The Grand Puzzle Master

Swirls of red and white. No specific pattern. Does this piece fit here? There? Turn it around. Nope, still didn’t fit.

During these 16+ months of isolation, I purchased several puzzles. The first was of a lady in a Venetian mask and gown. While Don and I did pretty well with her face and mask, which had more definition than the red and white fabric and gold beads of her crown and gown, we would struggle to get one piece to fit, then give up for the day.

Then our grandniece and grandnephew, Cadence and Cole, came over with their parents. These children are 6 and 10, Their eyes are younger than ours (so is the rest of them)! Cole and his father filled in the bottom of the puzzle, a mix of those red and white pieces with gold braid or beads here and there. Cadence would pick up a piece, look at it and say, “I think this goes here.” We’d try and it didn’t fit. “No, turn it around.” YES!

Amazing. We didn’t finish the puzzle that day and, without their quick eyes we finally gave up on it and put it away, perhaps for a later day. Perhaps not!

I pulled out another puzzle. Same number of pieces but much more specific detail to help identify the pieces, which are larger than in the first puzzle. Cole and Cadence helped us on this one again, but Don and I were quite successful in putting sections together. We finished it!

You may not like puzzles but, if you do, you know working on them can be quite addictive.

Would you have guessed where this piece fit? It was one of the later ones we identified. Was it a football? Did it fit with the chess pieces and orange floor? No–it was part of the tennis shoes by the door. But it took us a long time to realize those were shoelaces.

When we only see the immediate circumstance, whether it’s a loss, a humbling experience, hurtful words, or even joy, we don’t always recognize how it fits into a pattern for good in our lives.

I thought of my friend Tom, who says he loves watching God move the chess pieces. God is not arbitrary, playing a game. But he is sovereign and so often brings situations or people into our lives in unexpected ways. While we may see the back of the puzzle–all the same color and different shapes, he sees the complete picture, right side up, colors and pattern intact.

So for those I love who face special challenges this week–surgery, loss of a loved one, grief, marital discord–I urge you as I urge myself, to continue to look at our sovereign God. He knows what is happening and what good he will bring from each difficulty. And if we look at him rather than the one puzzle piece, we can walk in faith–yes, sometimes with great pain–knowing that he cares about our heart struggles. In his economy, nothing is wasted, not even our tears.

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Psalm 56:8 ESV

I just read that God never looks over his balcony and says “Oh my!” Illness, loss, wars, fires, floods may grieve his heart, but they are no surprise to him. And he has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

And he cares about our tears, even as he looks at his grand puzzle which will one day be complete.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Words and lyrics by Jim Hill

Who Influenced your Philosophy of Work?

cheerful expressive woman dancing in beige studio
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

I write, because teachers, both in person and online, taught me the joy of reading and writing. Mrs. Goolsby taught me to love history in the eighth grade. From the South, she often broke into the Charleston right there in class–and received long-stem red roses from another teacher on Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Regardless of your opinions about the Civil War, she transmitted a passion for the human side of history.

Mrs. Goolsby also took time to talk with me after I got a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ on a test (I don’t recall which). She knew that was not my norm and we talked through how I answered the True/False questions. Together we figured out that, instead of ‘x-ing’ the correct answer, I ‘x-ed’ the wrong answer, leaving the right one clean. When she re-graded my test with that understanding, I did well.

text
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A senior high teacher whose name I can’t recall, taught me to love literature and writing. My favorite was an essay on the psychological background of Lady MacBeth (“out, damn spot!”). There’s actually quite a bit of information on the subject and I enjoyed synthesizing it and putting it into an “A” essay.

In the hospital, both for my own surgeries and with my first husband, I’ve encountered kind, effective doctors and nurses who went beyond just doing their job. They checked on me as well as Jerry. They encouraged me during very difficult days. When they knew they couldn’t restore him to life, one helped me choose the most natural way for him to transition into glory.

person in a construction site
Photo by Aleksey on Pexels.com

My father and my current husband, Don, were both contractors, working hard with their heads and hands to design and build quality homes and structures that would stand.

My parents taught my brothers and me a strong work ethic, which exists to this day.

My brothers–a retired GI physician; a retired Head of a college’s Psychology department; and a police officer and expert on blood spatter analysis–all have worked hard throughout their adult lives, and continue to give to their families, churches and communities.

I’m thankful for each of these who labored in their field, performing quality work with passion and intention.

I’m thankful for colleagues at Intel who worked in the Human Resources field, and for what each brought to their business and to the team.

