remembering the life of a cousin who reflected Christ’s beauty

Yesterday I drove down rural roads which usually bring such joy, and even peace, to my heart as the beauty of the fields, trees, and farms delight my soul. This drive felt so different.

Instead of passing by green pastoral scenes, fields, and lovingly landscaped properties, what I witnessed instead grieved my heart. I had to drive carefully to avoid debris still sticking out into the road.

I knew that the recent ice storms had been brutal for many. Locally, I had seen some branches down and a few toppled trees. But I hadn’t been out for a drive since the storm hit last weekend, taking down many power grids and trees with it, and leaving so much chaos in its wake.

Now, limbs and branches, and entire logs littered the side of the road, and many trees and scenes looked as though they had survived a war zone. The natural beauty, marred by a storm causing so much havoc, now bore the marks of anguish instead.

Multiple times flaggers asked me to stop and wait while the men working to restore the electricity to these rural homes focussed on their task at hand. They must be so exhausted after a full week of working long hours outside. I prayed for them. As of today, 10% of the customers will remain without power reports say. I know that my family who have endured a full week of outages are weary, too.

I saw a few homes with a tree still on their roof and a few with tarps seeking to keep out the rain.

Seeing so many trees scattered across the landscape, and branches that had snapped during that terrifying ice storm brought back other memories of my youth–helping my family or cousins store up some wood for winter with chainsaws buzzing as we cut trees into firewood.

But I had a destination in mind on this grey, rainy morning, and when I drove past my parent’s acreage I prayed that their power would soon be restored. I would visit them after the memorial and see if I could offer any help.

Whenever I saw familiar trees which had survived the storm without much damage, I felt a sense of relief. Somehow the trees have become part of us, just as the land in this beautiful valley holds a very special place in our hearts for those of us who grew up on these farms.

But then I arrived at my destination after a little less than an hour of driving. The Apostolic Church in Central Howell had their electricity restored in time for the memorial of a very beloved man, my cousin Lynn Kuenzi.

The sweet refrains of a cappella hymns filled the narthex and sanctuary, and I instantly relaxed, thankful to be in this place that Lynn loved so much.

Memorials at this church always bring me back to my early years in life. Memories of growing up with many of these cousins come flooding back.

The loving words of the men sharing from the front about Lynn’s life followed another hymn. The man we had come to honor had lived a life that left many with warm and life-giving memories as they paid their respects and shared their sorrows together in this place.

A humble man who didn’t draw attention to himself, who loved so well. A man who had used a wheelchair for decades, but lived a life rich in meaning and relationships.

Lynn loved his Savior, and he treasured his large extended family and Swiss heritage. Most of all he lived a life characterized by joy, a focus on those things that are lovely and worthy of good report (we listened to Philippians 4), and on the gospel. Though Lynn lived with physical affliction for much of his life, he found his strength in the LORD as this passage reminds us to do.

One man, Don Sinn, recalled singing tenor with Lynn and how he loved the hymns of their faith tradition. The focus of the reflections magnified the Lord Jesus whom he lived for. Don shared how Lynn had come to know Christ as a young man, and others observed a new joy in his life. Lynn’s changed heart and life drew Don to embrace Christ and the gift of eternal life, too.

Lynn loved to share good farm cooking with his wife and kids. He loved to gather at the table with family and friends, and he savored good food. He often wrote about these times (and the menus) in his weekly missive he called the Monday Morning Mumblings. He wanted to share the things he loved with those who lived far away. He wanted to share the simple beauty of home, faith and family. He loved watching birds and the activities and beauty of the farmland around him through each season. He treasured his large extended family and his church family, which has kept many traditions and lived in ways intentionally set apart from the chaos of our times.

Completely unaffected by the events of recent days and unaware of the purpose of this gathering, a tiny girl peaked over her father’s shoulder from the pews ahead of us. She seemed to have discovered her tongue recently, and with a satisfied grin she stuck it out a bit as she made faces at other children and those of us sitting behind her. Her contagious joy reminded me of the way Lynn had managed to connect with his faith and loved ones during this sometimes tough life, and how he didn’t focus on politics or negative things. He truly focussed on what is good, honorable and noble as the passage encourages us to do.

As I listened, the scenes of the aftermath of the storm faded away, replaced by the wholesome memories and the lives touched by Lynn’s faithful walk with God.

