Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

This is my modern interpretation of that great icon of children's literature, Pippi Longstocking. Who, it seems, is a complete unknown to anyone under 21, based on the reactions of people on the street today. Adults, "Hey, look, it's Pippi Longstocking!" Kids: "Who are you?"
Pippi Facts:
  • the first Pippi Longstocking novel was published in 1945.
  • Pippi's full name in Swedish (the original language, as written by Swede Astrid Lindgren) is Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter L√•ngstrump
  • The name of Pippi's monkey is Mr. Nilsson.
  • In one episode of Pinky and the Brain, when Brain asks Pinky if he is pondering what Brain's pondering, Pinky replies with "I think so Brain, but me and Pippi Longstocking... I mean, what would the children look like?"

An Update & More Congrats

  • My boss's health is improving, and according to the latest report they are going to send him home this afternoon to continue resting and recovering. Praise the Lord for antibiotics and His healing hand!
  • Congrats to Julie & Alex who got engaged last weekend!
  • Congrats to Mike & Becca who brought home an adorable new puppy named Harrison on Oct 21st, making me an honorary puppy-aunt the second time over. (Don't worry, Charlie, I haven't forgotten about you!)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Strength and Weakness

My boss is in the hospital. Anyone who’s heard me talk about my job knows how much I respect and admire and appreciate my boss. He is a godly man with a zeal for Christ’s kingdom and a tender heart for people in need. I have learned so much from working alongside him for the past three years. Yesterday he took his first sick day in the six years he’s worked for our organization. This reveals two things: first, he’s the kind of guy who will push through just about anything in order to fulfill his commitments and get the job done; second, this time he’s really ill. His body is fighting an infection and he’s got a dangerously high fever. He’s sick. He’s weak.

He called me earlier today from the hospital; the voice that’s usually so strong, so jovial, so purposeful, was slow and quiet and weak. It was disconcerting. I could tell it was taking a lot of effort and energy for him to think clearly and say what he needed to say. I strained to listen and understand and respond to his concerns gently but confidently.

It catches us off guard when strong men are made weak. I remember last fall when I went to visit my dad in the hospital after his hip replacement surgery. Lying there, wearing a thin hospital gown, my tall, strong father looked so tired, so vulnerable. As his daughter I’d been aware of my own growth over the years, of course, but my perception of him had always been kind of frozen in time—he was perpetually the age that fathers are supposed to be. He was just my Dad. He is who he is, and he does what he does, usually without any complaint or commentary. Yet there he was—weak, uncomfortable, in pain. It was hard to bear. Friends of mine have recently faced the similar hard realities of their fathers’ or grandfathers’ limitations and mortality. Though illness and infirmity touches all men at some point, there’s almost this feeling that we should look away, lest they be made to feel ashamed of—or we to feel uncomfortable with—their weakness, their humanity.

When strong men are made weak, we get this sense that something isn’t right. It’s not the way it should be, the way we want it to be. We want to be able to count on someone to always be strong, always be there, always be adequate to the challenges that face us.

I know that some women are offended that Paul refers to women as “the weaker vessel.” It may sound strange, but I actually take some comfort in it. Not that I don’t think women are strong. Not that women are relegated to the role of damsel in distress until Prince Charming—or the plumber, policeman, mechanic, or what have you—comes to her rescue. Not that I can’t be strong myself when life calls for strength, resiliency, and fortitude. I think my life experience shows that, by God’s grace, I’ve made it through some difficult times, and am a stronger person for it. But at the same time I’m relieved to be identified as the weaker vessel, because that implies there’s someone else to be strong on my behalf.

Now, I realize that on the human level, there are a lot of holes in that implication. For starters, where Paul refers to women as the weaker vessel, he’s addressing husbands. I’m single, i.e. no strapping husband to swoop in and save the day. Secondly, as I explored above, even strong men are sometimes made weak by illness or circumstance, and all men are, well, human and therefore inescapably fallible and subject to weakness, temptation, and failure. Thirdly, I know it’s unhealthy and unfair to expect any man—husband, father, boss—to be unflinchingly strong. Fourth, strength comes in a lot of different forms. Fifth, the same Scriptures that describe women as the weaker vessel also call women to be strong and courageous as co-heirs of the promise, to put on the full armor of God and enter into battle, to live in the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within them. And the same apostle who identifies women as the weaker vessel says that it’s when he is weak that he’s strong, that if he’s going to boast in anything at all he’ll boast in his weakness, that he became weak to win the weak. So while women are weaker than their husbands, men are to be weak to start with? It’s confusing to say the least.

At the times when the discontentment and loneliness of singleness creep in, more often than not that which I find myself longing for is not the companionship, the affection, or the intimacy, though each has its appeal. Rather, I most yearn to have someone who will be strong for me; who will honor and respect me as the weaker vessel and yet his equal as a co-heir of Christ. Who will stand firm so I can relax. Who will keep watch so I can let my guard down. Who will walk beside me so that we can go farther together than we could alone. While I do not know when or if the time will come that I’ll have some measure of this on a human level (i.e. a husband), the truth is that from the day I gave my life to Christ and was given the right to be called a child of God, I have had this in my heavenly Father. When I am weak He is strong. And yet we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses.

