12 March 2018

Blown Away

You know, there are at least 153 synonyms for that expression. I just looked it up. Of course, that includes many different nuances, not all of which are applicable to the sense in which I'm using it tonight, but still...

I digress.

Sunday, the sermon at church was drawn from a passage of the Bible that I love. It's a passage I've studied and taught several times and the lessons drawn are always fresh, always applicable, even though they're old lessons , they are still things I'm still in the process of learning. Maybe I'm just a slow-learner, but I'm starting to expect that from God's Word. 

After all, truth is always truth 
God's truth never becomes trite or cliche 
I approach it with a teachable spirit.

So, as I said, this passage and I have a history (more than 10 years worth, now). It's one of the first passages of Scripture that I memorized: "Amma goy-teerey kaŋ na haro kaa wo bay... " Yohanna 2.1-11(in Zarma), so that I could teach a ladies' Bible study at the church we attended - so I'm probably a little sentimental, too.

So what passage is it? 

It's Jesus first miracle, performed at a wedding in Cana, and found in the beginning of John 2. 

I always used to wonder why this was the first miracle John recorded. But the richness of the lessons in this account - and they just keep piling up - well, blown away! Those are the words that come to mind as I try to describe how I feel as I meditate once again on these words

I knew it was coming up, as our pastors are preaching through the book of John right now. And I was looking forward to it - because I was sure I'd learn something new.

First, a quick review, though:

We don't know why Jesus and his mother were at the wedding - most figure it was family, or friends like family. But this passage first began to make sense after I'd attended a few weddings in Niger. Culturally, 1st century Jewish weddings were much more similar to how weddings are celebrated in there than how we "do" weddings in the West. First, the civil ceremony, then a celebration after can last several days. Anyone walking by can decide to attend - and expect to eat and drink. There is no way to know exactly who or how many will attend.  But beware: Running out of food at a huge fête generally leads to shame and embarrassment. Similarly, running out of wine at the wedding in Cana would have been shameful and humiliating for the host family. 

I love how Mary knew she could come and share this need with Jesus. Clearly, there was no doubt in her mind that there was something very special about this man she'd watched grow from a boy: His birth announced to her by an angel, the incredible circumstances of His arrival and the ensuing hullabaloo, His wisdom and ability to teach learned ones in the temple as well as other things that she would have certainly seen as He grew up in her home. The Bible tells us she had the habit of gathering these things up and pondering them in her heart (Luke 2.19). Mary knew her son was unique and very extraordinary, but did she realize just how special? I don't think even she could have recognized the significance of all that He had come to earth to do. Yet she knew Him well enough, and had sufficient confidence in Him that she knew she could bring this need before Him.

Jesus responded to her... I love that fact. Do you ever wonder what Mary might have thought He'd say? I imagine the answer she received was probably not exactly the one for which she was hoping. But He heard her and He did respond. The things that concern us concern Him, too. And He will respond for the best. 

Mary somehow understood this, because while Jesus' response may not have been what she was hoping to hear - she trusted that He would do something and that what He would do would be right. Thus she tells the servants, "Do that which He will tell you to do." Seeing this side of Mary's faith in Jesus both challenges and encourages.

Six stone vases... each able to hold about 120 liters... 

Jesus told the servants to fill them with water. They filled them up to the brim! I love that detail. Servants are usually quite in tune to what's going on around them. They "sense the vibes." Perhaps they picked up on Mary's confidence in her son. Maybe they were just exceedingly obedient and did exactly what they were told. The Scriptures don't give that detail, but for whatever reason, they filled those vases as full as they could... and that allowed others to receive a blessing.

Sandy Winter wrote these words about Jesus' response: "Jesus chose an act ...truly extravagant and exaggerated.... We would have thought that Jesus would recommend moderation. What does it mean, then, that He responded so excessively? 720 liters of rich and intoxicating wine...? This, then, is the true question. What was He trying to demonstrate by His nearly scandalous extravagance in this, the inaugural event of His ministry,... especially knowing that later miracles would deal with desperate needs: healing, provision, security, life?"[1]


Why would He love to delight by responding extravagantly to even seemingly insignificant things (in the grand scope of life) that concern us? Think back to the first time we read of a miracle where water is changed into something else. God, working through Moses, changes water into blood, ushering in law and judgement. This, the first miracle of Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to usher in salvation by grace, was water changed into wine in super-abundance. Jews familiar with the Scriptures would have understood that this abundance of wine heralded a celebration for the Messiah's arrival. (See Amos 9.13,14 & Isaiah 25.6-10.) The passage does later say, "He manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him." And, of course, we can't forget Revelation 19 - a wedding supper no one will want to miss, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Or was His motivation simply because He loves and it was within His capacity and His Father's will to give such a gift?

