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This advice comes from Elisabeth Elliot (again) in the form of an old poem:

“Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
 
Moment my moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, ‘DO THE NEXT THING.’
Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resultings, ‘DO THE NEXT THING.’”
                                                                  —author unknown

Noisy Streets

Sometimes, I sit down to pray and find my mind comes up with great ideas for my latest bulletin board.  I’m wandering through the terrain of my last conversation with a friend, around the best way to handle teaching place value, above the vast, unknown landscape of my future, and back again to the color of my carpet.  When did my thoughts start controlling me and not the other way around? It doesn’t help that the minute I sit on my couch I have about twenty gazillion things that shout…no, scream, for my attention.  My computer stares at me, hard.  We both know that I have a couple emails I never responded to, that there’s bound to be an adorable picture of my niece on Facebook, and that I still need find that perfect kitchen table on Craigslist before we can have anyone over.  I would kick it across the room, except it’s currently my only music-playing device. And then, there’s the cell phone. It bears a resemblance to the black hole of my PC, with the additional blessing and curse of calls and texts.  Why do I do that to myself? Don’t I know better?

I love kids, and almost everything about them.  I love to challenge them, to make them laugh, and mostly I love to teach them about all kinds of interesting things.  There is one thing that breaks my heart, though.  When I am in the middle of a lesson that I worked so hard on, incorporating music, video clips, acting, humor, and anything else I could think of, when I’m in the middle of passionately making my point with all of the energy I have in soul, I look around the room and little “Johnny” is looking out the window. In one glance I know he is far, far away in a distant land. How could he break my heart like that? When I worked and tried so hard? And how dare he ask me to repeat myself?

My students have always educated me far more than I have ever educated them. Adults never crawl too far outside the elementary school version of themselves. We just learn to dress ourselves in higher-level vocabulary and get more complex in our excuses.

I like to blame my disconnection with “technological distraction.”  Newsweek magazine says the internet is causing people to actually go crazy.  Either way, it’s not our fault.  We are a victim of the age in which we live.  No other civilization in the history of time ever had more information at their fingertips that we do.

My attention is jerked back to the task at hand by an unfamiliar voice over Pandora radio:

“Hear it

calling out your name in the

busy streets in the center of town

Who will turn their face to truth

and then live it out?”

Knowledge awaits you, filling your arms

with more than they ever could grasp

Blessed are you who hunger for truth

then keep your eyes fixed on what lasts.”

(Jill Phillips – “Wisdom”)

As if the Lord couldn’t use a little thing like the internet to shake me awake.

These words come from Proverbs 1:20:

“Wisdom shouts in the street,

She lifts her voice in the square;

At the head of the noisy streets she cries out . . .

Turn to my reproof.”

Thousands of years ago, wisdom called and few listened.  Our busy streets might look a little different, but our sinful hearts haven’t changed.

“So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. “(Hosea 6:3)

But Daniel

Sometimes, in the sweeping historical events related in the Old Testament, one gets bogged down in names and dates that seem so hopelessly disconnected from the here and now.  What do Mannaseh, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, and Nebuchadnezzar have to do with my shoebox apartment that I’m trying to decorate and make a home this week?  What does the life of Nebuchadnezzar speak to the lunch I am having with my unsaved co-worker and the opportunities that I am so good at conveniently passing by to speak of things that matter instead of the state of the weather and the inane details of life? Did I spend too much money on those clothes for work?  These questions couldn’t be any further from the biographies of the kings who did “evil in the sight of the Lord.” My fears about not being a good enough or losing my temper with irreparable damage. Why do I even bother reading the whole Bible?  Don’t the gospels and epistles have more direct instructions for life than I could ever hope to live out with any success?

I approach the Word with simple requests this morning: speak to me, O Daniel. Lord, grant me the wisdom I crave in the pages of this ancient text.  Change my heart again. It has turned since the last time you recalibrated it. Lord, please forgive me and turn it back. I confess I care less about your Word than I do about whether my potted plants match my carpets. I am a foolish creature and I only vaguely see my damning distractions as evil in your sight.  Do the impossible again and help me to see into eternity and live with that picture in my mind today. Do what only you can do.  I am helpless in my humanity.

Daniel speaks. 

“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,

For wisdom and power belong to Him.

It is He who changes the times and the epochs;

He removes kings and establishes kings;

He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.

It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;

He knows what is in the darkness

And the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)

Consider the times surrounding Daniel’s life.  His family is royal, well-to-do, probably well-educated and refined.  As the fires of Jerusalem burn hot and smoke strangles the beloved land, young elite men are seized from their families and undergo inspection. Daniel makes the cut.  The Bible states that those chosen were “youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court” (1:4). Even so, there must have been quite a few of those.  I wonder what it was about Daniel that made him stand out?  Did he hold his frame a bit straighter?  Did he look them in the eye with the fierceness and confidence that would foreshadow the rest of his life?  Did one of his answers to their interrogation make them do a double take? Or was it the way his friends looked at him, as if they would follow him anywhere?  It’s all just speculation.

