Previously Published

Ramabai: Overcoming Obstacles

Born in 1858, Ramabai was destined to live an empty life. It was not the best time to be a woman. Society saw no value in women except for procreating and housekeeping. Even these value markers dropped to a zero when the husband died; the expendable widow was thrown onto the funeral pyre to be burned alive atop of her husband’s corpse.

Against all odds. Ramabai was fortunate to have a father who believed that destiny is not predetermined by gender. While society espoused that girls were not worthy of education and opinions, Dongri—a renowned scholar of Sanskrit—educated both his wife Laxmibai and his daughter Ramabai at home. However, his ways contradicted society, and he was soon ostracized. Wherever they went, they were denied a place to stay, food to eat, and the company of others. So Dongri moved his family from town to town, relentlessly trying to bring about positive change. Experiencing little success, they were forced to retreat into the jungles to eek a living off the land. Their nomadic lifestyle even took them through a famine when they survived on just water and leaves for eleven days. Finally, the wanderings took a toll and Dongri and Laxmibai died.

Alone and destitute, Ramabai and her brother continued to stand up for what they believed, regardless of consequences. Ramabai fought against child-marriage and advocated education for women.

Proving oneself. Ramabai’s thirst for knowledge continued. But being a woman, she could not enter into any school system. So she found and created opportunities to prove herself over and over again. Her competency in Sanskrit soon gained attention and stories of her impressive memory spread—of how she had memorized 23,000 shastras even before she was 16 years old. She was so talked about that the elite scholarly group (made up of all men, of course) called her into their presence to check her out. What they saw and heard astounded them and they did what had never been done before. They offered her—a woman—the opportunity to take the most prestigious Sanskrit exams. These exams were difficult and it was common for men to fail several times before passing. Ramabai, however, got high marks on her first attempt. And she was honored with the title “Sarasvati.”

Standing tall and alone. Ramabai became a lecturer. But just when life seemed to be getting better, her brother died leaving her alone. Six years later, she married a man of a lower caste but one who supported her causes. Again, just as her life took a positive turn, her husband died—only 19 months after they were married. Although now a widow with a baby girl, she was unwavering and strong. Next Ramabai traveled to England where she taught Sanskrit and then later to the United States. During this time, she studied the Bible and felt impressed to translate it into Sanskrit and Marathi. Her study of the Bible led her to Jesus and to a journey that reaffirmed her determination to change her destiny. After her respite overseas, Ramabai returned to India where she established shelters, schools, boarding houses and organizations to uplift women—widows, low-caste, homeless, and the suppressed.

For most of her life, Ramabai was alone—physically, emotionally, sociologically. She could have allowed loneliness to cripple her. But she didn’t. She rose above it to stand tall, look over the horizon and see her calling—her destiny.

What is the crippling factor in your life? How do you overcome obstacles. Ask yourself “How important is it for me to stand tall and find my calling, my destiny?”

Check out her Wikipedia page for biographical details.

devotion, Spiritual Musings

He is All Mine

People and relationships are often the backbone of stories. No different in the Bible, this is illustrated in the recitation of the begats and everywhere else. Profound, life-altering stories are crafted when God and humans come together. The setting may be nations or prophecies, the past or the future, but the plot of any story worth retelling revolves around one God and one person. In the thick of a great story, there is God doing everything He can to connect with one specific individual. When there is a dramatic change in direction, Abrams become Abrahams. When hearts are repaired and new beginnings awarded, Israels come out of Jacobs.

Even though I’m just one among so many in this world, God makes me feel like there are no other stories being told–except mine. He gives me 100% of Himself! God is not distracted by the billions of others. He is not preoccupied with the needs of the universe or sidetracked by someone else’s problem that’s more urgent than mine. In this moment, for my particular need, God is mine and mine alone. When I ache, He comforts. When I break, He heals. I throw a fit, he tames. I get lost, He rescues. My God is all about me, all the time!

