Love is: Laying Down Your Life

Prepping talks for the Cru Red River Region Staff conference this coming weekend. Looking forward to seeing my staff friends who serve on college campuses all over Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. One of my favorite Bible study tools for the New Testament is the Discovery Bible:

9780802441591This wonderful resource is great for folks like me who haven’t *yet* had the opportunity to study Greek. Different symbols, words and numbers help add depth and understanding to verb tenses, translation and emphatic words used in the original New Testament text.

For example:

John 15:13 reads:

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Initially I read the verse to mean the greatest act of love is to physically die in someone’s place (like Jesus taking our place on the cross for our sin). I picture jumping in front of a would be assassin and taking a bullet for someone I love. Laying down my life. (And yes. I have been watching “Alias” on Netflix. In the middle of season 3. Go Sydney Bristow!)

But it turns out the word life in Greek is psyche (from which our English word psychology is derived). This explanation of life is the inner life of a person, the personality, or ego.  It’s what gives a person individual distinction before God. So rather than bios (the duration of earthly life or existence), Jesus is teaching that laying down our lives (feelings, desires, affections and aversions) is something we do over and over.

The verse right before this one about laying down our lives reads:

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

Love in this verse is agapao–unconditional love which seeks a person’s highest good, an unselfish affection for another without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

We are to love one another by laying down our lives for one another. Again and again.

This is greater love. Dying in someone’s place is a one time event. But choices to daily lay down my ego, laying down my agenda, lay down my rights and seek another’s highest good is the selfless way Jesus demonstrated love.

My challenge today:

How will I lay down my life for those I love?

Do you have any other thoughts to add to these verses?

 

Everyone Needs A Prisca

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who takes the time to truly listen and understand the struggles of the heart.

Someone who models an authentic life of faith and grace and prayer.

Someone who has survived the current life stage you are seeking to navigate.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who believes wholeheartedly in the goodness of God and lives for eternal things unseen.

Someone who reminds us the ministry is unending, but the window interacting with our own children is small. And taking time to be good to ourselves is crucial.

Someone who applauds steps of faith and prays diligently. And then prays some more.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who is humble, a learner, compassionate, and incredibly, incredibly wise.

Someone who doesn’t fix problems, but knows how to hold emotions.

Someone to model after because they so reflect the heart of God.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who is mature, who speaks words of hope, who knows how to laugh at herself.

Someone who helps restore perspective.

Someone who loves well.

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Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7) 

I have six names written in the margin of my Bible next to this verse. Prisca is one of them. I’ve been blessed to know her for twenty years. She is one of my heroes of the faith.

Who do you have written on the margin of your Bible?

Who has your name written in theirs?

Loved By God

Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. Still working my way through “The One Year Chronological Bible.” Two days ago I read about Daniel in Daniel chapters 10 and 11. The angel addressed Daniel as “greatly loved of God.” He explains the moment Daniel began praying, which was three weeks prior to this appearance, his request was heard in heaven. Some kind of fierce spiritual battle took place which required Michael, one of the archangels, to aid the angel in order for him to deliver the message to Daniel. He later tells Daniel,

“Dont be afraid, for you are deeply loved by God. Be at peace, take heart and be strong!” (Daniel 10:19)

I know in my head God loves me. I sing about it, in the privacy of my car, throughout the day. But something about the description of being

greatly loved

and

deeply loved

by God

has stopped me in my tracks.

Not just loved. But loved greatly. And deeply.

I’ve been turning these truths over and over in my mind.

I forget He loves me and begin to fret. I forget He loves me and I start taking responsibility for things I was never tasked with. I forget He loves me and I scramble for control. I forget He loves me and live as if everything depends on me. I forget He loves me and I forget He is with me.

A strong foundation of love makes all the difference in any relationship. The circumstances can be exactly the same, but the heart attitude is different. Love changes everything.

