Category Archive: Connections

Hope Realized

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!

Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV

I was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles to meet women I hadn’t seen for 38 years. My anticipation was high, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

We worked together in the Los Angeles ghetto. Some of the women coming to the reunion accepted Christ through the ministry and went on to become staff members. 

Six women in this 1970’s L.A. staff photo were among the 14 present at our reunion

During my ten and a half years of service there, we worshipped, sang, taught children and adults the Bible. Our African American teens taught us white Mennonite girls, not known for dancing, the “hustle”. Our girls laughed at us, but I won the dance competition. That’s about as much dancing as I’ve done in my life, and it was fun! We taught children’s and adults’ Bible studies. We cried together when someone we loved was hurt or killed. We took in women who were abused, threatened, hurt. We watched an SLA house burn to the ground directly across from our home. When our lives were threatened we sat up late, talking and praying until we were fatigued enough to sleep.

We were close, both because of a common purpose and because we needed each other. We built tight-knit relationships within staff and in the inner city communities where we lived. We rejoiced together when another precious child, woman or man began a walk with Jesus that changed their lives and gave new hope.

Thirty-eight years later, I wondered how the women I would be with had changed. How had I changed? Would we have to work our way past years of separation and misinformation or could we pick up where we left off?

As I wrote last week, my departure was under less than optimal circumstances. Would there be questions, rehashing, resentment? Or forgiveness and love and acceptance for each person where she is now?

Were there residual areas of healing that needed to occur? I have forgiven those who hurt me. But were there still areas I needed to address?

After taking my first ever Uber ride from LAX, I knocked on Katie’s door. Entering, I was greeted with a lingering hug, which I gladly returned.

As twelve other women joined us, the extended hugs continued. Without words, we seemed to say “I’ve missed you. So very good to be with you again.”

One missing – we were 14!

I felt at home.

After a potluck lunch the 14 of us sat around the family room. We took turns updating each other on our lives. None of us are still with the organization we left, although one or two still volunteer with it. For four and a half hours we shared nonstop.

Patsy asked why I left. She had felt abandoned, another person walking away from her life. For 38 years some of these women had no idea why I left. I shared that I had lost trust in our President, with whom I’d worked very closely for 10 1/2 years. When he realized I no longer trusted him, he told me to leave town … that night. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. My sharing answered a long-held question for Pat, and I think brought some closure.

But I had not walked away from the Lord we all loved.

The ability to ask and answer questions, the vulnerability we shared with each other, reestablished a foundation of trust among us. And I realized that I was the first, but certainly not the only one who experienced rejection and hurt in leaving that ministry.

We had prayed for a time of healing, of restoration. My text to Don said it all. “Ohhhhh. Myyyyyy.”

Have you had a difficult challenge with a ministry from which you needed healing? That changed your faith? That caused you to question God or service?

You’re not alone.  Let’s talk about it.

Next week I’ll share more of what I learned and experienced this weekend. Still processing!

Hope for Women and Children in Crisis

Glass walls surrounded from floor to ceiling. With a 110-foot high domed ceiling above us, Don and I climbed the stairs to the mezzanine where h’ors d’oevres and drinks were being served. With a view of downtown San Jose all around the City Hall Rotunda, we met our friends Bonnie and Bill Fitzgerald, who had invited us to the Hearts of Gold Gala for Cityteam’s Women’s Ministries.

Following a delicious dinner and auction of donated experiences, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo spoke about the linkage of government and the faith community. San Jose has a homeless population of 4300 persons. Of those, about 1500 are women, often with children. These are among the most vulnerable, and he thanked Cityteam for their significant role in bringing hope and healing to many of these women and their children.

Cityteam President Glen Peterson also shared that the San Jose Cityteam Board just voted to add another 150 beds for women in need to the fifty currently available in their two women’s programs, Heritage Home and House of Grace.

Heritage Home helps pregnant women with both immediate needs and long-term solutions. Its structured program provides “housing, meals, clothes, strollers, car seats, and diapers in addition to mentorship, education, parenting classes, Bible studies, AA meetings, life transformation classes, and career workshops.” https://www.cityteam.org/san-jose/programs/

We heard the story of a young mother who has learned how to parent effectively and is very excited about raising her daughter with lots of love and an understanding of who Jesus is. This young woman has gained the tools necessary to move forward with hope. “My daughter never has to see me high, or stoned, any more … I can’t believe how much I love her,” she beamed.

