Monday, February 19, 2018

It All Started with a Sneeze!

It all started with a sneeze. A young woman sat across from me in the optometrist office sneezing the cutest sneeze I'd ever heard in my 62 years of life. And I told her so.

She laughed, so I sensed an openness from her to converse on. I shared about the multitude of sneezes that took place on the planes getting in and out of Cambodia.

Turned out she hailed from Laos. When she was six years old, someone sponsored her family to relocate to the US where her Buddhist mother placed her and her brother in a Christian school. From there, she and her sibling attended a church where she learned about and accepted Jesus as her Savior. To date, her mom is still Buddhist.

Nah (the young woman's name) is raising her six-year-old son to follow Jesus.

What a God-touch on a chilly Saturday morning, a bump up against heaven. Camaraderie with a fellow believer and a huge encouragement that God can pluck anyone, anywhere and bring them to Himself.

Even if He has to take them all the way across the ocean to America. Even if He has to use a Buddhist mom who simply wants a quality education for her children.

I often think of our kids who've left America to serve the Lord around the world, but sometimes God brings the world to our doorstep.

A recent article I read indicated that God may do this because America is still the best place in the world to hear the gospel.

May we Americans who claim the name of Christ be faithful to share Him with those He brings our way! Even if the conversation begins with something as simple as a sneeze!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reflections from Cambodia: A Grandchild's Gift

Cambodia holds many treasures but none more endearing than a grandchild's gift.

Family gathered in the living room on Christmas Eve, the youngest of my Cambodian treasures hands me a simple white sheet of paper folded in half--her Christmas gift to me. Beaming, she says, "Open it, Grandma!"

When I do, my eyes fill with tears as I read her carefully penciled words:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain, so I'll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown. I love you, Grandma Eileen!  Hannah  

I look up into her eager face, her little body pressed to my side. "You remembered," I say, choking back more tears, giving her a hug. Separated from me for a year and a half, yet she still remembers me teaching her that old hymn. My favorite ever since childhood.

For a time, only Hannah and I exist in this room with tile floors and walls, fan whirring in the background. In the midst of adventure in a foreign land, my granddaughter peels away all the sights, sounds, and smells and reminds me of what my heart treasures most: The old rugged cross.

I hug her again and thank her for giving me the best gift her heart could think of. I'd gifted the song to Hannah a few years earlier, and now she gifts it back to me. A mutual love and connection to the old rugged cross that extends beyond mere family ties.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Sometimes It's Just a Christmas Sign

Sometimes it's just a Christmas sign on a winter Monday morn that launches an avalanche of tears. On the way to the washer, I passed the red sign poking out of a random bag nestled among the everyday household clutter in the utility room. My daughter passed along the decoration, one that annually graced her fireplace mantel but would no longer be needed. She was in transition to the mission field along with her family.

Later that morning, my grief nudged me to her empty house. As I pulled up, the rich male voices on my car CD player sang out "Amazing Grace," a family favorite. How often my young grandson had suggested we sing that old hymn during our music times together.

I wept and prayed for my daughter and family engaged in intensive language study. Our time apart had been the longest in close to 12 years.

And it hurt.

Deeply.

Yet, it occurred to me that in every pain is a touch of heaven calling me Home.

Grief compels me to focus on my real Home and the reason I'm not there yet.

I have a story to tell. And so does my family.

A story of Jesus' love and forgiveness.
A story of reconciliation with the Father.

" . . . that we may know Thee, the one true God," Jesus says in John 17:3.

This is eternal life.

For this reason I sacrifice physical closeness with my children/grandchildren so that they can let the nations know . . .

John 17:3: "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent" (NASB).

For this I live, and sometimes it takes a Christmas sign poking out of a box to remind me of my God-given purpose on a winter day.



Monday, January 29, 2018

Reflections from Cambodia: Wings of the Dawn

James Lin, Free Images
"If I rise on the wings of the dawn," writes the psalmist in Psalm 139:9-10, "if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast" (NIV).

