THE ARROW OF REJECTION

arrow-of-rejection1“I had an arrow in my heart this week.”  Marisela’s comment surprised me. Our Sunday School lesson was about the poisonous “arrows” that Satan uses to attack our hearts: pride, anger, rejection, shame, fear, and depression. These are tough concepts for an eight-year-old girl to grasp, especially a girl from an Eastern European immigrant family with little or no Christian background.

“What happened?” I asked Marisela gently. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“My best friend at school said she was going to sit with me, and then she didn’t sit with me,” Marisela continued, her voice full of injury. “She didn’t sit with me all week. And she acted like she wasn’t my friend. But she’s my best friend!”

“How did that make you feel?” I prodded.

Marisela didn’t hesitate. “Rejected.”

“What did you do about it?”

“I acted like I didn’t care.” Her voice betrayed her resignation.

“But it did hurt, didn’t it?” I asked. She nodded silently, and my heart went out to this sensitive young girl who’d been wounded by a careless friend.

Using the booklet Is My Heart A Happy Heart? I shared with Marisela and the rest of the class how God wants to remove those arrows in our hearts. We began the process of identifying the one who’s hurt us and describing how it affected our hearts.  I explained that in the next few weeks we’d learn about pouring out our hearts to the Lord, releasing the pain to Him, and finally being able to forgive that other person.

Marisela listened attentively, her round brown eyes fixed on mine. When I gave them time to begin writing in their booklets, she worked intently and seriously. Later as we recited the month’s memory verse, Marisela joined the other children with a joyful smile. I know that God is at work in this little girl’s heart, and I’m confident that the arrow of rejection is coming out!

“Above all else,” the students chorused, “Guard your hearts! For it is the WELLSPRING of LIFE! Proverbs 4:23!”

Going vertical!

MJ

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Room In My Distress

wedding-ringAnyone entering the ladies’ bathroom of the small Chicago church that day would have wondered at the sniffling sounds coming from under the counter next to the sink.  Curled up in the corner, I was having some private time with Jesus in the only place I could find an escape.

This was supposed to be a time of celebration – my cousin’s wedding.  The Father had brought a wonderful godly man into her life, and I was genuinely happy for both of them.  But it was a bittersweet time as I was still grieving the death of my maternal grandmother, who had passed away a year earlier.  My heart ached as I imagined how excited she would have been to see her oldest granddaughter walk down the aisle.

In all the commotion of gathering relatives, I struggled to mask my inner turmoil of emotions.  Not long after my grandmother’s funeral, I had ended a serious relationship, and I was still dealing with the effects of that difficult decision.  As I set up tables and decorated for the reception, feelings of jealousy and self-pity threatened to smother me.  “What about me?  When is it MY turn, Lord?”

The noisy chatter and hectic rushing around of aunts, uncles, and cousins during the church rehearsal was starting to make me feel claustrophobic.  Finally I took refuge in the only quiet place I could find – the ladies’ restroom.  Seeing that it was empty, I crawled into the tiny space under the counter, hugged my knees to my chest, and cried.

Flipping my Bible open, my eyes fell on Psalm 4:1, “You gave me room when I was in my distress.”  I knew the Lord was speaking directly to me.  I poured out my grief, loss, and pain to Jesus, and waited for His peace.  And He met me there.  He reminded me that He had not forgotten me.  He gave me the strength to dry my eyes, take a deep breath, and go out to join the festivities with a smile.

In the years since then, the Lord has provided room when I’ve needed it most – a tiny bedroom in Asia that I didn’t have to share with anyone, a guest room in my friends’ house in Hong Kong where I could rest, a corner in a bookstore, or a bench in a park – somewhere I can escape from the world for a few minutes and be refreshed in the Father’s presence.

There’s a note in my Bible next to Psalm 4:1 that always makes me smile.  It reminds me of that day at my cousin’s wedding when the Lord gave me an unusual “room in my distress”:
2002, Chicago – You understand when I need some space!

