Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Past And Present

Last year we had a 9 foot tall fragrant pine tree in the house.  While listening to our old family Alabama CD, "Christmas" we decorated its branches.  It was so tall Joel went up on the landing in order to get our angel placed on top where she has proclaimed "Christ is born" for the past 40 years.

This year we are just using our 2 feet high tree which smells like, well, plastic I guess.  A much smaller angel tops the tree.  We just have not felt any big desire to go out and get a tree, get it into the stand and decorate it. We had plans to do so, but after I had the house all decked out with Christmas decorations and our little angel tree was up, it felt done.  Our desire for a big corner tree never did come to life, so we are enjoying the sparkling lights of our little tree covered with angel ornaments.   It makes us smile.


Once upon a time our home was filled with the feet of little ones....8 kids all total, for a few years.  For Christmas one year we had just moved across the state of MN so we invited family and ended up with 32 of us sleeping at our house.  Joel's parents came down for dinner and so we fed 34 that day.  We also forgot to put sugar in the pumpkin pies that year.....giggle........Add to that the fact that no heat was going into the newly finished basement.......we did not realize it until later.  I guess while the guys were watching the football game on our small 19 inch TV in the basement family room my brother Todd asked someone...'What is the wind chill down here??"  Yeah, it was cold! Traveling "the long road to nowhere" as my other brother, Dickie, described our location, no sugar in the pie, 34 people using 2 bathrooms, and wind chills in the house ~ Even with all that I remember it being fun.  Granted, that was our last extended family Christmas in that location but our memories of that time make us smile.  

Our Christmases are quieter now.  Last year 4 of 5 families came home for the actual holiday and we enjoyed that....although that is not the norm for us.  This year Joel and I will go to Christmas Eve services and he may preach Christmas Day an hour south of us.  We always have a mini version of our family Christmas dinner and gift openings still take place~ one opened at night and the rest in the morning.  Stepping out of tradition, we may go with friends to a movie in the afternoon.  We don't usually go to movie theaters at all, so this would be unusual.

Traditions.  We all have them.  They bring us comfort and familiarity in a world that is always changing.  And yet sometimes we need to step out of the box and experience something new.  A little of the old......a little of the new.  Traditions and change joining together.

Memories of Christmases past.......we all have those too, and I hope and pray yours make you smile.
We continue to make memories even when our nest is empty and the house is quiet on Christmas morn.  We hold tight to old memories and we intentionally make new ones. 

At the center of it Jesus.  Little baby boy King, born in a manger, come to save us from ourselves.  Always our need to gaze on Jesus........... 

I love to listen to Pentatonix sing "Mary Did You Know...."  I hope you do too, as we remember the reason behind the gift buying, card writing, cookie baking, tree decorating, programs performed and attended......the reason for this season.....Jesus.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"We Have Arrived In Hell"

In the winter of 2015 we took our first trip to Arizona.  A blizzard forecast for the mountains directed us farther south so we drove along the border, came up through Tucson and stopped in Arizona City where we visited friends Lyn and Marie.  When leaving their home away from home we got lost and ended up on a road to nowhere......surrounding us was nothing but desolate land.  Isolated and empty flat desert and more desert.   I remember turning to Joel and saying, "We have arrived in hell."

It is what I imagined hell to be like.  Desolate.  Empty.  Barren.  It came to mind today while thinking about where I had found myself the past three weeks.  All because of one decision.

The decision we had made resulted in me stepping into a deep cavern, a black hole, bottomless and sucking every dream, hope, and promise in to it.  There was good to come from this, but I could not get past what I saw as loss.  I grieved.  My body felt weighed down as a spirit of heaviness enveloped me.   I was two weeks into living in the barren desert of my emotions, when I identified it. Depression.  It stunned me. Everything an effort, tears washing my face, heart hurting.  Silence welcoming while at the same time deafening.  Frozen in place with graceful movements an effort.

I tried to focus on the family coming.  Thanksgiving was a bit of a reprieve, we do love being with our family. I thought I was pulling it off, the "everything is great" act until our oldest asked a question...."Are you happy, Mom?"  I had to think about it.  I paused and took a breath and replied..."Most of the time...." I knew as soon as I said it aloud that it echoed false.  I was not happy. Guilt crept in.

