Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Therapy of Worship

     If you know me at all, you would know that I love animals and have almost always had pets during my adult life. A few months ago I purchased a couple of canaries. I had just lost my third Kakariki bird, leaving one more, a bald one. I wanted a change from larger birds to smaller ones, ones that sing, ones that don't make such a mess. One of the canaries was a beautiful orange one, Victor and a white one, Plexi. They were beautiful to look at but the only one that made any sound was Victor, on occasion. Plexi would just yell every once in a while when it was fighting with Victor. They were jealous over the chopped apples or pears I gave them. This wasn't what I was expecting out of singing birds. A couple of weeks ago, I inherited a little kitten, was a little concerned about how Victor and Plexi were going to get along with "Tiger", (I know, I know, I wasn't flowing in creative juices at the time of renaming it from Cheyene, a name I had to reach for in my memory each time I thought of it). Well.... I got my answer the first morning, I found the bird cage across the room on the floor, Tiger managed to extract Victor from the cage without even opening the door, leaving just a few feathers as evidence. What was amazing was that Plexi wasn't touched at all. I was surprised Plexi hadn't had a heart attack. Needless to say, Plexi wasn't going to do any singing for awhile. Neither baldy nor Plexi made a sound for quite some time.

  The other day, I was streaming praise and worship music from KTIS out of Minneapolis.  The song, "What a beautiful name" came on. Suddenly the most beautiful sound of singing and whistling started flowing out of Plexi. After all of the trauma, this bird has gone through, it was worship that brought it back to life.
    It reminded me of that horrible day in Newcastle, UK, when I returned home after hearing I had failed out of the Master's programme and my uni days were over (so I thought, but that is a story for another time). I was devastated, I went home and cried harder and longer than I can remember. I felt like I had let my team down, my supporters down, my organization down and had wasted a year time away from the field. My housemate, Claire, came home and she said, "Come, let's go worship!" How in the world could I possibly think of worship at a time like this? I could barely get on my feet, I was so exhausted and bummed. She grabbed my hand, pulled me up to my feet, we went to the living room and she put on a worship dvd. I sat and just listened, listened to the words flow into me. Then all of a sudden, the words came to my lips and my heart began to feel a salve of peace fill it up. As I began to praise and worship the Lord, my strength began to rise in me until I could fully worship Him and thank Him for who He is in my life and that He is holding me through this. I knew everything was going to be alright.
    My friends, Praising and Worshipping our Lord, our Daddy God, is what calms the storms, or at least strengthens us to a point we can walk through them and come out on the other side.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Reflection on 18 years

     Yesterday was my 18th year anniversary on the field. It was a day of reflection and a day of another milestone. I had been learning how to play chords on the piano during the summer so as to be able to accompany worship while in the prayer house. We had an amazing worship time and I was able to keep up with most of the songs for the first time. What a great gift on this anniversary, to be able to worship freely while playing the piano.
      One of the things that has struck me as I reflect on these years is that there has been a constant ebb and flow of disappointments and then God's demonstration of His goodness. We are studying Psalm 100 this next Friday evening with our gathering of believers. Verse 5 specifically says, "For the Lord is good...!" This truth has been demonstrated over and over again throughout these past 18 years. Each time there was a disappointment, no matter how small or absolutely huge, God always follow-uped the disappointment with showing off His goodness. There is no way that I can possibly face a disappointment now in despair because I know that there is a huge blessings on its heels. God is going to do something amazing! He always does! So.... if at the time you read this, you are in a tough spot, just know, you can hold on because the Lord is a comin', and its going to be GOOD!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Backpack awareness, is your load too heavy?


 I am just nearing the end of a community health course in my doctorate program. Our assignment was to develop a health and wellness program that would target a community health issue in our places of work. As an occupational therapist, even before this class, I had planned on doing a backpack awareness campaign here in Kosovo. The kids are required to carry much more weight on their back to and from school than is safe for their little bodies to carry.


