Just Stop!

Do you feel frustrated with all the busyness of the Christmas season? We try to buy just the right gift for those we love, to decorate our homes so they are welcoming and lovely, to send Christmas cards to those we contact annually to keep in touch, to plan the perfect menu–and sometimes it all gets to be too much.

I was frustrated last week, but for another reason. Did you know you can, at least in California, look up Unclaimed Property held by the State to see if there are funds owed to you? https://www.sco.ca.gov/upd_msg.html)https://www.sco.ca.gov/upd_msg.html

One of my friends saw that there were some funds due my late husband, therefore to me. Nothing major, just a little here and there. It’s taken me several months just to get to this since I knew I would have to find backup to support my claim to these funds, and my time was limited.

Last one!

Finally I started looking for the right documentation–proof of my social security number, mailing address, death certificate, marriage certificate, etc., etc., etc. It took quite a bit of time. Don and I searched the attic for legal documents we stored there after our move a year ago. And every time I said “I think I have everything I need now,” something else popped up and the search continued. Practically grinding my teeth at having this stack of documents cluttering my desk and mind last week, I finally said “Enough. If they need more information they’ll contact me.” And I put the claims in this morning’s mail.

What if God’s grace was like that? To prove my worth I would have to provide documentation of who I am, how strong my faith is (or isn’t), and why I was entitled to this grace.

But God’s grace is free to us–certainly at great cost to His Son, Jesus Christ, who gave His life for our salvation. Grace means good will, loving-kindness, and favor, often undeserved. And we receive God’s grace simply by faith.

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. “

Ephesians 2:7-9, The Message

His grace, His way … through Jesus, our Savior who came to this earth as a wee babe in a manger, grew up to perform miracles among those who knew they needed help, died on the Cross and rose again, conquering death for all who trust in Him. So when we feel harried and overwhelmed, let’s stop. Just stop. And refocus on the Christ who gave Himself for us. For that’s the greatest gift of Christmas.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16, NIV

Blessed Christmas season to you!

Joy and Pain in Tandem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m thankful for …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Giving

My third-grade kids were seated around a table in the school gym. I asked questions about keeping promises. Several related incidents in which someone had kept a promise.

Then Erica spoke up. “I promised to be Tracy’s best friend forever, but now she’s not my friend any more.” Erica had confronted Tracy about some behavior and Tracy told her she’s no longer her friend. Matthew, who can be disruptive at times and has a very short attention span, turned to her. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

I was amazed and thankful for his sensitivity and kindness.

I found a poem on the back cover of a book about my heritage: Jacob’s Journey, edited by Barbara and Timothy Dyck. The poem’s author is not named so I assume it is unknown. But it touched me as we think of all who have gone before and prepared the way for the lives, freedoms, and the hope with which we live. I am copying it here.

“Lord, we keep forgetting all those who lived before us,

We keep forgetting those who lived and worked in our communities.

We keep forgetting those who prayed and sang hymns in our churches before we were born.

We keep forgetting what our parents have done for us.

We commit the sin, Lord, of assuming that everything begins with us.

We drink from wells we did not find,

We eat food from farmland we did not develop.

We enjoy freedoms which we have not earned.

We worship in churches which we did not build.

We live in communities we did not establish.

This day, make us grateful for our heritage. Amen.”

SONY DSC

So, as we enter a week when we focus on giving thanks, I am grateful for third graders who have a tender heart toward others, for the children with whom I have the privilege of sharing God’s love and mine.

I am grateful for my forbears, who fought for freedom, who left a country where they could not worship as they chose to establish roots in a place where they could, and I can, worship the God of our fathers.

I am grateful for my husband and family, whose love has challenged, encouraged and sustained me through the years.

I am thankful for you, my readers, who respond and give feedback to my ramblings.

I am eternally grateful for the love of Jesus Christ, which gives me hope, forgiveness, salvation, peace, love, joy … and who will continue his good work in me until he returns or takes me Home.

” …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

For what are you most thankful?

The Lonely Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eccesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

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

What do you think?

Thank you for your Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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