How can I not be happy!?!  I recovered from surgery, radiation is mostly a thing of the past.  My latest mammogram was good......I can see well now with cataract surgeries long behind me.  So much to be thankful for.....and yet.......I. want. more.  I want to see what I have been believing for. What we have been believing for.   I sense it so close, but I do not see it.  I see it not.

How can we not be happy?  Joel has fill-in work.  He is well liked in the pulpit and likes to be there, so there is enough Sunday preaching, he helps others out, it helps us financially.  Still, we. want. more.  This is not what we planned. We planned to be desert birds, or at least snow birds.  More importantly we planned for  a new adventure with God.  And we believed from what we were told and felt, that God had a new purpose awaiting us.  Weary of chair sitting we long for more.  Lately it had not seemed possible.  Not one promise of God is empty of power,  but I had forgotten that.

A perfect storm of circumstances and more had come together, releasing a deep spirit of heaviness over me.  In my mind this one decision was erasing our future dreams and God's promises. I found myself on that desert road to nowhere.  So many tears, so much sadness.  I was surprised by my reactions.   Here's the thing, though. My response opened my eyes....our eyes......because I usually don't experience depression...situational for a day or two, but nothing like the hopelessness that filled me.

I expect some would have said, "Suck it up buttercup" or "think positive".  "If you have Jesus than you can't be depressed."  "Be thankful!"  But Joel said to me, "It is okay, how you feel. Just feel it, walk through it, and it will pass."  Thank you, Joel.  For your prayers, your loving support,  and your wisdom.

Recognizing the heaviness for what it was, I started seeking insights from God ~ everything rang hollow.  But then an online friend, Michelle, who often speaks out prophetically,  posted something on Facebook that had my full attention.  She wrote (in general) that through the struggles, pain, exhaustion, tears, sorrow, etc. God has great plans for you.  Even if nothing makes sense, remember that God has great plans for you!  Simple and straightforward, for me it was profound and as I read it once, then twice ~  a weight began to gently lift off of me. A light began to I asked God for more, but silence echoed.   Then a couple of days later while resting, His response washed over me with the words of Dr. Simmons in a Passion Translation prophesy,  and in God's written Word. "Praise Me.  Praise releases breakthrough. Praise.....praise....praise..."  In obedience we began to praise Him.

"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,
 to give them beauty for ashes,
 the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; 
that they might be called tress of righteousness, 
the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified"
Isaiah 61:3

We began to praise God, as Ann Voskamp tells her readers, by giving thanks for every gift in every moment.  It has not been easy for me, I admit, but it is releasing breakthrough.  And that decision?   I laid it at God's feet again and again as needed, and over the course of a few days He closed the door.  We released it to the One we can trust, praised God for His goodness,  and He closed the door.  We both now feel a sense of peace about it and God is replacing the spirit of heaviness with joy as we trust and praise Him.

Going through this valley of darkness opened my eyes to some vulnerable thinking, some "lies" I was believing.  It also opened my eyes to trusting not only God, but the gift of discernment He has blessed me with.  This experience has helped me to recognize once again that even in the desert when it feels like we have arrived in Hell, we are never alone.  Oh, friends, I hope this resonates for some of you as you read my words.  We are never alone.  We can give praise for that, can't we.  We can give praise for so many things.  Wearing a garment of praise is so much better than carrying around a spirit of heaviness.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Saturday's Scribbles: Supernatural Courage

I have been spending more than a little time on the sofa this week and thanks to Kindle and a gift card I was able to read a book written by Kris and Jason Vallotton titled, "Outrageous Courage:  What God Can Do With Raw Obedience and Radical Faith".  It is a book of stories told by Tracy Evans and written by Kris and Jason, about her adventures with God as a missionary.  Kris has known Tracy for 30 years and knows she is genuine in her walk of faith.  She continues this day to work in Africa, helping the orphans.