Going Vertical!

MJ

MY SECRET WISH

866529_feedback_form_excellent1“It seems like you want people around you to fail.”

Gloria*, a visiting friend from California, was having tea with me in my East Asian apartment, and discussing my recent conflicts with my American roommate, Anna* –  But I felt defensive at Gloria’s gentle rebuke.  What do you mean, I want people to fail?  My roommate is the problem here, not me!

Fresh out of college, Anna had breezed into my life a few months earlier, bubbling over with enthusiasm.  Everything about her new life in our small East Asian town was wonderful and exciting.  Overnight, it seemed, Anna was “best friends” with the local staff and assistant teachers at our school.   She loved all the students and they all loved her, especially her little kindergarteners, who used to be in my classes.  Now Anna was their new favorite teacher.

I found myself becoming resentful toward Anna.  I grumbled inwardly about how easy it was for her to make friends, how quickly her students came to love her, how effortlessly she seemed to transition into this foreign culture.

Gloria was right.  I had started hoping Anna would fail.  If she didn’t do well, it would make ME look better.  After all, I’d been in this country for two years already.  I’d been investing in these relationships day after day, week after week, month after month.  I’d been teaching these kids way before she got there, and would most likely continue teaching them long after she left.  This was MY territory.  I was used to being the adored foreign English teacher.  And I didn’t like having my throne upset by this perky new arrival.

But sadly, I didn’t repent when Gloria confronted me.  I felt I was justified in my feelings.  So I stewed in my jealousy and resentment – and down the road, when Anna DID start to have problems with homesickness and culture shock and interpersonal conflicts… I secretly rejoiced.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally was convicted of my sinful attitude towards Anna.  I realized that I had taken my eyes off the Lord and had been comparing myself with Anna.  I needed to repent of my jealousy, and ask the Lord to forgive me for my prideful desire for attention and admiration.  He did, and He gave me a whole new perspective (His Wisdom) towards Anna and the whole situation.  It’s amazing how the Lord can transform your heart when you humble yourself and allow your appetite for significance to be satisfied in Him!

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts…such wisdom does not come down from heaven…but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere…”
James 3:14-18 (NIV)

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

* (not her real name)

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UNWELCOME VISITORS

weedingWe’ve been growing a lovely patch of weeds in our garden this year. No effort was required to cultivate this abundant harvest. A simple lack of vigilance allowed these unwelcome intruders to take over our plot of string bean plants, until we couldn’t tell which were the vegetable plants and which were the weeds.

So on a sunny Saturday, armed with my worn gardening gloves, I got down on my knees in the grass to investigate. Brushing the leafy tops aside, I could identify the imposters by their thin, rough stems, contrasting with the smooth green stems of the string bean plants. One section at a time, down the row, I searched out the counterfeits and swiftly removed them, yanking them out by the roots. Soon there were several piles of discarded weeds next to me on the grass, and I could finally see the string beans that had been hidden from view, some of them ready for picking! That night I enjoyed fresh string beans for dinner, the sweet fruit of my labor.

It’s easy to allow weeds to grow up unnoticed in my heart. They start small – a seed of bitterness, a sprout of anger, a shoot of resentment, or a patch of unforgiveness. Sometimes I even feed my weeds, by indulging in self-pity or nursing a grudge. If not dealt with promptly, they continue to grow wild until they take over any other fruit that I’m trying to cultivate.

But if I’m willing to humble myself and allow the Holy Spirit to search out these intruders, the unpleasant task of uprooting can begin. It’s not easy. I get dirt under my fingernails. I encounter worms and grubs in the process. Some of the roots are deep and stubborn. But our heavenly Father is a patient Gardener, and He helps me.

Let the Father reveal the roots of bitterness, pride, fear, shame, rejection, anger, depression, and any other intruders in your heart that are not pleasing to Him, so they can be removed and the fruits of His Spirit can flourish in your garden… The “garden” of your heart, can have a FRESH START!

