celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a caring father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Man of Sorrows, Acquainted with Grief

Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2010 during a time when health limitations felt a bit discouraging. Perhaps these words will encourage your heart now, as we journey to the cross again this spring.

Ever get weary? Ever need some encouragement? I do.

I’ve never found renewal or encouragement by focusing on hard circumstances, but when I turn my face to Him, He comforts me.

I’m thankful for the verses that tell us Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; I’m thankful that we have hope beyond this life and these bodies. Take a look at Isaiah 53:2-12.

Sometimes I feel discouraged by the idea that my life’s potential has been diminished by a neurological condition.

God has, over the years, shown me that this thinking is not accurate in His economy. Still it can be discouraging to have fewer opportunities to use the skills and gifts He’s given me.

Sometimes I miss looking healthy and fit, and a wheelchair or walker doesn’t make me look either. In fact, some people make assumptions about someone using such equipment and devalue them or write them off.

I miss doing counseling, writing trainings and workshops, and teaching groups. Last night I grieved some of the losses I face. However, I was so struck by the passage in Isaiah and noticed new things as I read the New Living Translation.

Our values needn’t be shaped by the world, but by the example of our Savior. Early in the chapter we read that there would be nothing beautiful or majestic about the Messiah’s appearance, nothing to attract us to Him. Verse 3 tells us that Jesus was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. Last night this verse comforted me as tears warmed my cheeks.

The next verse reminds us that it was our weaknesses He carried, it was our sorrows that weighed him down.

He suffered horrible abuse— Jesus was beaten and whipped, suffering ultimately for our wholeness and healing. He was pierced for our rebellion, and crushed for our sins. Jesus knew oppression and harsh treatment. Yet he never said a word.

Isaiah 53:8 really struck me because sometimes I feel sad that I will never have my own biological children. It says, “Unjustly condemned, he was led away.” (The footnote shares that in the Greek version it says: He was humiliated and received no justice. Compare Acts 8:33.) No one cared that Jesus died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. (One Greek version reads: Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.)

Isaiah 53:8 wraps up saying, “For he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.” The passage continues to speak to my heart. Imagine the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, being mocked, crucified and buried as if he were a vile criminal. Imagine Isaiah prophesying these things would happen, and every detail being fulfilled.

When I read verse 10, it spoke profoundly to my heart: “But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.”

Catch that—Jesus will have many descendants…and this is only possible because of Christ’s willingness to suffer and die in order to redeem all of us who would believe on His name and find life for all eternity. Verse 11 says, “When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied…”

By His death and resurrection, it is possible for many of us to be counted righteous, for the Savior would bear all of our sins. Our dirty hearts and lives are washed clean in the blood of the Savior. We are set free!

Beautiful! Instead of a few earthly descendants, Jesus will have thousands of descendants throughout eternity, and who knows what impact our lives can have when yielded fully to the Savior’s loving eternal purposes.

In our suffering, we have the opportunity to be conformed further into the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. As He abides in us, and we abide in Him, eternal mysteries are accomplished. Christ in you, the hope of glory…that’s a mystery that gives life and hope to weary souls.

We will run and not grow weary, walk and not faint as we learn to follow in the example of the Messiah who willingly laid down His life for our redemption. He chose to do the Father’s will and accept the cup of suffering as He allowed those who opposed Him to nail Him to the cross after beating and mocking Him.

His sacrifice and intense suffering paid off in exponentially greater, eternal ways than we could grasp with our finite minds.

Because Christ obeyed the will of the Father, we have the opportunity to be joint-heirs with Him!

Though we may know infirmity and severe suffering in this life, we have a hope and joy that can transcend these limitations and hardships.

I love Hebrews 12:1-2, and will close with these words: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)

Let’s learn from the example of Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy set before Him. We who are redeemed by His blood are His joy.

Although I won’t ever have biological children, I have known the wonder if seeing others accept Christ as their Savior and LORD, and grow in His grace and truth. Some opportunities to share my faith have arisen precisely because God allowed me to live with multiple sclerosis.

This earthly life goes by quickly. Live it for His glory!

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

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.

Stewardship of our most precious resource

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

God spoke to my heart recently about stewardship of my time, energy and attention. We live in an era where the tendrils of technology have invaded the daily life of most human beings.

Distraction and “opportunities” abound as so many aggressively compete for your time, focus and attention.

However, if we allow the sirens of our day to seduce us, we may essentially lose our ability to spend our lives–our time, energy and attention–in the way that most honors God Most High.

