Category Archive: Blessings

Giver of all Good Gifts

I went shopping today. I’m on a search for a new comforter set, but have time to find just the right thing. However, I did find a pretty, teal throw to place at the foot of the bed in our guest room. Don and I folded the afghan in thirds and laid it in place, then stepped back to admire how it brings out the turquoise and teal in the pillow shams and the stained glass window. The throw complements and completes the room.

Do you enjoy redecorating? Sometimes finding just the right pillow, throw, or picture makes a delightful change, refreshing and making a room feel new again. I love that feeling. Sometimes it’s just a matter of rearranging what we already have in a new way. Sometimes it’s reorganizing so what I need is easier to find.

As we ate our eggs florentine this morning, I looked out the window and watched the tall, golden grasses waving as they yielded to the power of the wind. Our lives are like that grass. We have a firm foundation in our God. When the wind blows we may bend; but by his grace we continue to stand.

We can be swayed in many ways. Every day, we choose which way we will bend. Will we trust God and allow His Spirit to form and shape us to His will, to allow Him to continue His work of perfecting, beautifying us? Will we yield to Him when the road is rough or try to make our own way out of trials? We might be swayed by the influence of the world, friends, and our own desires that run contrary to God’s good will. Will redecorating, losing weight, finding the right mate, or achieving a long-awaited goal be our primary focus? Or will we allow God to mold us, enjoying in His good gifts, trusting Him, delighting most of all, in Him as the ultimate Gift and Giver?

Today I am delighting in Him, and in the good gift of an inexpensive throw that completes a welcoming room for guests in our home.

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17, NLT

What is delighting your heart today?

 

 

From Red Carpet to Black Earth

It was just a week and a half ago that Don and I stood on the Red Carpet in France, where the Cannes Film Festival began today. The glitter, glitz and glamour of the movie world, stunning actresses and handsome actors in clothing that costs thousands of dollars, the rush of the crowd (we were told it’s hard to move in Cannes during the Festival) were easy to imagine.

The following day we traveled to Monaco where we watched the changing of the guard at the palace, and went into the Monte Carlo Casino – small but stunning. It was afternoon and there was little action at the tables. We got something to drink, sat and watched.

This weekend we’re in a very different environment.

Sunday morning, Don and I, along with the rest of our missions team, celebrated worship at Rancho Santa Marta in Baja, Mexico. After driving fourteen hours Saturday to reach the ranch, we settled in for a night’s sleep. This morning we joined the ranch’s resident children, parents and staff for a worship service in both Spanish and English. It is a joy to worship here annually.

Forty-five resident children include orphans, children removed from their homes because of abuse, several who have been left at the ranch’s doorstep, and others with learning disabilities. They live in groups with house parents, giving them a stable and structured environment in which to grow. Additionally, about 180 community children are bused in for school from up to 60 miles away.

Director Rod shared his testimony this morning; it thrilled me to hear him talk about how God has prospered them … not in terms of financial success or reputation; but in their five children, and the blessing on the Ranch’s ministry. He pulled out a Kobe Bryant LA Lakers’ jersey, a “Struiksma” jersey (his and Tina’s last name) and another jersey with the name of one of the children here. Tossing that one to the side of the chapel, he spoke: “The message these children have received is that they are junk – because of abuse, because of separation from their families. Our job, and yours while you’re here, is to love them and teach them they are of infinite value because of Christ.” He reminded us that our work here goes far beyond building gym walls; it’s to minister to and value the children here.

Don and I feel pain when children choose to leave the ranch, or must leave because of disruption to the community. Sometimes their desires and needs feed them the lie that life will be better, happier, easier outside, with less of the structure they need to become contributing adults. Sometimes children have to be removed because of their impact on others.

One family of seven children have all grown up at the ranch. Some are becoming productive adults. Other children are also here with their siblings. We have been blessed to see the love, education and training they receive. And there are young adults who came to the ranch as little children, and are now also ministering to others. While the ranch is a safe haven for these children, they are also taught about, and led in, taking the gospel beyond these 450 acres. Some learn that they too can bring the good news of Jesus to others.

Our team at lunch after church, at a local restaurant

Don and I feel blessed to see different parts of God’s creation, both in nature and in the people we meet. And we see our Father’s love and desire for relationship in myriad settings, whether obscured by wealth and fame, or shared with children who come with great needs. And we love Rancho Santa Marta, its children, staff, and teachers. Would you pray with us that our service this week will be a blessing, both among our team of 23, and to those we will serve.

How can I pray for you?

BROKEN DREAMS, FULFILLED

My dream

As a little girl, I dreamed of the day I would walk down the aisle in a white gown, a long lace veil and train following the billowing skirts of my Cinderella gown. Babies would follow and a tall, handsome man and I would share a home filled with laughter and love. A white picket fence would surround our house. It was a picture-perfect scenario.

But God led me another way. I served with an inner city ministry for ten years, then married for the first time at the age of thirty-six. Lots of conversations with my new husband centered around if, and when, we might try to have a child, or children. My husband was nine and a half years older than I. One concern was that our children, if we had any, would have significantly older parents than most of their peers. When our child was 20, we could be 58 and 68 respectively. We prayed, talked, I cried, we talked more … and determined that for us, bearing and raising children might not be the best option.

