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

A Special Tradition for New Years

Years ago, I began a tradition I really enjoy on New Year’s Eve or the first day of the new year. I sit by the fire, and I write a letter to Jesus, expressing the desires of my heart, and thanking Him for answers to prayer.

I save these letters in one place, and each year I enjoy looking at the letters from previous years, and I can see all that God has done in our lives in the intervening time. This exercise has become something that I look forward to each year.

May God bless each of you as the calendar turns a page to 2021 tonight. This past year has held many challenges, but we’ve seen God answer prayer and sustain and strengthen us in His Hesed–His steadfast devotion, His covenant love, and His enduring grace.

May this next year hold healing and growth for each of us, and a drawing near to our faithful Redeemer.

Most of us hope for a calmer year next year, but in the midst of the west coast fires, the global pandemic, and various other challenges, we have seen His beautiful provision, grace and His Hesed in ways we’ll never forget.

Psalm 37

longing for comfort and truth?

We live in bizarre times. If you’re looking for comfort and truth, you won’t find these in the news.

The government won’t provide it. The media won’t either.

They can’t give you what they don’t have.

Expect adversity, but hope for peace.

The world doesn’t have a lot of peace to offer right now. In fact, the whole earth is in distress.

A pandemic rages.

Storms, fires, and political turmoil have ravaged many places. Entire countries are in crisis.

Seek His face. Seek His face continually. Then you will be like a well-watered garden whose springs do not fail (see Isaiah 58). In the midst of great turmoil, God still remains the only enduring source of hope, peace, truth and comfort.

Run to Him.

Find refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Perilous times lie ahead, too. But He already knows the outcome. He will accomplish His loving purposes ultimately.

Almighty God. Abba Father, our covenant-keeping Redeemer, we choose to seek Your face in these troubled times.

We trust in You alone.

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.

after the rains

This evening, for the first time in about two weeks, the air was fresh enough to breathe outside without a mask. I saw the sky after the heavy rains, the lightening and thunder that rumbled through our area last night, and I felt so relieved. I went out to get some fresh air and watched the sunset at my friends’ waterfront, enjoying the clean Oregon air with a very grateful heart.

The air quality in our area has been among the worst in the world these past two weeks. So, the big storm with heavy torrential rains and water washing away that smoke, and hopefully putting out more of the remaining fires that have been ravaging our state….that storm felt so welcome.

Last night the thunder and lightening lit up the sky so brightly that people said it hurt their eyes. I had room darkening shades and an extremely tired body. I slept through it all. The loud rumbling thunder. The bright lightening strikes, and the winds…none of it woke me.

Maybe I felt a bit exhausted from these two long weeks. Praying for God to spare the homes of people I knew, to spare our family farm and my hometown, and the farms and homes of cousins and friends…I felt like I fought the fires along with the brave men and women who were out there on the front lines, but I fought through prayer. God heard our prayers, and in His sovereignty we saw Him answer many of those heartfelt prayers. Homes were spared. Lives were spared. Winds turned the fires, miraculously sparing the Christian Renewal Center and other very beloved places like my friends’ cabin up on the mountain.

So does it mean God did not hear the prayers of those who lost their homes? Does it mean He does not care? God loves each one of us, and somehow, in His sovereignty, He sometimes allows people to experience very painful losses. He doesn’t love them any less. In fact, I think we confuse the reality of His unconditional love with our human nature. We’re finite in our perspectives and often don’t see beyond today and beyond ourselves. He’s eternal. He’s never in crisis, never worried or scared. He is Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

If you have lost your home and things very dear to you, I am so sorry. I visited my parents last weekend. My husband and I took them a pizza and salad for dinner. My Dutch Father, Arie, sat and wept over the loss of homes and properties. He felt so sad about the losses people were experiencing. I was touched by the compassion of this godly man. He cried, and many of us felt like crying often these past two weeks. Our beautiful state has been ablaze. By God’s grace, some of the fires are now under control or contained. Some homes were spared. Lives were spared. But our vulnerability as human beings remains vivid in our minds.

Two weeks ago, on Friday night, not many suspected these weeks would hold so much tragedy. Not many suspected that we were going to be at war with infernos blazing across our state, and that some of those fires would be lit by arsons. We were about to hear about a huge windstorm, blowing in the opposite direction as usual, and dry hot conditions that would soon place many of us in the path of danger.

So often life is like this…we don’t know what is around the corner. A resilient person knows that something bad might happen at any time, but just as likely, something good might just happen, too. Despite all of the fires and sad stories I heard, I saw God move mightily. Often in hearts and families.

Tonight the sunset spoke volumes to my heart. The beauty along the waterfront, the beaver swimming across the waters, the geese and hummingbirds flying around in the newly washed fresh air…all of it seemed to worship the Creator. In front of me, a hummingbird paused midair, hovering with its wings moving so fast they were almost invisible. All creation testifies to His goodness and grace.

Thank You, Father, for sparing our home and community. Thank You for your promises that you will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you that you instill hope in our hearts and renew us in Your love, just as the torrential rains washed the smoke out of the air. You wash our filthy hearts clean. You make us white as snow by the cleansing blood of Christ. We worship You tonight, and thank You for Your enduring steadfast love and care.