Whatever the Savior's reasons, the man coordinating details for this wedding was astonished. Not only was there an abundance of wine, but it was really high quality stuff. It impressed him and he called the bridegroom to essentially ask, "What's up? No one goes about it this way..." He doesn't get an answer, for the bridegroom did not know.

No one knew except for one particular group of people: "...the servants who had drawn the water knew very well..."

It was this phrase that first grabbed my heart as I began studying this passage. I want to see my Lord working miracles. I want to see them regularly.  Thus I need to be in a place of humble, unquestioning service, doing that which He tells me to do.

From this Jesus encounter come five applications that touch my life almost every single day: 
  1. I can approach the Lord with whatever need, big or small.
  2. Jesus will respond.
  3. I can have confidence in Him - whatever His response, whatever He chooses to do, it will be very good.
  4. Jesus' responses are often extravagant - far and above what I might imagine or dream up on my own. He lives to demonstrate His lavish love.
  5. To see God working, I too must be found in the heart position of a servant - immediate and unquestioning obedience.
It's that last one, there, that usually hits me square between the eyes on an almost daily basis, challenging me to remain teachable, humble, gentle...

But, as the preacher taught from this text last Sunday, two new "things" became clear.

The first - a reminder of the purpose of the book of John - "...these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20.31)" caught my attention. John, as he wrote this gospel, included the account of the wedding in Cana for this reason - to help readers recognize that Jesus is the promised Messiah. I was thinking about that while someone in the congregation read the text aloud. When he  got to the the part where the bridegroom is questioned about why the best was saved for last, it hit me: clearly this wedding miracle points to God's best, most extravagant gift. Consider these words: "On many past occasions and in many different ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe, (Hebrews 2)" the high priest of a new covenant (Hebrews 8).  The provision of a better wine in this story rescued the host family from certain social shame; Jesus, by his once and for all sacrifice, ushered in new covenant and the opportunity to be rescued from the shame and sin that separates men from God.

Also, the speaker probed a little deeper into Jesus' response to his mother - suggesting that distance in Jesus' response could have been a way to communicate to Mary that he was not just her son, but also her Savior and that she, too, needed to trust him for her eternal salvation. Faith, not the fact that they were family, would be what saved her.

Blown away!

By God's Word. By how His Word never fails to speak. By how perfectly timely and applicable it always is.

I'm so thankful!


Are there any lessons from these verses that particularly speak to you?

Much of the material in this post
has been published here before.
Original posts are found here:

09 March 2018

Five Minute Friday ~ Tired (of those who try and explain and justify instead of using another's criticisms or observations as the impetus to jump start much needed change - myself sometimes included)

I had a conversation with a teacher friend of mine recently. At the private Christian school where this teacher works, support personnel (i.e. speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, learning specialists, etc.) are not employed by the school. They are either hired by the parents or are provided by the public system to ensure that children with identified disabilities (and individualized education plans) receive the necessary adaptations and services that will allow them to genuinely access and profit from their education. My teacher friend decided one day to ask one of these specialists (who was not a believer) if the Christian school where they both worked was any different than the public schools where the specialist was also employed. 

The specialist's response was surprising.

As a nonChristian outsider, the specialist said that the parents with their focus on protecting marriage and the nuclear family as well as their involvement in the school and the lives of their children was definitely different. This individual also remarked that students were, in general, more obedient, polite and respectful - although certainly not perfect. Textbooks, teaching materials and lessons also often reflected the different worldview of those adhering to the Christian faith. All of that is exactly what we would expect to hear. 

So, what's so surprising?

It was the final question. My friend then asked the specialist if there was anything different about the teachers at the Christian school. 

"No, not really,"  the specialist replied.

As a teacher, a Christian teacher, one who has worked in both public, private and international settings, my only response was: "Ouch!" And - I was deeply convicted.

