Category Archive: Compassion

Thanks Giving

My third-grade kids were seated around a table in the school gym. I asked questions about keeping promises. Several related incidents in which someone had kept a promise.

Then Erica spoke up. “I promised to be Tracy’s best friend forever, but now she’s not my friend any more.” Erica had confronted Tracy about some behavior and Tracy told her she’s no longer her friend. Matthew, who can be disruptive at times and has a very short attention span, turned to her. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

I was amazed and thankful for his sensitivity and kindness.

I found a poem on the back cover of a book about my heritage: Jacob’s Journey, edited by Barbara and Timothy Dyck. The poem’s author is not named so I assume it is unknown. But it touched me as we think of all who have gone before and prepared the way for the lives, freedoms, and the hope with which we live. I am copying it here.

“Lord, we keep forgetting all those who lived before us,

We keep forgetting those who lived and worked in our communities.

We keep forgetting those who prayed and sang hymns in our churches before we were born.

We keep forgetting what our parents have done for us.

We commit the sin, Lord, of assuming that everything begins with us.

We drink from wells we did not find,

We eat food from farmland we did not develop.

We enjoy freedoms which we have not earned.

We worship in churches which we did not build.

We live in communities we did not establish.

This day, make us grateful for our heritage. Amen.”

SONY DSC

So, as we enter a week when we focus on giving thanks, I am grateful for third graders who have a tender heart toward others, for the children with whom I have the privilege of sharing God’s love and mine.

I am grateful for my forbears, who fought for freedom, who left a country where they could not worship as they chose to establish roots in a place where they could, and I can, worship the God of our fathers.

I am grateful for my husband and family, whose love has challenged, encouraged and sustained me through the years.

I am thankful for you, my readers, who respond and give feedback to my ramblings.

I am eternally grateful for the love of Jesus Christ, which gives me hope, forgiveness, salvation, peace, love, joy … and who will continue his good work in me until he returns or takes me Home.

” …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

For what are you most thankful?

Leaning In

A few weeks ago I bared my soul about pain experienced almost forty years ago in a ministry situation. I got many more responses to that post than usual. Encouragement from former colleagues, prayers for the coming reunion time to be above our expectations in healing and recovery, expressions of love.

I’m so grateful for each person who responded. My pain touched people. And in response, they touched me.

Mourning

Recently Pastor Tim talked about how God speaks to us in our pain. It’s something we don’t want, and which God does not author, but nevertheless uses for our good and for others.

One of the ways God uses pain in our lives is to sensitize us to others, to open our eyes to their needs, and to help us encourage them with the comfort God has given us.

And in the years I dealt with healing from the pain of separation from my former work and friends, God was there. He provided resources to help me recover. Through this and other painful circumstances in my life–

–a broken engagement,

–the deaths of a husband,

–my father,

–a nephew, and dear friends,

–concerns for my mother’s health,

–as well as workplace challenges–

I have become less judgmental and more sensitive to others’ pain. My understanding grew that we need to know someone’s story before we can understand why they make some of the choices they do.

But what resonated with me is that people are drawn to vulnerability, and relate to expressed pain.

As Pastor Tim stated, “When we talk about pain, people lean in.” Our voices are sometimes softer when we talk about pain. We don’t generally shout it from the rooftops. But people want to know what have we experienced that they can relate to, can learn from. Pain touches all of us, and when we share it, we increase our authenticity.

I like Facebook. I enjoy posting pictures of people I love, fun things I’ve done, life I’ve lived with others. But I understand that it is only a partial picture. Most of us post only good things …. those things we’re happy to share.

But others can look at those pictures of beautiful homes and decor and yards and travel and families and think, why isn’t my life like hers/his?

But when we share openly about our pain, our challenges, the bumpy roadblocks in our lives, others understand that we are all on this journey together. And while each of us has an individual path, we also walk with, encourage and strengthen, or drag down, each other along the way.

Forward by missionary Gracia Burnham

I’m reading a challenging book, Hearts of Fire, by Voice of the Martyrs. It contains the stories of eight women in different parts of the world, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured for their faith in Jesus Christ. While the stories are at times hard to read, these women’s faithfulness also challenges me. They share temptations faced, i.e. questioning God in their suffering or loss. Temptations to renounce faith, to give in to other voices that offered a strong shoulder of support, to be quiet about their faith. Despite their questions, these women continued to speak, teach about Jesus, and to be faithful to him.

