Taiwan: The Rundown

Here it is.  The really long post about the Taiwan trip.  Bear with me.

We arrived late after a day and a half of travel and crashed.  Then we hit the ground running and we didn’t stop until we got home.  We went to visit and support the missionary family that lives there, Clay and Rhonda and their three little girls.  We pretty much just got in step with their lives in Taipei and did things like go with them to take the girls to school on the metro and join them in their ministry and outreach efforts.  Our first day we got to go to the girls’ school and present bible verses during their weekly chapel.  They go to a small English-speaking Christian school, but they are also learning Chinese.  We got to go to a professional basketball game because Clay ministers to a few of the guys on the team.  That was unexpected and less touristy.  We went to church with them on Sunday and met their friends.  It was awesome to worship with people from all over the world.  They have a Chinese service in the morning and an English service in the afternoon.  Clay took us to the famous Shi-lin night market, which was a whirlwind of light and sound and people.  There were vendors selling everything you can imagine.  One guy was grilling squid on a stick.  We visited a Buddhist temple and learned about how people there buy food and other items to burn for their deceased family members and to appease the spirits.  There’s a temple in every neighborhood and the temples make millions off the people.  It was an eerie feeling in there.  We babysat one evening so Clay and Rhonda could go on a date.  We read the girls bedtime stories and then watched some comedy DVDs.  It’s not your typical mission trip activity but it was really needed and appreciated.  We had some ministry time with their friends and got to know them a little.  We also did some prayer walking around the city and visited the campus of National Taiwan University, where some friends of theirs have a student outreach.

We also did some tourist things.  We visited the Chaing Kai-Shek memorial.  It’s a gigantic building with one bronze statue inside but it was awesome.  We went to the Taipei 101 building which used to be the tallest building in the world with 101 floors.  They have an observatory at the top where you can see the entire city.  One day the guys went on a hike to a waterfall in the mountains and Rhonda and I took their 3-year-old to the beach.  It was an hour away by train, but I loved getting out of the city and seeing the mountains and the rural areas.  The beach was beautiful, and they were having a sand sculpture festival.  The sculptures were huge and incredibly intricate.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

The rest of the time we spent eating.  Just kidding.  Kind of.  They took us to all their favorite restaurants and ordered lots of different dishes for us to try.  Some stuff was really good, like fried rice and dumplings.  Some not so much, like the seaweed and tofu dishes.  They do some pretty weird stuff like put peanut butter on hamburgers and eat them for breakfast and put mayonnaise on fried shrimp and top it with rainbow sprinkles.  I liked trying new things but by the last day I was pretty excited about Taco Night at Clay and Rhonda’s.  They invite people they know and people they meet along the way to their home for some good ol’ Tex Mex.

Traveling back home was exhausting.  We had to get up at 4 am and travel for 36 hours.  We had a seven hour layover in Seoul and then had to fly for thirteen hours to Toronto.  Then a short hop to Atlanta but then we drove three hours home.  I was pooped.  It took several days to finally recover from the jet-lag, but it was definitely worth it.  I had an amazing time and I would do it again.  But not for a while.

We did so many exciting things and yet the biggest thing that came out of Taiwan for me was the fact that I did it.  I packed one carry-on, got on a plane with two dudes, and flew to the other side of the world.  A year ago that would have seemed impossible.  Now, it’s a memory.  And it seems to have sparked a bravery in me.  The idea of travelling and going far away from home is no longer scary.  It’s exciting.  Because of Taiwan I have the confidence to try.  That is seriously not nothing.

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It’s Not About Them

Why am I different?  Why do I always have to be the odd man out?  Why am I on a different path from everybody else?

Of course why is irrelevant.  I’ve already talked about that. But I seem to always end up on a different road.  And sometimes that’s uncomfortable.

It’s so much easier to be seen doing the things God calls you to do.  When your calling matches up with what church folks expect, it’s pretty easy.  You get to talk about it and share it with the people around you.  You don’t get funny looks or the “What are you doing for God?” kind of questions.  It’s so much harder when you’re the one God called to abide.  Harder when you’re called to a solitary activity.

I’ve been hearing a lot of noise around me lately.  Noise about what everybody’s calling is and what they’re doing.  My church preaches relationship and obedience to God.  No matter what that looks like.  And yet when you know you’re being obedient, people still expect you to be something else.  In my church lately it’s been all about creating extended family through home group fellowship and study, becoming a prayer servant who prays for healing, and hearing the Father’s voice and giving prophecy to others.  These are all great things and I’m so happy that there are so many people participating and building family and reaching out to the community.  It’s awesome.  But I do not feel called to any of that at this time.  In fact, the Father has been quiet lately.  And that’s okay.

That’s okay.

And yet, I have all this static around me saying that it’s not “acceptable,” not good enough.  Everybody’s got all these stories, experiences, words, and they feel they have to share every one of them.  And me?  I don’t have anything to share because what God has for me right now is intensely private and quite frankly, no one’s business.  What right does anyone have to tell me that’s not good enough?