House of Grace provides a “long-term, life transformation program” so that addicted, abused or homeless women can rebuild their lives while keeping their young children with them. The program “addresses chemical dependency, abusive relationships, and other self-destructive behaviors … women are mentored and taught how to rejoin the mainstream of community life and become productive citizens supporting themselves as well as their families.” (*) And their onsite nursery provides a safe and caring environment for newborn to five-year old children.

Both Don and I were deeply touched by the stories of lives changed because of the love of Jesus Christ and his people. Gala attendees were generous with their bids and gifts to help women in crisis find meaning, purpose, and life skills to help them reenter mainstream society.

And as Cityteam Vice President of Development, Michele Ruby, told us, each section of the Rotunda’s dome must be interlocked with its neighbor to provide the structural stability needed to hold the roof up. A beautiful analogy of the body of Christ. As Pastor Tim Wood said this morning, the shields of the Roman empire were not meant to protect only the soldier behind it; those shields interlocked so that a phalanx of guards could move forward in battle together, much stronger than any one of them alone. So when scripture talks about putting on the whole armor of God, it’s not just referring to what I do individually, but to how I am connected to others in the family of God for added strength and stability.

So last night we joined our shields together with Cityteam to serve women and children in need. May God bless them, every one!

Question: where are you linking your shield with others for added strength, stability and effectiveness?

“He sets the Lonely in Families…”

As we hosted our grandniece Savannah last weekend, she, Don and I talked a great deal about missions. Savannah felt God’s call five years ago. Since then she has gone on several interim mission trips and continued her nursing in preparation to go overseas, her commitment remaining strong. Together we delighted over a mouth-watering Thai dinner of Fresh Spring Rolls, Tom Kha (coconut soup), Panang Curry, Broccoli Beef, and brown rice. The next morning we breakfasted at home with bacon and eggs, rolls and fruit. We laughed a lot and enjoyed worshiping together. Don and I shared our love story, and Savannah told us how she is preparing for her ministry assignment. It didn’t seem we would ever run out of things to talk about.

Later Sunday evening we met members of my family, including my New York niece, Nicholee and her son Calum, who is entering his senior year of high school. They were in California exploring film schools, Calum’s interest. What a delight to catch up on the lives and future plans of these two, whom we last saw four years ago.

And yesterday Mom and I attended a baby shower for my niece Janae, who is expecting her and Leon’s first child in November. Our family continues to grow and diversify. Between both sides of our families we have members from New York to South Carolina to Virginia to Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, here in California, and in Canada – and in future, in other parts of the globe. I’m grateful God has put us in families. He created us to be in community, understands our need for companionship, and provides that in more than one way.

I’m thankful that God’s children, those who are Christ-followers, are another kind of family, one of faith in the blood and redemption of Jesus! Even those without traditional “family” members can still be a part of a family, a community of faith. And within that community we can hopefully find the kind of support, affirmation and love we hope to find in our natural families. No, God’s family members aren’t perfect – far from it, matter of fact. But we’re forgiven and so are also learning to forgive and love each other along a common path. Psalm 68:6 says “God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”

Family Reunion in 2012

My family has loved and supported me through all the seasons of my life: childhood, schooling, college, ten years of ghetto ministry, marriage at the age of 36 and widowhood at 57; and remarriage at 62. They traveled across the country to support my late husband and me while he was trying to recover from a transplant. And while two brothers helped me carry Jerry’s ashes back home after he passed into the waiting arms of Jesus, two walked me toward my new husband, Don, and a new life five years later.

We’ve had our disagreements, some significant. But we’ve loved each other enough to work through those and to value relationship over “same thinking”. I love both my natural and my faith-families.

So what’s the best part about the family(ies) you’re in?

May God be with you in whatever relationships you are experiencing; and with those of you sending your children off to another year of school. Hold them close, and teach them to fly!

P.S. I told you I’d let you know what color we chose for the living and dining rooms of our new home (move to come in two and a half weeks). It’s a beautiful aqua grey–and as our realtor pointed out to me, almost exactly the same color I’ve been wearing on my fingernails recently. I guess I’m consistent!

A Pair of Shoes

Tall, deep blue delphiniums, soft and bright peach roses, white daisies, and burgundy orchids filled oversized flower pots. Always well-kept, each tub held a picture-perfect cornucopia of colors, textures, and heights.