The kind of intimacy Daniel shared with his God kept him from rebelling or becoming bitter when he was taken from his home and sent away to Babylon as a teenager. His understanding and experience of God’s love, character and provision gave him courage to go against the crowd and abstain from the food eaten by the king and royal court. His obedience and steadfast faith kept him loyal to HIs God. He refused to bow down to worship the Babylonian king and was thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel, just like you and just like me, experienced trials, bewilderment, heartache, discouragement, disappointment, unanswered prayer, life threatening situations, and all the while he was greatly loved and deeply loved by God.

So often my thinking is limited. Short-sighted. Off.

I think of being protected from experiencing trials, heartache, disappointment as evidence of being deeply and greatly loved. While I’m sure God has protected me from unseen difficulties, I also understand being greatly loved and deeply loved includes the hard times. The times when life gets derailed, when well laid plans are disrupted; the times when I personally fall and fail. I am greatly loved and deeply loved in and through those hard times. The intensity of God’s love is not based on my circumstances or my response. His love is great and deep and unconditional.

God’s love is tender and fierce.

Deeply loved means He knows my circumstances, struggles, and secrets. He gives strength to persevere and walk through the valleys. He is for me. With me. His purposes are higher and include a bigger plan I am often unaware of. His motivation always has and continues to be love. So it is from this foundation of love that I bring my fears, insecurities, failures and concerns to His safe keeping.

He loves you and he loves me greatly.

Deeply.

And like the angel shared with Daniel, knowing God loves us deeply helps us to be at peace, take heart and be strong.

I am seeking to mull and mediate and respond to what it means to be greatly loved by God.

What does it mean to you for God to love you deeply?

Julia drew this picture of me speaking at the Epic East Coast conference a couple years ago. Her words ring true.

Julia drew this picture of me speaking at the Epic East Coast conference a couple years ago. Her words ring true.

Keep On Praying

We lived at the base of the mountain named Pine Brook Hills. The name, Pine Brook Hills, might suggest grass-covered mounds, but hairpin turns and steep inclines required the use of snow tires and sometimes chains during the winter months. These were, without question, mountains. The houses were sprinkled far apart and the driveways were long and the views, breath-taking. From one of those houses surrounded by pine trees too many to count, a mom and one of her daughters faithfully prayed. The prayers drifted up to heaven like smoke from their chimney. The daughter, my sister’s classmate, prayed that God would bring my sister and me to Himself.

The prayers went up. And life went on. And years went by.

Much later on God would answer those mountain prayers. Our family would move from the house at the base of the mountain in Boulder, Colorado clear across the ocean to Hong Kong. And there in Hong Kong my sister and I would fully commit our lives to God.

When I returned to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado, I spent the next five years teaching Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church where Jill Wedlake, the mom who prayed for us, was the director of the children’s program. Our lives would continue to criss cross. Then they moved to Italy when I moved to Berkeley.

And years went by.

Last month, in Grand Junction, Colorado, we had a sweet reunion with the Wedlake family. I was able to introduce Jill and her husband, Jerry, to Michael and Julia. We stayed overnight at their house. Sydney, the daughter who prayed, came over for dinner with her two kids. And sitting over chips and salsa at the kitchen counter, I thanked them both for praying all those years back.

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And as we drove away from their home the next morning my heart was renewed to not give up. To keep on praying. And to pray with my own daughter for God to draw her friends to Himself. This side of heaven we may not see exactly how He answers the prayers we pray. But each of us had someone who prayed for us. And each of us has people God has placed in our lives for us to pray for as well.

God hears prayer and He answers.

Don’t give up. Keep on praying.

Casting Off Fear

Most mornings my eyes open and my mind floods with random to-do list items, varying levels of concern over relationships, home, finances, the future. Included now in those first morning thoughts is Book #2. The last few months I have been marinating on content for my next book proposal and with it comes a new level of fear. Writing about cancer usually garners the sympathy of pretty much everyone. A certain safety zone exists because the topic of cancer includes the universal struggles of physical pain, suffering, and possible death. Writing about cancer trumps the polarizing topics of faith, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, etc. I’ve noticed most comment sections on blog posts about cancer avoid the internet nastiness often found online. I like the safety zone. I like to be liked. But God seems to confirm and reconfirm at least an attempt at Book #2.