So he is chosen, and dons the garb of a Babylonian wise man. “Daniel” is forgotten, and “Belteshazzar” takes his place. Familiarity and familial bonds are severed; a new life begins. At this point in the story I would make one of two choices:  to abandon my culture and roots fully and become Babylonian in my idealology as well as my practice, or to pine away in bitter sadness at the loss of everything I hold dear, shaking my fist at God for His “lack of goodness.”  I can hear my thoughts already: 

I do not deserve this.

How can God be good?

Where is His power now?

Why have You forsaken me?

I can’t imagine that Daniel wouldn’t have asked these questions. How could he help but weep bitterly for the greatness of his loss?  Which one of us would not be devastated and broken, perhaps irreparably so, by these events?  If he was, we are not privy to that information. What we do see, however, is a very important, life-changing phrase:

“But Daniel made up his mind.” (1:8)

BUT Daniel.

         Made up.

                     His MIND.

I can’t help but think the BUT whispers of so much more than we see in the text, but our own hearts tell us what it must have been preceeded by.  Daniel is no super-human. He is also covered by the dust that the rest of us know so well.  It serves us well to bring him off the convenient pedestal that separates his story from penetrating our lives fully. 

He did something that we all are given the privilege to do every single day of our lives.  He made up his mind. Sometimes I like to think that that my lot is one of reaction. I am not my own master, but circumstances dictate every response.  I didn’t get enough sleep last night, so I must plod through the day with indiscretion. Overactivity has a vice-grip on my time, so am obliged to attend to activity instead of meditation.  The expectations of others play the role of hard master to my scurrying, exhausted self.  I couldn’t possibly choose any other way.  It would be unacceptable to disappoint anyone in the legion of demanding souls.  I could not let them down. 

However, there’s something important that I’ve left out of my bleak lot.  See what happens as a result of Daniel’s resolve.  He approaches the commander of the officials and gains permission to abstain from the food which Jewish law clearly states would defile him in the sight of God.  It’s a risky bet.  Why would Daniel be granted special treatment over anybody else in the program?  The equation is familiar: man goes out on a limb, God intervenes. Scripture is clear on this point.

“Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials. (1:9)”

Daniel did not earn this favor.  God granted it. But first, Daniel had to make up his mind.

So begins one of the greatest stories of all time.

On Abiding

Our mindset is a complete surrendering to the wise, loving, powerful will and actions of God. We adore and worship Him in all things.  We have no reason to be anxious, because we know every event rests in His sovereign care. Therefore, we have cause to be filled with true gratitude and joy, knowing that it is all for our good and His glory and we can trust Him completely with the outcome.

Therefore, we walk forward toward our heavenly inheritance and continue to do the next thing that is set before us.  Be it small or great, we are not above small tasks, nor are fearful of great tasks, for we know that each ordained and sanctified and used mightily by our Savior for the achievement of the ultimate goal.  His sovereignty gives each small task eternal weight and value, and His power gives the strength, courage, and fortitude necessary for each heavy load.

As we pray continually, the Spirit reminds us of these truths and gives us the vision and call to carry on in gratitude and love with each passing moment.  Were we to cease from this attitude of prayer, the urgency and eternal implications of the moment do not wane, but instead our awareness of them wanes. This dull complacency, this earthly-mindedness, is truly evil, for once we have ceased to remember our goal, we offer fertile ground for the seeds of self-sufficiency, greed, and idolatry.  Instead of craving more of Christ and honor to His name, we crave honor for ourselves.  Instead of rejoicing in all things, we count most things, even blessings, as burden and inconvenience.  Instead of fervently loving others, we passionately and whole-heartedly love ourselves and desire our happiness and comfort above all else.  The needs of others, instead of being a cause for celebration at the opportunity to serve and help, become hindrances to our own comfort that are to be avoided at all costs. When we are forced to do them we carry deep resentment for lost time and energy.

How can one who is saved and called fall so far from grace?  By simply neglecting one thing: the call to abide in the vine through prayer, originating with the subtle creeping in of self-sufficiency, birthed by that great and terrible mother of all sins: pride.

May we ever be alert to the elusive deceit in our own hearts, and may we at all times fall desperately at the feet of the Savior to bind these sins that so easily entangle us, knowing that each moment is precious, and that our lives are no longer our own to waste, but have been redeemed to shine with the grace and forgiveness so freely bestowed that others might also believe and be saved.

A Day at the Island

Unloading

As sort of an end-of-the-year bash coupled with a science field trip, David Taylor and myself, the sixth grade homeroom teachers, accompanied the kids to Mbudga Island for a day away last Thursday.  It was super fun.

