Blessed Peace

Often, I wake in the middle of the night.  Some nights I can go back to sleep.  Most nights I can’t.  Somehow, like millions of other perimenopausal women, I lay in bed tossing and turning for hours and learn to function on 4-5 hours of sleep every night.

And the frustrating anxiety or dread that I wake with or that develops after my morning prayer times, is like that false friend I just can’t ditch no matter how hard I try.  Not sure if it is a physical symptom of menopause (some say it is) or a manifestation of some deep spiritual problem, but I think the solution is the same no matter what: taking my thoughts in hand and bending them to the will of Christ.

This is no easy task.  They’re stubborn, pesky little things!  Just when I think I’ve got them nailed down, they wiggle loose and begin to torment me again.  But, I realized something this weekend while listening to a sermon on giving.

The pastor was talking about how giving (time, money, service) is an act of worship.  What I realized was that fighting these demons, not giving in to them (falling to depression or anxiety), is also my act of worship to the Lord.  It’s a conscience choice to be for the Lord – to put Him first over my feelings, my fears, and my ease (in a similar way to tithing my time, service and money).  It’s a choice to put Him above these other idols in my life.

And I think that as I do this over and over everyday that it will become easier, and I won’t have to fight the battle so often until one day I will be free of these idols, at least.  Because like the Lord promises in Malachi 3:10, as we give our tithe, or our worship in this case, we can test Him and see if He won’t “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be enough room to store it.”

Someday, I look forward to the blessing of living free from all fear and not having to fight so hard for emotional peace.  Until then, I’ll turn my heart to worship, fighting hard for the blessings of a “peace that transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7 NIV)

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From Insecurity to Worship : Following Joshua’s Example

It seems only fitting and logical to read the books of Exodus and Joshua while living in Egypt; so I am.  It is an amazing experience following Moses and the Israelites from Pithom to Rameses, crossing the Red Sea, thirsting at the waters of Mara, stopping at the twelve springs at Elim,  wandering and meandering towards Mount Sinai, and ending up at Jericho before entering the Promised Land.

We live very close to the Nile River and have visited Alexandria, not so far from the ancient store cities of Pithom and Rameses.  Over Christmas Break we visited the Pyramids at Giza and the temples and tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens in modern day Luxor (ancient Thebes). During Spring Break we will visit the Red Sea, though not in either of the areas that the Israelites likely crossed it, but I am looking forward to staring out across its shores and imagining what it must have been like to walk into that Sea as on dry land.

Before we adopted our children, God sent me to the book of Joshua.  I’ve recently been studying this book again, and have discovered many helpful truths on our road to Red Sea deliverance and healing. Because moving to Egypt has entailed homeschooling and since homeschooling has led to PTSD and major anxiety and panic attacks this year, I have been struggling with how to overcome anxiety in my life.

I have used scripture meditation, soothing music that reminds me to trust God, scripture memory and other means of taking my thoughts captive to soothe my anxious heart.

This week I have been reminded of another way; a lesson Joshua learned on the cusp of entering the Promised Land.  I love that the Bible is alive and that no matter how many times I read the same book within its pages, I still learn.

While reading Joshua 5 and my First 5 (Proverbs 31 Ministries) devotion “The Best Battle Plan” Lisa TerKeurst reminds me that Joshua’s question to the Angel of the Lord’s armies, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” was at the heart of not only his anxiety but mine as well.  She says that Joshua is seeking here, affirmation from God and perhaps even direction for the battle ahead.  What he gets is not that affirmation, but rather a command to remove his sandals and worship. God knows what Joshua actually needed to hear and in His wisdom reminds Joshua of what that is. Through his story, He does that for me too.

This resonates so deeply with my spirit and soothes my soul as I have begun to practice worship when anxiety tries to overtake me.  I already know the answer to Joshua’s question; The Lord is always for me.  I don’t need to ask.  But when doubt surfaces, the answer is not about me, it is about Him.  Worship God, His Spirit says, for in this you will know the answer to every question.

Temples, Tombs and Ancient Egypt

Our oldest son was here over the Christmas holiday.  While we’ve been living in Egypt for a little over seven months now, we waited for his arrival to make our fist visit to the Giza Pyramids.  After Christmas we headed to Luxor (ancient Thebes) to walk through the history of ancient Egypt.

You cannot imagine the thrill of actually seeing the sphinx up close, the awe of standing next to the 47 meter high pyramids without thinking how very small we are in comparison.

Of course, the awe inspiring structures were contrasted to the ordinariness of those of us milling around snapping photo after photo.  Our guides had us stand at a certain vantage point, stick out our hand at a certain angle, and produced a photo that gave the persective that we were placing our hands atop the pyramid, reminiscent of manipulating photographs for the 4H fair digital projects we’ve done over the years.

