Reflections on public speaking, prayer, and believing God

by Elizabeth

Three weeks ago I was smack in the middle of a conference. To be more specific, I was in the middle of the Family Education Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand as one of the plenary speakers. I didn’t talk much about it beforehand, and I haven’t spoken much of it since then. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to say about it.

27355570_10159821328150621_6186682492759194057_o

The view from our hotel window.

The first thing I have to say about it is that it was SO MUCH WORK. I had no idea how much time and energy it takes to prepare one lesson for a large group, let alone multiple lessons. I’ve led small group Bible classes for years, but this is nothing like that. I don’t know these people; the sessions aren’t in the context of either long-standing relationships or long-term study topics.

Of course, this didn’t surprise my husband, who is well-acquainted with the privileges (and trials) of preaching. But I had never planned to speak at this thing. When we were invited to speak, I nodded my head and said, “Yes, we will come, my husband will speak and I will be the support person.” Because that is what I usually am. I am not the up-front person. I sit in the pews and listen.

The way things worked out, though, our workload was split in half. The topics the leadership thought were important to address and the topics that were heavy on our hearts, they fell out 50-50. I unexpectedly became half the teaching team. So I spent many hours out of the house in coffee shops, planning my talks. Each talk took more time than I had expected. I just kept needing more time to finish them. Until Jonathan left the country for his sister’s wedding, that is.

Our plan was to meet him at the conference location the night before it started. I would bring the 4 kids across country borders (something I’d never done by myself before), and he would fly in from the U.S., with about 10 hours to spare. I prayed about this. I knew one of his connections was tight, and I knew it was flu season in the U.S., a particularly bad flu season. And I knew my husband’s immune system was compromised due to his asthma.

So I prayed. And I asked a dear friend to come pray with me too. To pray for good health and flight connections for Jonathan. To pray that what we had to say would be what God wanted us to say, and that we would get out of the way and just preach a message of Grace to the parents at this conference. To pray that they would encounter the love of God for them personally.

In short, we prayed for everything possible except MY health, and my health is what took a beating. 60 hours before departure I spiked a fever. Now I know a few things about international air travel, and one is that traveling with a fever can get you grounded. And without a second parent to transport the kids to the conference, I knew the whole family could be grounded. I knew once sickness was in the house, it might spread to everyone else. We could ALL be grounded.

I immediately contacted the conference director to let her know, and she immediately got her prayer team praying. I didn’t know her prayer team was both so extensive and so intensive. They PRAY. And they pray. And then they keep praying. Every year they encounter resistance to the conference, which is a lifeline to many families homeschooling their kids in remote areas in Asia. This year the resistance seemed to come in the area of health, and not just mine. Others as well.

I also contacted one of our local prayer team members, who had the whole team praying for me. And then I basically lay in bed for 2 days, trying to rest. I wasn’t always successful, either. I would lay in bed, unable to sleep with worry, because I just HAD to get better, because people were DEPENDING on me. I had to heal myself, quickly. Which is of course impossible. And which is of course harder to do when you are not sleeping.

I had to depend on God to get me better, and I didn’t always do a stellar job of trusting. Truly, there’s nothing like preparing a lesson for a hundred people about Grace and then being tested in your belief in its truth.

Thankfully the fever did go away in time. But by then I was having symptoms of a separate bacterial infection, and the night before departure I hurriedly called an M.D. friend for advice. She got me the antibiotics I needed as yet another friend drove us to the airport the next morning. (It takes a village, right?) I was still weak and had to depend on my older boys to help clean up and close up the house and carry the luggage throughout the day. And you know what I discovered? They are far more capable than I had known.

Jonathan even arrived at the conference on time. But I have to tell you, I was so nervous about my message on Grace that I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. I knew I needed the rest, but my anxiety was sky high. So I prayed all night. I figured, if I couldn’t sleep, at least I could ask God to work through me. With my body still weakened from illness, and my mind distracted from worry over doing a good enough job and saying the exact right words to fix everyone’s problems, I had never felt so strongly that God’s strength would have to be sufficient in my weakness. I knew that Wednesday morning’s talk on grace had to be all Him.

And I did feel God come through for me, and a huge weight was lifted that morning. I could sleep again – I was so thankful for that. But I’m not gonna lie; I made mistakes at the conference. I failed at certain aspects of my job. I prayed and prepared hard, but I still had failures. I had to remember the truth of my own message on Grace – that it does not all depend on me. That there is forgiveness for failures, and room to grow, and room to try again. There is room to trust that God is going to take care of people, that it’s not my job to take care of everyone’s problems, but only to be as faithful as I can, and to listen as closely to God’s voice as I can.

