Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saturday's Scribbles: Who Knew?

Yesterday we went on a road trip with our friends Mary Lou and Keith.  They had known about a nativity that had been built by German POW's in the 1940's in the small town of Algona Iowa, and wanted to go see it, so we headed out with them on a mini adventure.  It was located in a small building, in a small room~  a display of 65 characters created 1/2 life size.  The story behind this display is not in any way small, it is fascinating!

Nearly 400,000 German POW's were sent to America and put into camps across our country. Who knew?  I certainly had no idea we shipped prisoners of war over here.  These POW's were put to work on farms, in factories, etc. One of the officers was very homesick for his family and homeland, and he build a small nativity to have in his quarters.  It drew attention and the commander of the POW camp asked him to build a larger nativity.  Eduard Kaib and others created the large nativity you see below in one year.  Each character has a wood center, then covered with cloth and molded into shape with cement.   The nativity continued to draw attention well beyond the end of the war when the prisoners were returned to Germany. Eventually it went on display and during the month of December it is open to the public.  When we were there 100 people had gone through that day!

What is most fascinating to me is how the POW's and surrounding town people interacted together and became friends.  More than one POW returned to the area because it played a significant role in their lives.  We heard many stories about the POW's......... God was in the midst of this POW camp.......and the nativity brought people together in a unique way.  God weaves HIS story into our lives in so many different ways.  Our road trip to the POW Nativity was a nice way to end the year.

Yes, it is the end of another year, and according to social media many seem to be happy to see it go. There are certainly many challenges that we can look back at.  Just the number of celebrity/famous people dying has been astounding.  Then there is the election, police and fireman ambushes, terrorist attacks, and more.  I confess at times we are among the "many".  We are stepping into 2017 with expectations and declarations that it will be a year filled with joy, health, peace, and adventures with God.  All that good stuff God speaks of in His Word. For tonight we plan on spending our last evening in the coziness of our home, watching a movie, reflecting on what is behind us and dreaming about what is ahead.

Happy New Year's Eve!  May your coming year be filled with peace, joy, love, health, and a few adventures that have you saying......"Who knew?!"

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Don't Give Up"

A few months ago I bought an African Violet at our grocery store.  Our niece Becky had been talking about the violets she had from her Grandma....Joel's mom.....and it took me back to their home in the country and one large window where many, many violets grew in pots.  Mom T definitely had a green thumb.  Soon after I spotted a few plants while shopping, so I picked up one $3.00 African Violet with the hopes that I would be able to keep this one going.  In the past......not so easy.

It was blooming when I brought it home but it was not long after that it stopped.  I researched how to water and care for it, and was faithful and patient in my task.............for weeks......and weeks............and weeks.  Then right before Christmas I noticed flower buds forming. Soon after it began to bloom and has graced our home with it's lavender flowers.  It is beautiful, and especially so as winter surrounds us and covers the ground with that cold white stuff.

Patience.  It has been a struggle for me at times to remain patient in many areas of my life, but especially in regards to my body healing.  At times I have wavered in standing firm, but I do believe with all my heart that God wants me, wants us well.  I don't believe He makes us sick or wants us to stay sick.  He died on the cross for sin and sickness as we read in Isaiah 53.  Not everyone agrees with what we believe~ so be it~ but we have seen it come to life...healing.  In Joel, in me, in others as we prayed and spoke to the sicknesses in Jesus name.  It has to do with that same power that raised Christ from the dead living in us.

This past fall when I went through several weeks of heavy sighing and one of the things I struggled with was not giving up hope for this body to walk healthy.  The last year beat us up royally in many ways, and hope was being crushed.  God spoke to us gently and lovingly, and then came a day I was reminded of the many times God has spoken to me through others with the words, "Don't give up".  The first time was through a man who was praying for me at a meeting in MN in June 2013.  He said to me, "You have been so faithful and God sees that.  Don't give up!"  I tucked that away and it was 6 months later in a church in CT. that an evangelist pointed to me in an audience of over 300 and said, "Don't give up. You are faithful.  God sees that."  Don't give up.  I have read those words, and heard them echoed often in the past three plus years.