I can easily (and more or less logically) explain away the specialist's observation:

  1. Most who enter the field of teaching do so because they care about children, want to see them grow and thrive, reach their potential and perhaps, someday, help make our world a better place. As all have been created in the image of God, this is clearly God's image shining through -certainly possible even in someone who does not yet follow him.
  2. Good teaching practices are good teaching practices and we can't expect Christian schools to be the only ones using them.
  3. This specialist did not understand because s/he did not have the Holy Spirit helping him/her to interpret what s/he saw.
  4. The specialist responded with his/her own personal agenda, perhaps less than truthfully.
Or, I (or we - Christian teachers) could ask God to reveal if there is something we need to change in Christian education.

Of course, that's a dangerous question. 

What if an honest answer reveals that I need to change?

What if the problem is not simply the content of the education, but rather the process by which I'm communicating that content? 

(five minute timer sounded here)

As a Christian teacher, I should be concerned about excellence: end results - excellence, observable and measurable; behavior that adheres to Christian principles and traditions. But does this drive for excellence render other important qualities expendable? Do I control (i.e. by rules and regulation and suffocating supervision) so much that I take away occasions for my students to choose and then experience the results and/or consequences of their choices? Do I model service and sacrifice while never giving my students opportunity to do the same? Do I continually demand performance, never allowing my students to experience grace demonstrated?

What if that specialist never saw the difference in school staff because s/he did not see people who loved the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and mind AND people who loved their neighbors (other staff and personnel, students, parents) as themselves. Jesus was the one who said to his disciples: ""By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13.35, NASB)

Yes, I'm tired.

I'm tired of people who should know better - whose first response is defensive, striving to justify the status quo, clinging to past and present traditions and never willing to consider that maybe they need to change. I'm tired of Christians who walk in fear and who thus can't consider the testimony, observations or suggestions of others "outside the fold." Yes, greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world... and we forget that God has spoken truth in many ways - His Word, His Son, His prophets, His creation, His people... even a pagan king and a donkey.

And I'm tired of always having to battle that exact same impulse in moi-même each time I'm confronted with yet another incongruity in my life, family and ministry. 

04 March 2018

Five Minute Friday ~ Regret

Life is busy and I don't often find (or make) time to participate in these Five Minute Friday free writes. And honestly, this topic didn't really "tempt"  me, not even a little. But, it is Spring Break, I so have a little more time these next several days, and if I don't take advantage of the opportunity, I might regret it later. Then, I saw this quote by a really unlikely source of inspiration, at least for me!

The past is a great place 
I don't want to erase it or to regret it, 
but I don't want to be its prisoner either. 
~ Mick Jagger

I love this perspective.

It is so easy to live in the past - either replaying triumphs while trying to recreate the high of mountain-top moments, or hiding paralyzed by mistakes, afraid to even try and move forward from fear of another overwhelming regret.

Neither is beneficial, to self or to others. 

While there may be some benefit to briefly recalling what God has done in the past to glorify His name, dwelling there or continually repeating the same stories distracts from what God just might be doing in the present. Not only that, others just might start to wonder if God only ever worked in our pasts. 

Obviously there can be advantages if we (or others) benefit from our personal regrets, learning from those mistakes, growing and moving forward. When we wallow in them, however, we become a discouragement and instead of a message of reconciliation and restoration, we preach that there are some things that not even God can redeem. 

There's no bigger lie than that.

In a world that looks for reasons to disregard Christ and those who share his message, why let regret for what the Savior has already made reparation become their stumbling block 

For the grace of God has appeared, 
bringing salvation to all men, 
instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires 
and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 
looking for the blessed hope 
and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 
who gave Himself for us 
to redeem us 
from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people 
for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. 
Let no one disregard you.
Titus 2.11-14 (NASB)

03 March 2018

Sous le manguier... or... Under the Shadow of the Mango Tree

I've often been known to remark that I'm not a sentimental mother. 
First day of Anna's last year of high school, August 2017

Don't get me wrong. I love my children, I love being with them more than almost anything else. But I don't long to return to those earlier days of this journey. My heart is too full with the right here and right now. My days are full enjoying life and just being with this gang - as my babies have become little people who have become/are becoming bigger little people who then morph into tweens, teens and finally emerge as young adults. 

I love discovering that I just don't love them because I birthed them and because they are mine.

I really just like them and the people they are becoming.

So this mama-thing, watching these kids grow up and become - more often than not in recent years - has kept me going nonstop, regularly takes my breath away and often leaves me without words (hence the much less frequent posting in this place).

So today, I thought I'd share some of her words, first in French because that's how she first wrote it for a school assignment. She agreed to translate it so that I could share it here. 

I'm proud of this girl. 

