Tag Archive: Hope

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

New Mercies

Are you weary, as I am, of inhumane treatment in Afghanistan, an overwhelming hurricane in Louisiana, a devastating earthquake in Haiti, political unrest here at home, and hurting friends? Where do we find hope when all the news seems bad? More Covid variants; more Americans possibly left behind in Kabul; friends dealing with loss, illness, surgeries and ongoing treatments.

Sometimes it all feels overwhelming.

But God …

  • has told us to cast all our cares on him;
  • has promised never to leave nor forsake us;
  • came to give us life eternal; and abundance of joy.

I’m reminded–and I need to be–of when my first husband, Jerry, and I, flew to Gainesville, Florida where Stanford doctors believed he would get the dual liver/pancreas transplant he needed sooner than in California.

During my Jerry’s terminal illness, we experienced repeated hospitalizations. Invasive medical tests. Ongoing insurance conflicts that festered financial concerns. And yet, we experienced many “but God” moments, reiterating our Father’s faithfulness in dire circumstances.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:26 TLV)

But God…led us to Gainesville, a city whose teaching hospital had a strong organ transplant program. Jerry had to be available for surgery on very short notice whenever organs became available. Our lives became more complicated as we booked motel rooms for only a few days at a time, and moved regularly. We had no idea we would have to wait three and a half months for that phone call from the hospital, saying “Come now”.

But the constant relocating was hard on Jerry. Living in motel rooms without a kitchen, desk or extra chairs became tiresome and costly. I felt overwhelmed, supporting my husband in his fight for life while juggling bill payments, managing rentals back in California, and looking for low-cost motels. And we both knew Jerry’s need for a transplant was becoming more critical. So we prayed, and waited.

But God had some deep lessons for me.

1.     God loves us and wants us to rely on Him for every need (I Peter 5:7). I asked friends to pray for longer-term housing in Florida. Our minister in California introduced us to Richard, a Gainesville pastor, who graciously shared our need with his church. I contacted more than twenty apartments, trying to find a place without success. Discouraged, I left a message on Richard’s voice mail. “I can’t find a place to rent for a limited time. Do you know anyone who might be able to help us?”

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My cell phone rang an hour later. Richard’s voice was animated. “Carol, I listened to your voice mail and not more than 4 minutes later, opened my email. A family going on a summer mission project wondered if their home would be a possibility for ‘the couple from California!’ I don’t know about you, but that timing sure seems like God to me …”

We lived in that home for two months.

This housing provision was one of many but God…experiences as we journeyed into the valley of the shadow of death.

2. God shows his love through others. We were “strangers in a strange land.” But God…loved us through people we’d never met before. On arrival at the Jacksonville airport, I went to pick up our car rental.

“How long will you need the car?” Maria asked as she pulled our Hertz reservation.

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“I don’t really know,” I replied. “My husband is here for a transplant, so it depends on when organs become available, and on his recovery time.”

Maria glanced over the contract. “Hmmm…you probably have more luggage than will fit in this compact car. Why don’t I upgrade you to a van. That’ll give you lots of room.”

“Thank you!”

When I told Maria who my employer was, she wrote up the contract, charging us $15/day for a van that normally ran $75/day. I renewed our contract month by month for seven months, and the agency never once raised the price!

Family and friends came to visit, and to serve, letting us know we were not alone. And new friends in Gainesville visited, cooked for me, sang to Jerry in the hospital, and met other needs.

3.     God’s perspective is bigger–and often different–than ours. Our life was on hold. But God … showered us with ‘divine appointments’ almost daily as we sat in restaurants and ice cream parlors and explored antique shops. Waiting for the hospital’s call, we had nothing but time. As we shared out of our pain and hope, those we met often opened their hearts and shared their unique stories with us. We prayed with a hurting mother whose teenage son was in juvenile hall, and shared our hope with a rodeo clown. And I heard later that God had never been discussed as much among my workplace circle of influence as during Jerry’s hospitalization, when I sent regular updates sharing God’s grace in our lives during this difficult time.

4.     God often shows up when our hearts and minds desperately need to know he still cares.                     

Our life had lost its rhythm, any sense of normalcy.

But God…Jerry had just been moved a step down from Intensive to Transitional Care.