The Oregon Spirit

This is Oregon, my friend said when she came to pick up some clothing for friends who have evacuated and still don’t know if their house remains standing. Not the things that hit the news across the nation, like the unrest, the politics, and other things. Somehow the things that loomed so large a few weeks ago pale in significance. Instead of stories of crime rates rising, we hear of the beautiful hearts of folks. People helping others. Rescuing horses, cattle and other livestock, sharing quilts, eye drops, and shampoo for those evacuated. Loaning a barn or a trailer to help evacuate some cows or a border collie. Privately owned excavation companies sending men and heavy equipment to save whole communities from the consuming flames, and the Redneck Crew fighting fires because somebody has to save these homes. Helping others even when they might have suffered profound loss themselves.

This is our beloved Oregon. Pulling together to fight fires and then to recover afterwards, when the smoke begins to clear, and some are able to return home. Those with pioneering spirits and a work ethic, who live faithful lives and love their families and others well. Those who pray through the night hours for the winds to shift and for safety for those fighting fires, and for homes to be spared. They are the salt of the earth who don’t assume the government needs to take care of their every need, and who sacrificially care for others and accept responsibility for the people and land they love…who roll up their flannel sleeves and get ‘er done, trusting God for the endurance needed in times of crisis….this is Oregon.

A Willing Heart in a Time of Profound Loss

Last evening, I saw an ad posted on-line for a local man building planter boxes. Since I have some bamboo I am going to plant soon, that caught my eye. I sent a virtual note asking for more info. This morning, I got a message back from him, and we chatted a bit. He knew how to create boxes for bamboo, and offered to come help. I soon learned he lost his home and almost everything he owned in the recent fires up by Lyons. We will have him over to help out, and in turn be able to help him in some practical ways. I thought about how God uses small things to connect us with others who need some care, help and encouragement. In this case, he was offering me some help I needed for a very reasonable rate. I know that God will allow my husband and me to bless him during this very tough time in his life. When I asked if had lost his home, he responded simply, “I am safe.” I invited him to come over this evening and give me a hand with some things outside as we recover from the recent windstorms and to clean up some ashes with me. Compared to what he just lost, our needs seem very small. However, our needs led me to reach out and ask about his planter boxes, allowing us to make a connection.

Our needs bring us together. I trust that Jay will become our friend, and that we can provide a little income for him even as he helps us out with his skills and willing heart. We exist to bless others and to glorify God by living out His love and grace in our generation. We will pray for Jay as he rebuilds his life. Because I have MS and my husband has some health limitations currently, we need to depend on others sometimes to give us a hand. But that allows us to listen to others, care for them, and help the in practical ways in exchange while they help us. We form community. Family. During COVID, our youth pastor brought us groceries a number of times so we could avoid exposure. In turn we could pray for him and his family, and perhaps bless them in others ways. Interdependence honors God. Praying for Jay, this kind fellow who is willing to work hard to help others as he begins to rebuild his life after this devastation. Here’s a link to a Go Fund Me set up to help him get back on his feet.

Fires and other major stressors? Here’s some help:

Feel like you’ve been through the wringer? Well most of us in Oregon have been in fight or flight all week, and although in some areas things are calming down a bit, it’s not over yet. The fires continue in many parts of the state and the air quality is very poor. Take time to breathe deeply (indoors with air purifiers on if possible) and connect with the LORD. This calms your nervous system. Take time to hug your family or loved ones or ride an indoor exercise bike. This produces endorphins and bonding hormones that make you feel better. Drink lots of water. This helps flush the toxins from breathing smoky air. Your mental health matters too. There are some simple things you can do to help. Gratitude helps you to turn on the relational circuits in the brain. Even giving thanks for simple things, like the fact that you woke up to another day, can help. Pain turns off relational circuits, making it hard to relate to God and other people well. But you can turn those circuits on with interactive gratitude and worship or thanking God, so these tips might help.


There’s also an exercise we call the “Five Bar.” When your phone or laptop has a strong connection, you can see five bars signifying that. If you have a few minutes, close your eyes, pray and think of a time when you felt a strong connection to God. (If you don’t believe there’s a God, you can improvise, but this is more powerful because God’s Presence in healing and powerful. He is love.) Then when He brings a memory to mind, remember that time of deeper connection with God. Marinate in those memories, using all five senses if you can. Take as long as you want. Then, once you feel connected, share this with someone else out loud if you can. This will help create better neural pathways in your brain as it turns on relational circuits, too. A simple thing you can do also at this point is ask the LORD, “Is there something you’d like me to understand?” Or you can invite Him to come with you to the thoughts that are troubling you. He may minister to your heart in a way that can be very healing. These principles come from something called the Immanuel Approach, which Janet Taylor and I taught to some counselors in Asia a few years ago. I still offer Immanuel prayer ministry to others sometimes. Remember God is with you. He is mighty to save!

Just had a shower and washed the ashes and smoke out of my hair, enjoying the warm water and emerging clean and fresh. Now I have God’s Word playing in the background as I get some daily chores done. Feels like being washed and renewed, too. In a very distracting time, we need His Word more than ever. In a time of crisis, His Word is a light unto our feet…a refuge, a source of power and strength. We can rest on His promises, and where faith and promises unite, we see God move powerfully and lovingly.