Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keith's Week of Silence

The heartbeat of the Taizé Community is: 
seeking reconciliation with God through Christ. 

The theme of God's love and forgiveness washed over me through the songs and themes chosen each day.  A week in silence while participating in this community was unlike anything I've experienced before.

A polite, discreet way to inform others that I won't speak
Eight of us men sat around a large, wooden dining table.
Altogether that week we shared 20 meals from start to finish... in silence... 
save for the sung prayer to begin the meals and the elegant background music featuring Baroque and early Classical music eras.

You learn a lot about people especially when you can't talk to them:Who goes for the food first?
Who notices that someone else still needs or desires food?
Who is comfortable with eye contact from complete strangers around the table?
Who is not?
Who eats slowly and doesn't mind the group waiting for him to finish?
Who is a bit unsure or annoyed by this experience?
Who waits politely?
Who delights in this new experience?

I am privileged to have shared this unique experience with my wife.  She stayed in the women's quarters on the other side of the village.  Nevertheless, we saw one another at least three times a day and communicated mostly through written notes to one another.  It reminded me of our season of dating (and how I should continue to write her notes!)  Some of the services we sat together, and thankfully, it wasn't actually complete silence the whole week.  We could sing during the three worship services each day.  The most common themes found within the Taizé songs include God's guidance, love and forgiveness.  I enjoyed singing these with my wife, though I couldn't speak to her.  

3 (services) x 30 (mins of singing) = 90 (mins of singing per day)
Taizé church in the center of the large campus
Here are the lyrics to my favorite Taizé song, which we sang in German and English:
"God is forgiveness.  Dare to forgive and God will be with you.
God is forgiveness.  Love and do not fear."

Saturday candlelight service with over 2,000 people,
symbolic of the resurrection life of Christ

A song we sang several times in Latin:
"Christe, lux mundi, qui sequitur te habebit lumen vitae, lumen vitae
Christ, light of the world, whoever follows You will have the light of life."

Also, I was assigned to meet daily with one of the brothers (basically a monk).  So I met with Brother Thomas at 16:00 for 20-30 minutes to discuss what I'm wrestling with and learning during the silence.  He was very helpful in providing scripture passages to read and asked good questions to learn how God was speaking to me.  Brother Thomas is a very wise man of God who has been in the Taizé Community for over 40 years.

90 (mins of singing) + 30 (mins of communication) = 2 hours total of non-silence/day

My cozy room consisted of a sink, bed, large window and this desk with:
the "Friend of Jesus" icon, a picture of my wife, water bottle, journal, Bible, and Taizé song book.
Each day was filled with hours of free time.  I spent a lot of time going on long walks through the woods, along the rivers, and through the open country side.  On my walk this afternoon, I decided to walk toward the train tracks.  Beautiful farmland surrounded me on the meandering one-lane road.  Large tractors passed from time to time as corn harvest is well under way in France. Small white clouds dotting the sky and probably 74° again - I can't believe how warm and dry it has been overall this week.  

As I walked back to the Taizé village, I noticed a school of minnows in the creek. My loud steps approaching the creek and quick movement looking into the water caused all the minnows to scatter, taking refuge in the shadows of a large pipe that fed the stream below the road. I was curious to see what might happen should I be completely still.  I decided to sit on the edge and simply wait; no commotion. After only a minute or two, the minnows began peaking their heads out from the shadows and delighted once again in the sunny waters.  But it was only in the absence of commotion when they could trust and be free. 

I wonder how many skittish and fearful parts of my life are hiding like the minnows in the shadows because I hardly take even a few minutes to be still - free from commotion.

Waiting for the minnows to come out from hiding

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Week of Silence (Melissa)

Keith and I have been looking forward to spending time in Taizé, France for a while now. Keith's wait has been for almost ten years while mine has only been for one or two years as I learned about the monastic, ecumenical community from him. At Taizé we took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; spending a week alone with the Lord - in silence. If you are like me, you may have many ideas of what a week in silence might include. I personally had no real idea of what to expect; I just wanted to meet with my God. But we made our plans in ignorance and as the week got closer we learned more practical details from others who had also experienced silence at Taize.

My perspective (and experience) of silence was very different than Keith's not only because we are different people, but because the men and women had different accommodations, routine, mentors, and interactions. My week of silence was a bit of a dichotomy. I would be surrounded by the noise and life of 3,000 teenagers for much of the time, while enjoying a small private room, kitchenette, and chapel almost completely to myself.

View of the courtyard from my room

My small room looked out into a heavily populated courtyard where students were often laughing, singing, pounding on garbage cans, or attempting to scare each other during most hours of the day or night. Even so, I sat at my little desk to study, eat meals, pray, and sing alone.

