Thursday, June 29, 2017

Forty-nine and Celebrating!

Joel and I are celebrating our 49th anniversary tomorrow.  Forty-nine years together with God walking with us every step of the way.  After all, He ordained our marriage.....we were brought together through prayer, a story I have told often and can be read HERE.

Our 49th had me thinking back about our first anniversary, celebrated at a small place in Champaign, Illinois.  First dinner and then a movie ~ a big deal on an airman's salary.  I was also about 4 weeks pregnant and sooooooo excited that I was already wearing maternity clothes.  In those days everything was stretchy in the belly and flowing on top.  That night I wore navy pants and a red white and blue stripped top.  I certainly did not need them (giggle) but was eager to show off being a mama-to-be.  Of course I did not realize I would carry both of our birth children 10 months instead of 9 or I may have waited on the maternity wear!

There have been so many anniversaries since then.  All of them celebrated together, in sickness and in health. Too many in sickness, but, still, we have treasured every single one together.  Often I tell Joel how thankful I am for him loving me.....he always responds....."it is the easiest thing I do."  I feel the same way about him.   Keeping God in the middle makes it so, I expect.

When I was having surgery last week, my doctor asked me about Joel.  He had met him when he went in for a body scan and the nurse had told him before entering the room..."There is one feisty retired pastor in there!"  I don't think he knew what to expect.  So, during my surgery he asked me questions......about our we met......I was able to share our faith journey in response to his questions.  Then he said, "Well, he must be pretty good, since people look past how he a cowboy."  I could have been offended, but considering this 33 year old doctor was from L. A. and had lived in Manhattan, I saw him as naive, so I just let that go.  Poor kid, he has never experienced the country I expect.  I did share that we were celebrating our 49th anniversary and that Joel is an amazing man of God, who is kind and good-hearted, loves to laugh, help others, and preach the Gospel.

Those boots, vests,  and hats he wears are how he likes to dress.....for himself not others.  He is not trying to be a "cowboy" he just likes boots, hats, and vests.  This man of God who sits across the table from me, who holds my hand when we walk, who cares for me when I am sick, who fills my heart with joy ~~ This "cowboy" preacher as others and now myself have labeled him ?   I am so blessed to call him mine.  I often say that I know how much God loves me because He brought Joel into my life.

We have been blessed to spend so many years walking through life together.  We met at The Lutheran Bible Institute often nicknamed, The Lutheran Bridal Institute!  Always and forever thankful for the prayers that united us. We were married two weeks after graduation and have raised 7 plus kids, hugged on a dozen grands, and welcomed in-loves into our family.  What an adventure in faithful living!   Happy Anniversary Joel!  I will love you from here to eternity................

Monday, June 26, 2017

So, Now What?

When you tell someone you have had surgery for a Melanoma, you get a couple of different reactions.  If they know of people who had surgery and no further is not such a big deal.  If they know of someone who had it move into organs and they died from it.....they respond quite differently.   I have known both.

I am working on recovering, surprised at how much the surgery took out of me.  I am only starting to think about what this all means, knowing I will need to go in every three months to be checked.  Those appointments added to the radiology oncologist and regular doctor visits along with the eye specialist give me pause.  So has the fact that in the past 21 months I have had 5 surgeries, 30 days of radiation, and 1 broken toe to walk through and recover from.

Crap.  Yes, crap.  So, now what?  This is not how I was seeing my future.  Fear or sadness can sneak up on you, ya know? With effort I am keeping my eyes on Jesus and remembering His promises.  I intentionally look back on the many times He has walked with us and the 69 years I have opened my eyes each morning with the privilege to proclaim...."This IS the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Yeah....the realizing that every day is a gift to treasure cannot be just a cliche. Lord, give me more of Jesus.

I find myself doing that more often, realizing and believing that every day is a gift.  Treasuring a laugh with our girls, phone calls with our sons, watching grands receive their high school diplomas. Recently I enjoyed a game of Scrabble with a young grand who has amazing skills and we celebrated with Joel's 105 year old Aunt Harriet.  And the freedom to worship with the songs that make my heart sing blesses me greatly. Treasures to hold close.