Well, the past 15 months kinda took the fight out of me.  I never expected radiation to take such a toll on my body.  The "gift" that keeps on giving. And I did not expect as we prayed and spoke to this particular mountain, for the battle to continue.   As I watched Joel continue to walk healthy and compared myself to him, I began to despair.  I began to lose hope.  Shame wanted in.

Did I say shame?  Yeah....shame that I was failing at this whole believe-in-healing thing.  Joel has been writing a book on his experience and 45,000 words into it he asked me to share my healing story for his book.  I said no.  I felt what I had to share would actually take away from what others would believe on healing.  I am the one who still struggles with pain and fatigue so I believed I was the one who was a bad example of the message Joel is wanting to share with others~~ God wants you well.

When I saw the violet was going to bloom again, I took hold of that for myself.  For weeks that violet looked like it was not going to bloom again.  It was not showing any progress.  It even looked unhealthy.  I talked to that plant, I cared for that little $3.00 plant, and I prayed over it.  Now the violet is blooming once again and beautiful to behold.  So, I am telling myself again, "don't give up."  God wants you well.....where I find myself is not about God.  It is not necessarily all about me.  It is this broken world and the enemy that uses sickness against us.  So, no matter what I see, what I feel, what comes against me, I will continue to trust God for His promise....I will do what I for myself, nurture myself in body, soul, and mind, and give thanks for those things which are healed.  The list is long.  And I will continue to pray and speak to the mountains that are before me.  God wants me well.  He wants me to bloom healthy like that violet,  giving Him glory in the process.  It will begin with a chapter I write in Joel's book.

Anyone else struggling with something you have prayed and believed for?  Something God gave you a promise for?  Don't give up.  Stand firm on His promises.  Please God, not man with your words, your thoughts, your actions.  Read and soak in His Word.  God never goes back on His promises.  They will come to pass.  Don't give up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Book, A Donkey, And His Voice

While reading blog posts a few weeks ago I came cross Galatians 5:26 in The Message translation.  It left an imprint on my heart, stepping right in with the truth of it and finding a place to rest within the beating. Even though, or because of the weariness I carried at the time, I was unable to put it aside, so we read all of Galatians 5 as part of our morning devotions, grateful as more of the Word's words squeezed into my heart and found room to stay.  Powerful. Impacting. God's 2000 year old writings bound in leather always say what we need to hear so well.

"Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, 
the life of the Spirit, 
let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads
 or a sentiment in our hearts,
 but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.  
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other
 as if one of us were better and another worse.  
We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. 
 Each of us is an original.
Galatians 5:26

Each of us is an original.  One of a kind. We have heard it before, a repetitive song, off key at best. We are all unique.  Can we grasp it, or do we put it aside while making endless effort to belong or fit in somewhere.  Falling short in our own eyes, wounding the soul.   Living as Spirit filled people we are not to compare ourselves with each other.  Here is what vibrates with truth ~ a truth that is shouted from the mountain tops if we only listen for it.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives  Each of us is an original..  How much time do we spend in the cesspool of comparison, looking down on or feeling put down upon?  To compare is to despair.  How can we compare one unique creation by the Creator to another unique one?

We know from God's Word that our uniqueness is from Him.  So is our identity.  The who we are and the Whose we are.  They are linked together.  Have you heard the quote..."You are only as strong as your weakest link?"  Christ in us, us living in the Spirit is what makes our links so strong.  Each equipped with God's gifts for His purpose.

I wrote the paragraphs above a few weeks ago, but evidently God had more to say on this topic!  The past few days Joel and I have been reading aloud a Christmas gift from me to my hubby....a book titled "Flash" by author Rachel Ridge. Described as charming, funny and written about an animal~~ what was not to like!   It is a true story about how a stray donkey came into the lives of one family and changed them all, including the four legged stubborn one they named Flash. The donkey just showed up one dark night.  Scared, beat-up, hungry.  His mysterious past made him skittish and super stubborn, but over time their patience and love brought him back to life.  

Early in the book Rachel shared about how she felt she failed in all she tried to do as a mom, wife, artist.  She just never felt she was enough and as she compared herself to others, like the people they rented their home from.....she fell short.  When the landlords told her they had named the Ridge family donkey themselves ( a different name)......and were often found feeding and talking to him from their home on the acreage, Rachel's insecurities reached a high point.