One of my favorite walks with God was down this path

My daily rhythm included morning, afternoon, and evening church services (which were attended by the entire community for a total of about three hours of church each day), meals before or after church, and a communal Bible study from 3:15-4:00pm. Aside from these events, my schedule was free to use as the Lord directed me. Often after I had finished a meal I would spend some time reflecting on what was said at service or something I had recently read in the Bible. God would gently reveal areas that I was holding onto or places in which I was being disobedient to what He asks in the Bible. For those of you who know me well, it won't surprise you that the topics God and I discussed had a lot to do with pride, being judgmental, unforgiveness, and surrender. As I allowed God the time to speak through His Word and the ideas presented through songs and prayers at church, my heart slowed down enough to listen and respond. Here are some takeaways I had from each day:

I am learning to listen for God's whisper. He has my full attention.

Surrendering my fears to the foot of the cross. I will not look back. My God will take care of me.

My fears at the foot of the cross

Prayed a lot for myself. Prayed a lot for Keith.

Slept all morning. :) Memorized 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. Wrote down reasons that Jesus is good and worshipped Him in the prayer room.

God gives good gifts. I wait in expectation for what He will give today.

Aside from the themes which God gave me to meditate and pray about each day, I also came away with these tidbits from my week of silence and stillness before God.

Lessons learned from silence:
"God is not hard to hear, but He may not be speaking about what you want Him to say."

"God gives hope."

"Nature expresses the glory and watchfulness of God."

"Real silence is inside. It isn't disturbed by noise on the outside." (As I mentioned earlier, I did my week of silence while 3,000 teenagers were NOT having a week of silence, but it really didn't seem to matter.)

"What God teaches us is meant to be shared. It takes on a deeper meaning when we explain it to someone else."

"Pausing is a good thing."

"Being separated from your husband is not a good thing."

"Silence makes my world very small. When there are no other voices, it's just God and I."

"Very few things I want to say are actually necessary."

Well, there you have it. We didn't receive any tangible direction about or future, except that it is filled with the love and hope of God who will continue to lead us each step of the way.

French countryside surrounding Taizé

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's time!

We set off on our adventure to Europe and the Holy Lands - flew Seattle to London @ 4:30pm today/yesterday!  Please keep in touch through these forms of communication:

 1) Email - we will check our email

 2) Facebook - works the same from the other side of the pond

3) Let's say you want to join the technically elite; download the "Viber" App. This app sends/receives free phone calls, texts, and pictures from anywhere on the globe. Only works with Viber users (like us!) using wifi.

4) We have limited texting ability, so try the first 3 options before texting.

We shall keep you posted throughout the journey,
Keith & Melissa

Monday, July 14, 2014

Humility - Melissa

“Maybe this isn’t the right ministry for you.”
I listened to the woman explain that perhaps the frustrations I was experiencing in this new ministry endeavor were because it wasn’t a good fit for my personality and giftings.  I was crushed.  I tried to keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks and nodded to show her that I was listening. 

I had been invited to this meeting to discuss how things were going and specifically whether or not the training I had received three months prior had equipped me for the task I was currently doing.  I had prepared for the meeting by going over my training notes and comparing what was written on paper with what actually had transpired.  There was so much more I wished I had been told before I plunged into this new world.  I had carefully created a list on my iPhone of things that the trainer might consider adding into the first few weeks with the next trainee.  I had prayed for a calm spirit to express how I felt because I knew that my feelings of frustration were super-charged with emotion as I felt this organization had “left me in the dust” so to speak. 

In the first few minutes of the meeting I had expressed my concerns with the way the organization had communicated (or rather, didn’t communicate) with me.  I spoke about how I felt lost in the whirlwind of policies, appointments, and paperwork because I had never been exposed to these things before.  I wished out loud that there would have been someone a bit more experienced who could have led me through the process to hold my hand and answer my questions.  And most importantly, I opened up to tell her that I didn’t feel like I had forged a good relationship with the people I had been “assigned to” because of the vast communication barriers.  

This ministry opportunity was supposed to be a wonderful cross-cultural experience in my own backyard, but it had turned into an inconvenient, confusing, drain on my time and emotions.  What had gone wrong?? 

I was sure my failure was due to an insufficient training process and a lack of support from the organization I was partnering with.  When the staff member had patiently listened to my frustrations, I was not encouraged by her answer.  Telling me that I was not cut out for the role was not what I was expecting.  In fact—I’ll be honest—I was mad. 

Shouldn’t she take at least some of the responsibility?  Didn’t she feel sorry for not supporting me when I asked for help a few weeks back? 

Telling me that the frustrations I was feeling were rooted in my own inadequacies was not helpful. 

Unfortunately, this is the third disappointing ministry experience I’ve had since I moved back to the US.  First it was volunteering at a local elementary school.  As a (former) classroom teacher, I fully expected to be given the most challenging volunteer tasks and the most difficult students to work with (after explaining my background and training to the teacher I was volunteering with).  But no.  Instead, she barely spoke to me all year and gave me jobs like putting stickers on art projects and monitoring the kids while she picked up her printing from the other room. 

Then it was the after school program with refugee kids.  I worked through part of a school year hoping things would “pan out” but in the end, I left feeling disappointed and frustrated that I could not make a difference like I had envisioned.  Definitely not what I had pictured.  And now this.  Another blow to the ego.

