26 October 2010

Now I Know Why We Don't Pray

In the past few months I've been learning more and more about prayer, and I've been trying to put into practice what I've been learning.

It's tempting to skate over passages like Luke 11, in which Jesus tells his disciples several different ways that God wants to answer their prayers.  Jesus straight up says "Ask and you will receive", although we have all had times of asking and not receiving, so I think I've tended to write that off as a euphemism or hyperbole. 

Then I was challenged to take it seriously, to actually voice my specific requests to God and believe that He will answer.  I did, in two large situations that were outside of my control - one was the house, and the other was a situation I can't go into in such a public format as this - and got what I asked for in 0 for 2 of those situations.

Cynicism knocked at the door.  "Remember me?  Remember how comfortable and non-faith-stretching it was when you didn't bother God with what you wanted?"  Then I slammed the door in Cynicism's face.

Yes, it sucks to ask for something and not get it.  It is easy for the Enemy to step in and say that God is not really a good Father, that He doesn't really give good gifts.  It is difficult to have to face reality, that sometimes I don't really know what is best for me.  Y'know what is encouraging, though?

"Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?"

I have a great earthly father.  I never feared to ask him for anything.  The thing is that I'm sure that at some point in the past 28 years he did not give me something I asked for because it was not in my best interest.  I cannot remember a single one of those times, but I remember loads of great things that my dad gave me, like when my sister and I were young and he used to bring us presents on Valentine's Day, or when he would spot me $5 to buy lunch if I was short.  If he chose not to give me something because it wasn't good for me, I know that it wouldn't stop me from asking him again in the future, but I really don't have memories of him denying me things.  Probably because those things were so fleeting, unimportant, or bad for me that I swiftly forgot them after the initial disappointment.

What about when my Father in heaven denies me something?  Why so quick to listen to the Enemy accuse my Father of not being good?  I honestly can't list out a long string of unanswered prayers on my other Father's account either.  I know they're there, but when I think of things that disappointed me, they're always overshadowed by the better thing that came instead.  The fish or egg, if you will.

Even more so, I can pray for specific things without being disappointed if they don't come about when that thing is for someone else.  Healing for this mama doesn't happen?  God is still good.  That brother is still blind?  God works in mysterious ways.  I have to live in someone's spare room instead of my own huge house?  Why does God hate me?!

In the end, I think it comes down to this: I don't want to know how often the things I want are snakes and scorpions, because if I knew that, I would know how far I have to move toward operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The best gift God can (and has) given to me is the Holy Spirit, but when I find out how many scorpions I ask for, it is a humbling reminder of how far I have to go in taking advantage of the best gift He has given.

So here goes...goodbye Cynicism.  I'm embracing Humility and Disappointment, because at least they're pointing me in the right direction...greater maturity, less self-love and self-will, and more and more Holy Spirit.

19 October 2010

Things that Don't Have Answers...yet...

#1 - Marriage is Tough
A few weeks ago I went to the wedding of the daughter of on of our church elders.  I'd never met the bride or the groom before, but in order to honor the mother of the bride, Leah and I went.  I was really unhappy to be there for a number of reasons: late notice of the event, feeling unwell, and a bunch of drunk female relatives.  Unfortunately my discomfort at the reception was nothing compared to the discomfort of the bride.  Within one week we received word that she had returned to her mother's house because her husband had beaten her quite badly for questioning him on a food-related matter, and the poor girl was so humiliated about being chased from her husband's home only a few days into the marriage that she attempted suicide.  Praise God she was not successful.  She is now living with her mother again, and at age 19, she is looking at her future, as she will probably never remarry (at least not officially).

A little over one week ago I was invited to a "kitchen party", kind of like a Tanzanian bridal shower, where married women come together to give practical advice to the bride to be.  I was honored to be invited and asked to speak, even though I am unmarried.  I stuck to what I knew, and advised the bride-to-be to remember that even though she is becoming Mama Charles (wife to Charles) and will one day be Mama Mtoto (mother of her child), that to God she is herself alone.  I reminded her that she alone is responsible for seeking God and following Jesus, setting that example in the life of her husband and children, and as she seeks the Holy Spirit to be her Source of every good thing, she will be strengthened in her relationship with her husband and, one day, with her children.  I was the first woman to speak, and as I sat back to desperately try to understand the advice of the other women in the room, I was struck by something: there were seven women, all leaders in the church, all respected and wise, but many of them had really suffered in their marriages.  One mama, widowed before age 40, is raising four children alone.  Another mama, the mother of the bride mentioned before, was also widowed by age 50, and is caring for both children and grandchildren.  An evangelist is raising her teenage daughter alone because her husband left her when she didn't have a son after their daughter was born.  The wife of a pastor is recently separated from her husband after he was caught in an affair, and is caring for their 2-year-old daughter while she works and goes to school.  Two of the three women still living with their husbands have been married for less than five years. 

These experiences back-to-back were a sobering reminder that we live in a world where marriage is difficult and often under attack, especially the marriages of our Christian leaders.
#2 - Prayer is Powerful
I mentioned the book Something More on my blog a while back, and because I love Catherine Marshall so much, my grandma sent me a couple more of her books.  I've been reading her booklet "Adventures in Prayer", and it's been a gentle but insistent challenge to my perceptions of communication with God.  At the same time I've been studying some things about the Lord's Prayer, and searching for answers to my own questions about prayer. 