Today I saw a friend post something about her son who died several years ago in an accident. So tragic.  Our own son died over 12 years ago ~ he would have been 38 this month.  It had me remembering too many friends dying before their time.  If only we truly took to heart how precious life is...the good, bad, and even at times the ugly.

I am going to "sing a familiar song" here and express my beliefs while walking this journey.  God did not do this to me.  God does not want us sick.  He wants us well, that is why His son died, for our salvation ~ wholeness, Sozo ~ saving us from sin and sickness.  Will he use this for His glory?  I asked Him to, so I sure hope so!  In fact, I think He already has started.....when one of those involved in the surgery kept asking me questions about God and our "strong faith".  Lord, lets give them Jesus.....

We headed to church yesterday, worshiping outside under a wool blanket that did little to keep me warm in these "fall" temperatures.   It did tire me out, and as soon as we came home I slept for an hour.  So why go?  Because Jesus is what it is all about.  What life is about, what death is about, and what our future is about.  Jesus.   He is more than our Savior.  He is the answer for the question, "So, now what?"  Give me Jesus.

Emotional plea....."give me Jesus"

He fights for us, did you know?  He loves us, do you feel it?  He died for us, have you received it? No matter what lies ahead in my life or yours, Jesus is with us~~ In a doctor's office, by the side of a son's grave, while recovering from surgery, or worshiping under a wool blanket on a cold Sunday morning.  Jesus.  Give me Jesus.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Birthday Party 105 Years In The Making and a Surgery Ahead

This past weekend we went up north into Minnesota to join Joel's family in celebrating his Aunt Harriet's 105th birthday.  She looks amazing, doesn't she!  Her mind is sharp and even from her wheelchair she has quite a social life at the nursing home.  She is blessed to have her three sons visit her daily.

Harriet and Joel

We had plans to stay in a hotel at a town about 50 miles from Joel's home but it is tourist season and hotels were all full, so after a very interesting evening service by a singer/preacher from the Twin Cities ~~ in a church we had never heard of~~ with Pentecostal preaching ~~we quietly left after 3 hours.....and drove to Joel's brother's cabin in the woods on a lake.  Can I just say it took some praying to get me there...........sooooooooo many opportunities for ticks.  It was beautiful although while driving in the dark, on a hilly, bumpy grass path to the cabin with woods heavy around us, I told Joel, "Someone could kill us out here and know one would find us for months!  Too much TV, right?

 dirt road before grass path to cabin

view from deck

The next morning after a short quiet night, we enjoyed the beautiful view and then headed to a church we had heard about which was only 15 minutes away.  After another lively service we headed into town and the birthday bash.  It is always nice to see Joel's family and to be able to go to Harriet's party was fun.  After more miles on the road, we arrived at one of our family's homes, where we enjoyed our grands, good food, and a good visit.  Monday Joel went off to find his favorite bike trail, riding 20 miles in familiar home territory, then visiting his family church and graveyard.  We arrived home last night after a stop in the Twin Cities to see my sister, Gr. Jo to our kids.

We are both a bit tired today, but getting ready for tomorrow, when I go in to the dermatologist for more surgery.  Five weeks ago I had a biopsy on my back which resulted in a surgical excision.  They tested what was removed and could not come to a general consensus of what it was, so sent it to Mayo Clinic in MN.  They diagnosed it as a Melanoma.  It is shallow so at this point I will not need chemo, radiation or node removal.  But I will need a bigger chunk removed and will end up with a six inch scar.  If that takes care of this, it will be worth it.  This is my third diagnosis of some kind of cancer in 7 years and it has more than shaken us up.  Especially me.  I am coming to terms with it, but it does seem unusual that someone who has not seen the sun for 40 plus years ends up with Melanoma.  I was told by my regular doctor it was precancerous, no worry, and no hurry......Then I was told after the biopsy that it was NOT Melanoma.  After the excision I waited 3 weeks to get a diagnosis ~ Melanoma.  Throughout this time God has been speaking to me, and asking me to trust Him.  I have received the verse or forms of the verse in Exodus 14:14  at least 39 times in the past four months.