Anna giving cross country skiing a try this winter. 

She's always surprising me and it started from day I learned we were expecting her. I'd had a complicated (i.e. requiring a medical procedure) miscarriage just the month before and wasn't planning on another immediate pregnancy. She was the biggest of my babies, always happiest when she had all of her people within easy reach. We almost lost her once (that story is here, if you want to read it), and gratitude that we still get to enjoy her frequently catches me off guard, completely overwhelming me as thankful tears fill my eyes. 

In public, she's introverted and shy, so much so that it amazes me when her clownishness surfaces once we are back at home. She's a planner and she's not afraid to try something that interests her (like the time she made croissants or roped me into a three day bike ride that has us now planning a much longer one as soon as life permits it). 

She's a Senior (or Sec 5) student this year. Academically, she's doing fabulously - taking the most challenging classes and playing varsity basketball - all while working as a cashier and helping in one of the Sunday School classes as church. School has never been simple for her. In addition to her shy introversion (in a system that rewards outgoing and extroverted leadership), she has dysgraphia, which means writing (as well as a few other things) doesn't come easily or naturally. What takes other students 30 minutes can easily take her three times as long. 

I remember times while she was a student at École Alliance in Niger, when she and her classmates were required to copy lesson texts from the blackboard. She struggled to finish the entire text that others had completed in minutes. Her handwriting was usually illegible and her copied text was filled with spelling and orthographic mistakes. Each time she'd look away from the board to the paper, or vice versa, she'd get lost and by the time she refound where she needed to be, she'd have forgotten the sequence of letters she was trying to copy. 

Fortunately, she's always loved to write and God gifted her with a natural perseverance and "sticktoittiveness" that kept discouragement at bay, even in the most difficult seasons. Her hard work and refusal to give up have paid off. Last year, she passed two of her required ministerial exams (in French, mind you) - one with a grade of 98%; the other with a 100% score. As I was leaving the school one afternoon last week, her French teacher poked her head in the room to say that she's never seen someone make such a marked improvement in such a short time. Anna's slightly embarrassed smile at that comment sent my mama heart soaring, and I silently thanked God for this girl and all He's done in her life. 

I could say more, but instead, I'll just share Anna's words ~ 

Sous le manguier

Les samedis matin ou les après-midis après l’école, on sortait dehors pour jouer. Pour échapper au soleil brillant on trouvait refuge à l’ombre des manguiers. Les trois arbres étaient plantés dans une rangée. Notre préféré était le plus grand, car il était le plus proche du tuyau. 

Pendant que nos parents prenaient leur sieste ou que notre mère cuisinait, on construisait des villes entières autour du manguier. Avec la boue, les brindilles et les feuilles, on fabriquait des maisons, des ponts, des magasins, des fermes et des enclos pour nos petits chevaux en plastique. Le tuyau simulait la source d’une rivière qui entourait notre petit paradis. Au centre de la ville se tenait l’arbre. Parfois, il était un château, un gardien ou un lieu sacré. Son rôle changeait toujours. 

Plus loin que les frontières de l’ombre était un désert. Vaste et inhabitable, il représentait un danger constant pour les villageois. Lorsque le tuyau arrêtait de couler, les jouets s’organisaient en une caravane pour traverser les dunes. Sur l’autre côté de l’étendue aride attendait une nouvelle oasis. 

Quand on s’ennuyait de nos jeux imaginaires, on se couchait par terre et le sable, refroidi par l’eau et l’ombre, rafraîchissait nos corps. Parfois on observait les margouillats qui grimpaient sur les murs en ciment de notre maison. Si on était fatigué, on fermait les yeux et l’odeur du manguier remplissait nos narines. Même aujourd’hui, le parfum sucré des mangues me transporte dans un autre monde.

Under the Shadow of the Mango Tree

On Saturday mornings or sunny afternoons after school, we went outside to play. We sought refuge from the scorching sun under the leaves of the mango trees. There were three of them, planted in a row. Our favorite was the biggest, because it was the closest to the hose. 

While our parents rested or our mother cooked, we built entire villages around that mango tree. From mud, twigs and mango leaves we constructed houses, bridges, stores, farms, and corrals for our little plastic horses. The hose was the source of a river that surrounded our haven. In the middle of our town stood the tree. Sometimes it was a castle; other times a sentinel or a peaceful, hallowed place. Its role was always changing. 

