This Christmas

This Christmas

by:Joan Meyler

“Oh, Ms.Joan, it co’lmaa” “Christmas breeze da blow” “Ms. Joan yu want a blanket fu yu bed?” These are some of the phrases I hear as the weather tries to make up its mind.
With rainy season over, the temperature fluctuating between mid 70’s and mid 80’s, cloudy and sunny days, it’s anybody’s guess what each day will be like. Welcome to “winter” in Belize.

The school term ended on November 14th and end of term exams followed close on its heels.  December saw students fervently preparing for Christmas pageants and fundraising turkey dinners prior to the end of the term in mid-month. The requests began at the end of the school term, “Gran, when are we putting up the tree?” My host’s grand-daughter implored every few days.

Finally, one day I opened the door to a smiling face which almost outshone the lights on the Christmas tree. The end of term and ensuing days made for a quiet time for me, so I busied myself in other ways. One of which was to assist with the National Resource Center for Inclusive Education’s (NARCIE)Christmas party. I made individualized Christmas ornaments for each participant.  All 38 special needs participant were very happy to receive their very own ornament.

The party was exciting. There was a horse-drawn carriage and a bouncy house both of which tested the children’s patience as they all wanted to bounce and ride at the same time. Musical chairs was hilarious! I danced my way around the chairs with the children until the end when I was left standing and they sitting laughing at me.

May the hope, peace, joy and love that this season represents be manifest in your life.

 

As for Me and My House

As for Me and My House

by: Joan Meyler

I have been thinking about Mrs. Lot recently.  You know, Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt? Her. The same one. Like us. She didn’t know the twists and turns her life would take.

As a child her every need was catered to. Decisions made for her. Her parents even selected her husband. They chose a man of good reputation, handsome, a man from a wealthy family and with the ability of creating yet more wealth, ensuring her every want would be met.

In due time, they got married. What a celebration that must have been! Weeks of singing, dancing, feasting. A wedding to be envied!

After the celebrations, life began anew for Mr. and Mrs Lot. Alone together, they came face to face with themselves and each other. Two strangers who thought they knew the other. Afraid of the vulnerability demanded in the union called marriage, they retreated into the design society had created; no, demanded.  Was it the one God intended? Was there the unity, vulnerability, unconditional love demanded when “two become one”? Or did they live together, each pursuing their own needs, wants, desires under the guise of making a better life?

Like Mr. and Mrs. Lot, there comes a time of decision making.  The decision made is reflective on how the life has been lived up to that point. Loving unconditionally, there is only one decision. Conditional love demands that the ego be satisfied.  The spirit is left out of that decision.  Yet it is the most vital part of any decision making. The ego is never satisfied always wanting more, setting more conditions.

As we contemplate this season of waiting, deciding, will you, me, be like Mrs. Lot, unable to release that which cannot co-exist with the direction God is taking us? Or will we grasp the Spirit’s hand as we are led into becoming God’s unconditional love in expression?

May His kingdom be manifest in you.

A Firm Foundation

A Firm Foundation

 

by: Joan Meyler

For the past month I have been driving pass a house under construction.  I watched as the land was cleared, the foundation marked, and concrete poured. All appeared as it should to my eyes. One day I had company as I drove my usual route.  Seeing the beginning of this house, my companion comment, “that’s a low foundation, three bricks high is not enough”.

“It looks okay to me,” I replied. “Why do you think it should be higher?”

He responded, “It rains very heavily in this area. The foundation needs to be at least twice as high to avoid flooding”.

That got me thinking. . . As children we depend on our parents to guide us (Proverbs 22:6), eventually we get to the place where we make our own decisions. Sometimes our decisions are well thought-out and wise sometimes not. Some of our habits even trap us in destructive behaviors (Romans 3:23) and we find ourselves in need of a place of refuge.  During those times of difficulty, in the dark experiences of life, what do we rely on? How is the foundation on which we are building our life? Is it able to withstand the challenges we face?