On December 22, 2017, my husband Chuck and I took the wings of the dawn via Delta flight 26 to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Our mission: Encourage the missionaries serving in that part of the world.

But as often happens, they were as much an encouragement to us as we were to them. Maybe more so.

The upcoming reflections I share in the aftermath of our month-long trip come straight from my journal kept during that time. However, to help you experience Cambodia more fully, after this post, I will write in present tense as though I am writing the event at the moment it occurred.

A personal pursuit for me was God's challenge to embrace His adventure in whatever form that took and to look for His beauty at every turn. Our first flight made this easy. Upon lifting the window shade, I was greeted by a gorgeous sunset. Shades of orange against a grey-blue sky streaked with darker grey blue hovered over a billowy sea of clouds. Abba's gift. His greeting on the morning, and His encouragement to me that He would indeed be with me. He would guide us and hold us fast, even when the flights got difficult, unexpected layovers occurred, and we moved into a vast sea of foreign faces that emitted languages at first scary, then intriguing, then enchanting, then crazily comical.

God was there, guiding all the way to Atlanta, to Seoul, and finally to Phnom Penh (36 hours later), connecting us to individuals to whom we could share His story . . .

Like the Philippino lady stuck in the Seoul airport with us on Christmas Eve. What a joy to tell her about the real meaning of Christmas: Jesus!

Like the French Canadian student who asked why our kids would want to live in a strange part of the world. What an opportunity to tell her they go because they love Jesus and want others to know Him, too.

Like the Korean clerk who pulled Chuck over to be part of a TV commercial for a newly designed robot arm that dispensed coffee. Chuck ended his testimonial for the hazelnut latte with a gospel witness as the clerk smiled broadly and bowed his head multiple times. Who knows if he understood, but the Word was given, nonetheless.

God's encouragement and beauty abounded, not merely in what we witnessed around us, but through His Holy Spirit working through us. This would become even more apparent as we stepped into Cambodia.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

First Chapters with Stephanie Kehr, author of Kedar's Tower

Today, I host a young, budding author whose work resonates with my heart. I, too, share an interest in the biblical book, Song of Solomon, and am fascinated that she's chosen to tackle this project. God's best to you, Stephanie, in this writing venture!

Here's what Stephanie says about the story:


"Kedar’s Tower, a fantasy retelling of the book of Song of Solomon, is a work in progress by budding author, Stephanie Kehr. The novel seeks to explain the metaphors in Song of Solomon through story, and provide readers with a better understanding of this often misunderstood book of the Bible. The manuscript has been a work in progress for the past couple of years. It was inspired by some of my own battles with fear and how God set me free from them. I hope that readers of Kedar’s Tower are encouraged to seek freedom from bondage and to take a second look at Song of Solomon — because it’s such an incredible message from God!"