     As I was reflecting on this project, it hit me there are many spiritual implications that can tie into the topic of carrying loads that are too heavy for us. In a survey I conducted for the project, parents reported that the kids would have to carry everyday at least 9-10 textbooks, 7 notebooks, all their art and writing utensils, plus water and snacks. There are no lockers or desks in the elementary schools here where the kids can leave unnecessary books at school. The parents also reported that their children would come home from school complaining of pain in their necks, shoulders, backs and were very tired. They would need to rest before beginning their homework. How many us pack so much into our days that the burden of carrying all of our obligations gets too painful. We feel the pull of the weight of our work as we begin each new day. Maybe the heaviness is not from the work we do, but it is from other stresses of life we face. Each day, we pick up our stresses and carry them around all day long, until we collapse at the end of the day from the weight of them all. We were not created in such a way that our bodies, minds, spirits were meant to carry so much. Jesus invited us in Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Jesus doesn't invite us to rest in His lap still carrying that heavy backpack of work and stress, but He removes it from us.
     Some of the tips for backpack awareness from the American Occupational Therapy Association gives us some good advice:
     1) Loading the pack -
             a. Don't load the pack more than 10% of the child's body weight. We can not get away from stress and work in our lives, carrying a certain weight of stress is normal, just as the kids need to carry their books and supplies to school. In Kosovo, many parents walk their children to school because of the weight of the backpacks, they carry the bags for their children. As nice as that may sound, it is not the ideal solution. When parents carry the bags for their children, it does not allow the children the opportunity to grow in the natural developmental skills of independence, nor does it help the children build strength themselves in muscle development. If we just refuse to place ourselves in a position where we are removed from all stressful situations, we miss out on the developmental spiritual growth of watching the Lord help us through the stress. The Lord never promises we would not have problems, He did promise us, however that He would be with us through them. Spiritual muscle growth happens as we tackle together, with the Lord, the work and stresses of life.
          b. Load the heaviest items closest to the child's back. When the heaviest items are closest to our spines, it causes less pull on the rest of the body's trunk and the weight is more manageable. Sometimes we stress ourselves out with things that really are not that important or stress-worthy. I can allow myself to get so worked up sometimes when someone cuts me off in traffic, or passes another car on a blind curve (which is a daily occurrence here), this insignificant stress can grow so much that it can rob me of my joy and cause me to be crabby, which robs the joy of those around me :-(. We need to be intentional about what we choose to stress over. If we stress, let it be about the big things in life such as the enormous number of people dying each day without knowing Jesus, the poor and homeless, the levels of crime in our cities and those around the world who are ravished by war. Let our hearts break for those things that breaks His, not on the petty things of life.
     c. Check what your child takes to school and brings home. Make sure it is only essential items. At the beginning of the day, we need to spend time with the Lord asking Him, what are the essentials that we need for our day. What is it that He wants us to do and what is it that He wants us to carry for that day. Write out a spiritual list of those things that are crucial things we need to concern ourselves with and those things we should totally give over to the Lord to carry for us.
     d. Distribute the pack evenly by using both shoulder straps and fasten the waste belt. Many children will carry their bags over one shoulder, this stresses the rest of the body and causes postural problems later on. If we try to carry all of the weight ourselves, it causes us to have spiritual postural problems too. We find it difficult standing tall in strength, confidence, in joy and freedom. We allow the weight to pull us into depressive behavior. In verses 29-30, Jesus continues to say, "'Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.'" When we strap ourselves tight with Him, He takes on the burden of the weight which allows us to walk lighter, more upright and freer. He gently walks beside us as we are connected to Him.
     e. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child's waistline. If a child's pack is taller than their trunk it prevents them from being able to walk stable and at a comfortable pace. It consumes all of their energy, to a point where they have nothing left when they get to school and when they get home. If we allow the size of our work and stress load to consume us, we will have no energy left for others, for the Lord and to do what is essential in our lives. We can not do what the Lord has called us to, if we are buried under the stresses of our work/mission, relationships, lack of rest. The Lord tells us, "'Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,' Is. 41:10."
      Friends, let us not pick up and carry that which is not necessary, nor ours to carry. Look to your God, let Him take the non-essentials and help you carry those which are. He will not only help you, but He will carry you and your load.

