Category Archive: Perspective

The Story I Write, Part I

Janae, my niece, was three years old when she spent that night with us. During dinner I asked my husband about his day and how he fixed the toilet. As I put my precious girl to bed, I asked her to tell me a story. Words like “wrench”, “it was really tough”, and “we finally got ahold of it” were prominent in her story–all things she’d heard over dinner.

Pastor Rene Schlaepher recently said we are all writing, living, and telling a story–not by our words, but by the way we live. And we have a choice as to what story we tell.

two babies wearing red mickey mouse shirts
Photo by Edwin Ariel Valladares on Pexels.com

Most of us have seen adorable pictures of infant twins babbling to each other. They laugh, giggle, and use “words” that to adults are meaningless. But if judged by their reactions, the twins understand each other well! I remember one in which one twin babbled something and the other almost fell over laughing. The one in the photo on the left looks unhappy that his twin is chewing his fingers!

Stories have been told throughout history in oral tradition. And those stories are still going on today.

Don and I cry at love stories. Those emotions are fanned by the storyline. Other stories about calamities like the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga this week, or about troubles we all face, can lead to fear, panic and distress.

We can’t always control the events of our lives. An accident, critical illness, death, terrorist attack…they appear on our screens as blips, or dots. But we can control the narrative we put around them. Do we look at a sequence of negative events–the pandemic, cultural and political division, loss, illness–and put those into a negative story? Or do we look at those events in light of God’s promise to bring justice and righteousness to this earth, his promise of a plan for our lives?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Contamination or Redemption?

People in despair tell contamination stories. “I got a great job but the travel destroyed my marriage.” “Yeah, I got a raise but I hate my boss.” “My wife’s feeling better, thanks, but I’m sure she’s gonna crash again soon.”

Chemo #3, Bob and Sheila

People in hope tell redemption stories. My sister-in-law, Sheila, is one of these. When diagnosed with uterine cancer, she began to realize that without those symptoms that led to her diagnosis, doctors would also not have found the precancerous cells that wandered throughout her lymphatic system and, if latched on, were extremely aggressive.

After successful surgery, she is still fighting the remaining pre-cancerous cells with chemo and radiation. But, knowing how God has led them this far, she is confident and at peace, trusting that he will continue guiding them. While there have been times of fear, God showed her this smaller issue was to prevent a larger one happening. And, as she has shared her journey openly, people with whom she had a casual relationship have re-entered her life with deeper communication, often sharing their own battles with her. Sheila has looked deeper than the scars, the fatigue, and the temporary hair loss to what God is doing as she and Bob walk this journey.

My brother Arnold, whose wife suffered a life-altering stroke years ago, has built a narrative of love and care and hope around her limitations. Following her stroke In August 2012, my sister-in-law struggled with her identity. She was a capable, intelligent and caring businesswoman; now significant changes resulted in her feeling she wasn’t the same. Arn tells of a day she wept, feeling stupid (her word) because she couldn’t communicate the way she used to. He wrote, “The challenge to her identity was significant, and it reminded me of the Exodus story of Moses receiving instructions from God to lead the people out of bondage. When Moses asks whom he should say sent him to lead the people, God said, ‘I am who I am.’ There it is–the solid unmovable identity.” Arn and Carol’s love and faith is carrying them through a major life change.

We all have “stuff”. But how we handle that stuff shows where our hope lies. And only our God is that solid, unmovable source of hope.

crop black businesswoman reading newspaper near modern building
Photo by Ono Kosuki on Pexels.com

In II Cor 10:5 the apostle Paul challenges us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” So where are we focusing our thoughts, what input do we welcome into our minds and hearts that impact the stories we live? Like Janae, we often fill our stories with what we have heard and allowed into our minds. Frankly, I’ve stopped reading a lot of news because it distresses me too much and is usually a contamination story.

I confess that much of last year, after my mother’s death, I told myself (and others) contamination stories. “I don’t understand why her death seemed so hard to me.” Overwhelmed with negative input, I com-plained. “I hate this political turmoil, protests, brutality, increased crime, this pandemic.”

My parents’ wedding 1944

With time and help, I’ve been able to change some of that narrative. My sweet mother was so ready to meet Jesus first, and her beloved husband of 58 years (my Dad) in heaven, to worship and glorify the name of the Almighty. Whatever difficulty I experienced in her passing was momentary in light of eternity and I am eager to see her, Dad, Jerry, and others again. And why in the world would I want her to return from the very presence of God?