This morning, while sipping coffee and processing with God about my fears of not being smart enough, experienced enough, and just about everything enough, I read in my Bible reading plan timely words:

“for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and take care of you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 1:7)

Don’t be afraid of the people.

As God calls you and me to various tasks, our part is to be willing and to go wherever, say whatever and cast off the fear of people’s disapproval. He is with us and will take care of us.

If He is sending us, He will be with us. Of this we can be sure.

Where is God sending you? What fears do you need to cast off?

Psalm 84:5-7 Strength In The Lord

We just returned from a much needed vacation. We were able to stay at a friend’s house in Manhattan Beach and spent each day enjoying and exploring the white sand beach. Here’s a post I wrote for Asian American Women on Leadership. I’ve been invited to join as a regular contributor for their website. Hope these words bring you encouragement and perspective.

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My husband, Darrin, and I have a mixed marriage. He is half Japanese, a quarter Portuguese and a quarter Native Hawaiian. He grew up in an Asian majority city and state Hilo, Hawaii. I’m Chinese and I grew up in a majority Caucasian city and state, Boulder, Colorado. But our mixed marriage runs deeper than our ethnic make up. He has a Droid. I have an iPhone. He uses a Dell laptop. I use a MacBook. Darrin discovers back roads and rarely takes the same route anywhere. I drive the same way every time to the grocery store and post office He likes options. I like decisions. He reads the NIV Bible. I’m a die hard, loyal NASB version reader. But every so often I wander from the familiar and mix things up a bit in my Bible reading plan. This year I’ve been reading through the One Year Chronological Bible in the New Living Translation. Over the weekend I came across a favorite Psalm, but read it with fresh eyes.

Psalm 84:5-7

Psalm 84:5-7 (New Living Translation)

 

“Happy are those who are strong in the LORD, who set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains! They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.” (Psalm 84:5-7)

 

Here’s a little nugget from what stood out to me from these verses in this version:

 

Happy are those who are strong in the LORD

  • am I seeking to be strong in ministry?
  • or strong in the living the Christian life?
  • or strong in a particular role of spouse, parent, leader, friend?
  • strong in the LORD speaks to me of knowing God intimately and trusting Him over and over…Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD (Jeremiah 17:7 NASB)

 

(Happy are those) Who set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem

  • where have a set my mind? my thought life?
  • have I forgotten this world is not my home?
  • minds set on pilgrimage speaks to me of eternal perspective, of living for things unseen, of not getting entangled in jealousy, envy or comparison to other’s be it their relationships, stuff, status or ministry…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8 NASB)

 

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping

  • not “if” but “when” means everyone, sooner or later, will go through valley times
  • the valley times can’t be hurried. they are walked, one foot in front of the other.
  • I’m reminded of how the slower pace of walking allows me to take in sights and sounds I would otherwise miss if I were taking life in rushing about

(to read the rest of the post please click here:

Letter to Epic Student Missionaries

Our Epic (Asian-American ministry of Cru) international summer mission teams are currently taking part in project briefing. The teams are receiving input, participating in team building activities and preparing for six weeks of: Loving the Lord, Loving their team, Learning a New World and Launching Movements. Here’s a letter I’ve written to them about some Scripture I read this morning.

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Dear Summer Mission Project Participants,

Each of you has a different story of how God led you to apply and how you ended up here on the Vanguard campus preparing to embark on an international summer mission project with Epic. I have to be honest. I’d give a kidney to jump on an airplane and join you and your team.

God has used these past several months to prepare your hearts for the task ahead. And just like how it felt to prepare to attend college–all the books/blogs you read, the stories you heard, even the campus visit you might have taken–all those things could not and did not capture the experience of actually being a college student and attending classes, living in the dorms, etc. Our staff have drawn from their past missions experiences to come up with helpful content, but actually arriving in country and walking the streets, breathing the air, smelling the smells–that’s when the change begins. The next six weeks will grow you and transform you as you experience life and dependence on the Lord with your team.

