Category Archive: Relying on God

Anniversary and a Funeral

Have you found that joy and pain coexist in your life, that they cycle through your days, weeks, months? I was reminded of that again this week.

Last Monday I opened the front door to see a beautiful mixed bouquet of flowers and a sweet stuffed bear, along with a note from my loving husband on our eleventh anniversary.

Our marriage is a second chance at love for both of us after losing our first partners. A God thing. After being widowed awhile, I asked the Lord if He had someone else for me, to sort of “drop him into my lap.” I had no desire to be part of the dating scene after being married to a wonderful man for twenty years. Don had prayed a similar prayer.

And, at a widow and widowers’ grief recovery meeting two years after Jerry’s death, there he was…dropped into my world, as it were (and I into his). Handsome, tall, white-haired, and kind. So kind, not only to me but to both the women and the other men in the group.

Our marriage has survived the normal ups and downs, and a few extra that come with the assumptions and expectations of extended family members. We’ve experienced the delight of traveling, being in small groups together, cooking together, planning for our future, laughing at our dog, Paige’s, antics, just “being” together, and learning to know and love each other’s families. There’s been a lot of joy packed into these years.

Then yesterday I attended a zoom memorial service for Virgil, who was a teenager when I met him in the inner city of Los Angeles. He was one of the teens in our Bible clubs, teen choir, and activities. My memories of him are of a very pleasant, sweet young man.

After 38 years, I reconnected with Virgil two years ago at a World Impact women’s reunion when he came to pick up his wife, Robin. Still gracious, kind, loving his wife.

And during Virgil’s memorial service, I learned so much more about his life in those intervening years. He ministered with World Impact for twenty-seven years, then started a church. His sudden and unexpected death in late December was a shock to all of us.

I had forgotten that our staff came to know Virgil when, as a 12-year old boy, he broke into one of our staff homes. That was a turning point in his life as the men on staff took an interest in him, taught him about Jesus Christ and a new way of life. And Virgil responded with a heart that hungered to know more about his God.

So, despite tears and sorrow, his service was a celebration. A celebration of Virgil’s life, his ministry, and most of all, his love for God and his family. Friends told of his faithful follow-up by text or phone; his care for others; one said he was the first good example of a black father this younger man had seen. And I pray for comfort and healing for Virgil’s wife and children, and his loving, extended family. The lion of pain has invaded their hearts.

So, joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude, constantly in flux in our lives. I praise God for those faithful men who built into Virgil’s life, who then built into the lives of others for the glory of God.

Reminds me of Daniel, who was captive under four Babylonian kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus. Because of Daniel’s “excellent spirit” during that captivity, he served each ruler faithfully, not saying what they wanted to hear, but speaking the truth as God revealed it to him. And he kept getting promoted to higher positions.

During those years he developed a habit of kneeling to pray in front of an open window that faced Jerusalem, his home. He did this faithfully three times a day.

And when he became one of the most powerful leaders in the country under Darius, others became jealous and tried to trap him. But they realized they couldn’t accuse him of anything regarding the kingdom because he was faithful in his duties and they couldn’t find fault with him (Daniel 6:4). So they said “Let’s find a complaint against him regarding his faith in God.”

They tricked the king into writing a decree that, once sealed, could not be changed or undone. The decree stated that anyone who asked any request of someone other than the king for the next 30 days would be put into the den of lions! Whew…a terrifying thought!

close up photo of lion s head
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

But when Daniel heard the edict, he went home, knelt and prayed in front of that open window three times a day, just as he always had (Daniel 6:10). He knew his detractors would see him. He could have prayed in his bedroom, away from the window. But he trusted his God. And when King Darius, horrified, realized the trap into which he had been led, and from which he could find no escape, he said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”

Moody Publishers / FreeBibleimages.org

That night, as Daniel walked, prayed, slept–we’re not told–the king fasted, tossed and turned all night. Early in the morning he rushed to the lions’ den, groaning in anguish. He cried, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him, and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” (Daniel 6:20-22).

The short story is that Daniel was taken out of the lions’ den and his accusers thrown in and killed.

