Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Marital Adjustment

In just a couple of weeks, Honza and I will celebrate our six-month anniversary. My, how the months have flown by! This past half-year has been an adventure, filled with joys and triumphs, illness and struggle, love and intimacy, conflict and repentance. What a beautiful six months so far!

I remember hearing a quote long ago, that getting married reveals how selfish you really are... and even though I'm still a novice in the marriage field, I can agree wholeheartedly! Marriage is a unique bond, wherein we've promised to be together for the rest of our lives (whether 2 or 62 more years!): to care for the other when they're sick, to love each other even when it's difficult, to embrace and forgive after a fight. Marriage strips away our pretenses, and reveals what lies underneath: selfishness.

For me, one of the greatest adjustments to make as a newlywed was in the realm of my mind: transitioning from thinking as "I" to thinking as "We." Whether with finances, time management, chores, or communication, this was shift I hadn't expected would be difficult to make. 

After two years of living on my own, I was no longer used to telling someone my schedule, or to discuss a purchase before buying... and I'm not saying that these are a bad thing to do! After all, Honza and I have intertwined our lives, and are counting on each other financially, emotionally and with our time. (In the reciprocal way, I wouldn't be very happy if I'd planned a dinner for us, because he'd forgotten to communicate that he'd be busy for the evening!)

As married people, we can no longer live as if we were single.

This morning, I sipped on my tea and pondered these events, and realized how much it relates to a conversation we had on Tuesday's "Talk the Night Away" English meeting. We were discussing how the assignment of our paths to heaven or hell doesn't depend on our good works (having an open mind toward God, praying, going to church), but on our acceptance of Jesus Christ as the forgiver of our sins, and giving Him authority over our lives, as our friend and our King., what does that have to do with my marriage?

One of the students asked me if it's not necessary for us to do good things, then. I realize now that my response is much like how I've been adjusting to married life: Your actions don't determine whether you go to heaven or not. That lies in whether you've embraced faith in Jesus. However, this relationship with Jesus won't leave you unchanged. Just as He forgives our sins, He will also guide you and teach you how to leave this life of sin, and become more like Him: perfect, loving, holy, and selfless.

To tie this in to the beginning of my post, I think of my relationship with Honza in a similar way. We are married, and our actions don't change that: whether I cook dinner or not, whether he vacuums or not. Whether we remember to coordinate our schedules or not, Honza is still my husband, and I am still his wife.

But our actions do affect us and our relationship. Our actions can either heal or hurt our marriage. I can't live the same way as I did before we got married, but this is a beautiful thing! Being Honza's bride, and experiencing his love daily, is worth far more than all I've left behind in my singleness.

And just as deeply as Honza loves me, I know that the love of Jesus is even more perfect, more precious... and this love from God helps me to love my imperfect husband more and more, just as God loves this imperfect me.

"For God so loved the world that He gave
His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have eternal life."
John 3:16

"For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may 
boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
Ephesians 2:8-9

Monday, January 26, 2015

A strange new land, a strange new life.

I spent yesterday evening in the kitchen with one of my roommates. We leant against the counter, sipped tea, and our conversation about the day slowly shifted to a bottle of wine by the stove, which I'd received as a lunch-guest gift that afternoon. (In the Czech republic, it is customary--when invited to someone's house for a meal--that you bring them a small gift... such as chocolates, cookies, or wine.)

As we looked over the bottle of rosé wine, my roommate asked me if I prefer sweet or dry wines. As I delivered my ever-eloquent response, she started to grin. In our usual playful manner, I asked her what it is about my answer that caused her to laugh. She replied, "Well, if I asked you this question one year ago, you would've had no idea how to answer it!"

Thus, we began a lengthy conversation about the plethora of new experiences I've had over these past 20 months, and how they have influenced me as an individual...

I have been on adventures. 

Skiing for the first time, blueberry-picking on beautiful waterfalled hiking trails, surviving a week in a chata (cabin) with no electricity or cell service, and--heck--even riding the train without getting completely lost is an adventure!

I have learned to try--and even like!--new things. 

