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When Weighty Cares Beset Your Soul — A Prayer for 2018

This is just a small bit of verse that came to me as I prayed that the Lord would use this year as he pleases.  Undoubtedly amateur in terms of poetry, but I’d thought I’d share anyway, since the sentiment is sincere, if nothing else.

 

 

When weighty cares beset your soul

Rejoice, oh heart, the Lord extol,

For in his hands each trial finds rest,

To ease the anxious, grief-burned breast.

 

And when the swords of men draw near,

Remember then his side, the spear.

He took for you the shame for sin,

And granted you new life in him.

 

And if one day the tempest rage,

Should cast you out into the waves,

Look up to see your sleeping Lord,

And know his peace means you restored.

 

For never did he like Jonah stray,

Or from his father turn away,

The righteous life we could not live,

He by grace through faith will give.

 

“Your faith,” he’ll say, “has made you well.”

So we need never taste of hell,

For though we only death deserved,

Jesus came to heal our hurt.

 

Oh let me never forget thy grace,

That cleanses me from every trace,

Of sin and every evil thing,

Which kept  me from my God and king.

 

Oh that. thy Word and thine alone

Might be for me foundation stone

And when the mighty waters come

I shall say, “Thy will be done.”

Thankful for Dissatisfaction | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 8

Generally in the job search process, I have tried to remain positive, but it’s very difficult.  There is so little I can control, and what I can control is unrewarding.  My days are a monotonous cycle of work with little return.  Sure, I get the occasional interview, but what good is an interview if I don’t get the job?

I find that I am remarkably unsatisfied… my work feels meaningless… there are thousands of hurting people out there I could be helping right now… and instead I’m sitting in my living room, filling out application after application with no results, just to feed myself and pay for an apartment?  Chores and meals feel like a waste of time too.  I know I need to eat, and do laundry, and clean my bathroom, but that’s an hour or two or five I could have devoted to the search, and maybe those hours could have been what I needed to be employed now.  Keeping in touch with family and friends is easier than it used to be as a crazy busy college student, but I also feel like I can’t be the sister, daughter, friend I want to be because I’m strapped for money, worried about becoming a burden, and slowly losing every bit of confidence I used to have in myself and my talents because I’ve tried my best, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

And then I turn to my Bible, and remember everything IS meaningless…

without God.

“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”, observes Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

Solomon goes on to examine all of the things that might give a man satisfaction… riches, fame, eating and drinking, hard work, but decides that “all is vanity and a striving after wind”.  So, turns out even if I had a job, it would still be meaningless.

His final conclusion, though, is not the bleak reality one would expect.  Rather, he says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, ESV).

All is vanity and a striving after wind, until we acknowledge that we were designed to live as servants of the Lord on high, our creator and life-giver.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17).

I’m so unsatisfied with my earthly life right now… I hate job searching, and I hate feeling useless, but I am thankful for the way God is using my dissatisfaction here to find my satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone.

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup.  You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5)

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:9)

Thankful for Accessible Technology | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 6

Sometimes, it’s fun to envision what life would have been like a hundred or more years ago.  Imagine a life without digital media, for example, or consider how different transportation was when cars had only just been invented.  What interests me, though, is how life must have been different for the blind.

Some blind people did live independently, had children, and held jobs, like the famous hymn writer Fanny Crosby.  But what was it like?

On the one hand, I’m a bit jealous.  Any society before the invention of cars must have been a great deal more pedestrian friendly, and therefore, blind-friendly, even in the absence of modern infrastructure.  On the other hand, I wonder how blind people managed without ways to independently access printed materials around them, or easily produce them on their own.

I’ve written a few songs in my time—it’s hard to avoid when you live in music city—but Fanny Crosby had over 8000 hymns published!  Then, she would have had to memorize all of her texts and music, written it down in braille and had it transcribed, dictated it to a sighted person to pen them, or penned them herself.  Of course, the only way she could have accessed them again would be through her memory, braille, or a sighted reader.  Evidently, her memory was impeccable.  According to the website I referenced earlier, she memorized five chapters of the Bible a week.

I definitely do not exercise my memory quite that often or to that extent, so perhaps that’s another advantage that antiquity has over modernity for blind folk.  Otherwise, I’m thankful that now a days, accessible technology means that I can easily record music (even as I write it) on my phone, type the lyrics into my computer, review what I have written, and share them with sighted friends, all independently and with very little extra effort on my part.

