Category Archive: Grace

Light in the Darkness

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2 NLT

This scripture was the theme of our West Coast Christian Writers’ conference last weekend. And I thought how meaningful this verse is at this time in our world. Some of you know my family, and Don’s, emigrated from Ukraine in 1929 (mine) and 1874 (Don’s) in order to pursue freedom of worship and from oppression.

With Mom at great-grandfather’s grave (Abram Frose, later changed to Froese) in Ukraine

I looked through a powerpoint presentation I made after my Mother and I visited Ukraine on a Mennonite Heritage Cruise in 2006, when we were both widowed. A wealth of memories and emotions flooded back, and I wanted to share some of these with you. Most of Ukraine’s people eagerly hold onto their independence (despite those Russia-backed separatist groups Putin is now recognizing). I hope these photos will help put a face to the people and land of Ukraine as we pray for them.

At right is a photo I took of my great-grandfather’s house, with his initials, “AF”, still present in wrought-iron at the peak of the house.

This is the entrance to a root cellar, which became the children’s hiding place when bandits attacked the Mennonite Villages.

Original home of Franz Isaac

At right, a group of six who traveled to my father’s village of Schoeneberg. Our tour leader, Olga Toews, is on the left. This was the home of the grandparents of the two gentlemen in the back, and the woman in babushka and apron was kind enough to invite us in, and to assure the brothers the floor was still solid. Most of these homes had been divided into two or three units by 2006.

Mom and I, along with cousins Irene and Peter Prieb (at right) met two of my father’s cousins for the first time, the women on Mom’s left and right in the photo above. The man behind me is the son of one of these 80-something physicians. Their father had married a Ukrainian woman and so, never left the country. He was later executed.

Amazing variety

Mom and I traveled by boat to a fishermen’s village, where our host and hostess had stayed up all night to prepare an amazing feast for us – traditional vereneki (cottage cheese dumplings), sausage, meatballs, parsley potatoes, cheese herb bread, and much more. Mom got sick on the fruit punch. Perhaps we should have tasted the vodka instead!

According to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, “For churches and humanitarian aid workers, the echoes of 2014 and 2015 still haunt {the Ukrainians}. In the last outbreak of violence, ‘We saw more than a million people [displaced],’ Father Vitaliy Novak  remembered. Based on that, he worries, this conflict ‘will be, I think, much more, a bigger size.’ With the clock ticking, he and other organizations are desperately trying to get their hands on medical supplies, clothes, extra food. “We pray to God it [doesn’t] happen,” he said, because for now, “we don’t have any resource[s].”

The New York Times 2/21/22 stated, “While Mr. Putin’s ultimate plans remain a mystery, a full invasion would constitute the largest military action in Europe since World War II.”

Please join us in praying that light might be seen in this very dark situation; and that God’s people will have strength and God’s grace to endure through conflict.

The Story I Write, Part II

Last week I wrote about the stories we choose to live and write–either contamination stories or redemption stories.

I don’t know what challenges you face. I do know we all experience difficulties in life. I saw the dots connect when I lived and ministered with a group of women in the inner city of Los Angeles. When our lives were repeatedly threatened, I was often afraid. But God gave many opportunities to reach children and adults who were hurting, to share his love with people who sometimes found hope in him!

And the dots of illness, diagnosis, hospitalization, transplant and death of my first husband resulted in deep pain. But the redemptive framework I experienced included the care of the doctors, our PA and staff; and the love of new friends. I was thankful every morning for new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23), for the grace and strength to continue walking our journey through the valley of the shadow of death; and for God’s provision, often through people who hadn’t known us three months earlier.

teal chevrolet pickup truck
Photo by David McBee on Pexels.com
  • Danita periodically came to the hospital, took my key, went to my little “transplant family apartment,” fixed dinner, and returned the key to me.
  • John loaned me a truck when insurance coverage for transportation ran out.
  • Bonnie and Cindy, whose husband and fiance met Jesus before Jerry did, were with me at the end of Jerry’s life.
  • Friends who unexpectedly sent finances to help us.
  • My mother, brothers and sisters-in-law, who supported by presence, phone calls with the doctors, and love.

Despite our dark plotline, woven through it was a redemptive story of God’s love, often expressed through others. And, both before and after his death, Jerry and I were able to share God’s love and our hope for eternity with many.

  • In an ice cream parlor;
  • In antique shops we visited before he was hospitalized;
  • With our regular waitress at Denny’s, whose son was in juvenile hall and who welcomed our love and prayers;
  • At the Olive Garden in Orlando, where a man overheard us mention something to our waitress and joined us for an extended conversation about the Lord, and an offer of housing while we waited for Jerry’s transplant; and more.