And yet, just like that, God is all about you too! Omnipresent and unrestricted, God loves everyone else just as much as He loves me. And just as He makes me feel like there’s no one else in the world but me, He is there to make you feel the same. God doesn’t expect us to take a number or stand in queue. Each and everyone of us gets first dibs on everything that is God. How He does this is beyond comprehension, but that is what He does. The God who watches over the entire universe is first and foremost God of every person–God of you, God of me. And more than anything else, He wants a major role in our life stories.

What role does God play in our stories? Is He in the thick of it all? Or is He on the sidelines, relegated to a minor role?

Feature image by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Spiritual Musings

When Whining Goes too Far

They even spoke against God himself. Psalm 78:19 (The Message)

The Israelites had a major case of the are-we-there-yet: The journey was long, the scenery boring. They were tired of eating the same fast food from heaven every day, of sleeping in the same dusty tent every night. And so they did what we all would do. They complained: They complained to one another, they complained to Moses, they complained to God.

But, they crossed the line when their complaining led them to question God and speak against God (Num 21:4-7). And with that, the consequence of their choices, attitude, and actions was the onset of poisonous snake bites that sent thousands on their way to an agonizing death.

This incident is often cited as an example of how God punishes the disobedient. Every version and paraphrase of verse 6 says that God sent the snakes. Even the notes in my Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale) say that God punished the Israelites with the snakes. I ‘m not a theologian and I don’t claim to know more than Tyndale and the Bible translators. But I have a problem with the severity of this punishment. Death for disobedience? Really? That too, from a grace-abundant God? Seems incongruent.

Perhaps, it’s us. Perhaps we’ve tied the hands of God.

Like bratty kids, we do a lot of complaining at God’s throne. Yet God, our patient, loving father, puts up with all our drama. He understands our complaints, but He draws the line at rejection. God cannot bend our will to either obey Him or love Him: He knocks, but we must open the door. He offers salvation, but we must meet Him at the cross. To the Israelites He offered direction and protection for the journey from Egypt to Canaan, but when they rejected Him, He could not force his direction and protection on them. They didn’t give God any choice but to step away.

It’s not like the snakes weren’t in the desert before this incident. Since the beginning of time, the desert was their home, the sand their breeding ground (Deut 8:15; plus Planet Earth told me so). All the years the Israelites shuffled their sandaled feet through the sandy wilderness, the snakes were always there. All the negative stuff was always there: the snakes, the heat, the unavailability of water, the lack of food.

It was God’s presence, His loving protection that kept the snakes from biting, that brought water gushing from a rock, that towered a cloud to block the sun, that showered the sand with manna. In spite of all the positive experiences with God, when they began feeding off one another’s whining, they couldn’t see the good stuff. When Israel rejected God, they forced God outside their camp, out of their lives.

When I shut God out, I shut out everything that comes with God–His protection, His grace, His love, His guidance, His Word. I can’t have it both ways; It’s simply illogical and completely unfair: I can’t reject God and at the same time expect to have His blessings. I can’t slam the door on God and expect to feel His presence in my life. 

My choices punish me. Not God. 

Spiritual Musings

Grace to Forget Oneself

He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. John 1:27, NIV

To be posthumously remembered as a disciple comes with accolades and praise. But the real, everyday life of a disciple is anything but prestigious. A disciple does more than learn the ways, teachings, and philosophy of his master. If the master says leave your nets, your job, and follow me, you do just that. If the master says leave your family and go on a missionary journey, you do just that. If the master says forget about the rules, go break the law and fetch me some grain on the Sabbath Day to fix the rumble in my tummy, you do just that. If the master says he’s got to leave for good, and you need to bear the risk of being stoned to death or crucified upside down, you do just that.

There is no glamor in being a disciple. A disciple in Jesus’ time was one who followed a master and did his bidding. The master had the right to ask pretty much anything of his disciple. Anything. That is, anything except the tasks of a slave. Menial tasks like untying the laces of a dirty pair of sandals and washing the dusty feet of the master was the job of a slave, not a disciple.