I’m thankful for fire fighters, gardeners, tradespeople, salespersons (well, not on the phone!), waste disposal technicians, soldiers, veterinarians, and so very many others who toil, day after day. Some love their work. There were seasons in my HR work when I thought “And I get paid to do this!” (Other times, not so much–smile).

men working in a warehouse
Photo by Tiger Lily on Pexels.com

Others work because of their need to be productive and care for their families, and trudge home at the end of a long day, having kept their commitmnets and done their best.

On this Labor Day weekend I am thankful for each of these.

Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.

Colossians 3:23, MSG

I wish you a happy celebration of Labor Day as you remember and are thankful for these individuals who impacted your view of work.

New Mercies

Are you weary, as I am, of inhumane treatment in Afghanistan, an overwhelming hurricane in Louisiana, a devastating earthquake in Haiti, political unrest here at home, and hurting friends? Where do we find hope when all the news seems bad? More Covid variants; more Americans possibly left behind in Kabul; friends dealing with loss, illness, surgeries and ongoing treatments.

Sometimes it all feels overwhelming.

But God …

  • has told us to cast all our cares on him;
  • has promised never to leave nor forsake us;
  • came to give us life eternal; and abundance of joy.

I’m reminded–and I need to be–of when my first husband, Jerry, and I, flew to Gainesville, Florida where Stanford doctors believed he would get the dual liver/pancreas transplant he needed sooner than in California.

During my Jerry’s terminal illness, we experienced repeated hospitalizations. Invasive medical tests. Ongoing insurance conflicts that festered financial concerns. And yet, we experienced many “but God” moments, reiterating our Father’s faithfulness in dire circumstances.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:26 TLV)

But God…led us to Gainesville, a city whose teaching hospital had a strong organ transplant program. Jerry had to be available for surgery on very short notice whenever organs became available. Our lives became more complicated as we booked motel rooms for only a few days at a time, and moved regularly. We had no idea we would have to wait three and a half months for that phone call from the hospital, saying “Come now”.

But the constant relocating was hard on Jerry. Living in motel rooms without a kitchen, desk or extra chairs became tiresome and costly. I felt overwhelmed, supporting my husband in his fight for life while juggling bill payments, managing rentals back in California, and looking for low-cost motels. And we both knew Jerry’s need for a transplant was becoming more critical. So we prayed, and waited.

But God had some deep lessons for me.

1.     God loves us and wants us to rely on Him for every need (I Peter 5:7). I asked friends to pray for longer-term housing in Florida. Our minister in California introduced us to Richard, a Gainesville pastor, who graciously shared our need with his church. I contacted more than twenty apartments, trying to find a place without success. Discouraged, I left a message on Richard’s voice mail. “I can’t find a place to rent for a limited time. Do you know anyone who might be able to help us?”

person in green long sleeve shirt using macbook pro
Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

My cell phone rang an hour later. Richard’s voice was animated. “Carol, I listened to your voice mail and not more than 4 minutes later, opened my email. A family going on a summer mission project wondered if their home would be a possibility for ‘the couple from California!’ I don’t know about you, but that timing sure seems like God to me …”

We lived in that home for two months.

This housing provision was one of many but God…experiences as we journeyed into the valley of the shadow of death.

2. God shows his love through others. We were “strangers in a strange land.” But God…loved us through people we’d never met before. On arrival at the Jacksonville airport, I went to pick up our car rental.

“How long will you need the car?” Maria asked as she pulled our Hertz reservation.

mercedes benz parked in a row
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“I don’t really know,” I replied. “My husband is here for a transplant, so it depends on when organs become available, and on his recovery time.”

Maria glanced over the contract. “Hmmm…you probably have more luggage than will fit in this compact car. Why don’t I upgrade you to a van. That’ll give you lots of room.”

“Thank you!”

When I told Maria who my employer was, she wrote up the contract, charging us $15/day for a van that normally ran $75/day. I renewed our contract month by month for seven months, and the agency never once raised the price!

Family and friends came to visit, and to serve, letting us know we were not alone. And new friends in Gainesville visited, cooked for me, sang to Jerry in the hospital, and met other needs.

3.     God’s perspective is bigger–and often different–than ours. Our life was on hold. But God … showered us with ‘divine appointments’ almost daily as we sat in restaurants and ice cream parlors and explored antique shops. Waiting for the hospital’s call, we had nothing but time. As we shared out of our pain and hope, those we met often opened their hearts and shared their unique stories with us. We prayed with a hurting mother whose teenage son was in juvenile hall, and shared our hope with a rodeo clown. And I heard later that God had never been discussed as much among my workplace circle of influence as during Jerry’s hospitalization, when I sent regular updates sharing God’s grace in our lives during this difficult time.

