Hope in the Cisterns

A few weeks prior to Christmas I attended a women’s breakfast. Gathered there were many of my favorite women from around the city; I dusted off my German which sometimes hides in my Stay-At-Home-Mom closet, and we talked and laughed all the while feasting upon a breakfast fit for queens. It was lovely and refreshing and did my soul and stomach real good. But it also left me intrigued.

We concluded our breakfast with a time of sharing, “God in 2015” being the subject matter. Immediately I thought, “Aw, man… 2015 was not one of my favorites for sure. I mean yes God was there, but… ”

Ah, “but”.

While I scrambled to think of something that would make 2015 look all sparkly and shiny, my friends began to speak, and to my surprise, those who spoke up about their year in review shared in my overall negative view of 2015. Thus, my intrigue. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat down with so many women only to discover we thought the same thing about the same topic. That’s mostly unheard of, in my womanly experience at least. Yet there we were, one by one basically saying, “I’m ready for 2016 so I can say that 2015 is over.”

Huh.

How is it that despite our individual personalities, backgrounds, situations and phases of life, we concluded as a group that 2015 was not one for the record books? Is it because we know the same people or attend the same church denomination, or live in the same city or hold the same religious belief? Could be. After all, there was a lot of loss in 2015, and most of us – if not all of us – personally knew those to whom we had to say goodbye. But I don’t think that’s the whole picture here.

The reason I don’t think that’s the whole picture is because of what my friends further concluded after having said they were glad to see 2015 disappear around the corner never to return. I’ll use King David to explain their sentiments:

 Psalm 13; A psalm of David.

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

This Psalm is so good that I want it written in every blank space in my house and tattooed on both of my palms. This is, in a nutshell, what was said at the women’s breakfast. We each experienced moments or phases or daily struggles throughout 2015 where we wearily looked toward Heaven and said or perhaps even screamed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING. Can’t you see I’m drowning here? Can’t you see Satan is trampling me day in and day out? I’m losing. L-O-S-I-N-G. So where are you? Why aren’t you helping me?”

We could have stopped there in our prayers just as David could have stopped at verse 4. But something in us made us say “But” just as David goes on to do in verse 5, and that’s where I think we see the whole picture. Yes, we know the same people and run in the same circles and go to the same churches, but we also share the same “unfailing love”, the same “rescue”, the same reason to “sing to the Lord”.

Perhaps 2015 for me, for my friends, and quite possibly for you, will be like the year Joseph’s brothers threw him into a cistern, an incident to forever change his life. He could have easily dubbed that year “The Worst Year of My Life”, but based on what we read about him and his attitude and his relationship with God, he didn’t, at least not for the rest of his life. At some point he was able to look back at what I’ll call “The Cistern Year B.C.” as a key year in his lifetime; a year he didn’t understand, a year filled with agony and fear and hurt and loss, but nonetheless a year on which Joseph looked back and while talking with God thought, “Ooohh. I see what you did there.”

-I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.-Gen. 45-4-5

Hope in the cisterns. That’s the common theme my friends and I shared in that morning. “Cistern Years” happen because life happens. But they also happen so that we may pass on our hope to those in line looking for it. “Cistern Years” happen so we can tell our neighbor, “Yeah, last year was ugly. But it didn’t defeat me, and here’s why.”

If 2015 was a Cistern Year, don’t push it out of your memory. Talk about it. Live it out. Show others it is in fact possible to find hope in the cisterns.

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Having Ourselves A Merry Little Christmas In Vienna, Finally.

ImageTo say we’re thrilled to have our own Christmas tree and ring in the New Year from Vienna is an understatement. We are ecstatic. Sitting in our living room is a small little Christmas tree whom we’ve lovingly named Francis, for unknown reasons. Francis is decorated in lights as well as red and silver ornaments. A few Christmas presents sit beneath him on a substitute blanket we’re using until we find a Christmas tree rug. We’ve collected some Christmas decorations here and there to make our place feel a little more celebratory. Christmas music has been playing nonstop since Thanksgiving, of course. We have visited many, many of Vienna’s famed Christmas markets and collected an embarrassing amount of coffee mugs from them. We’ve also snacked on too many greasy but oh-so-delicious foods from these markets, but I promise we also made good use of our time, were good sons and daughters, and bought gifts for our families (which we accomplished before Thanksgiving, might I add!) Now all we need is a Christmas Eve snowfall, and we’re good to go. 

We’ve been asked several times by loving people if we’ll be okay this year, being that this is our first Christmas not only without family but also away from the country in which we’ve always celebrated this festive time of the year. While it does feel a little strange to not watch “Elf” for the first time without my best friends, or not have “Christmas Pajama Party” on our calendar, we’re feeling, as I said, ecstatic to be here, as well as stable and not homesick. Not yet anyway. Plus, we’re not “alone” this year for Christmas in any sense. There are parties coming up, meals to be shared, and most exciting of all – we’re celebrating two Christmases. I didn’t know this until a few months ago, but Austrians mainly celebrate Christmas on the 24th, not the 25th (like a lot of continental Europe). You all know our good friend Thomas, as he’s pretty famous in this blog – he and his sweet family have invited us to spend their Christmas with them. We can’t wait! We’re excited to not only add an additional Christmas to our agenda, but more importantly, we’re excited to still be spending time with family. They may not be related to us, but we love them immensely and know that we’ll feel like we’re family as we celebrate together. 

ImageTomorrow is our English Kids Club Christmas Party, which concludes EKC for the year of 2013. We survived the year! Though we weren’t fully present for it (all of January, half of February), we had an amazing year with our past and present kids, and we’re already looking forward to what 2014 will bring beginning a couple weeks into January. Continue to pray over our sweet EKC kids. Also be praying for the Oklahoma Christian University students who left us last week to go back to the U.S. It was difficult as always to say goodbye to another group, but from the pictures we’ve seen of their return, they’re doing pretty okay with being back with their families and friends. Our Adult English Class has also wrapped up for the year and is scheduled to begin at the same as EKC next year. We’ve discovered that by the time December hits, most people around here are booked up through the month, so we thought it best to give everyone a break from their “studies”, and enjoy the season. It’ll be a good refresher for us, too.

In case you find yourself with some extra time to stay on your computer, be sure and check out our newly designed (by Will!) Kreuzung website. (Use your Chrome translator or something similar to read the text.) Though Will designed the site, he was graciously helped by several friends at church with translations, edits, and suggestions – so a huge thank you to those people! You can view the site here: www.kreuzung-wien.at. Also, Tamika Rybinski and I recently launched a new blogging website called “Whispers in the Calm”. Its purpose is to serve as a safe and encouraging place for women in ministry and missions. We’ve been live for a little over a month and have already received several posts from women who have felt called to share their stories with others around the world. In honor of Christmas, we’re currently running a series we’re calling “25 Days of Jesus”, but once the New Year hits, we’ll be back to writing on ministry and missions-related topics. You can find us here: www.inthecalm.org.

Thanks for stopping by and may you all have a blessed week!