After Jerry’s death, I clung to the promise that God still had hope and a future for me. A future that, unknown to me at the time, included my second marriage to Don, a great gift.

God wasn’t surprised when Jerry or Delores, Don’s first wife, became ill and died; he didn’t look over his balcony when Mom entered his presence, saying “Oh my, I didn’t see that coming.”

The Bible’s Story

Imagine the joy of meeting Jesus face to face!

Rene reminded us of God’s story, which gives us great cause for hope.

God offers pardon for my past

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2

God has purpose for my present

And 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

God has promise for my future

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

Tapestry

As we look at the tapestry of our lives, do we choose to look at all the broken threads on the back side of the weaving? Or do we focus on the promise that God is working his purposes into a work of art uniquely designed by him, for our good and his glory. Sometimes we can see the good side of the tapestry here on earth. But we may only understand in eternity. Meanwhile, we can hold onto God’s promises and rest in his presence.

So, what story will you choose to write and live this year? I want mine to be one of redemption. And yes, you have permission to call me on it when I fail, as I will.

Bethany Hamilton, the surger who lost an arm in a shark attack, has chosen the story she will live. “What happened to me was terrible but God has given me so many opportunities as a result that it has become a beautiful thing.”

“I know without a doubt that with Him, I am unstoppable, and I want you to know that you can be unstoppable too.”

Bethany Hamilton, American Surfer

God be with you as you walk through this week with Him, living a redemption story.

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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.

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The Ark, a Refuge

We were on the Ark a few days ago. Noah’s Ark.

Ken Ham envisioned creating a full-size replica of the Ark in Kentucky, to show the immensity and scale of this boat God told Noah to build. The Ark was a symbol of the grace of God. It pained Him to see the increasing evil among men (and women). He determined to destroy the world by a great flood, saving only Noah and his family, who worshipped God, and two of every kind of animal that had breath on the earth. It was grace that rescued Noah’s family; and is grace that saves us today.

I didn’t know what to expect when we got to the Ark Encounter. The boat is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high. It’s enormous!

Frank and granddaughter Kate in front, in blue and pink
  • It had to withstand heavy rainstorms for forty days and nights.
  • It had to hold together without leaking throughout that time.
  • It had to have space for all the animals aboard (“one of every kind or type, not necessarily one of every animal), provisions for their food and water, for getting rid of waste products, etc.; and
  • It had to have provisions and spaces for the family.
Supplies, Grains
Amazing curved beams

We met our dear friends, Fritz and Frank Buschman, their daughter Kim Sahmel and her three beautiful children, the night before. I loved watching Kim guide and teach her three children whom she is homeschooling—Ben, 5; Kate, 8; and Luke, 10. We delighted in seeing the Cincinnati shoreline and the Ark through their eyes. What a delight to see young parents teaching their children truths from God’s word, discipline, and academic and creative skills.

Kate on Camel
Luke and Ben enjoying camel ride

At the Ark, the children rode camels–a first for them, along with seeing some zorses (zebra/horse).

“That was insane,” chuckled five-year old Ben, eyes sparkling as he dismounted.

Scientists estimate it took 75 years to build the Ark. Seventy-five years during which Noah’s neighbors laughed at and mocked him.

“Who is this God who told them to build this big ship? They must be crazy.”

But Noah persisted, obedient to the prompting of God.

And then God told them to get into the boat. When all, family and animals were aboard, God shut the door. No one could open it, from inside or out. The boat was sealed.

Don in front of Ark

I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if those mockers would have trusted the word of God through Noah, and repented of their sin. Based on God’s character, which is both holy and loving, I believe they too would have been invited into the Ark of Protection.

While the creators of the Ark Encounter state that they have taken some literary license in laying out the interior of the ship, etc., they translated Biblical measurements (cubits) into our current feet, yards, etc. for the exterior.

And there was room for all.

I wonder if God gave Noah the whole plan at one time or if He gave it to him a step at a time, as He so often does with me. “Take the next step,” He says, and then another is revealed. Seems the whole plan at one time might have been overwhelming. But then, these instructions were coming directly from God, so maybe not. God himself is overwhelming!

What lessons can we learn from this experience?

The detail of God’s plan for the ages–His plan to offer redemption to all through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing more needs to be done.

