Category Archive: Helping Each Other

LEAN

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

The game was close, the players intense. Suddenly a Viking went down, the ball spiraling out of his hands. A Saint picked it up and, in the melee around the player on the ground, ran a clean run into the end zone for a TD! Wow, no obstacles in his way. He grabbed the opportunity and ran with it, literally!

That TD was taken away from the Saints because the knee of the Viking who initially carried the ball was on the ground before the ball left his hands, taking it out of play.

Nevertheless, I was impressed with the Saint who took advantage of the opportunity at hand.

How often do we take advantage of such opportunities to live or share our faith? When a ball is fumbled, do we grab it and run with it, regardless of the outcome?

And what about when I’m the one doing the fumbling? Irritable, moody, feeling overwhelmed with the day to day tasks of life? Do I look for ways to work through those feelings or allow them to overtake and overrun me?

Two of my grandnephews, one ‘leaning’ on the other – a picture of how I’ve felt this week!

In my last post I wrote about looking for my word for the year. I thought it might be GAZE – to gaze on my God and take in His presence, His peace, His character. I’ve tweaked it a bit, to LEAN. I choose to lean on, and into, Jesus in the ups and downs and sleepless nights and writing pressures and joys and challenges that make up the patterns of my life. So if you see me grouchy, out of sorts, or needing encouragement, feel free to remind me to LEAN.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Ephesians 5:15-17

Joy and Pain in Tandem

I was part of an extended family who lived together in the ghetto, in men’s and women’s staff homes. We ate together, worshipped together, and ministered together. When one of us, or of those to whom we ministered, was hurting, we all hurt. When we learned of incest, of some of our young teens selling their bodies, of the death of some we loved, we shared the pain.

  • In case you don’t recognize me, I’m the one sitting on the floor, top right photo; and the blonde on the right, lower left photo.

When gang members threw bricks through the women’s staff windows and we received threats of death or mutilation, our staff guys came and sat with us ’til two or three in the morning, until we were calm enough to sleep for a few hours.

When our teen girls taught us white Mennonite girls (who didn’t dance) their moves, I was the proud winner of the dance contest. Yes, there were only three of us in competition, but still …

When a few of us drove down the street and saw a woman in a phone booth, bleeding, we stopped to help.

We laughed and shared retreats, Bible studies, and music together, within our staff and with our teen choir. We prayed and saw God answer prayers for us, and for community members. We led Bible studies, teen and children’s clubs, distributed food and clothing as we became aware of specific needs.

Many teens, and some adults, committed their lives to Christ during the ten years I served there. And while it was a time that eventually resulted in burnout, fatigue, a decimated immune system, and some long-lasting painful effects, there is still so much for which I am thankful.

I’m thankful for …

  • The God whose heart is for reconciliation, so much so that He sent His Son, Jesus, to be sacrificed to provide the way of reconciliation between God and mankind … for me, for the world.
  • Co-workers who ministered together amid fear, joy, and the reward of seeing children, teens and adults reconciled to God through Christ.
  • These dear friends who challenged me, and each other, to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
  • Those who came to faith in Jesus Christ, who now have established Christian homes and are living out their faith in their communities.
  • The opportunity to serve, to rely on God in unfamiliar situations, to watch Him work through my weakness.
  • Deep friendships that were broken for a time, but have been renewed, reconciled, and are meaningful and rich with love.
  • Family and friends who prayed for and supported us in the ministry and its challenges (and after!), and for the wise, godly counselor who helped me heal after leaving this ministry.

So, sometimes joy and pain co-exist. The loss of a dear spouse, when there is joy for the years spent together and that suffering is over, alongside the agony of loss.

The pain of illness along with the joy of growing nearer to Christ.

The loss of a friendship along with thankfulness for God’s presence within the pain. And sometimes, the reconciliation of those friendships.

Can you think of a time when you felt both pain and joy in a situation? When you experienced reconciliation? How did that encourage your heart?

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

II Corinthians 5:18-21; II Corinthians 12:9-10

The Lonely Bench

There it sat, a stark white bench, alone on the inner edge of the school playground, next to the basketball and tether ball courts.

My third-grade Kids’ Club students and I were talking about honoring others, prior to hearing the story of David and Jonathan’s friendship. Jonathan honored David by putting his friend’s needs–for safety and protection from Jonathan’s father Saul–above his own. I asked the kids when they, or someone else, had honored them. They told me about the “lonely bench”.

If someone is lonely, feeling isolated, they can sit on that bench. The school has taught students to watch for children who feel lonely, and to reach out to include them. I heard about times when my kids invited children on the lonely bench to play with them. One told of a time when he sat on the lonely bench and another child invited him to play, and how good it felt to be included.

I love this idea. It’s awesome that some children are vulnerable enough to admit when they feel lonely or left out, by sitting on that bench. (One girl called it the friendship bench. Either works!)

What if we adults could be this open, this vulnerable. Instead of putting on a brave front, of masking our fears, insecurities, and/or loneliness, we had “lonely benches” at our churches, universities, community centers? And what if those in leadership fostered a culture in which we looked for and reached out to those on lonely benches, and allowed others to reach into our lives when we were the ones on the benches?

CS Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” 

How about such a bench in our homes? So that husband or wife or child or sibling or parent could sit in that one place, indicating we felt lonely, needed some extra conversation, hugs, presence, time. How would this deepen our friendships within our marriages and families? Our communication and openness to each other?

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

Eccesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

And while a lonely or friendship bench is a small thing towards increasing compassion and understanding between people, it is a step. Would having such a bench help those who think they’re worthless to feel more special? To feel included? To pass on to others the kindness they experienced from one who invited them to play, who sat and listened to them?

What do you think?

Thank you for your Service

Today is Veterans’ Day, a day to thank those who have served our country in military service. And there are many stories of veterans who have been heroes, caring for children in war zones, helping their companions, often separated from family members for long periods of time.

Like me, you’ve probably teared up at some of the TV news spots showing a serviceman or woman surprising a spouse, a child by walking into their place of work or school. Or the one where the soldier’s dog greets him with unabashed joy, whole body wiggling, tail wagging.

My favorite veteran, my husband Don Loewen, was part of the cleanup efforts in Okinawa for sixteen months at the end of WWII. While others within our Mennonite peace culture did significant alternative service like teaching or working in hospitals, building artificial limbs for returning soldiers, Don believed he had a responsibility to serve within traditional means and trusted God to guide him in that. Don was assigned to the medics and worked in mosquito abatement.

My husband doesn’t like to talk about his service. Like many who have been in war zones, he doesn’t want to relive the memories that have never left him. But there are some stories he has told me, like the time in 1945 he hung onto the bottom of a cargo truck for eight hours while a typhoon rocked the island with wind gales up to 180 mph.

Or the times he went into a bar with his best bud. Don would order a Coke while Ray drank hard liquor. But when Don told him he’d had enough, Ray stopped drinking.

Don carried his pocket Bible with him at all times. I didn’t know him then, but I like to think back of that handsome young soldier who stood for God, country and family. Who wasn’t afraid to walk into a place that was foreign to his upbringing (like a bar) and do the right thing, because of his commitment to Jesus Christ. Who was willing to confront Ray when his actions jeopardized his health and decision-making.

So while I know there are abuses of power in the service, I am thankful for those men and women who serve(d) with honor and integrity. I also ache for those who came home with tremendous scars, missing limbs, PTSD, broken families.

To each of you, starting with my husband, Don, thank you for your service!

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.