Category Archive: Compassion

Lord Have Mercy

The line stretched for blocks. Men, women and children stood in the hot African sun, waiting, praying, hoping for their chance to have life-changing surgery, many after years of having been told doctors in this third-world country could not help them. Many of those in line had walked days for one chance at a new life.

Seeing the kinds of health challenges in a poverty-stricken country was eye-opening. Whereas a tumor growing out of the neck or face would, in America, be caught and treated early, in this third-world country it is likely to grow unchecked.

During our church’s missions week, Don and I watched the first segment of a National Geographic documentary on Mercy Ships, showing now in the UK and hopefully coming to the US in a few months. The 450-person crew, including medical personnel and surgeons, are all volunteers. The images we saw were so powerful I didn’t even want to blink while watching.

My heart went out to the male nurse triaging the folks in line. What grace of God must be needed to say to someone, “I’m sorry, we don’t have the kind of doctor you need. We can’t help you here.” Or, “I’m sorry, your child is dying and we can’t help.” And yet, in many of those cases someone from the ship will follow up with the family, giving counsel, sometimes hospice services. Of the 5000 or so we saw in line, about 720 were selected for surgery.

And what joy to say to someone, “We can help you; we can help your child.”

A man with a tumor the size of his head growing out of his chin, could hardly be understood because speaking was so difficult. He shrouded his head in cloths and knew his disfigurement limited his ability to get a job, to have a somewhat normal life. When he first looked into a mirror following a delicate surgery to remove the tumor without sacrificing critical nerve connections, his smile was broad and beautiful. His handsome, dark eyes shone with what looked like hope.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Unable to breastfeed, Haingo was starving to death

Seven-month old Haingo had a severe cleft palate, with a hole in the top of her mouth that didn’t allow her to breastfeed. She was slowly starving to death, her 7-month weight below 7 pounds! When a stranger told Haingo’s mother about Mercy Ships, Viviaby walked two days to get to a place where she could find transportation to the ship. Volunteer nurses immediately started Haingo on a round-the-clock nutrition regimen to help her gain enough weight to safely undergo the surgery. When the little girl finally reached 7.7 pounds, surgeons corrected her cleft lip and palate, giving her the ability to thrive, to eat and drink and learn to speak well. What a beautiful little girl!

Haingo, thriving

The new Africa Mercy is the largest civilian hospital ship in the world, including five operating theaters, rooms for recovery and intensive care. Their capacity is 7000 interventions a year–from removing life-threatening tumors to repairing cleft palates.

What we forget in a country of privilege is that hope comes with having options: we can treat, wait and watch, or try different approaches. Hope is also about the possibility of getting help. One patient said her doctor had told her to wait until the big white Mercy Ship came and to go there for the help she needed, which he could not provide.

We were deeply touched by the significant ministry being conducted on Mercy Ships, by the hundreds of volunteers who do everything from scrubbing the decks, to cooking, to surgery and follow-up care.

For more information, stories, and ways to give, go to: https://www.mercyships.org/international/

Lord, have mercy! And may we be a part of that mercy.

 

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will reward them for what they have done.”

Proverbs 19:17

The Wisdom of Worship

According to Mayan legend, the gods who made the earth wanted someone to praise and worship them. So they created people made of clay; but the clay was soft and the clay people couldn’t stand.

So the creator made people of wood. These could stand, but had no minds or souls, and forgot to worship the gods who made them. So the gods sent a great water to wipe them out; and then made people of straw, who became the Mayans.

As Don and I listened to our tour guide at Tulum, a Mayan ruin on the stunning turquoise Caribbean coastline, I was impressed with two thoughts.

First, I was reminded of the truth of Romans 1:20-21: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

It seems every culture has an understanding that there is a God.

And second, the parallels (like the flood, or God’s desire to be worshipped) between ancient tradition and God’s Word remind me that God has always desired to make himself known to his creation.

And He desires our worship. Psalm 9:11 exhorts us to “Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people.”  And Psalm 30:4 says “Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise His holy name.” But he longs for this to be of our own volition, in recognition of who he is and what he has done, and will do, for us.

We praise Him for:

  • Revealing Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, through whom we have eternal life in the future, and meaningful life now.
  • Rescuing us (I’ve been rescued when I lived in the LA ghetto, and probably other times I’m not aware of). “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him” (Exodus 15:2). We can rely on Him.
  • Being great and glorious and above all. (Psalm 150).
  • Loving us–amazing as that is. So many cultures and belief systems focus on currying favor with the gods, whereas the God of the universe, of Creation, came to earth so we could know Him and have a relationship with him. (John 3:16).
  • His grace (Ephesians 1:6) and mercy (I Peter 1:3).
  • His faithfulness in all times (Psalm 40:11).
  • His comfort in times of sorrow, loss, distress (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
  • His guidance: Psalm 16:7 says “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”
I pray I will always remember to praise and worship my Lord, my God, my Redeemer–not because I fear being annihilated, but because He is good and loving and worthy of all my praise.
I’d love to hear what you would add to my partial list of reasons to praise God above.
 