A few months back the church started a prayer service on Monday evenings designed to minister to the many, many people desiring prayer for healing and deliverance.  The prayer team here is incredible, and they see God move in ways that many Americans would scoff at.  I hadn't been to a service yet, because it happens on my Sabbath day, but I was intrigued at their reports.
Six months ago two women prophesied over me that "rivers of healing" would flow from my hands.  I have been ruminating on what that means ever since.  Yesterday I went to the prayer service to do some video work for Pastor Manase, but as soon as people started arriving, I knew that I was not at that service just to observe.  Several times when I have seen people suffering from physical disability, I've had a serious pull on my heart, like the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear "That is not God's intention for that person."  Last night I had that so strongly that tears sprang to my eyes.  As we were singing "How Great Thou Art" a woman came in leaning on her niece.  A stroke had virtually paralyzed her left side, and I felt overwhelmed by God's compassion for that woman.  I got a chance to pray with her and pray for many other people (approximately 40 people present), and Pastor Manase encouraged me that when she first started coming she had to be carried everywhere, but now she is able to walk a bit unassisted and is getting stronger each week. 

I was recently reading a novel that talked about how understanding and skills that come immediately and easily are not filled with the same grace as skills that come with work.  I suspect that healing, like Swahili, might be a gift that needs investment and work from me before I see a lot of fruit, but it fills me with righteous anger to see people suffering and if God would grant me the ability to be a vessel of healing, there's not much I wouldn't do to reach "fluency" in that language.

#3 - I Miss My House
So Leah and I decided to delay the house search until we return from the States, especially since there are some people coming to Dodoma next year from Lahash and MCC who may go in with us on housing.  So I have settled into Baba and Mama's house for the time being, and, overall, it's wonderful...but...

When I decided to move to Africa, my first step was to leave my lovely studio apartment in NW Portland to move back in with my parents.  This current living situation feels similar.  I love living in an environment which allows the maximum amount of independence (very American of me), and living with a family in their home does not equal independence.  Even though I am discovering all that I have missed in children's television, like iCarly, Drake and Josh, and Go Diego Go, (the Askofus have some American cable channels), I miss the peace of no television in the house.  I miss experimenting in the kitchen and making the awesome beans that Leah and I were becoming renowned for.  I miss the daily battle with the water supply.  I definitely miss living with Leah, who is a perfectly complementary roommate to me because she actually gets up when her alarm goes off in the morning to boil water for coffee and she enjoys washing dishes.  ("Enjoy" might be too strong a word.)  I was really missing living next door to the church last night when I had to wait 40 minutes for a taxi after the prayer service.

There are payoffs.  As aforementioned, there is a TV with many channels, not all of which are in Swahili, and I'm fast learning to appreciate Bollywood (Indian cinema).  I had a really great night on Saturday when Grace, Jastine, and Peace all borrowed books from me, and we sat on the front porch drinking hot chocolate and reading.  I was pretty frustrated with God when we first entered into this desperate housing situation, but then I accepted that this might be His way of pushing toward a reminder that I am not independent, and never will be.  I will always need others, and it's good to be in a position of embracing that rather than fighting against it.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

05 October 2010

See You Soon, Beautiful Friends!

As those of you who are my friends on Facebook already know, I am planning to come back to Portland for a few months.  This is unexpected, about a year earlier than I had anticipated being back in the States, but there are many good reasons for this timing.

First and foremost, my bestest friend, Annie, is getting married!
Annie and I have been kindred spirits since an infamous Last Thursday event where we sat waiting for Thai food for ages, and speculated about the "Garnish Boy" who was probably gumming up the works in the back.  That first dinner was followed by several planned and unplanned road trips, lots of dinners (many involving chicken), more coffee than I can easily remember, curling, Buffy, hotels, family reunions, rodeos, LOTR, house boats, Bernie's, all-night Harry Potter vigils, neck ties, airports, kick ball, vampire teeth, fro yo, and various other things I cannot mention due to the public nature of this blog.  In fact, she's been such an important part of my life that I cannot believe I've never done a tribute to our friendship here.

I even had the incredible privilege of baptizing her a couple of years ago.
We have spent lots and lots and lots of random time together, doing things that probably no one else would think at all interesting, except maybe one person...

Karyn has been a great friend for not so long as Annie, but if God sometimes got bored and doubled up on certain aspects of people's personalities, I'd believe that Karyn and I are essentially spiritual doppelgangers.  From the beginning when Karyn first came to our home community, she and I hit it off.  She and I share a compulsion to tell utter strangers extremely intimate details of our lives, so we had shortly shared pretty much everything that no one would ever want to know about us.  I slept on her couch many times during my last year in Portland, and took some hefty walks with her at weird hours of day and night.

During this past 13 months that I've been in Tanzania both of these amazing friends met awesome guys, fell in love, and got engaged.  I've mourned the fact that I missed getting to see two of my dearest friends falling head over heels, got the news of their engagements over Facebook, and have never ever met either of their fiances at the same time that I completely rejoice that two of my favorite people are so happy.  I have decided that it is essential that I be present at their weddings, so I will be coming back to Oregon to be a witness at each of their happy days.  I love these girls, and I'm so excited to be present for the first step of their lives as married women.

Annie and Karyn, I love you and wish you so many good things.  You are wonderful, and I can't wait to see you in just two months.