"The Lord will fight for you, just stay calm."
"The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still".
Exodus 14:14

This morning when I was meditating I saw "little Renee" skipping and climbing over slate rocks and and hilly ground.  She beckoned me to follow.  Then she took Jesus' hand and they walked together with me holding her other hand.  Jesus patted little Renee's head,  looked at me and said, "I was with her".  Then while walking,  He put little Renee on His shoulder and took my hand, saying, "I am will you now, too."

When I look back at how Papa God has cared for me my whole life, I really owe Him my trust.  Tomorrow we pray they find nothing else on my skin, that the surgery goes well, and we give thanks to God for His faithfulness. Will you join us in praying?  And we give thanks for the 105 years Harriet has had on earth and the many people she has blessed throughout her life.  It all is an adventure in faithful living.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tuesday Scribbles

As we traveled home yesterday from a weekend of celebrations, we took in the world around us. June brings so much beauty in nature.  Everything is so green in the Midwest and the overcast gray/blue sky was filled with birds. Much of the land was hilly and the farmers were busy with "farm work" out in the fields.  We stopped at our favorite popcorn store that draws people from quite a distance.  It is a wonderful place with a variety of things to shop for.  Joel came away with popcorn and I came away with a pair of earrings.  After lunch in a worn out McDonald's, we visited about the gathering we had been a part of.

I love observing how our children do life in their own corners of the world.  This past weekend we went to our oldest grandson, Evan's graduation.  We traveled 5 plus hours to get together with other family and their friends to celebrate this young man's accomplishments.  He will head off to college this August.  I am so grateful we were able to help them celebrate, as we did at our oldest granddaughter Grace's graduation party a month ago.  Our oldest daughter and their family are busy, hardworking, well-liked people who love Jesus, life, friends, family, church, and hockey!  They enjoy living life to the fullest! They put down roots after a long ago move from Chicago, and their beautiful little community is blessed to have them there.  (Although I could be a bit prejudice. Let me think....hmmm  nope.)

Coming back to our quiet home was both nice and not so nice.  We like our routines, but we miss all the hugging on loved ones.  Isn't that the way it is.  So while there I found myself listening and observing. Recording a video in my mind of what went on around me, to bring it forth at a later date when loneliness creeps in.  Sometimes the videos hold conflict, but since it is mine to record I can filter out what I want, right?!  Ha.....

These times with family are treasures to hold close.  Life is short, precious, and the cliche that every day is a gift is very true.  While we were gone our friend's mother died, and another friend we have had since seminary emailed to let us know his dad had died. The cycle of life.  Both loved the Lord and I know that brings our friends great comfort.   Death looks so far away when we are young.  Reaching the ages we are now, and experiencing some of what we have makes it look a lot closer.  It looses its sting when we know where we are going.  Victory is ours.

But today I write about life, and doing it well.  There are no do-overs so what we do each day is pretty important.  For our grands, graduation from HS is leading into college and a whole new world without the home sanctuary.  There whole lives are ahead of them, and they are eager to get started on the next phase of their journey.  I hope they learn quickly to live life to the fullest, cherish the days before them, and remember that each one is a gift.

It is a lesson we all need to learn whether 18 or 81.  Each day is a gift to be opened and enjoyed.  A mystery unfolding before us filled with good, bad, and sometimes even the ugly.  And if you are blessed, you have family, friends, and a solid community of believers to walk with you along the way. And no matter what comes?  Victory is ours.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

When God Called Us To Go West!

