celebration

My husband and I went out to lunch today to celebrate our sixth anniversary (a little early) at Ba’s Vietnamese Comfort Food. We enjoyed sharing the chicken pho, the fresh vegetable tofu spring rolls, and a chicken skewer.

The chicken pho was served with basil and bean sprouts, and lime (and jalapeno) if you so desired. The chicken bone broth had been cooked for six hours, making it a healthy and delicious meal. While the chicken didn’t have spicing, the dish tasted delicious.

We have had a relaxing, fun day together. We feel so thankful for these years we’ve shared, and for God’s grace in strengthening and blessing our relationship over time.

Then we went to a favorite grocery store where we bought fresh fruit for a family meal tomorrow. My sister and her son are visiting from north of Boston, so we’re really excited to see them tomorrow and be with Mom and Arie and others.

We want to thank God for His steadfast love and for helping us grow. Marriage brings out the best and sometimes the worst in us, but all of that is okay–we know that He likes us to see where we need His healing and growth most. Our heavenly loves to continue to bring to completion the good work He has started in each of His children.

We love to try different eateries, and after more than a year of limited outings/food choices, eating somewhere in person felt like such a treat. We play with our cameras and enjoy time to relax together and talk. I especially like having a meal out because we usually have more good conversations face to face without the distractions of daily life.

I’ll share a few pictures and the FB link for this restaurant. Great family atmosphere and the art and decor was lovely. We’ll be back!

https://www.facebook.com/basvietnamesecomfortfood/

a caring father

This evening after I finished mowing our lawn, I pulled a few weeds. I can’t balance well enough for long, so I’ll have to continue weeding another day.

I wanted to enjoy a little more time outside. Too tired and unsteady to walk, I took the power wheelchair for a spin. The gentle evening light and warm spring air felt so good. On a nearby street, I saw a family out for a bike ride. The mother was walking, and several kids were biking. I saw the father riding a kid’s bike, demonstrating how to ride a bike for his younger son. Then the younger boy got back on his small bike, but he couldn’t quite balance adequately yet.

His father straddled the back tire as he walked and leaned forward, steadying the handle bars for his son. He let go and his son managed to stay upright a little ways, and then as he toppled to one side, his father gracefully caught the bike and kept his son from hitting the sidewalk. His son smiled proudly as his father spoke words of encouragement. “You made it quite a ways that time. You did it!”

I smiled and heard the other kids praising him, too. Like seeing a toddler’s first steps, I had joy of witnessing a holy moment. I admired this father’s caring actions and the love on his face.

I thought about how we still need encouragement and support as adults. When we try to learn something new, or we simply get weary and lose our balance, we need to know that someone stands ready to help us right ourselves and try again.

I am thankful that my husband has never been embarrassed by my need for assistive devices. Some men, with a more shallow nature or fragile ego, might feel ashamed to walk alongside a wheelchair, or to walk beside their wife who is using a walker despite being relatively young. Those of us with multiple sclerosis don’t always have the luxury of being steady on our feet regularly enough. I felt very triumphant when I made it safely all of the way down the aisle on our wedding day. We placed seats for us to rest in during part of our wedding ceremony. Guests told me they were relieved that I didn’t have to struggle to balance and stand for a long time, as tradition sometimes suggests.

My husband sometimes holds my hand in the grocery store as I ride on the motorized shopping cart. I never feel any hesitancy to accept me with my mobility limitations. He encouraged me to buy a LifeGlider, which is a newer device that helps prevent falls, and it arrived a few days ago.

I really appreciate my husband’s support. He wants me to have what I need to live life as fully as possible. Today we took a walk together on his break. I felt so good walking alongside him with my hands free (rather than pushing a walker). I relaxed knowing that even if I stumbled, the LifeGlider would keep me from hitting the ground.

This evening I loved how the siblings and the boy’s mother and father all encouraged him with smiles and positive comments as he tried to learn to ride a bike. When this boy is older and trying something new, I think maybe the self-talk in his mind will be positive, too. How different it would have been if his father hadn’t been willing to patiently teach him.

I couldn’t help smiling as I saw this loving father model grace and support rather than criticism. I saw the joy on the boy’s face as he experienced a small victory and kept trying to balance on his bike a little longer and go a little farther.

Father, I hope I can trust You as I take risks and learn new things like this child trusted his father. Rather than being anxious and discouraged by the many times I fail or lose my balance, help me instead to celebrate the small gains and dare to go on risking. Help me to trust that You will help me not to crash as I attempt new things or walk on unsteady legs.

