A Moment in Prague

photo courtesy of my friend MinaA moment in Prague (2011, I didn’t put a date on this, but I think it was at the beginning of my time in September)

I am traveling back home to Vinohrady from Bila Hora on the 22 tram. My cheek is pressed against my fist as I lean it against the window. I am listening to the first minute of sweet disposition over and over again as the sun flickers in and out between prague’s buildings colored in an array of sorted colors. Soon I can only hear the song and feel the sun. No one is watching me and I begin to let the music turn into a memory of my warmth and calm existence in these moments. One day, maybe in a year or two, I will hear this song in a café or on the radio and I will be transported to this moment in time, this still, lovely moment.

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A Moment in Prague

pastries and tea

I have been looking through my photos from my time in Prague recently and I realized that I haven’t shared really anything with you concerning that time. (For those of you who do not know, I taught English for a year in the Czech Republic. I collected a lot stories and I returned last August).

Well, now is the time to grab a pastry or two and a cup of tea because I’m going to tell you about Prague. There will be pictures, stories, people, and multiple cities to share with you. To share all of this with you will complete my joy.

Love,

Emilie

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pastries and tea

A Steadfast Heart

(Inspired by a poem by Martha Snell Nicholson and Psalm 57, both included in full at the end of the post)

Has God ever given you a thorn when you asked for a beautiful and pure gift? What was your response? And then, what was His response? Often, I am confused. I look at Him and say, “God, I asked for something good. I asked for something beautiful, something that I am supposed to desire, but I think you made a mistake. You gave me something burdensome and painful and it has hurt my heart, more than I can bear.” He smiles at me gently and responds, often in a whisper, “My daughter whom I love and cherish, the one I knit together, the one I died for, I have and will only ever give you good things.” So I have taken many gifts like this. I have gone home with many thorns. Some have remained with me for years and others for but a moment. But each and every one of them I have learned to love. I have learned to love them because they have removed scales from my eyes, torn veils in two, and broken down walls that have kept me from my God. Then I realize, He did give me something good because through it, I have seen Him further and have known His love to a greater degree and have experienced His comfort that He only wanted to lavish upon me. I learned that He never gives a gift without supplying the grace to bear it. He is my provider. He is my sustainer. He is my one desire. Most importantly, I have learned that these thorns are not just for me. Praise God that they are not just for me! They are for you.

Have you ever been so enervated by life, by your forest of thorns, that the only words you can think to cry are, “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me”? David penned these words for all of us in Psalm 57. Jesus was brought to this point as well as we see in Matthew 27:46 when He says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” To think that we have a Savior who is acquainted with grief and sorrow, a God who has wept with us, mourned with us, died for us (Isaiah 53:3; John 11:35; John 19:28-30). It is too great to understand. The last anguished cries of our God, the last moments before He met death, would eventually dry our tears and give us a future without grief or pain. How truly magnificent and scandalous. The words that impact me most are in John 19:30, “[He] gave up his spirit.” No one stole it. He gave it for us.

Now, what if you and I were to bear our grief and sorrows knowing that they are not only for our sake of knowing God, but also for the sake of others, that they too might see God more clearly? Jesus faced every trial, not for himself, but for everyone else, so that we could be saved (John 3:16). David experienced many trials for the same reason. I know that understanding this does not remove the pain of your trials. It does not remove the heartache. This is evident in Psalm 57 when David writes verses of pain before verses of thanksgiving. It is a strange thing indeed. And wait, there is even more.

While we experience the fullness of God’s gifts of thorns, we are never left alone. As you will see below, God desires to be our refuge. He wants us to turn towards Him and take cover under His wings as we wait out the storm. He wants us to cry to Him, to grieve with Him. He sends to us His love and faithfulness. He showers on us overwhelming grace and reveals to us His sufficiency. Finally, He vindicates us. Sometimes, this last part isn’t realized until years after the gift is given. I just had a moment of vindication yesterday. I was driving and I was suddenly overwhelmed with thankfulness for sins against my family from years ago. I realized that if it were not for those sins, I would not know God as I know Him now. I would not know His people as I know them now, I would not know my need for and utter dependence on Him as I do now, and the list goes on. And how amazing is it that He even puts our faults and shortcomings to lead people to Himself!

