Coping with Despair

This has been a hard week. A significant difference weighed heavily on my heart and mind.

Then on Tuesday another school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, took the lives of nineteen elementary school students and two teachers. Those children had no idea it would be the last day of their lives. Their parents had no sense this might be their last goodbye. The horror that has struck this town must be overwhelming.

photo of man holding rifle
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Not only have the lives of the families who lost beloved children, or the children who lost their teacher parents, been changed. Every child who survived, who saw the carnage and lived in intense fear waiting for help, has been impacted for life. I pray they receive the help they need to begin to heal.

We grieve with those who grieve. The shortest verse in the New Testament is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” He was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had died four days earlier. Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, accused Jesus of not being there. “If you had been here my brother would not have died,” they complained.

Imagine Lazarus walking out of that grave and into the light!

And even though Jesus knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life, he didn’t scold the sisters. He didn’t tell them not to worry, that Lazarus was in a better place. He didn’t spout platitudes and tell them their pain would pass. He wept!

Did Jesus weep when an eighteen-year-old boy barricaded himself in a classroom and began shooting teachers and children? I believe he did, and that he grieves with each parent, sibling, or child who lost someone or something (i.e. a feeling of security) in that tragedy.

Grieve with those who grieve

We may wonder what to say to a friend who has lost a loved one. Often the best thing we can do is sit silently and weep with that friend, then listen if they want to talk about their loved one.

Ask God for help in your Despair

I grieved this week. I asked God for some sense of his presence. So there I was, wandering about Costco, returning some jeans that were too long for Don and picking up the few items we needed. As I pushed my cart toward the exit, a woman came alongside me with her cart.

“I love your hair,” she said. “Where do you get it done?”

We chatted and I gave her the name of my hairdresser. Then, out of the blue, this woman asked “Are you a Lutheran?”

“No,” I said, “But I am a Christian.”

basket bassinet business cart
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Monique was raised in a different culture and faith system. However, she talked about her faith in Jesus and how helpful her church has been in her husband’s illness as well as her brother’s critical health issues last year.

“It sounds like you’ve committed yourself to Christ,” I said.

“Yes.”
“So have I.”

We both smiled. I asked if I could pray for her, and she agreed. I put my hand on her shoulder and prayed for her and her husband. Afterward, we gave each other a big hug and went our separate ways.

What a God-moment. This touch from the Father encouraged and uplifted my heart, as well as hers. I had two more similar experiences this week.

Life can be hard. Tragedies happen. Relationships can be both rewarding and hard. But I treasure these God-moments that speak to me of his loving presence in my life.

Communicate your love, openly and often

None of us has a guarantee on when our lives will end. The school and church shootings, illness, the war in Ukraine, all remind us that there is much outside our control, no matter how safe we try to be. A few weeks ago a hit-and-run driver killed a mother and her adult daughter in a crosswalk near us. No warning.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4:14

Be sure those you love know you love them. When appropriate, hug, kiss, give backrubs, hand massages, smiles, and welcoming attitudes. I know I sometimes get wrapped up in my own work and am not as welcoming as I’d like to be when Don comes in to chat. And yet, he’s my love and my priority. I need to live that out.

Foster Hope

The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines “hope” as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, while despair is the complete absence of hope.

I can begin to understand why some people lose hope. Losing family members, home, country in war; losing health or capacity to act; mental illnesses of various kinds can all lead to despair.

And yet, in a Nazi concentration camp, Viktor E. Frankl survived. Why?

“Ever more people have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”

Viktor E. Frankl

Frankl chose to find meaning and purpose, even in his life in camp.

So how do we find solid ground underfoot when faced with despair? I haven’t been in a war, but my life has been threatened. I haven’t lost the love of family and friends, but we do have disagreements from time to time. I have not experienced the challenges and difficulties of many, but my boat has been rocked multiple times. Here are some ways I find helpful to find purpose even in times of despair.

  • Soak in God’s Word, looking for his promises. Immerse yourself in his truth.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

Psalm 103:17-18, NIV
  • Know He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
  • One day all will be made right, and justice will flow like a river (Amos 5:24)

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.

