Oregon Gardens

My husband and I are enjoying the beauty and wonder of one of the most beautiful places on earth for a few days. This is a very welcome refuge in the midst of a chaotic era.  The pandemic has meant everyone is home, cooped up in a neighborhood we usually enjoy living in a lot. So getting away is ever so welcome. We are thankful for the small town we live in, though a change of scenery is good for everyone.

Eventually I will share some of the best pictures….this place is a photographer’s dream. It’s nearby our family farm, so coming here feels like home. Last evening, I sat in my power chair a few feet from a doe and her fawn, and they watched me as I enjoyed their presence. Humming birds fly so close to my head I can hear their wings and feel the soft breeze generated by their wings.

Too Many Noodles

Two years ago, right around this time, Jerry and I got the keys to this house. We had lived in my condo at Cinnamon Lakes for the first three years or our marriage. Though Jerry and I loved the wildlife and some of our neighbors there at the lake, it was simply too small for us. I had been working at home part-time before we got married. I had an office where I served a few individuals and couples for counseling. I had been trained in some faith-based healing approaches that were quite effective and loved seeing God heal and restore marriages and individuals. As soon as Jerry moved in, I knew working from home would not be feasible.
Jerry has a lot of hobbies–music, weaving, building things from hardwoods, art, and more. He’s a gifted man with a talent for language. He still takes notes in Farsi at church.  I have some hobbies, too. I do photography, make greeting cards, grow succulents, play the ukulele by our campfire, write devotionals, my blog, children’s books, and more. I retired early from my career in rehab counseling due to MS, but after leaving full-time employment, I wrote trainings for professionals and delivered them around the NW. God opened doors and for several years my part time business called Hope Beyond Words thrived. Then finally health declined enough that I had to stop working completely for several years. But I never stop serving God. I have skills to offer and love to help others.
Fast forward from our wedding day, a very joyous time in April of 2015, to April of 2018. I took a trip to China for about three weeks, with Jerry’s blessing. We married late in life and both of us understand that some time apart actually strengthens our relationship. My friend Janet and I taught some counselors in Yunnan Province some wonderful counseling approaches. Then my former student, Dr Annie Yi, who is a chief surgeon in her OB-GYN Hospital at Fudan University in Shanghai, invited me to do a talk for her doctors. I prepared a talk about the challenges faced by physicians in serving people whose illnesses are hard to diagnose. We had a wonderful evening, and for Dr Yi and I, it was very special. She had been my top student at Jiangxi Medical College as a young woman. I was in my twenties and we became very close friends. We’ve kept in touch all of these years, visiting one another when we can. Ironically, I caught an Asian flu just as I arrived in Shanghai, and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. The Ayi of my friends where I stayed knew an ancient Chinese healing method using a stone. She broke blood vessels a bit in the process and I was black and blue, but felt much better quite rapidly. Probably Ayi is needed in this fight against COVID. She’s a lovely person with strong hands and a sparkle in her eyes because of her hope beyond this life.
After I returned, Jerry greeted me at the airport, having prepared a humorous sign with some Chinese characters, welcoming Sue Kuenzi “Corn Dog” Sabin home. He loves corn dogs. I never eat them, but I figured it was a loving gesture and very funny. On the ride home to Salem, Jerry told me I had too many noodles in the pantry. I had missed him quite a bit, but he was quite OCD about the number of noodles I had on hand. This frustrated me. Not so romantic, Sweetie. I told him give away the darned noodles and let me get over jetlag!!! Within a few weeks, Jerry’s already questionable health got worse and worse. I told him he’d worn out his gall bladder. He said mockingly, “Yes, Dr Kuenzi.” That’s what he calls me when he thinks I am acting beyond my scope as his wife. But I was right. He came home from work looking jaundiced and green around the gills. He told me if he died in the night, that he enjoyed knowing me. I told him if he felt like that, the ER was the place to go. But of course he refused…until he was so sick he finally asked me to haul him in.