Today I am going to focus on His Word and on spending my most precious resources in ways that have eternal value. I am going to be obedient to the calling He has placed on my heart.

I’m going to ignore all of those pleas for me to watch another workshop about how to market things to others, how to build a virtual following, or in some other way enrich my own ‘platform’ or business. Sometimes the focus on SELF sneakily underlies so many of the messages of our times.

I remember these words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

Imagine if the Apostle Paul had been distracted by social media and occupied with extending his virtual reach and making more money rather than being a bondservant of Christ! His powerful letters to the churches wouldn’t exist today. The Gentiles might have never heard the gospel.

I am not simply a source of revenue, another number added to the virtual reach and ‘platform’ of others, or a potential buyer to convert with persuasive language.

I am cherished by God. He created me. He gave me the gift of this day.

May I use my time, energy and attention wisely, for His glory and honor and praise. May I die to my own flesh and live in the splendor of His Spirit, living out His beautiful purposes for this day.

Ouch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

As I sit by our fire this morning, I pray that God will guide us today. I am thankful that as believers, have His Presence with us, and we have the Word of God to help us make sense of the times we are living in.

Sometimes trying to understand the world around us these days becomes a very complex thing. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers or full insight into what’s going on at all. I am prayerfully seeking to understand more. In truth, we’re in an intense spiritual battle.

But none of what is going on in the world surprises God. His ways are higher. He is all-knowing. He created the heavens and the earth. He is sovereign. He will not allow anything to happen that does not ultimately move us towards His eternal purposes. Even if what He allows is painful and seems very terrible, He will ultimately redeem it and set all things right. He told us in this world we would have many troubles.

But again and again His Word tells us not to fear.

“My peace I leave with you,” Jesus said.

That’s a powerful gift He left with us.

Rest in His peace, abide in His love.

the journey within

One of my friends commented something about how Christmas letters were a bit harder to write this year. With not going anywhere or doing anything (well, at least it may feel that way), it changes our lifestyles a lot. We all joked about what we could write in a Christmas letter.

But I have been thinking–maybe this is a special opportunity.

What about the journey within you? How have you grown this year?

How have you changed? What have you learned?

How has your spiritual life changed or grown? In what ways have you seen God’s faithfulness?

What adaptations and adjustments have you navigated successfully? Which ones are you still working on?

I’d love to hear your responses to some of these questions. I am thankful that God redeems the things we go through, and our times are in His loving hands.

a family I’ll remember

Today I met a beautiful family at The Penny Cottage Christmas event. The three young children, a baby and their mother caught my eye right away. The two girls had matching red and black plaid dresses and neatly braided and styled hair. I visited with their mom about her table. She is helping connect local people with things made by artisans in other countries who have been rescued from trafficking and other tragic situations. I enjoyed learning about this avenue of helping others.

I loved meeting this family, and as the mom tended to her table preparations, the little girl in a wheelchair gestured for me to come take a look with her at the mural on the wall. “Look,” she said in wonder. “What do you think that is?” We enjoyed the picture of the river on the wall, and I told her I really liked her red plaid dress. She noticed that it matched my red plaid fleece jacket. I asked if her mother sewed it, and she nodded. I asked how old she was, and she said, “Three.” We’re the about the same age, she said. I told her I wish I was three like her, and almost four, too.

The oldest boy, wearing a tidy button down blue plaid shirt emerged from the stairway, and excitedly shared with his younger sister what he saw upstairs as vendors were setting up. The elder sister also smiled and told her about the treasures she saw upstairs. Then the two kids headed off to explore some more.

The youngest girl’s face lit up and she asked me if I’d unbuckle the seatbelt to her wheelchair and carry her upstairs so she could see the delightful things her brother had been describing, too. I told her I’d love to, but I don’t have the best legs myself, so we went over and asked her mom about her request. Her mom shared with me the miracles God has done in the life of this precious little girl, nearly 4 now. She truly is an answer to prayer and meeting her and her family touched my heart. As I listened, my heart rejoiced at the loving family she is surrounded with, and I felt in awe of what God has done through the measure of healing He’s given her. By His grace, she’s defied many sobering medical predictions even before she was born, and her mom glorifies the LORD as she shares what God has done.

This bright girl had a sparkle in her eyes, and when I saw her upstairs, she had ‘adopted’ a handmade little gold-colored yarn toy. She held the adoption certificate in her hand, and thrilled with her treasure (a gift from their friend), she wanted to go show her mom. The braces on her legs and her wheelchair don’t slow down the spirit and love of this remarkable child one bit.