Long-Distance Counselor

I believe that God allows each of us to go through some terrible stuff for a reason.  And that reason is so that we can help others find their way.  Recently three friends from across the globe contacted me to ask for advice.

Without going into detail, Christian marriages are a big target for the enemy.  Just because you’ve married a Christian doesn’t mean that your marriage is immune from his attacks.  The devil is an expert tempter, and he knows just what bait to dangle in front of each of us.  And even if it’s not an extra-marital affair with a three-dimensional human being, pornography has become so easily accessible that even if you’re not looking for it, it often finds you on the internet.  Innocent searches sometimes result in an accidental visit to a pornographic website.  In a twist that would have the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves, these people claim that pornography is “free speech.”  Really?  If you read the writings of Thomas Jefferson, for example, you’ll find that he was a very moral man (despite being a slave owner).  He would have been horrified to find his words used to defend and protect pornography.

My advice to these friends is the same:  focus on Jesus.  It’s not easy to do, but in a nutshell that’s what it will take to get through this very difficult time.

When I was going through the summer of my divorce I did exactly that.  And I went to church every week even though I felt like pulling the covers over my head and sleeping my life away.  I was suffering from depression, so I chose a spot down front, right behind the pastors.  I had two reasons for sitting down front:

  1. If you sit down front and bow your head, people won’t come talk to you because they think you’re praying.  (I wasn’t because at that time, I was having a lot of trouble praying, but more about that in a moment.)  I didn’t know anybody there yet, and didn’t really want to.  I didn’t want to socialize because . . .
  2. I desperately needed to hear from God, and I didn’t want anything to distract me from hearing Him.  I know that if I sat even just a few rows back, I would be distracted by what people were doing, how they were dressed, etc.  The worst would be to see couples with their arms around each other.  For decades I had prayed for my husband to come to church with me again and put his arm around me (something I took for granted in the early years of our marriage).  It never happened.  And for years, every time I saw couples with their arms around each other in church, I broke-down and cried.

From that place down front in a church where I was unknown, I found the freedom to worship God with everything I had.  And that’s not because I felt like worshiping.  What I felt like doing, as I said, was pulling the covers over my head.  But I worshiped with complete abandon because He is worthy, no matter how I feel or what I’m going through.  (That’s the advantage of having been a Christian for over 40 years.)  I held nothing back.  I poured out every shard of my broken heart in worship.  God loves brokenness.  Not because God enjoys our pain, but it’s from a place of brokenness where we find that we can truly surrender.  Think about it:  if you’ve come to the end of yourself, it’s so much easier to go ahead and surrender because you feel like you don’t have anything worthwhile left anyway.

Praying was difficult in the midst and immediate aftermath of divorce.  Every time I tried to pray my mind would go back to all that mess like a dog working on a bone.  But I knew that prayer was important.  Even if I couldn’t manage to hear God’s voice with all the interior interference, I at least had to talk to Him.  So what I did was start writing my prayers in a journal.  It helped a lot!  In fact, God eventually used that prayer journal to show me my ministry.  And little by little, I was able to start praying without pen and paper.  Now I easily pass a pleasant hour or more in prayer each day.

I Surrender All

God wants it all.  He wants everything you are, everything you have—everything.  Even when I had nothing left, it wasn’t easy to surrender it all.  But I did.  Again, this is the advantage of being a mature Christian.  Once I took that step and surrendered it all, nothing was taken away (though I was ready for that to happen).  Instead, He gave me something so unbelievably precious that I’m still in shock over it.  He gave me a life.  And not just any life, but the life of my dreams!  I’ve always loved three things:  Europe, travel, and missionaries.  Now my ministry is traveling throughout Europe, visiting missionaries, and praying for them.  God supplies all my needs, and I lack for absolutely nothing.  Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:28-30).  And the things I used to fear (speaking in public and flying) have actually become fun.

At 56, I feel like my life has finally begun.  God is good!