I’ve been reading through the “One Year Chronological Bible” this year. Currently camped out in the time of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings. I was reading this morning and wanted to share a few thoughts as it seemed to pertain to God, missions, perspective and stuff I would share with you over a cup of coffee if time allowed.

  • 2 Kings 6:8-23 Elisha in the city of Dothan surrounded by a great army ready to take him out. His servant sees the troops, horses and chariots everywhere and freaks out, “Ah, my lord, what will we do now?” Elisha responds, “Don’t be afraid. For there are more on our side than on theirs.” And Elisha prays for God to open the eyes of his servant to see what was really going on…The LORD opens his eyes and he sees the hillside was filled with horses and chariots of fire….

Remember: you are not alone. God has got your back. People back home are praying for you. There are spiritual forces at work all around you that our human eyes cannot see. You and your team plus God is greater than any earthly opposition.

  • 2 Kings 7:3-11 Four lepers are starving because of a great famine that has taken over the land. They decide to go and surrender to their enemy, the Aramean army, because they figure they have nothing to lose. Turns out the army abandoned their camp and the lepers have a heyday going from tent to tent eating and plundering. They realize they can’t keep this good fortune to themselves. They return to the city and God provides for all the people from an unlikely source.

Remember: you and I are poor lepers who have found the True Bread and Living Water. We cannot keep the One who is the true treasure to ourselves. He has the Words of Eternal Life. Sharing our lives, sharing our stories, sharing the Gospel is one humble beggar who has discovered unlimited resources pointing another humble beggar where to find Food. Keep an attitude of humility and point people to Jesus, not the Christian life or a moral ethical code, but to Him who is Life.

  • 2 Kings 8:1-6 Earlier in 2 Kings (2 Kings 4:8-37) Elisha becomes friends w/ a woman from Shunem. He performs a miracle and brings her boy back to life. In this chapter Elisha instructs them to leave to the land of the Philistines because of the famine. They are gone seven years. She returns back to Israel, hoping to get her house and land back. The king had been talking to his servant about Elisha and the woman and her son appear at that exact moment to confirm the story of the son. Not only is her land restored, the king also compensates her for the value of the crops that had been harvested during her absence.

Remember: there are no accidents. God has determined the exact places we should live (Acts 17:26). As you engage in conversations, know that God has been orchestrating events before you arrive on the scene. Also remember: you can never out give God. He is able to provide from unexpected places in unexpected ways. Seek Him first.

I’m so excited for all God will do in you and through you. I will be joining so many who are praying for you and look forward to seeing you back on this side of the ocean.

Proud of you, excited for you, expectant with you,

viv

feel free to add additional comments about missions or encouragement for the epic summer teams….

Life’s Disruptions

Yesterday was a horribly unproductive day. I purposed today would be better. After crawling out of bed and dropping just-about-finished-with-sophomore-year high schooler off at 6:50am, I came home and made my “most mornings” breakfast: Coaches oatmeal, brown sugar and Trader Joe’s Omega Trail mix and some milk. I ground up some coffee beans and made a large, 18 oz Starbucks NYC mug of deliciousness just the way I like it: one third coffee, one third sugar, one third half and half. Basically dessert. I took three trips up the stairs to my nook. Bible, journal and water on the first trip. Oatmeal and coffee the second trip, and of course an additional “I can’t remember what I was getting” down and up the stairs trip. I finally settled in to enjoy some time alone with God (TAWG). Koa, our almost two year old German Shepherd thinks he’s still a lap dog and usually jumps up and keeps me company.

