Lifting up holy monkeys in praise to Jesus for cleaning my fish … and other Spanish face palms by yours truly

It has been no joke that after almost two years of living in a Spanish speaking country that my Español is still no bueno.  Okay, that’s not entirely true, as it has provided for many a laugh fest to the masses as I keep messing up the local language and throwing myself under the proverbial bus on Facebook.

The hilarity began fairly soon after we arrived and began work in Panama.  My first major blunder occurred after school one day.  I passed the security guard on the way out of the building  going to our car, only to realize when I got to the gate at the end of the sidewalk that I did not have my keys (llaves) with me.  I turned around, walked back past the guard, smiled, and meant to say, MEANT TO SAY… “I don’t have keys.” What I actually said was, “I don’t have testicles.”  Yes, yes, you sadly read that correctly.   The look on the guards face was priceless!  I realized, in horror, what I had just said and began to shout… No, NO!!  No tengo llaves… LLAVES!!   Sadly, this event has kept me from ever saying the Spanish words for keys, eggs, or Thursday, aloud ever again. I now refer the Thursday as “the day before Friday.”

The rest of the mess ups have not been quite as embarrassing.  However, the Spanish word for embarrassed is another one I will not even attempt to say, because I will end up being pregnant instead of embarrassed, which will embarrass me further.  So far, since being here, I have held up holy monkeys in praise instead of hands, and thanked Jesus for cleaning my fish instead of my sin.  Recently I wondered why we were raising money to cover another missionary’s cats, only to realize that we were raising money for her expenses.

The point of all of this is that the whole Spanish thing is just NOT clicking with me.  It has been beyond frustrating because I have always picked up on things quickly, and have been able to rely on my mind, my intellect, and my recall to get me through.  Yet none of those old fall backs have worked. I kept thinking it would sink in eventually.  Sadly, it has not.  The lack of being able to understand and speak the language has impacted my job, impacted relationships, and has impacted me in being able to use and apply my God given gifts.

A couple of weeks ago we were heading out to the interior to attend a church in Chame that we had helped do some work on over Carnival.  The service there is all in Spanish, so I think the language barrier was on my mind more than usual.  On the drive out I was praying about this nagging issue with learning Spanish, and complaining to God how it seemed as if any Spanish knowledge I tried to learn was just bouncing off the grey matter of my brain and not sinking in.

About this time two things came into my thoughts simultaneously.  First, in the image of the words ‘bouncing off my brain’ which I had just thought about, the “words” suddenly became an image of seeds, and my brain looked like the ground.  Only the ground was dry, cracked, and hardened, and the seeds were literally hitting it and flying up in the air before falling back and landing uselessly on the top of the cement like soil.   The second thing that came into my thoughts was the simple phrase, “Learn my language first.”

As I continued to pray, humbly, God began to reveal that the reason I have not been able to learn Spanish is that I have not been diligent to learn His Word, and learn to fluently speak the language of the scriptures.  I have an elementary knowledge of the Word, just as I have an elementary knowledge of Spanish.  Just because I am in full time ministry at the school and am a “missionary” does not mean that I am massively spiritual and spend all of my time in prayer, worship, and studying the Bible.  Maybe I should be, maybe God is leading me to that. I can only hope. However, if I am 100% honest and transparent, I am just like most everyone else. I wake up in the morning,  say a quick prayer of thanks to God that He has granted me one more day and please, if He could, pretty please have let Pill already put a cup of hot tea on my night stand so I can get coherent enough to get out of bed and into the shower.  I get dressed, go to work (yes, it is at a mission school, but it is still a 7-4 job), come home, cook dinner. Then I sadly really just want to be entertained for an hour or two before I have to go to bed and get up the next day and do it all over again.  Even though we do Bible studies with the youth and do a lot of good stuff for God down here, I have NOT carved out any time for me and God to spend time alone.  That neglect on my part has hardened my brain, which continues to turn my hands into monkeys, and my sins into fish.

The Bible says somewhere (one day I will be fluent enough to not have to look it up) that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and the Word of Lord is sharper than a two edged sword.  What I began to realize is that God wants to use the sword of his Word as a sharp plow, to turn and soften the hardened soil of my mind.  Only then, after my intellect has been tilled by the Word of God and moistened and nourished with the Living Water, will the seeds of the Spanish language finally be able to sink in and begin to grow into a fruitful part of my life.

So please keep me and my little Spanish field in your thoughts and prayers over the coming months.  I have started reading my Bible more often but it still has not become a habit yet, and I am still far from fluent.  I also started looking into language schools here in the city for me to attend this summer, so that additional seeds can be planted in the newly tilled soil of my brain.   Please say a few prayers that God will lead me to the right one, that He will be glorified in the process, and that the cats to attend will not be too bad.

I hate traffic

So God has been on Pill and mine’s case about actively modeling a Christ like life and marriage, especially to our two boys. You would think that as a Christian that type of lifestyle would just come naturally, but we are as depraved and human as everyone else out there, so that lifestyle doesn’t exactly happen all the time, or sadly even most of the time. So what do you do when you really screw things up? Can God use times when you allow the raw sewage that still resides in your heart to spew out in venomous attacks to those you love most? Yes… yes He can.