Revelation 19:11 NIV
  • Pray and worship God in community. Lean on others in the Body of Christ to hold you up when you are weak. Allow them to cry with you, bring food, pray with you, and listen to you.
  • Remember God’s faithfulness in the past. I look back at how God led me through ministry, marriage, widowhood, remarriage. He protected us despite threats and fear in the LA ghetto. I recall what he has done in the lives of women I’ve had the joy of helping mature in him. And I’m assured that if God was faithful in all my yesterdays, he will be faithful until, and after, death.
  • Thanksgiving. Not an easy thing if you’ve had a significant difference with someone you love, if you’ve lost a loved one, your home, etc. We’re not told to be thankful FOR all things; but IN all things. That requires trust in a sovereign God who will carry us through anything he allows in our lives. This life is not the end, but only the beginning.

Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

II Timothy 4:8

I grieve with the people of Uvalde. And I am thankful that God weeps with us.

How has this week’s tragedy impacted you? Are you holding your children a bit closer, your spouse and family members dearer?

post by carolnl | | Closed

Ruth’s Choice

She came from a foreign country. She had married the son of a couple who left Israel during famine, hoping for a better life elsewhere. They traveled to Moab where, after a time, the father died. Ruth married one of their sons, Mahlon.

They lived in Moab, this Israelite mother, her sons and their wives, where mother and sons were refugees from Israel’s famine. Ten years after Ruth’s marriage, her husband died, as did her brother-in-law.

By this time Israel was producing food again. The famine was over. Naomi determined to return to her people and encouraged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, where they could meet and marry new husbands who would care for them. Orpah wept, said her goodbyes, and left Naomi and Ruth.

Ruth, however, made the astonishing choice to return to Israel with her mother-in-law. What fears must have flooded her heart? Would she be welcome in this new country? Would she be shunned? Scripture doesn’t tell us about her relationship with her own mother, or whether her mother was still alive. But Ruth must have grown to love Naomi dearly during their years together.

Her words, now famous, are still echoed in many marriage vows today:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Ruth 1:16–17 NIV

Ruth must have known Moabites were enemies of Israel. Naomi had been the refugee in Moab. Now Ruth would be the refugee. She was unlikely to be welcomed. How like many refugees today who leave their homelands for safety, security or provision, but are treated as outcasts, unwelcome in their new countries.

But Ruth made the choice anyway, her commitment to Naomi driving her choice.

Ruth and her mother-in-law were penniless. Naomi told her Israelite neighbors not to call her Naomi (which meant “pleasing”) but Mara (“bitter”), saying God had given her a bitter life. The two would likely have starved had Ruth not gone into the barley fields to gather up left-over stalks of grain, a provision for the poor, to bring home.

Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

Coincidentally (or, God-incidentally), she began to glean in the field of an older, established man named Boaz. He noticed her and asked who she was. Stories of her kindness to Naomi had circulated around town, and he told his workers to drop extra grain for her to pick up. He also warned them to keep their hands off her.

When Ruth went home, arms filled with barley, Naomi was astonished.

“Where did you glean today?”

“I gleaned in the field of a man named Boaz.”

Naomi knew he was a relative and could be asked to provide marriage and protection to Ruth. According to Old Testament Levirite law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), the brother or close relative of a man who died without children was not only permitted, but encouraged to marry the relative’s widow. Their children would carry on the name of the deceased father, and could claim the deceased brother’s share of the inheritance.

This law was a provision of God, not only for the ongoing name of the deceased, but for women’s protection. At the time the Torah was written, a childless widow had no one to provide for her. She would be disgraced, and likely to die of starvation. This law protected such widows from living on the streets and at the mercy of those around her.

Naomi told Ruth to go to the threshing floor and watch ’til Boaz was asleep, then uncover his feet and lie down, probably crosswise at his feet rather than at his side, and wait for him to tell her what to do. Strange custom, that, for our day and age. This was not a seduction. Rather, she was symbolically proposing marriage to him in an honorable way, within the customs of that culture.

When Boaz asked what she wanted, she symbolically asked him to “spread his garment” over her, or to assume the responsibility for her, as her husband.

Boaz, an honorable man, said he was willing; however, there was one relative nearer to Naomi than himself. If that man wouldn’t marry Ruth, he would.

Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleImages.org

I like this Boaz. He had integrity, was kind, didn’t procrastinate. Early in the morning, before it was light, he sent Ruth home with an armful of barley, telling her he would resolve the issue that day. He went to the city gates and asked the other relative to stop and sit awhile. In front of witnesses, he said Naomi had returned and was ready to sell her husband’s land.