Even in really hard times, Lynn always seemed to find something positive to say, reminding us all to look up and to look ahead to our eternal hope.

I worked in counseling, and in the past I’ve met with people whose spirits seemed marked by the trauma they had endured. Much like the landscape littered with limbs and downed trees, their internal landscapes often lack peace. They need healing and often I led them into the Presence of the LORD who heals and restores the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Today, in the presence of many cousins and others who attend this church, we remembered a man whose life instead reflected the beauty of the LORD who saved him years ago.

Many of us reflected on our hope as my cousin Harvey spoke of the passage in Acts 3 where the man who could not walk waited by the temple gate. This man who had been lame from birth encountered the healing power of Jesus as Peter prayed for him. Rather than handing him silver or gold as he hoped, Peter prayed for him: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Then, taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

I grew up with Harvey, and listening to him so lovingly share from God’s Word gave me peace. This story from Acts 3 means so much to me, too. I smiled as Harvey commented that Brother Lynn was now walking and jumping and praising God in the Presence of His Lord and Savior.

The cares of this life faded away in that moment. The walker beside my chair will one day be completely useless. Walking and jumping will be easy again! One day I will join Lynn in enjoying fully restored health as we who know Jesus as LORD will worship Him with deep and lasting joy.

Feeling Overwhelmed? These ideas might help:

I heard from a friend yesterday who shared that she felt overwhelmed with all that’s going on right now. I think this is common. In terms of major stressors, most of us have a fairly significant list right now. Here are a few thoughts on things you can do which might help:

Be kind to yourself and others.

Recognize that some people are grieving significant losses.

Honor the grieving process and don’t invalidate the emotions others feel, or which you are experiencing.

Be curious. Look into the truth and go beyond the surface. Don’t assume.

Some people feel very concerned about what’s going on politically, morally, and in many other ways right now in the world. Validate those concerns.

Take an interest in learning the truth–go beyond the narratives that the world is pushing so hard.

Many voices clamor for your attention. Listen for God’s still small voice. Ask Him for wisdom and discernment.

Disengage from the news, social media and instead connect with loved ones face to face. If that’s not possible because of the pandemic or life circumstances, find ways to connect which are life-giving to you.

Journal. Pray. Re-create.

Spend time in solitude and nature. Today fog hangs in the air outside. I’m going to take a shower and then go for a drive with my camera. Fog creates some beautiful scenes in the countryside all around us. Barns and trees hold a mysterious beauty as the mist shrouds some of the landscape.

I’ll listen to some worship music and God’s Word.

I’ll allow Him to infuse my spirit with His hope, His transcendent peace, His joy.

The joy of the LORD is my strength.

after the rains

This evening, for the first time in about two weeks, the air was fresh enough to breathe outside without a mask. I saw the sky after the heavy rains, the lightening and thunder that rumbled through our area last night, and I felt so relieved. I went out to get some fresh air and watched the sunset at my friends’ waterfront, enjoying the clean Oregon air with a very grateful heart.

The air quality in our area has been among the worst in the world these past two weeks. So, the big storm with heavy torrential rains and water washing away that smoke, and hopefully putting out more of the remaining fires that have been ravaging our state….that storm felt so welcome.

Last night the thunder and lightening lit up the sky so brightly that people said it hurt their eyes. I had room darkening shades and an extremely tired body. I slept through it all. The loud rumbling thunder. The bright lightening strikes, and the winds…none of it woke me.

Maybe I felt a bit exhausted from these two long weeks. Praying for God to spare the homes of people I knew, to spare our family farm and my hometown, and the farms and homes of cousins and friends…I felt like I fought the fires along with the brave men and women who were out there on the front lines, but I fought through prayer. God heard our prayers, and in His sovereignty we saw Him answer many of those heartfelt prayers. Homes were spared. Lives were spared. Winds turned the fires, miraculously sparing the Christian Renewal Center and other very beloved places like my friends’ cabin up on the mountain.

