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

Mothering … By Birth or Otherwise

My beautiful mother with about half of her great grandchildren!

As we celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday, Don and I were surrounded by my darling 96-year old mother, Helen; one beautiful sister-in-law, Sheila; and two lovely younger mothers, my nieces Amanda and Heather.

Earlier in the day I had listened to “Hey Mama,” a beautiful song by the Ball Brothers that talks about a mother who made home a safe place, who gave wise insights and advice, and who loved well. Sobs welled up inside me and tears rolled down my face, recognizing my mother in the words of the song, and also realizing that in a few years I may be singing this song, wishing I could hear her voice when she’s on the other side of the great divide. What a gift to have had, and to be surrounded by, loving mothers who show by their words and actions what it means to honor their husbands and raise their children in love and faith. The song is worth listening to, at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAM9O76Fjls

But not all of us are, or can be, biological mothers. Yet in His grace, God has provided other ways of loving, teaching, guiding, encouraging that are open to all of us, whether or not we have birthed children from our own bodies.

I mentor two capable, lovely daughters-in-faith. I received loving notes from both yesterday, along with fragrant flowers. I also received a meaningful card from one of my stepsons, who is just a few years younger than I am. How thoughtful! And I realize what a gift God has given, that there are ways of loving, teaching, guiding, encouraging that any of us can pursue, whether or not we are biological mothers.

So, to each of my readers who has raised, or is raising children, God bless and guide you and give you joy and strength for the challenges of each day, each year. And to those who, like me, have not birthed children of our flesh, God love you and show you opportunities to invest in younger women, to encourage family members, to serve God in the lives of others, and to feel His love and grace through those precious God-given relationships. He is faithful. Let us be also, whether it’s to nieces and nephews, stepchildren, mentees, the weak and helpless, or children of friends who need loving adults in their lives.

And Mom, I love you and thank God for your influence and impact In my life over the years: from the time as a tiny girl that I spilled a cup of milk and, instead of scolding me, you said, “Oh well, that can be cleaned up.” Or the time you stayed up late, crying with me as I shared about a broken engagement. To the example you were when your beloved, my father, went Home to be with Jesus and you refused to pull away from others but continued to engage even as you grieved. Or the overnight trips we took together as widows; and the joy you expressed when God brought another wonderful man into my life. Thank you for loving me and teaching me through your example.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30 NIV)

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What is Success?

 5:00 am Saturday. Most of our missions team met at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. One of the three team vans picked Don and me up in San Jose, from where we headed to meet the rest of the team at Starbucks in Gilroy.

Tools – check

Passports – check

Toilet paper – check

Clothing, sundries, hats – check

We were as ready as we were going to be.

11:30 pm Saturday, we drove through the gates at Rancho Santa Marta in the Baja. My leg was screaming.

Our usual 15-hour drive to the Ranch, 65 miles south of Ensenada, had taken 18.5 looong hours. As we left the Bay Area we enjoyed reconnecting with former team members and getting to know new ones. After stopping for a fast-food lunch near Magic Mountain, one of our vans refused to start. AAA towed it to one service center which wouldn’t take it because they were going to close at 5:00. We went to another, determined the repairs would not be a quick fix, and made the decision to leave the one van behind to be repaired, and reload three vans into two.

We emptied most of the three vans, took out non-essentials (a coffee table, several boxes of t-shirts, some equipment), and repacked people and materials tight into the two other vans, then finally took off again. At Chula Vista we stopped to fill up with gas and enjoy a quick fried chicken tailgate dinner before climbing back into the vehicles to cross the border.

After unloading our weary bodies and supplies at the Ranch, we crawled into bed. I took two Advil PMs to knock me out, wanting very much to be in church Sunday morning.

As the team historian/photographer, I took some photos during the worship service. My heart was renewed as I greeted old friends. I turned to where three of our team stood to sing, and watched one of our new team members who is also a relatively new Jesus-follower. Eyes closed, his face lifted to the heavens, tears streamed down Miguel’s face. And I began to weep as I saw the adoration, praise and worship on his face.

The worship leader introduced separate prayer times for pastors/missionaries; for the Ranch, staff and children; for those who are ill. Children stood voluntarily to give thanks to God for everything from a barbecue this afternoon to their teachers and house parents.

