Moldova and a Shepherd

They stood near the door of Safeway, a Safeway I rarely frequent. A man and his son. The man held a sign saying

Please help.

No money for rent or food.

Jesus loves you.

I wondered whether this was another scam, but approached them with a smile beneath my mask. “Do you know Jesus?”

It was the son who replied. “He’s my Lord.” I told them Jesus is my Lord too, and asked what they needed. The son told me they needed gift cards to buy food for the rest of the family at home. He and his father had just eaten.

“Ok, I’ll be back,” I promised.

Taking my groceries to the cashier, I asked for a gift card, then handed it to the boy as I exited the store.

“I am Carol. What are your names?” I asked.

The older man was Johnny; the younger, Dennis. He was thirteen.

brown concrete building
Photo by Marius Grigoriu on Pexels.com

I asked more about them. The family is from Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. It is located between the Ukraine (where my father was born) and Romania.

What made this meeting even more of a God-moment is that dear friends, Walt and June McCuistion, had a significant teaching ministry in Moldova for several years after the country declared its independence from Russia in 1991, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As Moldova declared their indepence, Walt became acquainted with some of the country’s leaders (certainly divine appointments!).

“Coming out of communism, we have no system of morality. Can you teach us morality?” they asked.

Walt said he would, using the Bible as his textbook. They agreed.

We prayed for the country as it tried to find its way out of communism.

“We don’t want to be here, begging,” Dennis told me. “But my father lost his job two weeks ago and we don’t have enough to pay the rent and buy food.”

I promised Don and I would pray for them and their family, and for a new job for Johnny. They thanked me multiple times, asking God to bless me.

And He did! Sometimes I feel tight on money because of bills I know are coming; but this family needed that gift card so much more than we do! It was a precious God moment, given by a loving Shepherd who loves and guides me, and who loves this family who was doing what was necessary to care for each other.

I don’t often give money to people on the street or outside a store. But on occasion, and this was one, it seems the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, our Good Shepherd, puts it on my heart to respond. And when He does, I want to listen and obey.

One day Johnny, Dennis, and their family will be with Don and me, and many of you, in heaven. While many of us have enjoyed sweet repast with family and friends this week, Psalm 23:5-6 promises so much more.

clear drinking glass beside white ceramic bowl with food
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You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:5-6

I pray God’s goodness and mercy for this family now; but know that one day, the trials they face will fade in the presence of our good God, who Shepherds His flock with love and care. And what joy when we have the privilege of being part of His avenue of blessing to someone in need.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:10 NIV

Twinkling Lights and a Shepherd

Twinkling lights spreading warmth through colorful shopping markets. Cuckoo clocks, shawls, candles, handmade porcelain and other gifts. Lighted carousels and Christmas trees and snow! Weinerschnitzel, where the tender veal covers the edges of the plate. One dish definitely enough for two!

Photo by Thomas Schmidt / Eyeem

Don and I were looking forward to visiting the Christmas Markets on the Danube, leaving the day after Thanksgiving. Seeing sparkling lights in beautiful old villages along the Danube.

Then Austria locked down, and our cruise was cancelled.

Surprisingly, we were almost relieved. There had been so much “will we, won’t we, can we, can’t we” as we gathered warm clothing, tried to ensure we had all our needs covered, that we were stressing about it. We didn’t realize how much until, the night after we got the cancellation notice, we slept ’til 9:30 am!

As much as I would love to take this trip, I have a Shepherd who watches over me. He knows what is best for us, even when it doesn’t feel so great. And in light of the trials so many are experiencing, this is a small thing.

Last week I wrote about how the Shepherd guides me, my GPS, directing my steps and leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. This week, Pastor Tim talked about God’s name in Psalm 23, Jehovah Rohi, the Shepherd and Companion. He covers not only my physical needs (rest, refreshment, guidance), but also my emotional needs.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

He is not surprised by our valleys–death, illness, loss, hostility, depression, fear, plan changes. While these things can mess with our minds for a time, we can walk through them with Him at our side. My Shepherd is with me. His rod guards, like a club, to protect. His staff guides and directs. With a shepherd’s crook he can hook a wayward sheep and pull it back into the fold. I want that kind of Shepherd!

We’ve all experienced losses these past two years–family or friends who have died from Covid or for other reasons. Friends who have gotten Covid, walked through the valley and come out on the other side. Loneliness and fear have become prevalent companions for many, as fear was for me last year.

