Category Archive: Gratitude

Fires, Fear, Faith

California fire season is usually in September and October. But 2020’s fires started early, with about 400 wildfires and 5700 “incidents” (https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/) in the past week. Don and I have kept in close touch with our neighbors here, sharing updates with each other as we receive them.

We are right on the line of an evacuation area (we’re in the SCU Lightning Complex), but haven’t been told to leave as of yet. Should you need it, there’s a good evacuation map at https://nifc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=69fca73a82df4fefa7c0e48b66d0899d&extent=-123.2395,36.6849,-119.5618,38.1032

I’ve felt anxious, always watching for the next bit of news. Wednesday night I had a hard time falling asleep. Tears have been near the surface, and sometimes have fallen. Thursday I couldn’t concentrate, but kept watching for news, and registered for notification in the event we are ordered to evacuate.

We heard Thursday that Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, where I’ve spent a good bit of time at retreats and then at writers’ conferences, had been evacuated and was in danger. Some of our family have been evacuated from that area as well, and are safe.

Meanwhile, food, meals, writing–it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else while we wait; yet life doesn’t stop. We have our “go bags” pretty ready; and my computer bag is next to my desk so I can pack my laptop quickly in the event the fire moves toward us.

According to San Jose Fire Chief, as of Sunday morning they expect winds, light rain, and possibly more dry lightning strikes–something we sure don’t need right now! Praying God will light up the world over the ocean rather than in the forests!

I am calmer now, but seem to go in cycles of fear and then release, recognizing there’s nothing we can do except be prepared and pay attention. So far, the fire seems to be moving a bit farther from us. My brother and sister-in-law have offered us a haven if we need to leave.

And we’re certainly not alone. Floods are pounding the South and East of the United States. Hurricane Marco threatens the Gulf Coast, closely followed by Tropical Storm Laura, which has already impacted Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and is expected to slam Cuba on Monday.

I hurt for the many who have lost family members, homes or structures. It’s good to grieve, to weep with friends, to sit and listen to their pain. Even Jesus, who was perfect and knew He would reverse Lazarus’ death, wept with Mary and Martha as they grieved the loss of their brother. But after He listened and wept, He called Lazarus forth out of that grave!

We are so grateful for the many who are praying for us, and for California.

  • Grateful for yesterday’s report that Mount Hermon is okay at this time. All staff are safe.
  • Twin Lakes Church’s Camp Hammer is partially burned. Some of the cabins are still there and the forest is evidently still lush and green, and all staff are safe. May God bring beauty from the ashes!
  • Grateful for loving family and friends.
  • Deeply grateful for our firefighters, as well as those coming in from other states and even other countries to help fight these massive fires; for the sheriffs and police who are helping people evacuate, working long hard hours. Thank you to each of you. We are praying for you.

Earlier this week a dear friend recommended we read Psalm 36. Yesterday I read it aloud for our morning devotions, tears coming to my eyes. What a precious scripture!

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies… How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings …

Psalm 36:5,7

I have been through several major challenges in my life and, while it’s taken time to work through those issues with God, He has never failed me. And He will not. Tim Keller said Jesus didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t suffer. He suffered for us so when we suffer — and all will! — He can REDEEM it!

Crises such as these do remind us of what’s most important–our relationship with God, family and friends. An old friend used to say the two things that last are God’s Word and people! If you’re not sure of your relationship with God, I encourage you to read John 3:16-18 and Romans 10. I welcome any questions you may have.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:16-18

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I John 5:12

California and our nation, you continue to be in our prayers.

7 Ways Gratitude Helps Me

I walked into the garden section of a popular hardware store near us and looked for tomato plants. I found them–tiny wisps of leaves. I asked “Aren’t there any bigger than this?” But no, that’s what they had.

Don grew a lovely crop of tomatoes on our deck last summer, so I bought three small plants–a Roma and two cherry tomatoes. None were more than three inches high.

We’ve watched them grow almost daily. It’s been such fun to see them–six inches, nine inches, then a foot tall. Their growth has been phenomenal until now, about six weeks after I purchased those little seedlings, they are a good five feet above the planter–and wide–and we see bunches of green tomatoes developing.

