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.

Stewardship of our most precious resource

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

God spoke to my heart recently about stewardship of my time, energy and attention. We live in an era where the tendrils of technology have invaded the daily life of most human beings.

Distraction and “opportunities” abound as so many aggressively compete for your time, focus and attention.

However, if we allow the sirens of our day to seduce us, we may essentially lose our ability to spend our lives–our time, energy and attention–in the way that most honors God Most High.

Today I am going to focus on His Word and on spending my most precious resources in ways that have eternal value. I am going to be obedient to the calling He has placed on my heart.

I’m going to ignore all of those pleas for me to watch another workshop about how to market things to others, how to build a virtual following, or in some other way enrich my own ‘platform’ or business. Sometimes the focus on SELF sneakily underlies so many of the messages of our times.

I remember these words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

Imagine if the Apostle Paul had been distracted by social media and occupied with extending his virtual reach and making more money rather than being a bondservant of Christ! His powerful letters to the churches wouldn’t exist today. The Gentiles might have never heard the gospel.

I am not simply a source of revenue, another number added to the virtual reach and ‘platform’ of others, or a potential buyer to convert with persuasive language.

I am cherished by God. He created me. He gave me the gift of this day.

May I use my time, energy and attention wisely, for His glory and honor and praise. May I die to my own flesh and live in the splendor of His Spirit, living out His beautiful purposes for this day.

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

a new passion

Today I began a new adventure–I took my first quilting lesson from a talented friend in her cozy farmhouse quilting room.

For many years I have admired quilters, but never really had the opportunity or time to learn how to quilt. When I was a young girl, my mom sewed some of our clothes and I loved her thoughtfulness and skill. I felt loved when she created something new for me to wear. Mom also milked her Jersey cow, Sunshine, twice a day to provide milk and cream for our family. She grew gardens and her cooking was legendary. She made delicious homemade ice cream, and she prepared waffles with strawberries we raised, adding fresh whipping cream and homemade butter. We caught the school bus with content tummies, happy to head off to our country school despite the hour long bus ride each way.

When my mother graduated from high school, her parents gave her a Singer Featherweight. I’m sure my Grandma sacrificed a lot to buy this sewing machine. With a large family, they didn’t have much extra cash to spare. Within a few years, mom married my father, and by the time she was 22 I was born. My older sister joined this young family a few years prior to me. A few years after me, my brother came into the world.

My mom wanted to be sure that my sister and I learned to sew. Mom loved to share things that she had a passion for, so she negotiated with us. I either had to take a sewing class or sit down and learn to sew something to show her that I had learned this vital skill. So I sewed a light pink terry cloth nightshirt to prove that I could sew. Then I went out to the barn and never picked up this machine sewing process again. Except I did sew up burlap gunnysacks after I carefully filled them with grass seed and weighed them in at fifty pounds. I liked sewing those bags as I ran the big dusty grass seed cleaner around the clock. We had to stencil the lot number onto the bags with this black ink brush.

Over the years, I enjoyed mending things by hand with a needle and thread. However, my first attempts using that Singer sewing machine caused a bit of motion sickness. So I would rather go ride a horse or chase cows, or spend time outdoors. On a farm, we had plenty to keep us occupied. Leave the domestic stuff to other girls.

Earlier this year, my mom offered me her Singer Featherweight. She lives with vision impairment which makes sewing no longer feasible. So, she gave her treasured machine to me. In the small rural town where we live, and in the surrounding countryside, many women love to quilt. So several women have offered to teach me some basics. When I showed Karen Wells my featherweight, she offered to set it up for me and teach me how to quilt. She has known my parents for many years, and Karen has a wonderful gift for teaching and encouraging others. During this pandemic, one wonderful blessing has been getting to know her.

So today I arrived at her farmhouse across the field from where we live excited to get started. She showed me her stacks of fabric pieces which I could use for learning with this first project. She had an example of a table runner which is a good initial effort. Then she told me how to get started. I laid out all of the pieces of adequate size for the elements of this project in the color theme that I liked. She told me to arrange them all according to lighter, medium and darker colors. Just handling these pretty fabrics gave me joy. I found myself smiling often.

Then Karen showed me how to iron, spray starch, and then iron the fabrics one more time. After that, she taught me how to cut the pieces using her tools. I loved being around Karen and the other woman she is teaching, listening to peaceful music and sharing our lives a bit. I felt like part of centuries of this wonderful tradition of quilting, even on this first exposure to the task.

Recently I put together a puzzle. I do that about once a year, and enjoy praying as I do so. This first step of learning to quilt reminds me a bit of doing a puzzle, except at the end of the process I’ll have something lasting to enjoy or share with others. It’s also a more creative endeavor. As Karen said, if I ever need to make a quilt to keep us warm, I’ll be able to do that. Pandemics bring out the pioneer in many of us as our normal rhythms of life face ongoing disruption. On the bright side, the slower pace of life has allowed some of us to try new things. Just as importantly, I’m excited to have a creative outlet which is life-giving. Oregon winters are often cloudy and dark. The fun colors will lift our spirits, and having time with these two women will be really enjoyable.

I’m excited to have embarked on this journey today. One day, when I’m wrapped up in my first quilt, I’ll see a dream fulfilled. Thank You, Abba Father for this new adventure.

Psalm 90:17 (NASB)

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes,  confirm the work of our hands.