Help me celebrate my progress on writing a book, however slow the process may feel. Help me remember that You stand ready to help me, and that You cheer me on.

Thank You for the times I have fallen and You provided my husband to help me up, hold me close, and reassure me with his loving embrace and tender words of affection.

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

Ouch!

I watered the succulents on our front porch this morning and as I was returning, I sprained my ankle as I fell. I landed in the flowerbed and couldn’t get up. My face rested softly in the mulch and pain shot up my ankle.

Concerned that no one would know I’d fallen for awhile, I waited. My husband was working on the other side of a window located down the front porch but I didn’t think he’d see me. As I laid in the dirt, I noticed the front door was still open. So I called for my husband, Jerry, and my friend who was helping clean the house, and they came and helped me up. Olive went and got the manual wheelchair from the garage.

I was frustrated about falling, and having more injuries to contend with. This is the fourth time this year, and living with MS sure doesn’t get easier over time.

Unlike last time when I fell on a sidewalk in Salem, hitting my face on the concrete (and no one helped), I was home and they heard me and helped me.

My husband took a break from work and he got a bucket of warm water, and with a towel, he gently washed the dirt off. His kindness touched my heart. I thought of the Savior washing the feet of His disciples. I am thankful God picks us up from the dirt and brings a warm cloth too and washes us off, tending our wounds.

This evening we heard the doorbell. Jerry went to answer the door, and I joined him soon, using my manual wheelchair since I can’t stand on that ankle yet. A young boy from the neighborhood with Christmas lights shining on his cap handed us a tin of cookies, a Christmas card, and a glass jar of hot chocolate mix with a festive ribbon over the top. We were so touched by the kindness of these neighbors. His grandma was with him, and I think his mom was pulling a wagon and waited out by the sidewalk.

This brought back memories of when we were kids and Mom would make all kinds of cookies and goodies and put them on a tray (with our help), and we’d deliver them to many of our neighbors out in the country. This kind gesture meant so much, and when I asked if they lived nearby, his Grandma said, “This is Bailey’s younger brother.” Then I recognized him. Bailey helped me plant succulents and more than once she came to the door with other girls this summer asking if we needed help with anything. She’s a treasure, and we have such great kids in this neighborhood.

This family touched our hearts this evening on a dark winter day. Thank You, Father, for the beautiful ways you remind us of Your Presence and love.

tolerating abuse no more

We learn eventually that we don’t have to tolerate abuse of any kind, from any person. Then we learn to set boundaries, and firmly enforce those boundaries. This may take courage and grace. In reality, we teach people how to treat us. When we tolerate abuse, we are allowing others to dishonor God, and while they are accountable before God for their actions and behavior, we aren’t doing them any favors if we tolerate abuse. Ironically, the schools talk about zero tolerance for bullies. But these days adults behave like bullies far too often. Our culture has really lost touch with manners and treating others with grace and dignity. Be the exception. Treat others with love, dignity and grace. Build trust. Gain trust by keeping your word and being consistent and acting like yourself in every situation (this is a sign of real maturity). Live from the heart Jesus gave you. Grow. Be transformed. If you are His child, remember that He never condones abuse. He desires us to have healthy relationships and to live in peace with others as much as it depends on us.

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.)

Goodbye, Maple Tree

What an encouraging day. Got the ramp installed this morning properly and it will work fantastic for the back door to the patio. Got the tree removed and cleaned up. Had a long peaceful nap. Thank you, Richard, Kris and Aaron!!! And thank you, Jerry, for sweeping the driveway afterwards. One of these days, maybe soon, I can get back to planting succulents and doing more than the essential watering, etc. But I got plenty of exercise today helping the guys. Reminded me of the many fun times cutting firewood as a kid with Katie and John Gould’s family. Working with others on a physical project feels so good to me…I love to see work getting done and I miss being stronger and healthier. Years ago I could buck more hay than most men, for hours. I could run 10 miles and did cross country and long distance track. I rode on bike trips in Canada with Canyonview, and I could pedal up the hills with the best of them. Those days are joyful memories now. I need a power chair to do many things and find daily life challenging. But I know that we are incredibly blessed anyway. Very thankful that following Jesus is an adventure that doesn’t depend on circumstances—joy and peace are mine because He lives within me. Christ in us, the hope of glory….

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.