Her courage blows my mind.  I think of Kris Vallotton as being radical in his walk with Jesus, but he talked in the book's foreword about how much Tracy scares him.  Why?  He says he "fears God in Tracy, because her life is a continual offering to God, without fear of death."  With Tracy's history and personality, she might have a hard time fitting in full time in what we would call a  "normal" setting, but she fits in perfectly serving the people who live in a garbage dump in the Philippines or driving truck across dangerous territory in Africa to pick up milk for starving orphans.  She is more comfortable talking about Jesus to the homeless under a bridge than to those who fill the pews on Sunday mornings.  What a lioness she is for God!

As I pondered this woman's life, I felt myself longing to live a life of courage for God.........after spending so many years on my sofa staring out our living room window at the same (beautiful) view, when I rose from a bed of disease Joel and I began to plan for a new purpose in our lives.  We have had prophetic words spoken over us that seem to agree with our dreams, but what we sense is there waiting, we have not yet seen.

Don't misunderstand.....we have no plans to work in a garbage dump in the Philippines.  We lived there two years in the 70's and we have seen the poverty and watched people literally eat our garbage. We have compassion for the people in 3rd world countries, but we do not have the stamina to sustain a lifestyle like Tracy's.  We have had a missionary's heart, but felt no call there.

As I read the book I was starting to put my focus on Tracy Evan, "Amazon warrior", when God intervened and showed me that not all courage comes from moving to a 3rd world country as a missionary.  He reminded me that courage shows itself in those who quietly stand firm in their faith while struggling with disease, death, or disaster.  I have a dear friend who lives out supernatural courage as she struggles to live a life limited by severe symptoms that baffle doctors while they try to label what is going on in her body.  And yet her faith is strong, her hope continues, and she faces each day knowing "this is the day that the Lord has made".  We talked yesterday and I came away from that phone conversation humbled by her courage.

When I was going through radiation there was a woman who came in after me.  She would arrive early, and often visited with Joel while I was laying on that steel table praying while the machine delivered its radiation.  She had been diagnosed with the "worst kind of breast cancer", had been through chemo, and was now in radiation.  She rested in bed when she needed to, and she worked when she could.  She participated in life.  She did not hide her bald head, nor did she shy away from her journey.  She faced it head on, giving thanks for each day.  She displayed such courage.

We have friends who are raising their grandchildren, we also have friends who are raising a house full of their kids while in their late 50's.  It takes courage.  I also takes courage to go to work every day when your job does not fulfill takes courage to be kind and forgiving when our flesh tells us to strike back.  There are so many ways to identify courage, as many as there are people I expect.

In the natural world, Joel continues to work as a fill in pastor or Interim.  It is good work and blesses those he serves while blessing us in return.  Selfishly, or maybe not, we want something new.  An adventure that takes our breath away and can be accomplished only by God.  So while Joel continues to work here and we write as instructed by Holy Spirit, we also sense that there is more.  People like Tracy stir us up.  We may shake our heads in amazement, confusion, or even fear while reading about her life or the life of others like her, but we cannot help but wonder what adventures would await us if we would step out in faith and surrender to God's big plans for our lives.  Stepping out into this kind of supernatural courage is available for all of us, whether we live in a small city in Iowa or on a garbage dump in The Philippines.

It is something to ponder.......the supernatural courage and obedience found in the life of Tracy Evans. It is also something to ponder.......the supernatural courage found in a friend who greets each day with uncertainty but faith for healing, the many women in the midst of breast cancer treatments, those who work at a job they don't love.  It takes courage to stand firm in our faith and trust God for those promises we find in His Word.  Courage does not mean you are not afraid, it means you don't let fear stop you.  Certainly Tracy Evans has faced fear, but has not let it stop her from being obedient to God.  Certainly my dear friend has faced fear, but has not let it stop her from praying for healing nor standing firm in her faith as she battles a broken body.  This supernatural courage?  It resides inside each one of us!  We are empowered by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.  Yeah, that power.  That power and trust = courage.  Supernatural courage.  Something to ponder...............

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Spirit of Generosity

It was a good Thanksgiving, with the house filled with grandchildren, kids and in-laws last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  Our oldest son and his family did not come (Matt was working), but the rest were here and "our cup ran over" with good fellowship, food, football, cribbage and card games, and even a bit of shopping.  We are blessed.