4.     God often shows up when our hearts and minds desperately need to know he still cares.                     

Our life had lost its rhythm, any sense of normalcy.

But God…Jerry had just been moved a step down from Intensive to Transitional Care.

Entering his room, I drew the privacy curtain between the two beds and sat beside Jerry, holding his hand. Looking out the window, I saw Bonnie, whom I’d met briefly in the Intensive Care waiting room the day before, walk around, checking room numbers. She turned into our room and walked past me to the second bed.

“Is that your husband?” I asked in surprise.

Wanting to encourage Jerry without intruding on their privacy, I began to sing quietly. My heart warmed in awe as I heard Bonnie’s sweet alto join my soprano from the other side of the curtain. I had no idea God had placed us in a room with another Christ-follower.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not

As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness,

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Lyrics by Thomas Obadiah Chisolm (1866-1960), tune by William Runyan, published 1923

5.     In the toughest of circumstances, God is there. I was exhausted. Every night for five months, I left the hospital dispirited and weary. Settling in at the apartment, my eyes were dry. Every muscle and nerve in my body ached. My mind felt overwhelmed. I sent an email update to colleagues and the many who were praying for us, then sank onto my bed to fall into dreamless sleep.

belief bible book business
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But God…renewed me daily. Each morning I wakened with new hope and joy, ready to face another day with my beloved. I learned the truth of Lamentations 3:22-23, the scripture that is the basis for the hymn above:

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.

Proverbs 16:9 says “We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it” (MSG).

Living out of motel rooms, searching for housing, and caring for my husband in a hospital on the other side of the country were not in my plans. God has not promised to spare us from the hardships of life, but He has committed to being with us in every situation. When our heart and strength wane, He is faithfully present.

My prayer for the crises we face in today’s world is that those suffering will experience his grace in unexpected ways; and that we who grieve with and for them will lean into and rely on those but God…moments as He cocoons us in His love.


PRAYER FOR AFGHANISTAN

Picture a young M*slim woman, physically, emotionally and mentally abused by the husband she was forced to marry at age fourteen. Desperate, near death on occasion, losing several children in the womb. Then Jesus helped her escape. The Jesus she saw in a vision at fourteen when he told her he loved her – this girl who felt unattractive, unloved, unwanted. She didn’t understand then. But later, she gave herself fully to Jesus as she learned who this Man was who appeared to her in her teens.

Satan tempts her at times with the fear of the past, the scars she’s borne. But she fights him with the full armor of God.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” 

Ephesians 6:10-13

The elements of that armor?

  • The Belt of Truth
  • The Breastplate of Righteousness
  • Readiness to share the gospel of peace
  • The Shield of faith, with which to extinguish the evil one’s attacks
  • The Helmet of Salvation
  • The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and
  • Praying at all times in the Spirit for all the saints.
smiling woman wearing hijab
Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy on Pexels.com
This is a representative photo and is not the woman I write about

This young woman has fought against evil and is finding freedom from the memories, the scars of her past, and I praise God for her life and her testimony.

And now we see desperate people trying to flee Afghanistan in the wake of our withdrawal of troops and the takeover by the Taliban. Oh, how we need to pray for these people, beloved by God who gave His Son that ALL might know Him. I can’t even imagine the terror they feel as they rush the airport, cling to airplanes from which they fall to their deaths, as they try desperately to flee a horrible regime.

I know many of us are praying for the Christians who will be sought out and persecuted, likely killed. Franklin Graham has called for today, Sunday 8/22, to be a Day of Prayer for Afghanistan, especially for Christians and those who have worked with America. I am copying here a prayer by Anne Graham Lotz (daughter of Billy Graham) for the people of Afghanistan.

“…I cannot shake the very heavy burden I feel to pray for Afghanistan. The following is a summary of how I am praying as I pour out my heart before God. Please join me if you feel led:

Creator of the Universe. Ruler of All. Lord of the Nations. Are You not the Judge of all the earth? If my heart is broken…shattered…over what’s taking place in Afghanistan, what must Your great heart feel? So I come to You and plead Your mercy for Your people who are now hiding in basements, caves, any hole they can find, knowing that demonic forces will not stop until Your people are found and slaughtered. So I pray for Your people…followers of Jesus…to be supernaturally protected and delivered. Send Your angel armies to surround Your people, as You did for Elisha (2 Kings 6). Blind the enemy so they cannot locate Your people in hiding. Didn’t You teach us Yourself that when we pray, we are to pray that we would be delivered from evil? (Matthew 6) So. Deliver Your people. By any means. Please. But if You do not, and if You allow Your people to be slaughtered, then I pray that You would give dying grace to each and every one of them. Men. Women. Children. Fill them with Your supernatural peace. Give them a vision of Heaven opened for them, as You did for Stephen in Acts 7. Open their eyes to see You, Lord Jesus, standing at the right hand of the Father, waiting to welcome them Home and give them a martyr’s crown.