As to the rest? My God has not lost control. Life is good, but often hard. I don’t understand all my Father is doing through these difficult challenges, but I know he wants us to rest in his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. I heard David Jeremiah talk about a young woman who had walked her cancer battle with God. He said, “Recently she won her battle and went home to be with Jesus.” What a different story–yes, loss aches. It can be agonizing. But she won. Her death was not the end, and that provides hope.

The redemptive story is that, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, Don and I and a host of you will see our loved ones again in heaven. Not only that, we will delight with them in a face to face reality of worship and praising our God, right there with us. THAT is hope!

… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

Restore

Even in the midst of a new variant, Omicron, on the Covid pandemic, our lives during Christmas and New Year’s felt full. While our get-togethers were with smaller family groups, we enjoyed the times we could be together.

This week? I find myself a bit lethargic, tired, unmotivated. Do you? Seems that now that life is quieter again I’m kind of worn out. We’re tired of masking, of conflict within families and friendships, of isolation.

I think that’s normal after the holidays; perhaps more so with the continuing pandemic. Friday afternoon Don and I took a wonderful 3.5 hour nap (very unusual!), then slept a full night. After church and Starbucks this morning, we took a walk with Paigey in her stroller. She seemed very content in the beautiful sunshine and fresh air, while we got some steps in. It was a renewing time for us.

So how do we respond to a bit of a letdown after a busy and uplifting time?

Following are a few things I find restorative:

Music can soothe the soul
  • Naps are helpful but, then, I’m retired. Not everyone has room in their life for naps. I didn’t either when I worked full-time.
  • Walks in the fresh air are renewing.
  • We enjoy our Sunday ritual of church and Starbucks, hearing the Word taught, then hanging out together.
  • Reading–the scriptures or a good book.
  • Listening to a challenging podcast.
  • Listening to, or playing, music. This afternoon we listened to a number of the old hymns we grew up with and felt encouraged. I used to play piano well, but am seriously out of practice. Nevertheless, those times when I sit on the bench of my mother’s piano and play, my soul feels restored.
  • Focus on a specific scripture, like Psalm 23. Close your eyes. What does it mean to you that the Lord is your Shepherd? That he leads you beside quiet waters and refreshes your soul? I used to have a favorite mental picture of a certain valley on the drive from San Jose to Fresno. The grass was lush, trees scattered about, and a lovely, bubbling stream wended its way through the valley. I can picture myself walking with Jesus in that valley, being refreshed in His company.
  • In the same chapter, think of what it means that He walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us? I experienced that with the loss of my first husband. No, He didn’t remove the pain; but He gave purpose and presence during the loss.
  • Last, find someone who needs help, and give it! I’ve found there’s not much sweeter than meeting someone who is lonely, or hungry, whom I can help, sometimes in little ways by giving a packet of non-perishables, sometimes by listening, bringing groceries or a meal, sometimes by praying for the person(s). Giving renews the spirit.
  • Exercise thankfulness. Like a muscle, it grows with use and changes our perspective.
  • Focus on his love–for you.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:9-11

Did I mention naps? I took a short one before finishing this. Sweet! And I’m challenging myself with this post. These are the things I need to do to renew, to step out of my lethargy and move ahead with those tasks God has given me to do.

What do you do to renew yourself?

Blessings!

Visions Completed, Visions Destroyed

Don, Paige and I left home mid-morning. Carmel or Rio del Mar (both California beaches), we asked ourselves. Since we lived near Rio for six years, we decided to take a drive down memory lane by our old home.

Our formerly soft yellow country house with white trim is now dark gray with white trim. The dark gray is a more contemporary color, but we miss the brightness of our warm yellow and white home. But when you sell a house, it’s the buyers’ to change as they wish to make it their own. It was fun to see the large equipment on the property and realize they are making other changes, including installing a chicken and duck coop behind the guest house.

We left Soquel for Aptos, home of Twin Lakes Church, our church home for six years. Before we moved several years ago, the church shared a vision to build a coffee house as a ministry center to the students at Cabrillo College, next door. We loved the idea and were part of that funding campaign. “The Loft” was finished and opened several months ago and I wanted us to see the completion of this particular vision.

“The Loft” is beautiful inside and out. Drought friendly, attractive landscaping welcomes. Inside, the front has a coffee bar, tables and chairs, with a loft upstairs that holds two offices and several more tables. Every table was filled with students on laptops and friends meeting. While enjoying our lattes we ran into Pastors Rene and Adrian and told them how thrilled we are to see this vision become reality.

