Our niece, Janae and her two-year old son joined us for dinner Thursday. Titus is an adorable, all boy moving wonder! After dinner we took them on a golf cart ride through The Villages, especially along the golf course. We crossed the street to reach the pond with ducks, geese and frogs. Titus was fascinated. We stopped, and he and Janae got out of the cart and walked toward three bullfrogs sitting on the lawn. The first two, flip, leaped into the pond as soon as Titus headed for them. The third held his ground, didn’t move, and eyeballed Titus from about 12-18″ apart. Then, as Titus’ little hands reached for him, he jumped. What great fun!
Soon after, our decades-long friend Susan Jones spent the weekend with us. So lovely to catch up face to face, to share our hearts and pray together.
And early yesterday morning Don’s grandson and his wife gave us our second great-grandson, Michael James. We are thrilled that all are doing well and look forward to meeting the newest Loewen.
A few days after Janae and TItus were here, I called his grandmother, my sister-in-law Sheila. We talked about upcoming plans for a family reunion and Titus insisted on getting on the line.
“Hi Aunt Cayo, Unca Don.”
“How it going?”
“It’s going well thanks. How’s it going for you?”
“Remember the frogs we saw last week?”
“Yeah, froggies in the water. Crocodiles in water.”
Sheila spoke up. “I don’t think they have crocodiles in their water, Titus.”
“No, we don’t have crocodiles. But honey, the ducks just had babies! They’re so little.”
“Babies just like me.”
“Yeah. Just like you. Isn’t that great?”
“Yes. Bye Unca Don, Aunt Cayo.”
Now if that conversation isn’t a blessing I don’t know what is!
God, give me a grateful heart. It’s so easy to focus on the things I don’t like, from family conflict to poverty to national conflict. But God has given me this day, this week, and for that I am thankful. He has richly blessed me in family, in two wonderful marriages, and with deep friendships. So teach my heart to praise, to give thanks, to look for the positive and the blessings in life rather than getting wrapped up in the negatives.
“A cheerful heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit makes one sick.Laughter is a good medicine …”
Proverbs 17:22, TLB
For what are you thankful this week? What little or big blessings have you experienced? I find It’s often the little blessings that we miss most when someone is gone from our lives; the loving smile or hug of spouse or parent, the ability to talk through issues and make joint decisions, the fun of laughing at each other and at ourselves. Each of these is a blessing not to be missed.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
It was noon Sunday. I was nine years old, and I realized my parents had left church–without me! Frightened, I wondered how long it would take them to realize I wasn’t in the car.
Would they expect someone else to bring me home?
Come back for me?
Be annoyed with me?
Thankfully, my childhood abandonment was short-lived. Mom and Dad heard the silence in the car(!), realized they’d forgotten one child and, to my great relief, returned to pick me up.
I had very loving parents and I was terrified.
I grieve for the many children who are abandoned emotionally, physically, spiritually by addicted, incapable, or uncaring parents. I remember a former acquaintance who, along with his waste collection buddies, found an abandoned, live infant in a garbage can.
But for Christ, fully God and fully man, to say “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” expresses incomprehensible pain.
At that moment, Jesus, carrying all the sin of the world on Himself, identified fully with my sin, and the collective sins of the world. Although He did not sin, Christ felt the separation from God that we sense when we have unconfessed sin in our lives. In heaven, the Son was One with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three experienced perfect communication, complete alignment, sublime love, total Oneness. Leaving all that only to feel forsaken, abandoned–how great a chasm that must have been!
Truth set me free!
After a God-honoring memorial service for my first husband, I fell into a deep pit of abandonment, aloneness, despair. I was crushed by the question “What if everything I have believed is a lie … there is no eternal life with Christ … and I will never see Jerry again …” My conclusion was that if the Bible was not true, and faith in Christ was based on a lie, life as I knew it was over. No hope. No sustenance. No future. I might as well quit now.
I was alone in another sense. Because I had experienced God’s faithfulness, presence and hope during Jerry’s illness and death, people often commented on my example of faith, and how they were learning from me how to respond in adversity. How could I now disappoint them by revealing my doubts, the anguish I felt, my separateness from God and others? So I kept my agony to myself and wandered through murky darkness for several weeks.
One day God brought Peter’s words to my mind: “Where else would we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.” And suddenly, my heart was free. Truth won out. The gap closed, and I was again in union with my Lord, who went to the deepest of all pits in order to give me hope and life eternal.
A dear friend once told me that God wants to be God even in my deepest despair; and that however low my pit, God has gone deeper still.
Where are you feeling abandoned? Where do you need to have God reach in to rescue you from your pit? Tell Him. Allow Him to touch you and renew your spirit. If you’re willing to share with me, I’d like to pray for you too.
Jesus agonized on the Cross. He suffered the greatest pain possible, both physically and emotionally, and He died. But then came Sunday, the day the world changed forever! This Easter week, let’s praise Him for His sacrifice and His resurrection, which give us forgiveness and life and hope and peace.
Don, Mom and I stepped out of our rental car and looked around to see my cousins, Edith and Brian, hurrying toward us. After big hugs, they helped us unload our luggage and go to Aunt Mary’s place for a wonderful comfort meal of homemade noodle soup, zwiebach (traditional double buns), and berry pie.
Sister Mary, Brother Irvin, and Mom
Several times over the past few months, Mom said, “I wish I could see Mary and Irvin again.” We didn’t know if it would be wise or safe for Mom, at 95, to make the trip from California to Manitoba to visit her sister and brother. But one day I asked Don, “What would you think if we took Mom to Winnipeg this summer?” He responded without blinking: “I think we should do it.” And Mom’s response when I asked what she thought of the idea? “I’d LOVE it!”
So we checked schedules and made plans and packed and flew.
We saw many extended family members. Cousins of Mom, Mary and Irvin’s. Some of my cousins on both Mom’s and Dad’s sides of the family. Each visit was meaningful as we caught up on the seven years since our last visit.
Mom with some of my Froese cousins – delightful meal and visit hosted by Dave and Doreen
Mom sparkled as she responded to questions from her nieces and nephews about what it felt like to move 3000 miles from our Canadian home as a young mother. She enjoyed talking with her cousins, and I reveled in our family’s history and the grace of God. At one breakfast, six of the 21 family members present were ages 91 to 100–all still thinking pretty clearly, albeit a bit slower than in their younger years.
In a rented van, eight of us drove to Winkler, the small town in which I was born. (I don’t remember the event myself!) Finding the home and farm on which Mom, Mary and Irvin grew up led to lots of reflection and reminiscing. Irvin was just five years old when he sang “Please don’t take my sister far away” at Mom and Dad’s wedding. Mary and Herm got married early thanks to me–wanting Mom, who was pregnant with me, to be in their wedding, they moved the date up to avoid a conflict with my entry into this world.
Grosspa Froese’s old home, which looked larger before these two trees grew!
And we drove past some of the homes my family, and our grandparents, lived in, for memory’s sake.
Most meaningful to me was watching as we were together with different groups – 24 at one breakfast, 6 at Tea, 4 or 6 at dinner, 11 at lunch, and 21 at another breakfast – and recognizing the legacy of faith with which my ancestors have blessed me. No, we’re not all of the same conviction, nor are we all at the same place in our faith journeys, but there is a thread of faith and service running throughout the family.
Breakfast with the Hieberts, Mom’s Mother’s clan
Business and agricultural leaders
Folks who volunteer in differing areas of need, from driving cancer patients to appointments to hospital visitations to other kinds of services.
Corporately, we’ve been through the death of loved ones, family breakups, health and personal challenges, and some differences in worldview, but we love and care for and appreciate each other.
Our time together was filled with laughter, sharing, food, exploring, and more food. And when the week was almost up, Mom, Don and I were ready to come home. Having been filled with meaningful times of sharing, worship, and renewed–as well as fresh–memories, it was time to come home to our own responsibilities, local family and friends, and to less rich foods! (Mennonites grew up on delicious carbs like cottage cheese dumplings and homemade noodles with creamed tomato gravy and special double rolls called zwiebach, along with sausage and ham and filling soups …).
And I think of how God led both Mom’s and Dad’s families, along with many others, out of the Ukraine when regime changes threatened not only their way of life, but their very lives: a move that has resulted in what I’ve expressed above along with much more.
I’ve been graced with a relatively intact family, for which I am deeply grateful. But God isn’t limited to one kind of family in His plans for us.