 Kedar's Tower
 CHAPTER ONE
"Technically I am a princess," I said to my only companion, the mirror, with a twirl. The smudges of dirt and grime on my petticoat flashed with the spin, prompting a frown. "But I am also a curse."
"Kedar! Filth of the earth!" Terrin shrieked, confirming my cursory. Something shook my tower from outside. I stumbled, tripped over the untied sash of my dress, and watched my only companion teeter on one elegant leg and smash onto the stone floor. Pieces of mirror skated across the ground, and a streak of scarlet heat oozed from my bare left ankle. I hopped down the patchy stairs on one leg, eyes concentrating on the glass shard I was extracting from the other.
There was no moon this morning, so Terrin's figure startled me, even though I knew he was waiting. His head rose two feet above mine, and his build was solid, burly, and now, intimidating.
I began, "I know—" but he didn't let me finish.
There was a grip on his weapon, worn leather that fit between his knuckles, familiar as his oldest friend. It struck my stomach, and below my shoulder blades. The other end of the weapon, the splintered side, was my own old friend.
"This kingdom despises you," my big brother said. And then he punched with his fist. 
The sky was grey, and moisture hung in the atmosphere, leftover from last night's rain storm. The ground was flat here, good for growing and harvesting, and easy on the knees when we had to walk it for sixteen hours every day. I could see little ruts carved into the dirt by streams of water and droplets still hanging on the grape vines. The grapes went on forever, catching the end of the sky. I knew of nothing beyond them, except what was in my imagination.
Abruptly the weapon came down on my back again, wrenching the fantasies from before my eyes. I stared at Terrin, through blots of dark, fuzzy ink trying to overcome my vision. His shirt was red-orange, a stand out color that I could focus on, to gain back reality. That is an object, I said. The object is constant.
"Traitor to the crown," Terrin shot back. Then he spat out words reserved for the ears of only the most corrupt creatures, and let me go.
I hoisted an empty lug over my right shoulder, and armed myself with a pair of sheers for pruning. Enna stopped our work before I'd even started. Her sandaled feet tripped across the damp ground behind me, and she arrived, hair all in shambles, out of breath, and splattered over in mud. She landed hard on her left foot, skidding on her right one that was still traveling. "You heard, right?" 
I moved a piece of hair out of my face to meet Enna's expectant blue eyes. She'd just reached marrying age, but her family was corrupt, and her father couldn't manage money. So she worked alongside me for little wages. She was beautiful, though, and crazy about boys.
I squinted at the sun, rising behind Enna's head where it seemed to catch her curls on fire. "I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't heard anything."
Her toes danced in place, and I noticed she was squeezing a pair of sheers so hard her knuckles were turning white. "Matthias is coming."
The rain had started pouring down again, but Enna's words made it stop. A pesky fly had been crawling up the back of my leg, but now I couldn't feel it anymore. The earth must have ceased turning in space.
I determined immediately not to say anything, not to think, and not to feel. I'd turn around, pretend Enna never spoke, and resume harvesting grapes. But before I could do any of those things, a voice behind me spoke. "No," it said, flatly. "He's not coming."
She smiled at me, curls still bouncing, toes still dancing. "Yes, you idiot, he's coming."
I whirled to see whose voice had penetrated us, who she was talking to. But there was no one, and the voice had come from me.
I willed the world to start turning again, and the rain to pelt over my face. Someone pushed Enna aside, and I think it was me. The grapes and skyline got closer, and she was trailing close behind. "Did I say something wrong?"
"You didn't say anything wrong." There was a branch in need of pruning that I stopped for. I squeezed hard with the sheers, and the rot fell to the soggy earth.
"I thought you'd be surprised, or maybe even excited."
"I'm not surprised." Our drastic differing emotions made me uneasy. “Or excited.”
"Come, yes you are."
I gave her a look. "He doesn't remember me." Another dead branch fell from the vine with a snap. I felt the warmth of Enna's body close to me, working alongside, snaps from her sheers offsetting mine.
The bloody screeches of a man two rows ahead of us cut through our rhythm. Predictable, Terrin's whip was thrashing his closest subject, an elderly gentleman whose age often slowed his work. Through the rain, you could hear his limbs flailing, hitting hard on the ground in defense as the whip snapped.
