Thank you for your Service

Today is Veterans’ Day, a day to thank those who have served our country in military service. And there are many stories of veterans who have been heroes, caring for children in war zones, helping their companions, often separated from family members for long periods of time.

Like me, you’ve probably teared up at some of the TV news spots showing a serviceman or woman surprising a spouse, a child by walking into their place of work or school. Or the one where the soldier’s dog greets him with unabashed joy, whole body wiggling, tail wagging.

My favorite veteran, my husband Don Loewen, was part of the cleanup efforts in Okinawa for sixteen months at the end of WWII. While others within our Mennonite peace culture did significant alternative service like teaching or working in hospitals, building artificial limbs for returning soldiers, Don believed he had a responsibility to serve within traditional means and trusted God to guide him in that. Don was assigned to the medics and worked in mosquito abatement.

My husband doesn’t like to talk about his service. Like many who have been in war zones, he doesn’t want to relive the memories that have never left him. But there are some stories he has told me, like the time in 1945 he hung onto the bottom of a cargo truck for eight hours while a typhoon rocked the island with wind gales up to 180 mph.

Or the times he went into a bar with his best bud. Don would order a Coke while Ray drank hard liquor. But when Don told him he’d had enough, Ray stopped drinking.

Don carried his pocket Bible with him at all times. I didn’t know him then, but I like to think back of that handsome young soldier who stood for God, country and family. Who wasn’t afraid to walk into a place that was foreign to his upbringing (like a bar) and do the right thing, because of his commitment to Jesus Christ. Who was willing to confront Ray when his actions jeopardized his health and decision-making.

So while I know there are abuses of power in the service, I am thankful for those men and women who serve(d) with honor and integrity. I also ache for those who came home with tremendous scars, missing limbs, PTSD, broken families.

To each of you, starting with my husband, Don, thank you for your service!

Patience — Now!

I was responding to emails when my computer screen went black. No matter what I did, I couldn’t pull it up again, nor could I pull up any other information. Stuck!

Couldn’t access my finances. Couldn’t get into my novel work-in-progress. Not a search engine, nor a planning program. And I knew if I took my laptop into Clickaway I’d be without it for a day or two.

I looked up yahoo support and called a number that purported to be yahoo. On the phone, the rep talked me through a few things but then wanted to connect me with another party which of course would cost me money and … my brother, Arnold, was listening in the other room. Both he and I had a bad feeling about this call, so he rushed into the room while I said “I need to think about this” and ended the call.

Arn and I looked for a yahoo customer service direct number and the gentleman with whom I spoke was articulate, gracious and professional. He assured me I shouldn’t have to pay to get back online and got me going within a short period of time, then advised me to have my laptop checked for viruses. which I did.

I had also applied for renewal of my passport. I pulled the application off the web and was charged a $38 “processing fee”. About a week after mailing all the requisite paperwork, I got an email from the US Dept of State that I owed them $140 for the passport book and card. I called to clarify and the man at the other end of the line – again, gracious, clear – explained that the Department of State would never charge a processing fee, only the $140 for the book and card. The $38 I’d already spent was to a third party – and I probably can’t recover the $38. It was just frustrating to see how often others take advantage and scam us. (Lessons learned, I hope!) Reminds me of what my younger brother, Bob, said after attending a conference on white-collar crime. “People are finding more and more sophisticated ways to do evil.”

Two weeks ago I talked about bringing Christ into everything, including those annoying moments and the fatigue that sometimes crush me. These were such moments and I was ticked off! I told Don I didn’t know if I wanted to pray for patience because developing it is sometimes very hard.

So what should Pastor Tim talk about this weekend but the fruit of the Spirit which is … PATIENCE! Oh timely word!

He described biblical patience as having a “long fuse” – the ability to bear up under difficulty without giving up or giving in to bitterness. It goes beyond saying “I’m going to put up with this” to our behavior while we wait on the Lord.

One of the ways we can practice patience is to bless people. We’re told to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It’s pretty hard to pray for someone and hate them at the same time. And while we may pray for God to change a person’s heart, to adjust their mindset, to make him or her kinder, we are in that asking him to bless them. We may ask Him to lighten that person’s burden so they can be more loving or kind.

I’ve experienced this. In one workplace a member of my staff tried in every way to disgrace me, to hurt my reputation. Due to circumstances I won’t go into here, my ability to deal with the issue was severely restricted. Every day at lunch I sat across from a huge old oak, eating a salad, reading scripture and begging for grace to work within this very challenging situation. And it seemed every day God said, “Wait for me. I will deal with this.”

One day this woman was discovered to have stolen from the President (her “good friend”) and the company. And she was history. God took care of the situation and cleared my name. She was the one without integrity.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”.

Romans 12:18-19, ESV

I can think of someone I need to bless this week. Can you?

Suffering is not Optional

Fourteen years ago I spent five months with my first husband in a hospital in Florida. Most of that time was in Intensive Care as he struggled to recover from a liver and pancreas transplant.

I had to wrestle with some tough questions from friends and colleagues:

Why is this happening to you? You and Jerry are “good people”.

 Jerry was a faithful servant of Christ’s—why him?

What is God’s purpose in our suffering?