And then I pray…yes I do… for the fullness of Your wrath to fall on the evil perpetrators, whether they are in Kabul or Tehran or Washington, DC. Holy God. Avenge Your people. I know You hear this prayer. Now I wait to see how You will answer. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Surely it’s time for You to be glorified in all the earth. For the sake of Your great name, Amen”

Anne Graham Lotz

Please join me in this prayer. May God keep His sovereign hand on His precious people.

Family, Majesty, the Faith of a Child, and a Gold Coin

Last week I wrote about the first three days of our road trip.

On Sunday, we left Eagle, ID for Yellowstone, again driving through quite a bit of smoke and watching the topography change around us.

We arrived at our hotel just outside the West Gate of Yellowstone, checked in, and joined Bob and Sheila to drive into the campsite where their sons and families were staying. What a fun evening of reconnecting, of setting out our chairs by the fire, of watching nine cousins (from 5-12) who adore each other and delight in being together.

Following are some highlights of our stay.

FAMILY

Our nieces and nephews took turns cooking for Bob, Sheila, Don and me. What great coordination, what serving love. We ‘older generation’ brought desserts, brownies, s’mores fixin’s, makings for birthday cupcakes, etc. We delighted in seeing different sights in Yellowstone, especially through the eyes of the children! We started at Old Faithful on Monday morning. Each evening we gathered in our circled chairs to talk and enjoy hanging out together. Our oldest grand-niece present, Makenna, was wonderful with the littler ones, always checking whether they needed to go to the bathroom, wanted to walk down to the lake, etc. (where we found leeches–kinda creepy!).

And Don and I felt cared for as some of our nephews and nieces would walk more slowly with us (the altitude was a bit tough on us), or suggest a shorter way that we could walk back to a meeting place while they hiked three times the miles that we did!

One night we had a time of prayer and laying on hands for one of our family who was facing surgery. “Thank you that we can celebrate ‘X’s’ surgery,” one prayed. While we chuckled at her choice of words, we realized we are grateful that the problem was identified so that surgery could be an option! We joined with the little children in asking God’s hand to be on the situation.

MAJESTY

Elk – some resting right off the boardwalk near Old Faithful.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, where at a certain time of day the mist reflects rainbow colors at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall.

A large herd of bison crossing a river. We saw one turn back to check on her babies, behind her. How amazing that the God who created us for community also put into these huge beasts a nurturing instinct. Beautiful! And the one that walked within five feet of the car, ignoring us all as he meandered between the cars.

Deer and a stunning buck with a huge rack.

WORSHIP

Nephew Josiah led us in a time of family worship one night. He shared scriptures about the majesty of God’s creation and had chosen several songs for us to sing along with a speaker. As I looked at his six-year-old daughter, I saw the beauty of holiness as she sat, arms on the chair arms, eyes closed, face lifted in praise to God. O for the faith of a little child!

A GOLD COIN

I followed the four littlest girls to a log where they sat huddled together. The “Princess Crew,” they call themselves along with one cousin a bit older–because they all love Disney Princesses. As I snapped pictures, the girls started asking questions. One noticed the coin pendant I wore.

The Princess Crew and MomMom in front of Old Faithful Inn

“Is that real?” she asked.

“It is. It belonged to a dear friend who died about seven years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok, honey. She’s with Jesus.”

Our outgoing one jumped in with “But she’s with God. And she’s in your heart.”

“That’s right.”

A younger cousin, five, spoke up.

“I don’t want to die. I just want to live here on this earth.”

“I understand, sweetie. But God will take care of us.”

Just then the older cousin appeared.

“And the best thing about being a Christian is that you know you’ll see here again.”

Moments like these are priceless treasures to be stored in my memory bank for joyous recollection.

I felt expansive, filled up with the majesty of our God, grateful for the beauty of this earth, for these enormous creatures who walk by without incident, for children who are being raised to love God through his Son, Jesus Christ.