I don’t know what valley you’ve experienced recently, but I do know you’re not alone. You have a Shepherd, and hopefully other companions who have walked with you through your particular valley.

We can’t walk from mountain to mountain without going through a valley. But we walk through by realizing the valleys are not our final destination. We must keep walking through them to reach the mountains on the other side.

So instead of traipsing through the snow and looking at Christmas wonderland in Austria and Germany, Don and I will put our tree up earlier than expected, will have Christmas carols playing through the house, will reach out to our neighbors, family and friends to extend love and hope and joy.

I wish you a joy-filled Thanksgiving filled with praise for our Good Shepherd!

GPS and a Shepherd

I had just gotten into my SUV after the Sunday school class and had not asked for directions. But my phone’s GPS popped up with “17 minutes to Evergreen Valley Church.” I have been attending a Sunday school class at another church, then scooting home to pick Don up and go to Evergreen (EVC), our home church. How did my GPS know where I was going next? Hmmmm, think someone/thing is tracking?

Pastor Tim is teaching on Psalm 23 this month. He challenged us to memorize this psalm, and to use it as a basis for thanksgiving. There is so much wealth in this poem. We need to start with God–always; it’s so easy to start from my point of view, my circumstances. But the Psalmist begins, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3, ESV
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When I start with my circumstances I can easily become disheartened, overwhelmed, and even numb. But when I look to God first and ask what He is doing through my circumstances, I have a different perspective.

He is my shepherd, right now. My GPS, my personal guidance system, from now ’til eternity. You don’t see sheep running around on their own, like you might wild Mustangs. Sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd for food, water and protection.

And so am I. I live in a country where independence is highly valued. Self-reliance can become a barrier to trusting God. But I’ve often been reminded of my need to rely on my Good Shepherd…

  1. When I, and the staff women with whom I lived in the inner city, were threatened with death and mutilation
  2. When I had to trust God for financial provision while working in a non-profit
  3. When I have choices to make that will either further my agenda, or His
  4. When I lost a beloved husband to death
  5. When I’m weary and my husband needs help with his computer and I need my shepherd’s “green pastures” and “still waters” to respond rightly
  6. When my neighbor is critically ill and I feel helpless in knowing what to say, and God just helps me love her
  7. When family members and dear friends suffer with chemo and Covid and loss, and I cry out to Him for them

We are made to have companionship with the Lord, to rely on Him, to trust in Him. These words of Isaiah are familiar to many because they are repeated in Handel’s MESSIAH:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;

    he will gather the lambs in his arms;

he will carry them in his bosom,

    and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:11

Within the twenty-third Psalm is the wonderful truth that as our Shepherd, God leads, guides, and directs our paths. How often have I headed one direction to have Him turn me around, sometimes painfully.

  • The man I thought I’d marry (which would not have been His best for me)
  • The career choices I made with His guidance
  • Asking forgiveness of others where needed because of His Spirit’s conviction
  • The two lovely men I did marry, and the blessings of each
  • And the joy of serving God in a variety of ways over the years.

There’s much more in this Psalm yet, but for this week, these scriptures will be my focus.

Where have you experienced God as your Shepherd?

EDGE OF ETERNITY

As a writer working on her first novel, I’m fascinated by books that capture my mind, interest, and heart. EDGE OF ETERNITY, written by Randy Alcorn, is such a book.

My friend Susan MacKenzie loaned this to me. It took me awhile to get into the book. But the further I read, the more I was hooked. Alcorn writes of Nick, a man successful by the world’s standards but dealing with a family broken by his own choices. In this allegorical story Nick wakes up in another reality. All he had is gone. Now he has new choices.

In the far distance, he sees a glowing, shining light. Someone tells him that’s Charis (the Greek word for grace, the unmerited favor of God). We might call it heaven. It’s a place Nick wants to reach. There are many roads, and he tries several of them, hitting dead-ends or finding betrayal from those he called friends. He avoids the red road until he meets a group who invite him to travel with them on the red road. The old man leading the group is Shadrach. As they travel, Nick begins to see aspects of both Charis (heaven) and Erebus (hell), and to see the kind of man he has been.

Trials beset along the road as the evil one, disguised as a handsome, winsome young man named Joshua, tries to tempt Nick off the red road, promising him riches and power if he will follow Joshua.