For more about the International Backpack Awareness day (the third Wed. in Sept.) you can find more tips at the American Occupational Therapy Association website at:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Compassionate God

Yesterday I was really struck by the implications when a culture is not introduced to and therefore does not know God as a compassionate God. Yesterday a friend, from the nation where I currently live, died. She left 7 girls and one boy. The females on our team arrived to our friend's home just as the casket was dropped off by the coroner. We approached the house to the sounds of painful wailing and screams, "O mom! O my momma!....." As the girls watched their mom being laid in the coffin. In this culture when someone dies, those around the mourners try to prevent the mourners from crying. As we entered the house, one of the girls came out of the room and I wrapped my arms around her and just held her, visualising Jesus comforting her. This is not a practice here, people do not do full embrace hugs in this culture. This young girl, in her early 20's just wept an wept, she held on so tight, not wanting to let go. Those around her started shouting at her, "Stop crying now, that's enough, stop crying." There were even some who tried to take her out of my arms. After hugging each of the daughters, a man came into the room, which is NOT supposed to happen in the culture, this room around the coffin is reserved for the women, he came yelling at each of these girls, ages 19-30, to stop crying, "It is a sin! Stop it! What would happen if we all cried? Stop it!" He was so rude and so not compassionate, frankly I wanted to punch him in the nose and throw him out of the house. The more he said stop crying, I kept saying, "You girls just keep crying." I told the man that the girls had every right to cry.
Because the burial was held off until my friend's sisters and brother came in from out of country, the girls sat in that small crowded room in front of their mom, lying in front of them, face covered by a thin white cloth. All day they heard people saying to them, "Don't cry!", "You have to be strong!" "Don't cry, it's a sin!"

It was finally time to head out to the village for the burial, the girls had just said their last "good-by" to their mom, all crying and some almost fainting from the trauma of it, and this rude man tells the girls, "None of you are going, you will only cry out there. We will not have any crying. All of you stay!" One of our other friends asked one of the girls, "Do you want to go to the burial?" She replied, "Yes" and we piled the girls and their aunts in our vehicles and took them to the site. It was a quick, cold ceremony, the men blocked the view of the burial from the girl's sight. As they heard the first shovel of dirt fall over their mom, they began to weep again. That man came over to them again and started yelling at them to stop crying and to go home if the were to continue crying. A lady near us was telling them as well, "Hush, stop crying, it is a sin." I reminded this lady, the girls had a right to cry and to let them be. As the ceremony was over, the men departed the grave side and the girls approached it, they fell on grave, crying out to their mom. The men pulled them away, not letting them have even a full minute to say a last word to their mom. The whole thing was heartbreaking. I was so angry at that man and others who treated the girls so terribly in the midst of the most horrific moment of their young lives. Then the Lord reminded me, "How can you expect anything different from those who have never asked for or experienced my love?" Not one person, except those who have experienced God's love, our team, expressed their love for those girls. Not one person embraced them or tried to comfort them, outside of our team, except one aunt, who was herself in the midst of the depth of pain of grief, watching her sister be put in the ground. She held and embraced one of the girls, because she knew that that is what she herself needed. The girls clung onto our embraces, because that is how God created His people to be. He put His DNA of love and compassion into His people. His creation craves His embrace, but there are so many who have no idea that His love exists, that He longs to embrace and comfort His hurting creation. I have to feel sorry for that seemingly heartless man, because he has never known or experienced the wonderful, compassionate, comfort of a loving God. This is why he doesn't know how to comfort others. I feel so privileged to have experienced God's love and compassion multiple times in my life, so that I can know how to attempt to comfort others in the midst of their pain. Jesus is the Comforter, I pray that this nation will learn about, experience and embrace the wonderful love and compassion of out God who embraces us!