Why am I drawn to these women’s voices? They’ve shared their pain and God’s faithfulness. We all go through difficulties, whether because of our faith, as they did, or because life just has its ups and downs, its tragedies as well as its joys. None of us knows what the future holds.

I hope I’ve shared God’s faithfulness to me in these posts. I hope that has encouraged you in some ways. But I too need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, not only to me in the past, but to others who have gone through far deeper trials than I have or expect to encounter.

I’m leaning in.

“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.”

Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV

Agents of Peace

The harmonies of the old hymn filled the chapel with full, rich tones. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that I, and those with whom I grew up, learned to sing, to harmonize, to make beautiful music as we raised our voices and hearts in praise to God. It was a part of our culture, our worldview, our worship. Now we raised our voices together in harmony at the memorial service of a dear friend.

I’ve often thought that, while sermons and words reach my mind, music touches my soul.

And how we need something to touch our souls in these uncertain days, when mass shootings have killed 32 in the past week and a half. Many here in California, in Texas and Ohio are traumatized and fearful as they deal with the senseless loss of loved ones and the trauma of being in the line of fire.

Others have written about the solutions, and I don’t intend to take on that subject here.

But we as believers need to be salt and light in the midst of this carnage. How can we help? Can we reach out to someone who has been hurt, by these shootings or by something else, and minister peace and love to them?

Our pastor said Sunday that Christianity is not a subculture but a counterculture. We are priests who are desperately needed in a culture of hate.

One of the songs that ministered to me in a significant way when I went through a turbulent time personally says,

In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place
‘Mid the crash of the thunder, Precious Lord, hear my cry

Keep me safe till the storm passes by
Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe till the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispered, “There is no need to try
For there’s no end of sorrow, there’s no hope by and by”
But I know Thou art with me, and tomorrow I’ll rise
Where the storms never darken the skies

Till the storm passes over, till the thunder sounds no more
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me…

-Written by Thomas Mosie Lister

How can we be priests and agents of peace in a hate-filled world?

We can pray. Jesus turned to the Father in every circumstance, praising him, asking his help, and acting in obedience to the Father’s direction. Sometimes we think prayer is the least we can do. If we are praying along with the Father’s heart, it may be the most important thing we do.

We can be agents of peace in our own neighborhoods, seeking healthy, building relationships and encouraging others, whether they are children, younger adults, or seniors whom God brings into our lives. When there are disagreements we can look for positive resolutions that build bridges with our neighbors. When our neighbor didn’t like the solar equipment on the side of our house that she sees regularly, Don said “I think we can come up with a good solution,” and built a lovely latticed box to surround the equipment. My Don was an agent of peace and our neighbor, and the homeowners’ association, are delighted with the outcome.

What other ways have you found to be an agent of God’s peace and love in your world? I’d love to hear what solutions you’ve found.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.…”

Philippians 4:6-8, Berean Study Bible

Aftermath

I’ve reflected this week on the joy of last weekend’s reunion with former mission colleagues, of reconciliation, of hearts that never stopped loving each other despite misunderstandings, miscommunication, and directives not to talk with person(s) who left the ministry.

And while we were honest and vulnerable, this was not a leader-bashing weekend. We are all fallen sinners, saved by grace. And despite the flaws of the leadership, God used that ministry to bring hope and healing to many who chose to follow Christ. And for that I am deeply thankful.

At the time I left L.A., I think we lacked a real understanding of grace. So, from the leadership on down, we (myself included) tried to mold others into a certain image, forgetting that God has created us with minds that question, gifts that differ and cause us to view the world uniquely.

One woman talked about the hurt of feeling she never measured up because her artistic, creative temperament didn’t fit the square hole she was supposed to fill.

Another was falsely accused of stealing.

And because our system had a strict top-down heirarchy, pressure flowed downhill even as questions or doubts were passed upward. So if I said something negative to my “uplink,” she had a responsibility to report that to the President.

We were told not to discuss questions or problems outside the ministry because “‘they’ wouldn’t understand.” Burdened and feeling bound, I talked to my older brother about my concerns that last Christmas. He recommended counseling. But the response I got when I mentioned that was “I thought you promised not to talk to your family about this.” So I couldn’t get perspective on the issues that troubled me.

About ten days later my questions came to a head and I left.

But challenges don’t stop when we leave one situation for another. Their shape may change, but we must continue to lean into God because there is little that is certain in our world other than his love, grace, and presence. Pain inevitably comes. But God is able to use it, to comfort us so that with His comfort we can comfort others (II Cor. 1:3-5).