One Mother’s Day I cried through the whole church service. I cried throughout the afternoon and evening. My kind husband tried to comfort me, but my dream of being a mother was dying, and I grieved. Time healed the grief and my husband and I shared a lovely life together until his untimely death at the early age of 66. After his passing, I thought I might remain single; a few years later, however, God brought Don into my life. We fell in love and married.

         Mom and three of her four children

Today we celebrated another Mother’s Day with my sweet 95-year old mother. We are so blessed that this lovely, gracious woman is still with us, praying for us, making us laugh with her hearing loss that results in some pretty hilarious conversations.

And that dream of mine that died years ago? This week I received a beautiful note from a younger woman I led to Christ about a year ago. “You have been like a mother to me…” she wrote. As tears filled my eyes, I thought of the ways God has fulfilled my dream – in an out-of-the-box kind of way. I’ve had the privilege of discipling several women over the years, and now have two wonderful women whom I have the joy of loving and teaching and walking alongside in their relationship with Christ. My oldest brother asked today, “Carol, is Mother’s Day hard for you since you don’t have children?” I responded immediately. “No, because God has given me spiritual daughters.” Oh, I feel a twinge now and then … like when I chose not to take the “Mother’s Day mug” from church this morning because I am not a mother in the traditional sense. But those twinges don’t last long.

So, my point? God is not limited to one way of answering prayer. This is a hard day for many women – women who have never had a loving relationship with their mother; women who long to bear children and can’t, for a variety of reasons. Women who have carried a child who died in utero, in birth, or after birth. My heart goes out to each of you, for the grief you feel and the heartache that bubbles to the surface on this day.  But let’s also ask God to help us recognize His “out-of-the-box” handprint on our lives.

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 NIV

Question: How have you seen God’s handprint on your life in unexpected ways?

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Drawn to Worship

Don and I stepped onto the walk-on ferry from Cannes, France, and found our seats. Motoring through the cerulean waters, we passed St. Marguerite Island, which held a stone fortress which used to be a large prison. Cannes, and its busy, over-the-top multi-million dollar yachts, its Cannes Film Festival red carpet (coming two weeks after our visit), its high-rise hotels and spectacular villas, receded into the distance. The water’s various blue hues inspired wonder as we approached the dock at Isle St. Honorat. Sailboats of various sizes and styles dotted the water surrounding this small piece of land which has been home to a community of monks since the fifth century.

Tradition says that Honoratus settled on the island, intending to live the life of a hermit. However, disciples followed him and formed a monastic community.  Their life on the island was often interrupted by raids, primarily by Saracens. The monks were expelled when the island was captured by the Spanish in 1635; however, they returned two years later when France retook Isle St. Honorat.

Continuing attacks on the monastery by Spanish and Genoese reduced the number of monks to four, and the monastery was disestablished in 1787.

In 1859, the Bishop of Frejus bought the island with the intent of reestablishing a religious community there. Ten years later, a Cistercian community was established, which has remained there since.

We were not allowed to enter the monastery; however, we could walk up to enter the church and visit the tower. The walk was beautiful. Vineyards lined both sides of the dirt road, and the monastery’s tower was clearly visible against an azure sky.

As we walked past the shops where the monks sell wine and honey made from local produce, we also saw the effect of loving care for the property. Red, pink, periwinkle flowers grew up against stuccoed walls, reaching toward the sun. I took photos and delighted in the beauty of the scene, when I heard music coming from the church. Yes, we had arrived while the monks were singing their daily mass. The acoustics in the high-ceilinged, beautiful-without-being-ornate church, bounced the monks’ antiphonal sounds into the courtyard and thrilled my being. Quietly entering the church, many of us sat to listen and worship as the monks sang “Hallelujah.”

Here we were, on another side of the world, enjoying worship with monks we’d never met, with different languages yet united in “hallelujah” to our God. That will remain a treasured moment in my soul.

When has your spirit been drawn to worship because of music, a kind word, or a loving touch?

 

He will quiet you in His Love

Searching for documents

My fingers tapped the table. My mind struggled to remember where I’d put those documents.  I’d been gathering information for our CPA for hours already that day. But I couldn’t find some significant paperwork I needed to complete my part of our tax preparation. Finally I went outside to find my hubby.

“Don, I need your help. I can’t find these papers and can’t finish my tax information without them.”

“Let’s both go look.”

I leaned into his shoulder while my love put his arms around me, holding me close. My spirit quieted because, whether or not we found those documents, I wasn’t alone in my search. Don was there for me, helping me, sharing the load. We walked into the den and checked everywhere we could think of, without success.

I spoke up. “Lord, we really need your help here. I have no idea where else to look.” Don looked up at me. “Have you checked the safe?”

“No, but that’s a good idea.” I got out of my chair and walked towards our room. Before I got there my view fell on the folder I needed in the hall closet.

“Thank you, Jesus … and Don.” He took my into his arms and we both laughed, rejoicing that the lost was found.

This is such a teeny example of the truth in a scripture I love. Zephaniah 3:17 says “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

When I take my concerns to the Father, He puts his arms about me and says, “Let me carry this burden, my child.

I’ve got it!” And even more, the God of the universe rejoices over me with singing. That feels like the tenderness that surrounded me when my mother sang lullabies to me as a little girl. In God’s love I feel enfolded. And my heart and mind quiet in His presence.

What helps you give your concerns to the One who wants to quiet your heart with his great and unconditional love?