This strength-weakness thing is one of the many paradoxes of faith that get my head spinning when I start to really consider all of the seemingly contradictory (emphasis on the seemingly) exhortations. We are to be strong and courageous and yet boast in our weakness. We are to lay ourselves low that we might be lifted up. What anchors me when the concepts start swirling is my confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. He is strong. He is mighty. He is all-powerful. He will give me His strength when I need strength. He delights when I come to him in my weakness. He will give me His rest and relief when I am burdened. He will be faithful when I am faithless. He neither slumbers nor sleeps and He does not grow weary. He is strong. I can be weak. And yet I can also be strong.

When I set out to write I usually like to come to a conclusion. To wrap things up nicely with a summary statement. But today I just have thoughts. Considerations. Worries for my boss that I need to convert to prayers. Realizations about my God that I need to convert to gratitude and praise.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review: The Heavenly Man

It's been a while since I posted a book review (I have been reading lately, though not as much as I'd like), but since I'd written this one anyway for my office's newsletter, and since the book tells an incredible story of a remarkable man and some of the ways God is working in China, I thought I'd post it here, too. Enjoy!

In The Heavenly Man, Chinese house church pastor Brother Yun (with Pal Hattaway) tells the story of how God called him at the age of 16 when he brought revival to Yun's family and healing to his father's cancer-ridden body. Yun then gives an account of the Lord's faithfulness and mighty power displayed in his own life, that of his wife and family, and in the Chinese house church movement as a whole from his conversion in 1974 up until 2001. Brother Yun has endured the worst brutality imaginable from the hands of men, and has also experienced amazing healings and miracles from the sustaining hands of God. Yun narrates his compelling journey with humility and grace; while it would be easy to tell his story in a way that would bring glory and honor to himself, among the accounts of strong faith and incredible feats Yun includes his weaknesses, mistakes, and acts of disobedience as well. He emphasizes that God is the hero of this story, and Yun simply a flawed but willing servant.

If you love the Lord Jesus (and perhaps, even if you don't), I think it would be impossible to read this book without experiencing a breadth of emotions. While reading I felt shock, anger, awe, shame, admiration, excitement, and wonder, to name a few. This book took God out of the "Western box" I'd placed Him in and reminded me that He is so much bigger than my own experience of Him. In China today God is working miracles, giving dreams and visions, answering prayers that seem outrageous, providing for needs when resources don't seem to exist, and adding to the Church daily thousands who are being saved.

Brother Yun's account will cause you to consider what it really means to "know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings." He writes, "How we mature as a Christian largely depends on the attitude we have when we're faced with suffering. Some try to avoid it or imagine it doesn't exist, but that will only make the situation worse. Others try to endure it grimly, hoping for relief. This is better, but falls short of the full victory God wants to give each of his children. The Lord wants us to embrace suffering as a friend. We need a deep realization that when we're persecuted for Jesus' sake it is an act of God's blessing to us."

As the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov 11th) draws near, I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. It will open your eyes to the persecution Christians are facing today and may change the way you pray. I know it has for me. Brother Yun writes, "Once I spoke in the West and a Christian told me, 'I've been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.' This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down cursed on them. Instead, we have learned that God is in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. .Instead of focusing our prayers against any political system, we pray that regardless of what happens to us, we will be pleasing to God. Don't pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn't pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power. This is true freedom!"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Congratulations are in order!

Okay, I will be the first to admit that Suz's Musings has been a pretty boring place for the last month or so. The blogging hiatus has been unintentional, not due to a conscious decision to take a break or lack of blogging fodder but more a lack of time and discipline and the fact that I finally joined Facebook and have been a little mesmerized by all the activity there. However, I've decided it's time to break the silence and get writing again, so for those of you who still stop by every once in a while (all 7 of you) thanks for sticking with me. I hope to get the thoughts and commentaries and reports on life flowing again soon. To make up for the absence, here's some stuff I might have blogged about had I been in the blogging mood:
  • a wonderful Saturday in Chicago that included the Art Institute and Celtic Fest
  • the young adult ministry at my church receiving a face-lift this fall in the form of a new name and LOTS of other changes
  • thoughts on leadership and fresh starts
  • celebratory all-you-can-eat sushi at Mulan in Chinatown (see occasion below)
  • a lovely Sunday afternoon with the girls at the Long Grove Apple Fest (and the 4 1/2 cider donuts I ate)
  • what I think of the new restaurants that have opened up around my office

For now, a few announcements and some congratulations are in order. First, this blog has born witness to my attendance and participation in many weddings over the past several years (who can forget the pink dress?!). The coming 12 months will be no exception. Congratulations to Allison and Alex, who got engaged back on Sept 28th. I am thrilled and honored to have played a role in the proposal (that of question-asker #2) and to fill the role of maid of honor in the months to come and the wedding next summer. Additional congratulations are due to Allison in particular, who this past Monday finally decided to be brave and get her ears pierced. Way to go!

Next up, many congrats to Chris & Jenn, who popped and answered the big question, respectively, two weeks later on Oct 12th. And finally (for now at least, thought I suspect I will have more friends' engagements to celebrate soon), congrats to Abby & Allen, who are engaged as of Tuesday. (Abby was my roommate and small group co-leader on the Romania trip this past summer.)