Monday, May 11, 2015

God is working even if the Ministry of Health isn't

April 14 was a day when I could really relate to the movie, "The Blindside." After working in Kosovo since 1999, working in occupational therapy in Kosove since 2001, the health inspector finally paid me a visit. It has always been a bit unnerving knowing that I was practicing a health profession that is new to the country and no one from the health department has bothered to check my credentials. So I was a bit excited and encouraged when I got the frantic text from my assistant that the health commission was at the clinic. They had left however before I arrived. My assistant was frazzled because they asked a lot of pressing questions. She told me they would be back. I told her how pleased I was they finally came. It showed progress for this country that there might be a hint of professional accountability rising. I told her that they are "more than welcome" to come back, we have nothing to hide. Well, they came..... the inspector was the very opposite of a smiley man. He insisted I show him my professional license, I gladly showed him my UK OT license. He said, "No, where is your license from Kosovo?" I told him that I had applied in December and was still waiting to hear back from them. He did not accept this and said, "As of tomorrow morning, your doors will be closed until you get your Kosovo license." I didn't see that one coming! I was shocked, as was my staff and my poor clients didn't know what to think as I clearly didn't do a very good job fighting back the tears.

This event totally didn't make sense. Until I realised, due to the timing, that it totally DID make sense. Our team had just returned from a great field forum time full of worship, prayer and telling testimonies of what God had been doing around the Balkans. Just a couple of weeks prior to that, our Kosova team had a fantastic "vision" retreat which was very clearly Holy Spirit lead. One can almost laugh at the lack of creativity that satan (he doesn't deserve a capitol S before his name) has. It was very clear that he was bent out of shape about what we were doing. He went on a bit of a rampage with our team members after returning to Kosovo. When will he ever learn that no matter what he throws at us, he will NEVER win?

Because of this unscheduled "time out", the Lord has been resurrecting a vision He had given me a few years ago, and not only in me but has put it in other IW's working our area. The vision is for a prayer and worship house to opened up in our city. God has been heightening the need for prayer in the hearts of those who work here. There is no stronger and more powerful ammo against satan than people praying and worshipping Jesus. The guy just hates that and he crumbles in the face of it.

So as I fight the "don't call us, we'll call you" apathy from the ministry of health, the Lord continues to build momentum for great things to come. Not only that, He continues to strengthen that which He has already begun, new life, in other Kosovars and their ministries. The Lord never sleeps, He never slumbers, He doesn't turn aside nor forget us, He is ALWAYS at work and His work is ALWAYS Good!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Gibeonite Policy

If you have lived anywhere in a developing or a recovering country as a westerner, you no doubt have experienced a plethora of requests whether it be from Roma at the street lights asking for money, a person with a sick child asking for assistance to "send their child out of country for medical care", a person needing a new roof for their home, or money to start a new business. The requests are numerous and can become quite stressful. In the culture where I reside at the moment, there is always this sense of urgency, "I need the money NOW, so and so is waiting for it" or "my child is getting sicker" or "my roof is leaking" or "this supplier will not wait any longer for me to begin the business". All requests needed to be fulfilled yesterday. The people have an art of putting pressure on you to act now, or to manipulate your thoughts and actions. I'm one of those weaklings that tend to trust people quicker than mistrust them, especially if they are crying and show me photos of their situation. So I give in to their requests much faster than I should. This has gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past and has resulted in a loss of much money, let alone the damage that was done to the requester by helping cause a dependency on others instead of helping them take responsibility for meeting their own needs.

These situations are unlike what Joshua experienced by the Gibeonites. In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and the elders out of a fear for their lives. Even though they were a neighbouring and powerful city, a group of them dressed up in worn out clothes and sandals, grabbed some old wine skins and stale bread and dragged themselves into Joshua's camp seeking a covenant with the Israelites. They claimed that they had come from a far away land, and had heard of the mighty God of the Israelites and so wanted to partner with them by serving them. The Gibeonites were manipulative and expressed that sense of urgency, vs. 11 "We are your servants; NOW then, make a covenant with us." Joshua and the men fell into their trap, vss. 14-15, "So the men of Israel took some of their provisions and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord. Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them." Three days later, the Israelites learned that the city of Gibeon was just around the corner from them. But they were stuck, they couldn't go back on their promises to them, because they made an oath in the presence of the Lord.

