Merry Christmas from Our House to Yours

Sending warm greetings your way this Christmas and wishing you an adventurous new year!

Amidst all the family gatherings, hustle and bustle, food, toys and gifts, I hope to always remember the baby Jesus born in a manger who sacrificed so much for me.

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Playing in a snow-fort with the kids
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The credit for this beautiful gingerbread house goes to my husband and son who worked on it together painstakingly for hours!
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Five Benefits of Venturing Outside Your Comfort Zone

It’s rarely easy doing something that we are not accustomed to. It can make us feel uncomfortable and unsure of ourselves. This week I was reminded that venturing outside our comfort zone is actually good for us. It can increase our confidence and help us achieve things we would never have thought we were capable of.

This past week, I had the pleasure of being part of a great team that led over 60 kids aged between 4 and 12 during our church annual summer camp. The theme for this year was ‘Cave Quest’ and many of the activities dealt with geology concepts such as stalactites, stalagmites, snottites and geodes. I was tasked with the role of running the “Imagination (Science) Station” during which I would run various experiments with the children.

Now I have to say that prior to the camp I felt rather intimidated by the sheer number of kids that we would be looking after as well as the fact that I had never done a summer camp before nor did I have much knowledge about geology. I would have felt much more at ease talking about biology or chemistry. But geology? I simply felt clueless. The fact that my team and the kids were depending on me forced me to do my research and come up with some inventive ways to demonstrate the experiments.

Through the course of the week, I went through a myriad of emotions from exhaustion to frustration to amazement to appreciation to gratitude! It was difficult to do something outside of my comfort zone and there were times when I felt I was not doing a good job. But each day, the excited faces of the children with their energy, curiosity and thirst for knowledge, made me feel so privileged to be part of the team doing sports, sharing about the wonders of science as well as the love of Jesus.

This week surely reminded me of the importance of stepping outside of our comfort zone from time to time. The benefits are many:

  1. Growth and perseverance: doing something you are not familiar with stretches you and forces you to use your mind and body in ways that you’re not used to. The result is a stronger, more resilient person who can take on even greater challenges.
  2. Builds relationships: having been in the trenches with the kids and other leaders for five full days in a row, I got to know more about them and to build some amazing friendships.
  3. Expands your horizons: I remember somewhat grumbling to myself when I saw what the theme for the summer camp was….geology? Boring! I don’t know anything about that! But having researched and then explained the concepts to the kids, I learned some truly fascinating things!
  4. Builds your confidence: Having successfully managed to “survive” the summer camp, I feel much more confident to take on  new things and not to be intimidated by my lack of knowledge on a subject. There are so many resources to learn new things!
  5. Meets a need: No matter how uncomfortable or incompetent you may feel at something, if you give it your best and put in the required effort, you will make a difference in someone’s life, maybe even leave a permanent mark on their hearts and minds.

Don’t be afraid to try something new! Don’t let discomfort hold you back! There is a learning curve for everything and with time and effort, you will eventually succeed!

A Fruit A Day…Is Being Meek a Weakness?

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength“-Saint Francis de Sales

Welcome back! Over the past few weeks, we have studied in detail the virtues of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness and faithfulness.Today, we are going to tackle the virtue of gentleness.

Merriam Webster Definition and Synonyms of Gentle

  • Definition: mildness of manners or disposition
  • Synonyms: nonabrasive, soothing, tender
  • Related words: calm, peaceful, placid, quiet, serene, tranquil, compassionate, lenient, merciful

Greek word for Gentleness

The ancient Greek word for gentleness is prautés. It is related to the concepts of meekness and humility.

Favorite Verses on Gentleness

  • “To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people”. Titus 3:2
  • “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” Ephesians 4:2

Final thoughts on Gentleness

I used to be skeptical about the concept of meekness because I felt it implied becoming a doormat, being passive or weak. But this is not the case. Being gentle or meek is not a weakness but in fact a sign of implicit strength. Jesus in his gentleness and compassion towards others still conveyed a strong sense of power, authority and passion. It is true that gentleness is somewhat dependent on personality but I wonder if it’s something we can learn to do in the spirit of being respectful towards others.

I think gentleness can be applied in many situations such as comforting someone in their sorrow, correcting someone in a firm yet non-judgmental manner or forgiving someone for a past hurt. Being gentle does not equate to being weak nor does it necessarily mean we are always quiet in our mannerisms. To me, it is an act of humility where we are willing to listen to the opinions of others and to be tolerant of others, yet at the same time being brave enough to speak out in a respectful manner when needed.