Ranch Director Rod’s sermon, in English and Spanish, addressed what it means to be a success. Miguel is a picture of success. Coming from a difficult background, he said “God, you said if we would seek you with all our hearts we would be found by you. Where are you?” As he kept praying that prayer, God showed up and changed his heart and life. At the end of the sermon, Rod’s father-in-law, Bill, who founded the Ranch with his wife Kaye, stood. “Son-in-law,” he began, “your success will be reflected in the lives of these children who will grow up and change the world.” What a touching and meaningful encouragement.

Drawn into Miguel’s worship, I actually had my first message long before the singing ended and the sermon began.

I am so thankful to be here once again, with staff and children we love dearly.

Some of us have been at RSM for years already; others are brand new this year. God seems to meld us together as we drive and share and snooze along the way, and then throughout the week as we work together.

This week our primary focus is putting up trusses for the new high school building. The Ranch is home to 40-45 children, many learning disabled, some abused, some orphaned. Some will grow up and become teachers or come back to the Ranch as house parents; others will never have the skills or maturity to leave the Ranch and will be given work to do here into adulthood – gardening, cleaning, animal husbandry. Don and I have come to love this ministry to Mexican children in need; and to the 220 students bussed into school from up to 60 miles away during the week.

Pray with us as we serve this week: our attitudes (especially when we get weary), our unity, our effective work on the projects and love for the kids as we see them throughout the week, as well as the day we’re divided into groups to have lunch or dinner in one of the four residences; the piñata and s’mores party (no chocolate, too much caffeine) one afternoon. I look forward to seeing many young friends we’ve watched develop over the past eight years, to reconnecting, loving on them, and praying for them and for their teachers and house parents. Pray that our service will be an outgrowth of our worship of our good God, and will honor Him.

I think of what success means for our team this week. Scripture says “In everything you do, do it as unto the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks …” Success will be our working in unity, encouraging each other, not only doing the work effectively but with grace and joy. The HOW will be as, or more important, than the WHAT.

Thanks for praying with and for us. Buen dia!

 

 

Sleepless Nights and Grace

I typed emails, giving directives like shotgun blasts.

I lacked sleep, unable to get comfortable with my leg still healing from a total knee replacement.

Perhaps I was more sensitive, more grouchy, because the discomfort, while certainly bearable, has been present now for five weeks after surgery. The first two weeks I expected pain and discomfort. But after that it just became wearing. Along with that we had (wonderful) company for a week, I took a fall on my new knee, and we have been preparing for our annual missions trip to Mexico which involves a lot of planning and communication and follow-up on my part.

Friday night was another sleepless night, at least initially. Finally I stopped fighting to sleep and got up. I have a Coloring Book Devotional, “Drawn to Worship,” by my friend, Lisa Bogart. So I sat at the kitchen table and colored in the lines (photo left). As I did, I began to pray for the many friends who are in need of one sort or another right now – health, strength, loss, rebellion – and God showed me how grouchy I’d been. I asked His forgiveness and committed to asking a few others for theirs too.

My husband was first. His graciousness to me is a picture of Jesus’ grace, extended freely and without condemnation. “I know you’re going through a hard time. I expect you to be a bit touchy. Just know I’m here for you and I’m with you all the way.” (Which he proved again last night when I couldn’t sleep. Don got up and put the ice machine on my knee, legs propped up on a recliner plus wedge pillow. While I expected him to return to our bedroom while I hoped to get some sleep on the couch, he grabbed a blanket, sat down in the other recliner and spent the night in the family room with me.)

Our missions trip team leader was next. He too extended grace and appreciation for what I was doing.

What a gift we can extend to each other … just a piece, a reminder, of the greatest gift God has given us … grace, forgiveness, acceptance in the Beloved. As I said to Bob, “I can’t commit to feeling better, but I can commit to trusting God for grace for my need each day.”

I’m thankful for my God, who is and extends GRACE and strength for each need when I rely on Him (which I was forgetting to do); and I’m so grateful for friends who also reach out, not lessening God’s standard but also saying “I get where you are. I’m sorry for your struggle, I love you, I support you.”

And my struggles are so minimal when compared with others’ – but they are MY struggles and the ones that God uses in my life.

So … I can’t commit to feeling better, although that will come with time. But I CAN commit to behaving better, by the grace of God. And I might be coloring again tonight!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NIV)