Once there, the hospital did a few tests and said he had some blocked ducts and his liver enzymes were super elevated. He had waited too long with his gall bladder looking like a bag of gravel, adhered to his liver. His Mom said I probably saved his life by hauling him in. Anyway, the hospital liked having him around and kept him for 5 days straight.  Two surgeries later, things were looking up a bit. They couldn’t just poke holes in him and scoop out the gall bladder. They tried. But the darn thing was stuck to his liver and very inflamed, so surgery took 4 or 5 hours. The surgeon came out, looking very exhausted, and told us he would live, minus his gall bladder, and gave me wifely instructions. To entertain myself at his hospital bedside, and because I had too many noodles to accommodate, I started looking at real estate on line.
I’ve always loved Jefferson. Jerry was working in Lebanon at the hospital so it would ease his commute quite a lot. Plus we were having some tough things going on at the condos back then. A mentally ill man with a criminal history moved in with his mother with dementia. He threw a boulder threw her window when she locked him out. He shot my van with a sling shot. He jumped out of bushes to threaten me. I had worked with prisoners early in life, and knew how to scare him back, so he ran and hid. But it was stressful having to carry mace just to get the mail. Then my van got hit in Salem by a hit and run. Then as we were about to move to Jefferson, a deranged employee at the Safeway gas station waved a loaded gun right at Jerry and I….Jerry said, “if things go south, get down.” I told him things already went south! That’s a real gun!! Jerry managed to get a picture, so we were prime witnesses. The police came and scooped him off the pavement after that had him lay face down so they could snatch that gun from him. Well, you can see, we’d had just about enough of the wild west in South Salem. Moving to the country suited us just fine.
(Of course, Jerry didn’t think that the dietary rules post-surgery applied to him. He bullied me into buying him a bag of jerky and ate the whole thing. His tummy got swollen enough above the incisions that I called the doctor. I asked if I had to haul him in again, and they said, “no, but that was stupid.”  Sweetie threatened to have the homeless man go to McDonald’s for him. I told him he was addicted to junk food and I wasn’t going to enable him. So things got heated in our beautiful little lakeside condo. I wondered if we’d survive. I won’t mention any names, but someone I love threw a full container of hummus which imploded like a bomb. That was the day we were moving the beds to Jefferson.)
I ended up sleeping at our new home alone the first night. Mr Rogers, a runaway rabbit, slept outside my window all night under the moonlight. He was something of an angel. The dear man I had married lived with two rabbits, Oats and Barley, in the yurt he had built. That was back when we met. So I knew God sent me Mr Rogers to remind me that I was not alone, despite the stressors of recent months. Jerry was thrilled that our house came with this big grey rabbit and spent time with him, hoping he’d just adopt us. Then we learned the little girl in a nearby home missed her Mr Rogers. After four or five glorious days with that plump grey rabbit, Mr Rogers moved back home to his  hutch, and we grieved the loss. But we were very busy renovating our new home. Jerry still had recovering to do from his surgery. We decided to install cork flooring in his Music Room and our Art Room. Sweetie only really likes hand tools. It’s romantic but a lot of work. So we sawed every board and installed them. But neither one of us could get off the floor very well, so that got a bit humorous and pathetic. Mission accomplished though. Memories.
Now we have an Art Room, a Music Room, and MBR, and my wonderful office. We have a woodshop area in the 4 car garage. I have my succulent adventure going on in the back yard, which is my domain, and lots of fruit and fresh veggies growing for us to enjoy. Life is improving, even though my health is declining. During COVID, we are forming deeper connections with many neighbors around here. God opens doors for beautiful bonds to develop during times of adversity. I hardly notice the pandemic now, except Sweetie works from home and now we hear that will continue into October. I am enjoying this arrangement again now. When I fell, I just called him on my cell phone and said, “Can you do a BRB and come pick me up off the ground?” Where are you? I told him my location, splattered between the raised beds bleeding a bit. He is really good at helping me when I fall. So I am thankful. God guides us, and holds us close to His heart.