When others asked me these questions, I was able to share that as believers we are not exempt from suffering in the world, from the effects of sin and illness. Suffering is not optional; we all experience it in one way or another … difficulties at work, challenges with children, loss, illness, financial struggles. I met with a new friend for lunch this week and we agreed that everyone has a story. Another dear friend has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  

If, as followers of Christ, we had everything going “right” for us, everyone would want to follow Jesus just for the benefits they would gain. But God has called us to follow in good times and bad. He told us that in this world we would have trouble, but not to despair, because HE has overcome the world (John 16:33b). One day everything will be made right, and what a day that will be!

God has not promised to spare us, but He has promised “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5, NIV). He has committed to walk with us in all the paths of our lives, especially in the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). And when those who are watching us see us trust God in the midst of tears, when there is hope despite agony, they begin to wonder who this God is.

After Jerry’s death, I struggled with ‘what if’.

What if he hadn’t had the transplant? Would he have lived longer?

Could the doctors have done anything different? Would a different hospital have resulted in a different outcome? 

What if everything I believed about salvation and heaven was a lie and I’d never see Jerry again? If that were the case, there was no hope—I might as well just die too.

After three weeks of intense and private struggle, God brought the scripture to my mind where the apostle Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68, NIV).

Somehow that statement of faith from Peter settled my mind and heart – the work of the Holy Spirit! And while I continued to grieve and to heal over several years’ time, the question of who I could rely on was resolved for me.

Are you hurting? Is someone you love in trouble? Have you lost hope? Look to the One who allowed Himself to be nailed to a cruel, horrible cross so that we could have forgiveness, hope, life. He knows your pain, your fear, your hurting heart. And He wants to love you through it. He might do that through scripture; through family or a dear friend. He loves you!

“Casting all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5:7.

Sleep Deprivation

Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Archibald Hart says many people’s personality faults, anger and anxiety, can be reduced or even eliminated by getting more sleep on a regular basis. He recommends going to bed 15 minutes earlier every night for a week; then 30 minutes; then 45; and finally an hour earlier (or more, if you need it).

As I talk to girlfriends my age, I’m somewhat surprised at how many of us have difficulty sleeping–some wake up during the night and have trouble falling back asleep for several hours. Some wake early in the morning and are awake, albeit dragging, later in the day. Others, like me, don’t fall asleep for hours after getting into bed.

I’ve tried many different possible remedies and am hopeful that I’ve found one that works for me. However, I’ve resonated with Dr. Hart’s insights about the importance of sleep in our lives.

When I’m tired I need to put more of a guard on my tongue so as not to snap at those I love, drag around looking at the floor, thinking of all the things I need to do and don’t want to begin.

Once I get some rest I’m perkier, more loving to Don and accepting of myself, and have increased patience for others’ needs and concerns.

I’ve found it’s better to go to bed earlier rather than sleep later in the morning. The earlier rest is more refreshing because I’m not so fatigued when I first nod off.

When I can’t sleep I do one of a number of things:

  • Pray
  • Read
  • Eat (that’s a bad one!)
  • Watch TV, or
  • Focus on my work-in-progress novel.

My hubby is a great sleeper who falls asleep within three minutes of when his head hits the pillow. While he slumbers through my nocturnal wakings (someone has to, right?), our dog Paige is my little midnight buddy. If I get out of bed she invariably wakens within 20 minutes to find me gone. I’ll hear the patter of little paws and sure enough, my pal has come to keep me company. I must admit sometimes she looks at me like “what are you doing up and Puh-leeze, can we go back to bed?”

So are you sleep deprived? How is that affecting your work, your attitude, your joy, your relationships? How do you deal with the effects of this deprivation? What can you do to change either the circumstances or yourself?

When you face a physical, emotional or spiritual crisis, sometimes the first and best thing to do is sleep. Release your cares to God, who has promised to care for you. Allow your mind to clear, your body and spirit to be refreshed so you can face the challenges before you. So often I feel like I have to finish everything on my to-do list, meet whatever challenges are in my path, and do it on my own. And yet my Father says:

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.”

Psalm 127:2

This week I resolve to focus more on bringing him into everything I do and need, and allow him to give me rest, knowing I am one of his beloved.

Harvesting

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

So if we want these qualities in our lives, how do we get them? Is it by trying harder? By putting reminders on our mirror or fridge to say “be kind today.” “Be patient with the crazy driver in front of (or behind) you.” “When you get angry, hold your tongue.”

We so often try to produce these ‘fruit’ by working harder. And yet, God says that doesn’t work…and how well I know it. Just before these verses Paul describes the works of the flesh, i.e. those qualities and behaviors that come naturally to us, as “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verses 19-21).

I can think of a time when I exhibited four of these in one incident when my temper got the best of me. So first of all, I’m grateful, deeply grateful, for the forgiveness of God that wipes out my sin.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

I John 1:9 ESV

Second, I was reminded by our pastor today that these fruit of the Spirit i.e. love, joy, peace … are HIS work in me, not mine in myself. My challenge is to spend time with Him, focusing on Jesus, loving and worshipping Him, allowing His Holy Spirit to produce these characteristics in me.

What a joy. It’s not my job to make me like Jesus. It’s my job to rest in Him, trust in Him, and allow Him to change me. That’s His job! And He can do what I cannot do myself!

Thank you Lord, for producing more of your likeness, for growing a good harvest in me as I focus on, spend time with you. I love you.