Saurkraut, ginger tea, mushroom soup, beer, buckwheat, rabbit, svařák (mulled wine), corn and egg on pizza, and Christmas Carp (sorry, but the last one's not a like!). I went to a wine tasting at a small, private winery. I also went to a small town's annual beer festival, complete with a Queen cover band. (Can I say, the Czechs with me were shocked to discover that they knew more of the songs than I did!)

I have grown into perfect housewife material... or, just learned to feed myself (and often 20 others, in addition). 

I've learned to bake, cook, handle a budget, and keep my house clean (well, sometimes). I've had to buy my own groceries, pay rent... well, basically learn how to be an adult.

I have made a fool of myself. 

Anyone who's ever learned to speak a second language knows that full-on embarrassment is not only normal, but it's a given. I told our youth group that I turned a sweater into "panties," asked a cashier for "meat-sauce to put on birthday cake," called my guy friends women, and spent several months consistently mixing up the words for "excited" and "furious."

I have learned. 

I've learned how to function in a different currency, to speak a completely different language, to avoid cultural taboos, read a bus timetable, speak in front of an audience (yay, toastmasters!), and prepare lesson plans for students ranging from preschool to university professors. I've learned how to say "no" when I've taken on too much, how to stay strong when I don't hear from friends or family for weeks, and how to recognize which relationships are the most important.

I've realized that a visit to the US is really that: a visit. And even if I spend 90% of that time with my family, I grieve for that 10% of time I didn't have snuggling with the kids or playing board games with the adults.

I have recognized sad truths about the state of our church. 

I've realized that those who give the most time, energy, and money to missions and ministry are usually the ones who can spare them the least.

I have also seen beauty in the church. 

I've seen how people can come together to take care of a foreigner, and help her to feel included. (**cough**me**cough**) I've seen how people from different backgrounds and denominations can get together to worship God, and celebrate the gift of Jesus. I've seen the beauty of a group praying together, using different languages, and realizing that God understands every one.

I have fallen in love. 

I found my best friend: a man who treats me as his treasure, even though he knows my flaws and scars. A man who is--miraculously--even weirder than I am! (Yet is still level-headed enough to keep me grounded.) A man who wants to spend the rest of his life with me, and is as excited to learn about my country and culture as I am his.

Traditional womens' dress for this region

I'm sure if I spent more than an hour preparing this blog, I could come up with many more examples of how I've grown and changed since June 2013... but for now, I let it rest, and ponder about...

this strange new land. 

this strange new life.

this strange new me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

It's just not about us! (a parable)

When reading Matthew this morning, I thought I'd go a bit deeper into Matthew 20:1-16, which is the "Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard." What is it about? And what can it mean for us?

A "parable" is just a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson1. Jesus used these stories very often to help his followers understand what he is teaching. So before going into the parable itself, I looked turned back to the event which Jesus clarifies in this story (found in Matthew 19:16-26, 27-30).
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.“There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 2
Jesus was speaking to a large crowd of people (Matthew 19:2) when a rich young man came up to talk to him. This young man seemed to already believe that he was good enough to get eternal life (verse 20), but Jesus knew that his obstacle was: a love for money. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus said that "You cannot serve both God and money" (6:24).

This young man then went away sad.

Jesus turned his attention to his disciples (meaning "followers"), and told them just how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (verses 23-24). Even though it seemed to be impossible, God could still make it possible (verse 26). However, the disciples didn't seem to like this idea:
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Peter recognized that Jesus was saying that it is possible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (even though it is only through the immense power of God, himself). This seemed to frustrate Peter, because—unlike the rich man—the disciples did leave behind everything to follow Jesus (verse 27)! How could it also be possible for this rich man that hasn't? That just doesn't seem fair.

Jesus gave Peter two answers: yes, those who have sacrificed will receive both a great reward and eternal life (verse 29), but Jesus also tells him that "many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (verse 30).

This is why Jesus tells them a story. That last statement could be confusing, so Jesus explains what he means by giving them a parable (now we're finally at Matthew 20:1-16!).
1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 
This story just doesn't seem fair! I mean, this is the "Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard," right? Some of the workers were there all day, working in the heat, while others worked for shorter increments... even as short as just one hour! These last ones didn't seem to earn the payment they were given.

