Precious Memories

We sat around the dining table, my two older brothers, Mom, a sister-in-law, and Don, looking at pictures from my childhood and growing up years. And of course I recall my Daddy, whom I adored and who has been in heaven’s realm for sixteen years already. I love this picture of Dad with my two older brothers, Melvyn and Arnold.

Other memories … those awful drapes in an early house in Canada before we moved to California when I was nine years old. That mountain scene was repeated across the whole fabric; I’m sure it was considered lovely at the time …

Mom, Melvyn, Arnold and me on the horse swing at Camp Arnes, a church camp on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, a gigantic body of water that we thought must extend to China on the other side. Walking the mile into camp–or even driving it when we visited my grandparents’ cabin there–was always an adventure. The curved, forested roadway wound back and forth like a slithering snake, and at every turn we eagerly awaited seeing the trees part and the lake open before us. It was there that I committed my life to Christ at the age of eight years.

Three cute kiddos sitting on a piano bench.

Then our move to California, and the addition of a third brother, Bob.

Family waterskiing photos.

That’s me on the right

Arnold and I participating in a Youth for Christ Bible quiz team competing for the national title at Winona Lake, Indiana. The old photo on the left reflects our goal to get off the chair in the quickest possible way in order to have the opportunity to answer the question. We also had to complete the question accurately if we were off the electronic chair pads before the question was finished. Thus the pelvic thrust jumps!

And the fun we had teasing others. New friends were sometimes surprised by Arnold’s and my close friendship. Once, when we were perhaps 15 and 17, we told two teenage girls sitting across the table from us at a youth conference that we were brother and sister. “No you’re not. You like each other too much.” My brother looked at me and said “Want to show them?” I knew exactly what he was asking and together, we leaned across the table and wiggled our eyes at them–a rare trait that can be a symptom of drug usage (nystagmus) but in our case happens to be voluntary and divorced from any illegal substance. “We believe!” they yelled.

Laughter. Sharing. Catching up. Telling each other stories of our memories. Hugs. Family. Precious. And there was a photo of Melvyn’s old MG, which Mom thought was white but I thought was red. Arnold argued for green. We looked at the picture as Mel stated that the car was actually dove grey. Same car–different memories!

I realize that I was blessed to be raised in a loving Christian family, and that many have not had the childhood I experienced.

But then I enjoyed lunch yesterday with about 25 women. We were together to honor and say farewell to one of our number, a faithful servant of Jesus Christ who exudes grace and giving, and who is moving out of the area this Fall. As the majority of us waited quietly (“shhh”) in the kitchen for Nancy to come out of another room so we could surprise her, I felt a deep sense of connection with these women, beautiful inside and out, and the reality that we share a common faith in a good Father God. While neither the nuclear nor the Christian family is perfect, because we’re finite, sinful individuals, there is love, warmth and acceptance available when these two organisms function under guidelines given by our Creator God. The God who is “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling … (who) sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68:5-6

As blessed as I am to have had the father and mother and family I have, the greatest blessing in my life is my Father God. He has enlarged my family. He loves me unconditionally; He has forgiven me, accepted me unconditionally because of Jesus’ death and payment for my sin, guided me through joy and sorrow, and then into joy again; and given me eternal life. And that life is available to all who receive His gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

How have you experienced a father’s love, either through your biological dad, other caring male mentors, or through our heavenly Father? I’d love to hear your story.

 

Oops … Overload Strike!

My friend told me her mother’s memorial service was on June 23. Somehow  the month, “June,” didn’t register, but the 23rd did. Don and I were scheduled to leave for a grandson’s graduation in Idaho on the 24th. “I’m so glad we can attend before we leave.”
We drove an hour over the hill to Cupertino two Wednesdays ago and were surprised the church parking lot was so empty. Surely there would be more people present to celebrate the life of our dear friend, June McCuistion. Where were they? We saw only a few employees around, and in some trepidation walked up to the front doors of the church, which were closed but not locked. Opening them, we looked into a dark sanctuary!
Don and I looked at each other. Oh, my, did I get the wrong church? The wrong time?
Pulling out my phone, I was about to check back in my messages when a lady stepped out of an office.
“Are you looking for June M…” I finished her sentence. “McCuistion. Yes.”
“It’s June 23rd,” she responded. “You’re the second couple who’s been here today.”
Oh my. At least we weren’t alone in our mistake. We could have gotten annoyed with each other (or especially, Don with me!). I’d made several faux pas in the last three weeks, and I could have been down on myself. Well, I was … a little. But we managed to laugh at ourselves, and enjoy the time together as we drove back home. And we’ll return on June 23rd for the REAL service!
I’d had a lot on my mind … meetings with contractors, preparing for our trips to Mexico and Idaho, for social engagements, for upcoming guests coming our way, and for our planned Fall move. Overload! And then things, like the month of a service, slipped through the cracks of my overcrowded brain cells.
Have you done that? I’d love to hear some silly thing you did when you had too much going on.
We are delighted to be home again and to have no trips planned in the next months. As Don planted flowers and leveled a birdbath yesterday afternoon, I took him some iced tea. We sat together on our porch glider, enjoying the beauty and open space that are our view. Variegated shades of green in grass, trees and shrubs; multi-colored flowers; white fences; and the stillness spoke to us of peace and rest. I felt a great sense of contentment as my honey and I held hands and talked. Once again I’m reminded how critical it is in the midst of our demanding lives (yes, even as retirees) to stop and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, to sit with those we love and enjoy each day as a gift. And I’m a better person for stopping to enjoy the moment.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:30-32)