Case in point … This morning we are driving into work, remember we all work and the kids attend school at the same place, so the commute is a family affair. There was a bit more traffic than usual today, and let’s just say that Pill and I have vastly different ideas of how much space should be available to be able to make a safe turn. When things didn’t go the way I thought they should, I shot him a look, he called me on it, he proceeded to do something that was in my opinion really stupid just to make a point, I called him on it, we proceeded into a screaming match ……right in front of our kids. Great Godly example of a marriage.

Let’s just say the next couple of hours went down like this…

• I stayed in the truck an extra 5 minutes to cry out my absolute rage.

• I went into work and do the best to plaster a smile on my face, but I’m a redhead and we don’t hide stuff well.

• 10 minutes later….I secretly hope that Pill slips on something in the lab and hurts himself bad enough to go to the hospital, but not bad enough to kill him or do permanent injury (sign of just how sick my mind is).

• 10 minutes 15 seconds later……. I pray that God does NOT allow the previous thought to happen.

• 15 minutes … Mike has to come into the office, I do my best not to make eye contact with him.

• 20 minutes later…….. I start worrying about how our kids are doing and if the youngest is going to Eeyore out on us and start spreading rumors that we are getting divorced.

• 60 minutes later…….. I hear a little voice telling me to pray blessings over Mike… I want to physically slap that voice.

• 65 minutes later…… I start praying blessings over Mike and begin to feel better (even though I still think he’s a complete jerk).

• 80 minutes later…….. I start to realize that even though I may be COMPLETELY right about Mike being a jerk, it was not a Godly example to my kids to scream at him in front of them.

• 120 minutes……. I get an email from Mike about something unrelated. I respond back normally. (BTW for you females… when you are in a fight with a guy and they say or email you ANYTHING that is not related to the fight… That is an assumed “I’m sorry.” If you respond back without being snarky that is an assumed “Me too, and you are forgiven.” )

So the rest of the day was uneventful. I worked out after work, Pill comes and picks me up, I go to the Chino and purchase some worm ridden lettuce, mangos, and pipas aguas.

We get home and I ask Pill if he will do me a favor, but that he should really wait to hear what I’m going to ask before he says yes. So I tell him that regardless of how “right” we both were this morning, we did not model a Godly marriage in front of the kids, and would he be willing to go with me to apologize to them? He readily agreed. We had a family meeting and confessed that even though marriage comes with disagreements (especially about driving and especially when you are driving in Panama) that we had not handled it in a Godly way. We admitted that we had both been disrespectful and unloving to each other, and that was not the example that we wanted to set for them. We also warned them that we are human and they will probably see this happen again with us, but we are work in progress. We then stopped and apologized to each other in front of the kids.

So it just goes to show that God CAN use your failures and short comings to His ultimate glory if you humble your heart and let Him. It’s just not always easy. Going to say some prayers… I’m sure there will be more traffic tomorrow!

Resting in the shadow of the cross

So the Pilliod clan and a couple of friends finally decided it was time to go and spend the day out on Isla Taboga.  Taboga is a small island about 10 miles  due South of Panama City.   Many of the local Panamanians head out there on the weekends either by private boat(if you are lucky to own one) or by the public ferry (that would be us!), to get out of the city and spend time relaxing on the beach.

You gotta get away to where the boat leaves from

The island has a quaint little town that is home to about 900 people.   I had also heard that there were some good hiking trails on the island including one that lead up to a cross which over looks the harbor.

After spending a couple of hours lounging on the beach and playing in the water, Pill and I decided to go for a walk.  We had thought about trying to hike up to the cross at the top of the mountain, but hadn’t really made a firm decision when we set off.  The town of Taboga is really cute.  The way the houses are set into the hillside makes me think of pictures I have seen of sea-side towns in Italy or Greece.   We decided we would head through the town in the general direction of where we thought the trail to the cross would be, and if we found it fine, and if not, well that was okay too.

We meandered the entire way through the village, taking in the sites and snapping pictures.

As we reached the other side of the town we still had not found where the trail was that led up to the mountain.  We came upon two young boys walking the same way we were, one of them was carrying a small sack with something in it.  It looked as if they were on their way home from purchasing what ever was in the bag.  We asked them in our best broken Spanish if this was the way to the cross.  They said yes and proceeded to point and walk ahead of us, jabbering a million miles a second in Spanish, which we understood MAYBE about one out of every 20 words.  After a few minutes of the two walking  ahead of us and pointing excitedly and saying something about the cross, we realized that they were not just going to tell us where the trail was, but they were going to SHOW us.  Soon the paved road turned to gravel, and became much narrower, and difficult to walk on.  About this time the kids opened the bag and proceeded to pull out two machetes.    We sort of laughed because it seems no matter who we ask directions from here in Panama, they always end up having  a machete.    I took a picture of them partly because they were cute, but also possibly for evidence if their intent turn out to be less that benevolent.

Several more meters up the road the two pointed to a turn off which was even narrower.  Where we made the turn there was a spigot with a hose hooked up to it.  The kids started stressing for us to get some water.  We had a bottle which was half full so we told them we were okay.  At that point we were under the assumption that they had shown us the trail and were sending us off on our own.  However, a few minutes later, after THEY had very wisely hydrated themselves well, we heard them running up behind us.   We were so lucky they did, because there was one more turn onto what was more or less a foot path leading off into the woods and pretty much straight up, which we would have NEVER seen if they had not come along to point it out.   Deciding it was best to let the ones who knew where they were going lead the way, we stepped aside and let them go ahead.   Our two young guides were awesome.  They stayed just ahead of us and used their machetes to chop away any grass or vines that may have tripped us up, clearing our path as we began the hike uphill.

