The Familiarity of Foreign

unnamedI regularly write for a website that posts daily devotions. There is a team of us who write each month to share the responsibility and provide a diversity of voices. While the site is written in English, it is equipped with translation capability, so people around the world can read it. After this month’s post, the site admin sent me the following message she received about it:

Bonjour à Qui de droit  !

Merci pour  ce texte qui parle de lui-même ! J”ai beaucoup aimé   Tes écrits ….Gloire à Dieu ..Il est important de s”humilier

et de faire “comme Jésus a fait pour Nous ” !  Alléluia !
Merci d”exister !!!!!!!!!!
I don’t speak French. I have just enough experience with a variety of languages to (very) loosely translate.
It’s always fun to get encouraging feedback.
There’s an added “cool” factor when that feedback is in another language.
But I hope encouragement is never foreign. If it is, we can’t relate to or receive it. We have to find some commonality to find meaning in it. And in that way, the foreign becomes the familiar.
Perhaps it’s not always as familiar or as comfortable as our native tongue. Maybe we encounter people or situations that seem to pull the comfortable rug from under us. But isn’t that part of the joy and adventure, being able to consider what is outside of ourselves?
Let’s celebrate differences, not just for differences’ sake but for the pursuit of connection and unity in the midst of it. We don’t have to be uniform. There will always be enough to divide us. May we determine to see beyond the barriers and reach out with a hand, a hug, or a simple smile.

No Turning Back

jul11_finalSo they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4)

When things get frightening or discouraging, we often blame who we’re following and decide we know who would be a better leader. We convince ourselves the only right reaction must be to turn in an opposite direction or return to where we once were. We’re unwilling to consider what pieces in our situations  could help us, what we need to struggle through to grow, and how we can partner with people around us even when it’s challenging.

We don’t have to like our situations but it’s important to honor God through them.

In the above verse, people’s fears and lack of understanding blinded them to God’s leading and provision so much that they wanted to return to Egypt, where they we so desperate to escape slavery. They wanted to return to a familiar situation, no matter how bad it was, instead of trusting God and growing through an uncertain situation.

We need to be willing to push through our fear and discouragement. Otherwise, we’ll miss out on what’s right in front of us.

Digging Deeper. Climbing Higher.

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

The first time I visited Israel, it was as if I sliced through a tell and looked at the grandness of the cross-section. As tell (or tel) is a layer of civilization. It’s a mound-like structure created by a long series of human occupation and abandonment. As I experienced the cross-section, I savored as many details as I could, but I mainly tried to see the bigger picture so that I didn’t get confused by disconnected pieces.

I connected more pieces when I returned. I recognized roads and oriented one location to another. I steeped in familiar places and discovered new ones. With nearly every step, something “clicked” as if I could identify something familiar with something new. Not all the connections were between the two trips. Many were between places, stories, people and the Bible. Some involved research and reading I had done in preparation for the trip.

If my first trip was like slicing through a tell, my second trip was sitting at various layers and studying details.

Of course, the more I experience, the more I know there is to experience. The more I know, the more I want to know.

Learning is a lifelong adventure. No matter how much you know, there is more to learn.

Faith is no different.

No matter how strong your faith, it is only a fraction of the faith you can have. We can focus on the faith we have and be content. We can also focus on the faith we don’t have and give up on growing. Neither is productive. Instead, we can claim the faith we have, stand firmly on it, but continue to examine, tear down, build up, and take one more step at a time.

Faith is a journey. It is an adventure.

Exploring the Familiar

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

The moment I stepped through the gates of the Old City in Jerusalem, I breathed a sigh of contentment. It felt familiar. I had walked in and out of various gates as often as possible several years before. Some streets and turns seemed as if I’d traveled them many more times than I had. I can easily get from one quarter to another. I can take a few shortcuts. Yet there is so much I don’t know. There are many streets I haven’t taken. As much as I have explored, it is a small fraction of the total possibilities.

There are adventures in the familiar.

It is in our routines that we can neglect to see the opportunities around us. We can miss the details we pass because of our focus on the destination ahead. It’s important to know where we’re going, but each step along the journey is essential. We can’t get to the destination without taking each step. If we aren’t intentional about each step, we miss out.

One of the beauties of Old Jerusalem is the side streets and passageways. I glance to the left and right and wonder: Who lives there? What are they thinking? What do they need? What has happened here? What will happen in the future? I look at the light shining on one wall and casting shadows under the archways or roof beams. The scene always changes.

So do I.

So do you.

Change with each step you take today. Explore the familiar. You’re not just here to bide the time as it passes. You cannot get back a single moment or step. Live well.

(Dis)Comforts of Home

I’ll usually sacrifice a few hours of sleep for the comfort of my own bed, so when I recently scheduled a trip to Atlanta, I decided to fly in and out the same day. That meant a 3:45 a.m. wake-up call, full day of training and networking with women’s ministry leaders, and bedtime around 1:30 a.m. Because it was a dark-to-dark day, I knew I needed to rest on the plane.