But there is more to the difference between a disciple and a slave. A slave is owned by the master; he has no choice but to do whatever the master asks of him. Whether the master asks the slave to take of his shoes or to die for him, the slave has no choice but to obey. The disciple, on the other hand, chooses to—wants to, of his own free will—obey the master. The slave does what he does without questioning the master; the disciples does what he does with understanding of and belief in the master.

When John the Baptist said he was unworthy of even untying Jesus’ sandals, he was saying Jesus is all that matters. Who I am–disciple, slave, or nobody—is of little significance. What matters is that I point the way to Jesus.

William Barclay says it best: “[John the Baptist] is the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself in order that Jesus Christ may be seen. He was only, as he saw it, a finger-post pointing to Christ. God give us grace to forget ourselves and to remember only Christ.”

When you forget yourself in your love for Christ, everything about you points others to Christ. That’s being a disciple.

Feature image by Danique Photography on Unsplash

Spiritual Musings

Remember and Never Forget

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—stories we have heard and known. Psalm 78:2–3

Psalm 78 is the story about telling stories. Asaph the storyteller says before you go off on how bad you have it, remember. Before you dump God for something else, remember. Before you start wishing for more out of life, remember. Before you start forgetting, remember . . . .

Knee deep in despair, the past often gets foggy. But remembering better times is what we must do to keep moving in hope. Remember the past. Remember where you’ve been, how you survived. Remember the blessings, remember the miracles. Remember how your God has been with you.

Every time the Israelites lost sight of their history, they came to a bitter standstill—questioning themselves, one another, and even God. So Asaph tells them to never forget their stories.

It is in the stories of our past that we find hope. In sharing our stories of faith we find strength to endure today. From the mistakes of the past, we find direction for the future.

Feature image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

devotion, Spiritual Musings

Head to Heart

Your God is beyond question the God of all gods. Daniel 2:47

On a scale of 1 to 10, Nebuchadnezzar’s stress level had to have been least 20. He had just conquered a nation. And with that conquest came the aggravation of dealing with a strange, stubborn people who were now his reluctant subjects.

By the time the new year rolled around, Nebuchadnezzar probably had his physician, shrink, and masseuse parked outside his bed chamber to attend to his stress-induced condition. Insomnia probably plagued him constantly. And when he did fall into short bursts of sleep, he had troubling dreams that left him paranoid during his waking hours.

No wonder Daniel spends an entire chapter describing Nebuchadnezzar’s obsession to discover the meaning of his dream. For the king, discovering the meaning of the dream meant finding the peace his soul so desired. Whatever would lead to the discovery would, therefore, be his salvation.

So when God, through Daniel, reveals the meaning of his dream, the king declares Daniel’s God the only true god. Having finally found the source of truth and peace, Nebuchadnezzar finally understands the power of God.

This should have been the turning point of Nebuchadnezzar’s life, the climax of the history of his new kingdom. But, it wasn’t. The very next chapter describes the next big event. Here Nebuchadnezzar proclaims that he should receive all respect and worship reserved for the gods and demands that every one bow before him.

What a change in attitude! And how quickly! He could not have forgotten what had happened just a little while earlier. Rather it seems like his discovery of the true God during his bad-dream phase was a just a needed solution to an immediate problem, another fact added to his bank of trivia and details. It was not an experience of conversion. The knowledge had not traveled from his head to his heart. Learning about and acknowledging God had had no long-term effect.

God has to be more than a Wikipedia entry, more than facts and details, more than proof texts and cross references. For God to have any positive effect in your life, your knowledge of Him must change your heart and make you a new creature.

Feature image by sergey mikheev on Unsplash

Spiritual Musings

What do You See?

The eye level of a dog is approximately eighteen inches. The eye level of a human being depends on the height of the individual, and is about five feet or more. Because of this big difference, it is very difficult to train seeing-eye dogs for the blind.

Dogs that help the blind have to be able to raise their eyes to abnormal heights. What is an obstruction crossing the path of a blind person at the height of five feet is not an obstruction for a dog. So the dog needs to be trained to look up to see what a human being would see. And until this happens, the dog is useless to a blind person.

