Five Characteristics of a Strong Woman

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Life, or society or this thing that we are doing has appeared very confusing lately, with seeming injustice, tension, strife, all we want to do is throw up our hands and shout, "Who's in charge?"  Truth is, when we leave justice in the hands of men and women who are not following after God, we, as a nation suffer the consequences, but I don't want to go too far down that road here, rather, I want to concentrate on how we, especially as woman can do the things that God has appointed us to do.

Little A and I were reading in Judges 4 and 5, and, after coming out of the final chapters of Joshua with lots of names and places, it's pretty neat to see how things are progressing for the nation of Israel, God is still pursuing them, just as he always pursues us, He wants the best for them just as he does for us, but chapter 4 begins with the admonition that again, Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that the last godly judge God had appointed to save them (Ehud) died. So, the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, with Sisera, the commander of his army (who happened to possess 900 iron chariots) cruelly oppressing the Israelites for twenty years.

They cried out, the Lord heard. And he had a plan for deliverance, only it needed execution.

Enter our examples of what God can do through the hands of two incredible women.  

First, is Deborah, a prophetess in Israel at the time; she held court where the Israelites could go to her and have their disputes decided.  A woman being assigned to this position was indeed unusual, but as my commentary pointed out, this position was a reflection on the weakness of male leadership in Israel at that time.  Second is Jael, but we'll come to her in a bit.

Let's take a look at these women and see what we can learn:

1) They are chosen

The people cried out for help in the midst of their oppression, God assigned Deborah.

God has chosen you, for this very point in life in this very role for a very important purpose, whether you are a mother, a doctor, a humanitarian or all three, God has put a passion in your heart for something, follow it and clamp onto it like a dog on a bone.

God would deliver the nation of Israel, but he needed a few good men:

She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, " the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor.  I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'"(4:6-7)

And one of those men needed a good woman:

Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go."(4:8)

2) They are available

"Certainly I will go with you," said Deborah. (4:9)

Deborah had a choice, stay in the place that God appointed to her to do a very significant job for the nation of Israel or become available to Barak.  You see, Deborah herself made the prophecy that God would lead Sisera's nation into their hands, but Barak lacked the confidence and asked her to go with him.  This was not without the admonition that this victory would be credited to a woman :) 

I've been in Barak's position before, it's scary.  I cannot tell you how grateful I have been to friends who have been available to me in the past when facing some of life's giants, or even those who have physically gone with me in a particularly difficult situation to judge what is right.  They couldn't DO much; they just came with me, prayed with me, prayed for me and were present. 

3) They are confident

Once Barak had gathered his tribes and 10,000 men and Deborah was with him, word spread to Sisera.  Deborah rallied Barak with the words: "Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands.  Has the Lord not gone ahead of you?"

4) They have a plan:

We all have a plan: calendars, daily planners, phone reminders, etc., sometimes I feel like a walking calendar.  These are all good things; it's how we stay focused and how we get things done.  But we've got to be open to the bigger PLAN too; the vision to execute exactly what God has placed in our hands to do.

Introducing our second strong woman: Jael.

After Barak routed Sisera's troops in battle, killing all of them by sword, Sisera managed to get away on foot to Jael's tent because there was an alliance between Jabin and Jael's family.

Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Come, my lord, come right in.  Don't be afraid."  She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her.  "If someone comes by and asks you, 'Is anyone in there?' say 'No.'"

But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted.  She drove the peg through his temple into the ground and he died. (4:19-21)

Remember, Jael didn't have to use force or coercion--maybe a little trickery--but she welcomed this bone-weary leader into her tent, offering him refreshment and at exactly the right time, God's appointed time, she delivered a fatal blow that led to victory for Israel.