Outside the safety of the shadow was a desert. Vast and inhospitable, that desert was a constant, endangering our villagers and their livestock. When the river dried up, our toys formed a caravan. Together, they marched across the endless dunes where a new oasis awaited them on the far side of that wasteland. 

If we got bored of our imaginary games, we stretched out on the ground, demolishing our village. The sand, cool and damp, refreshed our sweaty bodies. Together we’d watch the margouillats that effortlessly scaled the cement walls of our home. If we were tired, we’d close our eyes, relishing the sweet perfume of mangoes that filled our nostrils. 

Even now, the fruity odor transports me back to those days, that time.

28 November 2017

I'm Braver speaking French

Does that seem strange to you?

It did to me too, at first.

But it is something I'm noticing to be true, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Apparently I'm also not the only person who's made this discovery.

What do I mean? Here's one example:

I was in a Tim Hortons parking lot (I often meet English language students there). The spaces are a little on the small side to begin with and once the snow falls and begins to be shoved, shoveled, blown and piled, the available space decreases. I parked my larger than average vehicle, carefully and very clearly in between the yellow lines demarking my space. Yet it was impossible to exit the car without my door touching the door of the vehicle beside me. I was scrupulously attentive - I did not want my black door to leave a trace on the white one beside me. Unbeknownst to me, however, the driver of that white car was watching - also attentively. And he wasn't happy when he saw the contact. He started hollering across the parking lot. It was in French and a good portion of it I did not understand, but there was no doubt about the gist: he was unhappy and he wasn't concerned about politeness. 
Normally I'd just ignore a monsieur like him and simply walk into the restaurant. I'm not one for this sort of confrontation if I can avoid it... But I didn't avoid. 
Instead, I walked up to him and said something along these lines, in French: "Sir, because you are an older gentleman, I'm going to speak to you respectfully. However, your age does not give you the right to impolitely scream at me from across the parking lot. I understand that you were concerned about your vehicle, however I was very careful and if you come with me, you will see there are no marks on your car." He walked over, admitted that there were no marks and then stomped off. (By the way, when we very occasionally cross paths at this same Tim Hortons, he now smiles and says "Bonjour..." for what that's worth.)

Never in a million years would I have done the same thing with a stranger in an English speaking environment. 

Why this difference?

I don't know what the professional consensus is for those who study this phenomenon; the article linked to above says that it probably has more to do with a different cultural context and less with the actual language context. But, for what it is worth, here are what I think might be at least a few of my reasons.

  • I learned to speak French as an adult, with more maturity, greater confidence and a better awareness of who I am and why I'm here. Though I do still care (a lot), I am not as enslaved to what others think as I was when younger; I'm significantly more concerned about what God thinks.
  • I learned to speak French after becoming a mother. I can't think of any other experience God has gifted me that consistently offers me opportunities to model humility, teachability, perseverance, gentleness and a heart of service - even when all I really want to do is turn off the lights, crawl under the covers (or desk... depends on where I am) and hide from the world.
  • Learning to speak another language requires losing face. The controlled, refined and very perfectionist image of me that I want to be and desire to present to the rest of the world usually ends up looking undignified, incompetent and just plain and stupid. 
This year, I'm again volunteering at the school my kids attend and working more in French than I ever have before. I regularly sound like an idiot, am at a complete loss for words, have to ask people to repeat themselves or have to repeat myself, am corrected by giggling five and six year olds, and say things that are culturally stupid because I've translated (more or less) from English 
 Perhaps most discouraging and frustrating of all are those misunderstandings that pop up because my American-English-brained-way of trying to communicate something apparently doesn't come across the same way to a Quebec-French-brained-way of understanding. Helping students learn - a domain in which I've mostly excelled - requires a lot of work in my second language. It is exhausting. Oh yeah, did I also mention that at some point during the day, my head just starts to hurt. A lot.  
Once you get used to regularly eating crow, well... you get used to it and it isn't as hard to do again. However, that doesn't mean it has suddenly become palatable. Distasteful? Probably until the day I die.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Now, I don't want to make it sound all miserable. I was sitting at a ladies' breakfast recently - listening and participating in conversations with some precious women from our church (in French of course) - and I was overwhelmed by amazed gratefulness, because there I was, enjoying understanding and speaking a language that was not my mother tongue. 

But I also don't want you to think that just because it has been 17 years, it has become effortless and easy...

And perhaps challenge you to remember that the next time you run across someone who's first language is not English, or who's home culture is not your own.


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