As Christians, we too need to raise our eye level to see life as God wants us to experience it. Our natural, sinful tendency is to look at things from an earthly perspective; and things can get pretty depressing at our level. But when we have even a glimpse of how God sees life, when we trust in what He has planned for us, our view can be better than we could imagine—”No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9, NLT).

Even in the best of times, life is unpredictable. Even more so when life hits a rough patch, when the future–or just tomorrow—can be a daunting task. Knowing there is more to life, our future, and this world than we can see or comprehend, helps us remain positive, grateful, and content.

Live life, trusting in God’s complete panoramic view of the future.

Feature image by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Reviews

Midnight in Peking by Paul French (Penguin Books)

midnight-in-peking

Until I met my husband I didn’t know that True Crime was worthy of a Dewey Decimal classification. I have had no interest in the genre even after learning that it has a large readership—people with a vicarious disposition to relive crime in the extreme details usually relegated to fiction.

I borrowed this book from my local library because it was shelved as “history.” In less than twenty pages, after line upon line of descriptive adjectives for a corpse covered in stab wounds, I realized I was reading my first true crime.

And I. Was. Fascinated.

Author Paul French wastes no time setting the stage: One winter morning in 1937 the body of a young girl is found at the foot of Beijing’s Fox Tower. Oddly, the body has been drained of blood and her heart is missing. 

From this spot where the body is discovered, French pulls you slowly, deeper and deeper, into the inner life of Beijing: the ways and customs of the Chinese, the secret lives of its British residents, and the politics that shape its fate. 

While he does stay true to historical facts, French does take liberty with the thoughts and perspective of the characters, giving the book somewhat of a fictional flavor. I appreciated his use of expatriate jargon (e.g. “amah,” “number one boy”) and Mandarin phrases. Without being overdone, they are well placed and lend the book authenticity. French also does a superb job of unfolding and exposing Beijing’s cultural context of the 1930s without patronizing the reader. 

Almost as fascinating as French’s storytelling, is the collection of photographs in the middle of the book. I say look at these first. They are not spoilers and will give you a visual context as you read the book, which in itself is one giant story mural. 

The book has the veracity and authenticity of non-fiction, while also providing the intrigues of a solid piece of fiction. It’s a prosaic quilt that pieces together history, anthropology, and true crime with threads of fiction.

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Feature image by Tony Bertolino on Unsplash

Spiritual Musings

Hovering Love

The Bible begins with a declaration of the power of God: “In the beginning (going far back before anything or anyone ever was),1 GOD created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).

Emphasizing the pitiful state of earth before God came on the scene, the second verse of the Bible paints this bleak picture: “The earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness” (Gen 1:2, The Message).

Into this nothingness, God steps in—bigger than the biggest you can imagine, better than the best there ever could be. He steps in with the ultimate power to create, to change, to make anew. In just the first two verses of the Bible, we encounter the indisputable power of our creator.

In the next verse, however, there is a dramatic change. From a picture of God’s power, we move to a second, yet equally compelling, portrait of God—His love: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:3).

God hovers over my darkness
The verb hover is also used in Deuteronomy 32:11 where God is described as “an eagle hovering over its nest, overshadowing its young.” Here He is watching, protecting His people from danger. God is hovering, being the great I AM in the midst of their unknowns and fears.

God hovering over His people is understandable for caring for humans is part of His job description—we are His own, His creation, made after His own image. But what is He hovering over in Genesis 1:1? After all, “the earth was a soup of nothingness.” Nothing has yet been created, nothing is alive. Yet God hovers, standing guard, protecting this darkness, keeping a divine eye on this nothingness. 

This picture of God hovering in the first verses of Genesis has given me a deeper understanding of God’s love. It has taught me that God loves me not just because I am His child or because I am created after How own image. His love is bigger, bolder, better, and beyond His relationship with me. God loves because He simply loves. Over and above all His other characteristics, God is LOVE. God is overwhelmingly LOVE. God is indescribably LOVE. God is more LOVE than we could ever comprehend.