About 10 minutes after the last turn we emerged from the shade of the  jungle onto a beautiful grass covered hill and were met with a lovely northern breeze blowing across the ocean.   It was about this time however that I began to tire out. I’ll be completely honest, I am really out of shape.  I haven’t worked out in … well… let’s just say it’s been a while.  I may look physically fit, but if the zombies were to attack tomorrow, I wouldn’t last very long.  Now we were out in the direct sun with zero shade, hiking uphill, on slippery gravel.    Every few minutes I had to stop to catch my breath.  As I began to make the rest-stops, I started joking with our two guides calling myself Gringa Vieja (old white woman).   They laughed, I laughed… but I was running out of steam quickly.

The rest of the trip went something like this:

Walk uphill for 3-4 minutes

Stop

Rest

Breathe

Try not to throw up

Repeat

The kids would point out a view and say how beautiful it was, and remind me that the cross was just ahead.  They were always a few feet in front of us and, not to leave us behind, would stop and wait patiently for us each time I had to rest.  I finally asked Mike to go on ahead with them so he didn’t have to wait on my slow-poke, out of shape self, but he said “I’m not leaving you behind.”

As we rounded one bend and I looked up and could finally see the cross and realized we still had a LONG way to go, and that long way was straight up.

The kids were still ahead of  us clearing the path, pointing and saying that it was RIGHT there.  You see, they had a goal, to get us to the cross, and they kept us moving towards it.  Quitting was not an option.  Their enthusiasm had been cute at first but at this point I began to really want to smack them.  I’m TIRED!  I’m HOT!  I CAN’T DO THIS!! The water was almost gone and I really felt like I was going to puke up what I had already drank.    I looked up, saw them smiling down at me, and patiently waiting,  and I decided that I wasn’t going to give up.

Know this, if it hadn’t been for those two little ones persistently leading the way, and the fact that Pill stuck with me, I would have said, “This is just too hard!”, and I would have given up and marched my happy butt back down to the beach.   It hit me about half way up that final climb that many times following Christ is just as hard.   We need people in our lives who have already traveled the rough roads we are on, who know the way, who can encourage us that we are almost there, and that it is worth it, if we can keep at it just a bit longer.  We NEED people (family/friends) who will stick right by our side and let us know that they will not leave us, even when we tire and stumble.  This Christian life is not easy, it is the road less traveled, and we cannot do it alone.  The irony that we were heading towards a cross when this entered my mind was not lost on me.

Just a few more steps to the top.  The kids are cheering, Mike is encouraging me, yet  I felt like I could not take one more step….and then suddenly I was there.  Finally to my destination at the top of the hill and to the large white cross which stands on a huge 5 level pedestal.

Tired, sick, weary, not feeling victorious at all, still in the heat of the sun, I collapsed on the first step at the foot of the cross.  I put my head down and would have cried from shear exhaustion but I was too tired and too dehydrated to do so!   I was feeling no better at the moment than I had on the climb up.  My heart was still pounding and I was fairly certain that I was going to christen the top of the mountain with the contents of my stomach.  I was at the summit, but there was no relief, no victory, no rest.   As I looked up I realized that on the other side of the stand the sun had cast a shadow from the cross.  I said to Mike… “I need to go rest  in the shadow of the cross.”  He smiled and  laughed and helped me over to the shade of the cross where I was out of the heat of the sun.  As soon as I sat down in the shadow, leaning back onto the cross, the temperature dropped a good 15 degrees,  I could finally feel the northern breeze again, and it began to cool me off.  As I found true rest, the nausea went away, I started to finally relax,  and for the first time I was able to see and appreciate the breath taking view of the island.

The path had been narrow, and difficult, but it was now worth every second.  After I regained my bearings I got up and started to take some pictures.  As I stepped away from the cross our two young guides began to warn me not to go too far.  Making sure that I knew there were cliffs all around and they did not want me to fall.

As we were sitting there drinking in the view for the last time, waiting to head back down to the beach, we finally asked our two new friends, who had so faithfully led us to the cross, what their names were….

¿Cómo te llamas?

“Moisés…”

“¿Y tu?”

“Jesús…”

It was at that point that Pill and I both shed a tear.

I will forever, from this day forward, rest … in the shadow of the cross.

But Mom, I Don’t Think They Are Real Indians… A Story on Trust and Obedience

This story is actually from a couple of years ago when we were still living in the States, prior to our move to Panama.  I was working at Florida Blue as a systems analyst in our technical department, and Mike was teaching online for K12 and homeschooling our two kids, Drew and Pepper.  Home schooling our 4th grader, Drew, had been interesting for Pill as 4th graders do not learn Chemistry and AP Biology which is Mike’s forte.  So, the two of them had been working through 4th grade math, spelling, social studies, and reading an elementary version of Robinson Crusoe.  Drew was also a new believer to the Christian faith and was eager to share Christ with anyone who would listen…ESPCIALLY if he found out you were not a Christian.  We were very proud of him, but we also wanted him to learn that sharing your faith has to be tempered with love and a lot of grace.  We also were stressing how important it is to develop real relationships and friendships with people and SHOW them Christ instead of just telling them about Him.

