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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 Safety | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 12

At church this morning, we were introduced to an off duty police officer who will be on guard during services.  It was a project, according to our pastor, that has been in progress for several months now, and not something that was motivated by recent events, though recent events certainly make me consider the change in a different light than I would have before.

The knowledge that an armed officer will be standing at the entrance of our sanctuary both leaves me thankful, and a little sad.  Thankful because I don’t see any reason why we should leave ourselves and our church family open to attack.  Perhaps the recent shootings in Texas, Nashville, and South Carolina could have been avoided had their been an armed guard already on sight at the time of the event.  Indeed, the attacks in Texas and Nashville very likely resulted in fewer casualties due to the nearby presence of a courageous, armed citizen.  Thus, I am thankful that our church family, at least, is no longer as vulnerable.

Still, my heart aches a little at the realization that we have to take such measures.  It aches for the lives already lost in the church families that have seen bloodshed.  It aches for the knowledge that we are so much deeper in our sin than we know, or perhaps than we can even comprehend.  It aches a little too, in a nostalgic sort of way, for the sleepy little village churches of American antiquity, doors open and lights on, ready to welcome any sin-weary wanderer to be received, forgiven, and renewed by the transforming power of Jesus.  Somehow, a church sanctuary with an armed guard at post outside of it doesn’t give me the same welcoming vibe, but then, perhaps those sleepy little churches of American antiquity are figments of my imagination anyway.

Either way, I’m not willing to sacrifice members of our church family merely for the sake of a potentially more “welcoming vibe”, so I’m back to being thankful.  We don’t live in a culture now where it is prudent to go unprotected, certainly not in a city of 700 thousand, and I trust Jesus when he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Protecting one another is part of loving one another, so even in a day an age when we must set armed guards outside of our sanctuaries to protect our church family from attack, I am convinced that Jesus’ love will shine through, and for that, I am also thankful.

Thankful for Imperfect Art | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 11

Art is an earthly representation of the creative power of God, dim and weak in comparison, but undoubtedly so.  We are made in his image, and being made in his image we display, like him, the ability to create and to breath life into our creations.  As an artist, I often find that my creations die too early, or, at least, do not reach full maturity because I forsake them, citing their imperfections as my excuse.

And then it struck me.  What if God had done that with his imperfect art?

All things were good when he made them—perfectly good—but they did not stay that way.  God gave his creatures a will, a will which could choose to follow him or turn from him.  In turning from him, we turned from perfection, and thus into imperfection.

Still, God did not do as I would have done.  He did not forsake his art.  Rather, he pursued it, even became a part of it when he saw fit to take the form of a babe, born amongst peasants, suffer the lowly, hungry life of a working man, and was denied and crucified by the very imperfect creations he had come to pursue and perfect.

How many songs have I left unsung?  How many stories and poems and articles have I left undeveloped and unfinished due to my petty frustration over their iniquities?  Undoubtedly hundreds, but I am thankful that God shows me a different way.  Even now I am tempted to leave this bit of writing undone.  I am tempted to quit the document and never look back at it, too unsatisfied with this sentence, or that word, or the whole concept in general… but I, too, am an imperfect creation, and my creator did not abandon me to non-existence due to my defects.  As an artist, I have a responsibility to my art to develop it, to give it at least a chance at life, even considering its deficiencies.

Thus, as an expression of my thanks in this regard, I hope to be a more responsible creator in the coming year.  In my quest to become more like Jesus, I hope that I will pursue my art, like he did, and gift it existence even when I feel it doesn’t deserve it. Here begins my fight against perfectionism, which has long been the, often victorious, enemy of my work.  It will be a long-fought battle, of that I am certain, but if it was worth it to God, it is worth it to me.

Thankful for the Opportunity to Be Thankful | 30 Days of Gratitude, Day 1

I have been looking for a job for over six weeks now.  As many likely can attest, six weeks of job searching is equivalent to six weeks of anxiety, repeated rejection, self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, impatience, frustration, and a whole host of other things I could list.  I thought it was about time I started focussing on the positives a bit more habitually.  It’s easy to get caught up in thoughts like,

“What happens next?”

“Why isn’t this working?”

“I’m not good enough.”

“How can I improve?”

“Am I ever going to be successful?”

But every time I voice those thoughts, I am met with the same response.

“You’ve just gotta keep plugging away.”

Yes, that’s all there is to do, and in the meantime, I could probably boost my productivity in that endeavor with a more positive, more God-centered outlook.