I am especially thankful for the way assistive tech has made the bible available to the blind in a way it never has been before.  I don’t have to carry volumes and volumes of braille bibles around with me to have constant access to the word of God, nor do I have to have it read to me and memorize five chapters a week, though there’s no doubt that would be a profitable exercise.  But no.  All I have to do is have a charged iPhone with a wifi connection, safari or a bible app, and voila.  The whole word of God is at my fingertips…

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

He has made his word known to us, and not only known, but accessible for study, teaching, comfort, evangelism, truth.  Accessible technology means I, along with other blind people, get to behold the wondrous things of his law by myself, on my own time, in essentially whatever format I choose, and whichever book or verse I prefer to study.  I do not think there is any more valuable gift.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

Jesus Restored My Sight

I was about seven the first time I remember it happening.  We were at the mall, shopping for sandals, when an unfamiliar woman approached my mother.

“Your daughter is so sweet.  How old is she?”

“How old are you Shea?” my mom asked me.  Painfully shy at the time, I held up seven fingers, hoping she wouldn’t ask me any more questions.  Of course, she did…

“Shea, would you mind if I prayed for you??”

I looked to my mom, bewildered, then rather hesitantly shook my head.  I guess I didn’t mind.

“Um, that’s fine.” My mom agreed too, in response to the woman’s questioning glance.

She took my hands, and began to pray.  We quickly discovered that what she meant to ask was whether she could pray to restore my sight.

It happened several times after that, especially in the years before I entered high school.  I had hands laid on me in restaurants and tongues spoken in the street.  I grew to expect it from time to time, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I just shrugged, smiled, and let them pray.  I wouldn’t get my sight back, and I didn’t particularly care.  Blindness was my normal.  I was satisfied with my life as it was.  The last thing I needed was another year out of my life for the sake of surgery, or doctor’s appointments, or transition.  Hard as it may be for others to comprehend, I didn’t want my vision… I craved stability, a thriving social life, success, not sight… but I let them pray, because I knew the prayers were empty anyway.

I was wrong.  God did hear their prayers, and answered them.  I was fifteen years old, studying at

Csehy summer school of Music,

when I finally received my sight.  I received my first guide dog almost exactly a year later.

No, it wasn’t physical sight.  I am still working with my first guide dog, get green and blue confused, and can hardly see my hand in front of my face in a brightly lit room, but I saw more clearly that summer’s day than I had ever before in my life.

It was sometime during those two weeks at camp that I understood.  I saw myself, not the pretty little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl I saw in the mirror as a five year old, but me, The girl who thought she could find fulfillment in family, or academics, or morality, or popularity, or romance.  The fifteen-year-old, bitter, rebellious me.  Me, in all my faults and imperfections.  The girl I saw in the mirror now was lost, broken, and hurting.  I couldn’t see it at five, but I saw it now.

These wounds required something more than a temporal cure.  Family, friends, school, even romance had all failed me, and left me emptier than before.  I needed an eternal remedy.

Only Christ could be my cure.  My brokenness had separated me from GOd.  I was in need of his grace, and God was offering that grace, freely, through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ.

I don’t let people pray for my sight anymore, because those prayers have already been fulfilled.  Whether I will ever receive my physical sight in this lifetime is God’s prerogative.  I am blessed beyond measure to know my Savior, and to know that, if I am physically blind for the rest of my life, the first person I will see when I do see again will be him.