We walked up the curved stairway to the second floor of Macy’s Men’s Store, looking for a new pair of men’s shoes. Don found some very comfortable Rockports he liked. However, on clearance, they didn’t have his size 12 in chocolate brown.

Checking inventory, the salesman told us another store had two pair available.

“That’s a long way to drive,” said Don. However, we were leaving for Canada in five days and he needed good walking shoes for the trip.

“Let’s just do it and make sure we can get these before they’re gone,” I said.

We parked right by the door and meandered into Macy’s Men’s Store, where we saw a tall, red-haired brunette returning to the department.

”Can I help you?”

“Yes, Stanford Macy’s said you had two pair of these shoes in chocolate brown, size 12.”

“I’ll check.”

Returning from the back room, she apologized that the inventory was incorrect and they did not have the shoes we wanted. But she brought another shoe in Don’s size.

Enjoying her accent, I asked “Are you by chance from Russia?”

“The Ukraine.”

I raised my brows. “My father was born in the Ukraine.”

”Thank you for your kindness,” Nataliya said. “So often people get annoyed, saying they can’t understand me. But I speak Russian and English and they don’t speak Russian. But being in America has been a real blessing, thanks to Jesus.”

“Are you a Christian?” I asked.

“Yes, I love the Lord.”

“So do we.”

“I knew it; I could see it in your eyes and the way you smiled at me.” Nataliya began to tear up. “I’m having a hard day–some medical and money things. I just asked Jesus to help me, and here you are, a brother and sister to encourage me. He is so faithful. Praise Jesus.”

We talked a bit longer, and Don bought the shoes, after which Nataliya came out from behind the counter. “I’m supposed to be so professional but I have to give you both a hug.”

When I tried to hand her some extra money, Nataliya backed away and said, “No, I will be ok, thanks Jesus, but just pray for me.” We promised to do that and walked away, saying “If we don’t see you again down here, we’ll see you up there,” pointing to heaven.

What a joy. Another divine appointment–all because of a pair of shoes.

Where have you experienced a divine appointment recently? I’d love to hear about it.

 

I Listen Best in the Quiet …

“I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you. I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence. …

Practice looking and listening for Me during quiet intervals. Gradually you will find Me in more and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.”

These words from Sarah Young’s JESUS CALLING touched my heart. They resonated with my thoughts about rest these last weeks. God speaks to me in  many ways. Some, like a soft breeze, are tender and enveloping, like a sweet whisper on the air. Others, like a thunder and lightning storm, are an awesome display of His creativity and power. And a radiant, coral-colored sunset speaks to me of His glory.

Don and I traveled a lot this Spring. Six trips in the last six months. Each has been meaningful: opportunities to walk and talk and bask in the beauty of God’s creation and man’s creativity in other parts of the world; to serve staff and children in Mexico whom we’ve learned to love over the past eight years; to learn and share and deepen writing skills at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference; and to travel to Canada with my mother to reconnect with many extended family members we haven’t seen for years.

We are grateful for these opportunities God gave us to travel, meet new friends, serve others, and meet family again. But our delight in travel caused us to plan a little too much in too compressed a time this Spring. Don felt he had to accomplish three times the amount of work between trips in order to prepare for our next absence. I tried to do laundry, schedule transportation, and prepare for the next trip while writing and keeping in touch with family and friends here. We felt unable to catch up at home between jaunts. Don’t misunderstand–I’m very grateful for these blessings; but scripture also tells us to rest, to plan wisely. Don and I agreed we didn’t do that this year and have committed to more time at home next Spring.

Since being home these past two weeks without another trip in the wind, we both feel more relaxed. We’ve been able to work at a reasonable pace. We’ve taken time to sit on our glider swing and enjoy the gentle breeze while eating a light lunch and catching up with each other, or planning for changes in the garden, or just laughing with each other over some little tickle to our funny bone. Yesterday I sat at the piano and played, a time of personal worship, something I haven’t done for a long time.

So, I am enjoying taking more naps, putting my feet up, playing “grab the stick” with Paigey, being with people we love, and sitting with my guy. And I’m thankful for this particular season of refreshing.

If God doesn’t build the house,
    the builders only build shacks.
If God doesn’t guard the city,
    the night watchman might as well nap.
It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
    and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he enjoys
    giving rest to those he loves?” Psalm 127:1-2 MSG

My prayer is that you will experience God’s rest this week in a meaningful way.

QUESTION: How do you best experience rest? Are you in need of it right now? I’d love to hear.