Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away

Three years ago, God gave me something I didn't really want. I'm an introvert, and becoming more of one as years pass. Too many relationships make me tired. So many of them I have to put so much energy into making them work. So three years ago I was at the point when I didn't want anymore relationships. I was about to leave the missionary program I was working in, so when the new missionaries came in, I didn't want to have anything to do with them.

But God had other plans.

God gave me a new relationship anyway. She was one of the new missionaries, and she chose me. (I think she felt sorry for me, because I complain a lot, and my site was more isolated than other sides, so I was also frustrated at the time...) So she began "shadowing" me. She came to my events, she came to my church, she came with me to the band. She stayed at my (insanely dirty and scary) house sometimes. I started calling her my duckling because she was always walking behind me.

And somewhere, I let my stubborn walls down. And she entered into my heart. Her struggles became important to me. I wanted to fight for her, and help her. She wanted to fight for me and help me. We were "nakama." (friends, comrades)

When her circumstances changed, she moved in with me. We lived together as roommates for two years. I had been praying for a roommate because of how terribly lonely it is to live alone. And God gave.

Then this year we met another girl, and by some strange turn of events (I can only say this was also by God's prompting, since it was out of character for all of us.) we invited her to move in with us. This meant we had to find a new apartment and move.

Then things started getting worse at Duckling's company. (I had already quit the company and gone back to working for the church.) It was a rough half year. There was also earthquakes, tsunami's, nuclear reactors thrown in there as well.

New roommate moves in, and we begin learning how to live as a community. We tried our best to make it work and affirming for all three of us.

And then the Lord takes away what I didn't want taken away.

Week before last, I had a week off from work. It was perfect timing to spend one last week with Duckling before she went back to America. We went out everyday, doing things together, taking pictures, meeting people, having good-bye parties. Taking care of details.

Last week I had to go back to work. Thursday, Duckling went back to America. We helped walk her to the bus stop with her luggage. (my other roommate, who scorns all the names I try to give her, had to help carry the bags, because I am still on crutches, and therefore useless as a helper) I said good-bye at the bus stop, and left early to go to work.

But I was given good students on Thursdays, and they helped me through a difficult day (even if they don't know it.)

God gives and God takes away. But God is always good.

I have to trust God for my life. I didn't know why God gave me something I didn't think I wanted. I don't know why God took the thing I wanted to keep away. I don't know why we were called to move, and then have one third of our community taken away in less than a year. I don't know what opportunities God has for us. But I can only trust. There is no other option. Trust and pray and be thankful and hope. This is what blind faith is. Even when we don't understand. Even when we don't like it. We never turn away from God.

So I think I should not only be grateful for the things God gives, but also for when He takes away. I'm thankful for the mercy He has shown me, and the time with Duckling. She supported me and helped me greatly. And I pray that this time of "taking away" is a blessing to us both.

In an interesting parallel... I had a horrible migraine yesterday, probably caused by the rain. It starts out bearable in the morning, and then gradually gets worse. By the evening I'm feeling sick and light bothers me. I seem to make it through the kids classes (although yesterday I wasn't very "genki") but then it worsens before my last adult class. Last time I had a headache like this, I threw up in class and had to cancel. I ended up sleeping at the church because it was too difficult for me to go home. (trains are very very bad for movement sensitive headaches.) This time I made it through class (although we had to cancel chapel and we ended 10 mins early). I had been as ready to go as possible before class, so I finished getting ready to go, which means quite a bit of bending over and such, and manage to make it down the stairs before I empty my stomach. I was actually glad I was able to throw up before getting on the trains. Makes less of a mess later. Since it was Friday night and no school the next day, I really just wanted to go home. I figured I would put up with the trains, and then take a taxi home from the last station. So I set off to the station, very slowly. (having to walk on crutches is a great excuse to walk really slowly and not have others get really annoyed with you.) I made it to right outside of the station, when the movement of walking caught up to me and made sure my stomach was really empty. Once again, I was glad to do that BEFORE getting on the train. I get on the first train and find a seat and cover my head. (I'm sure somewhere in all of this I was desperately begging God to help heal me, but I'm not sure if I really believed it or not.) So the train starts moving, and I find it's not making me sick like I thought it would. I figure it's just because I had covered my eyes or something, but then I managed to make the transfer between trains with little problems. On the second train I'm feeling noticeably better. By the third train, there is no more nausea and the headache is down to manageable size. By my destination station, I feel perfectly fine and I am able to walk home as normal. Now, the reason this is so amazing is because I've had these kinds of headaches before. This kind of headache, after it has reached the throw up stage had NEVER gone away in less than 12 hours! And I usually have a left over headache the next day. To have it go away in such a short time, under heavy movement circumstances is nothing short of a Miracle! God also takes away things we need taken away.

