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

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.

What if loving our neighbors looks different than we expect?

The Bible encourages us to love our neighbors as ourselves. What if applying that truth looks different than we expect? What if loving our neighbors includes tough love, just as having healthy boundaries is part of loving ourselves and those around us?

Sometimes we blow it. We all need God’s grace. Thankfully, His grace and love for us (and our neighbors) abounds.

I seek to tell myself the truth, so being honest with others is important too. Healthy communication requires both parties being willing. When I feel weary of poor communication and being treated in ways that don’t feel okay to me, I try to look to the LORD for help. Certainly, being human, I might do or say something that doesn’t help, that doesn’t build up others. When that happens, I need to apologize. Last night I had that opportunity. I did apologize, but I’m not sure the other party heard me over the equipment. So I’ll do it again later, when God enables me to do so. Even though I could hold onto my own hurts and frustration….that’s not God’s way. So I’ll ask Him to help us relate to those nearby in ways that honor Him.

I’ve been choosing to worship as I water outside. I’ve been praying blessing over my neighbors, even them. Especially them. Because God loves each person infinitely more than I could grasp.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love keeps no record of wrongs. (That one is hard for some of us, and maybe for women especially.)

Sometimes, in self-preservation mode, I think women tend to hold onto hurts. We nurse them. We decorate our hearts with those hurts so we’ll remember not to let others have another chance to hurt us again.

But that’s not what we’re called to do. We are called to love.

Faith, hope and love.

The greatest of these is love.

Love never fails.

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.)

Trapped

Today my husband and I awoke at the Oregon Gardens, and after a delicious breakfast at the lodge, we went for a roll/walk (I roll, he walks) around the gardens. We saw a doe and two fawns, hummingbirds, and other wildlife. We saw the rising sun cast soft filtered light upon the gardens, and I recalled how it all began in the Garden. Coming here is like going home for me, and time in the Oregon Gardens is so renewing. Since our family farm is just up the road, the woods and the hills feel familiar, like the land we farmed as a family in my youth. In fact, I can see part of our farm from these gardens, off in the distance. That part of the farm, on Hibbard Rd, has been farmed by the Kuenzi family for 102 years now.  The land is part of us. After Jerry and I went into Silverton to buy him a hat, we had some lunch and a nap. Much needed rest felt so good to both of us. COVID has been a stressful season of time, and life in our small town has held both joys and trials.  In the afternoon, I drove over the my Mom and Arie’s to pick up a prescription I really needed which my friend had kindly gotten for me today. I didn’t feel up to driving downtown Salem to get it, so I had run out and her kindness meant a lot. I told her sometimes I feel trapped in this body, and pain and limitations can make daily life hard and wear me down emotionally.

A few weeks ago, I fell in our garden, spraining several limbs and my wrist and knee, gashing my leg on the cinder blocks, and reminding me that indeed the secondary progressive stage of multiple sclerosis can be quite discouraging. My legs give out randomly and the treatment for MS no longer is effective. The nature of the progression is such that the deterioration is not in the brain and spinal cord so much as it is in individual nerves. So simple tasks like swallowing my food or vitamins can result in heaving. I’ll do speech therapy for that problem, but again there’s not a lot that can be done. Medically speaking, I’m told just to adapt our lives to the power wheelchair, so ramps and home modifications have occupied our days in recent weeks. I started PT and an OT came to the house to help me figure out adaptations that need to be made as soon as possible. The health crisis that has been steadily approaching for the past nine months is here, and likely here to stay. The OT told me it is important the my environment support me. I am extremely grateful for long time friends and new friends who have helped out with doing dishes and cleaning or organizing while we work out better ways to get things done at home. Jerry continues working at home during COVID. He couldn’t get time off to run me to the doctor the day I fell, so a friend from high school kindly offered. Every genuine need that arises is met by a loving God who sees me. He knows. He understands. I can’t balance well enough most of the time to do all of the house work.  This is hard for my husband and me both. We do the best we can.