In 1976 Joel left the Air Force and began attending Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.  We moved with our 4 kids and 2 cats near Como Park not too far from the seminary, living in a big, old house that we bought contract-for-deed.  After two years of study, Joel would be sent on an Internship, where he would be given a church to work in for his third year.  The pastor there would be his supervisor and mentor. After Internship he would return for his final year at the seminary.

 At that time there were not many second career seminary students, so there were only 3 locations available to a family of six for Internship.  One was a very small town up in Northern Minnesota, another was in my home town in southern MN and the third was located in Malta Montana.  We ruled out my hometown right away, as everything would be too easy....too familiar with family there.  The northern MN Internship did not feel right for us either, so we chose the Montana Internship, heading out West for a new adventure.  It was the best thing we ever did, but it almost did not happen.

Joel was dragging his feet about leaving the financial security of the home we owned.  I had no ties to the house that harbored a professionally estimated 250 bats in the attic.  I also strongly believed that if we were going to learn all we could from the Internship available to us, we needed to take this Internship and head West.
 Joel had a list of logical reasons why we should stay, worrying about where we would live when we came back for his final year.  It took quite a bit of persuading by his cousin Luther and myself to get him looking at things differently.  It was when I challenged him about his reasons for staying put, that his fear lost the battle.  I reminded him of his calling, and that if he really wanted to be a minister and go to new places, he needed to trust God and GO.  I believed God was guiding this decision and selling our house and moving West was the right thing to do.  God moved in his heart too, he agreed, said yes to the Internship, and we sold our house, and headed West.

So that summer of 1978 found us driving through Minnesota and North Dakota and into the middle of Montana for one of the greatest adventures of our lives.  Because we did not let fear or worry get in the way,  and because we said YES to God's plan for our family, our lives were richly blessed with all He had in store for us.

Malta was a small town of about 2,000 in northwest central MT.  The Malta Lutheran Parish consisted of 4 churches in a 150 mile radius, with services also being conducted at a hot springs and at the small mining town of Zortman up in the Little Rockies.  Joel was assigned the two churches farthest north in Whitewater and Loring MT.  He/we would drive up north 75 miles into beautiful scenery with eagles and deer in abundance.  Often we would never see another car.  Whitewater was off the beaten track on gravel roads and people came from over 50 miles away to worship.  A skunk lived under the church, so at times the aroma was a bit overwhelming, and often church started "when people got there".  Loring was located right off a paved highway, a bit bigger, with a cafe and bar in town!  Once a month he served the churches of Malta and Dodsen.   He had a great mentor in Pastor Merv Olson who became, along with his family, long time friends.

We moved into what we affectionately called "The Internage" which was next door to the Parsonage.  It was an older house they had moved in from a ranch, and it had an add on kitchen.  When you walked from the dining room to the kitchen you went down about a foot on a slant.  There were not enough bedrooms so our oldest, Bethany, slept in the large hallway on a twin bed.  She liked that since she could read by the downstairs light at night when she was supposed to be sleeping.  There was a makeshift shower in the basement and a lime green claw foot tub in the upstairs bathroom.  A porch made for a nice place to sit on summer days when mosquitoes were in abundance outdoors. There was always a warm feeling in that house that held so many memories of the families that had lived there.

Joel was involved in every aspect of ministry; preaching, teaching, counseling, and more.  The only part of ministry Joel did not have any prior experience in was officiating at funerals, but early that fall tragedy struck with 8 funerals taking place in less than 3 weeks.  Three were murder victims from the northern churches Joel served.

Three men from California were trying to escape the crimes they committed there, and while driving through Loring to the Canadian border they went into the bar where they raped and murdered a woman, then killed her husband and another man who was in there at the time.  It was devastating to the town, and when they were caught the men were kept under 24/7 armed guards in Malta by many officers because there was some fear of vigilante justice.