May I, may we who trust in our God, Lord, Savior, King–stand firm as Daniel did, trusting God in our times of joy or promotion; and of sorrow and loss. Grief will come; joy will brighten some of our days. But in all, our God has promised to be with us as He was with Daniel. And whether we are liberated without a scratch, as Daniel was, or our God takes us to Himself, He is with us. Blessed be the name of our God!

At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Daniel 6:4

Question: Do you know someone like Daniel? Consistent, trustworthy, faithful, walking with his or her God? I’d love to hear about that person’s impact in your life.

The Week that Was

And what a week it was! Two weeks ago we learned our wonderful neighbors on both sides of us are dealing with significant health challenges. We’re watching for ways to love, encourage, pray for, and help them with practical needs where we can.

Wednesday a younger friend called, panicked because she’d been scammed. Fortunately she had not given social security or bank information before she started to question the offer. We’ve tried to help her mitigate possible ongoing implications of this scam.

Thursday morning Paigey was herself, eating, drinking, then going to her bed in our closet when I left to pick up some groceries and get a lab test.

When I returned home I greeted Don with a hug and kiss, then walked into the bedroom to tell Paige I was home. It took her awhile to rouse, then look up to see me. She got out of her bed and stumbled into the family room, looking like a drunken sailor. Her legs splayed beneath her, she was very lethargic, and had trouble keeping her head up, eyes open.

We called the Vet and were directed to their ER. Four hours later and a bit poorer, we left with no diagnosis. All Paigey’s tests returned negative, for which we are very thankful. She is herself again. So what could have caused this significant incident? Did she ingest something poisonous to her? Nothing showed on blood work or ultrasound, so we’re just grateful she’s improved.

Then I learned that an old friend died of Covid very suddenly.

In all this it’s sometimes hard to remember that God is with us, that He has promised never to leave nor forsake us.

But He has been.

And He is.

And He will be!

As we enter 2021 few of us will regret saying goodbye to 2020. But we don’t know what will come in 2021. We have hopes for a helpful vaccine to be distributed quickly and safely (although a few have had significant negative reactions to the injection). We hope to be able to move about more freely, to meet with church, family, friends again. (For those of you in other states, California is pretty locked down.)

So our hope can’t be in 2021, the year. It can’t be fully in a vaccine that gives hope but doesn’t yet have a long test record. It can’t be in politics. It can be in Immanuel, “God is with us”, the hope of all the earth!

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”

Psalm 65:5-8 NIV

I have been reminded over and over again these past months that my hope must be in my God, that I need to focus on Him rather than on the chaos of life around me, and allow Him to guide me through each step of the journey He has for me. And while sometimes the way seems dark, when I truly rely on Immanuel, He does call forth songs of joy in my spirit.

How are you dealing with the challenges you face?

Rooted

What a year 2020 has been! We headed into a rather restricted Thanksgiving week, limiting connections (as we’ve done for some time), meeting outdoors if at all. But I am thankful for YOU, my readers. I pray that my thoughts have shown you hope in some small way. You have certainly encouraged me during some difficult emotional times.

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH US … Don rebuilt much of our deck, which had a great deal of dry rot beneath; and built a lovely waterfall along the pathway to our front door. He makes breakfast in the mornings to allow me more time to write, and is a great sounding board for ideas.

I’m still writing, working on my historical novel, and occasionally talking with friends in person outside, by zoom or phone.

We’ve had an apartment vacated (after thirteen years!) and updated it with some significant help from my nephew and his 9-year old son. We’re praying for just the right person or family to move in.

Like many of you, we haven’t seen as much of our family as we would like. But we have gotten together outside with another couple, or several, on rare occasions. Do you find, as I do, that this time of isolation makes our families and friends even more precious, the joy in times or talks together multiplied because of their rarity?

Don and I walked in the sunshine in our neighborhood yesterday morning, enjoying the multi-colored leaves (these are just five I picked up–I think the one with the prominent rust-colored veins is stunning!) and watching Paigey explore and sniff along the way.