I think about that phrase, “when your environment supports you, life will get easier.” To be honest, lately I’ve noticed the things around us that not only don’t support us, but at times attack me and kick me when I’m down.  I don’t have the energy for drama in our neighborhood and I will not be engaging with any of that from here on, either virtually or in person. We will build a fence and set appropriate boundaries emotionally and physically because healthy boundaries matter.

We managed to stay neutral for two years for the most part, but we moved into a neighborhood with some lovely people who also had long standing strife between them. The police get called, and people tell us about their conflicts, and we have simply responded that we are praying to be able to love our neighbors, to remain neutral. When we left for this little vacation, however, my heart was grieved. Not only did our neutrality vanish when someone chose to verbally attack me and say horrible things (which were not true) in front of children that I love, but I will never again trust the people who chose to treat us in this way. I will forgive them because Christ forgave me, but that does not mean I will ever be required to trust them unless they earn that trust. In fact, I have chosen to forgive them already. I stood in the Secret Gardens, with my power chair a few feet away, and watched the stream flow under the little bridge. Like it says in Job, we can recall our troubles as waters gone by. I choose to forgive. Not because it was okay to treat us this way, but because we have a living and true God who loves us. He forgives us and forgives those who condemn us and speak lies about us to others. God’s Word says that He restores unto us the years the locust has eaten. I feel lately as though a swarm of locusts just ravaged our fields and home.

Home hasn’t felt comfortable recently. It’s rough living each day in a body that is not only struggling but declining in terms of  health, mobility and balance. Strife among people around us and anger directed and us didn’t feel good. But over and over God spoke these words to my heart:  The battle belongs to the LORD. There’s a verse that says, “Do not go into the fields of the fatherless for their Redeemer is so very strong.” I don’t need to defend myself against lies and mistreatment. I have a Savior who was betrayed, and misunderstood. He knows what it is to be falsely accused.  Yet Jesus humbled Himself, even to the point of allowing those angry mobs to crucify Him. He went to the cross for me and for my neighbors, and for each person we love or struggle to relate to. He desires that none would perish. John 3:16 talks about how  He extends His love to all of us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so whoever believes on Him would not perish but have eternal life.” My identity has nothing to do with the false things someone said about me two days ago in front of children that I care about. My identity is found in the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ, who gave His life for me and for those same people who feel justified in treating me this way.  God knows the truth. I need not defend myself to anyone. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD.  I will bow my knees now in gratitude and humility. We all need a Redeemer.

Forgiving others doesn’t mean that we will trust them necessarily. We can allow them to earn our trust, and that may never happen. That’s okay. We know the truth and we rest in the Way. the Truth and the Life.  Colossians 3 says to set our minds on the things above. Paul goes on to say that we rest in our identity and position in Christ. The things of earth grow strangely dim when we are able to do this.

I am loving time with my husband in this beautiful place. He is sleeping peacefully now. This morning a doe and her two fawns walked very close to us, at peace and accustomed to human beings coexisting with them in the gardens. When we moved to Jefferson, we hoped that we would feel that way, safe and accepted in our community. (Sometimes living there has felt a bit like the wild west. When we first moved in, the SWAT team was in the neighborhood several times. A suicide devastated a family. We heard other stories that brought us to our knees in prayer. We grew to love many in this rural community.  We’ve made some beautiful friends, and I am very grateful.)

Recently, that feeling of peace and comfort was disrupted in a big way. But we know that in Christ, we can abide in Him and be at peace, no matter what is going on around us. In Revelation, it says that “they overcame the accuser of the brethren by the Word of their testimony and the blood of the Lamb.” The enemy of our souls seeks to steal, kill and destroy. Whether I am bleeding from crashing into a mailbox, or bruised and battered after another bad fall due to MS, I know that some people will respond with great compassion and mercy. Others will not. That will hurt. It’s okay, though.  I am called to keep my eyes on Jesus and to recognize that only then can I live at peace among people who wound others by their words and actions. Wounded people wound people. It’s an age old problem, ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. I will not be relating to anyone in our neighborhood via social media or going out without my phone in the future. For one thing, when I fall I need to call for help. Jerry came out and scooped me up when I fell in our garden a few weeks ago. His arms felt so good around me. Some other loving friends have been helping us adapt our home and make everything more wheelchair accessible. I remember how Corrie ten Boom spoke comforting words to her sister Betsy (before Betsy  died in the concentration camps where they experienced the most brutal abuse imaginable and inhumanity from other humans). Corrie comforted Betsy with these words: “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”