So does it mean God did not hear the prayers of those who lost their homes? Does it mean He does not care? God loves each one of us, and somehow, in His sovereignty, He sometimes allows people to experience very painful losses. He doesn’t love them any less. In fact, I think we confuse the reality of His unconditional love with our human nature. We’re finite in our perspectives and often don’t see beyond today and beyond ourselves. He’s eternal. He’s never in crisis, never worried or scared. He is Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

If you have lost your home and things very dear to you, I am so sorry. I visited my parents last weekend. My husband and I took them a pizza and salad for dinner. My Dutch Father, Arie, sat and wept over the loss of homes and properties. He felt so sad about the losses people were experiencing. I was touched by the compassion of this godly man. He cried, and many of us felt like crying often these past two weeks. Our beautiful state has been ablaze. By God’s grace, some of the fires are now under control or contained. Some homes were spared. Lives were spared. But our vulnerability as human beings remains vivid in our minds.

Two weeks ago, on Friday night, not many suspected these weeks would hold so much tragedy. Not many suspected that we were going to be at war with infernos blazing across our state, and that some of those fires would be lit by arsons. We were about to hear about a huge windstorm, blowing in the opposite direction as usual, and dry hot conditions that would soon place many of us in the path of danger.

So often life is like this…we don’t know what is around the corner. A resilient person knows that something bad might happen at any time, but just as likely, something good might just happen, too. Despite all of the fires and sad stories I heard, I saw God move mightily. Often in hearts and families.

Tonight the sunset spoke volumes to my heart. The beauty along the waterfront, the beaver swimming across the waters, the geese and hummingbirds flying around in the newly washed fresh air…all of it seemed to worship the Creator. In front of me, a hummingbird paused midair, hovering with its wings moving so fast they were almost invisible. All creation testifies to His goodness and grace.

Thank You, Father, for sparing our home and community. Thank You for your promises that you will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you that you instill hope in our hearts and renew us in Your love, just as the torrential rains washed the smoke out of the air. You wash our filthy hearts clean. You make us white as snow by the cleansing blood of Christ. We worship You tonight, and thank You for Your enduring steadfast love and care.

wildfires raging – be like bamboo

Yesterday, a friend sent me an article warning of extreme fire conditions, with high winds predicted and very dry, hot weather all over our region. She added the words, “Praying hard.” At the moment, I was tired and a bit preoccupied, but I wondered what was around the corner for us. I spent some time outside watering and moved some succulents and other things to secure spots, turning tables and chairs on their sides or upside down so the winds wouldn’t catch them. Our new bamboo plants, which are quite large, were already beginning to blow in the wind, making that very distinct sound reminiscent of the bamboo forests I’ve visited in China. I placed heavy cherry wood and a heavy wagon full of rocks near those pots to help them remain upright. The Chinese saying about bamboo and resilience echoed in my mind. Be like bamboo–it bends but it does not break.

By evening, the smoke eerily rolled in, darkening the sky, and ashes falling made us wonder how far away these fires really were. I checked and learned of fires quite close–several bad ones in Scio on Hungry Hill and one out in Talbot. A structural fire in Salem also created more smoke and concern. We live near a very dry farm field…one house away from us. I did more things to secure our property outside. As often happens, just before going outside, I dropped something in the pantry, breaking some glass pie pans and getting glass in my foot when it shattered. Thankfully I think I found and removed the glass shards quickly and called Jerry to help me. I had been trying to organize my medicines and supplements for the coming month. Once he came to clean up the glass (how many times have I dropped and broken glass since we’ve been married? I’ve lost track), he told me to sit down and rest. But soon I saw the wind whipping and smoke rolling in, so I went outside to secure things even better.

Around 5 am, I awoke and opened the blinds. The winds are still whipping. We thankfully have air purifiers running so that helps, and we put painters tape around the front door. So less smoke is getting into our house. I called my Mom at 6 am after reading that evacuation orders were being issued in a town very close to their acreage. They also live on a very dry grassy hill, so the risk is high if fire were to reach their area. I encouraged her to pack their medicines and be ready in case an order were to be issued in the coming hours. We talked a bit, not too frightened, but aware that readiness equals wisdom in times like this. I read her the article with updates on how the fires have been spreading up the Santiam Canyon necessitating evacuations levels being activated, and some Go Now orders. We talked about how some of those are just 12 miles from our house, too, so we’ll need to monitor this and I’ll get out our Bug Out bag, too, just in case.

I’m thankful that my husband was a Green Beret. He’s very good in a crisis. I’m a retired counselor, so I’m not half bad either. We make a good team. But like many we love, we have physical limitations to consider as well at this stage of life. My power chair is in the garage. I had planned to drive to Salem today and get the lift on the van fixed. But with these winds and smoky conditions, I’m not going to do that. So I have no way to haul my power chair if we need to evacuate. I’ll go top off the gas for our vehicles later this morning. Thankfully our tanks are fairly full. I’ll water our bamboo and other plants and trust the Living Water to see us through this eventful time.