 But God......

Then through Flash she began to see herself in God's eyes.  God whispered to her one morning as she was scolding herself, " I have called you by name and you are mine."  She searched for the scripture connected to these words and read them again in Isaiah 43.  Remembering that Flash was restored through the family's love, and seeing his true self emerge again after the identity crisis he had experienced, it brought her to an awareness of her own identity crisis.  With prayer and scriptures she came to understand deep within that her identity came from her Creator.  Instead of repeating in her mind the long list of negative things she believed about who she was, she started remembering who God said she was.  Her identity was as His beloved.  Her value came not from what she did but from who she was, Whose she is.  Precious in His eyes.  This knowledge changed everything.
All because a "quirky animal with big ears" needed a home.  She stated, "God can us anything at anytime in any way to speak to us".

Sometimes God repeats the re-sounding song....and sometimes we think it is off key, so He persists in Love.  He reminds us of our identity through a donkey or a book about a donkey.  God can and does use anything at anytime in any way to speak to us.  Yes He does.  And one of the most important things He wants us to know?  Who. we. are.  The scriptures tells us, "Don't hold an idea in your head or a sentiment in your heart" ~~that does not line up with what God says about us(my words).

Each of us is unique.....created by God with a variety of gifts individual to our calling.  There is only one of us.  Our uniqueness is connected by Christ in us, our identity rooted within when we choose to live a life in the Spirit as kids of the King.  We are urged to embrace our uniqueness and step into our full identity. Remember He has called you by name.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Remembering A Church In The Foothills

It is Christmas week!  As I look at our little angel tree and candles all aglow, I cannot help but think back and remember one of the most picturesque and amazing worship services we were part of.  It was in Zortman MT on a cold winter night in 1978.  I have written about it before and am re-posting for those who want to read it again, or for the first time......

When my husband was in the seminary we spent his Internship year in North Central Montana. Malta’s Parish consisted of four main Lutheran churches, a hot springs resort chapel, and a tiny church in Zortman, Mt. ~ a historic mining town nestled in the foothills of the Little Rocky Mountains. Joel and his internship pastor ministered to all of these areas covering many miles each week.

The services at Zortman were held once a month, with most people driving around 75 miles across gravel roads to attend church and worship together. The small Catholic church sat on the top of a high hill and was one of only a few buidlings in this small town. I believe at that time there were 9 full time residents in the village. People from the surrounding area often came to enjoy what the Little Rockies had to offer, and the small café/bar provided nourishment when they visited. We had the privilege of being a part of the Christmas service the year we were there, and it is stored away in our memories forever.

Our family drove the long distance through snow and freezing temperatures that December, arriving with many others shortly before the service. Everyone gathered at the local cafe beforehand, with all of us dressed for the bitter cold in snowmobile suits, snowsuits, insulated underwear, heavy boots, scarves, and warm mittens. When it was time for the services to begin, everything in the little town closed up. It was dark outside, and as we left the cafe many of us were given lanterns to carry up the long hill to the church. We were one of the last families to leave, and in doing so we were able to watch the glowing lights move up the steep winding path as the people walked the trail to the church. As each person carrying a lantern entered the sanctuary, the church filled up with light. What a beautiful sight to see! 

Once we arrived in the sanctuary, we all huddled together on benches to keep warm. The wood burning potbelly stove, which stood in the corner of the room, gave off a warm glow and provided the only heat in the church. Our hymns of Christmas joy were especially meaningful as we sang along to the old pump organ. Joel's breath was visible as he preached the Christmas message.  For many reasons, the Christmas story of Jesus being born in a humble stable held special meaning for us that night.

When services were over, we all walked back down the hill guided by the lanterns and moonlit sky. All those who attended then went into the local bar/café for coffee, dessert, and more fellowship together, before heading back out into the cold and traveling the long distances back home.