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139: 23-24

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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A PLOT FOR REVENGE

 

targetAs long as Benjamin could remember, there had always been civil war.  Hutus against Tutsis.  Tutsis against Hutus.  A member of the Hutu tribe, Benjamin had grown up hearing stories of the tall warrior Tutsis who had invaded his native Burundi, dominating the agricultural Hutus.

 

For decades, Benjamin had witnessed the effects of the violence between the two tribes in his small village.  Several of his uncles and cousins had been murdered by angry mobs, leaving young widows to raise families alone.  Women from his village were raped by cruel Tutsi soldiers.  Many times Benjamin had to take his wife and small children into hiding to evade the attackers.  Years of seeing his people live in fear caused a deep rage to grow in Benjamin.  Vowing to take revenge, he singled out a target from a neighboring village – a Tutsi man named Moses.

 

A member of the minority Tutsi tribe, Moses was despised by the majority Hutus.  From the time he was a young boy in primary school, he had been identified by his ethnic heritage, learning to hate those who were different from him.  The endless cycle of killings was a way of life in Moses’ village.  When raiding Hutus murdered someone in his family, Moses decided to take revenge.  He devised a plan to kill a Hutu from the closest village – a man named Benjamin.

 

But before Benjamin and Moses were able to carry out their plots for revenge, each man had an encounter with Jesus Christ.  Their hearts were radically transformed as they surrendered their lives to God.  Just as they received the love and forgiveness of the heavenly Father, these once bitter, angry men now chose to extend forgiveness to their enemy.  Instead of seeking to kill each other, these men now sought to build relationship with each other.

 

Today Moses and Benjamin are close friends, and their families spend time together and share meals with one another.  They no longer identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi, but as sons of the Father and brothers in Christ.  The power of forgiveness through Christ Jesus has done what no government or army could do – brought those who were enemies together as friends!
(Based on a true story)

 

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. …Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:19&21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going vertical!

MJ

 

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WHAT’S YOUR VIEW OF THE FATHER?

a-prayer-for-times-like-these“The father should have beaten his son.”

Simone’s shocking pronouncement was met with murmurs of agreement from her classmates.  Though she was the most outspoken of my middle school English class, she clearly wasn’t alone in her opinions.

These East Asian students had just finished reading the parable of the prodigal son, from Luke 15, for the first time.  In great detail, we had talked about each part of the story – how the son left his father’s home, wasted all his money on parties and gambling, and ended up in the mud with the pigs – finally leading up to the dramatic ending of the return home to his father’s arms.

With much prayer and anticipation, I then launched into what I expected to be a good discussion on the powerful illustration of a father’s love and forgiveness.  But when I asked whether the father in the story was a good father, the students’ answers surprised me.

“No, he wasn’t a good father,” James responded quickly.  “He shouldn’t have let his son leave home.”

“He shouldn’t have given his son money,” Sarah reflected, shaking her head.

“The son is very foolish. He will do it again,” predicted Lisa, brow furrowed in concern.  “And the father is not strict with him, so the son didn’t learn anything.”

That’s when Simone chimed in confidently with her opinion.  “The father should have beaten his son.”

Coming from a culture that demands unquestioning submission to authority and inflicts harsh consequences for disobedience, these 14 and 15 year old students couldn’t get past the glaring issue of the son’s rebellion.  The obvious moral of the story to these kids was that the son needed to be punished.  The message of forgiveness was totally lost on them.  Unconditional love was something they had never received from their own fathers.

What’s your view of the heavenly Father?  Do you see Him through the lens of your own experiences?  Are you too caught up in your own guilt to receive His grace?  Or will you accept His freely offered, undeserved, unconditional forgiveness and love?