Pandemics, riots, wild fires, smoke. Yet, hope, peace and love abide because Immanuel remains with us in the storm. Jesus spoke peace to the winds, “Be still.” He calmed the waves. He can help get these fires under control and help us weather this stormy season of life, too.

He sees you. He hears you. He is glad to be with you and treats your weaknesses tenderly. He understands how big this is for you. He can do something about what you’re going through.

Rest in His love. And go get your Bug Out bag ready in case things get even more wild around here.

a minty evening, memories, wild turkeys and a flock of ewes

This evening I went for a ‘roll’ over to JW Ranch and enjoyed a visit with the ewes. On the way, I saw a family of wild turkeys with ‘a gaggle’ of young turkeys roaming around the pasture with them. (Do you call a group of them ‘a gaggle’ like geese?) The ewes came up to snuggle a bit, poking their faces through the fence to say hello. I went out to the gravel road along the fence line where I’d mended fences earlier this year. Many happy memories of time with Ramsy the bummer lamb, and other times in the pasture this spring flooded my mind and heart.


How I love living in this farming community. The mint fields were just harvested and the smell of peppermint still floods my senses as I roll on by. I pray that our lives will be a fragrant offering unto the LORD. When we live for ourselves, with selfish intentions, it smells more like the manure from the nearby small dairy farm. But the peppermint fields really remind me of the minty fresh cup of tea I often enjoy on fall mornings. I can feel fall in the air now, as summer draws to a close and soon kids head back to school. Or in this case, during a pandemic, kids pull up a chair next to a laptop to begin the school year. May God draw hearts closer to Himself during this time in history. May we find joy in His Presence, and abide in His peace and joy despite the turmoil in the world around us. Just as the sheep enjoy grazing on the pasture or eating the bale of hay together near the fence line, may we enjoy what God places in front of us, finding nourishment and strength as we encounter His loving Presence in these memorable times.

Coming Home

On this cool morning, I’m sitting on my friends’ porch. The sound of birds and farm equipment during harvest soothe my soul. The blueberry fields across the road form lovely lines and in the distance the swathed grass seed awaits the combine. I hear the mourning doves and maybe some pigeons, along with a choir of other birds. Maisy hasn’t discovered that I’m here yet. She’s a happy Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog that I have enjoyed since she was just a puppy. Now she’s a very large one year old. Bumblebees enjoy the salvia in front of me. The long porch with white wooden rocking chairs feels so inviting. I feel incredibly blessed.
Just after sunrise this morning, I checked on Jackie and Ken. He’s settling in since arriving back home from the care facility yesterday. This wonderful couple is adapting so well already. She lovingly guides him and he manages to get up and around with the right equipment. Delighted at being reunited, they smile a lot, and their good humor and obvious love for each other touches my heart. Married almost as long as I’ve been alive, they have a wonderful partnership. I think she said they’ve lived in the same house for 50 years now. The only time they’d been apart, except for during COVID after his health crisis, was when he biked across the entire US, and another time when he biked from Canada to Mexico. This couple knows how to live! At the care facility, they were only allowed to see each other through a little window, and that felt like torture. Their obviously close friendship inspires me.
I hope Jerry and I continue to cultivate such a vibrant relationship that endures for decades. When we’re old, I hope we’ll care for one another joyfully, sharing our sorrows and challenges with grace and humor. Sometimes we do well at that. Sometimes we don’t. We’re human.
We already have plenty of physical limitations and conditions to overcome together. We grieve inwardly, and outwardly that grief shows up in various ways.  Sometimes I need to remember that anger is a dimension of grief, and if not expressed in healthy ways, it will show up in strange ways.  More on that in another blog. We’ve made it through a lot in these five years. I love Romans 8 where it talks about how nothing can separate us from His love, and how God causes all things to work together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Somehow our love grows stronger as we endure various trials. Somehow, by God’s infinite grace, we grow closer to the LORD and as a result we learn about His Hesed. God’s steadfast, enduring devotion, His covenant love…we get to experience these things in our marriage. We get to experience hanging in there when things are challenging. We learn about loving each other when love doesn’t come naturally. We find a way to forgive each other when we fail miserably. We carry on and we forgive one another because He first forgave us, even when we were hostile to Him. He loves us with a steadfast love. Marriage is a wonderful classroom.  A living laboratory. A chance to fail, to grow, to persevere. To reach the end of ourselves, and allow Him to heal and transform the broken places that painful times reveal.
I call marriage the Beautiful Struggle.