So we survived that week and even enjoyed the fellowship. And if Jonathan or I said anything helpful to anyone, I know it is from God, and not us. Not that I didn’t work hard to prepare. I probably worked harder than I have worked since my engineering school days. But that when it came down to it, anything good came from God. It always does. It has to. That is the only way. And when people asked how I felt about our part in the conference, I said I didn’t feel like a success or like a failure. I only felt that I did what I went there to do. That I shared the messages I went there to share.

But that is not the end of these messages. These messages are continuing to do their work on me. Just like I was tested in my belief in Grace, that I am not powerful enough to either heal myself physically or to reach people’s hearts, I am being tested in my belief of other truths I spoke about. How true are they really? Do I live like I believe them? Do I really believe that the King is still on the throne? That I can rest in the fact that He is on the throne?

Because last week we received some news that’s going to change a lot of things in our life. A Lot. Can I trust God with them? Can I trust Him to take care of us, like He always has? Can I rest in Him even in this huge transition? There are so many details to be worked out. Can I lay down my worry for the future?? Can I lay down my worry over how I’m going to know that I’ve actually heard God’s voice in these future decisions and not just my own?? Can I even be *excited* for how God is going to work in our lives and show Himself faithful once again?

And do I really believe what I taught about Resurrection? That the best thing God ever did was to raise Jesus from the dead, and that the deadest things in our lives are where God does His best work? That we can trust Him to bring life from death, beauty from destruction? Because some of these big life changes feel like death. I need Resurrection as a living reality in my life. Can I actually believe in resurrection even as I mourn the death?

These are just three of the messages that I felt impressed on my heart in the last few months, that I communicated to the group at the conference, and that God is writing even deeper into my heart AFTER I taught them. Do I believe the messages He has given me? I say I do, and I know I want to. But I will also pray along with the father in the book of Mark, “I do believe. Help my unbelief!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(In the next few months I will try to convert some of the teachings into blog posts.)

27067339_10159817666880621_4398239826266987457_n

Our kids in the main conference room.

What George Orwell and C.S. Lewis can teach us about chaos, creation, and a world living in fear

by Elizabeth

21121793_10159142924775621_990278575_n

“The atomic bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

I burst into tears over this George Orwell quote in the bookstore the other day. Let me explain why.

If you know me at all, you know I was crushed over the lack of eclipse viewing on this side of the planet. Crushed. I first started reading about the eclipse in science magazines about a year and a half ago, when I realized with sadness that I would not be able to see it, even though totality was passing very close by my hometown.

As we edged ever closer to the eclipse date, and people became more and more excited, I became sadder and sadder. I would wake up every morning thinking about what I was missing and imagining in my mind’s eye what it would be like to experience that kind of natural reversal. I hear you receive spiritual and philosophical insights during a total eclipse that you rarely get in life apart from extreme grief and loss. I hear that you feel at one with humanity and at one with the solar system. Whether you believe in God or not.

But here’s the thing: I already feel at one with the solar system on a regular basis. Every time I look up at the moon, no matter where it is in its waxing or waning, I imagine where I am in relation to it and to the sun and to the rest of the planets, and I get this enormous sense of awe and wonder. I experience more awe and wonder when I catch a glimpse of a planet with the naked eye. I even get a thrill from ordinary everyday sunsets and ordinary everyday cloud-dotted skies. Understanding the science behind each of these sights does not in the least diminish their wonder for me.

So to miss out on an event that causes people who don’t normally care all that much about the sky to shudder with shock and awe, felt like a devastating loss. I collect those moments of wonder and awe in my life and, like Mary, ponder them in my heart. I store them in the long-term memory of my soul. I am a glory-chaser, and this month I felt I was missing out on something glorious that all my countrymen were going to witness (though I know the descriptor “all” is not entirely accurate here). I have really had to grieve this loss as one of many losses on both sides of the Pacific over the last 6 years.

Then today I found myself at the local bookstore with my kids, perusing the magazine rack. It’s a sort of Saturday morning tradition for us. Magazines are too expensive to buy here, so we just stand around reading articles about space and geography. I was reading an article about that infamous eclipse when I came across these words by George Orwell. They brought to mind parallel (and prescient) thoughts from C.S. Lewis, in his 1948 essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age”:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I had read Lewis’s words earlier this month and been sobered, my mind plumbed back into alignment. Orwell’s words were likewise so true that they brought tears to my eyes. Our world is in chaos. We all know this. Globally and locally, everyone you and I meet can see the chaos in both their own country and the countries of others. There’s so much fear, fear from all sides and of far too many things.

But. There is awe and wonder that can outweigh the fear. There is truth that can outweigh the lies. And there are things we can be sure of, the chief of which is that we do not control the heavens. We do not direct their footsteps. We can predict them, and we can describe them — though they lose none of their awe-inspiring power when we do — but we cannot direct them. That is a task only God can manage. We can merely watch — or not.