If God could hover over the inanimate dark blob in Genesis, imagine how much more hovering He does over me. Even if I’m nothing, even when I feel I’m unworthy, God hovers, God loves. When my life is dark all around, I am not alone. That’s the first picture of God I see in the Bible—a powerful, yet tender loving God hovering over me every minute of every day. Two others mean a lot to me too

God believes in my potential
Looking at the nothingness, He sees potential. God sees beyond the dark abyss and views the big picture of what could. He knows this nothingness does have to remain dark. So He says, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:3–4)

With the creation of light, a mere 1/6th of creation is complete. Yet God looks at what is still an unimpressive blob, and says it is GOOD! I believe he does the same with me. He looks at me, in my incompleteness, so far away from the finish line, and says I am good. When I place myself in the Creator’s hand to be continually molded, it’s always going to be good. Even when I am at my lowest God sees what I could be tomorrow, and He says “You are good!”

God provides for and empowers me
The third picture of God I see in the first few verses of Genesis is that He provides for and empowers me to do His will. In verse 11 God creates vegetables and fruit. Similarly, he outfits earth with sunshine, water, and everything else that humans would need before man ever was, before man could perceive a need or pray a request. 

And then God says to Adam and Eve, “Have dominion over . . . every living thing” (Get 1:28) I can’t imagine why a perfect, powerful God would trust fickle humans with His new creation! He turns over to Adam and Eve the entire earth—all of it. He does the same with me: Even after I’ve have let Him down over and over again, God continues to equip me with resources and talents. And then He does so much more—God invites me to partner with Him to care for other human beings, to be responsible for this earth, to build His church, to reflect Christ.

The confidence He has in me and the grace He gives me boggles my mind! His hovering gives me peace. Regardless of where I am, no matter what life throws at me, God’s power,  love, and presence will be my constants. For in the beginning, God. And now and forever, God.

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1Extrapolation mine.
Feature image by DICSON on Unsplash

Reviews

Pachinko, by Min Jee Lin

34051011Descriptive prose, lyrical language, similes, and all those identifiers of a solid novel—there is none of that in this one.

Instead it reads like a story passed on from generation to generation, striped of the flourishes and left with only the essential and the important. It’s the story of one family held together by strong women.

Simple, pure storytelling. I couldn’t put it down till I was done!

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Feature image by Tianshu Liu on Unsplash

Reviews

Review: Ready or Not (NavPress)

iGgrDwAAQBAJThis book is meant to help twentysomethings as they figure out life and all that lies ahead of them.

Had I read this book in my 20s, I’m sure my life would be completely different from what it is today. However, I’m equally sure that my know-it-all younger self would have scoffed at the suggestion of reading a book to help me figure out life. (I’m grateful my God redeems and blesses even when I choose the less-than-ideal path).

So, as wonderful as this book is, I wonder how many twentysomethings  who need the help and encouragement will be open to reading this book, much less using it.

In nine chapters, the authors treat relevant topics from a practical point of view, using anecdotes, quotes, and research. At the end of every chapter are exercises,  discussion questions, and suggestions on how to apply principles learned in everyday life. The chapter titles are: Vocation, God and Us, Past and Present, Dimensions and Rhythms, Spirituality, Work, Family, Church, and Community. In these chapters a lot is covered—from how to deal with the boring and mundane to what to do when your church doesn’t meet your spiritual needs.

I especially appreciate the emphasis on connecting with and learning from others. For example, one suggestion is to interview someone at least 20 years older and who exemplifies a life of sustaining faith. The authors even give you interview questions that you can build on. They urge the reader: “Surround yourself with people you know and trust to treat your hopes and fears with the best of intentions.”

The more of the book I read, I more realized that it would fit into the curriculum of a Life Skills course or a small group study. Perhaps this type of setting would be a gentle way to force-feed the twentysomethings who desperately need to hear what this book says but who are resistant to anything that even subtly smacks of advice or self-help.

I also think this book is a great resource for older adults—parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, mentors—with a twentysomething in their lives. It has certainly helped me reframe my conversations with young adults.

(Go here for more information about the book and the authors)

FOR THE RECORD, IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS REVIEW I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FROM NAVPRESS.

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Feature image by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash