Tuesday, March 18, 2014


      Pivotal moments.
      This past weekend my husband and  I went to Memphis to spend some time with family.   The fellowship was good but there were problems.
      Our hotel was not 5 star. Or 4 star. Or 3 star.  Unless elephant dancing in the halls accompanied by loud screaming, laughing, yelling, and pounding on doors from 10 p.m. to midnight is considered desirable.  We're not into any of those things so we'd give the hotel a 2 star rating at best.  In one Muppet movie, the characters stay at a seedy, run-down, no frills place called the Happiness Hotel. Suffice it to say that after the first night in this miserable abode, my husband and I started referring to it as the Happiness Hotel of Memphis.  Will we ever go back? No.  Does any one memory stand out from our time at that place?  Yes.  I distinctly remember lying in bed our first night there, about 11 p.m., while my husband looked through the security peephole into the hallway.  I prayed while he tried to decide whether to call the desk and risk retaliation from our rowdy neighbors for turning them in or to just let well enough alone and move to another room the next day. (We moved to a quieter floor the next afternoon after complaining about the ambiance (or lack thereof) on the first floor). Praying for physical safety and wisdom in the dead of night in a strange place could have been pivotal - but it wasn't.
    We did dine at a 5 star hotel the first night of our weekend "vacation". The servers acted as if we (a rather large but quiet group) were an imposition and maintained that attitude throughout the first hour of waiting for our pricey food.  When we had to leave before eating all our food (the kids in the group needed to get to bed), we had to ask 4 different servers before we finally got a to-go box.  This experience was an expensive pain for the one who paid for all of us but not pivotal.
    Our first full day in Memphis was much, much better. We were gone from the hotel almost all day, we had fun visiting with family, we did a bit of site-seeing, and we got to watch competitive fencing.  Our "luck" had changed.  Or so it seemed. Until my husband woke up at 1 a.m. and had to make a run for the bathroom. Clearly something he had eaten that day hadn't agreed with him. Once again, we felt like strangers in a strange land.  But no epiphanies. Just questions about what would happen to us next.
    We found out at 8:30 a.m. the next day.   I managed to trip over an uneven sidewalk and nearly found myself in the ER, a specimen under glass so-to-speak while they checked me out for a possible concussion.  Thankfully I never had any signs of concussion so the medic at the convention center finally  let me go back to the hotel with a check list of things to watch for.  We felt angst for a short duration. I felt some pain. The future was topsy-turvy there for a bit.  But even that experience passed with no pivotal memory that would stand out after the event had calmed down and things were back to "normal".
    The ride home on Sunday was pivotal.
    The skies were a leaden grey when we left Memphis. Over the next four hours, the temperature would drop from 65 degrees to 40 degrees.  We started off in a light, intermittent rain which worried my husband because both of our wipers were badly torn.  It was one of those things we meant to take care of but in the hurry of getting away on Thursday, we just forgot to do it.   Half way home, we stopped to eat and in the providence of God, after we got inside the burger place, the sky opened up and the winds began to howl.  As we watched people struggle against the wind and the rain to get inside the restaurant, my husband told me there was no way we could drive in that type of torrent. So we chatted and waited for the  storm to blow over.  We waited a good forty minutes before venturing out onto the freeway again, in the middle of nowhere. Fields in every direction and not much else.  My husband fretted - where would he find windshield wipers in this desolate place? Where would we even find a parking lot  to pull onto if we had to wait out another  blustery squall?  There wasn't any place.
     Finally we came across a wide spot in the road where a sign proclaimed that there was a burger joint, a gas station, and a Fred's store.  We exited and then  had to drive on down the road a ways (as we say in the South) to find the Fred's store. Phil ran inside, hoping against hope that they would have windshield wipers that would fit our car. While he was inside the store, the rain started pouring again and a couple of gusts shook the car so hard that once again I was praying, debating, considering my options.
     To our relief, this small store in the middle of miles and miles of dirt had two wipers that fit our car - they weren't the same length - one was a little shorter than the other - but they worked!  We got back on the road and then Phil noticed that the car was pulling to the right.  He thought it was probably the wind pushing the car slightly but he wasn't sure.  Still out in the middle of nowhere with the temps steadily dropping and everything around us colored either a sodden grey or a nondescript brown, we decided to pull off at the next place where Phil could park the car long enough to check out the tires.  We passed two exits before we came upon a paved area - a cemetery no less,  divided into quarters by a narrow asphalt lane, out in the middle of acres of cultivated dirt,with  no chapel, farm, or any living thing in sight. Just tombstones and a dilapidated shed that was falling in on itself.
     At that moment I had a flashback.  In 1997 I had caravaned with other mourners to a cemetery in the same general area to attend a graveside service for a beloved neighbor.  I wasn't sure but I thought this might be the very place.  So Phil and I did something we never planned to  do: after he checked the tires  we followed that black ribbon of asphalt, broken in some places by tree roots, all around that cemetery, trying to read as many tombstone names as we could, hoping to find the name of our friend.
     We saw tombstones that dated back to the civil war, some looking a bit tipsy with the passing of time. We made out a reference to a "sweet life" that "returned to God" after only a few  days.  We saw modern tombstones set among ancient white markers with the wording long since vanished. And we saw some flat markers that were mostly under water.
      And we each silently had our moment of epiphany, unknown to the other.
      Each stone represented a real person, most of whom had lived long enough to struggle with worry.  Was their house big enough? Their mode of transportation adequate?  Were they able to keep up with the Jones's? Or perhaps were they worried about just keeping body and soul together until the next crop could come in?  Could they pay their  taxes?  Did they face  illness, loss, or grief?
       In this flat, rain-soaked earth, desolate and unpeopled except for us, we both realized that none of that mattered.  Somehow these people lived and died and they made it to their appointed meeting with God.  And when it came right down to it, for most of them no one was now left alive who knew about their struggles or who could tell you what they owned, what they didn't own, what they worried about, and how they managed to get through life.
       The point is: they did.
        I can't explain it but in that quiet, still place both of us suddenly realized what is and what isn't important. And we understood that all the things that had irritated us on the trip, frightened us even, would some day be long forgotten while we ourselves would be with God.
       It may sound morbid but it wasn't.
       The next day I looked up my friend's grave site on the net and realized that we didn't have the right cemetery. Same area but a few miles further east, back the way we had already come.  In other words we had already passed it in the downpour before we ever stopped. I apologized to my husband and to my surprise he told me that he was glad we had stopped, that it had put things in perspective and lifted some of the cares from his shoulders, just as it had done for me.  At that point we realized that the time we spent driving around that plot of ground had been pivotal for both of us.
       Epiphanies come in the strangest of ways, unannounced and unbidden. They change our perspective in a moment of time, stripping away illusions and distractions.  Ours came in the middle of a rainstorm somewhere in the middle of nowhere and we know God was in it.



Sunday, March 9, 2014

But With God...

First Generation - Ecuador, Jan. 1956
Nate Saint with one of the tribal people who would return later and kill him as well as his fellow missionaries.

The five men who risked their lives to reach the Waodani (Waorani or Auca) tribe of Ecuador.

The five widows and some of the children left behind.

Nate Saint's sister, Rachel, who went to live with the Waodani about 3 years after his death.
She loved them and lived with them until her death in Nov. 1994.

Elisabeth and Valerie Elliot.
Valerie was 10 months old when her father was killed.

Second Generation - 1958 and Beyond, Ecuador.

Valerie and her mother went to live with the Waodani tribe when she was 3 years-old.

Sixteen year-old Kathy Saint being baptized by the men who killed her father almost a decade earlier.
Her brother, Steve Saint, waits to be baptized next.

Third Generation - 1995  Ecuador

Shaun, Stephanie, and Jesse Saint are baptized by the men who killed their grandfather.

Family... in Christ.

  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Phil. 4:13

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 
 that you may be children of your Father in heaven..."
Matthew 5: 43 - 45

"...but with God all things are possible."
Matthew 19:26

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Um... Got it....

At times I second guess myself.  Ourselves.  Big time.
From time to time  I have second-guessed our decision to remain where we are living. All my friends (and probably most of my enemies... ha!) know this.
Yet, second guessing is not the greatest (or healthiest) of all pastimes. Lately I have been going through a time of second-guessing. I was so busy doing that, that I couldn't think or hear much of anything else.  Until...

Last night I realized that God has graciously spoken to me - but I haven't been listening.
A week ago Sunday a friend at church just turned to me out of the blue and said that she remembered when I had been frantically wanting to move out of this area. That was several years ago.  Then she added that we had been able to help several of our neighbors since then and so she thought it was a good thing that we had stayed.

Then yesterday afternoon when we were having a time of prayer with a neighbor, to my surprise she told me that she had the first letter I sent out in the neighborhood calling for prayer.  That's been about 6 years ago.  She said she'd just found the letter again while going through her files and that in it I had mentioned that  there was a meth house next door and how we needed wisdom on whether to go or stay.   I don't even remember writing the letter although I do remember taking our homemade "flier" around to the houses on our street telling about our desire to start a neighborhood prayer group. (Our desire was mostly born out of self-preservation, I'm afraid...)

At any rate, our neighbor and friend was praying last night and suddenly she teared up and thanked God that we didn't move out of the area because it had meant so much to them that we stayed.  I had no idea.

I couldn't fathom that, actually.  Once a month she prepares her house - I don't  - so that we can get together and pray.  When we are sick (and also when I was flunking the Daniel fast...), she is the one who cooks a big pot of soup or beans and sends them our way. (We came home last night with fudge brownie cake and a bowl of home cooked beans!)     When I asked for peanut butter for the food bank, they went out and bought some immediately.  When he outgrew his shirts, which are higher quality than the ones we buy, he gave them to Phil and they fit perfectly.  When our son was trying to earn extra cash, they hired him to do odd jobs.  We basically meet with them once a month or so to pray.  That's about it.  Oh, wait! I forgot!  When I'm panicked, she is one of the first ones that I contact because I know she has a direct line to God that is pretty effective! So, yeah, I also do that...

So I was literally stunned to find out how much our staying here has meant to them.  It couldn't mean more to them than it does to us to have this couple so close by.  Of that I am sure.

After we got home last night, I realized that this was (helloooo...) God telling me, not once but twice, that it's time to quit the second-guessing game, that it was His will for us to stay.

Arthur Matthews, a missionary to China, once found himself, his wife, and his toddler stuck under house arrest on the borders of Tibet by communist officials. The head official hated Arthur and did his best to starve the family to death.  By God's grace, his prolonged efforts failed!

At one point Arthur and his wife, Wilda, had to deal with the what ifs.  (Don't you just hate it when those come calling?)   What if they had not gotten a letter inviting them to work in that barren area?  What if they had not accepted it?  What if they made a mistake? What if they had unknowingly gotten out of God's will?

They came to learn to get their eyes off of what they called "second causes" and put their eyes on "First Cause".  In other words, over and above our decisions lies the sovereignty of God.  When we are trying to follow His will, we need to remember that  ultimately it is Him with whom we, as His children, have to do.  And that since He has either directed us to do something or allowed us to do something, He is the First Cause for where we find ourselves.  He is not only in control,  He is also sufficient if we will keep our eyes on Him and follow as He leads us today, regardless of where we have been yesterday.

Twice in the last 8 days, God has reminded me of that truth.
And I'm grateful....

Both Calm and Stormy...

      I would like to maintain the spiritual rolling gait of an experienced sailor as I navigate the high seas of life, but sometimes even in fairly calm waters, I falter and often I slip and lose my footing.  Yet God remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
     William Henley wrote that he was the master of his fate, the captain of his soul.  In his famous poem, Invictus, Henley claimed that no matter how harsh the storms of life were, he would remain bloody but unbowed, strong in his unconquerable soul.
     With all due respect, I beg to differ.
     The soul is not unconquerable and there comes a time when, whether we want to or not, we will bow - if not before the onslaught of life's storms, then before the One who made the seas, made the soul, and who is the only one who can speak calm into the turbulence of life.
     I hate to think where Henley ended up.  Although it goes contrary to American thought, many times the very best thing we can do is bow the head and surrender because it is then that the still small voice can speak into our trials, it is then that He can calm the seas.
     However, in order to do that - in order to hear Him speak amid the wind and the surf, we have to be still among other things.
     Several famous Christians lived through one of the most corrupt, bloody, and cynical wars of all time - the Thirty Year's War which ravaged central Europe in the 1600's.  At least two of my favorite hymns come from this hapless war.
    Now Thank We all Our God by Martin Rinkert is one. I first heard it when I worked at Hendrix Library and we were required to go to the Thanksgiving service held on campus.  That was over 30 years ago and I've loved that particular hymn ever since.  It was years later, however, before I learned that Rinkert performed around 4000 funerals in one year, including that of his own wife. Towards the end of the year 1637 he was officiating at  as many as 50 funerals a day because he was the only preacher left alive in the walled city where he was trapped.  I challenge you to look at that hymn and find the depth of sorrow that he must have experienced during that time of war, of siege,  of sickness, and of personal bereavement.  It just isn't there.
    Katerina von Schlegel's hymn, Be Still My Soul, is another beautiful song that speaks lightly of trials and deeply of God. I have no idea what she suffered in that awful war but I'm sure it's not accurately reflected in her lyrics. Instead her faith shines out of those years of darkness.
    I believe that Martin Rinkert and Katerina von Schlegel found the key to weathering life's storms  - at some point in their lives, unlike Henley,  they vacated the Captain's chair and learned to lean not on their own understanding but instead to lean on the Master Navigator's.   Did they slip and at times lose their footing?  I'm sure they did.  But as their own words testify, the compass of their hearts remained fixed on Him and they weren't disappointed, even amid some of the worst trials life could throw at them.
     One thing that struck me in Shlelgel's lyrics  was the juxtaposition of two phrases:  "Be still, my soul!  The hour is hastening on..."  If the hour is in fact "hastening on", then shouldn't we be busy?  Shouldn't we be hastening on as well?
   In one sense, yes. The Bible says that the days are evil and we should be redeeming the time. (Eph. 5:16)
   In another sense, the answer is "no".  Before the busy- ness comes the "being still". (Psalms 46:10)

   Perhaps being still and giving thanks are two things that help us to keep our sea legs under us while our beloved Captain guides us through both calm and stormy seas.

   Praying that all of us will have time to just be still before the Lord this week and the grace to give thanks regardless of what life sends our way.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Back to the Oldies but Goldies...

      I am sure this is not going to be a popular post and I feel that there is at least a 50/50 chance that I'm wrong in what I'm about to say.   But still I feel a need to say it.
      Lately I've been struggling with feeling down; i.e., mild depression.
      It's been almost 2 decades since I was last in counseling for clinical depression and that's a God thing, as we like to say.  Truly it is.
      Part of my "low feelings" have come from trying to live in the future, something that only God can do.  Yet, I try.  It never works but still, I try.
     Along with the mental contortions and emotional gymnastics that come with "future living" in today's grace, come self-recriminations.  The shoulda, woulda, coulda, oughta.
     I don't know about you but these are legion in my life.  Especially when I am down.
     I've just finished a women's Bible study that I'm sure is excellent in every way.
     But I couldn't process it correctly.  The fault entirely is mine.  I fully recognize that.
     This study has done me some good, changed the way I eat, shop, etc.  Not enough - but some.
     The truth is that I wrestled with it on several levels and that's not a bad thing.  Still, I will be glad to see it come to an end.
     This is the deal:  I'm not thirty something and my house would fit into one of the walk-in closets that we were invited to enter via the video.  I don't and have never owned 300 articles of clothing.  (Not bragging - I own twice that many books and had I used a library card more frequently over the past 5 decades, we might not be living in the 'hood in our old age. So, mea culpa. It's just not shoes and clothes).
     But the truth is this:  I can't grow a garden in my backyard. (We've tried more than once in the past. It's not as easy as it looks).  No, the truth is that I don't want to grow a garden in my backyard.
    Other truths:  I am overweight.   I like to shop (in bookstores).   I recycle but it's not my passion.  It's been donkey's years since I jogged.   Still walk for exercise, but don't jog.
     Somehow I came out of this study feeling like God could not love me.  Because I consume too much food that could go to the third world. Because I never had a huge house from which to downsize so that I could help the third world.  Because the idea of growing another garden in our backyard drives me to eat buttered toast (my comfort food) in spades.
    Somehow over the past few weeks I subconsciously absorbed the idea that God can't love fat, selfish people.  And I am one.
    Coupled with some other things we have looming large on our horizon plus the death of our dog, and the several funerals that I've been to lately, I just lost sight of the fact that God doesn't confine His love to skinny, thirty- somethings who have been successful enough to need to downsize before they hit 40 something.
    And then I picked up a devotional this morning and saw the words to an old hymn:
    Just as I am, without one plea, 
    But that Thy blood was shed for me.
    And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
    Oh Lamb of God I come! I come!

    I know that hymn is a call to the lost, the unsaved.  I haven't looked at those words in forever.  But as soon as I saw them, I remembered hot, sticky evenings sitting in my grandmother's little church, fanning myself with a funeral home fan and trying not to get into trouble - while a small congregation warbled those words over and over, ad infinitum, world without end.  Or so it seemed to me back in the days of my childhood.

    Today those words arrested me and gave me hope.
    The next hymn I saw contained the words, "Like a river glorious is God's perfect peace..."  When I got to the refrain, Stayed upon Jehovah hearts are fully blessed - Finding as He promised perfect peace and rest, I started crying.

   And I knew...
   Somehow I have been "stayed" upon myself.  My eating habits, my little house, my spending habits, my garden-less back yard, my incomplete-this-and-lacking-that Christian life.  Even my prayer life, try as I have, just hasn't measured up.

   This morning, for the nonce, I have decided to come to Jesus just as I am without one plea, but that His blood was shed for me.  And I have asked that He would do a miracle and shift my thoughts 180 degrees from self to Him.

   One thing more:  the last hymn that I read  this morning was May the Mind of Christ my Savior Live in Me from Day to Day...  If you don't know it, it is a beautiful song.  The stanzas include phrases such as:     May the word of God dwell richly...  May the peace of God my Father...May the love of Jesus fill me... Him exalting, self abasing - this is victory.

  What I'm saying is that I got the self-abasing part down pat over the past couple of months - for people who have more than a nodding acquaintance with depression that is easy to do, no matter how carefully a ladies' Bible study is written. But somehow I lost sight of the Him exalting part, the fact that it is His mind, His power, His love, His word that is sufficient for the Christian life here on earth.

  And that God, as sacrilegious as it sounds even to me,  loves fat, geriatric women who eat processed food.
  And my main job is not to grow a garden, although that's a good thing,  but... to love Him right back.  With all my heart, mind, and strength.

 Stayed upon Jehovah...
Today, that is where I want to be...