The one-hour workers received the same amount of money as those who had worked all day, sacrificing everything (just like the disciples in verses 19:27-29). However, the full-day workers still received their generous and promised paycheck. They weren't cheated, but it's just that the landowner was generous according to his own will and generosity, not based on the work of the people (verse 15).

Okay, okay. So if this is true, is there any benefit or blessing in sacrificing everything? Why not just be one of the one-hour workers if it all just depends on the generosity of the landowner anyways?

The answer is this: we've got it wrong. The parable isn't about the workers. It's about their employer.

Our frustration with this story arises when we try to find the application from this parable by looking at the workers, when we aren't meant to learn about the workers at all! Yes, those who sacrifice everything for Jesus will receive "a hundred times as much" as what they've sacrificed, as well as "eternal life" (verses 19:29-30) ...but we must not be envious of God's generosity. It his his own "money"—the gift of eternal life—that he gives to whoever he wants (verse 20:15), regardless of their work.

Jesus ends this parable by emphasizing his main idea: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (19:30, 20:16). This story really isn't the "Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard," but it's more the "Parable of the Generous Landowner." Instead of learning what it means for us—the "workers in the vineyard" (a.k.a followers of Jesus who have sacrificed everything for him)—we should ask: "What do I learn about God from this story?"

I learned all over again just how generous God is. I remember again that it's not about what I do, but about who He is.

What did you learn about God?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

I fell in love!

To be fully honest, I can't say that this came entirely as a surprise. When I moved to Europe eight months ago, I was hoping I that would find this kind of love... yet even while I was expecting it, this relationship has still succeeded in knocking my socks off!

I guess it has developed like any good love story: I'd known him for a while, but finally gave in to spending more time with him. I received love letters from him, in which he told me about all that he'd done to pave the way for our relationship... even before I realized he was around!

We shared a lot of late-night talks, he listened to me vent about my frustrations, and we even had a few great walks under the stars... plus, in my loneliest days, he sat with me.

As I write this, I nearly feel like my heart could burst! This love is so much more than I'd ever expected, and... well, some might see this as a ridiculous decision, but I've already decided that I want to spend the rest of my life with him, to follow him wherever he goes!

But you see, there's no way that I couldn't do this. Not after everything he's done for me... in fact, he had to suffer through so much, just so that I could be close to him.

We love because he first loved us.(1 John 4:19)

Oh yeah. Did I mention? This person who fills my life with joy, meaning, love, and peace... is no ordinary person at all. In fact, he is the God of the universe, the one true ruler. His love letter is the Bible, and that suffering he went through... is through Jesus, through whom I can be connected with God the Father forever!

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of Lords.
His love endures forever.

(Psalms 136:1-3)

You know what? This love is so much deeper, fuller, and greater than any earthly romance could ever offer me. How could I possibly be "disappointed" to be "single" this Valentine's day? I've already got my groom, and he's greater than I could have dreamed. My heart couldn't be more full.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him,
and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.
That joy is mine, and it is now complete.
-John the Baptist, in John 3:29

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Quest for Home

I feel like I finally understand Paul, why he longed for Heaven... He was so far from home.

He traveled from place to place and never settled. When he left a place, he longed so deeply for the people he loved in that church. These were people he lived with, ate with, laughed with. He cared for their health, he knew their families, he prayed constantly for them. He made plans to visit, wrote them letters, and sent back representatives to encourage, correct, and bless these faraway brothers and sisters. (2 Tim.  1:1-5)

To be an apostle is to live bleeding, to love with a broken heart. No earthly city can ever be our home again. Like a candle, our life is snuffed out in a breath. Where will we shine?

We--as apostles--need to be okay with hurting, and never block out God, our love, or passions just because we miss and love so deeply. Instead, we press on, clinging to our only true hope: the future, where we will be with our Savior forever. No more goodbyes... (Phillip. 1:21-26)

...but wait, what about the rest? Shall we not strive to bring as many with us as we can? Are they not worth it? This us what kept Paul going, boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus even through persecution.

