Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No Big Deal? (Next Day added)

Biometrics, noun
the application of statistical analysis to biological data

In case you didn't catch the operative word in that definition, it's 'biological'. That's an adjective that means, of or relating to biology or living organisms. And 'biology' means, the study of living organisms . . . morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, . . . In other words, biometrics means analyzing the physical aspects of living beings, such as myself as it relates to my BODY

That's the understanding I bring to the appointment we have bright and early tomorrow morning at the Czech Ministry of the Interior, previously known as the Foreign Police. =8-0

I keep wondering what possible biological (my BODY) information they're going to want to gather for analysis. I mean I'm thankful that our visa application has been granted and all, but at what intimate personal cost? 

Maybe this type of thing doesn't upset you, so you can't quite grasp my concern. Let me share a little bit about myself to see if that helps. 

I'm not afraid of the medical world though getting injections and being stitched are not my favorite activities. I'm not overly comfortable with folks poking and prodding me, but I've found a way to accept the full body scans at the airport, not to mention the pat-downs that are required when I pass through the metal detectors in a wheelchair - no joy but doable. 

In this I think I've been a trooper with the whole international travel bit. However, I find it offensive, even abhorrent, every time I notice one of the retina scanners that provide speedy passage through passport control. I mean who would want to give up an electronic record of their retinae to be delivered at will to who knows where or whom? Not me. Ugh!

My 'unease' about sharing biological (my BODY) information hit a peak last January shortly after we landed in Nairobi. We filled out a form and waited in the visa line as we expected. It wasn't until we got near the check point that I realized the officials were fingerprinting every single person. My insides froze. The $50 fee seemed like enough of a price to pay for the privilege of entering Kenya. I suddenly felt like a rat in a trap. What was I going to do? 

My first option didn't seem too viable; throw my form up in the air, turn around and run back to the plane. I tried to steady myself. I whispered my observations and conclusions to my Honey as calmly as I could, "It looks like they're going to take MY FINGERPRINTS." His response was casual and confident, but the tone had no affect on me. My mind began raced to figure out a way to avoid the collecting of biological (my BODY) information - to no avail. 

The two+ hours wound down and we stepped up to the counter. There was a small problem with our paperwork and I found a moment to breathe. When the official told me to put my hand on the glass surface I hesitated, but I did it. I don't know how, but I did. He took the money and stuck the visa into my passport. I walked through the opening as if I were a normal human being who'd given up their biological (my BODY) information every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Aaaaagh!

That's the way I react to these invasions of my personal, physiological, anatomical, . . . aka biological (my BODY) information . . . by others. It's more than uncomfortable. It feels like a total assault on my personhood. After all, God made me unique. Nobody else has my fingerprints or retinal surfaces. They can't be changed and, if nothing else, they identify me beyond a shadow of a doubt. I suppose I could avoid detection if I had to by having plastic surgery or dying my hair, but once somebody has my biological (my BODY) information, my goose is cooked. They can track me and find me anywhere!

If at this point you think I'm totally irrational, so be it. I have no idea why I might need to go into deep hiding. I mean I don't intend to undertake criminal activities or anything. Then again, in the world today who's to say what might be considered criminal and/or what might necessitate the need to avoid detection by government officials. There are way too many realistic possibilities. Seriously!

Uh, I just looked at the clock and realized that in approximately 19 hours and 20 minutes I will be presenting myself at the Czech Ministry of the Interior to go through the biometrics process to receive my extended visa. I have no idea what to expect and the prospect is unnerving. Are you with me now?

You might want to ask me what I've been asking myself, "Why put yourself through all this?" Hah, if you only knew how many times I've posed that very same question. The answer has refined itself over time and I think I've got it straight enough to offer it to you at this point.

"From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being." Acts 17:26,27   emphases mine

Almighty God, my loving Father, redeeming Savior, and comforting Spirit, called my Honey and me to move to the Czech Republic. We responded as best we could along side Abraham and Moses, Jacob and Samuel, and so many others, with "Here I am." The LORD has confirmed His hand on us by using us in His service in countless and unexpected ways. He has even been so gracious as to meet our daily needs and beyond.