As I stated, I was working at Blue in the technology department where I was one of 3 Americans on a team of 8.  The other 5 members were from India.  I had come to love my Indian co-workers and had developed friendships with them that were, and still are, very special.  Several were Hindu, and one was Muslim.  One of the guys on our team, who is Hindu, was having a birthday party for his daughter and invited all of us and our families to come.  I thought that this would be a good opportunity for Drew to practice his relationship building skills.  I sat him down before the party to tell him a few things.  My side of the conversation went pretty much like this:

“Drew we are going to a birthday party for one of my co-worker’s daughters.”

“No, you probably will not know anyone there.”

“Yes, there will be kids there.”

“I need you to understand something before we go.  These people are my friends, and they are from a completely different country called India, so they are Indians.  They dress differently than we do, they speak differently than we do, and they worship different gods than we do, and that’s okay!”

“Yes, you can tell them about Jesus.”

“Drew, what I want you to focus on today is that you are all JUST kids.  You aren’t white kids, or dark kids, or English speakers, or Americans, or Indians, or Christians or Hindu.  You are all just kids.  I want you to play, and have FUN, and make friends, and SHOW everyone Jesus by how you treat them.”

“Okay?”

Drew agreed and off we went.

The party was at a local park and it started between 10 and 11 AM.  What we discovered that day is that Indian birthday parties are “all day” affairs.  There were two full meals of AWESOME Indian food, cake, presents, games… the works.  We all had a lovely time and got home really late in the afternoon.

I wanted to debrief the day with Drew to get his take on how things went.  He had done exactly as I had asked and played and had a wonderful time. So I asked him, “Well did you have fun playing with the kids today?”  The first part of his answer was expected… “YES!” he said, “Those kids were actually really, REALLY nice.”  …. The second part of his answer, however, threw me for a bit of a loop.  “But Mom?  I don’t think they are real Indians.”  To say I was intrigued was an understatement, and not asking the obvious question of why was not an option. So I asked, “Why don’t you think they are real Indians?”  No lie, Drew looked me right in the eye and said,

“Because they didn’t try to eat me.”

Guys, imagine the look of an extremely confused puppy, with its head tilted sideways, and then add what it would look like if you suddenly tossed freezing cold ice water in the puppy’s face…. THAT was the look I got when he said this.  I felt my brain physically cramp trying to figure out WHERE this crazy idea had come from.  So I composed myself, and in the calmest, nicest tone I could possibly muster I asked, “Drew, why would you think that they would try to eat you?”  To which he calmly answered, “Like the Indians in Robinson Crusoe.”    Guys, I almost fell out of my chair laughing hysterically whilst half screaming, “Drew!!! They aren’t THOSE kind of INDIANS!!!”

Now, as hysterical as this was, it got me thinking.  Poor Drew went that entire day making friends and loving on kids that, in his mind, at any given moment, would possibly try to make him the entrée for the last part of the party.  Yet he did EXACTLY what I asked him to do, and loved them despite the fact they had forks and knives in their hands for most of the day.  He was an obedient child to the requests of his parents.   His faith and trust in me and his Dad, and his gentle compliance to our requests, despite his fears, humbled me beyond measure.   Why did it humble me? Because, quite frankly, it blows my own level of faith out of the water.  I know that we are missionaries, and yes we have made a major step of faith by leaving our comfortable lives in the States.  And yes,  God is using us here in Panama and we are right where we are supposed to be.  But even though we are in a third world country, we are not in a “danger zone”.   I question if I would have the faith if God suddenly said, “Allison, I need you to move to a place where they are killing Christians, and LOVE them, and SERVE them, and SHOW them me,” to be obedient without question, and move there with 100% peace.  Would I have the obedience to go without hesitation like Drew went to the party, knowing that harm could possibly befall him, yet also knowing that we would be with him?   Remember, he still thought the kids would TRY to eat him, even with his father and I right there, yet he walked in humble obedience to our will.   What an awesome testimony to childlike faith and obedience.   Thank you God for using my child, and Robinson Crusoe, to show me how much my faith still needs to grow!  Please let me come to the realization, that regardless of where you may ask me to go, it’ll be okay, no matter what, because Daddy said so.

The Rooster Keeps on Crowing

Have you ever had a song, or smell, or sound which brings to mind such a vivid memory that the emotions or feelings associated with it are almost tangible?   I have.  Trains whistles have been a recent trigger for me.  I was lying in bed in the early morning hours this week with the windows open.  We live about a mile or so, as the crow flies, from the railway that runs between the Port of Balboa on the Pacific side and Colon on the Caribbean side of Panama.  In the still morning air the sound of a train whistle drifted into our bedroom, and I had a flashback of being in my childhood home in Bryceville. In my mind’s eye I could see the rooms of the house, my pets, and the smell of my grandmother’s fried chicken. Train whistles were daily part of my life there, and always bring up emotions associated with home.  But this blog isn’t about trains, it’s about roosters.

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to go and stay in the small island community of Bocas del Toro on the Western side of Panama.  The house we rented backed up to a fishing village.  Every morning, about an hour before sunrise, just when you should be getting your best sleep, a rooster would start crowing.  He would not stop once he started, and would continue to crow off and on every few minutes.  So it would wake you up once, and then about the time you would go back to sleep, it would crow again… repeat process until you finally got out of bed and the sounds of the day began to drown it out.  Most mornings that week, I thought about my Grandmother’s fried chicken and wondered if I could duplicate the recipe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about roosters the last few of days.  Being Easter time, my mind keeps going back to the story of the crucifixion.   Funny, we usually associate Easter with bunnies and baby chicks, but not roosters.  The trip to Bocas taught me something about those “Welcome the Dawn in the Most Obnoxious Way Possible” birds, which I think has a lot of relevance to the story of Good Friday, and Easter.