We celebrated Christmas on Friday and one of the gifts we received was a new microwave!  Our microwave was not that old, but we had purchased it at a Habitat for Humanity store and it was not long before a problem revealed itself.  We could not have it on for more than 4 minutes or it shut down.  The core element would get so hot, the automatic shut down would occur to prevent a fire. It would take around 45 minutes before it would cool down enough to restore itself. We learned not to cook anything over 4 minutes, so if we needed to warm up food, it had to be under 4 minutes total.  It mean lukewarm or 75% cooked food at times.  No biggy.  We are adaptable!  It shut down when the kids were home, and Joel put two ice packs inside to help it cool off like he always does. We explained what was happening and ended up warming up food in the oven and on the stove top.  Where there is a will, there is a way. We were used to it's quirkiness and planned to replace in the future, but it freaked out our oldest daughter ~ she was worried about a fire starting.

So, surprise!   We have a new microwave!  We can steam our bags of veggies the full amount of time so they are not so crunchy.  Ha.... And we can do a full bag of popcorn, or warm two bowls of soup.  Oh, yeah, we are feeling pretty happy with our new appliance right about now!  And very thankful that our son-in-laws went out on black Friday and bought us a microwave and spent an afternoon installing it with Joel!  We are blessed by their generous spirits.

Generosity.  The Bible tells us it is rewarded.  We don't give so that we will receive, but God does bless those who give out of the goodness of their heart.  I think about what Rick Warren, "The Purpose Driven Life" author and pastor says about giving.  "You cannot out give God!"  Rick and his wife Kay given away 90 percent of their income.  ALL the money, millions, that came in from his well known book was given away.  Pastor Warren says, "No matter how much we give, God blesses us with more.  You cannot out give God."

We are blessed to have a family that understands this concept.  Over the years we have been on the receiving end of their generosity, and many others have also been blessed by their spirits of generosity.  I think they have learned the secret of giving.  Giving blesses the giver and the receiver.  Our money, our time, our stuff......all temporary and ALL from God.  We steward what God has given us.  We don't "own it", we manage it for God as His stewards.

Thanksgiving is a great time to contemplate and activate a spirit of generosity.  We give thanks for the abundance we are surrounded with, and we give to others out of the abundance we have been given.  In it all, we are blessed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving Thanks

It is Thanksgiving week and we have been preparing for a family gathering here at our home.  Every other year the kids, in-laws, and grandchildren come home for food, fellowship, football, and some fun games of cribbage and more.  Five families come from 1-3 days and we celebrate a mini Christmas at the same time.  This year they may take in a the grands age, the activities change, as they should.  We are enjoying these gatherings as long as we can. Treasured memories.

We have so much to be thankful for.  Our health, our family, our friends, our home.  And when was the last time any of us went hungry?  Our bounty is a great blessing from our Lord!  We pray each of you have someone to hug and share a meal with this Thanksgiving.  We pray your day, your lives are filled with abundance.  An abundance of love, peace, joy, hope, forgiveness.  An abundance of health, home, family, friends, and food.

As I watch it rain today, the weather took me back to our first Thanksgiving in the Philippine Islands.  It was typhoon season and we experienced 7 typhoons in just 2 1/2 weeks.  Joel was a meteorologist for the US Air Force so weather was his specialty.  You know when a typhoon is coming, so everyone prepares as best they can.  Extra water from the base water stations, food you can eat without cooking, candles, etc.  Thanksgiving day we had a nasty typhoon arrive,  At the same time Joel forgot to have our propane tank filled, so we ended up eating potato chips, Lime Pear Salad, and fruit salad for dinner......and just the outer layer of the turkey, the rest did not cook since the tank ran dry. The electricity went out and did not come back for 3 days and nights.  Our home was made from cement blocks that had been filled with wet cement....that house was not going anywhere and we felt pretty safe inside, even though our neighbor's home lost their roof.   We did have to stand at the doors and push water back outside as it poured in under the doors like someone was holding a hose under it.  Joel had to head in to work later that afternoon, but we had a good time that Thanksgiving Day and enjoyed our chips, salads, and pie!  We most likely had a good cry too, since we were so far away from extended family.  There were no cell phones at that time and it was expensive to get on a base connected phone. That day we celebrated with our little family at the time ~Bethany, Matt, and our maid Amphy.