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them case to be." Psalm 139:13-16

God's the One who formed my fingerprints and retinae. They are His to take where He pleases. He made them and He can certainly protect them as He sees fit. Just as my days were numbered before I was born, so my going out and coming in was ordered. My Creator knows me from the inside out. He is with me as much today as He was before I was born and He is trustworthy in every aspect.

In light of these truths, what is a little bit of biometric analysis? When stacked up against God's unchanging character and fail-proof promises, what's the big deal about sharing my biological information? I don't know what will happen tomorrow morning, but I know Who's in charge and He's goin' with me. Hallelujah!

Next Day:
I sure am happy that I wrote the above portion of this blog the day BEFORE we went to the Ministry of the Interior. The LORD used that review of His Truth to keep me walking from the metro to the bus and the bus to the building. The courage the Spirit gave kept me calm as we waited on the sidewalk for the doors to open. Jesus held me tight as we squirmed our way through the crowd of people so we could make it to our appointment. The Father planned the time sitting in a chair to be really short AND for the lady in the little booth to be really friendly. Color me thankFUL!

I sat on a small metal stool in front of a communication window with a low sill, staring into a camera. When I realized the camera was mounted upside down and was staring right back at me my palms started to sweat. The lady slid paperwork over for me to sign, pointing at the spaces I was to fill in - date and signature. My panicky self asked, "Wa ..., wa ..., wait, I can't read what I'm signing!" My fortified-in-the-Truth self reached out, took the pen and did the job.

First came the photo. That was a breeze. Well, except that I never thought of that possibility and my hair was kinda wild. I guess I was laughing about that on the inside because the lady signalled me not to smile. The preview image showed just my face; wild hair and dull expression only. NO RETINAE!  =8-D  I immediately look go of a huge sign of relief. Then it happened . . .

The lady signalled me to put my finger on the little box on the sill, my "forefinger". Up popped a little diagram that showed all my fingers and thumbs. It intrigued me because the words were all in English though it took a bit to realize it. I was thankful I still knew what a forefinger was and that I had put the proper one on the glass screen that formed the top of the box - for each hands.

The smiling lady gave me a few more instructions in Czech which I did not understand. She slid a sheet of paper over to me which was, oh hallelujah, in English and said, "Na shledanou." Hah, that means good-bye. I was released. I smiled and waved and returned her, "Na shledanou." AFTER that I lived through pushing our way back out through the crowd and off to have coffee with a friend. And best of all, we now have an appointment to pick up our two year visas. God is gracious!

Moral of the story:
All the stuff above "Next Day" is not only True intellectually. It is also all True experientially. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who knew!

Proclaiming the existence of God in the every day of life can be a tricky undertaking. It's been a desire of mine to do exactly that in small and large ways, verbally and non-verbally for the last 35 odd years. Living cross-culturally makes one particularly sensitive to scouting out and making the most of every such opportunity. Little did I know it could be so easy in the Czech Republic.

You see, it's as easy as "Jak se máš?"   (pronounced 'Yock se mosh' for English speakers)

We started our Czech language studies and in Lesson 1 learned some of the basics; hello, what's your name, where are you from, what do you do, and so on. My Honey and I paid close attention to the pronunciation and intonation as we repeated each phrase with our teacher's help. We did our homework faithfully and came across the phrase "Jak se máš?" 

We practiced diligently and returned to class for our teacher's opening question, "Jak se máš?"  We answered as best we could with "Dobře", the ř sounds like the ř in Dvořak, and made our way through our second meeting. Another adjustment to be made: pedagogical differences.

Since our biggest hurdle is not being able to practice our Czech day to day I decided to give my new favorite phrase a try the next time we went to the grocery store. As the cashier turned from the previous customer to us I asked her, "Jak se máš?" She looked surprised and a bit taken aback. Then she turned a shy smile on me and said, "Dobře." I had no idea how to respond since she didn't ask me, "Á ty?" So I just smiled as warmly as I could and nodded my head in response. 

Phew! I made it. I tried out my first official Czech phrase on a local citizen and lived through it. Hurrah for me!