The man said “I’ll buy.”

“By the way,” Boaz added, “the day you take over the land, you also take Ruth as your wife.”

The man reversed his decision. Taking a Moabite woman as his wife would endanger his own children’s inheritance. So, in the custom of the day, he removed his sandal and handed it to Boaz as a statement that he relinquished his right of redemption, allowing Boaz to marry Ruth.

I’ve always loved this story. Ruth is both my mother’s and my middle name.

Ruth sacrificed what appeared to be her opportunity to find a new husband and home in Moab to care for her mother-in-law in a foreign land. She had no expectation of another marriage to an Israelite man. Her faithfulness to Naomi won over her Hebrew neighbors. And God provided a Kinsman-Redeemer, Boaz, to marry her. And from their descendants came the births of King David and, later, of Jesus Christ, who shared his human ancestry with Boaz’ ancestress, Rahab, a prostitute who turned to God; and from Ruth, a Moabitess. The sinless God-man, Jesus Christ, came from a line of prostitutes and foreigners–a picture of God’s grace to each of us.

Jesus Christ is our Kinsman-Redeemer. He comes to us, foreigners to His kingdom, and offers us redemption and salvation through His blood sacrifice on the cross. He gives us a new name, a new family, a new spirit, and a new hope.

Even Naomi got in on the new hope! When Ruth gave birth to her firstborn, Naomi cared for him and her neighbor women said Naomi now had a son. As Boaz’ mother-in-law, she was now also under his protection, and and her bitterness was gone.

What does this story tell us about Jesus?

He created us, and He breaks the stereotype–that Messiah can only be a purebred Israelite, or is available only to certain people. He welcomes all into His kingdom, from every nation, tribe, language, and people. He redeems us. He cares for us, protects, provides, comforts, and walks with us.

Sometimes the most radical choice brings the most joy, the choice to follow Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer. Ruth had no idea what was in store for her in Israel. But she took a step of faith, loved and faithfully cared for her mother-in-law, and from that God brought great blessing.

What choice are you making that requires you to take a step of faith?

post by carolnl | | Closed

Meaningful Days

I looked out the back window as our car pulled into the Fresno parking lot Saturday after a three-hour drive. A lovely, white-haired woman in a striking blue outfit walked toward the buildings behind us.

“That’s Judy,” I told Don. “Now we know where to go.”

Golden Grads

My 50th college reunion should have been two years ago. However, due to Covid, it has been postponed two years, so this luncheon included my class and the two following.

We were greeted by Glen. He looked familiar.

“Do I know you?” I asked. “Were we in the same class? I was in ’70.”

Can you tell we enjoyed being together again?

“Oh no.” He chuckled. “I was in the 1990s.”

Embarrassed, I apologized! But I expected folks from my college years–and Glen has lovely white hair, as does my husband.

Later my thoughts melded. Glen had mentioned his older brother Mark. He and my younger brother Bob were close friends. Not only that, Glen was in the church high school youth group when Bob and Sheila were advisors. So, we found our history, and I think he forgave me for initially thinking him significantly older than he is.

Two of my best college buds, Judy and Shirley, were present, along with Pat, Shirley’s husband Jim, and a few others I recognized or reconnected with. One I dated when I was fourteen (chuckle) and his wife.

As the “Golden Grads” introduced themselves, I delighted in hearing how my Fresno Pacific University colleagues have been used by God, and seen him at work, over the years.

Pastoring, teaching, mission work, farming, and human resources have filled these years for most, along with training their children to walk in God’s ways. More recently, my colleagues continue to contribute to the Kingdom through volunteering in a variety of charities and service agencies, serving on boards, organizing a group to tutor children, and writing.

It was heartwarming to be in the company of these long-time and dear friends, and we hated to say goodbye.

Family Visits

From the reunion Don and I drove to a Little League park where my brother Mel’s grandson had a game. By the time we got there the game was over, but we sat at a picnic table and talked, with Mel, Marcy and Bryan and their children, Avery and Asher; and Gail. While Bryan took the worn-out children home, Marcy and Gail stayed and visited with Mel, Don and me.

Last, we met Don’s nephew and niece for dinner. While the sound in the restaurant was loud, the food was great–Don and I shared shish-ke-babs with very tender beef. We hadn’t seen John and Norma in several years and enjoyed catching up with them.