“The Loft” – getting known by Cabrillo College students

Behind the coffee bar is a large auditorium and stage for meetings, presentations, music, etc. We pray God will use The Loft to reach college students for Jesus.

On to Rio del Mar, a great walking beach for dogs and their peeps. We walked to Seacliff beach, and onto the pier. Paigey loved chasing the pigeons and would have done more had she not been on a leash firmly held by Mummy. We sat and talked and watched the ocean come and go. To our left lay the remnants of the SS Palo Alto, called the “cement boat,” built for service in the First World War but launched May 29, 1919, too late to see service. Mothballed in Oakland until 1929, the SS Palo Alto was bought by the Seacliff Amusement Corporation and towed to Seacliff State Beach in Aptos, California.

For several years, the ship was anchored three miles from shore. This monster party boat included a casino and dance hall, arcades and entertainment until its owners went belly up when the Great Depression rocked the world in the early 1930’s. The ship now rests on the bottom of the Monterey Bay.

The Cement Boat

In the heavy storms of 1917, 34-foot crashing waves broke the stern from the rest of the boat, and eventually turned it on its side.

When I was a child, the pier connected to the boat, which was used as a fishing pier. I remember walking onto the ship, a good fishing spot and bird haven. Now, of course, the ship is very unsafe. It has weathered, deteriorated, and sections have separated from each other; and the end of the pier is gated.

Visions–whether making a home your own, reaching college students with the good news of Christ, or building a ship that could weather storms and war. Which will last?

What will I leave behind when Jesus takes me home? Will I leave memories of loving service, of caring for others in his name, of sharing the good news that God wants a relationship with each of us and has provided the bridge, Jesus, between heaven and earth, between sin and redemption? Or will I leave memories of self-centered decisions and advancement at the cost of hurting others? I know which I want to have as a legacy, but how often I fall short. I’ve been trying to remember to ask Jesus to join me in the little things–driving to an appointment, talking with others, being with my family, emptying the dishwasher. And as I do, I am more aware of his love and presence with me.

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

The Grand Puzzle Master

Swirls of red and white. No specific pattern. Does this piece fit here? There? Turn it around. Nope, still didn’t fit.

During these 16+ months of isolation, I purchased several puzzles. The first was of a lady in a Venetian mask and gown. While Don and I did pretty well with her face and mask, which had more definition than the red and white fabric and gold beads of her crown and gown, we would struggle to get one piece to fit, then give up for the day.

Then our grandniece and grandnephew, Cadence and Cole, came over with their parents. These children are 6 and 10, Their eyes are younger than ours (so is the rest of them)! Cole and his father filled in the bottom of the puzzle, a mix of those red and white pieces with gold braid or beads here and there. Cadence would pick up a piece, look at it and say, “I think this goes here.” We’d try and it didn’t fit. “No, turn it around.” YES!

Amazing. We didn’t finish the puzzle that day and, without their quick eyes we finally gave up on it and put it away, perhaps for a later day. Perhaps not!

I pulled out another puzzle. Same number of pieces but much more specific detail to help identify the pieces, which are larger than in the first puzzle. Cole and Cadence helped us on this one again, but Don and I were quite successful in putting sections together. We finished it!

You may not like puzzles but, if you do, you know working on them can be quite addictive.

Would you have guessed where this piece fit? It was one of the later ones we identified. Was it a football? Did it fit with the chess pieces and orange floor? No–it was part of the tennis shoes by the door. But it took us a long time to realize those were shoelaces.

When we only see the immediate circumstance, whether it’s a loss, a humbling experience, hurtful words, or even joy, we don’t always recognize how it fits into a pattern for good in our lives.

I thought of my friend Tom, who says he loves watching God move the chess pieces. God is not arbitrary, playing a game. But he is sovereign and so often brings situations or people into our lives in unexpected ways. While we may see the back of the puzzle–all the same color and different shapes, he sees the complete picture, right side up, colors and pattern intact.

So for those I love who face special challenges this week–surgery, loss of a loved one, grief, marital discord–I urge you as I urge myself, to continue to look at our sovereign God. He knows what is happening and what good he will bring from each difficulty. And if we look at him rather than the one puzzle piece, we can walk in faith–yes, sometimes with great pain–knowing that he cares about our heart struggles. In his economy, nothing is wasted, not even our tears.

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Psalm 56:8 ESV

I just read that God never looks over his balcony and says “Oh my!” Illness, loss, wars, fires, floods may grieve his heart, but they are no surprise to him. And he has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

And he cares about our tears, even as he looks at his grand puzzle which will one day be complete.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Words and lyrics by Jim Hill

Why do Good People Suffer?

