Meaningful, Enduring Relationships

beinspiredThis morning I read a very heartwarming email from my dear friend in Japan. Tomoko and I were college roommates at Pacific University several decades ago. The two of us forged a lasting bond in the months that we lived in a dorm room in Walter Hall.

A few years ago, she and our friend Keiko and I had a reunion in Portland, Oregon at her former host mother’s place. Bev lives in a very lovely neighborhood of gracious older homes, and the four of us had such a marvelous visit. We had wonderful long conversations, lots of laughter, and we went out for some delicious meals together. We also cooked frittatas, and made Dutch baby pancakes with fresh blackberries. As we listened to Keiko playing the piano, the melody of our memories transported us across the years. We visited the Farmer’s Market at PSU. Bev took us back to Pacific University where we had first become close friends. We remembered joyful times, and supported one another as we recalled tough times. During these days together, we shared our hearts, our tears and our lives.

I feel so blessed to have these women in my life. Having met Tomoko when at 19 or so, we really didn’t know what was ahead for us. She remembers me bringing her an avocado as a gift, which she loved. I told her years later that meant I really valued her friendship, because I love avocadoes! I had a few roommates from Japan my second year at Pacific, and I had so much fun helping them learn English. In fact, I thought to myself if I weren’t going to be a Physical Therapist, I would enjoy teaching ESL. I took them home to my family’s dairy farm. They loved my Mom’s delicious farm cooking.

When the time came for Tomoko to return to Japan, I missed her. She loved Oregon and we kept in touch. Some years later, she brought her husband to visit me. At Pacific, I spent a lot of time with Asians. On my wing in Walter Hall, we had a large contingent of Hawaiian women. Many of them were of Japanese descent. My roommate my first year of college was a Hawaiian of Asian descent, and Cathy taught me a lot of pidgin.

My Mom wasn’t too happy about the slang I learned at college when this English major came home speaking Hawaiian pidgin English with my friends. But Mom also really enjoyed the friends I made. Thankfully, I didn’t forget how to write or speak proper English!

God knew that in those years at Pacific, He had a clear purpose for these relationships. I planned to be a Physical Therapist, and I took all of the challenging science classes needed to enter that program. I did an honors project on Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy. As part of my research, I spent time in British Columbia doing an Externship at an amazing place for riders with all sorts of disabilities. I watched in amazement as a young woman jumped a challenging course on a horse despite being blind.

I eventually got accepted in the Physical Therapy Program at Pacific, and loved learning about this field. Sadly, some health challenges interrupted my studies, and I had to leave the program feeling lost and devastated.

However, God kept reminding me of my love for people of other cultures, and right at that time He planted within me a desire that just wouldn’t leave. I felt inspired to go and teach in China, and despite precarious health, that is exactly what I did a few years later. Had I known that I would eventually be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the organization probably wouldn’t have sent me. But by His grace, I didn’t know yet what the source of my intermittent health challenges actually was. I just knew that life would get really difficult at times, and the various symptoms would interfere with daily life a lot. So, I took the risk and those two years in China transformed my life. I discovered my love for teaching, and I found renewed purpose for my life. I taught English to medical students, and to this day the friends I made are so precious to me.

Now, as I look back, I see God’s hand guiding me through all of those years. Tomoko and Yumiko (another roommate at Pacific) were the first of many Asian friends who would bring joy to my life. I loved teaching in China, and made many lasting friendships. Just last year, I spent time with several of those dear friends when I returned to China for about three weeks.

After I finished my two years of teaching in China, I returned to Oregon, and I spent some years teaching international students from all over the world. I opened my home to these students, and often rented out rooms to people from various places. Genevieve, from Belgium, brought a lot of joy to my life when she rented a room in this house I had built on an acre. I also hosted a number of Japanese students. During those years, friends and students from Sweden, Japan, China, Taiwan, Belgium, Korea, Brazil, Panama, and Russia enjoyed spending time with me. I still have a network of friends around the world from those years.

When I think about how much friendships with students and others from all over the world have enriched my life, I feel so blessed. I am a writer and we hear a lot about building a platform. Traditional publishers require evidence of connections that might prove very valuable when marketing a book. So, we are taught strategies to build a network and establish a platform.

While I understand this need, and do whatever I can to continue making connections with others to create an email list, I smile when I think of the actual network of friends I enjoy. My years as an ESL teacher and later as a counselor provided me many opportunities to build deep, meaningful relationships with a large variety of people.

Even when health led me to stop working full-time, I developed trainings for professionals and offered counseling to others part-time. During seasons when I had to stop working altogether, I had the gift of time to cultivate relationships with many people in my area, and to stay in touch with friends far away. I believe one reason we are alive is to know others and to encourage and strengthen them. So, I have lasting friendships.

When I met my husband early in 2012, we took time to get to know each other well before we got married. When we got married about four and a half years ago, Trinity Covenant Church was filled to capacity with hundreds of friends who shared in our joy. I wouldn’t trade these real-life friendships for anything.

I love Psalm 37:3-5 which says, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him and He will do it.”

Years ago, I had the desire to learn to relate to others well. I wanted to have meaningful relationships with people from many cultures. I also hoped to have my own family someday. How faithful God has been to fulfill these desires in such vivid, transformative ways.

 

 

 

 

Be absolutely His: writing as worship, an offering to the Lord

After being with so many writers at the summer conference last week, I’ve pondered many things. Being a writer and responding to His leading raises a lot of emotions, doesn’t it? I appreciated how many of the speakers talked about the feelings we might have as writers. Sometimes we feel like we are “not enough.” Sometimes we wrestle with doubts or feel intimidated by the task before us. (I have 1 Chronicles 28:20 posted near my desk as a reminder not to be frightened by the size of the task, but instead to be strong and courageous and get to work because the Lord my God is with me, and He will help me.) We all have various motives for writing, but as believers, we write in response to His calling on our lives. We write as an offering to Him.

