Category Archive: Compassion

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

Amazing Grace

So we’ve sold our former home, and emptied it of the hundreds of tools my dear husband had organized in one of the garage bays. We’ve cleared out my mother’s apartment and she’s settling into the Assisted Living Center well, albeit adjusting to the changes, in her new digs.

We’ve donated hutches, armoires, clothing, and more, that we hope will help someone else along their journey.

We’ve worked together with family to accomplish all this, working around schedules and other priorities to get the jobs done.

We’ve prayed for strength and grace, rested when we could, and have received grace each day to go at it again. I was reminded this week of when my late husband was in the hospital. I was exhausted at the end of every long and intense day. Yet the next morning I would be ready to do it again, with joy.

God’s mercies truly are new every morning; He is faithful! (Zephaniah 3:17)

I couldn’t have done all this without a lot of help, especially from my wonderful Don, who had his own priorities to deal with in emptying out the old garage. He’s loaded, lifted, loved Mom, worked with his son and my brother and his son-in-law, and has been more gracious than I through it all. My sister-in-law and I spent several afternoons packing together; and our nephew and grandnephew both worked with us. When I’ve been discouraged, feeling like there was no end in sight, Don has listened and encouraged me that this season would end.

And we’ve experienced small graces along the way, which have again shown God’s faithful character and attention to our needs. I think of the friend of my mother’s who said she would take everything we wanted to give her … and did, including about 12 full boxes of cooking utensils and other items can no longer use or store, planters, tables, and potting soil. Don and I were amazed at how much Patty and her friend got into their pickup, and relieved to have these items picked up, many of which were going to Patty’s church to help others.

And Mom’s sweet neighbor Connie who, despite her own need for a cane, got down and cleared out some of Mom’s kitchen cupboards, making a pile for Goodwill in the process.

Or Mom’s Bernina sewing machine, which I posted online Thursday evening and sold Friday morning, our last day at Mom’s apartment before turning in the key. How perfect that in God’s timing someone saw it and wanted it right away!

As the week progressed Don and I began to see an end to the pressure, the time crunch, which allowed us to begin to relax. Sometimes rest doesn’t come when we feel the need is greatest; but when it does come it is so very sweet and renewing.

“For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2, NASB)

As I’ve pondered my own stress due to multiple demands on my mental, physical and emotional energies, I’ve thought of the persecuted Church around the world. When missionary Tom Randall was falsely imprisoned in the Philippines, sick and weak in body, he led Bible studies and a number of men committed their lives to Jesus Christ within the walls of that prison. And when his jailers came to tell him he was being released, Tom asked if they would allow him to stay in prison one more night and day so he could teach the men one more time before leaving. That’s God’s grace in spades!

Many are dealing with the ongoing daily stress of threat, imprisonment, torture, loss. Their needs go so far beyond mine. I pray that in their circumstances they too will experience little graces that express God’s faithfulness to them, His promise never to leave nor forsake them. His promise that there is hope beyond this life that is sweeter than anything we could hope for here. His presence that sustains and comforts and yes, gives strength that is supernatural despite horrific circumstances.

Won’t you join me in praying for these persecuted saints?

God bless and guide you today in all your thoughts, actions, and decisions. May His name be glorified!