The 91st Psalm tells us of God’s willingness to protect, provide, support and deliver us. Without a belief in God and the faith which comes from our relationship with Him, we become blown and battered by the winds of life. These winds may cause cracks in our foundation (ability to stand firm, untroubled by life’s challenges) however as these cracks become filled with faith our relationship with God deepens into one of trust. The storms no longer threaten to flood our lives as we find ourselves firmly planted and supported by that impenetrable rock.

Restored to Perfection

by: Joan Meyler

On one of my recent travels, I took along a cup to remind me of home. Why a cup, you ask? Well, the intent was to take something meaningful but not bulky. Something practical that would make me less homesick while reminding me of the love of family and friends I had left behind. With each use of this simple yet significant object I connected with loved ones daily.  This connection would soon be tested. You see, one morning as I prepared to make my usual cup of tea, the cup slipped my hand and went crashing to the floor. Surprise, disappointment and concern filled me.
“How badly broken is it? Can I repair it?” “Is it still usable?” Floated through my mind as I gathered the pieces from the hard, concrete floor. Picking up the broken cup I considered the task ahead of me.  The Japanese must have also had similar experiences. Several thousand years ago, they created the art of Kintsugi. The philosophy of this art form is to repair the broken object by incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item.  To do so, they apply a mixture of lacquer resin, powdered gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, resulting into something more beautiful and more valuable than the original.

broken heart image

Looking at the pieces of ceramics spread on my table, I am reminded of the times I have found myself broken and in places I shouldn’t be; places of worry, anxiety, fear, distrust, etc.  Maybe you have also been in those places and have wondered if you could be restored to wholeness. Jeremiah 30:17 tells us that in sickness, God restores our health. When we have lost all, Joel 2:25-26 reminds us that our years of want and neglect will be restored to the point of satisfaction.  During those times when we are without joy, God gently restores the joy of our salvation and upholds us with a willing spirit. God’s restorative process may take us through the fire but on the other side our cracks and broken spaces are filled with the blood of Christ and we become restored testimonials of God’s love and faithfulness, more precious than gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze.

Seekers

By: Joan Meyler

I have three suitcases packed. There are books, clothing, miscellaneous items scattered over every available piece of furniture in my bedroom. As I survey the chaotic scene in front of me, I realize something is missing. I struggle to recall everything I have packed. Yet, I know something is missing. I just cannot think of what it could be. Hurriedly, I create a clear space on my bed, grabbed suitcase number one, and struggled to get it on the bed. I unzip it and dump its contents unceremoniously in the cleared space. I glance at my typed packing list, “Nope, not there,” I say to the room before meticulously repacking number one. “Move on to number two,” I say aloud, even though I’m by myself.

Number two is even heavier than number one. “What do you have in there?” screams my arms as I lift the behemoth. “Be in here!” I say to the object of my desire. I take a little more time unpacking number two, checking every item against the three-page packing list.

Again, my search leaves me unfulfilled. Sighing, I am a little more deliberate with repacking as I ponder each item returning to the now empty suitcase. Somethings didn’t make back.  They lay forlornly on the bed as if pleading to rejoin their friends in suitcase number two. Surely it MUST be in suitcase number three, the beautiful black weekend bag I planned to keep close to me while numbers one and two travelled with the checked bags of my fellow travelers.

As I removed things I thought vital to my survival, my thoughts turned to the way we sometimes address our life. How many times do we go through life attempting to find or obtain something we know is missing? Looking at packing lists of jobs, churches, friends, etc. to fill the void in our heart. Unlike the widow in Luke 15:8-10, we don’t know what we are looking for. We just know there is an emptiness that needs to be filled. Jacob, in Genesis 32 had a void he did not recognize yet had spent his life trying to fill. It was not until he wrestled with the God at Peniel that he realized that there was something he did not have – the true blessing that comes from a relationship with God expressed through honest relationships with others. We fill our lives with things and label ourselves Christians, Disciples of Christ, etc. outwardly yet we remain unfulfilled.