A Cat with Fleas

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Northern Italy has had a couple of serious earthquakes recently.  I don’t bring it up because this is necessarily new or surprising, but only because I felt them—and that is new and surprising.  I grew up practically on top of the famous San Andreas Fault in California, but I never felt an earthquake the whole time I lived there.  It’s true that there weren’t any big, devastating quakes while I lived there, but the earth shook from time to time.  Others noticed it and commented on it, but I noticed nothing.  I think the reason I didn’t notice the earth shifting and shaking is because, being a kid, I was always in motion, myself:  riding my bike, climbing trees, tumbling, dancing, having adventures in the Hoover Hills (the wooded area behind Herbert Hoover Elementary School in Burlingame).

My family moved back to Texas in 1971, but I often dreamed of returning to the Bay Area.  My first opportunity to return came in 1989.  I made plans to travel from New York, where I was living at the time, but finances and the logistics of finding care for my children (the youngest was just a year old) canceled that trip.  It wasn’t until days later that I realized that the date I was planning to go, October 17, was when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit, and my flight would have been landing just about that time.  I suspect that I would have felt that one.

A year later, I was finally able to return to California.  That was when I felt my first earthquake.  I was in bed watching the news on TV in my hotel room on the 8th floor.  What it felt like was a wave, as if I were on a raft on a lake—kind of a rolling, rather than shaking, motion.

On May 20 at about 3:45AM I was awake and it felt like the bed was dancing.  It seemed to have lasted a long time, though it was probably only 20-30 seconds.  I looked up at the shelf of books over my head and wondered if I should get out from under it.  In the morning I was shocked to learn of the devastation in San Felice sul Panaro, about 140 miles away.

Since then there have been many aftershocks, and I’ve become aware of even the subtlest motion in the earth.  There’s nothing like finally feeling a real and devastating earthquake to make you hyper-aware of any sensation of movement.

It may seem like in writing about my personal experiences of these earthquakes, I am taking them lightly.  I intend no such thing.  I am aware of the very real toll on people’s lives.  Last summer I took a daytrip to L’Aquila with a missionary friend.  We prayer walked through the city, which may never recover from the damage of the 2009 earthquake.  There was graffiti all around the city center, saying things like:  L’Aquila è morta, (L’Aquila is dead).  I tried to take pictures of the devastation there, but there was simply too much.  Around every corner was a new sign of destruction, until finally it was just overwhelming. 

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One of the saddest things we saw in L’Aquila was a barrier fence with hundreds of keys—keys to houses that are now just piles of rubble.  Another thing that gave me pause was seeing a church in the city center that had a bas relief of skeleton over the door.  It made me wonder how many of the city’s people had gone through that “death door” who were now dead because of the earthquake.  It made me want to somehow erase that sculpture or to put a big X across it to cancel death’s grip on the city.  In fact I did exactly that through prayer.

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In discussing earthquakes with a friend who recently moved to California, she told me that she often says, “The Earth shakes because she feels like a cat with fleas.”  Where can we find a flea collar big enough for the Earth?

Mood Vaccination

Have you ever noticed how some people can affect your whole day, either positively or negatively?  There is so much wrong with this broken-down old world that it is all too easy to get caught-up in somebody else’s bad mood.  But I’ve found the solution:  I vaccinate myself against bad moods by focusing my attention on the things that make me happy.

Here are some things that make me happy:

Dogs—there’s just something irresistible about a wagging tail and a lolling tongue.

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Cats—you’ve got to admire an animal that demands your respect before giving you their friendship.

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Children—for a fresh perspective that will really open your eyes, spend the day with a child.   Their spirituality and understanding are far deeper than most adults realize.

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Friends—both close friends and acquaintances make life so much more bearable.  The latter can evolve into the former with time and care.

Flowers—I was walking by the train tracks, which is usually the ugliest part of town.  In spring there are always poppies by the train tracks, and the scent of magnolias was in the air.

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Writing—my friend, Laurie (one of those close kind mentioned above), suggested that I get back into daily writing.  I’ve taken that to heart, and find that I’m happiest when I’m writing.

Bicycling—I had just gotten my bike out of storage after two years, and I noticed that everybody I rode past gave me a big smile.  Then I passed a window and saw my reflection with a huge, goofy grin.  Everybody had been reflecting that grin back at me.