How would you respond if everything you had was stripped from you…

  • Your Finances
  • Possessions
  • Car
  • Home and
  • Children

…within the space of a day?

Some of this is happening now, to those losing businesses or jobs due to the Coronavirus.

And after all this…you got a terrible, wasting sickness of painful sores from head to toe that hurt and itch so much you take broken pottery to scrape your skin, top to bottom?

On top of that, your spouse or family members tell you to curse God and die to leave this agony behind?

Many of you will recognize I’m talking about the Old Testament character of Job, the oldest written book in the Bible.

Is God capricious? Is He playing with Job?

Does Job have a right to question God about how He’s handling Job’s crisis?

Is sickness or loss (finances, property, family) always a judgment of God against sin in a person’s life?

God told Satan Job was a righteous man. Blameless.

Satan argued that Job was righteous because God had blessed him. If God removed His blessing, Job would curse God.

So God gave Satan permission to torment Job, first with loss of oxen, camels, sheep, servants, and his ten children. And Job remained righteous (“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:21).

So Satan came back and said, “Yes, God, but if you take his health he’ll surely curse you.”

Again, God gave permission for Satan to touch Job’s body, but not to kill him.

Job had four friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu, who came to comfort him. For seven days they sat quietly with him, seeing his agony. This was good, supportive.

At the end of his rope!

Then they began to tell Job, one at a time, that he must have sinned or he would not be suffering like this. “It must be your fault!” These are not the friends I want with me when I’m in trouble.

While the friends judged his heart and talked to him about God, they never talk to God about Job. They never asked for him to be healed, to have his fortunes reversed, to stop scratching the sores on his body.

This question is often asked. Why do good people suffer and evil prevail?

Is all misfortune the judgment of God against an individual, all blessing a result of the good someone has done?

God was pretty clear on this. He continued to declare Job righteous.

The four “friends” tried to identify sin and guilt in Job. He responded to each challenge: he treated his servants well, sacrificed to God after every celebration his party animal children gave in case they cursed God during their revelries, gave to the poor, helped the widows, did not lust after other women or rely on his wealth as his security. If he had done any of these things, Job declared, he would have denied God and should be cursed. But he maintained his innocence.

Finally God interrupted the conversation, speaking in a whirlwind, thundering His own perspective on the situation. But He never directly answered the question of “Why”.

He is God. He created the beauty around us, the animals and huge beasts and people and all we see. He challenged Job’s thinking.

  • Did you make the stars?
  • Do you make the sun rise and set each day?
  • Did you make the earth, mountains, sea, lightning, thunder, rain, animals and plants?
  • Were you there when I did this?
  • Does the thing created question why the Creator made him that way?
  • Do you have the right to demand He explain His decisions?

Instead of answering the “Why me?”, God overwhelms Job with his majesty and sovereignty.

In Job 42:5-6 Job responded.

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”

He no longer defended himself. Rather, Job recognized He could not approach God as an equal. He heard these truths about God’s majesty but now he heard it from God Himself and so, Job changed his mind about the truth of who God is.

Job’s need for truth went deeper than getting an explanation for “Why”. He needed to know that, in all, God was and is God. He is the only One wise and powerful enough to be in charge, to handle everything.

Job’s fortunes were restored in the end, and he and his wife had ten more children. And while those ten didn’t replace the ten who were lost, they did give new life to Job.

After my mother died, I grieved deeply. But her death appeared less peaceful than I would have wanted for her. My sweet, gracious mother who loved Jesus with all her heart, seemed to struggle to let go. I didn’t understand. I wanted an explanation that made sense to my rational mind and hurting soul.

But I began to realize I also felt abandoned by God. I imagine Job felt the same. My deepest pain came from feeling separation from my Father, Savior, Lord.

“I can’t live like this,” I confessed, a statement of agony, not of intent.

And slowly, He reminded me of who He is, that He indeed held my beautiful mother in His hands and she was/is His. Through prayer, scripture reading, sermons, I was reminded of His deep love and care for me, and I began to heal.

So what’s the application for you, for me?

When we suffer, we don’t need to know why so much as we need to put our trust in the One who sent His Son to die for us, to rise from that stone cold grave, conquering death and promising us eternal life in His presence. He has promised to walk with us, never to leave nor forsake us, through any challenge He allows into our path.

Faith doesn’t need to know all the whys. It does need to know God is in charge and is wise enough to handle life properly.

There is a throne in heaven. And it is occupied!

And He is worthy of our praise.