When we went to class the next week the story of my grocery store encounter bubbled over right away. The teacher stopped and looked at me as if she hadn't understood. I repeated myself carefully knowing that English is her second language. She still seemed a bit distant and then a broad smile broke out on her face. At first I thought I'd made a major cultural blunder. As it turns out, the LORD used my hesitant attempt at practicing my new language to promote the desire of my heart.

Evidently, according to the teacher, "Jak se máš?" is a phrase that is not normally used in such casual interactions as checking out at a store. It's okay to say, "Dobry den." (hello / good day), but "Jak se máš?" (How are you?) is reserved for other settings. It seems that here in CZ a simple "How are you?" is a meaningful question that implies a serious interpersonal relationship - that one person really cares about how the other person is feeling. Of course, the further implication is that certainly nobody would care about a cashier in that sense. 

Pause for contemplation.

Well I did and I do care about how the cashier was feeling. Yes, I wanted to practice my Czech, but I could have chosen other phrases and other situations to do so. I really did want to know how the lady who was serving us was feeling. Why? Because she's made in the image of God and He in His perfect plan caused us to be face to face for a few moments. It was up to me to make the most of that divine opportunity to show forth His existence. 

Maybe if you were there with us when we check out with our groceries you'd understand more fully. Twice a week we make our way through the line with our collection of goods. When the cashier finishes the order before ours, she (or sometimes he) sits back just a bit as the previous customer takes their purchases and loads them into their bags or backpack. The interruption might take only a minute or so. Sometimes it's a bit longer. 

During that suspension of activity it's as if the cashiers' power sources were switched off. Their facial expressions go blank and they sit staring off into space until the way is cleared to begin handling our order. Out pops the usual question about whether we have the club card for their store which we don't. Then the regular routine of scanning prices and pushing products down the ramp begins. We've experienced this exact set of circumstances about 100 times over the last year. 

But this time it was different! As I pondered what the teacher shared I felt more and more excitement. What happened was not merely a bit of language practice. By God's grace I'd been able to establish a small presence on the beach head of Prague. I pray that His Spirit will use my little "Jak se máš?" to let 'my cashier' know that she has value and that at least one customer cares about how she's doing. 

Jeremiah 29:7 tells us that we ought to pray for the nation where God has placed us and my Honey and I do that. It's also important to live in such a way as to give evidence of God's presence before the watching world. So I'm keeping my eyes open for 'my cashier'  every time we head to Billa. Who knows what the LORD has in store?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

'Faith' Fails

It's a new month and time to sit down and gather my thoughts. The goal of this blog is to open the envelope of my life and slide out the letter of my experiences with the Father for others to see. As I scan my recent posts I'm wondering where the horizon is in my sharing. For this entry it's deep within.

I fell into an Abyss a while ago. That's the only word I could use to describe the event at the time and it still fits. It was deep and dark, without sensations or limits, totally and intimately paralyzing. I didn't know where I was or who I was. There was no frame of reference, no point of contact, and I was completely disoriented. It was as if my entire reality had crumbled apart.

As I go through my journal I'm beginning to recognize my free fall as a crisis of faith. Now don't jump to any crazy conclusions. I didn't question my redemption through Christ or start to act as if God didn't exist. My mind told me God was still there, but somehow that was an isolated fact. My feelings told me I was entirely disconnected from Him. Fear too horrific to describe seized my soul.

Don't speak - you'll say the wrong thing.
Don't move - you'l go the wrong way.
Don't plan - you'll get it wrong.
Don't think - you don't know anything.
Don't feel - you'll only get pain and trouble.

I'm not sure how my Honey managed. I hardly spoke. I could barely function. The only thing I could relate to was the physical world, the tangible seemed somehow stable. I moved like an automaton with a nasty temper. It was hideous as I was swept into the depths of the chasm. No amount of pawing at the air or releasing silent screams to heaven could halt my plummet.

In what I thought at the time was my Herculean efforts I latched onto a strategy I learned over the years. In order to catch my breath in the midst of overly busy days, I would stop the merry-go-round and concentrate on basic household chores - making meals, doing laundry, cleaning. Suddenly accomplishing those tasks with diligence in every detail became my crusade.