When I fall, whether people nearby criticize or speak to me with accusations, or whether they pick me up and hold me close like my husband did, I can be at peace. Because although I do need my environment to support me more, God is at work. The ramps are getting built and we have a few more to set up. I will get a different kind of walker that we hope will prevent at least most of the falls. The bruises and sprains will heal. The gashes from the cinder blocks and also the rusty mailbox near my flowerbed are healing. So is my wounded heart. I have released those who hurt me most by forgiving them. I will fix my eyes on Jesus and abide in His love. I am planting succulents and dreaming of a service dog who can help me with mobility and getting up when I fall. A dog’s unconditional love can be so healing. I am blessed by friends around the globe who truly love me and support us in this hard time.

For momentary light afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.  Paul’s words resonate with my heart in a deep way tonight .  The eyes of the LORD search to and fro throughout the inhabited earth to strongly support those whose hearts are fully His. Really, Paul experienced shipwrecks and assaults both physically and emotionally. He counted all things loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our LORD. He considered those things he lost as rubbish in contrast to the wonder and beauty of knowing the Redeemer. I think about people around me who are afraid to attend church or really explore who Jesus is because of the way some who profess to know Him have treated them. Granted, human relationships can get complex, and in this fallen world, conflicts arise. But that’s a tragedy. My prayer is that those who call upon the name of the LORD will live in ways that honor Him and that we will be ready to give account for the hope that is within us. Romans 8 says that we have been set free into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We are adopted, loved, treasured, and nothing can separate us from His love. I cannot fall from grace or lose His unconditional love. Nor can I do anything that would separate me from His lavish grace and precious love. So if I bleed a bit, or get bruised and beaten up emotionally, I can count it joy as I encounter these trials. To suffer for His name is not a disgrace but an honor. I am His and His banner over me is LOVE. Underneath are the everlasting arms, and soon I will rest next to my husband, peacefully sleeping in His lovingkindness and Hesed. His steadfast covenant love holds me close when I am hurting. No matter how I am treated in this life by other people, I am fully loved, fully accepted and fully forgiven. His banner over me is LOVE. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness towards those who fear (revere, worship) Him. I am so thankful God gave Jerry and I these four days in to walk (or roll along in a power chair) in the Garden with our Creator.

May you rest fully in His love, be at peace and strengthened by the joy of the LORD, which does not depend on circumstances. I am my Beloved and He is mine. His banner over me is love.  Sometimes I feel trapped by my body as MS progresses. I get tired of falls and pain, limitations and the harsh realities that come with this. A few days ago I felt so weary of living among human beings who aren’t always kind to one another. I felt claustrophobic and so eager to get away from a culdesac where struggles wearied my soul. I am stuck living in this body which isn’t easy.  In a few days, we will return home and resume life together, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient. We can trust that His power will be made perfect in our weakness.  Though being away is wonderful, I am no longer dreading returning home. I will keep my eyes on Jesus and we’ll be okay. Life with MS and other health issues we face together will never be easy. We’ve been dealt a very tough deck of cards between us. We are so blessed to have friends and family who love us and help us. I still look forward to eternity where no more tears and no more suffering will exist. In His Presence is fulness of joy. And, I can enter into His Presence as I worship and explore the beauty of these gardens with my husband.  I am free in Christ. Now to go and lay down beside the one in whom my soul delights and join him in peaceful slumber.

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.

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.

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.