I turned my eyes downward, back to the vines and focused my attention on Enna. Her gaze was already glued to me, willing her own delicate soul to focus on something besides our coworker's flogging. I caught her fingers wandering to the space on her own shoulder where I knew skin had once been torn.
"Here." I guided the wandering hand to a patch of ripe grapes where she could begin harvesting. When Terrin wasn't looking, I pushed one of the fruits into her mouth, and it seemed to calm her.
"I don’t trust Matthias," I spoke up, softly. "He couldn't expect me to. His promises are so old—and so broken. He's not here for me. He won’t even recognize me, I swear."
We watched the rain for a little while, and picked in silence.  I almost didn't hear when her voice broke through. Soft, but confident.
"I think he is," she said.
~~~
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie is a professional writer and journalist living in the metropolitan D.C. area. She’s pursuing publication for her first novel, Reaching Home, and spends her quiet moments writing poetry or blogging about her adventures with God. Stephanie has a heart for sharing real stories and encouraging authors to write for Jesus and to love what they do. She’s a big believer in hard work, audiobooks, chocolate, and can usually be found changing the world somewhere.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

People I've Never Met

As a mom of missionaries, "Love the people God's called your children to serve," has been rolling around my brain the last few days.

I often pray for our missionary kids, but sometimes forget to pray for the people they serve. I seem to take it for granted that their calling will automatically enable them, enable me, to love the people.

Not necessarily. Especially when we've not yet met those people, as in the case of our second daughter and family who are preparing to leave to minister among an unreached people group in Africa.

This morning I took down a 2017 wall calendar detailing pictures of their survey trip to Africa. I'd looked at the Shutterfly calendar all year long and lifted up a quick prayer as I jotted weekly items down. Buy today I really looked at the calendar. With their departure looming ahead, I considered using the calendar more intentionally in my prayer time and perhaps with our ladies' prayer group.

Then it hit me. A well of unpleasant emotion I'd never quite experienced up to this point. Anger, grief that these people staring at me in the pictures, these people I'd never met were calling my precious children away. I recoiled at the emotion. Yet I knew I couldn't run from it. I had to deal with it.  That much I'd learned in 41 years of marriage to a professional counselor.

So here I am, dealing with it through writing out my thoughts and feelings as I gaze at the calendar pictures. Of pastors hungry to learn and share God's Word in their remote village settings. Of African women and children browsing crowded outdoor markets. Of my son-in-law sharing biblical principles to a group of pastors in a rustic church with dirt floors. Of my daughter smiling down at two kids hugging her legs.

I realize God is growing me to think, to pray, beyond the needs of my family to the needs of the people they're called to serve. A people He knows. Intimately knows and loves and longs to know and love Him in return. I must not horde the love He so graciously extended to me and my family. So many do not yet know, have not even heard His name once. Unfathomable.

So I come back full circle, knowing I must let my family go, once again, and knowing I desire them to go in God's will, each of us fulfilling Isaiah 6 in our own ways to the people He has called us to serve.

Yes, with all the emotion involved, knowing that even the unpleasant but very real emotions cannot overpower me or us if we keep our focus on our Savior and the people who need Him.

Ultimately, that is all that really matters. Yet I also know in the midst of this eternal task, our Father cares about us. He knows. He weeps with us . . . .

For our pain. For the pain of the people we serve.

Yet a better day is coming. A better country.

Our true Home where He longs for us all to join Him.

So we tell them.

For Love compells us to do so. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

First Chapters with Robin Mason, author of The Tilting Leaves of Autumn




We never did play tea parties like other girls. We played detective. Because that’s what Mercedes read, detective stories. And she was our Sherlock Holmes.
            As children, our ventures were harmless enough. Until the day Simone fell in the river and disappeared.