Many people I met last week write as an expression of who they are, and because they love to write. I’m sure some write with the hope of publication and some income. Then there’s a whole industry to try to comprehend … with a huge learning curve. Deadlines and improving our craft become vital. Some writers in this world write to make a name for themselves, but as Christians we ultimately write to magnify the name of Jesus, not for our own fame.

We are His Creation, and our identity is found in Christ. I pray that we never get lost in finding our place in the world or become too caught up in how to succeed in this industry. Yes, we have plenty to learn. But “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared forehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). A text just arrived from my friend with a precious reminder: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”  – Psalm 121:1-2

My prayer is to never lose sight of writing as a way to honor and glorify the Lord, to somehow share His love and grace with a world that needs Him. Rather than feeling stress and pressure to perform well, I pray that I can abide in Him and that writing flows from abiding in the True Vine, my source of life and inspiration. Just as the cherry tomatoes grow and ripen on the vines of the sprawling plant in my garden, I pray that any fruit that comes from my efforts reflects the Vine. The power comes from Christ.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:4-5 (ESV)

While living in China years ago, I heard a tape of Jill Briscoe talking about how her writing only had power when it came from a heart already worshipping the Savior when she picked up the pen. Oh, Father, please help me to begin my days in worship, finding my identity and hope in You. Help me not to splash the page with ink before I have found myself hidden in You.

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2 Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.    Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

Drawn To Beauty

As I drove back from a Quiet Retreat with some other ladies at Lake Charles, I saw a number of cars at Ankeny Bird Refuge in the bird blind area for photographers. Although I didn’t have a camera with me, except on my cell phone, I couldn’t help swinging in to that area to see what might be captivating their attention.

People with large lenses on their cameras gazed out at the lake and the marshy area where a flock of white pelicans sat on a log in a row. A blue heron fished in the foreground.  Ducks swam peacefully. Excitement filled the air, and I thought about how we are drawn to beauty. Massive white wings spread out gracefully as one pelican took off from the log and soared over the water.

A woman next to my van had a camera with a big long lens. We struck up a conversation as we admired the birds before us. She told me she had a head injury, and shared a bit of her journey with me. I told her I’ve worked as a rehabilitation counselor, so I understand how hard that road can be. She said she makes up stories about turkey vultures and other creatures, and she spoke of faith without walls. We exchanged contact info, and she’ll send me a few pictures of the gorgeous birds we observed. I gave her the rest of my sack lunch and a plastic spoon so she could stay longer and admire the scene unfolding in front of her even though she was getting hungry. We had an instant bond because we have both known suffering, and we are both drawn to beauty. 

Earlier this morning, I sat beside still waters at Lake Charles. I came for a Quiet Retreat, a welcome oasis in a busy season. Along with seven other women, we were drawn to His Presence in the quiet of a cool August morning. I loved time with God in nature. A blue heron flew over, and an osprey flew from the branches of the majestic old maple tree that provided me with shade on the bank of the lake. God’s Word spoke peace and encouragement to my heart. Worship flowed naturally.  Words seemed unnecessary as  my soul communed with His.

When we gathered around a picnic table after a few hours, we shared our hearts with one another. We talked about the ways His Presence had ministered to us this morning in the silence. We spoke of suffering and joys, of intimacy with Him and deepening our trust in Him through big and small interactions. An older woman said that He reminded her to trust Him, and that when she loses something He helps her find it. She told us to remember that He is a loving Father and we can trust Him for everything in our lives. A girl approaching her final year of high school spoke of her anticipation of what lies ahead, and learning to wait upon the Lord. She is learning to view this season of her life as a time set apart in the secret places, a time to know Him more intimately.

Others shared burdens and joys. Then we brought all of our concerns before a holy God who loves us and welcomes our requests. He never turns His face from us, but instead “after you have suffered for a little while, God Himself establishes, strengthens and confirms.”

We talked about how God uses suffering to draw us closer to Himself. We prayed for one another, with tears and laughter, entering His Presence with joy and emerging with peace and hope on our faces. An older woman spoke words of blessing over the youngest one among us. Jesus met with us. We all with unveiled faces, beheld His glory and basked in His beauty.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB)

 

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 

1 Peter 5:10 (NASB)

 

 

He Carries His Lambs Close to His Heart

DSC03885.JPGIsaiah 40:10-11 “Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm.  See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd.  He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (NLT)

I am so thankful that we have a Sovereign LORD who loves us and comes in power.  In a world where many seek power and control, we must remember who ultimately loves us and possesses all of the power we need to live this life. One day He will set all things right. We can draw strength and power from Him.  Isaiah 40 goes on to describe the LORD who has no equal. However, the image of Him as the Shepherd, feeding His flock, carrying the lambs in his arms, holding them close to His heart…that’s the image that always brings tremendous comfort and peace to my heart. Whenever I have had the joy of holding a lamb in my arms, I felt tremendous tenderness and love for this soft, delightful creature. To be held close to the Lord’s heart today reminds me that I want to live in tune with the rhythm of His heart and mind. Just like puppies or kittens would calm down when we’d put an alarm clock (the old kind that ticks off the minutes audibly) in the cardboard box with them, there is beautiful comfort available for us as we listen to the beat of His heart, His life force. I am thankful that today, and every day, I can snuggle in close to my Shepherd and hear His heartbeat.