IMG_1936This morning as he turned in circles on the ottoman, the way dogs do when they prepare for a long slumber, his larger than life tail knocked over my completely full coffee mug onto everything on the completely full side table. UGH! I grabbed my coffee covered iPhone and tried turning it on. The screen was blank. I ran down the stairs, working to remove the lovely “from Leila,” phone cover and prepared to throw the phone into our big tin of rice next to our rice cooker in the kitchen. I’ve read somewhere throwing a wet phone into dry rice can bring dead phones back to life. Thankfully the phone turned back on before I had to bury it in rice. I could hear the fast dripping sounds of coffee splattering all over the carpet and the books below the table when I came back up the stairs.

Deep exhale.

An extra, extra large towel lay in a mound in front of just-about-finished-with-sophomore-year high schoolers room. This was probably the only time I was thankful he left his towel on the floor. I grabbed it and began wiping up the sticky mess.

this was all the coffee that was left

this was all the coffee that was left. sad. sad. sad.

I had to remove everything off the table, empty out the basket full of books and memorabilia, throw out coffee covered receipts and wipe down all the books. It occurred to me as I cleaned: this is just another one of life’s disruptions.

Sometimes our best laid plans are curtailed. Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan “A.” Sometimes coffee gets spilled everywhere.

However, disruption times can open up time to:

  • clean out clutter– I throw lots of stuff into the baskets found on most flat surfaces around my home but rarely take the time to weed out unnecessary bulk. Today’s disruption forced me to throw out what turned out to be a trashcan full of…well, trash.
  • rediscover lost things–hidden behind the lamp I found two bracelets I forgot I had. I also found a blank journal, some actual bookmarks (I usually stuff whatever scrap of paper is around to mark my spot in books), a fun photo of friends, a mini tin of Altoids mints. Today’s disruption helped me uncover some useful things I forgot I had.
  • remember–two things that were spared the coffee stickiness held special significance. One was a phone charm Leila gave me during my cancer journey. I don’t know where the old phone is anymore, but I kept the charm. When it used to be attached to my old phone, it reminded me of God’s love for me back then. Holding it in my hand today caused me to pause and reflect on God’s faithfulness to bring us so far. The other item was also from my cancer journey: a ticket stub to the musical “Wicked.” Darrin didn’t hesitate to pay top dollar for the best seats in the house. Seeing the show together was an unforgettable experience and holding the ticket in my hand today reminded me of my husband’s love and the gift he is and has been.

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. Perhaps you find yourself currently in a disruption time; perhaps it is a time God is opening up for you to clear out the clutter, rediscover important lost parts of your life or space to reflect and remember.

What would you add to the list of benefits of life’s disruptions?

Use Whatcha Got: Week 20 –True Confessions

This post has been a long time coming. Here we are dipping into the month of May. Wait. Almost halfway through May! I had to pull out a calendar and count the weeks. I haven’t been posting about Use Whatcha Got. Of course, I could present to you these excuses:

“I’ve been out sick.”

“I’ve been out of the country.”

“I’ve been busy writing about other stuff.”

And these would all be true.

But the truth is: I broke down and bought a skirt.

I first set eyes on the skirt back in November. I went shopping with my sister in law, Esther, when she came in town. We were wandering around the Gap. I was working my way through the clearance rack and came across this fantastic, super soft, black, NO IRONING NEEDED maxi skirt. Pull it up and it becomes a dress. Stretchy, comfy. Perfect for traveling. Perfect for dressing up and dressing down. Just exactly what I had been looking for. When the salesperson rang it up at the cash register, it was discovered that the skirt had been wrongly placed in the clearance rack. It rang up at full price. I just couldn’t do it. The grey one, exactly the same but two sizes too big, was half off. So I said no.

I returned home and instantly regretted not picking it up. I mentioned it to Darrin. He, of course, said, “You should go get it.” Weeks later when I was back in the mall Christmas shopping, I looked for the skirt but it was gone. I looked online. It was out of stock. The skirt was the one thing I wanted for Christmas, but I couldn’t find it anywhere, at any store.