On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites.  And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him. (4:23)

...Then the land had peace for forty years...(5:31c)

5) They give credit where it is always due 

Deborah and Barak begin their song in Chapter 5 with praise to the Lord:

When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves--praise the Lord!  Hear this, you kings!  Listen, you rulers!  I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel in song.(5:2-3)

My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people.  Praise the Lord!(5:9)

The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon.  March on, my soul; be strong!(5:21)

Our Sisters in Africa

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Take a hop, skip and a jump over a few continents and you find a tiny transformed village.  By plane, by bus and lastly by foot, we reached Adacar this past July and oh, what an amazing sight it was.  Our time there was short, relatively speaking, five full days and when I say "full" I mean it.  One of the most special times there was the visit to our sponsor children's homes. I could go on and on, but I want to share this story about one of my sponsor children's (Martin's) mom, this lady is pretty amazing and after my visit to Adacar this summer, I find myself praying for her almost every single day because she's got a huge job ahead of her...

As far as I can tell, Martin has four brothers and sisters and at least three of these, besides Martin are sponsored through Children's HopeChest.  Martin looks just like his mother, ebony skin, high cheekbones, searching eyes, distinct nose, but I noticed that his other brothers and sisters didn't resemble the two of them too much.  Slightly peculiar, but I know families there can be just as blended as ones here. The children adapt and life goes on, right?  Sorta. 

Martin has a slightly younger sister (15 or 16) named Betty.  Betty is beautiful, sweet, kind, lights up a hut.  Her and Martin seem to be very close, then comes Nicholas, talk about all amazing kid and then the littlest (can we say cutie-cakes?) is Lucy and, as far as I can tell, they have one more brother.

As Martin led us to his hut, he signed something to our team member, Maddie.  She translated, "Martin apologizes for the appearance of his home."  What?  I thought.  A hut is a hut. We got there, waited a while for his mom, hung out with the neighbors and their children--and waited a little more, finally Betty piped up and said (in Ateso), "Mom went to get the water jug fixed."  Their only source of "running" water had sprung and leak and mom was out trying to get it repaired.  I don't know where or exactly how, as it's not like Target is just a mile down the road, but about 10 minutes after that, I hear, "Yiyiyiyiyiyiyi!!!!!" --a customary joyful expression of the women in Adacar--getting closer through the bush.  Music to my ears.  Martin's mom comes running through the tall grass with the water jug on her head and embraces me.  It was a pretty cool moment.  We chatted a little while through the interpreter, she showed me around their homestead, a large dirt circle about 15 feet in diameter with three sturdy huts around it and one hut (possibly used for food/grain storage) in need of repair.  For the middle of nowhere, I have to say it was pretty beautiful.  Simple. We were taken to Martin's hut, yes, it appears that the oldest child gets their own hut--a cool custom.  We chatted some more and I gave her the few gifts I got from the small town store for her.

This year's visit to Adacar and seeing Martin's whole family set things in a tailspin because their story is deeper and more complicated than I initially thought, in a story recounted by Betty to one of my teammates (cutie-pie Lucy's sponsor): Martin's biological mom and dad married and had two children.  At some point Martin's father left Martin's mother and married another woman, and had three children with her.  This woman died, and now Martin's mom has taken charge of ALL the children. The father is nowhere in the picture. It appears, though, that his dad is still alive, because Martin gave me his cell phone number...

Wow.  Here is a woman, day after day, cooking, cleaning clothes, providing food and water and caring for three children that aren't even her own ON HER OWN.  I'm astounded and challenged by her strength, love and her selflessness. 

I know this isn't an isolated case, though, there are woman all over the CarePoint who are loving and providing for children who aren't biologically theirs because one or both of their parents have died, either from HIV, or malaria and may have just left.  The enormity of their generosity puts me to shame and at the same time energizes and pushes me forward because I can see the supernatural strength that God has given to these women--and how their Maker, their Husband is providing for their children.  It sends chills down my spine to see the gospel in action: the Father of the fatherless, the Defender of widows setting the lonely in families, it makes me want to send up a couple of my own "Yiyiyiyiyiyis." 

This got me to thinking, when do I feel the most secure, the least worried, and close to zero on the tense meter?  When I know my child is being provided for, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, when I don't have to struggle to get these needs met. 

