Category Archive: Change

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!

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.

Reunion, Reconciliation

Thirty-eight years! It’s that long since I’ve seen some of the colleagues with whom I worked in the Los Angeles ghetto for ten years.

After a painful breakup/firing/split, I left not only the ministry but the city, eventually returning to my roots in Northern California.

This breakup impacted me in ways I imagined divorce felt like. It hurt! Misunderstandings and controlling leadership prevented my former friends from communicating with me. I felt isolated, cast off, forgotten.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I knew nothing about setting up a corporation. But I worked with a man who had the vision for an inner city ministry, and I handled the details. With many calls to City and State, we were established as a nonprofit organization. I worked closely with the President on the corporation’s implementation, guidelines, fundraising, and communication. I coached foreign workers on applying for the appropriate work visas and, on one occasion, spoke directly with the immigration official at the Vancouver airport who was not going to allow a young woman to board her flight to LA. But after my lengthy conversation with the officer, Nancy arrived to minister with us later that day.

I taught children and teens and lived with other staff women in the LA ghetto. We lived and ministered together and chose to be part of the community we served. We suffered together when someone we loved was hurt, killed, or when our own lives were threatened. This was my second family. And now we were separated for many reasons.

Between 5 and 19 women lived in this house during my ten years there.

Over the years it took me to heal from the impact of a controlling leader and unrealistic expectations, I prayed that God would somehow bring back some of those friendships. He has done that with some of the most significant peer relationships I had, and I am deeply grateful for the ability to clarify, question, and grow together as we talked in depth about how God used the ministry, and even the control, to teach and build us.

Unfortunately I’m not alone in my experience of burnout.

Others have gone through similar experiences. Controlling leadership that steps into the place God rightly inhabits, and its resulting burnout, can cause someone to lose faith, not only in a specific ministry or leader, but in God himself.

So how do we heal?

We cry. We rest. We look for those areas of personality or conflict that we own, and learn to release those we do not. Some of us write. With time, we learn to forgive.

We seek out people who are ‘safe’; those with whom we can be real who will love without judgment, listen without trying to “fix,” help us laugh and cry with us and accept us where we are at that moment.

We may seek help from friends, pastors, or professional counselors. We breathe out the pain and breathe in, increased understanding.

We look for ways we can encourage others with the strength and comfort God has given us, knowing He wastes nothing, including our hurt.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.

II Corinthians 1:3-5, NLT

And sometimes we reach out at some point and there is a positive response that allows bridges to be built and relationships to jump-start, wobbly at first, then growing stronger as the cords deepen.

So next weekend I’m flying to Los Angeles for a reunion with some of the women with whom I worked on staff, most of whom I haven’t seen in 38 years! Will I laugh? Cry? Probably both, as we remember the good times and the ways God used the ministry, and perhaps grieve over some of the boulders and stones along the way.

Knowing this reunion is happening 38 years after I left Los Angeles gives me great hope that God is still in the business of reconciliation.

Can’t wait to tell you more about our time together!

Agency

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Have you ever wondered how best to help a loved one or friend in a way that retains his dignity? While my brother and sister-in-law, Arnold and Carol, were here last week, we talked a good deal about the concept of “agency”.

Arnold’s definition of agency is “power and ability to do what you want to do.” He says “People with disabilities have lost some agency. People without power have lost some agency. Women have less agency in general than men because of cultural stereotypes and limitations. Prisoners have had agency removed from them by the courts.”

My brother has given a lot of thought to this topic because his wife, Carol, suffered a life-altering stroke six and a half years ago. There are things she can’t do herself any more; and activities with which she needs help.

Our mother has also lost some ability to do things she wishes to do, and therefore, some power. Mom’s mind is still quite clear; however, her legs are getting weaker. She’s fallen twice in the last two months. She has thought for awhile about possibly moving into the Assisted Living section of the senior manor where she lives.

Living independently at 97 is quite a feat, but we wondered if it was still wise for Mom. Of course we children want her to be safe. Arnold put it well when he said he sees his role with Carol, his wife, to be that of providing agency–or power, ability and environment for her to decide and to act as she wishes, rather than by simply doing things for her.

So this Christmas we, along with brothers Bob and Melvyn and their wives, talked with each other, and with Mom, asking questions like what situations would cause her to say “It’s time,” “I’m ready,” “I need to move.” She also asked whether we would be disappointed in either decision–to move or to stay. We set her mind at ease regarding that, and told her our desire is to help her achieve her goals, not to impose ours on her.

And she’s decided she’s not yet ready to leave the cottage which she loves and has decorated with precious mementos from the family home she shared with Dad. So our role is to support her, to help identify ways she can get additional help i.e. with taking care of her patio and plants, and to fill in some of the gaps for her on a more regular basis.

I appreciated Arn’s explanation of agency. When we help someone achieve their dreams, meet their own needs or make decisions that we then help facilitate, the person retains his dignity. He or she is acting rather than being acted upon, as it would be if we told that individual what to do.

There are certainly situations where safety or protection are so critical, or abilities so limited, that decisions must be made for another. But when there are still decision-making capabilities, how much better to help in that process.

Isn’t this what Jesus did for us? He took the penalty for my sins and yours, something we are incapable of doing for ourselves, and freed us, gave us the power and ability to walk with God through faith in Him.

Do you have someone in your life who lacks agency, or the capacity or power to act on his or her own behalf? If so, how can you help that individual identify or communicate their choices and then facilitate those choices to become a reality?

New Things

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

It’s a new year–new hopes, dreams, goals. Here are a few of mine.

New Year, New Hopes and Dreams
  • New understandings in my walk with God. I’ve rejoined a women’s Bible study that I dropped out of for health reasons over a year ago. I’m thrilled to be back with these lovely women as we seek God together.
  • Complete at least the first draft of a novel I’ve been writing for a looong time …
  • Increased depth in my relationships with God, Don, family and friends.
  • New vistas. We’ve had the Canadian Rockies on our bucket list for awhile and just reserved our place on a train and bus tour through those in Fall of 2019 (I almost typed 1919–whoa!).
  • Finding and getting involved in a church home in our new community.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”  Psalm 91:1-2 (NIV)

HE is the reason for my hope as we enter this new year.

  • He knows all the troubles in the world–riots in Paris, persecution, especially of Christians in other parts of the world, turmoil.
  • He knows the discord and infighting in our own country.
  • He knows the tremendous losses that have occurred corporately and personally in floods and fires and because of the active presence of evil in our world.
  • He knows my days and has promised to lead me through each one.
  • He loves me, oh amazing truth! And because of that love, I have great hope.

What are you anticipating this year? Are you hopeful or disheartened, or both? I’d love to know.