I coped in this way for what seemed like months. It must have been less, but I couldn't keep track of time. I've shared this portion of my ordeal to provide a backdrop for what God has done and is doing in my life. I could give you more details about the ghastly part, but I don't want to dwell on them. After all, this blog is about God's hand at work in the world. So let's move on to the meaningful part of the tale.

One of the routines I thought I was hanging onto was getting up early to spend time in the Scriptures. I admit that the main reason was that I was waking up early and couldn't go back to sleep anyway. By what I now recognize as God's loving grace and intervening power I had chosen the word compassion as my next topic. One of the first verses I came to was out of one of my favorite passages.

"And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15  [emphases mine throughout]

My eyes poured over with tears they couldn't contain. IT is all up to God. He will reach out to whomever He chooses. Nothing I am or say or do can cause Him to smile on me and cause what I want to happen. It's His rightful authority, omniscient wisdom, and perfect will that unfold in both the seen and the unseen world. From somewhere the memory returned that God has indeed chosen me to be His own - more tears flowed to express awe, gratefulness, love and much more. 

This Truth was enough for the day. Every time my mind strayed to it, I was struck by the completeness of my inadequacies and the tender yet powerful all-sufficiency of God. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." The words still cause my eyes to mist.

After a few days of pondering this central morsel, my mind groped for more manna to revive my soul. I was reminded of a passage I'd shared with ladies at a retreat not too long ago. I feverishly opened to the reference.

"O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. 20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 22 Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you! Isaiah 30:19-22

"The Word is Truth, nothing is more secure than that - remember, Sandra." was somehow whispered into my ear. I couldn't feel it, but my mind told me God had to be somewhere there in the Abyss or outside it somehow keeping His eye on me. After all, He is El Roi, the God who sees. Since He knows what's happening to me, and His Word says, "As soon as He hears, he will [not may] answer you." it only made sense that God must be in the process of responding to my desperate cries. 

I needed still more so I decided to read the context of the passage. My efforts took me back to the beginning of the chapter and I read through the verses until another one grabbed my heart. It was almost as if God were speaking to me again. 

"This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it." Isaiah 30:15

I considered the nouns, repentance and rest, quietness and trust. Well, I thought, this Abyss is certainly a great place for getting rest and quietness. I began to wonder if those two conditions could be benefits of my present condition. The Holy One of Israel was saying that the results would be salvation and strength and certainly those two things were high on my list at the moment.

But the tag-alongs, the coordinated activities had to be repentance and trust. Now that was a combination I was convinced was beyond me at the moment. But the end of the sentence says the Israelites were obstinate and wouldn't listen. I certainly didn't want to be part of that group and taste the same results. For now the quietness would have to be my resting place and yet, I found myself beginning to stack the building blocks of God-breathed Truth one on top of the other.

Over the coming days . . . I remembered . . . God is sovereign. He's in charge of every detail of my life. I realized the Abyss must be part of His flawless plan even though I shrunk from the conclusion. I questioned if it were possible that God meant this experience for my good. Memories of an ever-powerful verse slid back to me.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

I began to consider what possible benefits there might be for me in this extraordinary setting. I'd sort of settled into the rest and quietness portions as I stepped back from a number of activities. I had found myself much more peaceful and calm. Maybe it was time to consider the repentance and trust aspects of Isaiah 30:15. I reminded myself of having come to the Father through Christ by God's gift of faith, filled with repentance and overwhelmed by love and gratitude. Trust was another thing altogether though. I knew this was an area I needed to ponder.

My trust factor was a chronic issue for me. I knew I trusted God for my salvation and many things in my life. I'd been walking with Him for many years through countless trials where He alone was my mainstay. Yet the Spirit seemed to be pushing me to look more deeply here. The day came when I saw the reason and it was a shocker. I became aware that I had loaned a good-size portion of my trust, my faith, to other people and even to the skills and abilities God Himself had given me. Whoa, Baby!

I think this is the point when I realized that the Abyss had morphed into a black and silent, cold and dank Cave. I found my feet on a slippery floor, but at least it defined a down. My hands touched a slimy surface as I tried to reach out, but at least it signalled an up. It was as if I were surrounded by a narrow enclosure which actually cheered my soul. At least there was a frame of reference for my body. There still wasn't even a pinprick of light, but I began to hope there might be a way to get out of the darkness if I could just wiggle around a little bit.