As my camel bobbled past the sphinx, one man called out to me in English, knowing I was an American, “I love your money!”  In my head, I thought, “I know you do,” but how ironic that someone had taught him that phrase.  Well, it was the most honest statement I had heard all day!

Seriously though, as we spent four days wandering through the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the Nobles tombs, Hapshepsut’s Temple, Dendara Temple, the ruins of Amenhotep’s temple and Luxor and Karnak temples, I was struck by how much work it must have taken millions of people (most of whom were not slaves) to complete even just one of the many structures we saw and so many more that we didn’t see.

It was also striking how much of the work of these temples was dedicated to embalming!  Did you know that a single corpse took 70 days to embalm?  Mind you, we were able to see the fetus of one of the ancient Queen that was mummified, proof if it can be believed that this was authentic, that embalming procedures worked.  But while all of this by human standards of accomplishment was impressive, I was left with such a feeling of futility and waste that was growing inside of me, with each step through history we took.

The colors, though faded over time and sometimes damaged by smoke and a massive flood of the Nile River in the late nineteenth century, were surprising: I didn’t expect to see colors on the images carved into temple or tombs walls. On most of these structures, every wall was adorned with carvings painted with bright blues and reds. Almost every ceiling was adorned with blue stars. It is mind-boggling to consider how much time it took without any modern tools to build, decorate and be able to utilize these structures!

As I walked on and on (we took 4 days to explore the many tombs, temples and ruins and didn’t see everything) I began to realize that those ancient people spent their lives bringing immortality (in name only!) to the Pharoahs of Egypt.  Of course, the saving of their organs to be used in the afterlife seems rather silly to us today.  It also strikes me as such a wasteful way to spend so many lives, even if these structures are impressive.  Building massive structures, meant to immortalize the accomplishments of a single pharaoh, did not lead them the afterlife they imagined, but their memories are immortalized in that we still visit and learn about them.

My conclusion: I am privileged to walk through this land, explore these Historical sites, to consider both its Biblical and secular history! So many of these structures are a monument to death, longed for immortality, and bringing glory to human endeavors as evidenced by story after story carved in vivid color upon  stone. I am struck by the fact that while my life here won’t ever be emblazened on stone (glad I am of that) hopefully, I will leave a legacy of faith in my children or others God places in my path here. I am also grateful that someday I will walk not on dirt surrounded by stone monuments, but on the streets of gold, and bow down not to my own or any other human’s glory but to the glory of the King of Kings!

The Hope of This Naomi

Eight weeks after we arrived here, when life felt a little like we were finally settling into pleasant places and we were trying to remember to find our “pleasant inns” wherever we could (CS Lewis), a friend told me that there was another (possible) wave of discontent or frustration that most people go through. I knew it would come eventually, but determined to ride the wave and be thankful for as long as we could. It a rrived and stayed a little longer than I would have liked.

When I ask people who have been here a number of years how they like it here, there is always a pregnant pause, “Well, life here is hard, but I like the [people, lifestyle, or maybe traveling].” Not a single person has responded that they like or love it here. When we first arrived, I found this less than hopeful for the future.

Throughout the last six months, God has been speaking to me about just that: hope. But in my case, it has been lack of it. Before I left, a friend exhorted me to choose joy as often as I could. I have thought about that a lot since then, and tried hard to seek it, but as wave after wave of difficulty set in, I realized that joy was not what I was missing.
Many of you have shared my life these past 7 years, and so you’ve heard much of my struggles, sometimes outright complaints, along with a few victories. Several years ago, when Dave and Eric preached about Caleb’s whole-hearted faith, Ruth’s loyalty, Daniel’s faith and more, God breathed the promise of healing and future victories into those struggles. Yet, healing for us all has been slow, in my economy.

As we were called to move here to Egypt, over and over the image of the Red Sea was planted in my heart, through songs I would hear on the radio, a book we were given, or scriptures poignantly timed. Listening to the radio one day, I heard a song by Ellie Holcomb that spoke into my heart, but I didn’t know the title (I later discovered that it was called “Find You Here” – also a great song) to search for it on YouTube. Instead of finding the song I was looking for though, the song that came up was “Red Sea Road”.

Her words, “We will sing to our souls, we won’t bury our hope, where you lead us to go, down a Red Sea Road,” only just recently sank in. I have been focusing on the road to the Red Sea, thinking of the suffering we had to do to get there—the suffering we’d been doing for 10 years now! What I’d missed, and couldn’t see until recently, was that part about hope.

As usually happens, when God is trying to get me to see something, He repeats it to me in various ways. After hearing a sermon about the hope of Naomi, this message began to convict my heart. In the battles, in the heartbreaks, in the “no’s” of our answered prayers, I had lost hope. I no longer though that God would bring me good. I expected the bad, the difficult, the frustrating, because well, the last few months in particular have been so very hard. And we have a history of hard that even counting thousands upon thousands of gifts over the last few years had not been able to overcome (Ann Voscamp One Thousand Gifts). Recently as I listened to Ellie Holcomb’s song again, and I realized that I had indeed buried my hope!