A Second Journey: Answers on the Street: Last Thursday Afternoon

Thursday afternoon, we had a table set up in a park a few blocks away from the Glasgow church, covered in Gospel literature of all varieties — different sources, challenges, and entire Bibles as well. One of the team stayed behind at the table to engage anyone that stopped by, and the rest of us dispersed about the area to talk to passers by. My partner and I grabbed a stack of tracts and remaining invitations to the Q and A that night.
We took a busy stretch of sidewalk across from the park and our main table. Sadly, we didn’t get many people interested in discussion. It was mostly, “Hello, would you like one?” and handing them an invitation before they could say no. There were a few “I’m not religious”, “I’m an atheist.”, plus several mocking comments, but nothing substantial. The most interesting part came later, just before the Q and A session began.
It was 30 minutes before the scheduled starting time, and our Glasgow leadership sent us out after dinner for a quick second round of community outreach and handing out invitations. We handed one man a leaflet and he looked down at it, reading over the content.
“Is this about the Bible?” He asked.
We answered that yes, it would be an open Q and A where you could ask any questions about the Bible, God, or Christianity in general. He nodded.
“I have questions.” He muttered, almost to himself, but then he continued. He told us about his best friend, who died young years ago. The pain of the loss caused him to question quite a few things, namely the purpose of human suffering and of life in general. It seemed our conversation was stiring up some of those questions again. Disturbed by their reemergence, he moved to leave, but I called after him, pointing out that the Q and A would be a wonderful place to start looking for answers to these old quandaries, and said we would be happy to walk with him there now if he liked.
We asked whether he had ever found solutions. He responded that no, he hadn’t. He just accepted that that’s the way life was… tragedy happens, and the best thing one can do is to live life to the fullest, be good and work hard.
“So you think this life is it?” My partner wondered, “THere’s nothing else after?”
“Yeah,” He said, sadly, “I think this is pretty much all there is.”
It didn’t sound convincing to me, and I don’t think he was convincing himself either. We encouraged him to come to the meeting a third time, but he refused. He couldn’t think about it, he said, the questions. They were too painful, and our probing had brought up all the grief from his loss all over again. He did stay to get our names, and we asked whether he would mind if we prayed for him. He seemed touched at this, and requested that we please do.
It was another apparently empty, but strangely encouraging conversation. Knowing the questions he did have, and hearing the pain in his voice, I was heart broken that he still would not come along to the meeting… Even so, I knew that it was a fruitful exchange in that he has, at least, started asking those questions again, and maybe if he continues, he can find some true answers this time.

A Second Journey: Last Sunday-Tuesday, The Awesome and the Unexpected

We spent Sunday with the Edinburgh congregation. It was fabulous fellowship, and I was so pleased to spend some more time with many of the people I had met in Edinburgh last year. I especially treasured the conversation/crash catch up session I was abled to have with Emma L after our evening service.
We went to bed as early as we could that night, as the next morning we were due to wake at 5 Am. We needed to be on our way to the train station by 7 Am so that we could arrive in Glasgow and start leaflet distributing by 8. I’m not sure if the giggling started that night or the next, but for about three nights in a row this week we in the girls room have been helpless with laughter. That may have had something to do with our new wake up time, but it’s an indicator, too, of how close we five have grown over the last couple of weeks. I am delighted to call them my sisters in Christ, and I am glad we can laugh so easily together.
It was a busy week, but a good one, with quite a few lessons to be learned. Monday, we distributed leaflets for the upcoming Q and A session at the Glasgow church Thursday night. Idid have one direct encounter with a man called Joseph, who seemed rather antagonistic toward Christianity. There were a few suggested questions on the leaflet — “What is the Bible?” “Who is Jesus?” — and he went down the list of questions, putting them to my team mate and I in a rather mocking tone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much a conversation as a monologue on his part, as he interrupted our explanations with his own apparent wisdom on the matter.
We walked away from that exchange feeling rather discouraged. Although the conversation remained perfectly cordial, it was clear the man had some issues and had not heard a word we had said. Before continuing our distribution, we stopped to pray together, asking God to use our conversation for change in Joseph’s life, and for guidance in future similar situations.
On our way back to Airdrie around lunch time, we stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral for a few minutes. My friend and I found some fun things in the gift shop, then we re-boarded the train and soon arrived back in Airdrie. We devoted that afternoon to studying our team book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, and blog post writing for me.
Tuesday began with the usual private and team devotion time, followed by transportation to Caldervale Secondary School. Unlike our other school visits, we were neither giving testimonies nor performing a skit or psalm singing. We took part in three different religious education classes, sitting amongst the pupils and participating in the discussions they had.
The first class was focussed on Buddhism. The seven of us each joined different tables and assisted the students with their work, while also discussing the topics at hand. In my group, we explored the subject of salvation, whether it is something that can be attained through one’s own efforts, or something that must come from an external source, and the positives and negatives of each viewpoint. We also broached the subjects of the true meaning of self-acceptance and the human spirit. In all of these things, I attempted to include the Christian perspective. It was difficult, because the students were meant to be working on a specific task for the class, so we on the team had to find creative ways to bring Christianity into the conversation, without straying too much from the parameters of the assignment.
I think we all found the exercise pretty disheartening. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ministry opportunity we had been expecting. All attempts to discuss Christianity in a way that might actually have some spiritual value just deteriorated into academic comparisons between religions in general. Not that Christianity cannot be discussed academically (a faith with a book as long as the Bible and a longer history lends itself to academia), but I felt rather like I was trivializing it by lumping it together with a bunch of other man-made belief systems. Christianity and Buddhism are worlds apart when it comes to their teachings and world view, but God willing, the exchange got them thinking at least.
The second two classes, we discussed euthanasia. Here, it was slightly easier to include our faith in the conversation, and we were able to speak to the sanctity of life and God’s sovereignty, even in situations of great pain and suffering. When we got home, we reenergized with ice-cream and a delicious meal, and returned to Glasgow for an evening fellowship. It was a lovely time of food (pizza!) and catching up with friends.
We will finish up with the last few days (Wednesday-Saturday) in the next post.