Those who know the Bible may guess where I’m going with this.  I’m talking about Peter, and his infamous rooster.  Peter, the most zealous disciple of Christ, the one who assured Jesus at the last supper that he would never deny Him,  never leave Him, and would fight to the death if necessary. I’m sure that he did not believe the Lord for a second when He looked at him, and almost speaking as to a child said, “Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”   Peter must have thought that Jesus had NO CLUE what He was talking about to even think such a thing.

For a short time that evening it seems as if Peter was making good on his promises.  He cut off the ear of one of the people that arrested Jesus.  He then is the only disciple brave enough to follow Him to the High Priests house. He actually sits with the officers. Then he hears that Christ is going to be put to death and something changed.  Even though Christ told Peter that He was going to be crucified, I don’t think he believed it would actually happen.  Jesus could not be killed. He was the messiah!  Peter’s faith began to falter.  Then the denials came. Maybe the first one was just a white lie to gain him time to figure out what to do.   It shouldn’t count because he had only lied to a servant girl, right? Jesus seemed doomed, what could he do?  Now more people are accusing Peter of being a disciple of Christ.  He wonders if he is next to be arrested.  How can he help Him if he’s captured too?  Fear engulfs Peter, self preservation kicks in. The crowds press in around him, pointing, accusing. Peter, screaming, cursing, yelling… denying.  Then it happened, just before day break, the rooster crowed, and I’m sure the sound was a knife into his heart.

Have you ever betrayed someone?  Or at least been talking poorly or mocking someone, only to realize they are standing right behind you and have heard the entire thing?  I’ve sadly done that before, and the guilt and shame were as if someone had slugged me in the stomach.  Now image the pain if  the person you love most in this world, who is about to be put to death,  just overhead you say, with curses, that you don’t even know who they are, and those will be the last words they will EVER hear you say.  You lock eyes with them for just a second and see their eyes, still filled with love for you, now mingled with pain, and a look that says…”I told you.”  I’m sure Peter’s denial was much more painful to Jesus than the kiss of Judas had been. The Bible says that when the rooster crowed Peter glanced up and saw Jesus looking at him.  The emotional agony of that visual interchange had to be overwhelming.  Peter wept, sobbed.  I know those sobs.  The ones where you feel like your insides are going to come out. Where you pray they might, just to ease your pain.

Most people, when they betray someone at least have the chance to say “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me”, at some point. For Peter and Jesus there was no time for to talk.  No resolution.  No closure for Peter.  There was just pain.  Christ was crucified that same day.  As far as Peter knew his final moments with Christ would forever be his own denial and betrayal.

I’m sure many of us like to think, “I would never deny Christ! Even if it meant my own death”!  Gee…. That sounds familiar.  Yet we do deny Him, DAILY.  How?  Do we actually shout out “I don’t know Jesus!!”?  Not in so many words.  However, we deny Him by our actions and deeds all the time.  D.C. Talk, in their song, ‘What if I Stumble’, has the most profound quote at the beginning of the song.  It states simply, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what and unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  And when our lifestyle runs counter to the life of Christ, and it is painful brought to our attention, then we suddenly know the depth of our denial.  Many people are sadly so far removed from their relationship with Christ that the revelation no longer pains them.  But a few of us hear the rooster crow, lock eyes with our Savior, let our failure rip our heart out, and we realize how unworthy we are of him.

Let’s get back to Peter. We do not know for sure if he was at the crucifixion.  The only disciple mentioned in scripture as being present is John.  John had run away from Christ the previous morning too, but he at least showed up.  I don’t think Peter could.  He was ashamed, heartbroken.  The last thing his best friend, brother, and Lord had heard him say on this Earth were curses about how he didn’t know him, and there was nothing he could do to change that.  Peter hears from others that Christ has died and has been buried. Does he sleep that night?  I seriously doubt it.

Then, early in the morning on Saturday, just before dawn, before he can hope in the fuzzy moment between dreaming and consciousness that it all was just a horrible nightmare, he hears it…”Cock-a-doodle-doo!!”  The pain of the previous morning’s betrayal washes over him like a dark, unforgiving, heavy, wave. “ NOOOOOOOO!!!  Jesus is dead, I failed Him, I denied him, I am worthless.”  Sunday morning, again…”Cock-a-doodle-doo!!”  Still more heart break.  Then not long after, a miracle!?! Could it be?  Jesus is alive?   He runs to the tomb. It’s empty!  Later Jesus appears to them.  It’s true!  Peter has a glimmer of hope that he will have a second chance.  Jesus appears to the disciples twice, but things just are not the same with Christ and Peter.