To that end, I intend to use this November, as many do, as an opportunity for me to reflect on the things for which I am thankful, or, as Paul puts it:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

Tonight, I’m thinking about how thankful I am for the opportunity to be thankful.  No matter how dark the day, I always have the opportunity to turn my thoughts to these things, these noble, lovely things, illuminated in the shadows by the light of Christ.  There could be any number of anxieties, terrors, tragedies, and yet Jesus remains, and every good and perfect gift is from his hand, and meant to turn me to him.

Praise Jesus that even when there are storms, there is the rush of rain to lull me to sleep, and the flash of lightening to dazzle my eyes.  Praise him that even in the midst of fire, there is the brilliant color and the exhilarating dance of flames.  Praise him that when I am jobless, I have the time to be with my guide dog, brother, and roomies, work on creative projects, explore my city, try new hobbies, study God’s word, and be grateful for it all.

And so here begins a journey of gratitude in a time of trial.  Wherever you are in life, I hope it will prove encouraging for both of us.

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: Sunrise Christian School

It was an early start yesterday as we left at 8:00 Am for Sunrise Christian School, where we would be working most of the day.  I say working, but it wasn’t really work at all.  I have immensely enjoyed every day that I have spent in Scotland, but I think Sunrise has been one of my absolute favorites so far, at least with regards to the actual work we were doing.

For the first hour, the team retreated to a separate room to do team and personal worship, and allow the students to get their morning lessons finished.  The school is very small.  There were five girls there yesterday, and there are only a few more students in the school that are not there on Wednesdays.

We met the girls during their first break time at about 9:30 Am.  They were very chatty and full of energy.  After a few minutes getting to know them a bit, the students took their seats again and we started our presentations.  Similar to our  Buchanan presentation last Friday, we started with psalm singing, then performed our Good Samaritan skit.  We sang a bit more after the skit, and I got the opportunity to teach the girls a new psalm!

My team leader asked if I could give my testimony, so I told my story and the way God had used my blindness to bring me near to Him.  The teacher (who is our friend and a member of the Airdrie congregation) had also requested that I talk a bit about Oleta, despite her absence.  Sunrise is sponsoring a guide dog puppy for her traininG!  I know, how perfect!  She is a yellow lab called Angel!  I explained a bit about what exactly a guide dog does and showed the girls two videos of Oleta, one with her booties on working in the snow, and the other of her playing hide and seek in one of our music buildings at university.  They loved her, which only warmed my heart further.

After our bit, we sat down in the girl’s chairs, they stood up at the front, and showed us some of the things they had learned over the year.  First they sang a version of psalm 25, “Unto You Oh Lord”, then recited at least 20 questions of the Presbyterian catechism by memory.  They were so earnest, and I was absolutely enchanted.  I know it took work to get there.  I know teaching is a difficult job, especially when you are not only teacher but administrator, secretary, disciplinarian, finance manager, and occasionally transportation, but after seeing some of the things they have accomplished, after witnessing first hand the way a teacher might guide their pupils along a path of faith, I want to be a teacher myself.  I never thought teaching would be the life for me, but my heart longs for nothing more than to be back with those little girls, guiding and instructing them to develop their talents, and live a life full to bursting with prayer, fellowship, song, and the Joy of Christ.  I suppose I may experience something similar as a mother, but who knows… primary school teaching may be in my future as a profession.

We spent lunch with them, which was wonderful, and then went to a park for a sponsored walk to raise money for the school.  We played in the park for a bit before the walk.  I got to be a train conductor and save several of the girls from certain destruction, ride a zip line, and be a pirate in the crow’s nest of a flying ship.  We were going to Las Vegas, so the ship had to be flying otherwise we would have a really long walk to get there.  Our ship was actually a rope pyramid, that one of the girls and I climbed to the top of and wove our story as we swayed in the breeze.  I also built a sand castle with another of the children in the park’s giant sand pit.  Seriously, I am 20 years old and this park was epic even for me, and playing pretend with these precious girls was just amazing.

For the walk, I linked arms with one of my team.  A student walked on either side of us, one to my right and another to my team member’s left.  We sang psalms, marched to the Ant’s Go Marching, picked flowers, commented on the geese and dogs and ducks we saw, and when it started raining near the end of the walk, dreamed of tea and a hot meal when we got home.  It was cold, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a more enjoyable afternoon.  At the end, we hugged the sweet girls farewell.  I gave one of them the flowers others had picked for me along the way, and we climbed into the car to a chorus of goodbyes, well wishes, and hopes that I would say hello to Oleta for them.  How my heart swelled to hear them, and to hear them speak of Oleta, whom they haven’t even met.  That’s it, I decided, I have to bring her back to see them next year.

I don’t know if a third trip to Scotland is in God’s plan for me next year, but I am praying about it, and hope to make a decision much earlier this time.  Already I long to return, and I’m sure that will not change.  Still, it is not a decision I wish to make lightly.

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.