Contentment and Seeing the Gift in Stormy Times

Powerful wind gusts keep hitting the house tonight. Rain seems to fly sideways in sheets of water on nights like this. So thankful we have warmth, shelter and His Presence with us.

When we first moved into this home, I would lay awake during big storms wondering if everything outside would withstand the surprisingly strong winds and rain battering the house. I’d go outside and check after the storm, relieved that the shingles remained on the roof, and everything looked okay.

This past year or more has been a storm of another kind. Around the globe, lives have been altered by a pandemic that has left very few untouched in one way or another.

Maybe one of the lessons for many people during this strange time in history is the opportunity to learn to be content with simple joys, with quiet time, with those God’s given us to love.

While a global pandemic tests the limits of many people psychologically as stay home orders and other restrictions impact life, and a second wave of the virus emerges in various places, many people have struggled emotionally.

The high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide have been a serious concern. The west coast fires raging through our states also added major stressors and we have met some who lost their homes or businesses during that intense time as well. As a retired counselor and writer, I’m always concerned with how people manage to cope with tough times.

But I’ve talked to a few friends who have cultivated a different sort of mindset, one which serves them well. They’ve invested in their marriages or a few close relationships.

One friend describes this past year as a wonderful gift. She and her husband are closer than ever and she’s enjoyed being home on their beautiful century farm, living differently than usual, but joyfully.

My husband and I have come through this year closer and stronger, not without some storms along the way. However, our marriage has been ultimately strengthened by the unexpected blessing of more frequent and intensive time together.

We’ve learned how to support one another and work through conflict better. We’ve identified areas where our needs weren’t getting met very well, and we’ve worked on improving these areas.

We’ve found renewed joy in simple pursuits. We’ve healed and grown and changed. We’ll emerge from this time a better team and more aware of the gift we have in each other.

We’ve also grown closer to some of our extended family as we’ve navigated these strange times together. The issues that come along with aging parents and other life stages don’t just disappear because of the added layer of a pandemic. We sure don’t take time with loved ones for granted right now and we often pray about ways we can support them better as they face their own tough storms.

We’ve also taken time to deepen friendships that are life-giving and deeply encouraging. Having weathered some intense storms in terms of major losses to grieve and adapting to challenging health, we are reminded anew that life is a precious gift.

I hope we’ll never take for granted the gift of those God has given us to love.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

Peace

As I sit by our fire this morning, I pray that God will guide us today. I am thankful that as believers, have His Presence with us, and we have the Word of God to help us make sense of the times we are living in.

Sometimes trying to understand the world around us these days becomes a very complex thing. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers or full insight into what’s going on at all. I am prayerfully seeking to understand more. In truth, we’re in an intense spiritual battle.

But none of what is going on in the world surprises God. His ways are higher. He is all-knowing. He created the heavens and the earth. He is sovereign. He will not allow anything to happen that does not ultimately move us towards His eternal purposes. Even if what He allows is painful and seems very terrible, He will ultimately redeem it and set all things right. He told us in this world we would have many troubles.

But again and again His Word tells us not to fear.

“My peace I leave with you,” Jesus said.

That’s a powerful gift He left with us.

Rest in His peace, abide in His love.

mental health during this pandemic

I was pondering today the reality that around the globe we are all faced with some strange realities simultaneously. Who would have guessed this was all ahead a year and a half ago? I want to say that I acknowledge the pandemic is very real. We have lost loved ones who died from COVID (thought these two women were elderly and had other issues as well), and we know younger people who have been very ill with this virus. We’re praying hard for one man who is very sick and in ICU, and others. So there’s no denial that this is a serious illness.

The origins of the illness and how various leaders around the world are responding (and opportunistically trying to control people beyond their legal authority and impose socialist policies) are worth pondering, however.

In many places, elderly have been isolated from loved ones for months and months now, and depression and other mental health impacts are serious. Kids are hurting too. They are missing out on contact with teachers, other kids and other benefits of in-person education. The mental health crisis is as serious as the pandemic, and these are inter-related. We need to create ways for meaningful connection. We need to consider the whole person, and also we need to stand up to leaders who are abusing their positions and harming many in the process.