If even Jesus’ disciples needed to stop and rest, to get away from the busyness of life, how much more do we need to “come apart” for times of refreshing.

May you be renewed with quietness in Jesus’ presence this week!

The Lost is Found

“Look at what’s in front of you,” our friend Dave challenged me.

I looked at my husband’s hand, holding a glass of water. Was the water clearer than before? Don and Dave had worked in the yard most of the day.

“Your hand is shaking,” I said to my tired man.

“She’s not looking at the right thing,” Dave grinned.

I looked again. And there it was, right in front of me, on the third finger of Don’s right hand … the gold, sapphire and diamond ring Don lost in the yard about four months ago. He had missed it, having worn that particular ring from a former company for many years. But we had given up on ever finding it. The ring was significant, given to him by a company he enjoyed working with; and when the initials wore away and an insert fell off and was lost, we replaced them with a sapphire I had, and several small diamonds. Don wore it daily, including pruning and gardening in the dirt, and woodworking.

Today, as Dave raked leaves out by the well in preparation to put in a wooden walkway, he saw a shiny, perfect round something.

“Could there be a ring out here?” he asked Don.

“No, there’s no ring.” Don had looked long and hard for it at the time of its loss.

Dave raked over the leaves again, his mind holding onto what he’d seen.

“Did anyone ever lose a ring here?”

“Well yes, matter of fact, I did a few months back.”

Oh no, thought Dave. Now I’ve covered it again in the leaves and dirt and won’t find it … but there it was, on top of the leaves. Picking it up, he handed Don’s sentimental, handsome ring back to him. And we all rejoiced like the woman in scripture who searched for her lost coin and rejoiced and told her neighbors when she found it.

I thought how we had to give that ring up for lost before the Lord revealed it to us again. We had done that, let it go. And now, months later, God’s grace and Dave’s eagle eye spotted its shine in the dirt. Sometimes God challenges us to give up things that are important to us before he returns them, or something better, to us.  Not because he doesn’t want us to enjoy good gifts, but because our holiness – our focus on Him – is more important to him than our little pleasures.  And He so often develops our character through the challenges life brings our way. He wants the best for us, and the best is our relationship with and trust in Him.

And it is also precious that He cares even about the little things. And in the light of eternity, of world and personal tragedies, a lost ring is a little thing. But we are invited to “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.” I Peter 5:7.

To what are you and I holding on?

We’re preparing to move this Fall. Much as we love our home in Soquel, the care for three acres is getting to be too wearing. We’re in that process of determining what to keep and what to let go of. Not always easy decisions when much of what we have comes from our travels, from people we love, from our own interests. But we are downsizing and will have to make some tough decisions. I pray that I will hold material things loosely, being wise in what to keep and what to release, for the good of others and our own benefit; and that I will trust God to lead in the process.

 

On the Road Again

Thirteen hours on the road Thursday, traveling from California, through Nevada, Oregon and into Idaho for Noah’s high school graduation. We’ve made this trip three times in the past four years for four grandchildren’s grads. The road has become quite familiar. Our “regular stops” along the way included the Donner Summit Rest Area; a Shell station off Hwy 80 in Sparks; the small, smoky casino in McDermott on the Nevada-Oregon border; and the Sinclair station in Jordan Valley, Oregon.

Snow-capped peaks reflected sun back to us in northern California. Enormous, stunning granite rocks lay beside the road.

In Eastern Oregon we could see the road ahead, perfectly straight for over fifteen miles.