As I thought about that on the way home, I felt that it was OK to hope again. God reminded me once again of His goodness and provision. Just a small thing like that was enough to give me strength.

I still have a long way to go, but it's good to remember that I'm not going alone. The people around me might change, come and go, But the ONE I need will always be with me.

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away. And I shall Praise Him.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Transforming Sarai's heart

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

1 The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[e] do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[f] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I can't imagine how hard it was for Abraham and Sarah. Well, maybe it wasn't so bad. I mean, they were rich, good looking, powerful... But they were still waiting for a promise from the Lord. For a REALLY long time.

I feel for Sarah, I really do. She lives in a time where women gain value through giving birth. Even though she is beautiful (beautiful enough for leaders of other countries to take her away), she is childless. She is incomplete as a woman. And even though she has a godly husband, he is a husband who fears her beauty, instead of becoming inspired to protect it. In the end it was God protecting her when she was abandoned by Abram.

Yes, of course her heart would turn bitter and cynical. The thing she must want the most, the thing that has seemly been promised to her years ago, never came. Now she is too old to have children. She is a failure. Dare she even hope for it anymore? How much easier to shut away your heart, and assume that it won't come true.

I feel for Sarah, because my heart is the same. Only I'm not even near 90 yet.

I wonder if her heart was able to laugh with joy after Issac was born, instead of bitterness...

It's so easy for me to get caught up in what I don't have yet. It's easy for me to look at the past records and think it will always be that way. My heart turns bitter, and when someone suggests hope for me, the laughter contains no joy.

How many times have I shot down other's encouraging words, because my bitter heart did not want to be tortured by "false" hope?

It's hard for me, because I can't say that I have "heard" a direct promise from God to me about my life. Maybe if I had one, then I would be able to cling to that and believe. But then again, I would probably doubt it over and over.

My faith is not enough. I do not trust God with my heart. I do not trust God with my future. I look at my past, and my present, and I distrust what God has planned for me. I resign myself to following God, knowing that of course it will be "good," but what is "good" for me is not always "fun" or what I want. I follow because there is nothing else for me to do. But I do not follow with joy or hope.

How sad.

When I teach, I love it when kids are learning because they like learning. They are having fun, they experiment with the things they are learning. Class is a joy for me too. But many kids are there because they have to be. Those classes are not so fun. It's like pulling teeth. No matter how hard I try to make class fun and interesting, if the kid is only doing it because they have to, it's no fun. There is no joy, only frustratingly slow progress.

Both kinds of kids learn, but only one kind enjoys it. The teacher is the same. Only the children's attitudes are different.

When God changed Sarai's name, He gave her a symbolic new start. My notes in my Bible say that both names mean "princess." When I think about it, I guess there are two kinds of princesses. The first, is the spoiled rich-girl kind. You know, the ones that only think of themselves. The second is the elegant, kind, responsible princesses. The ones who are rescued and live happily ever after. Did the transformation of Sarai's name to Sarah also give her a transformation of heart?

I also want to transform my heart. I want to find hope in the future instead of bitter laughter. I want to believe in the possibilities, instead of giving up, believing that I am not worthy of receiving such things. But most of all, I want to be a person who believes without doubting the Goodness of God's heart and intentions toward me. When God tells us to "be joyful always" maybe He is telling us the secret to having "life to the full."

So now, I'm trying to remind myself of these things when the doubts and the negative voices assail me.

Maybe someday I'll get a new name too.