let’s go down to the river to pray…

Blood running down my shins. Pain, fatigue…sweat pouring down my face and down my neck onto my back. Heat causes my nerve conduction to short out, so I can barely navigate on my feet. Weary of MS and limitations that worsen on hot days. Finally home with a few more rubber mats for the garden paths, so my wheelchair can carry me around the raised beds more safely. Trying to unload the heavy mats with Sweetie, both of us too tired. His hands need surgery, so gripping anything really hurts. So I lift things and grab the dolly. We wrestle the big mat and 5 smaller ones out of the back of the van. Frustrating words fill the air, two people in a lot of pain doing the best they can. Never enough, though. Blood drips down my shin and I bang it for the third time on the edge of the dolly. He expressed frustration that I wasn’t home to help him build a ukulele. Never mind the tasks I wanted to finally accomplish. Too tired for a cool shower yet, so I heat up some leftover GF pizza. Sweetie pours me a cold ginger drink which refreshes me. Then I remember the baptisms today. Singing “Let’s go down to the river to pray…” before heading for the waters. The harmonies echoing under the oak grove where His Presence feels like the balm of Gilead to my weary parched soul.
Seeing Rich and others baptized after sharing their testimonies…a precious joy. He raises his arms in triumph after coming out of the water. His children and wife rejoice, as do his friends and church family. Suddenly the cold shoulders of people nearby our home, the harsh words and glares fade away. I belong to Him. The accuser of the brethren has been cast down, we overcome by the Word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb. We all sin. We all fail. But the beauty of belonging to Jesus is that our sins are washed away and forgiven, removed as far as the east is from the west. Washed away as we are identified with His death and resurrection. Made new, clean, pure once more. Raised to new life. Transformed by His love. Able to forgive those who hurt us, disappoint us. Ready to let go of those wounds of recent times. Not ready to trust those who have so little compassion and only think of themselves, who kick you when you’re already hurting, but ready to forgive and let go of the pain inflicted by their behavior and words. Ready to eat my delicious pizza with fresh kale, feta cheese, and other fresh garden delights…and read The Baggage Handler for book club tomorrow night. Thank You, Abba Father. You love us so. I snuggle into Your Presence for the evening, safe, secure and beloved.

Isaiah 58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heightsof the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

(Isaiah 58 from the NIV.)

The Little Girl from Somewhere and the Maple Tree

Tonight I asked the Little Girl from Somewhere if she noticed anything different when she paused on her bicycle near our driveway. She said, “no.” I smiled and asked if she remembered the tree there before, and she smiled wistfully. We had to cut it down today, I said. It got a disease and was dying. But I’m going to miss that tree.

The little girl in her colorful clothing that lit up the evening as the sun was going down said, “don’t be too sad. The tree will be in heaven now.” Tree heaven. She continued with a smile and her lively way of communicating, “We can tell stories and remember the good things about this tree. Then you won’t have to miss this tree or be sad.” The wisdom of this caring little girl touched my heart once again.

We’ll plant another tree for the birds to enjoy, maybe a fast growing tree that does not lose its leaves in the winter. One that one day can give it’s life so that Jerry can create beautiful musical instruments. Then when the birds can no longer sing in the branches of this next tree, the music of the tree, from deep down in the wood, will resonate joyfully in our home, or around the camp fire. We can tell stories of the maple tree that greeted us when we first moved to this home two years ago. The changing seasons she accompanied us through, and the children who planted succulents with me during the pandemic, enjoying one another as the sun set each evening….we can remember, so we don’t need to be sad.

fully present to life, not virtually distracted

If we live in the same general neighborhood, I might disconnect from you virtually. I just believe face to face conversations are healthiest. Besides, prayer is far more powerful than FB. We are praying for you. If you have a specific prayer need, please feel free to let us know. We have a front porch and can serve you a cup of tea if you are local, or we can go enjoy the succulents in the back yard (at a safe distance of course  I believe that technology can be used for evil or for good. But God knows our hearts. I intend to use my other pages more and this page less for now. So if you want to connect, please use the old fashioned methods if possible. I missed the garbage day celebration because I was planting some verbena and gardening. But I was out front just after the truck went by, and Jerry opened his window to talk to me. He said you are overdoing it again. Yes, I have been gardening for an hour or more…but it is good exercise, and I didn’t fall!