Fascinating Oregon Clouds

We traveled through deserts of sage brush, sandy soil, rolling hills. We looked down onto a beautiful green and tan valley. I saw animals in the shapes of the beautiful clouds. Sometimes we could see the road ahead of us clearly. Occasionally a big truck inhibited both view and speed as we exercised patience and slowed down.
So in life we face beauty and obstacles, clear paths and blind turns. For many years, one of my big blinds was my singleness. While I knew God had a purpose for me right where I was, my heart’s desire was to marry and share my life with someone. Sometimes I wept, lonely for a heart connection. I told God “I only need one man, Lord. Only one.” (And in His grace He’s given me two wonderful husbands.) But trusting Him didn’t always come easy. Giving my desires, my needs back to the God who created them within me was an ongoing process.
Along our drive trees provided some shade from the noonday heat. Sometimes there was just sage brush and sun. In the same way, at times God has covered me with blessing and joy in relationships and ministry; at other times there was just loneliness. But He has been there with me through it all.

Don with Victor’s family (minus the grad) and Dan, prior to graduation

This week I traveled with two companions, my beloved husband and his oldest son. We engaged in both conversation and quiet; both were welcome.

My high school graduation was memorable.

My college grad was even more so. My boyfriend broke up with me the night before (yeah, that was a bummer)! But I was determined he would not spoil this significant day. I walked across the amphitheater stage to receive my diploma, head held high. When my brother Arnold came up to me afterward, knowing the pain I felt, he picked me up and whirled me around in congratulatory love. A special moment. And God’s plan for me was so good, better than what I anticipated at the time.

Now Don and I were in Idaho, anticipating grandson Noah’s graduation and transition into a new season of his journey.

I look forward to another graduation too. At the memorial service for the mother of a dear friend, the pastor spoke about how Gerry had graduated, reached her goal, completed her race. As Jesus followers, our goal is to be with Christ forever; and transitioning from this life to the next will be my greatest graduation, with unimaginable surprises on the other side.

My father, my late husband, a nephew, and friends I love have all preceded me into Jesus’ presence. And I expect you have loved ones waiting for you too. Can you imagine the reunion we will enjoy? Not only with those who have gone before whom we love, but also with Old Testament saints, with the apostles Peter, John, Paul and the rest. With John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace” after being redeemed out of a dissolute life of slave trading to a life of service to God. Probably with many we didn’t expect to be there. But that’s God’s grace, freely given to all who trust in Jesus’ atonement for us.

What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see

When I look upon his face, the one who saved me by his grace

And he takes me by the hand,

Leads me to the promised land.

What a day, glorious day that will be. (James Hill, 1955)

 

Who, or What, is Your Strong Tower?

I had taken a high school girl from our Youth for Christ group to a basketball game. She had a curfew, which I fully intended to respect. However, as we sat in the car outside her home after the game, Lisa began having flashbacks from the drugs she’d taken. I couldn’t see sending her into the house with that going on, so stayed in the car and talked and prayed with her. (This was in the dinosaur days of no cell phones.)

Eventually her father came out, looking for his daughter. He was furious, and rightly so. A college woman they didn’t really know had taken their daughter out for the evening and her parents were probably panicking about what might have happened to her. I couldn’t explain without destroying Lisa’s faith in me. Her dad pulled her out of the car, yelled at me with words about never wanting to see me again, and stomped off.

Talk about a sleepless night! I cried and prayed for some time, and finally just committed this to God, with the plan to call Lisa’s father at 10 am and apologize again!

At 9:40 someone came to my dorm room. “You have a phone call in the lobby.”

Picking up the phone, I heard Lisa’s father’s voice.

“I called to apologize for my words and behavior last night. I know you were trying to help Lisa, and appreciate that.”

I was stunned. God had turned something ugly into something good as I too apologized for not handling the situation better, for causing them worry and concern. And Lisa’s parents and I became friends!

A Strong Tower

I think that’s one example of what scripture means when it says “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10 NKJV) A tower is a refuge, a sanctuary. When Don and I walked the city walls around Dubrovnik in Croatia, we came across a lot of towers in which one could hide, or from which they could attack the enemy. God gives us gifts and abilities that can be a great help to others and ourselves, but we need his sanctuary, his refuge, to protect, guide us and help us meet the attacks that come our way, whether through evil, as the school murders that are occurring more and more frequently, or through illness, loss or doubt.

If my security rests only in myself, it can be removed in an instant. Having had two major surgeries in the past nine months, I’m well aware of my physical (and sometimes emotional) limitations. Watching me get up from a chair or table after sitting awhile, following a total knee replacement, is not a pretty sight. I’m humbled by my own limitations and try to laugh at my foibles. But I also recognize my confidence cannot just be in myself.

Proverbs 28:26 says “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”

So while I thank God for the blessings he has given — loving family, health, friends, capabilities — I choose to trust him as my Strong Tower, my refuge, my helper, my Lord and Savior. When I am weak, he is strong; when I am empty, he is love and grace and goodness and righteousness.

Have you experienced God as your Strong Tower? I’d love to hear about it.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26