Every time Joshua had waited on the Lord, the Lord gave them instruction and blessed them. But this time, he didn't take that time to do that. He had learned a great lesson, one which is applicable for us today. So as a CAMA team, we discussed this and decided to adopt what we will call "The Gibeonite policy". Whenever a request comes in, we will tell the requester that we need at least 24 hours to seek the will of our God on the matter.  They can return tomorrow then for the answer. If they are a person who will not respect our desire to pray about it first and continue to pressure us, then they are not worthy of the assistance they are seeking.  As we seek the Lord for wisdom, we will be bringing Him into the decision, taking the pressure off of us, it will help us to see the real heart of the requester and most of all it will give God glory. It will most like save us a few bucks as well!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Found a cucumber on my plant

I love plants, I love watching new leaves grow on them and watching flowers start to bud and to bloom, but I am not a gardener, in fact I really stink at it. One day I had a Kosovar professional gardener come in to teach a class on horticulture to my occupational therapy students. The students had a chance to plant seeds and starters as a practice of what they learned. Because the students knew that I had just moved into a new home with a huge yard and garden space, all of the students gave me what they planted instead of keeping their plants for themselves. So, I inherited tomato plants, peppers, strawberries and flowers, plus one cucumber plant.

Because it rained days on end, not allowing a single day to get into the garden to plant, the seeds started springing up in their cups and the starters started budding flowers in their pots. The rain finally stopped and I was able to get out and prep the garden spot and finally put these plants into the ground. Because I was told that the cucumber plant needed to have a stick to grow up on, and I didn't have one, I used a broken broom handle and tied it to the fence. So there it was, the lonely one cucumber plant all by its self, separate from all the other plants.

It hasn't been too difficult to be motivated to go out into the garden and plant these things, because each morning around 6 am, it seems all the women of the village, no matter what age they were, would go walking out toward the fields, with these heavy plough tools over their shoulders or they would be in their own yards working in their gardens, every single morning. It didn't take long to realise that if I was going to see any fruit from these plants and if I was going to fit well into this village, I was going to have to work hard to make it happen.

Now one difference between myself and these ladies is, I had a job (OT clinic and University) that kept me away from the house most of the day, 6 days a week, they didn't. So, their gardens are their place of work. They will till the ground around each plant every other day, they would pull the weeds and pull off the little starter leaves at the arm pit of each tomato branch, allowing for the nutrients to get to the tomatoes on the end. I, on the other had, didn't do that. My gardening skills consisted of watering every evening or in the mornings and once in a great while I would get out there a pull a few weeds so that I could find my plants again.

One day, after a long run of rainy days again, I went out to the lonely cucumber plant, and behold, I found a "huge" (in my eyes, but certainly not compared to what the neighbours produce) cucumber on the plant. I was so excited! I thought, "This gardening stuff is easier than I thought!" It didn't take long to realise however, that what was on that plant, really had nothing to do with me. I was just the fortunate one that got to taste the fruit of what God had grown Himself. Sure, I put the plant in the ground and tied it to the broom handle, but He sent the rain and He sent the sun and He protected it from the surrounding weeds.

This is much like ministry here in the "Vo", some will call it. We go out there each day, working as hard as we can, looking for opportunities to sneak "Jesus" into the conversations, to sneak prayer into people's lives, to tell testimonies of what God does, we till and till and pull weeds (trying to dispel the lies of the enemy), day in and day out, just to find more weeds growing up, around them thicker and plusher. Sometimes we see little blossoms, but they die out and more comes, but they don't produce fruit either. Then on that rare occasion, we run into the person who says, "Hey, is this where I can hear about Jesus?" and we get to enjoy the sweet flavour of leading them into personal relationship with the One they seek. And then we think, "Yay, that was easy!" But, we didn't do anything, God did. He did the growing, He did the weeding, He did the protecting, we just did the reaping!

So, do we stop tilling? Pulling weeds? Working the garden? NO! Out of about 15 tomato plants, I have 3 wee tomatoes growing, I have a few peppers now that are growing as well, and I was able to enjoy the first and only strawberry that grew on my strawberry plants. Because I have a loving God, who loves me and who loves the people of the "Vo", I know that there WILL be fruit, that the work will not be in vain and both He and I will get to dine together on the fruit of our labour.