Jacob had sent his family, servants and the display of his wealth ahead leaving him alone with himself. It was in this time of aloneness and silence that he came to see himself as he was and recognized his need for a deeper more satisfying relationship with God. It was then that he pleaded with God to fill the void of his life.  Might I suggest that you (and I) dear friend look belong our possessions, jobs, relationships and tenaciously seek God in the silence of our soul and allow Him to make us a visible expression of the fulfillment that comes from His relationship with us.

For Such a Time as This

by: Joan Meyler

Are you born for such a time as this? That was the question Esther had to answer at a most inconvenient time.  Its answer could have her killed yet answer it she must. The book of Esther tells us that Esther’s people, generations before her had been taken captive in war and moved from their homeland.

In their new home they were forbidden to speak their original language or practice their religion.  Over the ensuing years, the Jews had just about given up on God as each generation moved further away from their religion accepting instead the behaviors of those they lived among.  They were remembered by their racial identity not their religious beliefs or practices and in time, they eventually forgot who they were.  Except that is, a few faithful souls.

Esther’s family was among the faithful. Esther was an orphan. As was customary during that time, she was adopted by her uncle who raised her and taught her who she was.  Esther came to the king’s attention as he sought to replace the previous queen, Vashti. Vashti had defied the king when he, drunk after extensive partying, had called her to present herself to be admired by his friends.  Vashti, not wanting to be paraded naked before these drunk men had refused. The king in his embarrassment and anger decreed that she should be “put away” and be replaced by a new queen. This decree led to Esther’s introduction to life in the palace and she was soon made queen.

Esther was a Jew. A descendant of immigrants, a people who had been forcibly removed from their homeland. A queen.

The culture she lived in had no love for either Jews or descendants of immigrants.  Over time, those who had the king’s ear had convinced him that these persons were no longer of value to the kingdom and needed to be removed (killed) and all their possessions taken. Living in the palace, Esther thought she could, would, escape this destruction until she was reminded that God knew who she was and so did she.

We live in a time not much different from Esther’s time.  Some of us have become complacent; worldly, forgotten God. Until we are faced with crisis of some kind. Even then, we think these challenges belong to other people.  We pretend not to see the homeless person begging on the street; we step pass the mentally ill on our way to satisfy our ego; social injustice we often think affects others. Yet God in His infinite wisdom uses these moments of crises to remind us that if we are who we say we are and respond to these challenging times with the tools He has given us, He will hear, and He will answer (2 chronicles 7:14).

Just as Esther denied her ego and submitted to the Spirit of God and in so doing, kept her people from being destroyed, we too are being called upon to experience the fresh wind of God’s spirit as we become who we are intended to be. (Philippians 2:15).  Is God whispering in your ear that it is time for you to break your silence?  Were you born for such a time as this?

The Mosaic

by: Joan Meyler

Last Summer I had occasion to visit Morocco. One of the things my companions and I did was to visit a place where pottery and mosaics were made.  In this artisan market, white clay was being used to fashion bowls, plates, everyday utensils as well as decorative items for the home. I was amazed by this process as I watched artisans take lumps of clay and turn them into items ranging from simple containers to the most delicate and ornate objects I had ever seen.

As I moved from one area of this market to another, I came upon an artisan creating a mosaic.  I was amazed to see that these designs were created upside down! The artist created a masterpiece by looking only at the back. The part that was without color or pattern. It was only when the object was completed that anyone saw the front!

“How could this be?” I pondered.  “How could this magnificent work of art be created without looking at the design as it was being created? Why not monitor his progress along the way?”

I was told,” the artist learned the craft as a small child so he instinctively knew how his creation should look.”

“But what if it when he looked at the finished product it was not what he had envisioned?” I further questioned my guide.