We have so other Thanksgiving memories too.  Mostly great, a few not so great, but that Filipino Thanksgiving was quite the adventure for us.

Which brings me back to what we are thankful for.  Joel and I are so grateful for each other.  God has blessed us with 48 years of Thanksgiving celebrations together, give or take a few when he had to be absent from home.  We praise God for an abundance of all that blesses our lives.  Family, friends, homes, health, and food.  Now thank we all our God!

Friday, November 18, 2016

And God Stepped In

Joel and I watched a beautiful segment on CBS today, created by Steve Hartman. We like that man and the stories he tells speak hope.   He, himself, was in tears as he shared this story of goodness, and so were the two of us.  A man in his 80's was grieving the death of his wife.  He struggled with depression and not feeling he had any purpose for his life now that his wife was gone.

And then God stepped in.

While in the grocery store one day a little girl noticed him and said...""Hi old person!"  She then insisted her mom take her over to him so she could give him a hug!  He told her mom it was the first time he felt happy in a long time.  Thus began a relationship that defies understanding.  She has grandparents close by....he has grandkids although all grown up and gone.  The two of them forged a bond that has continued since their first encounter.  She visits him at least once a week, and there are a lot of hugs and 4 year old chatter that goes on.  He feels like he has purpose again.."To watch her grow up." He told Steve Hartman that she is an angel in his life, and that God definitely had something to do with the two of them connecting is such amazing ways.

Yes, God stepped in!

When we lived in Salt Lake City Utah our children had "adopted" grandparents.  We lived far from family in Minnesota. and a couple we met at church became mentors to us and grandparents for our two oldest, who were not much more than babies.  They were retired Air Force, Joel was in the Air Force......we inherited their "old" furniture and boy did we need furniture!  They were active members of the church we attended......they encouraged and supported Joel as he filled in as their pastor on Sundays for 9 months.  And they loved on our babies as grandparents do!  I only hope and pray they received half as much from our relationship as we did.

Definitely, God stepped in.

God was present when He connected my friend Katherine and me through a conference call prayer group for people with Lyme.  About 40 of us prayed for over 500 with the disease.  This brief encounter during the conference call moved into emails, then brief phone calls and then one day after about a year Katherine suggested we watch a man we had never heard of speak about healing.  We did so, Joel was miraculously healed overnight, and I began healing soon after.  This relationship reached a deeper level when Katherine, Joel and I met at a healing conference in CT in 2013.  We even were able to meet her family.  A young mom in her 30's came from New Hampshire and a couple in their 60's drove from Iowa to unite in our passion for healing, and God's perfect planning made it all possible.  It still makes me smile and brings tears to my eyes.  He is so amazing.

And God stepped in.

I cannot help but share again about how Joel and I met.  We both came to The Lutheran Bible Institute in the fall of 1966.  My older sister and her friend arrived later in the fall for parents weekend and took a campus tour.  They then told me they met the man I was going to marry.....when they pointed him out to me my reply was less than nice, but they told me they would pray about it. Just 18 months later we said our vows before family, friends, and most importantly our Lord who brought us together.  God stepped in and one confused, insecure woman barely 20 married one lonely, self-assured young man of 22.  Our faith in Jesus united us and 48 1/2 years later we continue on in this adventure called life.  So grateful.

Yes, God stepped in.

I am sure all of you are remembering your own special times when God stepped in.  God sees us, people.  He sees us where we are......He sees us in our brokenness.....and He loves us so deeply He reaches in to make us whole and fulfill His purpose for our lives.  We are His beloved.

Lord, thank you for stepping in and connecting us as your children.  Thank you for "being the God who sees us" and who with your unfathomable love heals us through Your power and the people you bring into our lives.  Let us always be open to your perfect plans for us and for others.  Thank you that we are your beloved.  In His name..............

And God stepped in............