Receiving, and Finding, Blessings

As we enjoyed the three-hour drive back home, I reminisced about the friends I’d seen, the memories they evoked, the warmth of reuniting with them, Mel and part of his family, and John and Norma.

What a blessing to have the foundation of a Christian home, college, family, and long-term friends.

If you’re missing some of that blessing, I encourage you to find a group–or to reconnect with one–with whom you can share God stories, hear echoes of his faithfulness, pray for and support each other.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17

That group may be among your co-workers.

It may be within your church or parish.

It may be people you’ve known for a long time.

The triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are a community of three in one. We are created in his image, therefore, we are meant to be in community for support, encouragement, healing, challenge.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

Mother’s Day

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I miss my sweet, gracious Mom. But she and my dear Dad are in heaven, rejoicing and worshipping our Creator, the Lover of our Souls.

I have not borne children. And yet God has gifted me, not only with Don’s family, but also daughters in faith. My God gave me love for others and I received several Mother’s Day notes that touched my heart. You know who you are, and I love you and pray God will continue the good work he started in each of you (Philippians 1:6).

Pakistani child amid rubble Department for International Development_Russell Watkins. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

My heart is full this weekend. And yet I ache for those mothers around the world who have lost or been separated from their children, are refugees, are trying to feed their children. In our thankfulness, let’s not forget to pray for them!

So, my gratitude goes out, not only to my own mother, but to all the good mothers in the world who love, train, correct, protect, and guide their children while caring for a myriad of other tasks in or outside the home.

“My mother was my role model before I even knew what that word was.” 

Lisa Leslie
Photo by Squiggle; License, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Do you recall special moments with your mother? Or with old friends? I’d love to hear about them.

post by carolnl | | 2

The Difference a Penny Coin Makes

By Diliff – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3660614

April 30, 1997 – UK’s Big Ben, known for its reliability, stopped for 54 minutes at 12:11!

April 30, 1993 – The World Wide Web (WWW) launched in the public domain.

April 30, 1975 – South Vietnam surrendered with the fall of Saigon.

April 30, 1945 – Adolf Hitler took a cyanide pill, then shot himself in the head, ending his dream of a 1000-year Reich.

April 30, 1939 – New York World’s Fair opened. (The World’s Fair, or Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, California, opened in February of that year.)

April 30, 1789 – George Washington delivered his first presidential inaugural address.

Babies were born. People died, either because of the cruelty of others such as Hitler, in wars, or due to natural causes, accidents, or diseases.

Time marched on.

Have you ever wondered, as I have, about the wristwatches many of us used to wear – how the intricate design inside kept the minute and second hands on time?

Big Ben, London, is known for its reliability. It has stopped only a few times since being completed in 1858. It rang in the 1962 New Year ten minutes late due to snow on the clock hands. It stopped twice on May 28, 2005, for a little more than 90 minutes — perhaps because of the unusual, 90F temperature. And, the April 30th stoppage I mentioned above was 24 hours before the general election, after which it stopped again three weeks later.

While “Big Ben” commonly refers to the clock and tower, it actually is the name for the main bell, which for those who are musically inclined, sounded an E-natural until repairs included giving the bell an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place!

But, despite dozens of Luftwaffe bomber attacks during the Second World War, the clock kept within one and a half seconds of GMT.

By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35619683

That’s pretty amazing for a clock frame that is 22.5 feet in diameter, making the dials the third largest in the UK. The length of the gun metal hour and copper minute hands are 8.75 feet and 14 feet respectively!

On top of the pendulum is a small stack of penny coins used to adjust the time of the clock. Adding a coin lifts the pendulum’s centre of mass minutely and increases the rate at which the pendulum swings. Adding or removing a penny changes the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day. It keeps time to within a few seconds each week.

Hand winding the clock takes about one and a half hours, three times a week. There have been additional breakdowns to the ones I mentioned, and in August 2017 the chimes were silenced for four years during maintenance and repair work to the clock mechanism and tower building.

What struck me is the miniscule difference that adding or removing a penny coin makes. How like our lives. We make choices, sometimes tiny ones, that end up impacting the remaining days of our lives.

We choose to worship and adore our Creator, or not – and that little penny coin of taking Him for granted may impact, not our salvation, but our intimacy with our God.

We may choose to fill our lives with busyness–with good things, that drop that penny coin into less time to speak to and listen to our Lord.