Grief at Christmas

At a memorial for our dear friend this week, close friends celebrated Steve Stybor’s life and faith through sixteen years’ struggle with cancer. The pastor spoke of Steve’s love for Jesus Christ. Friends spoke of this man’s care for them, always wanting to know how THEY were doing in the midst of his own struggles. I experienced this too.

“How’re you doing Steve?”

“Not great. But how’s your shoulder healing?”

Steve made friends everywhere he went, from the Safeway clerks he knew by name, to the orderlies, nurses and doctors in the oncology ward and chemo unit, to friends at Bible Study Fellowship and at church.

We miss Steve. Conversations, shared memories, and his humor. He had two memorable caps he wore often: one embroidered with “Chemosabe;” the other with a fringe of fake red hair sticking out the top. Steve could laugh at himself as well as at, and with, others.

I expect some of you are either experiencing your own grief over the loss of a loved one, or know someone who is grieving this Christmas season. Somehow all the “firsts” hit especially hard as the loved one’s absence leaves a gaping hole as we go through the motions, hearts numb, minds unfocused, eyes either wet from unstoppable tears or dried out from the sobs that have already wracked our bodies.

So I thought I would repeat a blog I wrote two years ago.

It was Christmas, 2005. Eighteen days after my husband had moved from my arms into the waiting arms of Jesus.

All I wanted to do was crawl under a warm blanket for about three years, until the aching void in my heart had eased, the elephant on my chest been removed. But you can’t sidestep grief. I slept about eleven hours a night, often with a two or three-hour nap in the afternoon. The ache felt so HEAVY.  It weighed me down. In a daze, I moved from one thing to another, planning and communicating with friends about his memorial, filing for insurance and social security benefits, and taking care of immediate needs.

I thought my life was over. “How do you go on when half of you has been ripped away?” I sobbed. And yet, the very day of Jerry’s death God gave me Jeremiah 29:11 to claim as my own: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.” I knew that withdrawing into myself would not honor either my Jerry or my God. I stumbled on, with a deep void I thought would never leave my heart, tears accompanying me to bed and again on waking, the body pillow I hugged a very poor substitute for that living, breathing man beside me. And yet, the God who is FAITHFUL and TRUE promised never to leave nor forsake me.

I felt His care through family and friends who loved on me, who didn’t try to “fix” me, who let me cry or talk or be silent or a distant guest, lost in my own thoughts as others laughed and talked around me. My brothers supported me in a myriad of ways during and after Jerry’s death. My nephew and niece, who rented an apartment from me, came to my back door every night for weeks, to check in and hug me. My sister-in-law and niece prepared and froze quite a few individual meals for me. On each Tupperware container was a scripture or note of encouragement. And, having been widowed three years earlier herself, Mom listened and prayed and grieved along with me.

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

As we celebrated Jerry’s life a few weeks after his death, I knew my family and many friends who also loved Jerry, grieved with me. But two days later, during our family Christmas, I felt like I was in a bottomless hole. With hollow, red-rimmed eyes, I watched others open gifts. Their muted affirmations of thanks swirled around me. I wasn’t quite “there.” This was my first Christmas in 24 years without his love, laughter and teasing, his presence, his gifts, and gifts for him. It seemed surreal that life could continue when mine had been so radically altered.

It must have been hard for my loving family to watch me, as they reached out to me with hugs and tears throughout the day. They were dealing with their own loss, of a son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle.

Friends expressed love in a variety of ways. The day after Christmas, a dear friend sat on the floor in front of me and listened. The first person to whom I told the whole story of Jerry’s last day on earth, she loved me by squeezing my hand and murmuring words of compassion as I spoke.

How about you? Are you lonely this Christmas? Can you reach out for help, to a friend, a local church, a counselor? Be with people who will allow you to grieve at your own pace and in your own way?

Conversely, if you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, look for ways to encourage them.

  • Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Listen meaningfully and hug appropriately.
  • And oh, avoid giving advice (unless asked) or telling the person “this must have been God’s plan.” A woman approached me very soon after Jerry’s death, asking “What is the Lord teaching you through this time?” She must have caught my look, which said “Teaching me? Friend, I’m just barely hanging on by my fingernails.” “Spiritualizing” is NOT helpful. Listening IS.
  • Prepare a meal, or invite them to attend something with you. (And if they say no, ask again later–they may not have been ready yet to do anything public.)
  • Send a card or note telling them you’re thinking of them.
  • Offer practical help, such as grocery shopping, a ride to an appointment, or help finding resources such as grief recovery groups.
  • Allow your friend the freedom to express anger, pain, disillusionment, whatever he or she feels, without judging or trying to challenge those feelings. They need to be expressed in a safe place. LISTEN!
  • If many others are asking how they can help, offer to be the point person to coordinate so the grief-stricken individual doesn’t have to handle logistics at this difficult time.
  • Pray for them.
    • Now.
    • On the phone.
    • In person.
    • Privately.
    • However the Holy Spirit suggests.