We put up our Christmas tree and decorated it after a wonderful drive-in church service this morning, then enjoyed talking with each other while sitting and looking at the beauty of the tree. Paigey goes with us to drive-in church–we call her a “pup who praises.” Don’s put up the outside lights and I’ll decorate the mantle later.

ON THANKSGIVING, we took time to remember our Mom, who passed away in April of this year. While I am still grieving her loss, I am so grateful she is not alone and isolated during this pandemic. Instead, she is enjoying inexpressible delight in the presence of Jesus, our King.

We laughed as we shared different memories. Mom always felt she and Dad were too serious, so it was a joy to see and hear her relax and laugh more in her later years. We delighted in (and enjoyed) some of the baking traditions she passed on to family members; and talked about her gracious, giving spirit and the years she prayed for each of her family members.

We have much for which to be thankful. A vaccine for Covid-19 is on the horizon, we have precious family and friends, we can walk and enjoy the beauty of Creation. And, despite divisions and uncertainty about the future, we can have confidence in the God who is There! I need Him more than ever, and work to focus my mind on Him rather than on the chaos surrounding us.

AND I’M THANKFUL FOR YOU!  You’re important to me.   

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19

How was your Thanksgiving?

When Hope is Lost

Posted by Carol Nicolet Loewen on 11/22/2020

Laura Bennet is a wonderful author I first met in a writers’ group in Santa Cruz. Since we are both finding hope from opposite ends of the country, we swapped this week. Be encouraged as you read her wonderful post. You can read more of her posts or subscribe to Laura’s blog at www.laurabennet.com. You can also read mine this week at https://laurabennet.com/2020/11/21/blessing-in-an-annus-horribilis/.


WHEN HOPE IS LOST

by Laura Bennet

The past year has devastated our world with natural disasters in abundance. Fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, as well as raging violence leave us reeling with anger, grief, questions and perhaps hopelessness. And now the news media has taken over our nation with election controversies.

One nation under God.

A nation started by those seeking God’s ways and freedom to live in them the way they chose. A nation whose pilgrims initially embraced help with gratitude from those who lived here before them as they all celebrated the unique offerings their differences yielded.

But now that nation is torn apart.

Hatred, racism, politics, disrespect, and tragic disaster reign as each person tries to fix the issues in their realm or in their own heart. Many turn their anguish and heartache toward God with a shaking fist asking,

“Where are you, God?”

I’ve certainly had moments of wondering what God is doing in all of this.

And I believe the answer to the question isn’t that God is absent, but that he’s present in each circumstance and life offering love, hope and something good to come out of all the bad. Maybe the good is a sense of unity. Perhaps it’s reaching out to our neighbors, and asking how we can help each other. Through it all, many are turning to God for comfort. Whatever happens, God will be seen and known for who he is.

God with us.

It’s interesting to me that when good happens we are quick to point to ourselves—how we invented, accomplished, or created something great. But when bad happens we are quick to point at God with an accusing finger. 

It’s our glory and God’s fault, right?

What if we flipped that around? What if all the mess of the world is actually us doing our own thing, going our own way, believing that we have answers and know what’s best, but in reality we’re arrogantly messing things up?

What if God truly has the answers, has a way for our lives to work well, offers us good for the taking?

This side of heaven, nothing is going to fix this world. Oh, we can improve things by loving each other, feeding the poor, and taking care of orphans and widows (as Jesus told us to do). But since man chose to do his own thing from the beginning of creation, God turned the world over the to the father of lies, the one who kills, steals and destroys, the current ruler of earth.

Does that mean God isn’t in control?

No. He’s much greater than his and our enemy. His love far surpasses the evil of the world. But he also doesn’t force anyone to follow him, love him, or obey his ways. He gives us a choice. And much of the crisis in the world has been our choice.

Maybe not yours or mine in a given situation, but certainly ours as a nation.

I love that even if we choose not to follow God, he pursues us, woos us, and stays close to us waiting for us to turn around and embrace him. Like a lover—the lover of our soul desires relationship with us and longs for us. He will even allow something difficult to put up a roadblock so we will turn around and see him there with open arms.

