God calls for repentance and tells of a remnant of Israel (3:12) that will be left as a “meek and humble people, [who] shall trust in the name of the LORD.”  Then God reminds them that if they will just repent (2:1-3) they will be part of the remnant whom He will save.

What has struck me about this passage, as well as the prophesies of Jeremiah, is the Lord’s mercy.  In His great mercy, and in His righteous anger, He waits for the Israelites’ repentance and then warns His people of the coming consequences for their unwavering sin.  He gives them time to do so and then acts.  But before He acts He gives them a “future and a hope” by telling them that their captivity would only last 70 years and that after that time they would live in their own home again in prosperity (Jeremiah 29:11).

So the lesson I’ve learned through all my struggles?  That God is Ever-Faithful, Long-Suffering and merciful.  To this sinner who doesn’t deserve His mercy or grace He whispers the words of Zephaniah 3:17 and reminds me of His deep love for His sinful daughter.  He tells me that like Israel, He delights over me with singing.  No matter what you’ve done or suffered through, He loves you like that too.

 

Habit Forming

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:13-16

Free from Condemnation

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

                                    Romans 8:1-2

All of my life I have struggled with self-inflicted condemnation.  I would see God, not as the Father who ran to His prodigal daughter, but as the father who was waiting for me to mess up, wagging his finger at me saying, “I knew you would fail.”

But as I have grown in Christ, especially over the last eight years since melding our two families and two cultures into one, I have realized that my Heavenly Father is not waiting to condemn, but with open arms.

And yet, the father of lies continues to taunt me.  Unfortunately, sometimes I choose to listen to him, and the thoughts in my head, and when my emotions spiral downwards I am unable to function as a child of the King.

I am really good at condemning myself, focusing on how much I fail.  But this in the end is selfishness.  If I am constantly focusing on myself, I cannot worship nor thank the God I love, because all I can hear are the words, “I am not a good enough,” mother, wife, employee, or friend.  When this happens, my focus is in the wrong place: I am looking inward instead of upward.

This is where the Word of the Lord comes in.  When I have put this word into my heart, I know that I am not condemned, because I am free from sin because of the blood of Christ.  I am no longer subject to judgement or the law, because I have been set free.

So, even when the devil tempts me to remain in my old patterns of thinking, I use this verse to remind me who I really am: free.

I Have Hymns You Haven’t Heard

“I have hymns you haven’t heard

 

There is an upward soaring

In which I bend close.

You can barely distinguish me

From the things that kneel before me.

 

They are like sheep, they are grazing.

I am the shepherd on the brow of the hill.

When evening draws them home

I follow after, the dark bridge thudding.

 

And the vapor rising from their backs

Hides my own homecoming.”

1, 40 (101 Barrows and Macy)

 

From ( Rainer Maria) Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

~translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

 

In high school I memorized several of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems for a German completion.  Recently, while sipping a latte and  browsing in a used bookstore, I came up on Rilke’s Book of Hours and was excited to find that Rilke wrote many of his poems as psalms to God.  I wasn’t a Christian in high school, but as I have reread some of Rilke’s poems and have searched for the ones I memorized all of those years ago, it is exciting to see the love offered to God in his words.  I am trying to find the ones I memorized, and when I do, I’ll share those too.