I saw myself as Naomi, the bitter one, who no longer expected God to do good things for her. And yet, the thing about Naomi is that she had Ruth. Ruth stuck with her, even when they had nothing. Ruth loved her, encouraged her, and above all, Ruth obeyed God. And Naomi. She trusted them both and in the end because of Ruth’s obedience, love and faith in God, Naomi turned from being called bitter, to being the blessed one. And while their existence on this earth may have been hard for awhile, God brought forth Salvation through them both.

I have shared so many negatives in my life with you all, and you have loved and supported me through much. It seems only right that now you should walk with us as God brings His promised healing.

Because I am homeschooling the girls and taking a writing class online, I probably won’t write often, but I will continue to share some thoughts about Egypt, our journey and our lives here. It is a fascinating place and I think you might enjoy some of our adventures (and perhaps we can inspire you to come and visit!). I also want to share a bit of my spiritual journey with those of you who have been there with us for hard stuff, to see the result of God’s work in all of us. Friends, you are my Ruths! You have loved me, inspired me, helped me to be brave and encouraged me to be obedient. Because of you, your prayers, and the reminder that the Red Sea Road, while it winds through a desert, ends in a miracle (and a promise fulfilled), I have hope again. For,

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

Focus

I’ve been reading a book called Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.  It is about the ways in which we naturally worship God and how each one of us has a particular pathway (or ways) that helps us to be all in when we worship.

Right now, I am reading the chapter on worshiping God through nature.  Usually this is one of my favorite ways to worship Him: gazing at mountaintops to consider His grandeur or beholding the expanse of the ocean to meditate on His immense power.  As I was considering this, and admittedly missing my home in America, I began to grumble.

 

apartments

 

Living in the midst of the drab, tan of the desert, surrounded by mile upon mile of drab, tan apartment buildings as far as my eye can see from my sixth-story window, I think about how impossible it is to worship God through the beauty of nature here in Cairo.

trash

As I walk the streets of my neighborhood there is trash everywhere, the smells of decomposing waste someone, for some unknown reason, has pushed into a pile and left there.  No one cleans up after their animals here, presumably because of all the stray dogs and cats who roam the streets, and when we do, we get some pretty incredulous stares.  There aren’t many parks here, and the few there are certainly aren’t that green or pristine.

casey smelling the flowers

And yet, as I walked the dog this morning, I realize that if I walk around the trash piles and keep my eyes focused ahead and not down around my feet, I begin to see snapshots of beauty all around me.  I notice a small square of grass and some flowers that someone is daily tending.  If I focus not on each little piece of garbage dropped in my path, I can see the bougainvillea growing over my neighbor’s fence.  When I look up, I see the little yellow flowers blooming in the tree above my head.

Just like in life, I can all too often choose to focus on the wrong thing. Too many times over these last few years, as I felt like the healing God’s promised is too slow in coming, or my expectations of a big, happy family fall short of my ideal, I have focused on the minutia—the garbage at my feet.

I grew up the oldest of three girls, was a responsible child, a good girl, a good wife, obedient and doing the hard work of raising my family in the light of God’s word.  I’ve worked hard, suffered much for the Lord as we’ve melded two families into one these past ten years. I have done all that I thought the Lord wanted me to do to raise these children to His glory, yet when I listened to them grumble, bicker and mock each other recently, I’ve felt cheated.  I’ve done my part, why is my family not living up to my hopes and dreams for them?

That’s when I finally realize that my focus had shifted to the grumbling and bickering, instead of the larger picture of healing that has happened and the moments of grace that are weaved into every day.  Of course I know that God doesn’t owe me any particular reward for my big sacrifice (which isn’t really that big, I know) but He has promised me healing.  And that promise will be fulfilled someday, even if it doesn’t look like I want it to.  For now, I have to put on my blinders, focus straight ahead, and look hard after the beauty of two sisters spending an afternoon together after one has suffered another heartbreak, a girl getting to spend time with her dad at work to give me a much needed break, and the joy of a boy turning sixteen and having a coffee with him at a local café while he tells me his hopes for the future.  When I tune out the teenage bickering and mockery, turning my heart to thanksgiving and determinedly focusing on the beautiful moments that make up a day then am I worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

 

2018

Last night around midnight, Mark asked me what hopes I have for 2018. I wasn’t feeling very hopeful, but after he shared his, the only one I could come up with was:
“I will choose to have more joyful moments than sorrowful ones.”

This morning I am adding, “That I will look up, more often than I look inward; and in doing so, I will give to others out of my brokenness instead of allowing myself to spiral downward into the abyss of my negative thoughts.”

What about you? Is there some hope that you have for 2018? I pray God will use whatever is broken in you (and in me) to bring hope to others this year.

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!