“At that point, the piece is broken and put back through the process until it becomes what the artist envisioned,” she said.

Mosiac

This resonated with me. It occurred to me that just as the artist was creating what would be considered a masterpiece at its completion, so are we fashioning a masterpiece with our lives.  We learn from our guides and teachers to create a life we envision (Proverbs 22:6) Each tile placed in the object represents a choice made in our lives. At the time you made the choice, you had no idea the effect it would have on your life or the lives of others. Some effects were as you desired, others were not.  They forced you to reconsider (repent) and seek help in correcting the offense.  Just as the artist must destroy the offending piece, so must we see the flaw in ourselves, our relationships and correct it through repentance.

Repentance is painful. It forces us to look at the ugly parts of our souls and admit that we know less than we thought; are less than we believed and cannot change ourselves on our own.  We must submit to the one who makes all things new and be willing to allow ourselves to reflect His handiwork.  Our relationship with the Divine Artist allows us to be remade into the perfect piece for the place we hold in His kingdom here on earth.

What would you like the mosaic of your life to look? What do you need to do to make it so? 

A Time for Everything

prayer (1) line

A Time and a Season

by: Joan Meyler

I’ve had occasion to attend several funerals recently and have been aware of even more persons who have transitioned from this world to the next, some very unexpectedly.  As disconcerting as some of these have been, I listened to family and friends share their experiences and memories of the life their loved one lived.  These testimonies brought about a greater awareness of God among us; in the life of the deceased, in the lives of grieving family and friends, and in the life of the on-lookers.

Ecclesiastes 3 shares the seasonality of life and listening to my friends speak of their relationship with the deceased, I was reminded of the “great crowd of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 and came to the realization that these witnesses are not isolated in a vacuum. They are us; the family spending time together, creating and sharing memories, learning to worship together, being vulnerable. Over and over throughout each celebration of life, daughters spoke of how their fathers demonstrated Christian principles without even trying, mothers teaching children to pray as they went about their daily tasks.  These men and women lived an ordinary life that became extraordinary because of their relationship with the One with whom a thousand years is but a day (2 Peter 3:8).

During the season of Lent, some of us have chosen to participate in a form on self-denial and spiritual discipline through fasting and prayer. As I reflect on these extraordinary lives lived by ordinary people, I pose these question to myself and you:

What do you hope to accomplish through fasting and prayer?

Are you seeking a deeper understanding of God’s word and work in your life?

Are you seeking a more trusting relationship, one moving your faith from Savior to Lord?

I pray that as we travel through this Lenten season, we emerge transformed into the extraordinary people God created us to be.

Field Notes from Liberia: A Message from one of our members overseas

Field Notes from Liberia: November 2016

by: Joan Komolafe

liberia-image-7.It’s been a little over three months since I have been in Liberia.  The rainy season has ended and the dry season or as I call it, “Dusty season” is upon us.  The weather has also gotten a bit cooler in the morning and days are shorter. I have been told that it will “get cold” in late December and continue through about February.  Of course, cold is relative because I have seen people walking around in winter coats and flip flops in the rain.

liberia-image-1

So, what is my job in Liberia?  Simply put, I monitor, mentor, and train current teachers who are seeking to improve their ability to teach reading and become certified reading teachers. I also work with several schools in developing their school library.  I am assigned to four schools which I visit weekly.  During these visits, I observe and provide feedback to my teachers as well as facilitate a teacher’s club (learning community).   As with everything else, the education sector was hard hit by both the civil war and the Ebola outbreak. Some teachers have no formal training while others have had some training at Rural Teacher Training Institutes; some are currently in school while others are near retirement, some are referred to as “volunteer teachers”, meaning they are paid by the PTA while others are “government teachers”, meaning they have been hired by and are paid by the Ministry of Education.  For the most part, I have found the teachers to be open and accepting of criticism and recommendations which some are beginning to apply.  Frequent excuses I hear are; “the class too big o”, “the children loud”; which I cannot argue with as classes range in size from 22 to 96 with one teacher. Also, classrooms are in open buildings allowing both air and an overflow of noise from surrounding classes and street.