Quotables:

“Miss House, do I have a bump on my head?”  Um, yeah, you do. Where’d you get that?  “She threw a rock at me.” WHAT?!?  “Well, we were playing with sand and hers had a rock in it and it hit me, so I threw a rock back.”  <Insert lecture on rock-throwing here.>

The football gang.

“The sun ALWAYS rises in the west.”  Make sure you come and get me the next time that happens, because I certainly would like to see it.

Taking some notes.

“Miss House, do otters have gills?” No, why? “Because I swam down to the bottom of the ocean and I saw one sitting there.”

Dain points out some poisonous cacti.

“Miss House, can I give you my shoes?”  No, sweetie, I don’t want you to cut up your feet on these rocks.  “It’s okay, I’m from the village, my feet are tough!” *walks shoelessly away over spiky rocks without a flinch*

(While wading out to the boat in waist-deep water to return home.)  “Oh man, my stuff is going to get all wet.  Wait a minute! I’ve got just the thing!”

The African way.

“We go on a boat like this to get to my parents’ house. But on that river, there’s crocodiles.”

Joy, the brave missionary girl who travels with crocodiles.

“Miss House, there’s a special place deep in the forest that I like to go to sometimes. Can I go there?” Not by yourself.  (Found out later that the “special place” was an old swingset.)

Catching some waves on the boat.

“This is SO much better than going to school.”

The girls!

These children drive me absolutely crazy at times.  And I absolutely adore them.

Great memories.

A nice place to spend the day.

 

The boat guy.

An Unlikely Messenger

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write all year, but could never really figure out a happy conclusion, so I didn’t write it.  I mean, nobody wants to read a story without a happy ending, right? 

When I was a little girl, I used to have issues with bug bites.  There was a time period when my parents couldn’t figure out what was biting me so much at night.  Nobody else in the house had been bitten, but I had little red bug bites all over my body.  My mom used to say it was because I was so sweet, which I suppose was meant to make me feel better.  For a little while, it did, but it never really made the itchiness go away. 

If anything, this year has been the year of the mosquito for me.  I have screens on my windows, although they aren’t perfectly sealed.  I sleep with a mosquito net every single night.  I keep the door to my room closed at all times. And still, every other night on average, I wake up to itchy, fiery bites that are almost unbearable.  The overarching rule that I’ve observed is that if there is even one mosquito in a room, it will without question find me and bite me multiple times. The system at this point as become pretty routine to me: rouse myself out of my sleeping state, find the cortisone cream, flashlight, and glasses that I keep in the net for times like this, apply the cortisone cream to every bite (I’ve gone through about seven bottles of it so far), fire up the flashlight, put on my glasses, and go mosquito hunting.  During these times my prayers are also routine:  “Lord, why did you let that mosquito get inside the net tonight? You could’ve kept it out.”  “Help me to catch this mosquito soon so I can get back to sleep.”  Sometimes I catch the mosquito in lethargic state, drunk off my blood and unable to fly away fast enough.  Then I lie down and wait for the anti-itch medication to kick in so I can sleep.  Other times the mosquito is the usual flabbergastingly lightning-speed.  Tanzanian mosquitoes are at least three times as fast as any other mosquito I’ve ever had to deal with and incredibly difficult to catch. I usually have one good shot that it, and if I miss, it will take me another couple minutes to find it again, and then I have one more good shot.  If this goes on longer than ten minutes, I give up sleep completely and turn the room light on until I’ve found it.  By this time, my adrenaline is going and I’ll only be able to get back to a very surface level of sleep (if at all) until my alarm goes off and I need to go face my students for the day. I have no idea how many hours of sleep I’ve lost with this process, but if the adage about losing hours of sleep equals shortening the length of your life, over the course of this year I think it’s fair to say that I may have lost a few years.

Besides the night monsters, there are also the day variety that love to plague me at work.  These mosquitoes have a heyday going under the desk at work and gorging themselves on my legs and feet.  When the weather got a little bit cooler, I started wearing pants once in awhile in hopes that it would protect my legs, but found to my astonishment that the mosquitoes were able to bite me THROUGH THE FABRIC.

At the peak of rainy season, when mosquitoes are at their worst, I found 32 bites on my body at one time.  So you can imagine how I relate to Paul when he said, “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (2 Cor. 12:7)!

When I went to visit Aimee and Justin in Nairobi, we had quite a few good talks. I told Aimee about the mosquitoes, and how finding one inside my net at night could completely ruin my night’s sleep, and subsequently, ruin the following day on about twenty different levels.  About how frustrating it is to know that one mosquito can terrorize your entire night.  About how humiliating it is that your entire day could be dictated by a bug half the size of my thumb nail.  We talked about lessons and how God brings people to Africa during a myriad of different seasons and for many different reasons.  I told Aimee that I didn’t know what God had really meant for me by this year, and how maybe I failed just fully enough to miss the main lesson completely.