I feel like obedience is being lost in a sea of goals.  Life isn’t a video game.  Gifts of the Spirit are not levels to be beaten.  Your growth should never be measured against anyone else’s journey.  You are where the Father wants you.  Turn your eyes to Him, not to your friends or the church leadership.  Don’t join something just because your friends think you should.  Don’t do something just because the leaders preach it from the pulpit.  It may not be for you at this time.  And if that makes you different, then so be it.

Make obedience your goal.  It’s about Him.  It’s not about them.

“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”  Luke 11:28 (NIV)

Deep Water

Back in December a friend of mine suggested that the members of our church group ask the Lord to give us words for the coming year.  Mine were growth and friendship.

Now, I knew better than to try to predict what the year was going to look like based on two words.  But I admit I thought it would look something like God calling me to serve somewhere in the church and I would build deeper relationships with my friends at group.  My dog died in March so I thought maybe that was a sign God was going to send me somewhere. Or send me someone.  I wouldn’t have any strings.  I could go anywhere and do anything.

After seven months of 2016, I feel more isolated and alone than I think I ever have.  I feel distant from my group.  I don’t feel any call to serve at the church.  I haven’t been on a date in over a year and I feel really rejected.  All I want to do is read and write and sleep.  I’m moody, snappish, fatigued.

And somehow, I feel like I’m exactly where I should be.  When I read, I feel like me.  When I write, I feel like I’m moving forward.

I can feel myself changing.  It’s almost like gears and cogs moving around inside me, making me into something new.  It’s very hard to describe.  It’s like I’m becoming a hybrid of my hard, surly teen self and the much more loving and compassionate twenty something self.

I know I’ve been chosen for a different path.  I’ve always been different from everybody else.  I’m getting better at appreciating that.  He’s leading me somewhere.  I know it.  I just can’t see it.

This is deep water.  This is where a lot of Christians fear to go.  It’s much easier to go to church and visit God than to bring Him home with you.

But this is where you find out who you are.  When it’s hard and uncomfortable and you can’t see any point in it.  When the water is over your head and you have nothing but Jesus’s hand pulling you up and Him saying “Oh, ye of little faith.”  This is where you let Him pull you out.

This is where you walk on the water.

The Problem of Why

About three months ago, my dog died.  She was only six years old.  She got sick, she was in pain, and she had to be put down.  I only wrote about Patti on this blog once, about how it took me a long time to really love her.  She was stubborn, frustrating, difficult.  I struggled to train her and worked really hard.  I had to improvise a lot.  You couldn’t follow the rules of the training methods with her.  Patti made her own rules.

I started calling her my “little lesson in acceptance.”  I wanted a Westie because they’re adorable.  I really wasn’t prepared for her energy and her strong will.  She wasn’t a lap dog and wouldn’t sleep in the bed.  She always wanted to be in the middle of whatever was going on.  She wasn’t the dog I hoped she would be but I grew to love her and accept her for who she was, a loud, high-spirited, loving, sweet, adorable, playful terrier.  Despite her anxiety and refusal to be groomed, we had a good time together.  She would “tap” your leg when she wanted something and growl at you when she wanted to play.  We spent long afternoons sitting on the swing outside and evenings throwing the ball around the living room.

Her death hit me hard, a lot harder than I expected.  It was the middle of tax season so I had to get on with the work, get on with life, but I cried nearly every day.  There were holes all through my life where she used to be.  The dining chair no longer sits under the window in the living room so she can see out.  Her blanket isn’t on the left seat of the couch.  Her bowl isn’t in the kitchen.  And I was angry.  I asked God, Why?  Why take my dog?  She was still so young.  It wasn’t her time.  The Bible says you’re good, how is this good?  How is this grief, this hole in my life, this pain, good?

He didn’t answer why.  After a few weeks, on my Saturday morning drive to work, He simply said, “It’s My will.”  You see, He is the sovereign God of the universe.  When we sign up to walk with Him, we sign up to play by His rules.  And we don’t get an explanation.  We are called to walk by faith, not by sight.  I don’t see why as a question anymore.  I see it as a problem.  Every time I ask why He does something, I’m lacking faith.  I have to cut “why” out of my vocabulary.  Because the why doesn’t matter.  What matters is that He is good.

Do I still cry for Patti?  Yes.  Does it still hurt?  Yes.  Is He still good?  Yes.  Patti taught me a lot about dog ownership and myself.  Her death taught me about faith.  It taught me that even when the storm is raging and the pain is so bad that it’s like the world is ending, I still know God is good.  Because three years ago I chose to pick up my cross and follow Him.  Where He wants me I will go, no matter what it costs.

When the God who made the universe said, “It’s My will,” I said, “Okay.”