Fast forward to two weeks before we left for Central Asia. I had been thinking about how I still wished I would have picked up the black skirt because it would have been the perfect travel skirt. I opened up my computer and for some reason (truly I’m not sure how it happened!) my browser window opened up to the Gap online store. And there in bold letters across the top “Anything ordered today online 30% off. Use code: blah blah.” I clicked to find the black skirt I had wanted. It was in stock, in my size.

Oh the tension.

My thought process went something like this:

“Oh. The skirt. I really want the skirt. But I’m committed to Use Whatcha Got. What to do? What. To. Do?”  

Drumming my fingers on my chin, I thought, “Well, I could pull another “it’s a gift from Leila.”

See, over a year ago Leila and I found ourselves (truly I’m not sure how it happened!) in the Kate Spade outlet store. We both fell in love with this iPhone case.

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We looked at the phone case longingly and both said, “Love. Looovvve. Even though it’s on sale, I just can’t get it.” We nodded in agreement. Then sighed. Then I’m not sure if it was her or me, but one of us said, “Wait. I can’t get it for me. But, I could get it for you.”

“And I could get it for you!!”

We smiled big. So satisfied with our brilliance. The girls working behind the counters thought we were brilliant, too.

We floated out of the store matchy, matchy with our iPhone cases to each other, from each other.

So, I knew Leila would be more than happy to buy the skirt for me, if I asked her.

Then I thought, “Surely this is a GOD THING. I mean, I don’t even know how the browser opened up to the Gap Online. And a coupon for just that day. Thirty percent off? It must be a sign…”

Before I could change my mind, I ordered it online in time for the trip.

The package arrived and remained unopened for several days.

Oh the tension.

Finally I ripped open the packaging. Yes. Yes. No doubt about it. The skirt was exactly perfect.

I felt angst. Back and forth, back and forth, between delight and guilt.

“What will Kimberly and the other Use Whatcha Gotters think? What will Julia think?”

Then came a long train of justification and rationalization attempts.

“I’ve gone almost five months without buying a single piece of clothing. One skirt. C’mon. What’s the big deal?”

It’s not like I’m hurting anyone by buying a skirt. It’s not like it’s SIN or something serious like that.”

“I still have another EIGHT months ahead where I won’t be buying anything.”

“I’m sure I could find 5,000 people who have bought much more than one skirt since the beginning of the calendar year. I’m actually pretty impressed with myself to have gone so long.”

And on and on.

In the end, I realized I have the ability to twist things any way I want to make a situation look better than it really is. I can compare to others, I can promise away future actions, I can minimize, make excuses, I can find loop holes. I can flat out give up. I can do all sorts of things to try and make myself look better than I truly am. But all of the justification, rationalization is exhausting.

And once again I find the Bible to be true. Rather than getting tied up in knots while trying to conjure up loop holes, I can implement what I have tried to do in other scenarios and simply confess.

The word confess is made up of two greek words: homo and logeo.

Homo means “the same.” Logeo means “to say.”

Confess means to say the same. No excuses, “but’s,” rationalizations, explanations. It means bringing out what was hidden into the light.

I blew it. I didn’t make it flawlessly through Use Whatcha Got. I bought a skirt (and full disclosure, bought a scarf, ring and t-shirt in Central Asia–each had significance and meaning and were tangible reminders of a trip I never want to forget).

And though I don’t think the purchase fits in the “sin” category, I think the parallels to confession when we sin are important to note.

None of us will make it through life flawlessly. We blow it all of the time. How this underscores my need, our need, for Jesus’ offering of forgiveness “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10-12 *the whole chapter is crammed with great truths). By “saying the same” about our sin; first that it is sin and second that it is forgiven, brings about healing, restoration and  an ability to walk in freedom. The first step is sometimes the hardest. Admitting we have blown it requires a person to swallow their pride.

Some of you who are strictly adhering to Use Whatcha Got, may be feeling betrayal. If that word is too dramatic, then perhaps disappointed is more fitting. Those feelings are completely understandable. I am sorry for breaking from our pact. Please know I am back and seeking to finish the next eight months following UWG. Maybe not perfectly, but I will not give up.