At one point Nick thinks “I will never deny the King.” In his pride, he takes over leadership of the group, and plans to seduce one of the women traveling with them. Before that can happen, he is embroiled in a mighty battle between Marcus, his guardian angel, and the Usurper, battling for his soul. Here’s a sample of when Nick fights back against the Usurper, the Pretender.

I heard a terrible scream. Before my eyes fire consumed the Pretender and burnt off the remaining layers, mask after mask, until I saw evil unveiled, a putrid dripping mass of blood and pus. I smelled the stench of rotten flesh.

“‘I am royalty,’ he screamed hoarsely. ‘I was chief of all creation before your kind was made!'”

“The King is Lord of the cosmos,’ I cried. “You are lord of the flies!”

“At that moment I heard distant cheering, as if some crowd was rooting for me.

“‘I will drink your blood and skewer you like meat, miserable image-bearer!’ He shrieked the words, veins in his temples bulging. ‘I brought civil war to Charis itself…What mighty works have you done?’

Edge of Eternity, p. 278-279

And then one of my favorite lines:

“‘None. You are a fallen titan; I am but a reclaimed man. What you were makes what you are all the worse.‘”

If you and I are believers in Christ’s free gift of redemption, we are reclaimed men and women. Reclaimed by the King! What a glorious truth!

Want to find out what the red road is?

Want to know how the story ends (and it surprised me!)?

I highly recommend this book for expanding your view of Charis (heaven) and of the cosmic powers against which we fight until the Lord takes us home.

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.

Ephesians 6:12, ESV

If you’ve read the book, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts about it.

Blessings, and may the God of peace go with us all this week.

Supply Chain Thanks

I looked at the rice shelf in the grocery store. Some empty spots. Same in several other aisles, although not as bad as at the beginning of the pandemic when people bought up all the food and supplies they could.

I walked to the produce aisle to select my bananas. If I don’t eat at least half a banana a day, in addition to taking Potassium supplements, I get severe foot cramps at night. So these are high on my “must have in stock at all times” list. I like them just a bit green, firm, when to me they are most flavorful. Not for me the soft yellow bananas that are best used to make banana bread!

copy space photo of yellow bananas
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We still had three bananas at home, so I was hoping to find greenish ones. Nope, all yellow. I muttered, “I wanted greener ones.” And then I stopped, ashamed. There were lots of bananas to choose from. They just weren’t exactly what I wanted.

I am spoiled, as are many in America. I’m used to being able to get what I want, pretty much when I want it. How many in this world, even in this country, have the opportunity to do that? What right did I have to complain?

People in Haiti are suffering devastating loss of home, family, goods, and the means to live following a 7.2 earthquake that rocked its southern peninsula on August 14, toppling buildings and killing an estimated 2,200 persons. Approximately 12,000 more were injured and others missing. Think of the agony and hopelessness those families must feel.

Mud, water and debris after Honduran hurricanes
Christmas in makeshift street homes

And in Honduras, two major hurricanes within three weeks last November destroyed infrastructure, left mud, water and debris in the streets, and left many homeless. Yet there was hope as some built makeshift structures along the road, along with Christmas ornaments! My brother and sister-in-law have developed relationships with several Honduran families over the years and established a relief fund through their church, giving significant help to several groups in their rebuilding and clean water efforts.

As of Saturday there were about 170 cargo ships waiting to dock at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. These ports account for roughly 40% of U.S. imports. With the labor shortage and some people not returning to work, there is a huge surplus waiting for workers all along the supply chain. How many food products will be rotten before the ships can be unloaded, loaded onto trucks with enough drivers to deliver the supplies to their destinations, and employees to put those items on the shelf–from foods to mattresses to garage doors.

So I will be grateful for those yellow bananas that will begin to spot before we eat them. I will be thankful for what we have, and for the privilege of helping others in great need.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Prayer: Father, help me to have an attitude of thanksgiving for your grace, peace, forgiveness, and salvation. I pray workers will return to offload those cargo ships, and ease the supply chain here in our own country. Help me not to focus on my small needs but to look at the needs of others, to reach out and help where I can, both within and outside our own country. Be with the many who are suffering because of loss of life, home, security, provisions. You don’t tell me to thank you for everything, but in everything, because you are good, and you care for us.