fences and lambs

Last evening my husband and I were returning from the store, and one of the lambs was outside of the fence. So we went back home, and I grabbed my boots and a rope and went to see if I could get the lamb back inside the pasture. I borrowed a kid on the way since I can’t run any more, and the kids father and another brother followed us out to the field. This is just a few minutes from our neighborhood. These aren’t my sheep, mind you, but the owner is an older fellow who is having some health problems.

When I arrived at the pasture, the lamb was already back inside the fence and a huge gaping hole in the rusty old poorly maintained fence made it obvious where he had escaped. I thought about how vital boundaries are in our marriages, for our health, and in so many ways. Many of us live in marriages where the fences are not always well-maintained. That can look like so many different things. Emotional neglect, love anorexia was a terms I think someone used, lack of intimacy, anger issues, the list goes on. In our marriage, sometimes we go too long without spending quality time together. Now and then, I think it was less lonely being single.  I can do something about this by finding ways to connect with my husband.  However just as the farmer needs to maintain his fences, marriage takes work. The sheep don’t get out so often when the when the fences are maintained properly.

As I was fixing the fence last night with some rope, bungee cord and leather, I thought about what kinds of things our marriage needs right now. Some of the things that reassure and comfort my husband include having a clean kitchen, keeping up with housework, and having order in the house. Sometimes these things are hard to achieve for me because of my health as multiple sclerosis progresses. But I felt like it was a gentle reminder last evening to me that our marriage will benefit from finding creative solutions to the challenges we face. I don’t know for sure what the future holds, and I can only do my part. But I do know that God speaks to me as one of His beloved lambs, and His word strengthens and encourages me. I’m reminded to look to the shepherd for all of my needs. One version of Psalm 23 says, the Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. In Christ, I don’t have to look at the things that are lacking in my life and be discouraged, I can look to Him for fulfillment and unconditional love. May He bless you today.

Q & A about Healthy Detachment

Q:  How did you get to healthy detachment?

My response: You ask such wonderful questions. I may need to ponder my response a bit more, but I’ll give it a try. I think I have a little advantage in that my career was in counseling. So our training taught us to hold unconditional positive regard for our clients while maintaining a healthy detachment. If I am working harder than a client, something is wrong. It’s their life when they walk in the door, and it’s their life when I leave. I’m learning to respond more consistently to people in my life in a similar way. I’m letting them deal with their own anger issues without engaging much. I won’t tolerate  control and unhealthy expression of anger. I am teaching others how to treat me.  I may create another blog where I write about this and related topics specifically, but not yet. Rest is what I need today for my health as MS gets more challenging.

What strategies help defuse tense situations rather than escalating things?

  •  I worked in the prison system when I was a young woman. They taught us what to do if taken hostage, use of deadly force, and all kinds of things in the training. I always try to remember some of the ways they taught us to keep things from escalating worse. One was just calmly saying the person’s name. I grew up with a father who was severely mentally ill at times, so I guess I learned to disengage from a young age. He would rage at me for hours if I allowed it. I would just think to myself, poor thing. And not allow his words to enter my heart if possible. Sometimes I just acted as an objective observer. I remember telling dad I’d work for him one summer on the farm but if he yelled more than 15 minutes I was going home and billing him for the full day. He agreed to it. Hang in there. It’s not easy, but we can learn a lot that helps us have quality lives despite the challenges. I have decided that I am going to be myself, do good self care, and let the chips fall where they may. I can have joy in the LORD and focus on my walk with Him, and find fulfillment in Him.  One day at a time, and trusting God to provide and guide me, including how to respond.

health CARE

Today I saw my neurologist. She was wonderful, her caring evident as she tried to adjust my mask so my glasses wouldn’t fog up. We talked about recent months, and it felt more like having tea with a friend than a doctor’s visit. But we still accomplished the necessary business at hand–my ongoing care as I live with the challenges of multiple sclerosis. She feels the progression is now secondary progressive and has been for awhile. That means that the nature of the deterioration is no longer due to lesions in the brain and spinal cord as much as it is damage to the axons and dendrites in nerves. As a result, the MS medication I’m on may not be very effective. Really, there isn’t a lot that can be done about it at this point…that is, in human terms. God can sustain me day by day just as He always has. She prescribed a ramp for the front door, so we can use our flex spending account if needed as we improve accessibility for my power chair in this home. She wrote a note saying a mobility service dog would be beneficial so I can get on some lists for a future dog to join my team. We compared notes about hot flashes that disturb our sleep and she told me that she uses a fan clipped to her headboard. We laughed together, empathized, and talked about dogs and husbands, and the common ground we share in this season of our lives. I left with a smile as she said I had brightened her day. She made my day pretty great as well. God, thank You for a caring neurologist and such sweet moments in the midst of this journey with MS. Thank you for Kathy, who so kindly drove me to the appointment and then stopped for produce at some great stores in Corvallis afterwards. Her fellowship blessed me. Life in this pandemic is made sweeter by time with her and others. Vicky biked over with her two adorable children and some donuts for Jerry and me. I sent her home with violas and yellow and purple flowers will grace her yard as a result.