We are all in process. And in life I hope to be one who, after blowing it, comes first to my heavenly Father and brings my sin and shortcomings and then brings those failures into the light in safe relationships where I can experience healing and restoration. (James 5:16)

Confession. Forgiveness. Restoration. Freedom.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear how UWG has been going in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wilderness: Life Post Active Treatment for Cancer

Sometimes after I speak, in the quiet of the car as I drive home, I review in my mind the happenings of the day. I picture the faces of the women who have come up to talk with me. If they express appreciation, I try to graciously receive each gift of encouraging words like a wildflower. Then, in the quiet of the car, I present to God my little bouquet of wildflowers as a thanksgiving offering. I remember reading Nazi concentration camp survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, presenting her flowers of thanksgiving and decided to adopt the same practice.

All things with Him, through Him, by Him and for Him.

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(My lovely niece, Angel. And yes. All my nieces are stunning.)

Usually, after presenting the flowers of thanksgiving, I review my talk. And most of the time I come up with a few things I wish I would have shared or elaborated on more. This past Good Friday, after sharing my cancer journey with the women at NewSong Church in Irvine, I thought about the first 18 months following active treatment. I called it the wandering wilderness time. Looking back, I wished I would have taken more time to encourage the women with these words:

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The year and a half following active treatment (surgeries, chemo and radiation) was a time of confusion and bewilderment. All of the delayed emotions I had stuffed in order to make it through the physical demands of treatment finally surfaced. I felt lost. Unsure. Wobbly. I related to the Israelites in the Old Testament who wandered 40 years in the desert after escaping Egypt. God provided in ways unlike anything they had experienced pre-wilderness. Sweet manna was available morning by morning for them to gather and eat, quail dropped from the sky after they complained about missing meat, and when they could not locate a water source to quench their thirst, God provided water from rocks. Their shoes never wore out. They followed God’s lead by following a pillar of fire at night and a cloud during the day. Following the wilderness time these provisions were discontinued. The Israelites would learn to trust and obey God through different means after they entered the land.

The wilderness time was a unique time but not the final destination. God never intended the Israelites live as nomad wanderers. He was clear from the beginning when He promised Abraham the land. Moses was tasked to lead God’s people to the promised land. Joshua and Caleb surveyed the land and reported back the land God promised was all God said and more. The wandering time was a detour time. The wilderness was only for a time.

The story did not end with walking in circles.

I was reminded the cancer, post cancer wandering time was not the ultimate destination. It was for a time even though at the time it seemed like it would never end. I’ve experienced other wilderness type times. I’ve had dry and desert like periods in my spiritual life. Showing up to read my Bible was void of exciting, new insights, and I felt like a worker on an assembly line going through the motions. Prayers seemed unanswered or bounced off the ceiling. I imagine the Israelites had times when the manna grew mundane. As a young mom, I remember the same sensations of feeling confused, unsure and wobbly. The day in and day out of caring for little ones seemed unending. I felt like I was walking, and sometimes stumbling, in circles.

Looking back, God was able to redeem the wilderness time. He used the wilderness to teach lessons I would have otherwise missed. Trees develop stronger root systems when forced deeper underground to find water. I’ve noticed strength of character is forged through the wilderness times. The daily acts of faithfully showing up to gather spiritual food, the willingness to break down camp and move whenever and wherever the pillar of fire moved, and the wandering in the wilderness builds resolve. God uses the wilderness to strengthen, refine and surface what truly fills our hearts.

The biggest gift from the wilderness is the realization God was WITH the Israelites. He is with you and me. He reveals Himself and we learn to trust God in ways unlike “bountiful land” times when we walk in and through the wilderness.

Perhaps you are currently in a wilderness time. I want to encourage you to not lose heart. The wilderness is only for a time. The wilderness is not the final destination. I want to encourage you with the truth that God is WITH you and has not abandoned you to walk the wilderness on your own. Don’t give up.

How about you? What are some of the lessons you have learned in the wilderness?