A Man of Sorrows, Acquainted with Grief

Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2010 during a time when health limitations felt a bit discouraging. Perhaps these words will encourage your heart now, as we journey to the cross again this spring.

Ever get weary? Ever need some encouragement? I do.

I’ve never found renewal or encouragement by focusing on hard circumstances, but when I turn my face to Him, He comforts me.

I’m thankful for the verses that tell us Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; I’m thankful that we have hope beyond this life and these bodies. Take a look at Isaiah 53:2-12.

Sometimes I feel discouraged by the idea that my life’s potential has been diminished by a neurological condition.

God has, over the years, shown me that this thinking is not accurate in His economy. Still it can be discouraging to have fewer opportunities to use the skills and gifts He’s given me.

Sometimes I miss looking healthy and fit, and a wheelchair or walker doesn’t make me look either. In fact, some people make assumptions about someone using such equipment and devalue them or write them off.

I miss doing counseling, writing trainings and workshops, and teaching groups. Last night I grieved some of the losses I face. However, I was so struck by the passage in Isaiah and noticed new things as I read the New Living Translation.

Our values needn’t be shaped by the world, but by the example of our Savior. Early in the chapter we read that there would be nothing beautiful or majestic about the Messiah’s appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. Verse 3 tells us that Jesus was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. Last night this verse comforted me as tears warmed my cheeks.

The next verse reminds us that it was our weaknesses He carried, it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

He suffered horrible abuse— Jesus was beaten and whipped, suffering ultimately for our wholeness and healing. He was pierced for our rebellion, and crushed for our sins. Jesus knew oppression and harsh treatment. Yet he never said a word.

Isaiah 53:8 really struck me because sometimes I feel sad that I will never have my own biological children. It says, “Unjustly condemned, he was led away.” (The footnote shares that in the Greek version it says: He was humiliated and received no justice. Compare Acts 8:33.) No one cared that Jesus died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. (One Greek version reads: Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.)

Isaiah 53:8 wraps up saying, “For he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.” The passage continues to speak to my heart. Imagine the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, being mocked, crucified and buried as if he were a vile criminal. Imagine Isaiah prophesying these things would happen, and every detail being fulfilled.

When I read verse 10, it spoke profoundly to my heart: “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.”

Catch that—Jesus will have many descendants…and this is only possible because of Christ’s willingness to suffer and die in order to redeem all of us who would believe on His name and find life for all eternity. Verse 11 says, “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied…”

By His death and resurrection, it is possible for many of us to be counted righteous, for the Savior would bear all of our sins. Our dirty hearts and lives are washed clean in the blood of the Savior. We are set free!

Beautiful! Instead of a few earthly descendants, Jesus will have thousands of descendants throughout eternity, and who knows what impact our lives can have when yielded fully to the Savior’s loving eternal purposes.

In our suffering, we have the opportunity to be conformed further into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. As He abides in us, and we abide in Him, eternal mysteries are accomplished. Christ in you, the hope of glory…that’s a mystery that gives life and hope to weary souls.

We will run and not grow weary, walk and not faint as we learn to follow in the example of the Messiah who willingly laid down His life for our redemption. He chose to do the Father’s will and accept the cup of suffering as He allowed those who opposed Him to nail Him to the cross after beating and mocking Him.

His sacrifice and intense suffering paid off in exponentially greater, eternal ways than we could grasp with our finite minds.

Because Christ obeyed the will of the Father, we have the opportunity to be joint-heirs with Him!

Though we may know infirmity and severe suffering in this life, we have a hope and joy that can transcend these limitations and hardships.

I love Hebrews 12:1-2, and will close with these words: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

Let’s learn from the example of Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy set before Him. We who are redeemed by His blood are His joy.

Although I won’t ever have biological children, I have known the wonder if seeing others accept Christ as their Savior and LORD, and grow in His grace and truth. Some opportunities to share my faith have arisen precisely because God allowed me to live with multiple sclerosis.

This earthly life goes by quickly. Live it for His glory!

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

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.

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 Special Tradition for New Years

Years ago, I began a tradition I really enjoy on New Year’s Eve or the first day of the new year. I sit by the fire, and I write a letter to Jesus, expressing the desires of my heart, and thanking Him for answers to prayer.

I save these letters in one place, and each year I enjoy looking at the letters from previous years, and I can see all that God has done in our lives in the intervening time. This exercise has become something that I look forward to each year.

May God bless each of you as the calendar turns a page to 2021 tonight. This past year has held many challenges, but we’ve seen God answer prayer and sustain and strengthen us in His Hesed–His steadfast devotion, His covenant love, and His enduring grace.

May this next year hold healing and growth for each of us, and a drawing near to our faithful Redeemer.

Most of us hope for a calmer year next year, but in the midst of the west coast fires, the global pandemic, and various other challenges, we have seen His beautiful provision, grace and His Hesed in ways we’ll never forget.

Psalm 37

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.

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.

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.

Thanksgiving Day 2020

I’m sitting by our fireplace, enjoying the warmth. Outside, the sunrise brought light to the day, and some blue sky. While we won’t be gathering with family as planned, Jerry and I will enjoy a restful day. A friend of ours picked up a free Thanksgiving meal for us from a nearby small town cafe. We’ll see what’s in that package and probably add a few things. I also picked up cod for fish tacos and Jerry wanted some ham, so this weekend we’ll enjoy a variety of healthy foods.

While many people traditionally feast on Thanksgiving Day, and enjoy time with family and friends, this year the pandemic has impacted the usual routine. Just for fun, I started a 1000 piece puzzle a few days ago, and have enjoyed praying as I’ve put together this beautiful puzzle of Oregon. I feel like life this year has been a puzzle, too. The pieces haven’t always fit together easily, requiring patience and resilience to cope.

However, I enjoy a challenge. I patiently work on the puzzle for as long as it takes to bring this chaos into a clear picture. There’s something soothing about doing a puzzle once in awhile. My late friend Cordelia Pinner used to be a prayer warrior, and she was very gifted as a spiritual director and faithful friend. She taught me to pray as I do a puzzle, so I always think fondly of times shared with this dear saint as I try to put the pieces together. As we continue to adapt to changes and losses in this pandemic around the globe, and the changing political landscape in the United States, prayer remains most vital.

I am very thankful for the Bible study we are doing in the book of Daniel this year. Daniel and his friends were forced to adapt to many tough things after being taken from their homes into the service of the Babylonian king. They faced tremendous adversity, including the threat of death if they would not follow the king’s edicts or do as he wished. Yet they remained faithful to the Living and True God despite threats and fiery furnaces. I pray that we would also rest in His sovereignty in these troubled times in which we live.

This year, our Oregon governor has threatened jail time or a large fine for anyone violating her mandatory freeze during this pandemic. While precautions are necessary to try to avoid the spread of this insidious virus, many of us believe she takes a little too much delight in wielding power. She has delighted in protestors and riots destroying property while putting limitations on churches despite not having the constitutional authority to do so. Our freedom to worship comes from God. We can worship Him despite the threat of jail. We must look to God to guide us, not this power hungry woman who embraces Marxism.

Thankfully we can worship God every day, and giving thanks remains part of our daily worship of our faithful Lord and Savior. We had looked forward to a small gathering for a turkey dinner today with our family. However, due to circumstances related to the pandemic, our family plans had to be delayed. That’s okay. Jerry and I will enjoy time to rest, re-create, and give thanks for His faithfulness and grace. We’ll gather in a couple of weeks.

You are our resting place. We seek Your face, O LORD.

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.