What I know, from waking up in that small town in Bocas, is that roosters do not take a day off,  nor do they stop crowing as the day goes on.  So all those years ago, Peter heard the rooster crow again on Monday morning, and all day Monday.  Maybe the pain was a bit different now, the pain of something never being the same again, but it was still a reminder of “I denied Him when he needed me most.”  Again on Tuesday daybreak came the crow, and on Wednesday, and on Thursday.  And even through Christ is no longer dead Peter is being reminded daily and continually of his betrayal.  The rooster crow was no longer a stab to his heart that his friend is gone, but it is now a constant reminder of his betrayal and that he is no longer worthy to call Christ his friend.  Instead of ‘cock-a doodle do”, Peter hears, “you are not worthy’, ‘you denied Him’. The pain and guilt of his sin are still unresolved, and unresolved sin will eventually drive you away from God, even when he is right there with you.  Why?  Because you do not feel you are worthy, and you are probably right, you aren’t, but your worthiness is not up to you. God asks of us to have a contrite spirit and to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind.

So does Peter resolve his sorrow and go and ask for forgiveness?  Nope!  In his mindset of, “I will never be worthy of Christ again.” He gives up.  How do we know this?  Read John 21:3, remember that Christ is still on Earth at this point, and you would think that the disciples would be spreading the Good News of his resurrection right?  Wrong!  Peter is still their defacto “leader” and what does he do?  Well after a few weeks of hearing the rooster crow each morning and throughout each day, Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  Seriously ?  You are going back to your old life?  Walking away from all you have learned and all you have been called to do?  Of course he was.  Why? Because he did not feel worthy enough due to unresolved sin in his life, and yes, unresolved sin is an ongoing betrayal.  At this point Peter wasn’t denying Christ anymore, but the issue in his heart had not been resolved.  His sin of denial had not been confessed.  Maybe because he thought it could never be forgiven.  It takes humbleness to confess sin and that is HARD.  So hard that Peter, the “Rock” was walking away from his calling, to go back to doing what he had always done.  Don’t judge!  We have all been there.  What was worse was that the others were still feeling guilt for running away.  Their shame had not been resolved either. So what did they do?  They said, “We will also come with you.”  So now the leader, that Jesus appointed, is dragging them all down with him.  Because of shame, pride, hurt, an unwillingness to say I’m sorry, because he thought he did not deserve to be forgiven.

So the group of them did exactly what we do today when we feel that we do not deserve Christ.  They went right back to where they had been three years before, on a boat, with their nets, fishing for fish.  It was like Christ had never stepped foot into their lives.   They fished all night and by day break had absolutely nothing to show for it.  Then something happened. The morning began to arrive.  I’m sure after weeks of waking up to “You are not worthy” from the closest Patmos Island Red rooster,  Peter had begun to dread the dawn.  I never caught this until now, but when Jesus showed up on the beach, do you know what time of day it was?  Just when the day was breaking.  At that moment, just before the rooster crowed, when Peter’s pain would be at the very worst, when his heart would break all over again, and the black wave of guilt was preparing to rush over his heart, mind and spirit, Jesus called out to them, over the crow of the rooster.  “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?”  Something familiar about that voice stirred them.  I’m sure the memory of that same beach, same boat, same nets even, from years earlier, and the voice saying, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men,”  may have crossed their minds.“NO!!” They answered back, drowning out the rooster again.  Jesus yells, over the crowing of the rooster, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.”  The noise of the gear and the yells of the men suddenly catching a net full of fish would have surely drowned out the rest of the devil bird’s crows that dawn.  Peter is feeling better for some odd reason.  This has been the first morning he has not had the rooster to contend with for weeks.  Then John says it, “It is the Lord.”  It was Jesus on the beach, he had come back to the very place they had started, and found them and offered them, NOT a second chance, but a brand new beginning.  They had tried to run away with their shame, but Jesus had tracked them down, and was still blessing them regardless of what they had done.  In his own simple, kind, loving way, by Christ showing up on that beach that morning and drowning out the rooster, and providing the bonus of fish, He let Peter and the others know they were forgiven.   Peter was so overwhelmed he dove into the water and swam to shore as fast as he could. Why?  Because Peter wanted that reconciliation, he NEEDED things to be right with he and Jesus again.  He had to let the guilt and the shame go.

Christ also knew that Peter would continue hear the rooster crow each day, and if He did not completely restore him, that eventually the pain of the sound would wear him down again. Christ needed him to be a rock, not someone that could be defeated by a silly chicken announcing a new day.  So for each time Peter had betrayed him, Christ gave him the opportunity to make it right, and to build him back up.  Earlier Christ had, based on Peter’s faith that Christ was the son of God, stated that it was on that faith that He would build his Church.  When Peter saw his faith completely fail on Good Friday, in his mind he was no longer worthy to lead or build Christ’s church for Him. Christ needed him to know that just because his faith had faltered, that is was Peter’s love for Jesus that would pull him through.   Even though he had stumbled badly, Christ still had work for him to do.

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

Yes Lord.

Tend my lambs.

Simon, son of John, Do you love me?

Yes Lord.

Shepherd My sheep.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

{With pain at the realization of the three question, like his three denials}

“Lord you know all things; You KNOW that I love You.”

Tend My sheep.

Christ let Peter know that He still found him worthy to build His church, even if Peter did not think he was worthy to do it.

What Christ was driving home was for Peter to not give up on what God needed him to do based upon Peter’s view of his own worth, but to do it because he loved Christ and more important because Christ loved him!  So each morning after that day, when the rooster told him he was not worthy, Peter could boldly scream out into the coop, “IT DOESN”T MATTER! I will do it because I love Christ, and because He loves me, even though he shouldn’t!!”