God, did I pray for humility?  Am I just not satisfied because my life in America is not like it was in Papua New Guinea?  There I had purpose.  Every day.  Now I feel like I am wandering through life, making mistakes and wasting time.  What do you want me to do with my life?

Then, of course, friends will ask how my week is going or “what I’m up to” and I get that failure feeling all over again because I don’t feel like I have any good stories to tell. 

This past weekend, I learned the phrase “failing forward” to describe how I don’t have to be afraid of messing up as long as I am learning from my mistakes.  Someone else described this idea as the action-reflection cycle.  She encouraged me to take a step in the direction I felt that God was leading me and then stop and reflect on how it went.  If something failed, that’s ok because I could learn from it and try something different. 

I suppose this is what grace is all about.  Have you been learning humility and grace lately?  What does it look like in your life?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

New Friends!

There are butterflies in my stomach as I think about how our life will change in just less than two hours.  At approximately 9:57pm we will welcome a new Burmese refugee family of five to the Tri-Cities.  Keith and I will work alongside World Relief to provide for their needs as they settle into a whole new life here in America.  I can feel God stirring something great with the friendship He is developing even before we've met this family.  It's hard to put all our thoughts into words but I'm going to try.

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”
2 Corinthians 9:11-13

Overwhelmed with Thankfulness:
Second Corinthians 9:11-12 speaks of the blessings of God being poured out on those who know Him so that they can turn and bless others, bringing thanksgiving to God.  Over the last month, so many of you have replied to our plea for donations to provide this refugee family (our new friends!) with the items they will need in their apartment.  We were overwhelmed by your response.  Some of you gave items that you had set aside for such a time as this.  Some of you gave items that were very dear to you, knowing that God would be able to bless someone through your sacrifice.  Others of you went out and spent LOTS of money on new items that this family would never be able to buy for themselves.

In our  Perspectives class we read an article that described another person like all of you who donated.  J. Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission organization in the late 1800’s.  During his journey of preparation for service, the Lord led him to do something rather strange.  Read on…

“The effect of this blessed hope was a thoroughly practical one.  It led me to look carefully through my little library to see if there were any books that were not needed or likely to be of further service, and to examine my small wardrobe, to be quite sure that it contained nothing that I should be sorry to give an account of should the Master come at once.  The result was that the library was considerably diminished, to the benefit of some poor neighbors, and to the far greater benefit of my own soul, and that I found I had articles of clothing also which might be put to better advantage in other directions. 
                “It has been very helpful to me from time to time through life, as occasion has served, to act again in a similar way; and I have never gone through my house, from basement to attic, with this object in view, without receiving a great accession of spiritual joy and blessing.  I believe we are all in danger of accumulating—it may be from thoughtlessness, or from pressure of occupation—things which would be useful to others, which not needed by ourselves, and the retention of which entails loss of blessing.  If the whole resources of the Church of God were well utilized, how much more might be accomplished!  How many poor might be fed and naked clothed, and to how many of those as yet unreached the Gospel might be carried!” (Hudson Taylor, The Call to Service)

Embracing the Foreigner:
Early March, Pastor Jim Landymore preached about God’s compassion to the poor, the orphans, and the foreigner.  Throughout the Old Testament God asked His people to welcome, feed, and take care of these marginalized people that crossed their paths and lived among them. 

Deuteronomy 10:17-19
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves 
the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 
And you are to love those who are foreigners,
for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Here in the Tri-Cities, foreigners are constantly coming to “live among us.”  Since God loves and cares for them, we who call ourselves “children of God” must do likewise.

If you are like us, you may often wonder if you are actually doing God’s will.  We take a step toward what we think God wants us to do.  Then we seek confirmations that we are onto something that pleases God. 
For us, this partnership with World Relief came very quickly.  Within one month we had applied, gone through orientation, background checks, gathered apartment donations, and now we are about to welcome our new refugee friends in less than an hour!  It all happened so fast that I felt a little timid about the whole idea. 
Before March, we knew next to nothing about World Relief and the people of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).  We prayed for God to confirm our steps and He did!  Within days of starting the process, we heard sermons about God’s concern for the foreigner, watched movies about Myanmar, and then the best confirmation was this last Sunday night.  The guest speaker at our Perspectives class spent a large chunk of his time speaking about God’s work in Myanmar.  He told us of the redemptive story that He had planted in their folklore and how the Church is growing in that people group.  Then, after class we met a fellow student who had connections here in the Tri-Cities with the Burmese community.  He gave us the name and number of a Burmese pastor.  This will give them friends who can speak their language and an opportunity to hear the gospel!

For us, this partnership with World Relief happened so fast that I felt timid and unprepared.  But God has confirmed each step and within one month we had applied, gone through orientation, background checks, gathered apartment donations, and now we are about to welcome our new refugee friends in less than an hour!  Thank you for all your support prayers as we embark on this next step of sharing God’s glory among all nations.