So let us rest in God, in His creative power and in His unfathomable goodness. Let us take comfort in His nearness and in His grandeur, in His wisdom and in His foolishness. Let us walk with Him, through our tears and through our joys, through our fears and through our distracted and distractible daily lives. And let us remember that, regardless of how we live and regardless of how we die, God is God and we are not, and neither is any world leader who appears to be wresting power from Him — for no one can rob Him of His glory.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I originally published this on Facebook. On one of the FB shares a friend of a friend (someone I don’t know) commented: “When asked what he would like to be found doing by Jesus on Jesus’s return, Luther said, ‘Planting a tree.’ I think the reason is the same as your quote.” That story was just too good not to pass on to you here.

The One Question We Must Ask {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

It’s a simple question, carrying with it the power to clarify purpose and extend longevity. It’s a question that buttresses against the nasty cousins of burnout and bitterness. It’s a question we need to ask more often.

It’s simply this: “What is it that I really need?”

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Before you crucify me for turning the Gospel inside out and hamstringing it with a message about me and my needs, hear me out.

I’m not at all advocating a life without obedient sacrifice; I am expressly advocating a life of eyes-open sacrifice. You might not get what you need. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t. There are a lot of things you need that a life of cross-cultural service just won’t be able to provide. I’m talking about the full spectrum here, from a Starbucks latte all the way to the absence of gunfire.

And that’s where this gets real.

When you realize that some legitimate needs won’t get met, when you realize that safety and functioning utilities and access to public libraries and date night just aren’t as much a thing where you live, you can do two things. You can seek to mitigate, or you can choose to sacrifice. In reality, I actually recommend both.

Mitigate it: Consider whether there are any creative workarounds that might meet the need, in whole or in part.

Sacrifice it: Obediently, with a full heart and open eyes, sacrifice the thing as a holy act of worship.

Continue reading over at A Life Overseas

When God Won’t Give Me What I Want {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Is he really a “good, good Father”? We sing it often enough, and truth be told, I really like singing and talking about the good character that our Abba Father indeed has.

But sometimes it sounds like we’re desperately trying to convince ourselves. Because sometimes we doubt. And no wonder.

Because sometimes we ask for things that we don’t get it. We ask for more support and we’re still blank. We ask for healing for ourselves or someone we love, and they stay sick. Or they die.

We brush up against storms and trauma and we see horrific things and we question him. Where are you? Why this? Why him or her?

Keep reading over at A Life Overseas

photo-1474739331020-a715a6719403a

When fear strikes at night, here’s something you can do

by Elizabeth

photo-1470406385593-bb0110c681a9

I was talking with a friend recently when the subject of fear came up – specifically, nighttime fears. And all of a sudden I remembered the nameless, faceless fears of my early twenties. These were the fears that were irrational and nonspecific, feelings more than words. I didn’t always know what I was afraid of, I just knew I was afraid and couldn’t sleep.

Back then, all I knew to do was to sing the name of Jesus, over and over again, until I fell asleep. I had a few songs on repeat in my head. Later I would sing those same songs over my babies as I rocked them. This practice became so much a part of who I was that I didn’t consciously think about it as a weapon for fighting fear until I was in the middle of this recent conversation.

As we were talking, my friend said, “It’s like singing yourself a lullaby. We sing lullabies over our children, why wouldn’t we sing them over ourselves?” That was such a great description of the practice. So I’m going to share with you my lullabies. They’re calming to me but may not do anything for you. However, I think it’ll give you a starting point to find (or remember) your own evening songs.

The first and main song is one we used to sing in college with our friends. This version sounds fairly close to the way we used to sing together. I used to sing the “Jesus” chorus over and over to myself till I calmed down and fell asleep. There’s something so powerful about lifting your eyes up, away from your problems and even away from petitions for help, and focusing on the name of JESUS.

Here’s another one that helped me, though I can’t find any music for it anywhere. It was written by a lady in our Church of Christ circles who sang in a group called Free Indeed:

“Lord give me peace,
I’m feeling all alone,
calm my spirit,
still my mind,
fill my heart with peace.”

It had a really simple melody that I learned one Saturday morning from my youth minister’s wife. She used it when she needed peace and patience as a mama of young children; I used it at night when I couldn’t sleep.

And this last one might seem kind of strange, so bear with me. In middle school choir we sang a song set to words that had been scrawled on a cellar wall during WWII’s Holocaust:

“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there
And I believe in God, even when He is silent
I believe through any trial, there is always a way

But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there
But a voice rises within me, saying ‘Hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope. Just stay a little while.'”