I think we all have our own roosters we deal with daily. Those things in our life that constantly say, “You are not worthy of God’s love.” “You are not worthy to be his disciple.”  “You are a hypocrite.”   We often try to drown the rooster out with our work, with alcohol, with working out. Or with doing good deeds hoping to stop the rooster stop from crowing. Only to find that none of it will stop the relentless call.

Like Peter, we have to come to realize a couple of things. First, that nothing we have done is beyond the forgiveness of Christ.   Holding on to that shame only causes the crows of the rooster to get louder each day. Second, that it doesn’t matter if we think we are worthy.  It only matters if God thinks we are worthy.   Peter still heard the crow of the rooster the rest of his days, but it longer had power over him, because he got things right between he and the King.  When we finally put our shame, guilt, and fear under the authority of Jesus, and lay those burdens down as His feet, then we are able to begin to live in the fullness of God’s glory once again.  We can never be worthy enough. We don’t have to be.  Our job is to love Christ, because He loves us and He forgives us.

So what are you going to do.  Keep listening to a silly bird?  Christ is on the beach waiting to give you a new start.  He has tracked you down to release you from your guilt and shame.  He wants to drown out the crows of your rooster, and remove forever that daily sting.  He is wanting to fellowship with you once more. You just need to dive in, and swim to Him.

If you don’t need a shepherd… you need to be one!

It’s Christmas time!!  I know that a lot of people love this time of year.  The decorations, Christmas carols, the FOOD, vacation time, shopping, gifts, and spending time with  family.  For some reason, and I don’t know why, but the Christmas season for me always seems like such a lonely time. Even when I’m surrounded by family and friends, celebrating the birth of my Savior, I often feel isolated and sad. I also know that I’m not the only one that goes through this.

I wanted to send out a little message of encouragement to those of us who have the issue of feeling down at this time of year, and a plea to those who do not.   Last year God laid this idea on my heart, guided me through some research,  and revealed some insight into someone else who, in all likelihood,  had some major “Christmas Day” blues, and I think this person may have been down emotionally for a while before Christmas Day even arrived.   The person is Mary. Yeah… THAT Mary.   Right now you may be about to call me out of line for even suggesting such a thing.  Really Allison?  You are trying to tell us that you think Mary had the holiday blues?  The mother of God?  Yes, yes I am.   The scripture doesn’t say what Mary was thinking or feeling that night, so all of this is speculation on my part.  But I do know as a woman what it feels like to be tired, and pregnant, and alone, and based upon what I have read I think she was all of those things during that first Christmas.  I would reckon that most people “think” she was in awe of what was going on and at complete peace.  Maybe that was the case, and it’s nice to imagine it that way.   I personally think that Mary felt completely isolated and abandoned that night, by both her family and her God,  and that her faith was being rocked to the core.  I believe that her emotions were more raw than we could ever empathize with.  Why, you ask?  Well I’ll get to that.

In contrast, I like to  imagine her months earlier, walking in the glow of being visited by the angel Gabriel, telling her the news that SHE was going to bear Jesus, the Messiah, the ONE everyone was waiting for to bring deliverance. The message was affirmed with her visit to her cousin Elisabeth.  Then, the first big blow to her ‘God moment’; Joseph doesn’t believe her and wants to leave. You know I have been heart-broken in my life, and I wasn’t engaged and I wasn’t pregnant, and it still destroyed me.  I cannot image her devastation.  If he didn’t believe her, who would?  What was she going to do? How would she raise the child by herself? Disgraced, heartbroken, abandoned, alone … Then by a miraculous dream Joseph is shown the truth by an angel, believes her and stays by her side. But what was the fallout of his decision?

Well let’s fast forward 9 months to the little town of Bethlehem. First off, I think the thought, “Seriously God?” must have gone through Mary’s mind when she realized that she would be either walking or riding a donkey 70 miles while 9 months pregnant. Some science has placed the actual birth of Jesus closer to the summer months, so she may very well have been either walking or riding those 70 miles in the heat. I’m sure that the difficult travel over less than stellar terrain, more than likely ensured that she would deliver in Bethlehem; which of course is what God planned all along, but 20/20 hindsight doesn’t always make the present situation easier to deal with. Maybe I’m projecting what I think would be my own fears, frustrations and apprehensions, to Mary; but I don’t know very many pregnant women who would revel in the thought of having to walk/ride 70 miles in that condition, so I think the fact that she was at least ‘not happy’ about the situation is a safe assumption to make.

I think at that point she may have been an easy target for the enemy to start creeping in and attacking with a little doubt. “I have to walk this huge distance”… “If this were really God’s child WHY would he have allowed this to happen?”  I’m sure that traveling with a 9 months pregnant Mary, did not make for the best travel time to Bethlehem. I’m willing to bet that the fact that they had to travel slowly was one of the reasons they were late getting there, and thus no available rooms. Plus, it’s not like Al Gore or Alexander G. Bell were around back then so they could reserve rooms ahead of time online, or call to say they were running late.   They finally make it to Bethlehem and there is nowhere to stay.  So what’s the big deal with that?

Well, after participating in the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd several years ago (along with the rest of the East coast of Florida) I know the frustration of ALL the rooms being filled. Driving, not walking, to every hotel in Georgia west of I-75) only to be told, “We are full, keep driving” over, and over, and over again.  It’s weary and frustrating beyond what you can image.  When we finally found someone willing to take us in at the end of that long day Mike’s only comment, through tears of gratitude,  was, “They can be a serial killers and chop me up into little pieces for all I care…. as long as they let me go to sleep first.”