Planting things and weeding is my home PT plan. After I got tired and wobbly, I considered testing his theory and laying down to see if the garbage truck driver would pick me up and give me a shake, and then set me on my feet. Thankfully, God has done just that. We got away for four days, and God renewed my spirit. Jerry and I had time to connect and enjoy the LORD together away from this place we call home. Yesterday, some wonderful people from our church delivered three used horse stall mats they no longer needed. That was so kind! Now if I fall by the raised beds, it won’t be so painful. We’re still looking for a few more mats for the garden paths, so if you hear of some used ones, let me know.

I wish you the best as you allow the garbage truck to haul off the junk, the wounds, the gossip and malicious behaviors in your neighborhoods. May the boundaries you set be healthy ones, ones which honor God. May our words build up, and not tear down. May we be good examples to the children in our neighborhoods. (During COVID we have a rare opportunity to spend time cooped up with lots of neighbors and kids for months at a time. This can be a gift if we use it well.) If you live on my street, we’d love to see you face to face. But don’t be surprised if I don’t embrace FB as a form of communication with you. God reminded me through a former teammate in China that being fully present in our lives is a much greater gift than having a ‘virtual presence.’ (If it weren’t for the ease of keeping in touch with friends and family far away, I’d close this account.) May God instead bring unity, peace, joy and love. Only as you abide in Christ is this realy possible. I want to begin my day in the Word of God and prayer. I need to put on the armor because this life is a spiritual battle and we need not get entangled in the brambles. Instead I seek to interact with God with gratitude and worship, and turn on the relational circuits. As we connect with Him, we draw strength for the day.

This morning two mourning doves just flew over as I am sitting outside watching the sprinklers water the things I just planted. My prayer is to sow love and grace where weeds have sought to choke out our joy. I hear the sound of doves. A hummingbird just landed in the maple tree close to my wheelchair. Our birdhouses are full of fledglings who are soon going to learn to fly. The Living Water has refreshed me as I have enjoyed His Presence outdoors this morning. Now for a shower to wash the mud off.

Today is our day with Val and Steve, who have so graciously helped us once a week in the midst of this hard time with our health. We really are more blessed than I can express, more thankful than I can find words for. May the mud of this life wash off and flow down the drain, leaving pure hearts and clean hands for His service. Two men (or women) looked through prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars. May you see stars, and the Son who created the heavens and the earth. As far as the heaven is above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness to those who fear Him.

Trapped

Today my husband and I awoke at the Oregon Gardens, and after a delicious breakfast at the lodge, we went for a roll/walk (I roll, he walks) around the gardens. We saw a doe and two fawns, hummingbirds, and other wildlife. We saw the rising sun cast soft filtered light upon the gardens, and I recalled how it all began in the Garden. Coming here is like going home for me, and time in the Oregon Gardens is so renewing. Since our family farm is just up the road, the woods and the hills feel familiar, like the land we farmed as a family in my youth. In fact, I can see part of our farm from these gardens, off in the distance. That part of the farm, on Hibbard Rd, has been farmed by the Kuenzi family for 102 years now.  The land is part of us. After Jerry and I went into Silverton to buy him a hat, we had some lunch and a nap. Much needed rest felt so good to both of us. COVID has been a stressful season of time, and life in our small town has held both joys and trials.  In the afternoon, I drove over the my Mom and Arie’s to pick up a prescription I really needed which my friend had kindly gotten for me today. I didn’t feel up to driving downtown Salem to get it, so I had run out and her kindness meant a lot. I told her sometimes I feel trapped in this body, and pain and limitations can make daily life hard and wear me down emotionally.

