It’s been a mad start to the school year. I finally feel like I’m coming up for air, even though I still have a sprained ankle, have an MRI scheduled, and will likely need injections to reduce inflammation, (and also crutches?). In addition, I have pretty severe tendonitis and carpal tunnel, despite hundreds spent on ergonomic solutions and trial after trial to find the right position. (I feel so old). We had a couple false starts to our construction, and although we should have stairs put in pretty soon by one company (though I have to say they have pushed us off for a third week in a row, which is not an encouraging start), we will likely have to head into a lawsuit with the other company who never finished the job after taking the second 40% advance. It has been two years of delays and wind whistling through the holes in the walls and roof during winter.
The back to school weeks were punctuated with meetings (school and conservatory x3), children’s ministry (for which we’re responsible), family visits, medical appointments, organising a baby shower and my husband’s 50th birthday, discussions and decisions regarding the work on the house, and – on my end – more book revisions. I’ve had great input from other authors on my Regency that I started writing a year ago, and though I still have three people currently critiquing it, I’ve printed it out to start doing line edits on what’s already there. This is the fun part of book writing. It’s when my left brain can take over and I can puzzle over sequence, grammar, details, etc. The words are already on the page – they just need to be whipped into shape.
Saturday, we had a guest speaker at our women’s monthly meeting at church. I think I’ve spoken of her and her husband before on my blog. Her name is Lin, and her husband oversaw our humanitarian efforts in East Africa in 2001 from where he was stationed in South Africa. Lin spoke about our church’s theme this semester, which is “de tout coeur” – in other words, “all in“. She said that it’s easy to be all in when we’re 20 years old, but to keep up that fervour when we’re 60? To go the long haul until we’re 80?
“No one told me 80 years would be so long!” she said.
In the Olympics, no one ever gets praised for great starts. It’s the ones who persevere who get the praise. To keep going strong in the faith, you have to remember the miracles. Her husband, Mark, went to Africa speaking no French. (I think he began in Ivory Coast, where it was necessary, though he spent most of his time in South Africa). He showed up with a few guys and started sharing his faith with what little French he knew, and they started a church that way. Now there are 95 sister churches throughout all Africa.
Lin was on the New York City mission team with just a few rows of people filling the church. She could never have dreamed that one day, she’d be speaking in Madison Square Garden for the church’s annual Woman’s Day, but that’s what she did year after year. (I’m not sure if it’s still held there – it was when we were in NY). God can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.
She shared that a life of faith is not without hardship. When Lin was 28 and newly married (and crazy in love), her husband, Barry, was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor and was given one year to live. Besides the heartbreak and the fear she felt was also disappointment. She had been living in a God bubble – like, I follow God, and therefore nothing bad can happen to me. It was so disappointing when that bubble burst.
When they got the diagnosis, she met the news with fear and wanted to stay close to hospitals so he could get the best treatment possible. Barry met the news with faith and wanted to go start mission teams. In the eleven years after his diagnosis, they had three children, and moved to four different islands to plant mission teams there. He finally went to heaven in 2001 while my husband and I, newly married, were in Africa. Meanwhile, a short time later, Mark left his post in Africa, and he and his wife moved back to the States. She died of a stroke almost immediately upon their return, and a couple years later, Mark and Lin (who had been, with their spouses, very good friends) got married.
Disappointments come, sometimes like crashing waves. Lin lost two of her brothers, her father, her husband … and her mother has had cancer three times. Lin was a prisoner of war as a child, and the terrorist attacks that are ongoing pretty much everywhere remind her of that time. The polarisation in our country hurts. There are disappointments within the church, from the people who are supposed to love us. She shared that recently, she finally got to the point where she admitted, “I don’t have enough faith to handle where I’m at in life.” She’s a ministry leader and overseas the spiritual well-being of 220 women, but she said she doesn’t need admiration. She needs to get to heaven so she’s not going to shut up and pretend that everything is okay. “The world does not need more comfortable hypocrites. I don’t care if I lose my job.”
After listening to her speak, I realised that I also don’t have enough faith to handle where I’m at in life. Or … I have faith, but it’s like the shell of a snail that has grown too small. It’s too confining and doesn’t fit anymore. I need bigger faith, more elastic faith to encompass these trials and challenges.
Lin shared that when you’re weak and discouraged and vulnerable, you need to beg for God to fight for you. We’re not stronger than Satan, but God can help us and He is stronger. Jesus has already finished the race. Here are Lin’s seven ways to fight for your faith:
- Get back in the Word. No more “scripture lite”. Lin got a new Bible with scripture on the left and blank pages on the right, and she started looking for God’s faithfulness on every page and taking notes. Now she can’t wait for her quiet times. Find new things about God that are wonderful. Start reading the Bible again, and not just spiritual books. (Not all books are “useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness.”) Memorize scripture – when was the last time you did that? Have the Bibles open in fellowship and share what you’re learning.
- Pray for faith. It’s okay to say I have no faith. Help me. Look at the examples in Luke 17:5, Mark 9:24, and Luke 18:8. “Increase my faith!” “Help me to overcome my unbelief!” These were the prayers that were answered. Never stop praying to have faith, to increase your faith. Never give up.
- Remember who God is, and what he has already done. In 1 Samuel 17, David remembers how God saved him from the lion and the bear and it gives him the courage to go against Goliath. Here is some homework for you. Take 2 hours and write down every single miracle God has done in your life and thank him for every one. I have done this – it’s encouraging. Lin talked about her 80 year old mom, who lives in gov’t housing and who goes down the corridors every day to see who needs help. She once asked her mom, “aren’t you disappointed to come to the end of your life and not even have a house to call your own?” Her mom just laughed and answered, “I never forgot what I deserved. I deserved hell, and anything that’s not that is good enough for me.” Her mom is happy. Lin told her kids (who promised to care for her when she’s older) to put her in government housing where she can serve people and maybe she’ll be as happy as her mom.
- Refuse the thorns. In Mark 4:18, Jesus said the thorns can choke the Word out of us. We need to make radical decisions to keep that from happening. When Lin was single, her roommate grew weary of the spiritual fight and started escaping by watching TV every single day. Finally, Lin came home and stood in front of the TV and said, you know more about those people on TV than you do about the people in your Bible Talk!” Her roommate decided not to watch TV or see a movie for an entire year. She started serving and encouraging people in its place, and a guy fell madly in love with her and married her because he was attracted to how giving she was. We need to know our thorns and get rid of them.
- Seek out the faithful. Hold on to the people who inspire us. Be around them – both the ones who are far, but find ones who are near. We need deep spiritual relationships to stay strong in the faith.
- Share your faith boldly and consistently. That roommate who gave up TV for a year? She and her husband started a Bible talk with Lin and Mark a year ago. They have since studied with and baptised the head of the ICU unit in their nearby hospital and his wife, who is a nurse. (Mark is a doctor and Lin is a trained nurse). They also baptized another medical graduate and his wife, who is also a nurse. They did the same for another couple and a 23 year old med student. Lin prayed to meet best friends, and she’s studying the Bible with three new women now. Sharing your faith revolutionises your faith. It encourages us for the long haul.
- Finally, never give up. God is looking for people who are faithful to him. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.“ 2 Chronicles 16:9 Don’t give up. Do what it takes to keep your faith, which is of greater worth than gold. Again, don’t give up.