How could we possibly say we love these people if we failed to tell them the truth about love? Yet the thought of countless more faces keeps us pressing on. Like Paul...

Through trial. Through pain. Through loneliness and abandonment. Through homesickness and longing. Striving for the hope that is waiting for us... All because of Jesus Christ.

We press on. We leave our comfort. Because of love. (Acts 26:28-29)

Monday, December 9, 2013

What is the true meaning of Christmas?

Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Bethlehem, or heard songs
about Jesus being born. What does this mean?
Why is the birth of Jesus important?

The true meaning of Christmas is love. Jesus said that, "God loved the world so very, very much that he gave his only Son. Because he did that, everyone who believes in him will not lose
his life, but will live forever. God did not send his Son into
the world to judge the world. He sent him to save
the world.”
(John 3:16-17)

God loved His people, so he provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend forever with Him. Jesus said, “I am the way. I am the truth. I give life.
No one can come to my Father unless 
I take him there.” (John 14:6)

God gave His only Son to take the punishment for our sins. We can’t do enough good things to repay for the bad things that we’ve done. Jesus paid the price for us, and we are completely forgiven if we accept his gift of love. “We could not help ourselves. So at the right time, Christ died to save us bad people. Almost no one would die to save even a good man. But perhaps someone would die to save a very good man. God shows his love for us in this way: Christ died to save us while we were bad people.

The blood of Christ has now put us right with God. So even more, he will save us from God's strong anger. When we were enemies, the death of his Son brought us back to God. Now that we are made right with God, it is the life of Jesus that will save us.

Not only is that true, but it is through our Lord Jesus Christ that we can enjoy God. This is for all who have been brought back to God
by him.”
(Romans 5:6-11)

The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this
incredible act of love. If we accept the gift of Jesus,
 we can know God and enjoy Him.

All Bible passages are taken from THE JESUS BOOK - The Bible in Worldwide English. Copyright SOON Educational Publications, Derby DE65 6BN, UK. Used by permission.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A True Father

Three years ago, my parents adopted a beautiful baby girl. With a radiant smile and the most precious eyes you've ever seen, she's my "baby girl."

I have these special moments with her, when she'll curl up in my lap or tuck her head into my shoulder. Filled to the brim with love for this little girl, I could just kiss her chubby little cheeks forever! Her giggles send my heart soaring.

One day, it hit me: this is how God feels about me. My Father is overjoyed when I come running to Him. I am His child.

Six months ago, my parents received two beautiful children from the foster care system. Full of laughter and enough energy to give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money, they've definitely filled our home...

But these children have been neglected, rejected. They came to us without any clue of what real parents look like. The first few months, my little brother would cling to any person who happened to walk by. He didn't distinguish between us and strangers because he'd never truly attached to anyone. 

Any man who walked into the room he called "daddy," and for months my would parents consistently remind him that "No, this is your daddy."

I think we are like children... the adopted children of our Father. 

We were made to relate to God in a way that is deep, innocent, and trusting. We are supposed to realize how precious our adoption is and snuggle up in our Father's arms... we're supposed to be like my 3-year-old sister.

But instead, we act like my brother. We can't distinguish our Father's face from any other. We run to anybody--sometimes it happens to be our Father, but it is just as often a stranger.

Sometimes we are like my foster sister. In the opposite way, we lash out towards our true Father. Because of the sins of our fathers before, we test the boundaries of love. Everyone else rejected us when we were bad. If everyone else abandoned us...

We have no reason to believe that our true, Heavenly Father will be any different. So we fight. 

We kick. We scream. We yell "I hate you!" We try to control our situation, try take care of ourselves..... but we're just kids. Just looking for love. 

When my sister has one of these meltdowns, my mom holds her tight in loving arms and reminds her over and over again, "I will be your forever mom. Even when you are bad, I will always love you."

Tonight and every night, God wants to hold you in His arms. He'll whisper to you, "I loved you so much that I sent my Son. So that you can have eternal life with Me... I see you through His sacrifice. I will always love you." often I have longed to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Matthew 23:37

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.
From now on, you do know him and have seen him.
John 14:6-7