Under Control

A couple days ago a co-worker and I met with the daughter of a client. The client is older and has lost mental capacity and cannot manage her affairs anymore. The daughter had brought us the information we needed to prepare her mother’s tax return. She explained that she has had to get a power of attorney and get permission from different banks and brokerage firms to handle her mother’s assets. After the meeting, my co-worker expressed concern over the mother losing control of her affairs. She said she couldn’t imagine not being in control of her life. I could tell this was a real fear of hers. And it got me thinking.

Control is a funny thing. We think we want it. We want to control every detail of our lives. We don’t want anyone or anything dictating what we should do or how we should live. Once we have control we feel safe, confident, everything’s going to be okay because I’m in control of my destiny. But is that really security? Does that really make us safe?

One of the biggest hang ups people have about submitting to God is control. God asks us to trust him. The word trust comes up many times in the Bible. But to truly trust God with our lives means relinquishing control, taking our hands off the wheel. This is hard for many people because we’re taught to be independent, to make our own decisions. Relying on others makes us weak. We have to take responsibility. Asking for help makes us inferior. But these are lies, lies from the enemy.

Do we need to live our lives and make decisions? Yes. Do we need to take responsibility for our actions? Of course. But grasping for control and putting undue pressure on ourselves is not the way to do it. People think giving up control makes you a slave. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Submitting your life to God’s plan gives you freedom. The freedom to stop beating yourself up, to stop being paralyzed by indecision, to stop worrying.

So much of the time worry comes from a feeling of helplessness. There will always be situations that are beyond our control. We worry because we think we have to change it. If we can just get control of it, it’ll be better. I’m the only one who can do it. All the pressure is on me. Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone who could take that burden off you? There is. His name is Jesus. He said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Letting Him take the reins means you don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to do it by yourself. And there is serious freedom in that. Let Him take control of your life so you can start living it.

Opposites Attract

“Repent” is a word that gets misused a good bit in the Western church. It has led many to preach the idea of “turn or burn.” It’s all about admitting you’re a sinner and you need Christ to get to Heaven. Yes, you do need to accept Christ so you won’t go to hell but there’s a lot more to repenting than getting a ticket to Heaven.

The Greek word for repent is “metanoia.” It means “change the way you think.” Our perspective comes from the world we live in. But the world is broken. I’ve been noticing lately that there are so many things the world says that the Kingdom contradicts. The world and our earthly minds say one thing while the Word says the opposite. For example:

The world says believe only what you see. The Word says live on faith.
“For we live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

The world says God is a taskmaster. The Word says God is our Father.
“Our Father, who is in Heaven.” Matthew 6:9

The world says take control of your life. The Word says trust God with your life.
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8

The world says take credit for the things you do. The Word says give God the glory.
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

The world says you earned everything you have. The Word says it belongs to God.
“LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” 1 Chronicles 29:16

The world says when you are full you stop. The Word says when you are full you overflow.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

The world says the supernatural is unusual. The Word says the supernatural is normal.
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Matthew 11:5

The world says you are its product. The Word says you are from Heaven.
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” John 17:16

The world says works bring you to your identity. The Word says walk in your identity and works follow.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

Changing our minds about these things brings us closer to God and deepens our relationship with Him. Learning to live from God’s perspective and accepting the opposites attracts us to Him and Him to us. Once you accept your identity as a child of God, you become full, you overflow, and you walk in power. Don’t let the world tell you otherwise.

The Unglamorous Mission

Let’s face it. To many of us in the Christian faith, missionaries are rock stars. They go off to foreign lands, risking life and limb to do God’s work. They come back with amazing testimonies of healing and miracles and if we’re honest we get a little jealous. At least, I do. That’s because I would love to do what they do. I want to serve God in a big way. Being a missionary seems big and everything else seems small to a human’s way of thinking.

But we need to look at it from Jesus’s perspective. In Luke 15:4 Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” He shows us that God cares about all his children individually. He doesn’t care more about the poor in another country than he does the rich person in America who doesn’t know Him. Missionary Heidi Baker has said, “Missions isn’t about where you are. It’s about where He is.”

Last summer I read Heidi’s book, Compelled by Love. It really got me interested in missions and I longed for an opportunity to do it. I wanted to travel to another country and minister to the people there, to pray for them. Little did I know he had an assignment for me right here at home.

I’ve written about my assignment at work on this blog. I know it was an assignment because He specifically asked me to do it. I was asked to pray and be a conduit for the Holy Spirit in my office. I prayed for Him to change the hearts and minds of co-workers and I worked to promote communication and team work at all levels, to support the ones who were discouraged, to show that respect and love work so much better than intimidation and manipulation.

It has taken me awhile to realize that this was a mission. God gave me the testimonies of international missionaries to prepare me for a spiritual fight in my workplace. It was difficult, it got ugly, but I continued to pray for all of us to pull through it because God loves the people in my office just as much as He loves people in other countries.

Nobody is going to write a book about it. I’m not going to get on stage somewhere and give the testimony. To us it seems so small, but to God it’s huge. When we change our perspective on what’s “glamorous” and what isn’t we see that even the smallest thing done for the Kingdom really isn’t small at all.