The service in the Little Rockies is forever a beautiful memory etched on our minds. Across the world people were coming together to worship our Lord and Savior and celebrate His birth. It did not matter whether we were worshiping in a big cathedral in New York City,  or a tiny “borrowed”  Catholic church in a small historic mining town in Montana. The focus was the same ~ giving glory to God for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Living Life Outloud

"Live your life outloud so it speaks for itself about who you are."
Michelle Obama

What does our life say about who we are?  What do our words and actions say about us?  I have a sweet friend, Linny, and the way she and her husband Dwight live their life speaks volumes about who they are.  Volumes.

Many but not all of the Saunders family

To some their life looks a little to the right of crazy.  In their late 50's and early 60's, they are still raising nine children at home.  Five others are out changing the world and blessing them with grandchildren besides.  They homeschool, manage a full house, care for medical needs, run a non-profit for the orphans (International Voice of the Orphan), author books, speak across the country, etc., and Dw works part time as a professor of law at a college in Phoenix.  Add to this their many yearly mission trips to Uganda and you can understand why I say that they live their life outloud, so it speaks, no yells Jesus is my King! You can understand why people think they are a little to the right of crazy, but what a wonderful place to be!

They would be the first to say they are not special....just being obedient to God and the passion He laid on their hearts for the orphans.  Just responding to the anointing that was put on them over 20 years ago......before Dwight was a pastor.....before Ruby came into their lives and changed their direction forever.  You can read about Ruby in Linny's book, "Rescuing Ruby".  They said yes to God early in life and just kept saying yes as they surrendered to God's plan and embraced it easily.  The joy for what they do oozes out their cells affecting anyone who stands close to them.

You may not desire or be called to raise children younger than your grandchildren.  You may not desire to homeschool for decades or embrace children that will be "lifers" in need of care.  You   may not be called to go to Uganda, but I can almost guarantee that somewhere deep inside your soul you do desire to live a laid down life for Jesus that is "just a little to the right of crazy".  I know we do.

Life is an is hard work, it involves sacrifice and struggles, sure, but it is beautiful, and amazing, and even delightful because of Jesus.  Because we say "YES LORD" and desire to live our life outloud for Him.

Live your life outloud so that that it speaks for iteself volumes about who you are.  Linny and Dwight do so on a daily basis.  We don't need to fully understand it......but I challenge us to seek to live our life outloud for Christ so that it speaks volumes about who we are.  Whose we are.  Thank you Linny and Dw for being that for us.  For Jesus.  For the orphans.  Thank you for living life outloud!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday's Scribbles: Where Books Lead Us

Yesterday a box arrived from Amazon.  Sigh....can I just say, I loooooove Amazon?  I have been crazy about books since I picked up my first Trixie Belden mystery in 5th grade, or maybe it began at age six when I held carefully a Christmas book handed down from a relative that is now over 100 years old and still is displayed in our home at Christmas.   If I was ever stranded on an island I would miss books more than many other objects I can see around our home.  Yeah....they are my delight and my temptation.

Speaking of temptation, yesterday's box held a book for Joel (Merry Christmas!) and a book for me(Merry Christmas again!).  As we looked at the covers of the books we had been longing for and had a peek at beforehand,  we decided not to wait until Christmas morning, but start reading right away.  Last night we sat in the quiet with the fireplace warming the cold air, and turned the pages of our new gifts to each other.  Periodically we would share something words came from Ann Voskamp's new book, "The Broken Way" and Joel's words came from a book our middle daughter had shown him this past weekend, "The Power of Habit: Smarter, Faster, Better" by Charles Duhigg. Joel was so intrigued with the book I ordered it ASAP and surprisingly the box arrived in record time....yay for us!

Book published in 1899
given to me in 1954....

If you are wondering why we don't go to the library for books, let me put your mind at rest.... we do. I prefer getting fiction books from our local library to read, but if there is a book I know I will go back to time and time again, I turn to Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I underline and fold down pages....Joel highlights.  We both love books that teach us more about life and about God.  Books that bring us closer to our Lord.  Books that tell HIS story through our stories printed and held in our hands.  There is just something about holding a book in your hands.

I have a niece that works in a college library.  Can you imagine?  She loves to read and there it is, all right around fun to work in a place filled with what you love most!  I used to dream about owning a a kid in a candy store, I expect.