Psalm 68:4-6a tells us to:
Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord— rejoice in his presence!
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. (NLT)
Your grace may look different than mine. It may be informed by wise choices through the generations; it may be despite choices along the way. But how have you experienced God’s grace through your family history?
We said a tearful goodbye Wednesday morning. Our sweet, 14-year old Kelly has recently gone steadily downhill. It hurt to watch her stumble, her legs splay underneath her, her turn away from food, and sleep most of the day.
Don and I have prayed that God would give us wisdom as to when it was time to say goodbye. Several times we’ve thought we were there, but then she’s rallied. And Kelly has never been a complainer, so we watched her eyes, her walk, her food intake, her energy level. Monday we took her to the vet for blood tests. “I’m really not happy with what I see,” Kelly’s kind and competent doctor told us. It was time.
We took our Kelly-girl home for another day and a half to love on her and to say goodbye. En route home I said, “Don, I’d love it if we could take her to the beach one more time. But I know it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.” Kelly slept on my shoulder for two hours that night, something I don’t think she’s done since Don and I married, when she retreated to the bottom of the bed.
My sweet number 1 girl
Rain was heavy Tuesday morning, but the sun peeked out about noon. “Let’s go!” Don and I took Kelly and Paige down to the beach, where we strapped Kelly into her doggie stroller. Paigey ran alongside. We walked over a mile in glorious sunshine, a lovely breeze cooling us. Kelly perked up enough to sit up and watch life around her. It was a wonderful time and the sunshine, a gracious gift from the Father to assuage my hurting heart, allowed us to do something special for Kelly on her last day.
This little beauty has brought a lot of joy and laughter to our lives over the almost ten years I’ve had her.
She came to me, a good gift from God, when I was alone and lonely. During a time of grief, she gave me a reason to get up every day because she needed me. During cold winter months I often wakened to feel her little body cuddled under the covers against my thigh. She sneaked under without waking me. I never knew how she managed to breathe underneath the blankets, but she did; and I loved waking to her warmth.
Kelly’s antics made me laugh. Early in our life together I went straight to my laptop in the morning. Kelly looked at me from across the room. She opened her mouth and chomped her teeth – I hadn’t fed her yet! Message received.
She was my buddy and sweet companion, and I took her along whenever I went somewhere dogs were allowed. She sat quietly and unobtrusively at my feet in Bible studies, lunches, and one-on-ones, never disrupting except with her sweet cuteness, happy as long as she was with me. And if I lunched with a girlfriend and left the table to use the restroom, Kelly stayed behind, remaining in one position, her big brown eyes fixed on the door until I returned.
She had grit. When Kelly was just a baby, she took on a big dog who broke her jaw. In the last few years, my girl’s tongue hung out to one side of her sweet, crooked mouth. I think her imperfection made her even more beautiful. And when we brought her grandpup, Paigey, to join our family, Kelly definitely let her know who was boss!
I acquired Kelly two months after meeting Don. When we began dating, Kelly was always happy to greet him, to sit with us, to go on walks with Don and his gentle German Shepherd, Ginger. I once waved my hand to include Kelly and said to Don, “You know this is a package deal.” He smiled. “Oh, I figured that out a long time ago.”
Our precious princess has left us and we miss her. I am so grateful for this good gift God gave me when I needed her more than I knew.
“So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven.” James 1:17a (MSG)
I love you, Kelly girl! Your imprint will always be on my heart.
Have you lost a pet? What did you love about him or her?
Driving alongside a very low reservoir en route to the Santa Cruz area last Thursday, I thought of the four college girlfriends with whom I would spend the next few days.
Judy, a tall, striking brunette (now stunning white) was one of the popular crowd. She always had an answer for those who teased her, and the boys loved being around her. Fun, full of confidence, her lovely soprano voice added much to both the college choir and small groups.
Shirley, a lovely Canadian whose family had just moved to Fresno, had another beautiful soprano voice and developed deep friendships with her servant’s heart, often using gifts of hospitality she learned at her mother’s side.
MarJean, a beautiful brunette with a soaring soprano, had also lived part-time in Canada. Jeannie was quiet, pursuing art, music, and deepening her walk with God. She, like me, is a writer. She is now also a beautiful white-haired woman.