There is something tangible that you can do to give our sisters hope: support their children.  Imagine living in a world with no government subsidies, no free education and your food source heavily dependent on the weather and what you've been able to grow with your own hands.  The odds seem overwhelming.  But here is what HopeChest, through sponsorship, does in lightening that burden in very tangible ways, by providing:

-school fees and money for their uniforms
-regular Christian discipleship
-each sponsored child yearly physical exams and helps pay for medical emergencies
-one hot meal a day, sometimes, the only meal they get
-each child in the program also gets a goat, which can be used for trading in the market place

I know I've written sponsorship posts before, so maybe I'm a broken record. 

Over and over again, we are admonished in Scripture to put feet to our faith:

"What is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can such a faith save him?" James 2:14

"...and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:10

I'm going to be honest here: I tout Children's HopeChest because I have SEEN the results with my own eyes: I have seen the hope, the life, the change it has brought about in these children's lives and in their parent's lives.  I have seen the TRANSFORMATION of an entire community in just a four years and I have seen what hours of prayers and commitment and love and traveling just once a year to say "hello" will do, and this verse in Isaiah LIVED OUT.  It is amazing and indescribable and just. Wow. God.

So yes, I want you to sponsor a child, but I also want you to accept them into your heart and into your life, into your family's lives.  I have two sons: Martin and Paul who are growing into men who will one day be husbands and fathers and have important jobs to go to every day whether that is in the field or in the classroom or in an office somewhere in a big city. 

We all share a very important job, let's roll our sleeves up and get to it.

You Give Them Something to Eat

Thursday, November 13, 2014

There is something simple and unassuming about Luke's account of the feeding of the 5,000.  To me, the whole story begins with Jesus' words:

You give them something to eat.

Here we are waiting for a miracle, for the earth to split open for it to swallow all the bad people whole, to rescue the abused, the fatherless, to make sense of all of this nonsense, when the answer lies in us:

You give them something to eat.

We wait for our friend to accept Christ, for the marriage to repair itself, for the child in the wheelchair to start walking, but we miss the real miracle of this friend watching you live out a real faith that is genuine and steady and faithful--God gives the increase. 

There is the marriage that may never be glued back together, but the family whose Maker and Husband is the same.

There is the testimony of the father who tirelessly wheels his son up to the preschool teacher's door Sunday after Sunday as it opens to give God's gift of love hidden under the over sized cardboard blocks and between the plastic foods circa 1982.

You wait for the miracle as you drive past women who wait strategically next to budget hotels, abandoned gas stations and sex shops, some so frozen by what they have done time and time again, that they don't look at a new morning with the hope that others have.

You give them something to eat.

You, yes you, the person who sees and feels their limitations day after day, their lack of pedigree, education or experience, the one who could use a little self-esteem boost.

You give them something to eat.

Finally, we can give and give until our well runs dry, until we have to stand back and ask the question: Who am I doing this for?  Me? Them? God?

You give them something to eat.

Something that will not bring riches as we know it, fame or recognition, but the bread, the bread of life--John 5:35: I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry...

The Science of Fear and Its Remedy

Friday, October 31, 2014

The girls and I took a little trip to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History this week, and took a quick peek  again on their special exhibit on fear, while the experience was pretty educational, the exhibit itself is well, a little bit frightening, or maybe the better word would be frenetic--perhaps too much for this introvert to take in all at once. 

Several of the displays discussed the fact that our fear response is, of course a good thing, it's the thing that triggers our fight or flight instinct.  Our "spidey sense" is triggered in the part of the brain called the amygdala (that's a good one for your next Scrabble tourney).  

They had displays on everything from simulating being tracked by a panther in the jungle to hands-on stalls, where you had the privilege of experiencing fears that a lot of us share:  like the fear of falling, "touching" animals that the majority of us hate: mice, a hissing cockroach, a tarantula, and a booth set up to deliver a small electric shock via your finger (I should add this disclaimer, that the girls didn't have much of an idea of what the "should" be scared of, since they can't read yet).

But here is the text that struck me the most from the whole exhibit:

Even though animals freeze when initially surprised, their most common response, once the fight or flight mode kicks in, is to scram!