I am in the beginning pages of Voskamp's book, "The Broken Way".  She is a lyrical writer and it takes me awhile to get into the rhythm of her words......they are savored and need to be carefully speed reading here.  She was speaking about how God meets us in our brokenness.  And we are all broken in some way or another.  At least if we are breathing, we are.  And as Christ enters in us we are His only earthly body in the present.  He uses our hands and feet to love on His people.  How amazing is that!

Yes, books can change our lives, empower us, shape our thinking.  What kind of books do you enjoy?  My favorite fiction books are the Father Tim series by Jan Karon.  Delightful!  I enjoy light mysteries and I have many favorite non-fiction books, authored by people like Heidi Baker, Max Lucado, Gracia Burnham, Kris Vallatton, Lisa Bevere.....just to name a few.  Isn't it fantastic that we have such easy access to books.  And so many Bible translations to use in our reading and study times.  Bibles at our fingertips. We are blessed!

Books educate us.  Books enlighten us.  Books inspire us.  Books provide ways for our story to to told and ways for us to hear the stories of others.  They help us remember and learn, and they provide a delightful escape.  Among other assignments, I hope that when I get to Heaven I will be working in the library, or maybe the bakery.  Or maybe it will be a library like ours that has it's own little cafe where you can buy baked goods, sandwiches and coffee.  A place where we can be surrounded by books and the smell of baking bread! Nice......

This weekend would be a good time to pick up a book and a cup of what warms you, then settle in under a quilt.  Temperatures are dipping down to -24 tonight with wind chills at -40 to -50 degrees. We are more than grateful for a warm house and the nourishment we need for our bodies and our souls.  Stay warm friends................. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Deer, Dogs, and Delicacies

Yesterday afternoon five deer were across the street eating "delicacies" the neighbor puts out for the animals.  After eating their fill they came across into our back yard where our neighbor's and our property meets.  Watching out the window Joel noticed that our neighbor let out her husband's dog, Zoe.  We expected to see her take off after the deer but she did not even notice them as they stood at attention a few feet away.  Zoe smelled the ground but then took off in the opposite direction heading up front.  The deer relaxed until the neighbor then put out her little dog on a leash.....That little button of a dog started barking and chasing the long as her leash would allow anyway.  They left in a hurry and in her mind, she had "saved her people from a fate worse than death".

Our dog Jake was the same way.  I remember once several years ago when he saw a huge, and I mean huge dog chained up in a different neighbor's yard in a different area of town.  That dog barked and growled often and no one went near it.  Wone day when we took Jake outside, he saw the dog and took off after it ending up nose to nose with the brute.  As miniature schnauzers do, he hopped and barked simultaneously right smack in front of that dog who's head was nearly as big Jake's body.  We yelled at Jake frantically, and walked towards the stand-off when we saw the dog lift his big ol' paw and flatten Jake to the ground.  He held him still for a few seconds before Jake realized he had met his match and squirmed out from underneath, heading quickly for home.  He never went over there again.  We were grateful for the grace that big old monster dog showed our Jake.

Our yard was busy tonight with a rabbit and those same five deer walking around. They were heading for yet another neighbor's bird feeder.....yet another delicacy.  I think there are as many squirrels and deer as birds that eat there.  Our neighbor seems to enjoy their company.

There are a few analogies that could be pulled forth from these events, I am sure, but I am going to let you think of your own...........and maybe remember your own dog stories!

As we look ahead to minus double-diget temps with wind chills in the -30 to -45 below bracket, we plan to nest here, with homemade soup and afghans to help us along the way.  I wonder if the deer will "stay home" too?  If it is cold in your corner of the arctic tundra, stay warm....keep your animals warm......and share a few memories that make you smile.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Bitter Cold

It is -7 degrees this morning, the kind of weather where the snow crunches under your feet, sun dogs grace the blue sky, and the best place to be is standing close to your fireplace.  To keep from getting too hot, we remember to "toast" ourselves like a marshmallow....rotating from front to side..back to side.

When Joel and I were traveling in Minnesota we stopped at a McDonald's so Joel could grab some lunch.  Standing outside near the door was an older woman wearing two ankle length coats, one on top of the other.  She had on a warm hat, gloves, boots, and was carrying a large backpack.  Coffee warmed her hands.  She took up residence in my mind, and I've had trouble letting go of her image.  I expect she was homeless.....I don't know for sure, but she was definitely dressed for an extended period of time out of doors.  I have no heart hurt for her as my mind questioned what brought her to that place...that season of her life.