“So he returned home to his father.  And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming.  Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”  (Luke 15: 20 NLT)

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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A SECOND CHANCE – RHODA’S STORY

freedomNot much had changed in 36 years. The pathways were worn, and the buildings looked older – but with freshly painted Bible verses on the walls. It was the fall of 2007, and the private Latin American boarding school in this Colombian coastal city looked virtually the same as when I was a young teacher there in 1971.

I was 22 then, fresh out of college. As well as teaching all day, I had to be dorm mother to the students at night and on weekends, making sure they brushed their teeth and got to bed on time, and supervising the cleaning of their rooms and washing clothes by hand in a bucket.

Daniela, a bitter woman in her 40s, was the director of the school. She didn’t want me to make friends with the students, or even talk to them. It evidently made her jealous that the students liked me. Daniela accused me of prejudice against her because she was Colombian and I was American, even though I grew up in Latin America! She also couldn’t understand why I begged for time off to go to the beach that was just minutes from the school, or to visit my friends in the city. After all, she never went anywhere! This school was her whole life.

Finally, I decided I couldn’t stay there any longer. So one day, saying I was going on a “short vacation,” I left Colombia and went home to Mexico. I never returned.

For years I felt guilty about leaving on bad terms, without really saying goodbye. So when I had a chance to go back to Colombia in 2007, I started asking God for a chance to see Daniela, if she were still there and still alive. Amazingly, I ran into a man who knew about this small school and gave me the phone number! With fear and trepidation, I went to meet Daniela, taking a friend with me for support.

Bed-ridden for two years with diabetes that claimed both her legs and most of her eyesight, Daniela was a totally different person from the hard, angry woman I knew before. She smiled gently when I came into the room, genuinely happy to see me.

I told Daniela I had come to ask for forgiveness. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to remember that I had left under negative circumstances. There was no resentment, no anger. I was clearly forgiven. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming love for this lady, now in her 70s, who had lived a lonely and difficult life. Through my tears, I prayed for Daniela as I knelt next to her bed, aware that this was a heavenly moment.

Daniela died just a few months after I saw her. What a blessing it was to see her and ask for forgiveness. I thought I had gone for Daniela when I went to Colombia and asked for her forgiveness. But it turned out that the healing and release, the peace that came from forgiving and being forgiven, was really for me.

GOING VERTICAL!

MJ

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TRAVELING LIGHT

suitcase

East Asian train stations are not friendly to travelers with large suitcases. Clunking up the cement stairs to the platform with my 50-pound bag on a humid afternoon this spring, I wondered again why I was lugging this leaden weight all over the country. During the three weeks of the Fresh Start East Asia trip I had been pulling, rolling, lifting, and carrying my heavy suitcase through airports, train stations, subways, and bus stations, and my shoulders and back were complaining loudly at the mistreatment. I envied the other locals around me with their small backpacks and shoulder bags, deftly weaving in and out of the crowds, easily maneuvering the endless steps. When will I learn to travel light?

As I started up yet another long flight of stairs, my battered bag bumping behind me, I was reminded of other types of unnecessary weight I often carry around. For years I carried heavy loads of resentment and bitterness towards others. But when I finally was able to forgive, I suddenly felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I hadn’t realized how much the unforgiveness was weighing me down until it was gone. I felt so light, so free!

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Are you carrying unnecessary baggage through life? Are you weighted down by anger, disappointments, hurts, or offenses? Don’t carry those dead weights around for another day! Release your burdens to God, and let Him carry them for you. You’ll be amazed at the freedom you’ll find when you’re traveling light!

Going vertical!

MJ

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A NEW BEGINNING FOR A NEW GENERATION

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Rita* sat by herself, head bowed, as others talked and prayed in pairs at the Fresh Start seminar in East Asia. On this last day, the participants were being invited to forgive and release the one who had hurt them, as we have received the forgiveness of our heavenly Father.

Concerned that Rita didn’t have a partner to share with, I approached her hesitantly. Noticing the tears streaming down her cheeks, I sat in the empty chair next to her, feeling helpless. I didn’t have the vocabulary in Mandarin to ask how I could pray for her, much less to understand her answer!