Note the tallest shoot is above Don’s head and he is 6′ tall!

It seems like a miracle that these tiny seedlings have grown noticeably almost every day since I brought them home.

So how do we grow in our walk with God, especially in these turbulent times?

Gratitude is one aspect of our growth. Like many, I have gone through cycles of faith, fear, depression, and angst over the past months.

I’ve been through difficult times before.

I lived in the inner city of Los Angeles for ten years and had dear African American, Hispanic, and Asian friends. But I and the women with whom I lived and ministered were also threatened with dismemberment and death. I recall fearful nights going to sleep praying, “Lord, I don’t know whether I’ll see you face to face in the morning, or will have another day to live, but I am yours.”

1970’s staff photo

I faced anguish when I lost my first husband to death.

I grieved at the losses of a nephew, my father and most recently, my mother.

But God’s view is so much higher than mine. He sees the big picture. He sees what will draw people to Himself. And His love is so great He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, to become a man, live among us, die a cruel and heartless death at the hands of false accusers, and rise again. And this God, who loves us with unlimited, unconditional, unending love has commanded us to thank Him in every situation.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

The late A.W. Tozer, American Christian pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, said “A thankful heart cannot be cynical.” And how easy it is for me to become cynical in this time of racial and political unrest, where I can’t have my faith-friends come alongside me to sit with me and challenge my wrong thinking during those cycles of fear.

Dr. Rick Hanson has studied the happiness factor.

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.

Dr. Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist

So if, as Hanson attests, it takes five good interactions to make up for one bad one, we need to be people of gratitude, persons who notice and thank God, not only for the blessings He has given but also for the opportunities to grow which are inherent in difficult times.

One way of increasing our “attitude of gratitude” is to keep a gratitude journal. The UC Davis Emmons Lab has studied effects of such journaling extensively and found that those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis experienced a host of benefits: (see https://www.dailycal.org/2015/03/06/happiness-keep-gratitude-journal/).

  • They exercised more regularly.
  • They reported fewer physical symptoms.
  • They experienced better sleep quality and duration.
  • They felt a greater sense of connection to others.
  • They were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals.
  • They had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.
  • They felt better about their lives as a whole.

Perhaps instead of fearing the future, we can ask questions like these.

  • What do You want to teach me?
  • What do I need to change? What attitudes or biases do you want to root out in me?

And then thank Him.

  • Thank Him that He is in control, and that nothing happening in this world is surprising to Him.
  • Thank Him that He loves you completely, fears, joys and all.
  • Thank Him for this opportunity to learn more of what it means to rely on Him day by day, to trust Him for the future.
  • Thank Him that He wantw to teach us what is good and honest and just and pure and lovely, and to change our hearts accordingly. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Thank Him that He is a good, loving Father who has promised never to leave nor forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Thank Him for family and friends who love and encourage and challenge and strengthen us.

I want to be like those tomato vines on our patio. I’m going to start a gratitude journal. Want to join me?

Togetherness

Two weeks until Super Bowl Sunday … and yesterday our 49’ers fought their way into the SB game. Some of you may be delighted that KC is the other team entering the fray for February 2nd.

It was an exciting day, with my mother, brother and sister-in-law and one of their sons’ families here.

As we watched and cheered and sidelined the plays, we also visited. I enjoyed some conversation with Mom and saw her reading to her great-granddaughter on the couch.

Kyle, Don and I enjoyed time together before the others arrived. Sheila, Heather and I talked about how life might change for Heather once her Cadence starts kindergarten this Fall, and some of what Don and I have been discussing regarding priorities.

I am grateful for events that bring family and friends together … whether it’s a bi-weekly Family Night, as we generally celebrate with those of our family who are still in the area; a football game, or Super Bowl; or a special holiday; or even when someone is ill and others draw alongside to comfort, encourage and help. And I recognize that in our world we have many opportunities for such gatherings to which individuals in other countries and cultures may not be privy.

God has given us the family as a wonderful system of support, encouragement, accountability, training and love. Because of evil in the world, the family often breaks down into abuse, dysfunction, greed. But when family members love and care for one another, the relationships are a tremendous gift.