We all carry the scars of hurt, damaged relationships, of loss, unfulfilled hopes and dreams for ourselves or for family members. And as this group of women shared beyond our stories of leaving the ministry, we heard each other’s pain — wayward children, grandchildren making choices they may regret later, marriage and physical challenges — and we stopped to pray over individuals.

A few weeks after I left the ministry 38 years ago, I attended a church in northern California. From the pulpit, one of the pastors shared that there was a theological difference between the head pastors and two young ministers. After prayer and discussion with these two, they agreed this was a significant difference and the two were released from the church staff.

The pastor told the congregation the truth without sugar-coating it or demeaning these young men. He spoke with compassion and expressed continuing love for these two. I cried through the whole service because this separation was handled with love, compassion and honesty. Few of us who have separated from ministries have experienced that. Remaining staff members may be told untruths or half truths, as they were in my case. People may be told not to communicate with those who left, thereby leaving questions and misunderstandings that grow and multiply among those left behind.

But God is still sovereign. Nothing is a surprise to him. This morning I read:

“Trust that I know what I’m doing–that I can bring good out of everything you encounter, everything you endure. Don’t let your past or present suffering contaminate your view of the future. I am the Lord of your future, and I have good things in store for you. I alone know the things I am planning for you–to give you a future and a hope.

JESUS TODAY, p 40

One of my nephews was baptized on Easter Sunday a few years ago. I asked why now. What had changed. His answer? “I finally found a church where it was okay to ask questions.” We need to welcome questions and seek answers together before the Lord. We may need input from others like Board members or counselors. We may continue to serve. Or there may be good reasons to go our separate ways. But let’s be open and honest about these issues, rather than holding them in secret.

Burdens shared are lifted, as we experienced together last weekend. But we have to say yes…yes to being vulnerable, to sharing deeply with those we love, to recognizing and appreciating our differences. This reunion could have come sooner for me. I was invited to a staff wedding several years after I left. I wasn’t ready to face those who had hurt or shunned me, and declined the invitation. This time when Katie texted to ask if I had an interest, my response was immediate. “Absolutely, yes!” I was ready. And God was and is good.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

The weekend was healing, unifying. Going forward, we will seek to understand each other, we will honor those who serve with us, we will respect differences and encourage real communication. And we will continue to love each other.

GIVING FOR RELIEF

Two large auctions raised funds for domestic and international relief efforts this weekend. The larger was held at the State fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas. That was a bit far for us to go.

But Don and I got up early Friday and drove to Fresno for the West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction on the grounds of my alma mater, Fresno Pacific University. Sale and auction items ranged from handmade crafts from third-world countries, a plethora of food choices, art, quilt, toy, and children’s auctions, a traditional Mennonite meal, and more.

The sale, held every Spring by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), is a wonderful place and time to meet old friends, watch a fabulous quilt auction, listen to live music, and buy traditional Mennonite foods like zwiebach (airy two-bun rolls), and vereneki (lip-smacking good cottage cheese dumplings).

Preliminary sale totals from the Fresno sale are at $185,000; while the larger Hutch sale was expected to raise about $500,000. We met my two older brothers, Melvyn and Arnold, and sister-in-law Carol; cousins of Don’s; school chums of mine as well as people I grew up with in our home church. I’ve always admired Professor Edmund Janzen, and was happy to meet Edmund and his lovely wife Mary in the food purchase line.

Here are a few photos of significant parts of the Sale.

We stood in line Saturday with poet Jean Janzen (no relation to Edmund) and Janet Kroeker for a vereneki lunch – cottage cheese-filled pockets, boiled and then fried and topped with a delectable white sauce, served with German (what else!) sausage and salad. Yumm! Effort-intensive, delicious. 

The quilt auctions are the highlight of the weekend; I heard the one on the right sold for almost $5,500. A beautiful quilt, with money going to help those in need. Couldn’t be better!

MCC was founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1920. While its original goal was to provide food for Mennonites starving in (and also emigrating from) the Ukraine, the organization soon realized its reach needed to extend beyond only their Mennonite brothers and sisters. MCC began to help anyone in need.

Its focus includes relief efforts, clean food and water, health and education, migration, peace efforts, and restorative justice.

While Don and I weren’t in the market for quilts, typewriters or toys (although Don was admiring that John Deere child’s tractor!), we were happy to be a small part of this event, fundraising for a worthy cause.

May you have a blessed Easter week as we thank our God for the greatest of all gifts, salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

John 3:16-18, THE MESSAGE