I can usually doze before the plane taxis for take-off. I’d strategically booked a window seat to insure a headrest, so once I boarded the plane, I settled in and shut my eyes. A minute passed. Then another and another. And then, I heard it. A faint, familiar sound interrupted my peace…

The man next to me was snoring.

Not as loudly as my husband but enough to disturb my sleep – and cause me to smile. I thought to myself, “It’s just like being at home!”

Travel companies spend millions of dollars to create and convey the comfortable experiences of the familiar. I’m not sure snoring neighbors is an effective marketing plan, but it still made me smile.

If I couldn’t sleep beside my husband, at least I could experience a small piece of home even if it’s a home experience I typically strongly dislike.

How often do we experience something as negative until we can no longer experience it? Of course, I was only away on a short trip, but what about all the things that annoy us most about a family member – and then we miss when they move or pass away? Some of the annoying habits are often what we miss right away, because they’re habits, and we readily notice their absence.

The discomforts of home are sometimes the very things that comfort us as reminders of home. I’m not referring to the life-changing, traumatic things of home. I’m thinking in much more light-hearted terms. And to be honest, how we respond often depends on what terms we separated from someone. If the separation was negative, we’re more likely to continue being annoyed by habits.

But let’s think more from a positive perspective. Have fun with this for a minute.

What has annoyed you about your children, parents, spouse, friends, and so on that you missed once the person was away from you?

I’d create a list, but it might create an issue with some of the people I love!

Really, it’s not unlike how I sometimes respond spiritually. Faith isn’t convenient. It can interrupt the rhythm of the day. It requires more out of me than I’m willing to give at times. I’m prompted to yield when I want to do things my way. I have (what I think to be) good reasons. Faith isn’t comfortable – or is it?

What happens when I’m outside my norm? I look for, rest in, and cling to what’s firmly grounded and familiar to me, which is – I’m thankful to say – my faith. Within the discomfort of life, I find comfort.

Faith isn’t comfortable, yet it’s steeped in comfort.

The wide path of convenience might be easier, but it doesn’t make it best. The narrow road has its own set of challenges. The overgrowth scratches my legs. I can only see glimpses of what’s ahead. I have to walk by myself at times. And I have to pay attention to the subtle clues of terrain obstacles and directional challenges.

But it’s the only path I want to be on. It’s the path I want to be most familiar. There is comfort in the discomfort.

I didn’t get much sleep on my early morning flight.

It’s okay. I had a comforting flight.

The gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Matthew 7:14

Wrong Train, Wrong Tracks

I was walking this morning and heard the rumble of a train. Not unusual. Living in central Illinois, where the land is flat and sound travels across the plains easily, I hear several trains a day. I have to cross the tracks at least twice when I walk. I speed up or slow down when I think I’ll get caught at one of the crossings. So when I heard the rumble, I looked ahead to find out where the train was and gauge my speed.

I looked ahead and found the train…and it was no ordinary train. It was an Amtrak! Now that might not seem odd for many of you, but we don’t live near tracks used by passenger trains. We have freight trains. They usually sound their piercing whistles miles in advance of crossings and noisily speed along as the weight of their loads rock along the tracks with a rhythmic clickety-clack. So why was a passenger train on the tracks?

I called my mom, who lives about 40 miles from me. She’s one of the few people who would be available at that time and wouldn’t think I was nuts for calling her for such an insignificant reason. When she answered, I blurted, “You’re not going to believe what I just saw! An Amtrak on the freight train tracks!”

Pause.

“Susan, don’t you read your newspaper?”

Well, no, I don’t on a regular basis…made worse by the fact my daughter works in the newspaper office. Apparently, my mom had read the paper when she was at my house one evening weeks ago and learned the Amtrak was being re-routed through our area because of high speed rails being laid to go through her town.

I was caught off guard when I saw the wrong train on the wrong tracks. And yet, it wasn’t the wrong train on the wrong tracks at all. I just didn’t have all the information.

I started thinking about other times I respond in surprise, argument or irritation because I’m misinformed. Or it’s not that I have the wrong information. I might not have the information I need – because I haven’t sought it – to be aware of what’s accurate or true around me.

Failing to read the newspaper holds me back from knowing there’s a problem with our drinking water, a required detour, an opportunity to get rid of items otherwise not accepted by the waste disposal company, or a community fundraiser or big sale at the local discount store.

How does failing to read God’s Word hold me back?

I don’t want to be misinformed or underinformed. To be honest, I don’t want to be overinformed either if it means I’m gathering lots of information without discerning the difference it makes in my life. I want to be familiar. Familiar with God’s Word. Familiar with God’s will. Familiar with God’s character. Familiar with God.

I don’t want to react to the wrong train on the wrong track when it’s part of the plan.