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Dear reader, whoever you are, I pray that God will give you many gifts, whatever He deems best. Then, you will see God and I so want you to see Him, to know Him, and to love Him with all your heart. Remain steadfast in heart amidst the storms (Psalm 57:7). You will learn to love the gifts because they are from a God who loves you and wants you for His own. They are also for just a moment. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

The Thorn by Martha Snell Nicholson

I stood a mendicant of God

before His royal throne

And begged Him for a priceless gift,

which I could call my own.

I took the gift from out His hand.

but as I would depart,

I cried, “But Lord, this is a thorn

and it has pierced my heart.

“This is strange, a hurtful gift

that Thou hast given me.”

He said, “My child, I give good gifts to thee.”

I took it home and though at first,

the cruel thorn hurt sore;

As long years passed I learned at last

to love it more and more.

I learned He never gives a thorn

without this added grace.

He takes the thorn to pin aside…

the veil which hides His face.

Psalm 57

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.

   I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.

 I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.

  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

  They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.

  My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.

  I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

   Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

A Steadfast Heart

i’ll always think of you that way

PAUNN1ZOQLFrom the start, she was not my favorite. I never did anything well enough to please her and she even slugged me in the face to prove it a couple of times. She was stubborn and orderly and her dementia was triumphing over her. Every morning before entering her room, I would stand outside her door, give myself a pep talk, swallow my stress, consciously breathe in and then out again…one more time, then I’d open the door.

Every morning was the same. “Just get through it, just get through it, just get through it.”

Then one morning, after my familiar routine, I opened the door to find her dressed already, sitting on her couch as she focused on a small piece of paper in her hand. Her uncommonly contented mood confused me. I cautiously approached her with, “Good morning, what are you reading?” She replied, “After school, my mom always has cookies waiting for us.” “Do you like cookies?” I tried not to let my heart get too excited. Cookies is a topic I know quite a lot about. My heart quickened only slightly. “Oh God yes!” was her incredulous response. I pursed my lips to try to hold back a small laugh. I understood her sentiments exactly. “What kinds of cookies did your mom bake for you?” “Every kind.” “Would you like a cookie now?”

I know what you are thinking reader, isn’t it morning? Yes, yes it is but it is never too early for cookies.

I never saw her eyes as I saw them then. Suddenly, a window opened and I was invited inside for a moment. So for the next 15 minutes, we ate cookies together and had the same conversation as described above 10 times over, but it didn’t seem to get old for me and for her, every time was the first time. I don’t think I’d mind that, having a pleasing conversation for the first time ten times in a row.

Every morning after that, I skipped the former routine and flitted right into her room without so much as a pause. I thought, if cookies can charm her, perhaps music can as well. I lead her into her bathroom to help her clean up for the day and I tried to come up with a song that she might know. So of course, I went through songs in my head by Billie Holiday, a close friend of mine (you’ll see I’m telling the truth). “Do you know the song “I’ll Be Seeing You?” I asked. She said no, but I hoped I could help her recall a former time. I started to sing. “I’ll be seeing you/In all the old familiar places/That this heart of mine embraces/All day through/In that small cafe/The park across the way/The children’s carousel/The chestnut trees/The wishing wells…” Then suddenly as I was about to continue she made the solo a duet. “I’ll be seeing you/In every lovely summer’s day/In everything that’s light and gay/I’ll always think of you that way/I’ll find you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you.” I think that even Billie Holiday would have been impressed with our vocals. It was beautiful, in the truest sense of the word.

When I had finished in the bathroom, I went to her bedroom to make her bed. It was not but 1 minute before her tenuous voice reached my ears, repeating over and over, “I’ll be seeing you, I’ll be seeing you, I’ll be seeing you.” I loved her. Right then and there.

I couldn’t resist imagining that there was someone whom she hadn’t seen in a long time, who could be the recipient of her words, someone from a life gone by, someone perhaps who had the same memories as her, who finds her in the morning sun. Perhaps.

But whether or not there was a person like this, I somehow found her, the real her, the one who had been lost for too long. She ended up being a lot like me. A cookie lover, a close friend, and a true romantic.

Days still passed when she would hit me or snarl in my direction, but somehow, it wasn’t so bad anymore. I knew what she really was and I’ll always think of her that way.

i’ll always think of you that way

I want to be
like the waves on the sea,
like the clouds in the wind,
but I’m me.
One day I’ll jump
out of my skin.
I’ll shake the sky
like a hundred violins.

from The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

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sacrifice.