Small choices have led me to big events. I chose to minister in the inner city of Los Angeles for a summer after college…and stayed ten years!

Songwriter Stuart Hamblen once told the story of when he rode his horse, “Big If.” It was a foggy day in the Los Angeles hills. Suddenly Big If stopped. No matter how Stuart prodded him, the horse would not move. Finally, Stuart carefully dismounted, got on hands and knees, and edged forward. An inch in front of Old If’s front hoofs was a cliff. Continuing would likely have sent both to their deaths. A small choice…trust this horse. A big result…life!

The amazing thing is that, with a penny coin, you can reverse time added to the Big Ben pendulum and buy back those .04 seconds.

And in God’s economy, if we repent and confess our sin, our walking away from Him, our sin is immediately erased as if it never happened. We may still suffer the consequences of that choice, but the sin itself is forgiven, gone forever, and our relationship with God is made right.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

I John 1:9

And do we stop, listen and trust our Father when he whispers in our spirit, “Do this,” or “Go there,” or “Talk to that lonely person”?

But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

Psalm 31:14-15

Can you remember a small choice you made that had significant consequences?

All Nations, Tribes, People, and Languages

Don and I had the privilege this morning of watching a daughter in the faith baptized, a public confession of her faith in Jesus Christ.

I am encouraged as I watch what God is doing, here in America and around the world.

This week I’ve been especially challenged by two articles in the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) magazine. I confess I have my prejudices. I don’t want them, but they are there. So often I’ve thought of people in third-world countries who can’t read as being less intelligent than me. And yet, I just read about two men who upend that stereotype with their faith and outreach to thousands in the name of Jesus.

Bahmin, a Tuareg, was in prison in the Sahara Desert for three years for his participation in a crime. No windows, just openings in the walls.

Sweltering heat.

photo of desert
Photo by Ali Abdel Radi on Pexels.com

No AC.

Filth.

Then a group of men came into the prison. They installed windows in the openings, put fans in every cell, cleaned the bathrooms and even brought in a TV for the prisoners. These men were not associated with the prison. They were Christians who came to serve. Then they came on Sundays to share the gospel.

Bahmin says that before they even spoke about Jesus he was open to the good news of salvation because he saw their love in action. After his release, he studied with a pastor, led his family to Christ and then many of his relatives.

rear view of a silhouette man in window
Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

“The truth I discovered is about Jesus,” he told them plainly. “He is the way. He is the light. Whoever does not follow Him cannot meet God.” (VOM, March 2022/Vol 56 No 3, p 7). (From the Gospel of John 14:6).

Mahmud, a Fulani, moved away from Niger because he didn’t want to be involved with a Christian missionary there. Twenty years later he returned to Niger and finally requested help from another missionary to enroll his eleven children in school. Soon he and his family committed their lives to Christ. His wife had already become a believer, but had been afraid to tell Mahmud for fear of being beaten.

Mahmud lived and worked alongside the missionary for the next sixteen years and, as his children became adults, five of them joined their father in sharing the gospel with the Fulani. They teach groups that are often more than 100 at a time. Since many Fulani are unable to read, they begin their presentation playing a section of an audio Bible, teach, then leave the audio Bible and return later to answer questions.

These men have a goal of reaching all the Tuareg and Fulani tribes for Jesus. Both have led hundreds to Christ over the past years. Bahmin, his son and cousin have established 33 churches in three years.

Bahmin and Mahmud are committed to sharing the gospel, whatever the cost. They have experienced some persecution and tell new believers to expect it. “If Christ Himself was persecuted, it is natural [that his followers will be persecuted]”, said Mahmud.

These stories remind me that God is at work both here in America and around the world. One day all men will acknowledge Jesus Christ, the sacrificial lamb, as Lord. As scripture tells us,

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

I’m so glad for these men who teach about Jesus in countries far from where I live. God’s Word transcends language and culture. Where I have the benefit of education and literacy, they have the benefit of realizing in a very deep way that only through Jesus can they have peace and the hope of eternity.

I’m reminded of a trip we took to Israel. Several in our group wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized. They had sectioned off areas for the individual groups. One one side I heard praise songs in English; on another, in an Asian language and still another, in rich, deep African voices. And I thought “This is a little taste of heaven.”

God bless you, Bahram, Mahmud and your families. We’ll celebrate together in heaven for all eternity.