Image courtesy of wallpaperskyline.com
Image courtesy of wallpaperskyline.com

A Fruit a Day…Demonstrating Goodness

Welcome back to our study on the fruits of the Spirit! So far we have covered love, joy, peace, forbearance and kindness. Today, we are going to take a look at the virtue of goodness.

Merriam Webster Definitions and Synonyms of Goodness

  • excellence of morals and behavior
  • character, decency, morality, honesty, integrity, probity, uprightness, virtue, virtuousness

Definition of Goodness from Strong’s Concordance

  • intrinsic goodness, especially as a personal quality, with stress on the kindly (rather than the righteous) side of goodness

Greek word for Goodness and the various shades of meaning

The ancient Greek word for goodness is agathosune It has a similar meaning to the Greek word for kindness (chréstotés) however ‘goodness’ has a more active and driven connotation. Goodness has an assertive sense to it because an individual behaves based on their own personal moral values. They are therefore likely to feel more strongly about a situation that goes against their principles (for example, seeing others experience injustice or suffering) and do something about it.

Interestingly, the Bible also describes goodness as the capacity to correct each other (another inkling into the more assertive aspect of goodness). This makes sense because if I am really looking out for someone, I would want to respectfully warn them if they are heading down a destructive path. The challenge becomes how to help without sounding accusing or self-righteous.

Interesting facts about the Greek words for goodness:

Agatha is a feminine name derived from the Ancient Greek word agathos, meaning ‘good’. It was the name of St. Agatha of Sicily, a third-century Christian martyr.

Favorite Verses on Goodness

  • As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all [men]…” Galatians 6:10
  • I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are filled with goodness and full of all the knowledge you need to be able to instruct each other.” Romans 15:14
  • A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things…” Matthew 12:35

Final thoughts on Goodness

My initial thought when I consider the word ‘goodness’ is a word describing a moral virtue. Goodness does not mean self-righteousness. It means making a choice that will ultimately benefit someone else. It is being virtuous without ulterior motives. Self-righteousness is by nature self-focused and prideful however goodness looks outwardly and says “how will my decision affect someone else?” Exercising goodness towards someone else can encompass many areas of life. It could be meeting a need (kindness), being true to our word (honesty), standing up for the oppressed or speaking out against discrimination (integrity). Goodness is being selfless and focusing on another person’s situation.

I am guilty of being self-centered and self-righteous at times. But I quickly remember how status didn’t matter to Jesus in the Bible. He often spent time with those who were considered the lowest in society. Conversely, the self-righteous Pharisees, even with all their knowledge and pomp, did not impress Jesus. I am constantly reminding myself that God looks at the heart, not at the exterior. Goodness culminates in a deep desire to look out for those around us without focusing on how this reflects on us. How much I still have yet to learn!
Image courtesy of bheretoday.com
Image courtesy of bheretoday.com

Teaching by Example…Lessons in Servanthood

My children never cease to amaze me in how much they pick up from people around them in word and behavior. Moments like Caleb kissing and hugging his little sister because he has observed us doing this. Or Naomi busily putting away toys as she tries to mimic mummy’s “tidy up” song. Being a mother has caused me to assess my behavior in many circumstances because of what it might be teaching my children. I am realizing more and more that although it’s important to express things verbally, my children are very much guided by what they see.

My daily prayer, without putting too much pressure on myself, is that my husband and I can be good examples for our children. Some days it feels like an enormous responsibility too great to bear. I feel simultaneously privileged yet sometimes uneasy that we are ultimately in charge of raising these two precious children. They learn so much from other people too, of course, but the fact that we are their primary caregivers, teaching them about life sometimes stops me short as I contemplate the great importance of this task.

Earlier this week, I was reading a passage in the Bible that describes the scene where Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He gingerly removes his outer clothing, wraps a towel around his waist like a servant would, and starts to wash the disciples’ feet. I have read this passage before but this simple act of humility never ceases to amaze me. Jesus could have simply told his disciples he loved them but he went beyond this and performed an act that demonstrated how much he valued them and set an example for them to follow as they encountered others. This story really reminds me of how much I want to teach my children and to do it by example. It’s not easy. There are days I get impatient with the children and wish I could have been more understanding. But I remind myself that I am only human and I cannot expect perfection. In fact, parenting has shown me just how imperfect I am.

But when all is said and done, even after a challenging evening with the children, when I put my son to bed, I always ask him “you know that I love you, right?” He lets out a big, beaming smile, nodding vigorously, seemingly unaware that we had a difficult evening, and I am struck by how quick he is to forgive, his arms draped securely around my neck.