~~~



The Tilting Leaves of Autumn
Scarlett
October 1912

            I still don’t know why they included me. The three of them were larger than life. Simone with her madcap antics, always scaring us, always making us think she had finally got hurt. Pearl was the princess. She was the debutante when we came of age, as Simone would have been… Pearl dressed the part of a young lady, while Simone had merely tolerated her trappings.
            And Mercedes, well she and I were servants. But Mercedes had a confidence even Simone and Pearl didn’t possess. Mercedes was our leader. And not because she was older than us. She… never wavered. She guided us, reined us in, even Simone. Most times.
            But me. I never did understand why they accepted me as their friend.  Bastille House was on the complete other side of town. And I was not allowed time away. Even as a child, I was expected to account for my whereabouts every moment of the day.  I suspect my mamá took many beatings as a result of the afternoons she sent me off to play with my friends.
            It still haunts me. The guilt of it torments me still.

            Mercedes and I were close, closer than the others. Simone and Pearl had been born into gentry, and lived in luxury their whole lives. Mercedes had only just discovered her heritage, and yet I felt I must keep childhood from her. From the others. They’d not understand; I didn’t understand it all myself.
            My mother was a beautiful woman, kind and genteel, loved by everyone… almost everyone.
            I was little when she died, just five years old, and I didn’t know what happened until much later, only that she went away. That’s what they told me.
            My sister was sent away and I was placed in the care of Tierney, our cook. Mon père told me to call her Mamá but I could not. My dear mamá had gone but she’d come back for me, I knew she would.
            I didn’t understand why I wasn’t given to the care of Alice, the nursery maid. Other than servants, Avalina and I were the only children at Bastille House and after she was gone I was alone.
            Tierney was not cruel to me, but neither was she kind. She sent me off to play when I was yet a small girl, I think to keep me out from underfoot; she did her best to ensure Monsieur didn’t know, but I always suspected he knew everything that went on at Bastille House. I suspected she was punished for it, especially when I was older and she showed me a kindness of an afternoon.
            Tierney tutored me and Daphne’s son, Yates. Yates was the same age as my sister and when he was older, he was sent to work in the stables. Daphne and her husband were both servants and Monsieur felt, not entitled to education. Still, Tierney made sure I did my lessons, reading and arithmetic and history. Her English was not so good and I wondered that she was so adamant that I learn my lessons in English. I wondered if that was why she was so… detached. Did she have family, perhaps? Family she had been torn away from? I never knew.

>>> <<<

            Now, Monsieur was in a… state. Not in his right mind. And I had been party to the cause of it.
            Did I feel guilty for it? Non, I did not. Perhaps I should. It was a cruel prank we had pulled. It was less than a week and by all reports, he still whimpered like a puppy in his wife’s apartments.
            To her credit, Madame Gertrude rose to the occasion. She could easily have denied him, and I wondered at her softness of heart.
            I didn’t go back to Bastille, not in the days since Mercedes had brought me to Alés House. It was far too risky for me to venture anywhere near Bastille, lest Monsieur Fontaine come to himself and bring me back to his clutches.
            He was so different than he had been. Monsieur had not always been the monster everyone else knew. I wondered, did no one else in Saisons know of his kind heart, the generous man before… before Mamá was taken from us. Did no one remember?

            I was happy in my new position with Mercedes. Acting as her Lady’s Maid was hardly a demanding position. Not at all like a scullery maid which I had been at Bastille. Grueling work that, and arduous, smelly and in a small, dark room with no windows.
            At Alés House, I lived practically as a lady, free to come and go, and to spend time with my children.
            Instinctively my hand went to my belly. No one knew yet but my husband Donal, and Tierney and Mercedes. Of course Mercedes knew, she always figured things out. She herself had only just given birth so she was most attuned to it.
            I was most thankful the sickness had not been so severe, and what little I had experienced had passed. Now, though, I seemed sleepy all day long. While Mercedes had been most magnanimous in her gesture, she didn’t realize what she had done. And I wasn’t sure how to undo it.
            Still, life as scullery maid had taken a toll on me in my previous pregnancies. My first baby, named after my husband, and his brother, Max, had both been so tiny. Jabati, my midwife, said it was from working too much, from the strain of my position. I prayed this child would be not only healthy, but perhaps not so small as his or her brothers.

            I had first seen Simone some weeks ago, not long after she returned to Saisons. Even though it had been so many years, I knew it was her. Her eyes, the color of palm fronds, had stared off into nothing. I wondered was she injured.
            My circumstance had created in me a cautious nature. I wanted to rush to her, sweep her into a great embrace, to know was she well. I wanted to know why she had been away and not written; why she had come to Mercedes and not myself. But Simone and Mercedes had always been so close, more like sisters than the division of their stations in life.
            I suppose it would have been easy for me to be jealous of Mercedes. The Dubois family treated their servants better than some nobility I knew, as they had their slaves before the war.
            But Mercedes was far too kind for me to think ill of her. To wit, her recent kindness to me and my family. And for all her good will and the generosity of her gesture, I had to find a way to undo it.

~~~
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Check out Robin's Amazon Author page to learn more about her and for a full listing of her titles! The Tilting of Leaves comes out this month!