A Second Journey: Congressmen, Consulates, and Changing Plans

Alert: This is quite a long post.  Also, Please forgive my rather scattered writing style… especially near the end.  I can’t seem to properly communicate exactly what I would like to, but hopefully my feeble words will do some justice to the concept of what I’m trying to say, if not every detail.

No, unfortunately I am not writing to tell you that I have arrived safely in the land of the Scots.  Despite the email I received Tuesday morning informing me that my visa would be sent out within 24 hours (which would mean that I should have received it Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday at the very latest), it never showed up, and I spent all of Friday afternoon trying to figure out where on Earth it was and how I could get it.  Thanks to the advice of my clever aunt, I was able to get in contact with the consulate through my congressman, or rather through my congressman’s case manager that deals with this sort of situation.  (I know, isn’t my aunt awesome?  How did she even know that was a thing?)

So, we chatted, I explained the circumstances, he sent me a form to sign, I replied with the signed document and further explanation, and he passed it along to the consulate.  Their first response, which he forwarded to me, was extremely disheartening.  My visa had not yet even been dispatched, and they could not be certain when it might be—probably sometime in the next week.  Alarmed, I sent two more emails of a rather more urgent nature.  By this time, it was getting quite late and we had been forced to call US Airways and reschedule my flight.  Unsure when my visa would come, we chose the latest departure date possible within the confines of Oleta’s valid paperwork, Wednesday the 27th.  With two day priority shipping, my visa would need to be sent out THAT FRIDAY to arrive on time, since Monday was memorial day.  I couldn’t help imagining a repeat of the last three days, checking the mail over and over only to discover Wednesday that it hadn’t arrived, and be forced to cancel the trip all together.

To my great relief though, shortly before 7 Pm that night, my congressman’s case manager replied saying my visa had now been placed in the mail, and Saturday, I got a text from my Dad saying we’d received it already!  Praise God!

Needless to say, Friday was a bit emotionally taxing.  I spent most of it worrying, and the rest of it praying.  I was frustrated with myself—if only I had done something different, surely I could have avoided this situation.  For much of the day, I was utterly uncertain what to do, and it made absolutely no sense to me that not getting my visa and missing my flight could possibly be part of God’s plan.  I knew that I should have faith, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure I knew what that meant.  I don’t mean faith in Christ’s salvation, or in the person of God, but small scale faith, the every day sort of faith.

Was having faith being positive of a certain desirable outcome based on belief in God, or was it trusting that any outcome was under God’s control, whether seemingly desirable or not?  I searched for an answer in God’s word, and found these verses.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Okay, I thought, so I’m doing the right thing by reading the Bible at least.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

If it was impossible to please God without faith, that must mean He desires his  servants to have faith in Him in all situations, no matter what the outcome.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

And the outcome isn’t always what I might expect.  If I am not to “lean on my own understanding”, then my idea of an ideal situation won’t always match with God’s.  If I am to acknowledge Him in all my ways, trust, not resignation, is what is required for every happenstance, whether apparently positive or negative.  No matter what the outcome, He will make straight my path, which means that I must have faith that He has a plan, and that His plan is good.

It sounds trivial and ridiculous now.  Of course I knew these things, and yet, in that moment, I didn’t, and that’s all that seemed to matter.  I realize now that however many times I have come into contact with the meaning of everyday faith, however many times God has revealed to me His faithfulness, it has often been after the fact.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been a Christian a very long time, but I was so used to looking at situations in retrospect.  Of course, God had a plan for my blindness, for every family drama, for every one of my sins and mess ups.  With years or months or weeks to separate me from any such event, it’s easy to see his hand at work.  It’s harder to recognize in the midst of it all.  I’ve always known that, but now I think I’m starting to truly understand.

so of course, He has a plan  now, and maybe part of it is teaching me to rely more on Him.  Whatever it is, I’m thankful.  I will be leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and can’t wait to discover what other things He has in store for me to learn there.