As with humans, the fight or flight response helps keep animals safe by raising their blood pressure, heart rate and breathing pace, improving their chances of making a speedy escape.

But flight is a trade off: While it helps animals stay alive, it also takes a lot of energy and requires that they stop whatever they're doing, no matter how important.

The last phrase is what grabbed me, because I can see a human correlation in this, it's when I was going through the most fearful times in my life that I was the most "frozen."  The Enemy loves this, He loves for us to be beaten down, tired, so worn out with the "what-ifs" that we forget that there is a bigger world out there, of lost and dying and suffering people, in all of which God can use us, our hands and feet to be HIS remedy for people in even worse situations that we find ourselves.  I've heard this phrase several times, "God doesn't need me to get His work accomplished."  This may be true, but WE need him to hold us up in the darkest hours and I believe the one, true solution to this is to keep going, keep pressing and keep giving.

And yes, I think this fear can be translated still into our relationships.  There is a difference between danger and the simple frailties of humans.  The truth is, no matter how "safe" I am or others are around me are, we are still human, fallible, capable of getting sick, tired, or just grumpy.  The beautiful thing about all of that is, though, is that God has all, I mean ALL of the bases covered.  It's because He loves us and His very nature is true and faithful.

So drink this in, and see if you don't breathe just a little easier after you read the last line.  Go in peace this weekend, be refreshed and trust that God is greater than ALL fear.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let Israel say: "His love endures forever."  Let the house of Aaron say: "His love endures forever."  Let those who fear the Lord say: "His love endures forever."

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.  I look in triumph on my enemies.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.  All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.  They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.  They swarmed around me like bees, but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them down.  I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.  The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: "The Lord's right hand has done mighty things!  The Lord's right hand is lifted high; the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.  The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.  This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.  Lord, save us!  Lord, grant us success!  Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord.  From the house of the Lord we bless you.  The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. 

You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 118

How Then, Should We Live?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?  
Who may live on your holy mountain? 
The one whose walk is blameless, 
who does what is righteous, 
who speaks truth from their heart; 
whose tongue utters no slander, 
who does no wrong to a neighbor, 
who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord; 
and does not change their mind; 
who lends money to the poor without interest; 
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
Psalm 15

Contentment Found In The Strangest Places

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It was just this past Sunday evening when it hit me, square between the eyeballs while I was kneeling on the floor of Little A's room.  Sometimes she is awake for these prayers and other times not, but after we close the Bible, I'll plant my knees on the carpet beside her bed and say a prayer, no matter how tired I am, how done, how ready I am to go to bed myself, I do this, and if you think about it, He was not to weary to kneel for us (Luke 22: 39-46).

I'm not going to kid you, I've been struggling with contentment, because after five years, things are a bit lonely, and no matter how many books you read by Elisabeth Elliot, you still want to slip your hand into someone else's and look across the room and see them looking at you and have that conversation in bed at night before you fall asleep, it's ok to be brave, but I think it's even more ok to admit when you want somebody there, but this brings me back to the prayer, the one that Little A is awake for this time, and I just start thanking God for that particular day, a day to:

worship in His place
to serve
to be with friends
to be in nature
to spend time with family

With my thick skull planted into the short nap, I realized just how wonderful God is, it was pretty much the perfect day without me planning it or even realizing it at the time, it was amazing and I didn't even know it until I started this prayer of thanks, so I'm pretty sure Ms. Voskamp's got something going on here.

Go ahead, if it's the end of the day where you are, get out a sheet of paper and write down all the things you did today, the things you were most thankful for and you'll find that, no matter what you're going through right now, God is still, very much amazing.

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.  Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.  He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.  He remembers this covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.  He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: to you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.  When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another.  He allowed no man to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: "Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm." Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.  Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.  Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.  Tremble before him, all the earth!  The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.  Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The Lord reigns!" Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!  The the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.  Give thanks to the Lord, for his is good; his love endures forever.  Cry out, "Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise." Praise be to the Lord the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Then all the people said "Amen" and "Praise the Lord."
I Chron. 16: 8-36

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