The melody and the lyrics are both haunting, and the song has stayed with me all these years. It gives me comfort – though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s when I’m in the dark, alone and afraid, that I need its message most. And it represents the undaunted faith I want to pass on to my children.

I was only 12 when I first learned the song, so I couldn’t understand the full soul-depth of its cries, but I remember watching people in the audience weep as we performed it. Now I know why they were crying. They were living in – or had lived in – a world where the sun wasn’t shining, a world where God was silent, a world where it seemed no one was there. Yet they still wanted to believe.

The version below is the closest I could find to the song I learned:

These days, I rely more on the “Doxology” and the “Gloria Patri” for peace and calm. Many years ago in a ladies’ Bible class I listened to one woman talk about how her mentor had taught her to center herself with the “Doxology” when she felt anxious. (Did you catch that? That was a long stream of women passing on wisdom that I’m now passing on to you.) So now in times of stress, I tend to fall back on:

“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”

And this:

“Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning
Is now and ever shall be
World without end
Amen, amen.”

If you’ve never sung to yourself at night, I hope this post gives you a new weapon for fighting fear and anxiety. The songs that speak to you in the middle of the night may be different from the ones that speak to me, but I pray you can find your own nighttime lullabies and start singing yourself to sleep.

If you already sing away your nighttime fears, consider blessing someone else by sharing your own songs in the comments.

The Answer to All the Questions {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today. . .

you-1170x780

I’ve always been a question asker, a seeker of knowledge. I hunger and thirst for answers, for insight, for understanding. And this question-asking has often served me well, for questions can lead to a greater awareness of God or of His cosmos or of the human creatures He so lovingly tends. Questions can lead to worship and wonder, to praise and appreciation, to connection and intimacy.

My journals are evidence of this incessant question asking; they’re littered with questions. They’re filled with their fair amount of lament too, and plenty of Scriptures-turned-prayer, but always and ever, questions.

You can finish reading here.

Taking Out the Trash {a toolkit for fighting fear}

Here are some practical ways to fight fear that I’ve never shared publicly before. I talked about them during this year’s Velvet Ashes online retreat and wanted to post them here in the hopes that someone out there might find them helpful in their battle against fear. I’ve reprinted all the quotes and Bible verses for easy reference, or you can simply scroll to the bottom for the video testimony. ~Elizabeth

garbage-can-1111449_960_720a

I used to take my pulse to make sure I was still alive. Because the ability to breathe and move my fingers to my neck weren’t evidence enough of life?? Thankfully by the time I realized why I did that and could verbalize it, I could see the humor in it.

And it was mostly health reasons that made me not want to come to the field in the first place. I’m a recovering hypochondriac [read: I’m still a hypochondriac, but it’s not out of control anymore].

Living here still plays tricks on my mind sometimes, and I have to consciously choose not to follow the rabbit trail my fears are digging. But I’ve got more practice at it now, and someone to keep me accountable (my husband), so it doesn’t take over my daily life the way it used to.

My go-to passage on fighting fear was always Matthew 6:25-34. I even committed it to memory 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn and finances were uber-tight, and I’ve returned to these words of Jesus again and again throughout the years:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

But what really helped me several years ago was reading a book designed to help kids with OCD. It’s called What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck, and it teaches kids (or in this case, me) to identify “brain junk,” which is basically the thought patterns we have that are false and hurtful and don’t belong in our mind. After we identify the brain junk (the lies, the fears, the negative self-talk), we can throw it away, literally discarding it from our lives.

For me, following the advice in the OCD book has been a working out of the truths of Hebrews 5:14, which says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, and Titus 2:11-12, which talks about the grace of God that teaches us to say “no.”

I had to practice distinguishing the good from the evil (or unhelpful) thought patterns. But I recognize that it is the grace of God that helps me to say no to those irrational thought patterns. And it all came about from a children’s book on OCD.

Another thing that helped tremendously was a section in a book that Cindy Morgan wrote, Barefoot on Barbed Wire, which was all about fighting fear. I “randomly” picked it up at the library when I was pregnant with my 3rd child (when the fears were the most out of control they’d ever been).

“Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

Her book and this quote in particular really convicted me that fighting fear wasn’t about addressing my specific fears and trying to talk myself down from them and over-researching on the internet and reminding myself of the science.

No, my fear was actually something broken inside me. It didn’t come from risk factors on the outside. It came from within. The OCD strategies helped enormously in fighting my fear on a practical level, but I also needed this heart-level truth as well.

I talk about these things (and more) in my 10-minute testimony for Commune, Velvet Ashes’ 2016 online retreat, which is re-published here with permission. If you missed the retreat earlier this spring, Velvet Ashes plans to make the entire thing available again sometime in the future. And if you’ve been blessed through the ministry of Velvet Ashes, consider donating to them here