Heart Friends

This weekend I was renewed by time together with two close girlfriends, Fritz and Shirley. It is a real privilege and joy to have heart friends who know our history, have walked with us through good and hard times, and have encouraged us along the way.

On Friday, we drove through the foothills to Three Rivers, a long town in the California Sierras bordered by a roaring river on the left and hill country on the right. Crossing a bridge, we turned into the Gateway Lodge and Inn and were seated at a window table overlooking the raging white waters.


The best part of our visit was meaningful conversations amid the beauty of God’s creation. We talked about families, dreams, husbands, concerns and, well, heart issues.We encouraged and committed to pray for each other’s current concerns.

Some of the ways these friends, and others, have encouraged me include the following:

  • Flying across country to support me when, with an ill husband, I was in a hospital 3000 miles away from home.
  • Praying for me.
  • Listening to me recount the most difficult day of my life, without interruption.
  • Loving me when I was at my lowest, hurting at the loss of the man with whom I thought I would grow old. Fritz said to me today, “You wonder, when a friend is grieving, what can you do to help? Did you say the right thing? Did you say enough?” I told her they ministered to me just by loving me, and that was enough.
  • Encouraging me to build new memories in an environment I shared with the person I just lost.
  • Working through their own feelings about a new relationship and learning to love the new man in my life.
  • Reminding me of special moments, and helping me laugh.
  • Helping hold me accountable for choices I make, and reminding me of God’s faithfulness to me in the past.
  • Giving me wise perspective on decisions I am making in our new community.

Fritz and Shirley helped me think through issues such as what church we want to be part of since our move. My friends talked about God’s gracious gift to me of a second husband whom I adore and who my friends also love; as we talked, the truths shared around table and in the car spoke wisdom and challenge into my spirit.

I’d felt unsettled in the church we considered being part of. Before service Sunday I prayed that God would change my heart toward this body of believers. There was nothing wrong with the church … it just was different than the last two marvelous churches we’ve been part of, and I wasn’t handling the differences well.

Sunday morning’s service was tremendously uplifting, the sermon challenging. And I felt God changing my heart. I know this was at least in part because my girlfriends spoke truth to me.

Tres Amigas

So I have been renewed in mind and spirit. I am grateful for my heavenly Father who answers prayer and who gives me heart friends to encourage, challenge and strengthen me.

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Proverbs 27:9, NIV

How has a friend encouraged or challenged you recently?

Home

Jesus, Lord and Savior, is alive!

My seven-year old grand nephew stepped into the house.

“He is risen,” I said to his parents. With a brilliant smile, young Cole responded. “He is risen indeed!”

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Oh, how I delighted in hearing this child echo those precious words. The Cross is empty, and Jesus is alive! In conquering death, He gave us hope, for now and eternity.

Bill and Gloria Gaither penned these familiar words.

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.”

I’m reading a wonderful novel in which a 29-year old mother of three, engaged to a kind, loving man after having been in an abusive marriage, dies without warning. Here’s how the author, ___, describes her death.

“She turned away, and in the space of a breath, her spirit defied the bounds of the room’s four walls, the roof of the house, then the limits of earth and the boundaries of the heavens themselves.

“She became aware of a holy presence, surrounding her, embracing her. And a beloved voice that spoke a name she did not know, yet somehow recognized as her own.

“She moved closer, into the arms of the One who beckoned. And in that moment she knew.

“She was home.”

A NEST OF SPARROWS, Deborah Raney

Home!

Raney reminds us that death is not just a leaving, an end, but a going toward.

I cherish my life, filled with love, family, friends, the beauty of nature, our home and dog, memories, laughter, worship, joy, challenges, opportunities to learn and grow and give. And yet, “I can only imagine” what that sense of wholeness, of being “home” will be like when I pass from this earth to eternity and see Jesus face to face. And I won’t want to leave the ultimate joy and pleasure of being in God’s presence.

May you have hope today because He lives!

She was home.

GIVING FOR RELIEF

Two large auctions raised funds for domestic and international relief efforts this weekend. The larger was held at the State fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas. That was a bit far for us to go.

But Don and I got up early Friday and drove to Fresno for the West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction on the grounds of my alma mater, Fresno Pacific University. Sale and auction items ranged from handmade crafts from third-world countries, a plethora of food choices, art, quilt, toy, and children’s auctions, a traditional Mennonite meal, and more.

The sale, held every Spring by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), is a wonderful place and time to meet old friends, watch a fabulous quilt auction, listen to live music, and buy traditional Mennonite foods like zwiebach (airy two-bun rolls), and vereneki (lip-smacking good cottage cheese dumplings).

Preliminary sale totals from the Fresno sale are at $185,000; while the larger Hutch sale was expected to raise about $500,000. We met my two older brothers, Melvyn and Arnold, and sister-in-law Carol; cousins of Don’s; school chums of mine as well as people I grew up with in our home church. I’ve always admired Professor Edmund Janzen, and was happy to meet Edmund and his lovely wife Mary in the food purchase line.

Here are a few photos of significant parts of the Sale.

We stood in line Saturday with poet Jean Janzen (no relation to Edmund) and Janet Kroeker for a vereneki lunch – cottage cheese-filled pockets, boiled and then fried and topped with a delectable white sauce, served with German (what else!) sausage and salad. Yumm! Effort-intensive, delicious. 

