Category Archive: Grace

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What’s your Focus?

Don’t you get discouraged when the headlines scream of war, deaths, accidents, hostility? I know there’s a lot going on that we can be upset about. But we need to also focus on good news.

Healthline.com estimates that 77% of Americans have a social media presence of one sort or another. A new study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology followed 143 students from the University of Pennsylvania who were divided into two groups. One continued their pattern of interacting on social media. The other was reduced to 30 minutes a day, 10 minutes each on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

The results were clear. The group that reduced their activity on social media had better mental health outcomes.

“What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being,” said Jordyn Young, a co-author of the paper and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.

The authors of the study say there isn’t yet enough data to say everyone should cut down on their social media presence; however, the data clearly suggests that extended time on social media can cause increased depression and loneliness.

When we constantly go to our feeds, we tend to compare, to think “if only” and to deal with FOMO–Fear of Missing Out! How does my life compare with the pretty pictures on Facebook or Snapchat? Because, face it, most of us don’t post downers.

We post highlights–vacation shots, the new garden we planted, a cute pet, house upgrades, loving times with family and friends. Sure, those are part of our lives–but they are not the whole. The person who had a lovely vacation may come home to care for a loved one who is disabled. The beautiful home upgrades may come with a cost that pressures the family to cut back in other areas. The loving times with family and friends are precious – but do we talk about the times we disagree, see things differently?

If seen too consistently, watching the news can have a similar effect. One can become depressed about the war in Ukraine and its effect on people we care about, or even simply about a country that has been attacked without provocation.

On April 6, 2022, Healthline stated “A steady stream of disheartening news can alter your perception of the world, causing you to lack motivation and view the world with a sense of cynicism and hopelessness. Negative news has the potential to exacerbate your personal anxieties and the stressful situations occurring in your own life.”

So let me share some GOOD news, the stories we don’t read about often enough.

bbcgossip.com

Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, was recently interviewed about his pro-life stance by ESPN. Here’s what he said:

The interviewer then asks, “What would you do if a player or a female staff member of the Michigan football team came to you and said, ‘Coach, I respectfully disagree with your stance. Can we discuss it?”

“I’ve told [them] the same thing I tell my kids, boys, the girls, same thing I tell our players, our staff members. I encourage them if they have a pregnancy that wasn’t planned, to go through with it.”

“Let that unborn child be bornand if at that time, you don’t feel like you can care for it, you don’t have the means or the wherewithal, then Sarah and I will take that baby.

ESPN Interview

I am touched by Harbaugh’s commitment. Whatever your position on abortion, this man has committed, not just to a cause, but to raising children if their parents are unable to do so. I know this is cliche, but he’s put his money where his mouth is.

Another story touched me. A young man and his nephew shopped for groceries. The nephew noticed an elderly gentleman who had a hard time reaching items because of his extreme bent frame. It was hard for him to look up. The nephew said, “Can I go help him?” After receiving the ok, he approached the man. “Can I help you find things, sir?” “Thank you kindly, young man. That would be wonderful.” As his uncle shopped for their needs, his nephew ran around the store, picking things up for the elderly gentleman, having a ball.

When he had all he needed, the older man said this was the first time in fourteen years someone had offered to help him! Wouldn’t you be proud of that nephew? I sure would.

And when Don and I flew home from Wichita last Monday, a Hispanic man sat next to me, wearing a mask. I wasn’t sure if he’d want to converse, but introduced ourselves and began to talk with him. We had a most pleasant conversation. Near the end of the flight I was concerned that we might not make our transfer, since our flight had been delayed out of Wichita. My brother, Bob, was seated in the back of the plane.

I called over an air hostess and explained my concern, asking if there was some way Bob could get off the plane before others in order to make our connection. Immediately Jose spoke up. “I have more time than you do. I’ll trade with him.” And he did, so Bob, Don and I were all in a row near the front of the airplane.

Later, as we stood outside a restroom, Jose walked by.

“Will you make your flight?”

“Jose, I had the wrong time zone in my mind and we’re fine. But thank you so very much for your kindness.”

Another of those lovely moments of kindness and graciousness that we don’t hear about often enough.

So this week, let’s focus on ways we can extend kindness, both to those we love and know, and to strangers, whether it’s in the grocery line, with someone wanting to make a lane change, or someone in need of a helping hand to reach what they need on the shelves.

And let’s remember and think on the good things around us, rather than focusing on the negative. The Apostle Paul challenges us to focus on what is good.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 1:8, ESV

How have you found focusing on what is true and good helps you deal with the stresses of your life?

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!