Motorcycle

Ever since I spent 4 months in Israel, I’ve attempted to be more like the people I met there and define words not merely with more words, but with experiences and with stories. Words do not find their full meanings until we attach them to our lives. I experienced this 3 years ago when I had coffee from Intelligentsia. It was as if up until that moment, I had never drank coffee before and so the word finally found its attachment in my life. I had another experience similar to the former with the word “sacrifice.”

For the past 3 months, I have been working at an Assisted Living as a Caregiver. I take care of 13 residents, getting them to the bathroom, sometimes spending 30 minutes with them choosing an outfit for the day, reading the paper with them, getting them from wheelchair to chair, from chair to wheelchair, from wheelchair to chair… Between all these tasks, the residents tend to weasel their way into your heart. I love them all, even the one who hates every outfit I have ever picked out for her. She always says, “This is terrible!” They have all lived amazing lives filled with the same things my life is slowly filling with: joys, heartaches, mistakes, friends, family, successes, failures, etc.

One resident in particular made a home for herself in my heart. She is a 99-year-old petite woman with a morning routine longer and more detailed than Leviticus. For some, this is where their knowledge of her would stop, but look closer. She was a pianist for most of her life and still plays. She always plays the same songs, “O Danny Boy,” “America the Beautiful,” “What a Wonderful World,” and her last song is always “Jesus Loves Me.” I just love that. She has a plaque on her wall for being the longest active member of a nearby church. She has daughters who spend almost every day with her. In the last month, I actually started looking forward to her morning routine because it was time that I got to spend with her.

A couple of weeks ago, she had a stroke while I was with her. I immediately called for the nurse who immediately called 911. For a few minutes, it was just me and her and I sat with her and we waited. She was afraid and so was I. I fought my tears as her face sunk and her eyes lost sight. I told her not to be afraid. She told me not to leave her. I assured her I was staying right there with her and she held my hand. Then I thought of only one thing to say that might give her comfort, the words of the Lord: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). I asked her if she knew that this was true. She nodded and that was the last response I received from her. The paramedics came and within a couple of minutes she was on her way to the hospital and I had to get the next resident out of bed and ready for the day.

After she was in the hospital for 4 days, they brought her back to our Health Center where I went to visit her after work one day. I sat down next to her and told her who I was, but she didn’t remember me. In a moment, the word “sacrifice” had attached itself to my life. I knew what this was. I had to make a choice. Was it worth it to continue to spend my time, emotions, energy on someone who could not remember me let alone give anything in return? I immediately thought of Jesus as he prayed in the garden before he would die, thinking of the sacrifices he had made and would make for a people who would forget him and be unable to pay him back. How in the world was it worth it? Why would he still make this sacrifice that was worlds greater than mine? And then I read Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This is why I will make the sacrifice too, not because I will be remembered or because I will be praised, but because I look to Jesus as I run this race. It was all for the joy set before him, the completion of his redemptive plan that would reach to the ends of the earth and would even be intimately realized in a 99-year-old woman’s room as she endured a stroke.

And in this story is the definition of sacrifice.

sacrifice.

knowing and obeying

Abraham was an old man and getting older. Just as he was getting too old for many of life’s adventures, God went to him and promised He was going to give him a son and that through this son, all the world would be blessed. But Abraham was only getting older and older and the possibilities for this to be true were becoming slimmer. His wife Sarah laughed at the prospect and thought that God is perhaps crazy. She made her own plans and told her husband to take her servant and have a son with her. Abraham obeyed her and doubted God, but the plan seemed to work at first. A son was born of Sarah’s servant, but this son did not turn out to be one who would bless the whole world. This son would be a curse to it. He will cause pain and strife and be a wild donkey of a man. Abraham had failed greatly. He did not trust God, but his wife instead and he caused great strife in the world that continues today. Now, Abraham is even older, 99 to be exact. It would seem that God took back His promise after all. But then, God reaffirmed His promise and told Abraham once more that he would have a son and this son would bless the whole earth and his children be too many to count. Even though Sarah still laughs at the idea, she wonders. Sure enough, she became pregnant and provided an heir, Abraham’s only heir. After all this, Abraham began to understand God and believe that He is trustworthy and faithful.