Aimee smiled, and said something like this:

 “Heather, He wanted you to know that all it takes is one mosquito.”

A Treasure Trove

Flagstaff in February

A little over two years ago, I went on weekend road trip to the Grand Canyon with some friends.  We decided to take the opportunity to visit Flagstaff and Sedona on our way back, and wanted to attend church on Sunday.  One of my friends called her fiancé and asked him to do a little research on good churches in Flagstaff.  He googled the question, and found a pastor who listed Spurgeon as one of his influences.  We decided that a friend Spurgeon’s is a friend of ours, so we went.  It was a complete shot in the dark, and my hopes were not high to hear anything of value that morning.  Little did I know that God had other plans.  The church building seemed normal enough, the smallish church body slightly more interesting, with people ranging from college students in Hollister t-shirts to older women with skirts to their ankles. After a set of upbeat, contemporary songs coupled with modern hymns, a man in his late fifties approached the pulpit.  He was very average looking, by anybody’s standards, and his stage presence was what you would expect from any ordinary long-time pastor.  Then, he started speaking.  It was his voice that piqued my interest at first.  It was low but steady, calm and reposed, and it sounded a lot like a dad. Little by little, as his words became sentences, I started to lean forward in my seat and take furious notes.  This was a man who knew the Word well, who obviously was well-read in the works of the ancient and modern saints, a man who assumed that his audience was intelligent and had a battle to go fight when they left the doors of the church. The sermon, or rather, the Word, pierced my soul on that day.

It is curious to me that God did not intend for the influence of this church or this man’s ministry to end then. Instead, a week or two later as I laid on our couch sick as a dog, I held in my hands a postcard written in the old-fashioned, unsteady hand of an elderly lady.  Her words were short but gracious. She thanked me for coming and told me that she and others in the church were praying for me.  I barely remembered that I had filled out the guest card on the back of the chair in front of me, so the carefully hand-written note held great impact. I had visited many churches over the course of my life and never in my recollection had I received a hand-written note, let alone a promise that I had been prayed for. As I contemplated what the Lord was teaching me from the sermon I had heard in this church in Arizona and the obvious faithfulness of its members evidenced by the card in my hand, I decided to see if I could listen to some more of Pastor Steve’s sermons online. In two clicks I had found the website. It was not much to speak of in terms of style, but I found all that I was looking for and more: years’ worth of sermons in both audio and textual format, a categorical list of pastor-recommended books to develop a wholistic Christian worldview, and various articles on a variety of aspects of the Christian walk written by Pastor Steve and many others. I quickly realized that I had stumbled upon a treasure trove.

Even today, I still listen to many of Pastor Steve’s sermons and count them among some of my greatest helps in ministering in Tanzania:http://www.fcfonline.org/search.asp?keyword=sermons

When I was in the states, I read through many of the books on his list of recommended reads:http://www.fcfonline.org/default.asp?keyword=BooksforGrowingChristians

Another resource I found of great value was a list of recommended prayer items (based on Bible verses) for spiritual growth:  http://www.fcfonline.org/default.asp?keyword=WhatShouldIPray.

I’m so thankful that I live in a time period where I have access to resources like these even halfway around the world, and I’m thankful for those faithful people who make these resources available to people like me.

Winds of Change

Couldn't resist sharing one of my favorites: Kili shows its majestic peaks, illuminated by the setting sun.

Well, I haven’t had any profundity coming my way lately, mostly because my mental processes these days consist of flowers, fonts, photography, jewelry, and about a million other logistical shenanigans. 

For those interested, my upcoming world tour looks like this:

June 19th – Fly from Dar to London, spend about 24 hours in London

June 20th – Fly from London to Seattle, then Seattle to LA

June 20-July 11th – (in no particular order) – recover from jet lag, get over the shock that I’m not living in a third world country anymore, spend time with my fiance, marriage counseling, spend time with church family and friends, set up our apartment, continue wedding preparations

July 11th – fly from LA to Oregon; July 11-28 – spend time with family and friends, massive wedding preparations

July 29th – Get Married!

If your thought is that this seems a bit overwhelming, you and I think alike.  However, this timeline is the result of MUCH discussion and prayer, and I’m confident that it is wise, even if it is crazy.

There won’t be much time to breathe in the next few months, let alone process this year. I plan to continue blogging when I return to the States as time allows, because I think the Lord will use this year as a change agent in many of my ways of thinking, but this is a work that is still in progress and I won’t fully know what to think or say about many things until I’ve had a great deal of time to pray and reflect on all of it. There is still so much that I don’t understand and areas where I don’t know what the right response is.