The quilt auctions are the highlight of the weekend; I heard the one on the right sold for almost $5,500. A beautiful quilt, with money going to help those in need. Couldn’t be better!

MCC was founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1920. While its original goal was to provide food for Mennonites starving in (and also emigrating from) the Ukraine, the organization soon realized its reach needed to extend beyond only their Mennonite brothers and sisters. MCC began to help anyone in need.

Its focus includes relief efforts, clean food and water, health and education, migration, peace efforts, and restorative justice.

While Don and I weren’t in the market for quilts, typewriters or toys (although Don was admiring that John Deere child’s tractor!), we were happy to be a small part of this event, fundraising for a worthy cause.

May you have a blessed Easter week as we thank our God for the greatest of all gifts, salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

John 3:16-18, THE MESSAGE

Resting in the Father’s Love

In our morning devotions, Don and I read II Cor. 9: 6-15 today. These verses express that God loves a cheerful giver.

“Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

II Corinthians 9:6

I confess that I often think of my needs, my desires, first. And yet, when I do give generously, there is real joy in knowing that what God has given me is going beyond me to the service of others, and of the Kingdom of God.

As I read the passage, Don held our little Paigey in his lap. Her chin rested on Don’s elbow. Her big brown eyes watched me intently. Her forelegs hung loose over Don’s hip. Totally relaxed. No effort whatever.

What a picture of trust, of security, in the arms of her “daddy”.

And isn’t that just what God desires from us, whether in giving, trusting He will also supply our needs; or in walking through the ups and downs of life. He is in control. He loves me unconditionally. He is trustworthy.

Hebrews 10:23 challenges us to “ hold resolutely to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

Why then is it sometimes so hard to trust, to let all the air out of my proverbial tires and rest in Him as Paige did with Don? Is it because our culture has taught us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to make our own way, to be independent? Or is it inherent in our natures to want to succeed (or fail) on our own?

I want to remember the beautiful picture Paigey gave me this morning. I want to rest in my Father’s arms, trusting His love and faithfulness in all the circumstances of my life.

Is it hard for you to trust this way? What helps you relax in Abba’s (Daddy’s) arms, rest in His heart?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”


Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

Amazing Grace

So we’ve sold our former home, and emptied it of the hundreds of tools my dear husband had organized in one of the garage bays. We’ve cleared out my mother’s apartment and she’s settling into the Assisted Living Center well, albeit adjusting to the changes, in her new digs.

We’ve donated hutches, armoires, clothing, and more, that we hope will help someone else along their journey.

We’ve worked together with family to accomplish all this, working around schedules and other priorities to get the jobs done.

We’ve prayed for strength and grace, rested when we could, and have received grace each day to go at it again. I was reminded this week of when my late husband was in the hospital. I was exhausted at the end of every long and intense day. Yet the next morning I would be ready to do it again, with joy.

God’s mercies truly are new every morning; He is faithful! (Zephaniah 3:17)

I couldn’t have done all this without a lot of help, especially from my wonderful Don, who had his own priorities to deal with in emptying out the old garage. He’s loaded, lifted, loved Mom, worked with his son and my brother and his son-in-law, and has been more gracious than I through it all. My sister-in-law and I spent several afternoons packing together; and our nephew and grandnephew both worked with us. When I’ve been discouraged, feeling like there was no end in sight, Don has listened and encouraged me that this season would end.

And we’ve experienced small graces along the way, which have again shown God’s faithful character and attention to our needs. I think of the friend of my mother’s who said she would take everything we wanted to give her … and did, including about 12 full boxes of cooking utensils and other items can no longer use or store, planters, tables, and potting soil. Don and I were amazed at how much Patty and her friend got into their pickup, and relieved to have these items picked up, many of which were going to Patty’s church to help others.

And Mom’s sweet neighbor Connie who, despite her own need for a cane, got down and cleared out some of Mom’s kitchen cupboards, making a pile for Goodwill in the process.

Or Mom’s Bernina sewing machine, which I posted online Thursday evening and sold Friday morning, our last day at Mom’s apartment before turning in the key. How perfect that in God’s timing someone saw it and wanted it right away!

As the week progressed Don and I began to see an end to the pressure, the time crunch, which allowed us to begin to relax. Sometimes rest doesn’t come when we feel the need is greatest; but when it does come it is so very sweet and renewing.

“For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2, NASB)

As I’ve pondered my own stress due to multiple demands on my mental, physical and emotional energies, I’ve thought of the persecuted Church around the world. When missionary Tom Randall was falsely imprisoned in the Philippines, sick and weak in body, he led Bible studies and a number of men committed their lives to Jesus Christ within the walls of that prison. And when his jailers came to tell him he was being released, Tom asked if they would allow him to stay in prison one more night and day so he could teach the men one more time before leaving. That’s God’s grace in spades!

Many are dealing with the ongoing daily stress of threat, imprisonment, torture, loss. Their needs go so far beyond mine. I pray that in their circumstances they too will experience little graces that express God’s faithfulness to them, His promise never to leave nor forsake them. His promise that there is hope beyond this life that is sweeter than anything we could hope for here. His presence that sustains and comforts and yes, gives strength that is supernatural despite horrific circumstances.

Won’t you join me in praying for these persecuted saints?

God bless and guide you today in all your thoughts, actions, and decisions. May His name be glorified!