remembering the life of a cousin who reflected Christ’s beauty

Yesterday I drove down rural roads which usually bring such joy, and even peace, to my heart as the beauty of the fields, trees, and farms delight my soul. This drive felt so different.

Instead of passing by green pastoral scenes, fields, and lovingly landscaped properties, what I witnessed instead grieved my heart. I had to drive carefully to avoid debris still sticking out into the road.

I knew that the recent ice storms had been brutal for many. Locally, I had seen some branches down and a few toppled trees. But I hadn’t been out for a drive since the storm hit last weekend, taking down many power grids and trees with it, and leaving so much chaos in its wake.

Now, limbs and branches, and entire logs littered the side of the road, and many trees and scenes looked as though they had survived a war zone. The natural beauty, marred by a storm causing so much havoc, now bore the marks of anguish instead.

Multiple times flaggers asked me to stop and wait while the men working to restore the electricity to these rural homes focussed on their task at hand. They must be so exhausted after a full week of working long hours outside. I prayed for them. As of today, 10% of the customers will remain without power reports say. I know that my family who have endured a full week of outages are weary, too.

I saw a few homes with a tree still on their roof and a few with tarps seeking to keep out the rain.

Seeing so many trees scattered across the landscape, and branches that had snapped during that terrifying ice storm brought back other memories of my youth–helping my family or cousins store up some wood for winter with chainsaws buzzing as we cut trees into firewood.

But I had a destination in mind on this grey, rainy morning, and when I drove past my parent’s acreage I prayed that their power would soon be restored. I would visit them after the memorial and see if I could offer any help.

Whenever I saw familiar trees which had survived the storm without much damage, I felt a sense of relief. Somehow the trees have become part of us, just as the land in this beautiful valley holds a very special place in our hearts for those of us who grew up on these farms.

But then I arrived at my destination after a little less than an hour of driving. The Apostolic Church in Central Howell had their electricity restored in time for the memorial of a very beloved man, my cousin Lynn Kuenzi.

The sweet refrains of a cappella hymns filled the narthex and sanctuary, and I instantly relaxed, thankful to be in this place that Lynn loved so much.

Memorials at this church always bring me back to my early years in life. Memories of growing up with many of these cousins come flooding back.

The loving words of the men sharing from the front about Lynn’s life followed another hymn. The man we had come to honor had lived a life that left many with warm and life-giving memories as they paid their respects and shared their sorrows together in this place.

A humble man who didn’t draw attention to himself, who loved so well. A man who had used a wheelchair for decades, but lived a life rich in meaning and relationships.

Lynn loved his Savior, and he treasured his large extended family and Swiss heritage. Most of all he lived a life characterized by joy, a focus on those things that are lovely and worthy of good report (we listened to Philippians 4), and on the gospel. Though Lynn lived with physical affliction for much of his life, he found his strength in the LORD as this passage reminds us to do.

One man, Don Sinn, recalled singing tenor with Lynn and how he loved the hymns of their faith tradition. The focus of the reflections magnified the Lord Jesus whom he lived for. Don shared how Lynn had come to know Christ as a young man, and others observed a new joy in his life. Lynn’s changed heart and life drew Don to embrace Christ and the gift of eternal life, too.

Lynn loved to share good farm cooking with his wife and kids. He loved to gather at the table with family and friends, and he savored good food. He often wrote about these times (and the menus) in his weekly missive he called the Monday Morning Mumblings. He wanted to share the things he loved with those who lived far away. He wanted to share the simple beauty of home, faith and family. He loved watching birds and the activities and beauty of the farmland around him through each season. He treasured his large extended family and his church family, which has kept many traditions and lived in ways intentionally set apart from the chaos of our times.

Completely unaffected by the events of recent days and unaware of the purpose of this gathering, a tiny girl peaked over her father’s shoulder from the pews ahead of us. She seemed to have discovered her tongue recently, and with a satisfied grin she stuck it out a bit as she made faces at other children and those of us sitting behind her. Her contagious joy reminded me of the way Lynn had managed to connect with his faith and loved ones during this sometimes tough life, and how he didn’t focus on politics or negative things. He truly focussed on what is good, honorable and noble as the passage encourages us to do.

As I listened, the scenes of the aftermath of the storm faded away, replaced by the wholesome memories and the lives touched by Lynn’s faithful walk with God.

Even in really hard times, Lynn always seemed to find something positive to say, reminding us all to look up and to look ahead to our eternal hope.

I worked in counseling, and in the past I’ve met with people whose spirits seemed marked by the trauma they had endured. Much like the landscape littered with limbs and downed trees, their internal landscapes often lack peace. They need healing and often I led them into the Presence of the LORD who heals and restores the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Today, in the presence of many cousins and others who attend this church, we remembered a man whose life instead reflected the beauty of the LORD who saved him years ago.

Many of us reflected on our hope as my cousin Harvey spoke of the passage in Acts 3 where the man who could not walk waited by the temple gate. This man who had been lame from birth encountered the healing power of Jesus as Peter prayed for him. Rather than handing him silver or gold as he hoped, Peter prayed for him: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Then, taking him by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

I grew up with Harvey, and listening to him so lovingly share from God’s Word gave me peace. This story from Acts 3 means so much to me, too. I smiled as Harvey commented that Brother Lynn was now walking and jumping and praising God in the Presence of His Lord and Savior.