“It is finished,” Jesus declared from the cross. And, with His resurrection, He conquered death once for all. Oh yes, you and I will die one day; but our spirits will live on in eternity–our destination depending on whether we have received God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. His grace is there for each of us, if we will only receive it.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

God promises to guide us in all our ways. He didn’t leave Noah without a plan, whether step by step or with one huge blueprint. And He has promised the same to us.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding;

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He shall direct your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV

May God guide your steps and mine this week as we walk with Him, grateful for His grace!

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MIRACLES … AND NEEDS

Friends of ours invited parents of a former refugee and immigrant to Canada to stay with them when they came to visit their M*slm background Christian son in Canada. That was two years and 10 months ago. This family comes from a nation where persecution against Christians is strong and violent. Previously, a brother and sister chose to become believers and suffered heavy persecution in their homeland. When life became too dangerous, they fled to a nearby country, where they have been living as refugees.

An aerial view of a Refugee Camp
Aerial view of one refugee camp

When the parents left their country to visit their son in Canada, they were allowed to leave with the stipulation that they give poison pills to their Christian children who had become apostate. They took the pills with them, but disposed of them and didn’t act on those orders.

Another son back in their country has been badly beaten and suffered much because of his siblings choosing to follow Jesus, and possibly because he himself has now become a believer.  The parents think that he is a believer because he had been so eager to learn about Jesus and later, after the police stopped and searched him one time, he told his parents, “They don’t know that what I have is on the inside.”

Through conversations with their children, with our friends (through translation), and through the love of Christian community, the parents have both become Christians. Their immigration hearing was Friday this week. As they and our friends met with their lawyer, she thought their testimony was not very good (because of their poor memories and communication… possibly because of the trauma and PTSD) and they might lose the case. She was not encouraging and actually made the process difficult and frustrating for all of them.

Thursday night many of us joined a zoom prayer meeting where we “met” the parents online for the first time. What a joy to pray together with other believers that S and T would be able to remain in Canada, but above that, that God’s will be done, even if that meant a return to their country to be a witness and suffer for Jesus’ sake. We didn’t know which way the hearing would go, but knew already that one obstacle had been removed. A key government figure who planned to oppose their asylum request was no longer going to be involved.

The next morning, at least 106 of us had committed to pray during the hearing, many at specific times. Don and I prayed for those who would hear their testimony, that the parents would receive grace and favor and be at peace in this situation. Early in the afternoon, we received an email with a YAAAAAAAAAY Victory! in the subject line. I ran to find Don. The female decision maker had read all of the documentation our friend prepared (over 300 pages) the day before the hearing, and realized this couple would indeed be persecuted if they returned to their country. She granted them Permanent Residency and after five years they can apply to become citizens.

We were in tears, and we certainly know they were!! Tears of joy, of watching a miracle of God take place. There are lots of steps ahead–our friends’ church has hired them as janitors. They need to learn more English and at some point probably move out on their own. Our friends have worked tirelessly to help them, and they need respite.

But God is so gracious in granting this huge miracle!

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:7, NIV

So we see God’s mighty hand at work on the one hand; and we plead for his mercy and care for so many other needs. God is a good Father and his ways are higher than ours. But we know there is significant pain all around us.

What can we do?

First, pray. Pray for those you know who are hurting, in need, lonely, afraid, sick. We so often think of prayer as a last resort when it should be our first. I love the way THE MESSAGE often refers to God’s name: God-of-Angel-Armies! Wow, to think our prayers can help move that mighty army!

Reminds me of a true story of an escape from Russia to China over the Amur River in 1929 Bolshevik Russia. The 26 escapees watched for times of shift change, when the smallest number of guards were on duty. They left at midnight, trying to keep babies from crying, horses from whinnying. They were never fired on and reached China safely. When the superiors questioned the two guards the next morning, they said “There were armed guards all around the group. We had no chance.”

Second, step in where you can. Visit, listen, share the love of Jesus with those who are open, bring cards, food or flowers–the list will vary depending on your life circumstances, location, etc.

Third, if you can, give to organizations that have integrity in reaching desperate needs…

  • worldvision.org
  • samaritanspurse.org
  • mcc.org
  • mercyships.org

Or to on-campus ministries to reach our students:

  • intervarsity.org
  • cru.org

And your local church likely gives a portion of its budget to missions and to community needs. We were part of one church which has given over a million meals to Second Harvest Food Bank; and joined with other local churches after a local tragedy shook our community. Together, the churches provided resources for counseling for the mothers of both the 15-year-old boy and of the eight-year-old girl he murdered.

We are the Church, Christ’s body here on earth. We’re in a spiritual battle and need to engage as he leads us. My way may be different than yours; and yours, than your neighbors’.

So let’s rejoice in God’s still-miraculous work, and pray for his guidance, his heart in us for the world around us.