Click on the link below for more ways to help a grieving friend.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devSupporting a Grieving Personine/death-and-dying_b_4329830.html

May you experience the love and comfort of our God, through Jesus Christ, no matter your circumstances, this Christmas season. “Immanuel” — God with us!

 

 

 

Keep me Safe ‘Til the Storm Passes By*

Generosity – largeness of spirit. So often we think of generosity relative to finances, to money. Earning it, keeping it, spending it, sharing it. But scripture speaks about much more than money in relation to generosity. Pastor Rene is teaching on this and talked of how generosity is the “overflow of a heart filled with gratitude.”

In studies compiled in GRATITUDE WORKS, Dr. Robert Emmons says grateful people sleep better, have lower blood pressure and increased alertness and energy, better stress coping mechanisms, and improved cardiac health, among other physical and emotional benefits.

When we realize how much God has done for us, our gratitude leads to a response of generosity. It may be expressed through time given to listen or help others; through welcoming others into family times; or through personal sacrifice that allows another to thrive.

Learning to sleep after surgery, while protecting my right shoulder, has been a process — several nights I’ve been unable to sleep. Don has gotten up with me, tucked me in for comfort and security, and done extra to cover what I can’t do right now. The other night I got comfortable and was able to doze off in Don’s arms, with our Cavalier Paige at the foot of the bed.

Paigey often wanders awhile before settling into sleep. She leans against Don’s body, then mine, checks to be sure she has her chew bone, then wiggles around a bit more. As I started to roll over onto my own pillow later that night, I found I couldn’t. Paige had rolled up against me, moving from my shoulders to my knees, securely tucking my blanket around me.

I had to laugh in thanks. I have a loving provider in my husband, who cares for me in little and big ways. Friends and family express love through calls, meals, visits, notes. And I even get tucked in by my little canine.

There are many who are finding it difficult to feel any gratitude right now: between mass shootings, earthquakes, hurricanes and fires, our country is in a world of hurt. I can’t imagine the horror country fans in Vegas felt as they began to realize what they thought were firecrackers were really bullets. Or the agony of watching your home and belongings burn before your eyes in Sonoma, surrounding counties, and in Southern California. And my heart breaks for these.

There was a time in my own life when I experienced severe depression. I wasn’t able to push past the pain to find any gratitude, I asked God to hold me, confessing I had nothing with which to hold onto Him. And He did. Because He is faithful.

As I pray for the many who are in emotional, physical and spiritual pain right now, I also pray for the firefighters and police personnel who are trying to bring stability and order out of chaos. And I pray that we as a nation might lean into Jesus for hope, comfort, restoration, peace, for repentance as we turn our hearts back to Him.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24 NIV

*From a hymn written by Mosie Lister.

God … in the Storm

Hurricane winds, floods and storms are blighting our land. Irma closely follows Harvey, with Jose and others coming behind. People are dying, losing homes and worldly goods, and face a long reality of rebuilding their lives. On top of that, there are the personal storms of people we love … broken families, heartbreak, insecurity, fear, anger, loss, homelessness, and more.

Is someone you love going through their own personal hurricane? Troubled seas, high waters, loss of innocence. My heart is heavy for someone in my life who is carrying an overwhelming load. And I feel helpless. All I can do is pray.

And yet, isn’t that the very thing to which God calls me FIRST? When there are practical ways to help – food, shelter, rescue, emotional and physical support–all of which are happening in a major way in Texas, and now in Florida and along the East Coast–we do those. But sometimes there just isn’t anything our “boots on the ground” can do. So we pray: for wisdom, for others to come alongside, for courage, perseverance, long-suffering love, and healing. For protection of body, mind and spirit in the fight against the darts of the evil one.

So often I think “I can handle this …” And yet, there are times when everything needed is beyond any human control. And God tells us to call on His name for help. Lamentations 3:54-56 states this so clearly:

In the eye of the storm

“…the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.’”

These are difficult times in the life of our nation. But God is able to bring good out of the storm. He is able to take the darts of the enemy and bring beauty out of ashes. He is able to impart His strength to the weak, His rest to the weary. My prayer for all going through turmoil, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, is Psalm 73:26:  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” May these be moments where God shows up in such distinct ways that we stand by, watching in awe.

 

So let’s discuss: what do you do when you can’t do anything?