A few weeks ago, I fell in our garden, spraining several limbs and my wrist and knee, gashing my leg on the cinder blocks, and reminding me that indeed the secondary progressive stage of multiple sclerosis can be quite discouraging. My legs give out randomly and the treatment for MS no longer is effective. The nature of the progression is such that the deterioration is not in the brain and spinal cord so much as it is in individual nerves. So simple tasks like swallowing my food or vitamins can result in heaving. I’ll do speech therapy for that problem, but again there’s not a lot that can be done. Medically speaking, I’m told just to adapt our lives to the power wheelchair, so ramps and home modifications have occupied our days in recent weeks. I started PT and an OT came to the house to help me figure out adaptations that need to be made as soon as possible. The health crisis that has been steadily approaching for the past nine months is here, and likely here to stay. The OT told me it is important the my environment support me. I am extremely grateful for long time friends and new friends who have helped out with doing dishes and cleaning or organizing while we work out better ways to get things done at home. Jerry continues working at home during COVID. He couldn’t get time off to run me to the doctor the day I fell, so a friend from high school kindly offered. Every genuine need that arises is met by a loving God who sees me. He knows. He understands. I can’t balance well enough most of the time to do all of the house work.  This is hard for my husband and me both. We do the best we can.

I think about that phrase, “when your environment supports you, life will get easier.” To be honest, lately I’ve noticed the things around us that not only don’t support us, but at times attack me and kick me when I’m down.  I don’t have the energy for drama in our neighborhood and I will not be engaging with any of that from here on, either virtually or in person. We will build a fence and set appropriate boundaries emotionally and physically because healthy boundaries matter.

We managed to stay neutral for two years for the most part, but we moved into a neighborhood with some lovely people who also had long standing strife between them. The police get called, and people tell us about their conflicts, and we have simply responded that we are praying to be able to love our neighbors, to remain neutral. When we left for this little vacation, however, my heart was grieved. Not only did our neutrality vanish when someone chose to verbally attack me and say horrible things (which were not true) in front of children that I love, but I will never again trust the people who chose to treat us in this way. I will forgive them because Christ forgave me, but that does not mean I will ever be required to trust them unless they earn that trust. In fact, I have chosen to forgive them already. I stood in the Secret Gardens, with my power chair a few feet away, and watched the stream flow under the little bridge. Like it says in Job, we can recall our troubles as waters gone by. I choose to forgive. Not because it was okay to treat us this way, but because we have a living and true God who loves us. He forgives us and forgives those who condemn us and speak lies about us to others. God’s Word says that He restores unto us the years the locust has eaten. I feel lately as though a swarm of locusts just ravaged our fields and home.

Home hasn’t felt comfortable recently. It’s rough living each day in a body that is not only struggling but declining in terms of  health, mobility and balance. Strife among people around us and anger directed and us didn’t feel good. But over and over God spoke these words to my heart:  The battle belongs to the LORD. There’s a verse that says, “Do not go into the fields of the fatherless for their Redeemer is so very strong.” I don’t need to defend myself against lies and mistreatment. I have a Savior who was betrayed, and misunderstood. He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  Yet Jesus humbled Himself, even to the point of allowing those angry mobs to crucify Him. He went to the cross for me and for my neighbors, and for each person we love or struggle to relate to. He desires that none would perish. John 3:16 talks about how  He extends His love to all of us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so whoever believes on Him would not perish but have eternal life.” My identity has nothing to do with the false things someone said about me two days ago in front of children that I care about. My identity is found in the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ, who gave His life for me and for those same people who feel justified in treating me this way.  God knows the truth. I need not defend myself to anyone. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD.  I will bow my knees now in gratitude and humility. We all need a Redeemer.

Forgiving others doesn’t mean that we will trust them necessarily. We can allow them to earn our trust, and that may never happen. That’s okay. We know the truth and we rest in the Way. the Truth and the Life.  Colossians 3 says to set our minds on the things above. Paul goes on to say that we rest in our identity and position in Christ. The things of earth grow strangely dim when we are able to do this.

I am loving time with my husband in this beautiful place. He is sleeping peacefully now. This morning a doe and her two fawns walked very close to us, at peace and accustomed to human beings coexisting with them in the gardens. When we moved to Jefferson, we hoped that we would feel that way, safe and accepted in our community. (Sometimes living there has felt a bit like the wild west. When we first moved in, the SWAT team was in the neighborhood several times. A suicide devastated a family. We heard other stories that brought us to our knees in prayer. We grew to love many in this rural community.  We’ve made some beautiful friends, and I am very grateful.)

