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

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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).