Classroom management is very limited if present.  As if those challengliberia-image-2es weren’t enough, curriculum for grades Kindergarten through fourth is non-existent.  There are objectives for all grades, it’s just that the Ministry of Education has not gotten around to providing the accompanying curriculum.  Therefore, I also guide the teachers in developing a workable grade appropriate curriculum using available materials. Additionally, this seems to be the first time teachers have a curriculum and they don’t know how to use it.  So, I also guide and encourage them as they learn how to use and teach from a textbook. Apart from the challenge of their ability to read and understand the material, I sometimes feel as if there is a culture of admiring and not using a shelf of beautiful books, as no one wants to touch the books because they are “afraid of “spoiling” (damaging) them”. I am slowly (small, small, as we say here) guiding the vice-principal for instruction on how to inventory and disseminate this material to both staff and students.  Additionally, the only supply to be found is chalk. Teachers must provide any and everything they need/want to use, including a chair to sit on.  Language is also an issue.  Three levels of English is spoken – standard, Liberian and simple depending on how educated your audience is.

liberia-image-3Another issue is the seeming randomness of school.  Teachers do not always show up and there are NO substitutes, students may be sent home (but they linger on campus until the end of the school day) there may not be enough teachers so some classes have less than the six periods of instruction and students are not monitored during these times. Testing is done on a rolling basis through the school – this week grades one through three may be testing and next week it will be grades four through six.  Classes are cancelled for the grades not being tested.  Teachers may show up, but not teach, and whole days are taken for “activity”.  I don’t know what those are yet.  Liberians are very aware that there is a lot to be done and for the most part are willing to do the work.  They just don’t know how.

I have noticed that the underlining trauma from Liberia’s past is not addressed. People speak of their experiences during the war and with Ebola, often out of the blue, and then continue with the original conversation.  Again, the limitations of trained personnel make addressing these emotional issues difficult.

Children also bring many experiences with them.  They are not only children going to school, some are parents in elementary grades, (which presents the issue of making the curriculum appropriate for adult learners while still teaching children) some are taking care of siblings, doing housework and selling “on the road” before and after school. Their education is frequently interrupted for these and other reasons.

One thing I am grateful for is that even though schools are open buildings, people selling snacks, etc. do not interrupt class to do so.  They sit under a shed or tree and wait until recess before any selling is done.  During that time, you can get anything from water to a hot cooked meal.  Teachers supplement their income by selling snacks during recess.

liberia-image-4I had occasion to attend a traditional wedding recently.  I was very humbled by the seriousness of this event.

The ceremony began when the groom’s representative approached the bride’s family to formally ask permission for her to join his family. This was followed by much negotiation regarding the bride price and who should be compensated for her removal from their family. Once settled, the procession began. “We have to get your flower from across the water; we need $$ more. The canoe has a hole and must be patched”,

“We need to get a car to bring your flower here so we need $$ more, etc.” wish I could attach the video.  Several imposters were paraded in.  The required $$ was paid to reveal her identity only to discover she was not the right Flower. And the process began again.

liberia-image-5When the correct flower was presented, and the lappa covering her was removed, a declaration was made – “we the … family are giving you our daughter.  We have trained her . … are not a family who beats our women so we do not expect you to beat her”.  The conditions under which she is brought into this new family was laid out including how to handle disputes.

A gift of kola nut was presented by the family to the bride as a symbol of prosperity. The amount of strings tying the bundle represented the level of prosperity for the new family.

The nuts were broken and shared to be eaten first by the family signifying unity then by well-wishers. The nuts are bitter at first, but become sweet as chewed and swallowed.  Signifying the bitter and sweet experiences of life. This concluded the ceremony.liberia-image-6