But should Mary and Joseph have really NEEDED a room in the inn?  Let’s think about this…. The Bible tells us that Joseph went to Bethlehem because his family was from the lineage of David. That means that Joseph’s ENTIRE family, if alive, would have been somewhere in the city, either in Inns or in private houses.  Yet there is no family that offers to let them stay with them, not even to sleep on the floor? Why?!? Knowing that their relative-in-law just traveled such a long distance, pregnant, and not just a little pregnant. This was their grandchild right, or at least a nephew, or a cousin?

My thought is that after Joseph decided to stay with Mary his family shunned him, and her, and the baby.  Let’s face it…It is quite an unbelievable story.  “Let me get this straight… She’s pregnant and it’s GOD’s child…. riiiiiight.”   I can only image the ridicule they had both been through the previous months… it was probably the Aramaic version of the following: “Oh my goodness son, you actually believe that TRAMP?”  “Based on the Law she should be stoned to death and you are protecting that sinner?” “If anyone finds out the truth our family will be shunned.”  “She is making a fool of you!” “Don’t expect us to have anything to do with you if this is your decision.”

So here they are, ALONE, no place to stay, and no family that will even offer to put a roof over their head. She ends up in a stable, with the donkeys, cows, horses, rats, and pigs… Okay … maybe not pigs, but you get the point. We always make it look all warm and cozy in the church plays, but it was a STABLE! It stunk! If it were summer it may have been sweltering and stunk worse!

They were HOMELESS, HOTEL-LESS, FAMILY-LESS. I’ll bet there were weary tears of frustration, pain, abandonment, and loneliness. Then another, “Seriously God?” moment. “I’m going into labor?  I have to deliver the baby here? Now? You have GOT to be kidding me!!” How shameful. No family, no mid-wife to help. The Bible states that ‘Mary’ wrapped the baby in swaddling clothes. This would have ordinarily been done by a mid-wife, which means she probably delivered the baby alone. I think she felt completely isolated and demoralized at that moment, even though the God of the Universe was laying there in her arms. How often do we feel this way, even when we know that God is with us?

Now think about this… How vulnerable to major doubt was she right then? How easy would it have been for the enemy to plant the thought in her head , “God would have never allowed his child to be born in such a manner; the angel lied to me!”, and her believe it.   She could have gotten bitter and cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” I’m sure Joseph may have been having many of the same thoughts.

So what did God do? Did you ever wonder WHY he sent the shepherds? Did he think we would just like recreating the scene this time of year? Was it just an excuse for Him to be able to have a big belly laugh at us for dressing our kids up in ridiculous sheep and shepherd costumes? No! And to be honest, Jesus didn’t NEED their praise, even though he was more than worthy of it. I’m fairly certain that the shepherds, the lowliest of workers, were sent to the stable that night just for Mary and Joseph. What exactly had the shepherds been told, which was repeated to the two weary, both physically and spiritually, and lonely parents ? “Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you: he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Wow! That message was just for them. In their lowest moment God sent someone to tell them he was still there, that they were on the right path even though it was difficult, to affirm his Word,  and to renew their faith.

I hope this Christmas, if you are feeling lonely and wondering where the heck God is, that you will know that God is right there with you, just as Jesus was with Mary that night. I also pray that God will send some modern-day shepherds your way to increase your faith and let you know that you are right in the middle of His plan, just when you need it most.  I also pray that you shepherds out there…. Listen for God’s voice this Christmas, then be obedient and seek out the people who need to have God’s encouragement the most.  Let them know that God is there with them and help revive their faith.  After all, that is really what Christmas is all about.

Thanksgiving in the storm….

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

Such a simple verse to read, but a very difficult thing to do.

Today was my day to do devotions at school.   As per norm, I did not remember that little fact until about 5 minutes before it was supposed to start.  Panicked, I prayed a quick “Oh GOD, you have GOT to help me!” prayer.   The only thing that came to my mind was the word proclamation.  Seriously God?   THAT’LL help {sarcasm font needed}…. So I typed into Google (I’m a GENIUS when I have Google btw) ‘Thanksgiving proclamation’, and low and behold, the FIRST thing that popped up was a link to ‘Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.”  I started reading and before I could finish I was moved to tears…. The text is as follows:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

When I read the date Oct 3rd, 1863, something struck me as odd about it.  Then I realized why it seemed strange.  This request to give thanks to God was given in the exact middle of the War between the States.  Wow!  It is so easy to give thanks in times of prosperity and peace, but for President Lincoln to do this, during the hell and heartbreak of war, was amazing.  It was a such a wonderful testament to giving thanks to God in all circumstances.

Later in the day we learned that a dear friends of ours had suffered a tragic loss that morning.  In the midst of my broken heart, my mind and spirit were brought back to the devotion from earlier, and the fact that first official Thanksgiving was established during the personal pain and suffering of so many.   Even through the pain, we have reason to give thanks and praise, and I am so very thankful.  I am thankful for a loving Savior,  for my family, for my friends, co-workers, job, home, and for each day that God allows me to draw breath this side of heaven.  I am thankful for the times in my life that have been difficult and painful, for they have made me a stronger person.  In ALL things I will give thanks, even if there is pain in the offering!

Previous Older Entries