Recently, that feeling of peace and comfort was disrupted in a big way. But we know that in Christ, we can abide in Him and be at peace, no matter what is going on around us. In Revelation, it says that “they overcame the accuser of the brethren by the Word of their testimony and the blood of the Lamb.” The enemy of our souls seeks to steal, kill and destroy. Whether I am bleeding from crashing into a mailbox, or bruised and battered after another bad fall due to MS, I know that some people will respond with great compassion and mercy. Others will not. That will hurt. It’s okay, though.  I am called to keep my eyes on Jesus and to recognize that only then can I live at peace among people who wound others by their words and actions. Wounded people wound people. It’s an age old problem, ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. I will not be relating to anyone in our neighborhood via social media or going out without my phone in the future. For one thing, when I fall I need to call for help. Jerry came out and scooped me up when I fell in our garden a few weeks ago. His arms felt so good around me. Some other loving friends have been helping us adapt our home and make everything more wheelchair accessible. I remember how Corrie ten Boom spoke comforting words to her sister Betsy (before Betsy  died in the concentration camps where they experienced the most brutal abuse imaginable and inhumanity from other humans). Corrie comforted Betsy with these words: “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”

When I fall, whether people nearby criticize or speak to me with accusations, or whether they pick me up and hold me close like my husband did, I can be at peace. Because although I do need my environment to support me more, God is at work. The ramps are getting built and we have a few more to set up. I will get a different kind of walker that we hope will prevent at least most of the falls. The bruises and sprains will heal. The gashes from the cinder blocks and also the rusty mailbox near my flowerbed are healing. So is my wounded heart. I have released those who hurt me most by forgiving them. I will fix my eyes on Jesus and abide in His love. I am planting succulents and dreaming of a service dog who can help me with mobility and getting up when I fall. A dog’s unconditional love can be so healing. I am blessed by friends around the globe who truly love me and support us in this hard time.

For momentary light afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  Paul’s words resonate with my heart in a deep way tonight .  The eyes of the LORD search to and fro throughout the inhabited earth to strongly support those whose hearts are fully His. Really, Paul experienced shipwrecks and assaults both physically and emotionally. He counted all things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our LORD. He considered those things he lost as rubbish in contrast to the wonder and beauty of knowing the Redeemer. I think about people around me who are afraid to attend church or really explore who Jesus is because of the way some who profess to know Him have treated them. Granted, human relationships can get complex, and in this fallen world, conflicts arise. But that’s a tragedy. My prayer is that those who call upon the name of the LORD will live in ways that honor Him and that we will be ready to give account for the hope that is within us. Romans 8 says that we have been set free into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We are adopted, loved, treasured, and nothing can separate us from His love. I cannot fall from grace or lose His unconditional love. Nor can I do anything that would separate me from His lavish grace and precious love. So if I bleed a bit, or get bruised and beaten up emotionally, I can count it joy as I encounter these trials. To suffer for His name is not a disgrace but an honor. I am His and His banner over me is LOVE. Underneath are the everlasting arms, and soon I will rest next to my husband, peacefully sleeping in His lovingkindness and Hesed. His steadfast covenant love holds me close when I am hurting. No matter how I am treated in this life by other people, I am fully loved, fully accepted and fully forgiven. His banner over me is LOVE. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness towards those who fear (revere, worship) Him. I am so thankful God gave Jerry and I these four days in to walk (or roll along in a power chair) in the Garden with our Creator.

May you rest fully in His love, be at peace and strengthened by the joy of the LORD, which does not depend on circumstances. I am my Beloved and He is mine. His banner over me is love.  Sometimes I feel trapped by my body as MS progresses. I get tired of falls and pain, limitations and the harsh realities that come with this. A few days ago I felt so weary of living among human beings who aren’t always kind to one another. I felt claustrophobic and so eager to get away from a culdesac where struggles wearied my soul. I am stuck living in this body which isn’t easy.  In a few days, we will return home and resume life together, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. We can trust that His power will be made perfect in our weakness.  Though being away is wonderful, I am no longer dreading returning home. I will keep my eyes on Jesus and we’ll be okay. Life with MS and other health issues we face together will never be easy. We’ve been dealt a very tough deck of cards between us. We are so blessed to have friends and family who love us and help us. I still look forward to eternity where no more tears and no more suffering will exist. In His Presence is fulness of joy. And, I can enter into His Presence as I worship and explore the beauty of these gardens with my husband.  I am free in Christ. Now to go and lay down beside the one in whom my soul delights and join him in peaceful slumber.