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My girly toolkit—check it out!  What man would ever walk off with these tools?  All I have to do is pull out my little pink hammer and the next thing I know I’m smiling.

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So, what is it in your life that can vaccinate you against a bad mood?

Bare-Bones Luxury

It’s funny, but you don’t really appreciate the simple things in life until you’ve had to do without.  After thirteen months of living out of a suitcase, I am so grateful to have moved into an apartment of my own again.

However, many people would call my new-found luxury “roughing it.”  The apartment is unfurnished, and in Italy, “unfurnished” means that the kitchen consists of walls, a floor, and pipes coming out of one of those walls.  But I already have everything I need to do all the cooking I intend to do . . . for now.   Here’s a picture of what I’ve set up for myself as a substitute kitchen.

What you’re seeing is an ironing board covered by a tablecloth, and on top of it (from right to left):  an electric kettle, a blender, a coffee canister, a juicer, a cutting board under a cappuccino cup with a sieve, lined with a paper towel and filled with coffee (with a plastic plate to catch any overflow).  So I can make American coffee and juices of all sorts.  And that’s really all the cooking I yearn to do these days.  With summer swiftly approaching, I’m not likely to want to do anything else that could result in the house becoming hotter.

The next picture is my office.

To the right on the floor is my printer, behind the computer you can see that the “desk” also doubles as a dinner table.  Above the printer you can see a little corner of the “kitchen.”  Otherwise, the room is gloriously uncluttered.

The next picture is my bedroom.

Those who read my blog or read my book (Look, Listen, Love.  Lulu.com, 2011—shameless plug!), will recognize Prayer Bear, my furry companion/pillow/kneeler on my little folding Ikea bed.

The final picture is the new arrival in the house—in fact, it just arrived moments ago.

Yes, I have a washer!  But in one of those moments when life tries to take away your joy, the delivery guy told me that there’s no hookup for the water (notice the hose).  There’s a pipe for it just to the left of the hose, but it needs a connector, which means I need a plumber.

However, I refuse to let anything take away my joy.  Therefore, I would like to point out that for now the washer serves as another flat surface on which I can put stuff.  You can see the dishwashing liquid on the bathroom sink.  Now I can wash my cup and I don’t have to balance it on the tiny ledge of the sink.  How’s that for taking life’s lemons and making lemonade!

Of course, I’ll have to get all the stuff for a real kitchen, including a sink, but for now, I am loving my bare-bones luxury.

Moving In and Moving On

Change is an exhilarating, often uncomfortable thing, but with change comes growth.  Growth is what I see in the future:  Growth for the ministry and growth for my faith.  Change and the resulting growth are part of the law of the Kingdom.  God is doing a new thing!

Changes:

  • The organization has had a change of personnel.  Debbie has left to follow God’s call on her life.  Thanks, Debbie, for all your help, and all the best for the future.
  • Laurie has volunteered to take over as the interim (hopefully permanent!) Secretary/Treasurer on our Board of Directors.  Laurie and I have been friends for almost 35 years.  She is a woman of big faith and a fierce prayer warrior wrapped in a cute little package.  Welcome, Laurie!  I look forward to a fruitful collaboration.
  • With the change in personnel, also comes a change of name.  Barnabas European Ministries will change its name to European Faith Missions.  Our 501(c)3 tax exempt status with the IRS remains intact, so all donations are still tax-deductible.
  • I have just acquired the apartment in Milan that God indicated to me back in the beginning of April.  This means the end of living out of a suitcase—after 13 months, I was ready!—a very welcome change, indeed!  But it also means the beginning of several other challenges:
  • The apartment is empty and needs everything, including the kitchen sink (really!).
  • When the apartment is furnished, I will open it up as a missionary guesthouse—the first ever in Milan.
  • The apartment will also serve as a House of Prayer for Europe—the first anywhere specifically to pray for Europe.
  • In pursuit of the apartment, I’ve had to cease my travels.  But now I have a pretty busy travel schedule coming up.
  • With such a busy travel schedule, I will need a caretaker for the apartment once it is opened for guests.

The Kingdom is always advancing!  God is good!