The cares of this life faded away in that moment. The walker beside my chair will one day be completely useless. Walking and jumping will be easy again! One day I will join Lynn in enjoying fully restored health as we who know Jesus as LORD will worship Him with deep and lasting joy.

the verboten TV

Long ago, I remember sitting with my Swiss Grandma Tillie in their farmhouse up on the hill. The sound of her clock ticking on the fireplace mantel marked the seconds audibly. Her long silver hair always looked tidy under the net that kept it styled neatly above her shoulders. That evening, she asked me to turn on the verboten TV (I pulled the button out as remotes weren’t how she operated that black and white screen), and after a few minutes of world news, Grandma made a face and said, ‘That’s ugly! Turn that thing off!”

She and Grandpa and Aunt Velma didn’t usually watch TV. Grandma had a little electric organ she played hymns on. We would gather around and sing off key. Happy memories with my family. Now that Grandpa had passed away, her organ and the TV were still considered worldly, but she kept them around anyway. She understood God’s grace, and she wasn’t bound by all of those legalistic ideas. But unless you turned on that TV, it simply collected dust. She preferred it that way. The violence and chaos of the world beyond their hillside farm didn’t often reach her eyes and ears.

Unlike most people nowadays, Grandma hadn’t grown desensitized to the images and noise of this world. She simply couldn’t endure watching much news. I feel that way about social media and some of our news nowadays. I seldom turn on our TV. I can read enough articles to stay abreast of things well enough to pray. My husband informs me of major things in his good natured way, inserting humor to lighten the mood as needed. Life’s too short to spend all of our time captivated by images and words on a screen. I’d rather look into the eyes of someone I love, and plant succulents, and spend time with lambs in the spring. I love to go for a drive and look at the fall colors with my Sweetie.

If Grandma Tillie were alive today and saw all that’s going on in our state and world, she wouldn’t be spending much time with the news on. She’d read her Bible. She liked to grow African violets. She’d visit over a cup of tea with her large extended family and neighbors. She liked to ask us to weigh on her old scales when we came in the sliding glass door. She probably missed her calling as a nurse. Grandma never learned to drive a car. She had Mr. Kuenzi drive her around in their huge old light green Chevy Impala (with a white hard top and 400 engine) until he died. Then she’d get rides from family or have us pick up groceries for her in Silverton. She would rather can green beans and serve up some vanilla wafers with pudding. She’d lift the lid of her cookie jar and offer us an oatmeal cookie (often a little hard), and visit about something positive, like the new baby a cousin just added to the family. Somehow she kept track of our hundreds of cousins and delighted in their news, sharing this joy with a twinkle in her grey blue eyes.

Grandma understood that what we focus on influences our outlook and quality of life. Granted, we need to understand what’s going on and do what we can, and certainly pray. We are called to pray continuously. But, we live in a fallen world, and our hope just isn’t here. In Christ, we have a hope that transcends all of the things going on. One day, this upcoming election won’t be so crucial. Fires won’t fill the sky with dark clouds of smoke and ashes. None of the social chaos and pandemic will be able to disturb us. Not when we see Jesus face to face. The things of earth really will grow strangely dim as the hymn says. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we’re passing through this life as we hopefully grow to be more like our Beloved Savior, by His grace. Left to our own devices we’d be such a mess.

Even if you feel like a mess, take heart. God is in the transformation business…from ashes, He brings beauty. From filthy rags, emerges a garment white as snow because of His sacrificial gift of eternal life and forgiveness. We have reason for joy and peace despite this very messy world we live in. As Abbott Marmion wrote, “Joy is the echo of Christ’s life in us.” Now that’s beautiful.

gang activity during the pandemic

We live in a neighborhood with lots of gang activity. A gang of little girls, all quite young, like to knock on our door in the evenings lately. Their voices and smiles have become familiar. Their eyes sparkle with hope and expectancy. “Do you need any help?” I have tried to give them something to do in the area I’m landscaping out front, so they’ve planted many a succulent in recent days, often with the warmth of community and joy reflecting in their young eyes. When I answered that I was quite tired tonight, so maybe not, their sweet freckled faces fell in disappointment. The littlest one’s dimpled smile didn’t appear as usual.

“Oh, okay, I can show you girls where you can plant some succulents.” Their bicycles were already parked by the newly landscaped area next to our driveway. The sweet voices of little girls echoed in the cool evening air as they each grabbed a succulent start from the bigger planter and found a spot to poke a hole with their finger like I had shown them before. Then they carefully poked the root into that hole and patted the cold black soil around it, tucking the chicken and hens into the soil that will nurture life. One girl smiled brightly and said, “When you come out in the morning, you’ll find all of these small ones planted for you.” She looked so proud to be helping and others cast knowing looks.

In time these succulents will spread, and the pandemic will be behind us. Life will take over where only weeds once invaded the dirt and bark dust. The girls will remember these shared moments of joy and purpose when they ride their bikes past our place. I’ll smile, too. The red dirt rocks I brought from our farm near Silverton will remind me of generations of Swiss immigrants farming the hill country together. ┬áMemories of working side by side as a family on the farm that Kuenzis have farmed for 102 years and counting will come flooding back when I see those rocks. The discarded utility sink I brought from my grandparent’s farm house will have succulents hanging over the side, and a clematis climbing forth and blossoming later this summer. Those memories of my Swiss heritage and being part of a hard working farm family will belong to me. But this small garden will belong to our neighborhood, planted together by a gang of kids and some adults who also volunteered (or earned a bit), enjoying the wonder of working side by side to create beauty that endures.