In the end, God is our only hope.

He creates life in the face of death, streams of water in wastelands, rescue from bondage, and offers an eternity in his presence. Each day, when I keep my eyes and heart focused on the One who loves me most and best, I am settled in peace and hope no matter what rages around me.

The same can be true for all of us.

Maybe it already is. But it’s not easy. Keeping our thoughts focused on someone we can’t see isn’t an easy task. That’s where faith comes in. Creation around us, God’s word, and the testimony of others who know and follow Jesus help keep us on track. Listening to and singing worship music helps keep me focused because it focuses on Jesus.

Hope is never really lost.

We may feel hopeless at a point of crisis or loss when we look at the devastation and wonder what we can possibly do to make a difference. But for each simple act, like a prayer, or a few dollars given, or a bottle of water offered, we offer hope and our hope is restored.

After all, God, who is love, is also our hope.

If you are feeling hopeless, I would love to pray for you. You can email me at laura@laurabennet.com, or check out my blog at https://laurabennet.com/.

*Laura Bennet is a multi-published author who blogs and writes books about hope, healing, and redemption emerging from the ashes of crisis and trauma. Originally from Southern California, she currently lives in Fort Myers, Florida where she basks in tropical warmth with her Aussie husband and youngest college-attending son. When she’s not walking on the beach, photographing nature, or sipping her weekly peppermint mocha, she loves to connect with her readers who can find her at www.laurabennet.com.

Paradigm Shifts

What’s the paradigm behind your world view? I’ve been wrestling with this these past months. I wonder if you have been too.

In this time of tensions within and outside our nation, pandemic fears, destruction of life, property, animals, and finances through fire, flood and violence, we see different paradigms at work.

  • The paradigm that we are in control of our lives. (2020 has shattered much of that one, hasn’t it!)
  • That politics, OUR politics, whatever they may be, has the answers we need to right the wrongs in our world.
  • That we are subject to external circumstances that control our lives; or
  • That God is sovereign over our lives, nations, world. His Throne is still occupied! He gives us freedom to choose our behaviors and responses to the world around us. He loves us with an everlasting love, to which we must choose how we will respond.

It seems to me that if we go with either of the first three paradigms (and there are others), we lose hope when a) we lose control over our lives because of illness, election results, loss of loved ones; b) our politics fail to provide the answers we seek; or c) the external circumstances we believe control our lives are unfavorable to us.

Our paradigms, our belief systems, affect our lives. And we can’t change our lives until we change the paradigms. We come to faith through a host of life experiences, education, and belief systems we have learned from our childhoods. These help form the lens through which we see the world.

  • Think of the woman who hates men because her father abandoned the family when she was a little girl, pushing them into poverty and insecurity.
  • Or the one who was abused as a child and doesn’t trust anyone, always fearing the raised hand or voice.

Pastor Rene Schlaepfer spoke last night about the shape of the gospel–a bell curve from weakness to power. Christ’s death looked like an absolute tragedy, a picture of complete weakness. But it was in reality the ultimate in power because of His resurrection from the dead three days later.

A gospel shaped paradigm gives me a pattern for my life when I realize that I can expect both crosses and empty tombs (perhaps figuratively, perhaps literally). If I expect only crosses, I can’t rejoice in the empty tombs. If I expect only graves, I fall into despair.

It changes how I see my future, because my future is in the hands of my loving Father who has promised never to leave nor forsake me. The apostle Paul said it this way.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 

II Corinthians 4:7-11

And, changing my paradigm gives me power for life, because God is strong when I am weak!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

II Corinthians 12:9

Pastor Rene said one way to get this gospel shaped paradigm into our heads is to expose myself to a new idea over and over, for example:

  • “God loves me and has already given me eternal life.”
  • “I know life has its crosses but they lead to resurrection.”
  • “I can trust the God who loved me enough to send His Son to die in my place, who knows my past, present and future. And one day I will worship at His feet, rejoicing in the grace He’s given me.”

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I’m working on my paradigms. How about you?