International Ministries

Encouragement on a Gray Day...

January 30, 2013 Journal
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Winters in the Netherlands are dark and then gray.  Long nights, short days—short, gray days.  This year we haven’t even had much snow to make life fun.  After years in California, and then the tropics of Asia, I thought that I’d enjoy lighting candles, sipping hot drinks, wearing sweaters.  It all sounded so cozy.  And for a few weeks it’s great.  I used to tell my local friends who bemoaned the darkness how much I enjoy the change from my former life.  They would look darts at me, and tell me that it wasn’t fair for me to say that:  “YOU only stay home for a few days or weeks, and then travel again—usually to sunnier climes.” 

This year I decided to stay home.   For 2 whole months.  Through the grayest winter I’ve ever experienced.   I have lots to do here—a new home to settle into, lots of visitors, school and administrative responsibilities.  Conferences to plan.  And boy, is it gray.  It’s hard to get up at any reasonably early time in the morning when the sun doesn’t start to show until after 9:00 am.  And then only see gray. 

Ok.  I know.  There’s probably a whole lot of you out there thinking “so what’s her point?  Most of us live like this in the winter!”  I’ll tell you….I started getting downright depressed. 

I was invited to preach last week in one of the little churches here in Holland that was started for immigrants, mostly from Africa and Southeast Asia.  They gave me a choice of scriptures and so I chose a passage that I thought had relevance to the situations of those in the congregation and began preparation.  What a slow slog.  I just couldn’t get inspired.  Not only was I gray-day-depressed, my sermon was just not coming together.

A few days out from the Sunday, I decided I couldn’t prepare a sermon for them—I HAD to prepare a sermon for me.   I needed to preach to myself, and so turned to one of my favorite encouragement passages: 

 “But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.  They shall run and not be weary.  They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

 I found out that the root word of “waiting” here is actually “waiting with expectation”.  I learned that the root word for “renewing” is used for “changing, as in changing clothing”.  So we’re literally “putting on God’s strength”, like putting on a perfect suit!  Expectantly putting on God’s strength!    

 I talked about flying like eagles as being the miracles we see in life, and how they joyfully let us experience God’s work.  And then there are times when we see God’s work through natural processes:  the healing art of doctors, lots of good hard work of our hands and feet, running and enjoying it without tiring out.  And then there are the times when we can barely stand up and walk without fainting—but we know that God is there—even in our sadness, our loneliness, our loss, our depression.  During those times, we “expectantly wait” and know that God’s strength will enfold us.  

In this church, after the sermon we break up into language groups and discuss questions that the preacher has prepared.  There’s a group for French speakers, Dutch speakers, and I sat in the English-language group, with some wonderful friends from Africa, Asia and Europe.  One of the questions I had written was about our experiences of God’s presence when it seems so dark.  They didn’t talk about the gray weather.  They talked about keeping their children alive through a cruel civil war.  They talked about nearly starving to death on their way to refugee camps.  We cried together.  We prayed together.  We rejoiced in God’s presence with us—then….and now. 

They let me know in words and hugs that the “sermon for me” was their sermon, too.  Sometimes our best ministry is done when it is most personal.  What I needed was what they needed.  Oh, God is Good!

 My last power-power slide that morning was of spectacularly beautiful multi-colored tulips!  Spring is on the way!!!

Thank you for your part in allowing God to use me to bring words of hope in dark places!  Thank you for your prayers.  Thank you for contributing financially towards my support.  May you know God’s Strength and Hope in these times!