The four of us sang together, usually three at a time – alternating voices and parts according to the song and our strengths.
I didn’t get to know Marilyn as well during college. A pretty blonde, she fell in love in our freshman year and married Don after our sophomore year. I still remember the “candlelighting” ceremony when Marilyn announced her engagement to the women’s dorm. But how I’ve learned to appreciate her love and care for her family and her gifts of hospitality!
I lived in Canada until my ninth year, when we moved to California. At Fresno Pacific, Shirley, MarJean and I learned our birthdates, all the same year, are within three days of each other – September 25, 26 and 27. Judy, Shirley and MarJean lived mostly off campus, since their families were in Fresno. But the deep conversations we shared about faith, challenges in our lives, the laughter that rang out when we were together, were gifts that have lasted over fifty years now.
We used to think 73 was old. How perceptions change as we grow and learn that the depth of friendship, faith, and laughter continues!
What rich memories we share. Four married men they met at Pacific. I graduated without an “MRS” degree and waited another fourteen years to marry.
But those gifts didn’t stop after graduation.
Our lives continued to intertwine over the years, as we lost husbands to death or divorce. Several have gone through significant physical challenges themselves, or with much-loved family members. We’ve earned a few more wrinkles, some parts replacements, and some changes in hair color.
So this weekend, just after the last of our 73rd birthdays, we gathered at the lovely beach home of one of our number. We laughed, cried together, shopped (note the “Husband Day Care Center” in the Capitola shopping district), and talked nonstop ’til the wee hours both nights we were together. We encouraged each other and enjoyed the long-time friendships which have woven in and out of our lives over these 50-plus years.
So I’ve been thinking about friendship, and its importance in our lives. I’ve had several precious friendships, these and several others, for decades. Newer friends add joy to my life. Friends grace us in many ways.
With shared friendship, laughter, and tears through the stages of life–from single to marrieds, to widowed or re-single, to remarriage; children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews.
With hearts and ears that listen and don’t try to fix us. Job’s “friends” tried to fix him and God rebuked them (Job 42:7). They could have just sat in the dust and mourned his losses with him without judging him. Shirley was the first person to whom I told the whole story of my first husband’s last day on earth. She listened, voiced sympathetic sounds, but didn’t try to fix me. I felt ‘heard’, and that was precious.
With honest feedback and sometimes, correction. “An honest answer is like a kiss of friendship.” Prov 24:26 NLT
With forgiveness when they’ve seen us at our worst, and encouragement when we’re doing well. “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9, NLT
With calls or visits in times of crisis, from marital trouble, to death, illness, or family crises.
With the freedom to hang out even when we are numb and disengaged because of our own pain–and to let us be right where we are at the moment.
With the support we feel because of their loving friendship.
I’ve been blessed with two terrific husbands. But someone once said that most women will have their girlfriends longer than their husbands. I’ve known these four women longer than either husband!
A writer younger than I saw a group of 50-ish women laughing together, and commented on their obvious bond. In an article in the Huffington Post, Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis relates that one of the women told her:
“’Don’t ever lose touch with your girlfriends, sweetheart. The older you get, the more you’ll need them.’
Kampakis continues: “The women in the elevator that day were spot on. And now when I see a group like them having fun, I realize the laughter is only part of the story, what comes after the complicated grown-up stuff. And while we certainly need the wonderful men in our lives, for they play a crucial role, too, men simply aren’t designed to understand us like one of our own.
“Sometimes it takes another woman to intuitively recognize what needs to be done — then do it. Or to sense what needs to be said — then say it. Or to take the thoughts and emotions we don’t voice — and know what to make of them.
“Having great friends is largely a matter of being a great friend … girlfriends matter in good times and bad, laughter and tears, and through the highs and lows that reveal who’s with us for the long haul, and who’s willing to share in our suffering so that one day, when we’re laughing again on the beach, there will be a history that makes the laughter sound richer and stirs the curiosity of anyone in earshot.”
The laughter and conversations my girlfriends and I shared this weekend is richer because of the history we’ve walked through together.
What has made your best friendships rich? Are there friends you need to forgive? I’ve had to forgive and be forgiven; and the friendships that have remained are richer for having gone through the fire and persevered.
Friendships. Important? Critical, even? YES.
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”