Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Gratitude Journal

He prepares a feast for me…Psalm 23: 5a

Before Ramadan started I braced myself for what would soon descend upon me. The weeks before Ramadan I got together with many of my Muslim friends to connect one last time before they would commence focusing on changing their routines, fasting, cooking sweets and large meals, and stepping up their reading the Qur’an and praying. It is a time when I feel largely cut off from them – separated.  Twinges of oppression and sadness arise because I love them and miss them.  So, I pondered ways to keep my spirits up because it is not fun to have relationships on hold for 4-5 weeks.  I asked God to prepare a surprise “feast” for me.  He really knows how to spread a delicious feast for us.  He is the Great Host of the universe. He feeds us not only physically but emotionally, too.

One of the things which surfaced when I was pondering about it was to buy a five year Gratitude Journal.  Wow, I wish I had thought of that decades ago; especially keeping one during the month of Ramadan. It has proven to be a great exercise to keep the spirits feeling positive. Instead of giving sway to negative or cynical thoughts because ministry or some relationships get temporarily thrown off I am constantly looking for things to be grateful for. The Gratitude Journal promotes making my physical senses come alive with joyfulness.  Apart from ministry or spiritual type of thanksgivings some of the  simple and ordinary things I have been grateful for in the last few weeks have been:

-enjoyed taking the time to watch the fish in my aquarium – picked a wild rose which smelled so sweet – noticed the variety of wildflowers on my walk – freshly mowed grass smelled so wonderful – enjoyed my quinoa chicken salad wrap immensely – found a great hiking hat – heard the cooing of doves, cawing of crows, chirping of birds – was impressed with the taxidermy animals on display at a store – was touched by a cute little girl crossing the street swinging her dolly -  so much variety of fruits and vegetables, - loved the feel of wind blowing through my skirt – rain felt so fresh – clouds are so billowy today - and so forth. 

I am conscious every day of wanting to fill out the lines designated for that date with things I was grateful for. That exercise has a way of steering a new thought pattern. It is fun to go back and read what I jotted down.  It is like sitting down to a delightful feast of blessings.  Some days I ask my husband, “Would you like to hear what I was thankful for today?”   So, if you are experiencing an emotionally down time during Ramadan while your Muslim friend is preoccupied with her religious duties, I highly recommend keeping a gratitude journal.

Dear heavenly Father, my gratitude journal has only a few lines each day but I find I need a whole page because You show me a multitude of things that make me grateful! What a generous and good God you are. I am feasting on your goodness. In Jesus name, Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ramadan Bondage and Freedom in Jesus

"He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God." I Peter 1:19  (The Bible)

I treasure my spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ. Spiritual slavery is over. Hallelujah! My heart aches seeing the bondage of Ramadan. Some friends explained that where they come from fasting begins at 5:40 a.m. with two cannons going off five minutes apart.  The first one is to warn Muslims to swallow anything in their mouths before the next blast goes off which starts the day’s fast. If they fail to do so before the second blast that day’s fasting won’t count. How free I am in Jesus Christ! 

Amina feels guilty because she finds it almost impossible to stay awake until the last required nimaz and get up before dawn to say another required nimaz. It was proving to be too difficult to go to work and stay alert all day. I was reminded that my acceptance in and by Jesus Christ is not determined by keeping a fast or saying my prayers at certain hours, nor by any other effort to please Him.  God does not want me to suffer. The salvation of my sinful soul is a gift, not something I work for or suffer for. Fasting is not a prerequisite for me to feel close to God.  

Farideh was pregnant again. It was her fourth year in a row. The time was stacking up when she would have to make up the fasting she couldn’t do for four years and she wondered how she would organize all that make up time. An overwhelming burden rested on her.  Other women know they will have to make up fasting for the days they have their periods during Ramadan. I am reminded how, in God’s sight, all of me - body and soul - have been purified and cleansed whether pregnant or having my period. Such female conditions don’t stand in the way before God and me. I have access to God at all times. He does not see any female condition as problematic, limiting, or restrictive to come into His presence. He does not see me as “unclean”, but cleansed by the blood of the Lamb of God.

Henna’s relative died during Ramadan. She needed to grieve and decided it was too difficult to fast while grieving. Shahnaz, the ever vigilant religious monitor, said that was not a valid reason to not fast. I am reminded that God is not a harsh task master. He understands my frame and my needs. Jesus Christ gives me rest from burdens. He does not increase my burdens. I am not required  to fast at all - ever. I can if I so desire but it is not required of me. What sweet freedom.  

 Amina, who is diabetic, asked Layla to fast for her by proxy and would pay her. Even though the diabetic patient did not realize she is exempt from fasting she connived this proxy way. She paid a price. It is a joyful reminder that Jesus Christ paid the price of releasing me from the penalty and punishment of sin and pronounced that I am forgiven. He paid a high price for my redemption.

During Ramadan gratitude towards my Savior, Jesus Christ, is heightened and overflows. I revel in my freedom.

Dear heavenly Father, You offer us freedom, not bondage. I love you so much. Thank you. Thank you!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.