Several years passed and God went to Abraham again. He told him to take Isaac, his only son and heir and sacrifice him. Abraham reacted quite differently this time. He obeyed. And, he obeyed immediately. Scripture says that he got up early in the morning, put a saddle on his donkey, took his son and went to carry out what the Lord asked of him. When they got to the place of the sacrifice, Abraham, with a heavy heart trusted God and as he was about to sacrifice his son, God provided a substitute. He brought forth a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Abraham was overjoyed, He knew that God would provide and his faith became sight.

And why did Abraham trust God this time? What had he learned? Abraham finally knew God. Abraham knew what kind of God he was serving and knew Him to be trustworthy and faithful. Abraham also must have known that God was infinitely wiser and higher than he could ever imagine to be himself. Abraham was right.

Now, let’s say that you have read the Bible through and through (I pray that this is true). You know it from cover to cover and love every minute that you get to spend reading it. From all of your time in the Word, you can only conclude that God wants everything that you have to give (Matthew 4:18-22Matthew 8:18-22Matthew 10:37-39…) You can only surmise that He wants you to be constantly letting go of the things that this world has to offer in order to gain something more valuable, knowing Him (Philippians 3:8). This is the mindset that Abraham gained from knowing God.

This next part you don’t have to imagine because it will hit you in the face everywhere you turn if you express a desire to give up comfort and control. People will try to convince you that you are crazy. I know because they have done this to me. I cannot tell you how many times believers have said to me that I don’t have to give anything to God, that He is not asking me to do the things that I think He is calling me to do. Uuuum…REALLY?!?!? Seriously?!?! Because every time I read the Bible, it looks like He is. Okay, I’m starting to get sarcastic. Bottom line: they are wrong and the Devil is using their words to convince you that God is not trustworthy. But whatever you do, do not let anyone talk you out of what the Bible is telling you to do or commanding you to give up for God. Just trust God and obey Him. Whatever the consequences are, that is His business. You just need to trust that He is who He says He is just as Abraham had done and you will be blessed.

Now, it doesn’t stop there. If you ever get past the point of letting people talk you out of something that Scripture commands of you, then you have reached the point of doing it. Once you get here, you will face so much resistance. People will laugh at you just as Sarah laughed at Abraham. People will hate you, call you a fool, tell you to go home and to stop loving people more than yourself, stop trying to help orphans and widows, stop being like Jesus. They will lie to you and say what you are doing will make no difference. This is a time for rejoicing. Jesus told us that this would most certainly happen, but He also said that when it does happen, we are to rejoice because our reward will be great in heaven and because the prophets who went before us were persecuted for the same reasons (Matthew 5:12). So don’t stop. You have come too far to stop now and with what awaits you, it is worth the suffering and pain. Do you want to know why I know that? Because God said so. And because I know the kind of God I serve. He is love. In fact, He loves me and all His servants just as much as He loves His only Son (John 17:23). He is faithful and just to forgive all of my sins against Him and to clean me of all my unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He patient, slow to anger, gentle, kind, and the list can literally go on for an eternity, which is the amount of time He promises to those who believe in Him (John 3:16). I trust Him. And so, I will obey Him.

In Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25, the Master gives talents to three different servants. He gives different amounts to each and then leaves them to take care of them while he is gone. The first two servants immediately took their talents and doubled the money for their Master. The third servant though hid his money and did nothing with it for the Master. When the Master did return, the first two were overjoyed to give what they had earned to Him. The Master rejoiced in these servants because they were faithful to the task that He gave them. But the third was not faithful and when asked why not, he explained that he knew the Master to be hard and so was afraid and hid the talents. The Master’s response to this servant was quite different. This servant was unfaithful and the Master cast him away only to live forever without the joy obtained by the first two servants. Now what was the difference between the first two servants and the last? The first two knew exactly who the Master was. They knew that He was good and faithful and worthy of their lives. So, they were overjoyed to giver their time and efforts to His goals and purposes. The last servant on the other hand did not know his Master. He had not tasted of the Master’s goodness and had no taste for the joys of heaven.

So what I am saying is KNOW GOD! Spend time with Him. Don’t put it off. Soon, you will yearn for more and more time with Him. And when you start to know Him, you won’t be able to read the Bible without wanting to obey everything that it says. You will start to love your neighbors more and more every day. You will let the Spirit reign in your life and you will allow Him to lead your conversations, prayers, relationships, and life. You will want to see God move mountains and you will go anywhere and do anything He asks. And you won’t let people stop you for anything. You will “Taste and see that the Lord is so good” (Psalm 34:8).

knowing and obeying