Yesterday on our way home we stopped by a loved one's apartment.  Joel had closed and tightened her storm door last Friday and now he put weather stripping along the patio door on either side and in-between to stop the wind from coming in. She was thrilled to be able to lay on her sofa without blankets and be warm.  No more freezing!  So little appreciated.

This morning as we woke up in our own cozy bed, kicked the heat up to warm the bathroom for a shower, traipse downstairs and pushed a button to turn on our gas fireplace, walk into the kitchen and turned on the tea kettle.....all those never-think-about conveniences...all those ways to stay warm and soothe the bones on a bitter cold morning...............for all those and more I am so, so grateful.

Do you wonder if it was cold in the manger where Jesus was born?  Do you ponder what Mary and Joseph felt as their child, created of God came into the world in such lowly surroundings?  Certainly, cold or not, these were not the best circumstances......and yet God did not choose for His Son to be born in a castle, nor even a cozy home.  But a manger...........probably in a stable~~this is where He chose for His Son to come into the world, a broken world that needed the warmth of a Savior's love.

At this time more than ever we need to remember those who are suffering from the cold.  Cold outside, and cold inside.  Those in need of their hardened hearts to be softened.  Those in need of the warmth of our Father's love coming through us.  Those is need of basic needs.  We are HIS hands and feet.  We are HIS love expressed with compassion, empathy, and love.  God is clear on that.  Helping others...........sharing the gospel..........bringing Jesus to those who need Him.  And don't we all.

Written with thoughts of our son Kevin, who died 12 years ago today at age 25.  You are now in a warm place of Jesus' eternal love, son.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday's Scribbles: Prepare For The Storm

We are nestled in as winter makes itself known outside.  It is cold up here in "north country".  Minnesota has its own definition of winter once you get past Mpls/St. Paul.....definitely when you leave Iowa.  Bitter cold, snow, and wind is being countered with wool socks, sweatshirts and afghans in the house.  Joel and I are thinking we've lost or Minnesota toughness!  Minnesota is a neighbor to North Dakota after all, where they are still digging out from the last storm while waiting for the next.  We were to spend a week in this part of the country, but among other things sickness kept us home in Iowa.  We missed a great play performed by a cast that included some of our grands,  but we were able to attend a recital last night and will see a Christmas Sunday School program tomorrow before we head home again.  It is so nice we can say yes now to invitations!

As we left home early Friday, the temperature was just plain cold!  Joel packed up a bit off extra things like heavy warm boots, etc.  Just in case.  In the past we prepared for winter travel by having an emergency tub full of a few protein bars, candy, water, candles, clothes and even wool blankets/sleeping bags.  Before cell phones it was necessary to be fully prepared when we headed across roads with little activity......Just in case.

I remember one time when my sister Jan was heading home from town in South Dakota and drove into a snow storm.  Unable to see exactly where she was she took the wrong turn and ended up stuck in snow and did not know for sure where she was.  She called her husband and then her pastor asking him to pray!  Eventually a friend took out his truck with a plow on the front and drove along the roads until he found her.  She kept checking in on her phone with her hubby and she had extra clothes in the car, but it was a very scary time for them.  No kidding.  Yes, it is good to be prepared in case you encounter a surprise storm or two.

So what about when storms come into our lives that affect us on the inside?  As we travel through life things come against us and we better be ready.  Just in case.  We need an emergency "kit" to turn to and it is important to have God's number on speed dial!  We have His Word and it needs to be settled in our hearts.........stand firm in what it tells us~~ the promises of God.  The full armor of God is laid out for us clearly in Ephesians.  Helmet of of peace.....belt of truth.....breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, sword of the Spirit.  And prayer?  One of our most powerful weapons.
My sister Jan knew that when she called her pastor and asked him to pray!!

If you live in the upper Midwest, you know winter will come.  You know storms will bring in snow and cold temperatures.  You don't wait until the last minute to get ready.  It is no different with life storms.  They will come, so it is best to be prepared!

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...............