One of the first weekends we were there the fair and rodeo was going on, so Joel went with Pastor Merv to help at their Sunday "church".  It was a bit chaotic with bull riding going on nearby ~ one rider being knocked unconscious, a cat chasing a rabbit, a small plain flying overhead,  and the train making itself known as it traveled through.  Joel was definitely not in the Midwest anymore!  He  rode horseback with a wagon train and preached at their Sunday service where a drunk cowboy came through on his horse.  He also participated in a round up while we were there, and as a family we helped new friends brand cattle.

Joel in the red hat

Our favorite Christmas service has been written about before...........Christmas Eve at Zortman in the Little Rockies where we climbed a hilly path up to the church.  A pot bellied stove was our only heat source on a bitterly cold night as we sang familiar hymns with lantern light reflecting off the walls.  Beautiful memory.

We learned so much there about serving a congregation.  We were the 19th Intern the Parish had welcomed into their community, they knew how to take care of their Interns.   It was one of the best experiences of our entire lives, and we are so grateful that God led us to this small town in Montana.  It is a reminder that when we listen to His voice, and heed His calling, amazing things happen!

And Joel's concern about a place for us to live during his final year?  We received a phone call a couple of months before going back to the seminary from a student who was going on his Internship and he wanted to know if we wanted to rent his house while he was gone.  He told us he would share the profits when they sold their home, for the year we were there.  Only God!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Who Do You See in the Mirror?

"I am especially fond of you."
(The Shack)

Is that hard to believe?  That God finds you delightful, perfect in every way, and is crazy about you? Or at least "especially fond" of you?  It is true you know, and He would love it if we would see ourselves the way He sees us.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I am very aware that we are all a work in progress and God is shaping us on a daily basis, but He does so because He already sees us complete through Jesus.  Because Jesus lives in us, we need not need to cling to our "old wine skin".  We have been made brand spanking new.  Oh how we are loved.

Lost in the eyes of Jesus we see the depth of His vast, so electric with color, taste, touch, aroma, and melodic sound.  His love invades all our senses and creates in us an abundance of joy, peace, and love for ourselves and others.  Yes, for ourselves.  And when we see ourselves the way God does, we do not have to live a camouflage lifestyle, hiding behind the lies that we are not enough.  We can have the courage to boldly be who we are.  It sets us free!

I have a husband who thinks I am beautiful on the inside and outside.  He looks through eyes of love at this gray-haired, aging, overweight, apple shaped woman and sees someone beautiful.  It always amazes me.  It is not what I see when I look in the mirror (grin).  He tells me I am strong, courageous, compassionate, loving, creative, and much more.  He sees me through eyes of love and I am so grateful.  I see him the same way.  We always tried to see the best in our children, too, encouraging them to think big, take risks, and follow God's calling on their lives.  We tried to help them realize how amazing they were.  With that being said, I am able to understand more how God sees me.  He looks at me, at us, as changed by the blood of Jesus, and His love IS unfathomable for us, His kids.

So, lets be honest here, how many of us are able to look in the mirror and see someone as awesome as God does............or those who love us.  Can we truly see ourselves with eyes of love ?

When I listened to Wm. Paul Young, author of "The Shack" speak online, he made a statement that for me was quite thought provoking.  He grew up with the Dani tribe in the highlands of New Guinea. The tribe really raised him the first few years of his life because his parents were so busy with mission work.  The Dani language was his first language, so when he went off to boarding school at age 6 he had a shocking realization.  He was white.  He had never thought of himself as white nor American.  He thought he was like the Dani tribe members. He believed he was a Dani.   That experience changed his identity, and how he saw himself.

Jesus did that for us in a positive way.  He suffered and died for us, His Spirit lives in us, and our identity comes from what He has done for us and what He says about us as His beloved children.

What do you believe about yourself?  Were lies whispered over you as a child or an adult?  Do you think you are someone you are not?  I confess, that how I see myself and what I believe about myself is a work in progress.  I still want to camouflage myself at times on the outside and the inside, like the air-brushed photos we see, or the persona we share on social media.  But we can only be complete when we are authentic about who we are............and Whose we are.  We are His kids, and He is especially fond of us.