And there’s another Family God has given us.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure.

I John 1:1-3

Amazing to think that when we trust Christ we are called children of God, and are therefore brothers and sisters with each other. This family, too, can become dysfunctional. Selfishness, greed, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, all enter at times. Despite the forgiveness and grace of God, we are still sinful persons in process of becoming like Christ. And we are challenged to forgive and receive forgiveness, to restore relationships because of God’s great love and sacrifice for us. To be freed of the guilt of sin, the shame of hurtful actions, is an amazing gift.

Last Wednesday and Thursday I enjoyed an overnight get-together with six delightful women with whom I was in a Bible study for several years. Half of the group has moved away from our area, so this was a rich and fun time to be together. We laughed and commented on fashions and interactions as we watched the Downton Abbey movie; as five of us converged on one bed Thursday morning to chat; and as we opened our hearts to share a rich time of sharing and praying for each other. Another wonderful gift!

So today I’m thankful for both my families–the relations by blood and by marriage, and those I received by entering the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that I will be willing to ask for, and to give, forgive-ness in both; and to humbly receive forgiveness offered in love. And that I will rejoice in any opportunity to be with either or both families for the purpose of encouraging, strengthening, and loving each other.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

What’s a special tradition you celebrate with family or friends?

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?

Forged in the Fire

“Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.”

Isaiah 33:2 NIV

I was 3000 miles from home, waiting for my husband to receive a transplant, then hoping and praying for his recovery.

Friends I’d never met before and I sat in hospital waiting rooms together. We asked about our respective loved ones, wept and prayed together, laughed over silly memories, held each other as one by one our loved ones passed into eternity. Friendships that have lasted were forged in the fires of adversity, pain, loss.

One of the few times my late husband was moved from Intensive to Transitional Care, he had a roommate. I pulled the curtain between the beds for some privacy.

I saw beautiful, tall Bonnie, whom I’d met in Intensive Care, walk around the unit, looking at room numbers. She opened the door to our room and walked to the next bed. Of all “coincidences” (right!) George, her husband, was Jerry’s roommate.

Bonnie and I greeted each other and sat with our respective husbands. At one point I softly began to sing. “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Chills ran up my arms as an alto voice chimed in from the other side of the curtain. “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided, great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

And I knew I’d met a sister in Christ. Bonnie and I both lost our husbands that Fall, but our friendship has endured.

***

I met beautiful redhead Kathy and her husband Wally, lovely blond Lisa and her Bob, gracious Wayne, and their sweet mother Willene. Willene’s husband, their father, was dying. We too wept and prayed and laughed and held each other through those difficult months. And we’ve shared life since, with visits before Don and I married ten years ago, over facebook, emails and phone calls.

***

Fritz and Frank, dear friends for many years, moved to the East Coast two years ago. Fritz, a nurse, spent time in the hospital with Jerry and me, patiently teaching me how to read the monitors to assess his stats before I left the hospital each night.

***

Don and I saw these friends on the East Coast this week. It’s been a rich and renewing time. These friendships were forged in the fire of suffering. I’m thrilled…

  • to be together again;
  • that our friendships have endured over these fourteen years (and more with Fritz and Frank); and
  • grateful that in the darkest of times, God surrounded me with precious friends who walked through the valley of the shadow of death with me, and I with them.

Just this morning, Don and I prayed together before enjoying breakfast in our hotel. A lovely black woman sat at the table next to us. I noticed she was crying, quietly leaned over and asked, “Excuse me. Can I help?”

Julia swiped at her eyes and looked up at me. “No,” she replied. “You just prayed, and you said ‘Father’. We have the same Father.” And she proceeded to tell us of God’s good work in her life and that of her adult daughter over the past five months.

I’m blessed by God’s faithfulness, not only to me, but to friends we meet in these divine appointments. Friends who encourage me in my own relationship with God and with others.

“By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean …

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

Hebrews 10:20-23, NLT

What divine appointments will God bring into your life and mine today as we become intentional about encouraging others to acts of love and good works? I’d love to hear how He is doing this in your life.