Caleb with Naomi (who is looking particularly mischievous in this photo!)
Caleb with Naomi (who is looking particularly mischievous in this photo!)
Caleb the bookworm being a good example for his little sister! When not fighting over toys, they love reading together!
Caleb the bookworm being a good example for his little sister! When not fighting over toys, they love reading together!

A Classic Case of Thinking Outside the Box

I’ve been on the hunt for a new book to read. From the stack of books on my bedside table, I stumbled upon an intriguing biography on the life of Jesus from the point of view of his beloved disciple John. So far it has been an absorbing read! What I like about it is the intricate descriptions of that period in time and the depth of the relationships between the characters. I really feel thrown back in time when I peruse the pages of this book.

So far the most profound impression this book has made on me is how Jesus was not afraid to go against some of the norms in that society. I call this a classic case of thinking outside the box. Lepers were considered unclean and were to distance themselves from the rest of society. Their ashy, ghost-like skin was viewed with disgust and they were looked down upon. Yet Jesus crossed this boundary, physically touching and healing a leper.

Jesus was becoming well-known and was gaining in popularity among certain sectors of society. I can imagine it would have been easy to just proceed in a manner that would maintain his popularity but that was not Jesus’ style. He was not concerned about what people thought of him but with fulfilling his mission to heal the sick, the brokenhearted and preach the Good News, regardless of what this did to his reputation.

While the self-righteous Pharisees viewed Jesus as a kind of heretic rebel, he was the one who defied the norms of that society, touching lepers, talking with a Samaritan woman at a well, dining with tax collectors, all while maintaining his humility and compassion towards others. Jesus acted “outside the box” to fulfill the goals and mission he had been sent to do. This makes me think that in my own life, there are ways to go above and beyond, ways to be courageous and creative, in order to achieve a worthy goal that will ultimately benefit others.

The Master, A Life of Jesus by John Pollock
The Master, A Life of Jesus by John Pollock
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

A Fruit a Day…An Attitude of Joy

Welcome back to our study on the fruits of the Spirit! We started off looking at love and how this can be applied in daily life. Now we are on to the next fruit: JOY!

Here is my favorite definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

  • a source or cause of delight: What gives you delight? For me, it’s the people in my life, God, hobbies, science, music, reading, learning, and many more! Remembering those things that give us delight can be a good way to mitigate the difficult moments. Am I feeling discouraged? Call a good friend and spend some time together. Am I feeling depressed? Get out of the house and do something active that I enjoy.

Now I have to admit that initially when I sifted through my Bible, not all the verses I found on joy had me doing cartwheels. Many verses had references to “trials” and “perseverance”. But what about being happy?  Inspired by my husband who has studied ancient Greek, I decided to look up the original Greek word for joy which is “chara“. Rather than an expression of mere happiness, it alludes more to a sense of appreciative gladness.

So, it seems that joy is more of an attitude than just a state of being. Being joyful or rejoicing is choosing to give thanks and be grateful even in the face of difficult circumstances. It doesn’t mean we pretend that nothing is wrong or that we do not need support. It means we are choosing to believe that something good will come out of it and that even now in those challenging moments, there is still something to be grateful for. Very much easier said than done of course but I’m hoping to come back and read this whenever I’m having trouble being joyful!

Here are some of my favorite verses on the topic of joy:

  • sorrowful yet always rejoicing…having nothing and yet possessing everything” 2 Corinthians 6:10. This was in the context of the hardships Paul was going through as he was being persecuted for his faith. I think this translates well to other situations in life. We may be going through tough times, we may not have much, but yet we are rejoicing. This does not mean that I always have a smile plastered on my face, but internally, I know God is in control of every situation even when it doesn’t feel like it.
  • Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work in you so that you may be mature and complete…” James 1:2-4. In the past, this was one of those verses that I tended to scout over and try to ignore because I didn’t like the idea of being “tested”. But I have had great role models in my life who have been amazingly strong through the most adverse situations and they have quoted this verse to me often. It reminds me of the verse on being refined by fire and surely life does refine us.
  • I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely” Psalm 16:9. I love the simplicity of this verse. It exudes an assurance of security in Christ and this in itself is a reason to be joyful!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Galations 5:22-23.

One of those 'joyful' moments. My husband and I petting a cheetah in Kenya.
One of those ‘joyful’ moments. My husband and I petting a cheetah in Kenya. The cheetah happily purred as loudly as a cat!