Trapped and desperate, God’s tender whisper

Last evening I was really tired and not feeling the best, so I was afraid I’d fall asleep too early. I told Jerry I was going out for a little while, maybe to my friend’s She Shed to pray. ( I usually use my walker and get a little exercise or take the wheel chair for a spin, but I felt a nudge to take my van.) I asked God about going to the She Shed to think and pray, but instead I felt led to go to the sheep pasture despite the foreboding dark clouds and a few sprinkles. When I got there, I heard the urgent cries of a ewe and her lamb who lingered nearby, looking  very distressed. The ewe had stuck her head through the wire fence near the big metal gate, and she couldn’t get out. She might have been there for hours already. She was on her front knees, and she looked like she could barely sustain this position any longer. A big pile of sheep pellets (manure) sat immediately behind her, indicating maybe she’d been there way too long. Stuck. Panicky.

Knowing I could try to free her myself, I called DeDe who lives on the property to see if she could alert the owner. I could try to set her free, but didn’t want to injure her in the process. Dede and her son came out to try to help. I went through the gate to the other side of the fence after talking to her in soothing tones. As soon as I got directly in front of the ewe’s face (standing back a few feet), she panicked and bolted backwards. She was able to free herself with this sudden motion. I hoped she wasn’t wounded in the process. After watching her run to the flock with her relieved lamb right behind her, I gave thanks that the Holy Spirit had prompted me to come this evening. This ewe had already grown exhausted by the time I arrived and might have died if no one had discovered her predicament. Although she didn’t know it, she had the power to break free, but didn’t realize this until I stood in front of her and her adrenaline kicked in, allowing her to bolt straight back and rejoin the herd with a huge sigh of relief. As I unlatched the gate to let myself out of the corral, I heard Him whisper to me, “I am going to use your life to help set other women free, too.” I didn’t slip my feet out of my boots, but I felt as though I stood on holy ground in that moment.

I thought back on our conversation around the picnic table at Lake Charles earlier in the day. After two hours of quiet time with our Bibles, journals, and our beloved Savior, we usually gather and share from our hearts, and then pray for each woman after she tells us how God used this time. I shared with those women what I’d been through this past winter, and other women shared that they too had felt despair and trapped at times in their lives. We gave thanks that God has healed me emotionally and continues to bring freedom. They prayed that God would redeem my dark winter in powerful ways as I write about it. We prayed that the church will learn to talk about mental health and also abusive situations in healthy, constructive ways. The other women shared their stories, and God’s Spirit moved powerfully among us as we sat under the oaks of righteousness at Lake Charles.  Isaiah 61 kept coming to my mind. He sets the captives free, and brings beauty for ashes. After I shared, a lovely older woman shared her situation and we prayed for her. She decried the lack of equipping in the church to deal with abusive situations and mental health. She mentioned that her pastor’s wife committed suicide. This didn’t have to happen. Why didn’t the body of Christ recognize this woman’s pain and help? The stigma around mental health and also domestic violence has to end. I know that God allowed me to go through this tough time in my life so that He can use my story and new found empathy to help others who feel desperate and trapped, like this ewe.  After leaving the sheep pasture,  I stopped by the She Shed to record a video about how God spoke to my heart today before heading home to Sweetie. I pray that God will give me the courage to write about my experiences with honesty and power as He anoints my word for His redemptive purposes.

Hesed and “The Beautiful Struggle”