It somehow dawned on me that an exit might be discovered through those same four little words, repentance and rest, quietness and trust. I tottered toward the promised salvation and strength by continuing to rest and be quiet while moving on to repent of trusting in anything other than The One True Almighty and Holy God. It wasn't long before He showed me that the crash into which He'd sent me was a massive structural failure of the 'faith' I'd constructed on the side.

The message was clear, "Nothing. Absolutely NO THING can ever be set in El Elyon's proper place - or more accurately attempted to be set, for His Alpha and Omega position is absolutely secure. Slowly the Cave seemed to be more spacious and a tiny light appeared in the distance. I became aware that I might be in a Tunnel as my mind tried to verify what my eyes saw. Assurance of God's presence came to me powerfully as I inched my way forward.

My confidence in the Father's sovereign hand holding on to me the entire time grew. I recognized His fingerprints over many of the details along the way. He was the One who had embedded the strategy into me of going back to the basics of keeping our home. He was the One who had given me the word compassion to study. He woke me up and drew me to spend time with Him. He's the One who led me from Truth to Truth and carried me through my days. He is El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One. O the peace that erupted in my soul!

But still the Tunnel needed to be negotiated and I knew enough not to trust my own perception for directing or pacing my steps. In my rest and quietness I welcomed the blessing of being able to rely on my Honey, the Head the LORD gave me. I realized all over again what a God-fearing man He'd given me to follow. Further along the Tunnel wall a small beacon was granted, a talk by Elyse Fitzpatrick at the TrueWoman12 conference which I heard online. It was the first time I'd studied much of her focus passage.

"For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins." 2 Peter 1:5-10

I knew I needed to concentrate on that list of characteristics because I sure did not want to careen back into the Abyss so my attention was riveted right away. It was the attention Elyse gave to the last sentence that baited me. She claimed that most believers suffer from "spiritual amnesia" as they tuck the awesome Truth of their justification somewhere in the recesses of their minds and carry on with life as usual. Hmmmm, that sounded sort of familiar.

She went on to talk about the once for all, eternal effectiveness of Christ's unblemished life, excrutiating torment, and sacrificial death in our place . . . my place. To me that meant that there is no hammer hanging over the heads of His chosen ones. In effect, God is not saying, "Sandra, get your act together." Christ had His act together every single moment for me, in my place. It was a powerful message right out of the Word that the price for my sin, my weakness, my failures had already been paid in full.

"When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."  John 19:30

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him Whoever believes in him is not condemned." John 3:16-18a

Being reminded of the foundation of my life in Christ has led me to a new strategy for my days. When the 'little things' start to get me or I feel stressed about anything I am choosing to stop and tell myself this Truth in my own words, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that Sandra might be relieved in Him and not perish, but have eternal life." That's how personal my Older Brother made our relationship.

Of course the spiritual exercises of life in a fallen world continue as I move toward the mouth of the Tunnel with joy and expectation. I am missing some of the opportunities to recite the Sandra-approved version of John 3:16, but the practice is coming in handy to let go of simple interruptions or irritations that used to really throw me off balance. They are nothing in comparison to the freedom I've been given for my soul. So I travail along with Paul in the similar process he describes in his life.

"So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Romans 7:21-24

Paul continues with the answer to his own question and it's marvelous comfort.

"Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 7:25-8:2

I am refreshed with a new level of strength, courage, and confidence as I rejoice with Paul in gratitude.

As Elyse says, "We can describe justification as appearing before God just as if I'd always obeyed." What relief I'm learning by abiding in this new perspective!

This account is the short version of recent events. My goal in sharing it is to testify to the immeasurable nature of God's love and power, grace and mercy, security and justice as a way to contribute to the glory due His Name. As I've recorded it I seem to have come so far yet have so far to go in repentance and rest, quietness and trust according to the Father's sovereign will. 

I definitely would not wish this kind of severe agony on anyone.   . . .   Then again, maybe I need to rethink that statement. After all, the Abyss led me to the Cave, and the Tunnel is taking me to the Rock that is higher than I. AMEN

"From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Psalm 61:2