All I could do was pray for Rita, asking the Lord to intervene. Then, in my halting Chinese, I attempted to communicate the message I felt was for her. “God is your heavenly Father. You are His daughter. He loves you.” Rita didn’t look up or respond, but noiselessly wiped away her tears.

Later when people were sharing testimonies, I was surprised to see Rita walk purposefully up to the front of the room. In a quiet voice she told of growing up as the sixth of seven children. Her father had a hot temper, often exploding in anger. Rita never felt that her father loved her or accepted her. The rejection of those early years was a deep wound that remained even after she married and had children, affecting her ability to give and receive love.

During the Fresh Start seminar, the heavenly Father had been filling Rita with His unconditional love, allowing her to finally forgive her earthly father. Now she felt she was able to love her husband and children in a way she had never experienced growing up. Rita declared that she was breaking the generational curse of rejection. A chorus of “AMEN!” boomed from the crowd of 50 plus participants. Face radiant, Rita proclaimed, “This young generation of parents in our country will love our children with the Father’s love!”

Have your parents ever failed you or disappointed you? Has your father or mother failed to be a good representation of our heavenly Father? If so, you don’t have to continue in the negative patterns of previous generations. You can choose to forgive your parents for that which didn’t match up to God’s standards. Malachi 4:6 says that if we seek the Lord, “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.”

You can make a fresh start, beginning today, for this generation and future generations to reflect the Father’s heart!

Going vertical!

MJ

*Name has been changed.

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THE FATHER’S HEART

”Bu, bu, bu.” Looking at her lap, the middle-aged woman quietly shook her head, motioning that we should pass to the next person in the circle. It was her turn to tell her story, but she wasn’t ready to share. Not yet.

Sitting cross-legged on the grass on a warm spring day, I felt privileged to be the only wai-guo-ren, or foreigner, in this small group of amazing women. The others were all youth workers in East Asia, participating in a week-long conference on how to reach the rising generation.

The message that morning had been on the Father heart of God, and we were reflecting on how our relationships with our earthly fathers affected our image of our heavenly Father. Embarrassed at showing any sign of emotion, the women struggled to overcome their cultural reserve and open their hearts to the group. Yet one by one, the stories started to pour out.

“When I was younger my father would let me sit on his lap, or hold my hand when we walked. But after I turned four or five, he never held my hand or hugged me again. He didn’t want me to be spoiled.”

“My mother died when I was young, and my father worked in another city and sent money to my grandparents, who raised me. I only saw him every few years. I went to live with him when he remarried. I was fourteen, and I didn’t know him at all. He was like a stranger.”

“I don’t remember my father ever praising me. He said he didn’t want me to be prideful, so he always criticized me and told me what I could do better. I wanted to please him, but whatever I did, I felt like it was never enough.”

“My father never told me he loved me.”

Finally, after everyone else in the group had shared, the last woman agreed to tell her story. I had to lean in close to hear as she began to speak in a low voice, haltingly, her eyes on the ground. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled the little girl she had been, decades ago, who just wanted her father to show that he loved her.

In the silence that followed, I looked around and saw that everyone could identify with her pain. Each woman had a similar story of rejection and disappointment. The unmet desires of childhood had left gaping wounds in their hearts that were still raw years later. As we hugged each other and cried together and prayed for each other, I knew I was witnessing something powerful. God was healing those deep hurts, revealing Himself as our true Father.

Where our fathers or mothers or spouses or friends have been imperfect representations of love, our heavenly Father wants to fill those gaps with His perfect love. God IS love (I John 4:8). He is the true definition of unchanging, unfailing, unconditional love. He will never disappoint you. Let Him fill the holes in your heart with the love of your heavenly Father.

You can be FREE to be the REAL YOU!

Going Vertical!
-MJ

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ” Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)