Sometimes people today take promises and vows lightly. Jerry and I married late in life, and partly because neither of us had ever been married, we both treasure the chance to have our own family. We were both independent and used to living as our lives as it suited us. He had his yurt that he had  built himself on some land, and he lived with two rabbits.  He was making a career change and doing graduate studies. I had Teddy, my border collie and at that point, lived in my peaceful condo on a beautiful lake. But God in His love and wisdom disrupted our ‘peaceful lives’ when He led us to meet and grow to love one another. In our younger years, we did what God called us to do as singles. I worked in China a few years and with international students here once I returned. Eventually I got my master’s in counseling. Around that same age, Jerry had served in Special Forces, using his very bright mind as a Farsi linguist. But we both desired to find someone to share this life with, and marriage remained a desire on both of our hearts.
Marriage is a wonderful classroom as Mike Fargo once told me before Jerry and I took the plunge and exchanged vows. We have enjoyed experiencing a powerful truth about marriage and what God loves to do through it. One really beautiful word in the Hebrew is Chesed or Hesed (I’ve seen it spelled both ways, which is kind of a transliteration from the Hebrew). God keeps His promises and covenants, and He enters into sacred covenants with the people He created at various times in the Bible. I won’t go into that here, but I’ve seen that the word has been translated in various ways–steadfast devotion, lovingkindness, enduring love, etc. The concept is demonstrated to us through various examples in the Bible. A picture of Christ and the Church–the Bridegroom and the Bride–is revealed through the covenant of marriage. Jerry and I, like most couples, have encountered lots of challenges since we said our vows and entered into a covenant before God with each other 5 years ago. The past year has been very tough in many ways, with loss of his father, both of our health challenges, and a global pandemic among many other things. However, I think of marriage as “The Beautiful Struggle.” We face ourselves. We grow. We persevere. Once I asked Jerry if he could continue to handle an ongoing challenge we were facing. I knew it was so hard on him, on both of us. “I’m not a quitter.” That’s steadfast devotion, a glimpse of God’s beautiful Hesed. Romance and marriage are portrayed by our culture in cheap ways–no real commitment or just a way to meet our own needs, among many other flimsy pictures. But God has something far more profound for us in marriage–a dying to ourselves as we live for Him, a letting go of our own selfish desires, and entering into His beauty and wonder as we become one. He wants us to know Him in deeper ways through this refining fire that we sometimes endure together. When we learn to show mutual respect for one another, and mutually submit/honor one another as joint heirs of the grace of God, marriage can be beautiful.
God’s Word has a lot of wisdom in how to grow as one. Ephesians 5, about love and respect and Christ’s example, can help so much as we apply the truth there. Also, Phil 2 teaches us to learn to follow Christ’s example of putting the interests of others in sacrificial ways.  When we find ways to sacrificially love and serve each other by His empowerment and grace, that’s shaping us into His image. We endured some very deep tests this winter, and I saw the best of the man I married–he led us spiritually, he helped me through a very rough time with compassion and love.  Rather than a battle of wills, we had reason to learn to lay down our lives for one another at various times in these five years, and God gave us grace and the power to do so. None of this covenant that we entered into is possible in our own strength. Only when God empowers us to live out this sacred covenant of marriage, which He does as one of the three cords that are not easily broken, can we thrive. He has woven His Presence into the fiber of our marriage in deeper ways over time. The cord is growing much stronger and holds securely. We continue on this beautiful struggle, more secure than ever in this covenant we share with each other and God.

Living in “unprecedented times”

As the world reels from the impact of the pandemic, I know that many around the globe are facing extremely stressful situations.  For those who have contracted the virus, to those fighting for their lives, and to those on the front lines of this battle, these are incredibly hard times. How has your life been impacted? How are you doing emotionally, physically and spiritually?

I am hoping to write a short series of posts about helpful ways that we can respond to hard times. My graduate training is in Rehabilitation Counseling , and I used to develop and offer trainings for professionals around the NW on the topic of addressing vicarious trauma (also known as compassion fatigue) through increasing resilience.  Also, living with MS and other adversity has given me personal perspective.  I have gained skill at doing “HARD” things over the years. This experience also reminds me of adapting to a new culture and way of life, such as when I lived and taught at Jiangxi Medical College in China for two years. Perhaps I can offer a few Pandemic Pointers, especially when it comes to mental health.

At the moment, I am thinking about how stress impacts sleep. Tonight, I am not feeling stressed, and sleep has been reasonably good for me in recent weeks.  I woke up at 2:30 am, and though I’ll soon go back to sleep most likely, I decided to try listening to some deep sleep music a friend recommended (thanks Kimberli .  I’ll let you know if it was helpful. I needed to open FB to get the link she sent on messenger…I know that screens are the wrong thing for sleep and will dim the light and put the laptop far from me in a moment. But first, I decided to write a few minutes.)

Sometimes in the night watches, God encourages my heart deeply. Recently that has been the case when I am awake even for a short time. We are living in “unprecedented times” as the media so often reminds us. Around the world, many are suffering. We see images of patients in overloaded hospitals and hear interviews of health care workers faced with the anguish of this pandemic and all the suffering has brought in various places. But we also see images of nurses gathering on the helipad to do battle in prayer together, and of people in quarantine singing in harmony from their balconies. We see Christians responding to the call to help in a culture that so readily attacks them for doing what honors God. Mike Lindell, a man whose life has been redeemed by God, has rapidly transformed much of his factories into making urgently needed face masks for health care workers and others during this crisis. Because he acknowledged God’s grace in his own life as he was speaking with President Trump, and encouraged people to use this time to read God’s Word and spend time as a family, he faced vicious attacks from the media and others. We are truly in a spiritual battle as well as a fight in the physical  and emotional realms.  God’s Word speaks of this, and reminds us that nothing can separate us from His love.

