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.

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.

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.

LOVE in the time of Corona Virus

Yesterday I needed to pick up a few things at the local grocery store. It was early and almost empty aside from employees. I wore a mask and gloves. I ended up having a deep, powerful conversation with the checker who was a beautiful sister in Christ I’d never met before. We talked about the very broad impact this is having around the world,  God’s Word and what the Bible says about times like we are living in. We talked about things with spiritual and emotional depth and will pray for each other. A beloved friend in Hong Kong is sending some masks, and her sister contacted me yesterday saying she had mailed us a large number of surgical masks. I am so touched by this expression of  love and compassion for the needs locally from this beloved friend.  This truly reflects God’s love.

Another friend shared with me this morning that she is experiencing panic attacks when she is off work. As a CNA she provides hands on care for some COVID patients in ICU and elsewhere, so while occupied with her work she does better, but other times the panic sets in. We prayed for one another and I will continue praying for her and all of you on the front lines, sacrificially doing your job in a way that reflects the Lord’s mercy for us despite the costs. Yesterday I had the chance to make eye contact with a few loved ones beyond my household, at a safe distance outdoors as I wore a mask and gloves when needed. How I treasured seeing the faces of a few people I love (without a computer screen making that possible). Our brains need this kind of opportunity to flourish.

Today Jerry asked me to call an insurance company (which serves veterans and has wonderful staff) and after attending to business, the agent, Cassie and I had some very precious fellowship in Christ. I’d never met her before but she commented how encouraged she felt as we talked, and again we went deep. Christ’s presence with us was evident to both of us, despite stay home orders and being in different parts of the country.

Interactions have potential to be such a blessing and God is enabling connections through many forms of technology. This morning I joined in the 5 Days of Prayer at Jefferson Baptist via Zoom. As I listened to the prayers of these dear brothers and sisters, I heard words that reflect the redemptive ways God is at work in these times. I heard prayers and compassion for all those impacted, and concern for hurting people in need. So many need protection and comfort. Tragically, people in our community and around the world are losing loved ones. These are truly painful, harsh times and even people who have lived through great adversity have never experienced anything quite like this. And yet, in the midst of it all, God is doing what He does so well–redeeming the suffering, transforming hearts, extending His love and offering eternal life for all those who embrace the gift of His Son, Jesus.

My husband is working from home right now, and our marriage and our health have been blessed a lot as a result of some resulting changes to routine. Look for the hidden blessings, and cultivate a grateful heart. Gratitude has powerful effects on our brains. When we give thanks to God and interact with Him, it turns on our relational circuits in the brain, and makes relating to others or even tackling tough issues much easier and more feasible.  Remember that God is love, and He invites us into His Presence moment by moment. Two years ago a friend and I had the joy of teaching some students from various countries about Immanuel Prayer, a way of enjoying Christ’s Presence and inviting Him into our days. Immanuel Journaling teaches our brains just how truly interactive God is, and the depths of His love and care for us. We can cry out “Dear Abba Father…thank you for how you are at work in this time of pandemic. Thank you for moving in hearts and lives and comforting and protecting many around the world.” He responds, “My dear child…” Through this interactive gratitude, God turns on our relationship circuits. Then we might imagine how He responds to our hearts in these ways:  “My dear child, I see you. I hear you. I understand how big this is for you. I AM glad to be with you and treat your weaknesses tenderly. I can do something about what you are going through.” Though this is just a glimpse of what we taught these precious believers, you might get some idea of this way of relating to God. As we journal or pray, we can connect with our Redeemer and also develop neural pathways that bring healing and deeper intimacy with the Lord. God often speaks powerfully to us through His living  Word, and knowing that He is with us in the midst of whatever we face makes such a difference. Having hope that transcends the harsh realities of life sustains us.

We are praying for all of those on the front lines. God is moving powerfully in hearts in the midst of all of this. Grieve when you need to, reach out for support when necessary. Pause and treasure the connections God makes possible. Life is fragile. You are loved. As much as you can, remember to lift your eyes from the fear-invoking media and the harsh losses and realities. When you fix your eyes on Jesus instead, peace can reign. Remember that in Christ, we are safe and secure (and Colossians 3 in the early verses may be really helpful right now), and neither life nor death nor principalities nor things present nor things to come can separate us from His love (Romans 8). Treasure these opportunities for reflection, a slower pace, and deeper connections with people and God. Life is uncertain and brief. This pandemic brings many things into perspective and reminds us what matters most. Let us know if we can pray more specifically for you or with you. God is worthy of all praise and honor, even in troubled times. His comfort transforms us and prepares us to share His powerful, genuine comfort with others.

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.

 

 

 

 

Hope in action

Ever since 1994 when I left China, so sad that health made long-term work there too difficult, I have wanted to return.  That summer, I came home with two suitcases, wishing life could always remain so uncluttered (and simple) and that my sense of purpose could remain so clear.  I still remember the joy I discovered when I first arrived in China.  I found out that teaching full-time was a tremendous joy for me.  I loved the students, and they loved me in a very pure way.  I don’t think I’d ever known such joy before life in Nanchang.  Perhaps in some ways joy was inspired by a new adventure, but my love for the people of China and teaching has never dimmed.    I loved living in a place far from home, a place where I was known simply for who I was and the gifts God had given me.

Sure, I missed home in some ways.  Just the crush of the crowds when I’d leave the north campus would give me a headache at first.  Crossing the street required excellent reflexes and courage in this wild traffic.  But I’d never felt such a sense of belonging and peace as I felt there on the campus of Jiangxi Medical College.  My students were bright and eager–and many of them came to the city from the countryside.    Many of them had little in the way of material resources.   Once I talked about how Americans love desserts and foods that are not so healthy–in fact those foods might just make a person fat.   Many of them were so thin their belts literally reached around a few times.  One very thin fellow raised his hand and wistfully said, “Miss Susan, I would love to be fat just once.”  Some of the girls told me that on their birthday, they would buy an egg or two to add to their noodles as a special celebration.  One of them wrote me a letter saying she hoped I’d have “something special for my dishes.”  For entrance exams, one farm family saved diligently  to provide their daughter with milk, fresh fruit and some more protein so she could study better.  She always remembered their sacrifice.  This same girl touched my heart when she told of planting rice with leaches stuck to her legs, and then she smiled and said, “it wasn’t so bad.”  On Thanksgiving, I asked my students what they were thankful for, and a young man held up his ballpoint pen.  “My pen,” he proudly said, “I’m thankful for this pen–it’s been a good one.”  Many times I fought back tears of admiration and love as I heard them express their hearts.  Those same hearts held such beautiful appreciation and promise…and I quickly grew to love my students and colleagues.   So naturally, I was heartbroken when I left for home, not yet knowing that multiple sclerosis was causing the problems, though it had been suspected earlier.

Today something magical happened by God’s grace.  I have saved air miles for several years.  I have hoped for adequate health to travel so far again, and seldom has it looked feasible.  But today, I felt excitement and great hope when I called to book a ticket to China.  At last, I’ll set foot on Chinese soil again.  I’ll see dear friends in Hong Kong, south China, and central China.  For $300 and some patience, I was able to purchase the remaining air miles needed, pay the taxes, and the wonderful rewards desk woman helped me for a good long while as we searched for a ticket I could reserve.  I prayed it would happen, and somehow I knew it would.  Guess what, I am going back to the land I love!  I thought it would be fun to share the journey through this blog…and recount some of the memories formed long ago in a time I treasured.