Rise up. Find ways to care about the people in your sphere of influence.

Yes, we need to avoid spreading this blasted virus. But we also need to remain engaged in life and find and preserve connections with others that are life-giving. A friend has brought her dogs over sometimes and she stayed for dinner recently. Another friend came over for a visit and stayed for dinner in the past few weeks. We enjoyed music, prayer and conversation, and we don’t take time with others for granted at all right now. We do what we can to protect our health. But we also know that these interactions are good for health, and we trust others are encouraged as well.

longing for comfort and truth?

We live in bizarre times. If you’re looking for comfort and truth, you won’t find these in the news.

The government won’t provide it. The media won’t either.

They can’t give you what they don’t have.

Expect adversity, but hope for peace.

The world doesn’t have a lot of peace to offer right now. In fact, the whole earth is in distress.

A pandemic rages.

Storms, fires, and political turmoil have ravaged many places. Entire countries are in crisis.

Seek His face. Seek His face continually. Then you will be like a well-watered garden whose springs do not fail (see Isaiah 58). In the midst of great turmoil, God still remains the only enduring source of hope, peace, truth and comfort.

Run to Him.

Find refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Perilous times lie ahead, too. But He already knows the outcome. He will accomplish His loving purposes ultimately.

Almighty God. Abba Father, our covenant-keeping Redeemer, we choose to seek Your face in these troubled times.

We trust in You alone.

holidays in the midst of a pandemic

Today Jerry picked up groceries from a local store, and this was our first time to try an on-line order with free pick up. Many items were not in stock, so we got a note saying sorry and listing the many things they did not include in our order. However, they sent Jerry home with one bag of someone else’s order. Clearly someone was preparing for Thanksgiving–a big bag of yams, a large bunch of bananas, three avocados, three large oranges, and three Singer needle threaders. So we called and thanked the store for their generous gift of extra groceries (and so they’d know what happened when someone else calls them about missing items).

Maybe this is kind of like 2020. Lots of things have been missing. And yet, there have been some unexpected gifts, some of which we may not have desired initially.

One of the things we hadn’t anticipated this year was having my husband work at home. He came home with his laptop one Friday after work last winter, having been told he might need to work at home a few days. He’s never left. While this has required considerable adjustments for us, we’ve seen many blessings in this arrangement, too. Not having to commute saves money on gas, conserves energy for him, and means that we can cook dinner together more often. Ultimately, having more time together has strengthened our relationship.

I called my mom and told her we’ll bring yams for Thanksgiving. Of course in Oregon, we have been told we now have severe limits on our personal and religious freedoms this Thanksgiving. Our governor has issued edicts which come with the threat of police enforcement and large fines for those who dare to gather for a meal in their own homes, or attend church (beyond the new limits she has set). She wants to control individual homes and churches while giving a free pass to protestors and looters most of this year. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use good sense and take precautions to protect ourselves and loved ones from unnecessary risk. I’m just saying the authority to make these decisions may not have a legal basis.

We’ll see how all of this plays out.

But if you need a needle threader or some fruit to make your fruit salad, let me know.

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.

celebrating our days on earth

This weekend, as I was returning home at the time of day when the light becomes magical, I saw a round faced little girl hopscotching along the side walk. She had the sweetest smile on her face, and a look of pure delight in her eyes. Life in a small town holds a variety of things during a pandemic, but simple pleasures are among those things we’ll remember. Butterflies seem to abound right now out here. The grass seed fields are swathed and the golden rays of evening sun dapple the ground with filtered light. The morning sun holds a different splendor. Today we celebrated a beautiful woman’s 80 years on earth so far. She’s a very beloved friend and the joy in her face as she looked around at her family tonight was echoed in her loving words. One day we will see Jesus face to face. We will be transformed fully in His Presence if we know Him. In the meantime, allow the ups and downs of this life to refine and shape you into His image. Until then, rejoice in the LORD always, again I say rejoice.

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.