 I am so thankful that His Presence brings light and hope into my days. So thankful that “the eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the inhabited earth to strongly support those whose hearts are fully His.” That verse was a great comfort to me when I lived in Asia years ago and encountered health challenges or other daunting things. Lord, may my heart be fully Yours. Another verse that I treasured then and now says “as your days are, so shall your strength be.” 

What are the challenges you currently face? What are the gifts of this time in your life, even in the midst of these challenges?

My friend wisely said, “Never marry someone you wouldn’t want to be quaranteened with!’ I am thankful for my husband and the sweetness of our days shared recently.  During a difficult fall and winter in our lives, Jerry has really proven his love and maturity in deeper ways than ever.  I am really more in love with him than ever, aware that he is our spiritual leader in our home, and a covering over me in some ways. He has been working from home and in his free time planting vegetables and building a ukelele. He has encouraged me in my walk with God and I am so grateful for him.  God continues to strengthen us and enliven us to hopefully bless others during this time. Be safe, and be well. Abide in His love, whatever each day brings.

Creating Space for What Matters Most

Sometimes we can get caught up in working towards a goal, and in the midst of learning and trying to accomplish something, we lose sight of how this may be impacting us and our relationships.

Recently I made a prayerful decision to let go of a goal, for whatever time God leads me to do so. God gave me guidance in a number of ways…all culminating in a moment when the blur and strain of various responsibilities, emotions and concerns I’d been carrying over the past few months came into focus.

God spoke to my heart in the grocery store, when a fairly simple task felt like a big challenge. The motorized cart I used to gather the groceries for Thanksgiving dinner was full (and I had a few groceries already setting around my feet) and I couldn’t seem to find the frozen turkeys. People pointed here and there as they guessed where the turkeys were kept, but none of their guesses were anything more than a wild goose chase. I wanted to finish and go pick up my mom from her appointment, but I needed to find the turkey first. For a moment, I felt like pulling over and crying. Instead, I prayed, “Please help me, God.”

Finally, I asked the woman at the deli where they kept the turkeys, and whether someone could help me get the turkey to the check-out stand in the front of the store. She pointed at a freezer “island” in the back of the store, and she paged someone to help me. Before the customer service woman arrived to help, a nice young man working in produce (his first day on the job) picked up the 20 lb. turkey I pointed to, and he gladly carried the turkey up to the check-out stand where I took my place in line.

I am thankful for how God spoke an important truth to my heart as I rode the motorized cart around the store, and finally got the turkey and other groceries loaded into my van. Like that cart, my life had gotten too full recently. Health issues and major life transitions of loved ones, the recent loss of a beloved family member, and various other concerns all weighed heavily on my heart.

As I prayed more about all of this, I sensed God showing me that He saw the impact of all that. He is always glad to be with us and treats our weaknesses tenderly. With all of these major life events going on in our extended family in recent months, I realized I really need to create some space for what matters most. To do that, I needed to be willing to put a personal goal on hold, and trust God with this decision and the eventual outcome.

When I shared this decision with a friend, she commented that in Psalm 46:10, “Cease striving and know that I am God,” the language means to release something, to let go and to relax. In releasing this desire to God, I felt such genuine peace. I slept better. I felt able to be more emotionally present again. Offering love and practical support to loved ones began to feel natural again. My own health benefited from this letting go as well. Living with multiple sclerosis is more challenging than I often acknowledge. I try to live in light of eternity, but being realistic about my limitations and my own needs helps.

Sometimes a goal or focus takes on a life of its own, and we begin to work with singular focus towards reaching that goal. But as it says in Ecclesiastes 4:6, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after the wind.” Christ calls us to learn the unforced rhythms of grace as we yoke up with Him and find our burdens lighter because of His power and strength.

When God calls us to do something, we apply ourselves and put our heart into this task. Yet, when God leads me to let go of that same goal or task (even for a time or season), I want to obey without hesitation. When love motivates me to set something aside, I can trust God’s timing, His heart and His leading.

 

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.