Entering his room, I drew the privacy curtain between the two beds and sat beside Jerry, holding his hand. Looking out the window, I saw Bonnie, whom I’d met briefly in the Intensive Care waiting room the day before, walk around, checking room numbers. She turned into our room and walked past me to the second bed.

“Is that your husband?” I asked in surprise.

Wanting to encourage Jerry without intruding on their privacy, I began to sing quietly. My heart warmed in awe as I heard Bonnie’s sweet alto join my soprano from the other side of the curtain. I had no idea God had placed us in a room with another Christ-follower.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not

As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness,

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Lyrics by Thomas Obadiah Chisolm (1866-1960), tune by William Runyan, published 1923

5.     In the toughest of circumstances, God is there. I was exhausted. Every night for five months, I left the hospital dispirited and weary. Settling in at the apartment, my eyes were dry. Every muscle and nerve in my body ached. My mind felt overwhelmed. I sent an email update to colleagues and the many who were praying for us, then sank onto my bed to fall into dreamless sleep.

belief bible book business
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But God…renewed me daily. Each morning I wakened with new hope and joy, ready to face another day with my beloved. I learned the truth of Lamentations 3:22-23, the scripture that is the basis for the hymn above:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Proverbs 16:9 says “We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it” (MSG).

Living out of motel rooms, searching for housing, and caring for my husband in a hospital on the other side of the country were not in my plans. God has not promised to spare us from the hardships of life, but He has committed to being with us in every situation. When our heart and strength wane, He is faithfully present.

My prayer for the crises we face in today’s world is that those suffering will experience his grace in unexpected ways; and that we who grieve with and for them will lean into and rely on those but God…moments as He cocoons us in His love.


A Little Girl and a God who Lasts!

Masks were off at outdoor church today! The breeze stirred as we sat in the sunshine, singing “We need a fresh wind, the fragrance of Heaven. Pour your Spirit out.”

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Do you feel, as I do, that the heaviness of the past year is lifting just a bit? And yet, countries like India are still overwhelmed with Covid cases, with hospitals that can’t hold all the sick, with deaths there aren’t enough people to handle. India’s most famous guru, Ramdev, has decided to take the vaccine after berating doctors and saying ayurvedic medicine was sufficient. https://news.yahoo.com/ramdev-india-most-famous-yoga-140805662.html

I lost a friend to Covid two and a half weeks ago. The husband of one of my college best friends. Grief and sorrow continue. Do you need, as I do, to be reminded of hope?

Don and I have been reading through the book of Isaiah. There’s so much prophecy, and we don’t understand it all or know when some of the prophesied events will happen. But oh, chapter 40 is so rich it had me in tears the other day.

Isaiah begins the chapter with the familiar line Handel used in his Messiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” (KJV) Isaiah writes that we need to prepare the way of the coming Lord, the Creator of everything we can see or imagine. THE MESSAGE says “Who has scooped up the ocean in his two hands, or measured the sky between his thumb and little finger…” He is a God of magnitude we cannot comprehend!

The prophet continues:

So who even comes close to being like God? To whom or what can you compare him? Some no-god idol? Ridiculous! … Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening? … God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas–yes, like a tent canvas to live under…

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob (or Carol, or Sue, or Rod, or …) or whine, Israel, saying ‘God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me’? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts … He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath, and he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles. They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.

Isaiah 40:18-31 (The Message)
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This is so precious to me. I’ve had a knee and shoulder replaced and have pain in the other parts. I don’t walk fast. I don’t run. But one day, in God’s amazing kingdom of justice and peace, I will run without tiring. I will pick up things without pain in my shoulders.

Dear friends of ours, Directors at Rancho Santa Marta, Mexico, birthed three children. They have a very full plate running a Christian school with about 250 students from up to 60 miles away. They oversee five residences for live-in children who may be orphans, removed from their homes due to abuse, or have learning difficulties. But Rod and Tina adopted another little girl from India a number of years ago.

Recently the couple was asked by the Mexican welfare system if they could take in a little deaf mute girl. They felt having her in one of the residences would add another layer of complexity to the family structures they’ve developed there, so Rod and Tina offered to foster this child. Within a week, they were in love with her and have decided to adopt her as well.

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The God who created the heavens and all that is in them reached down to pluck this little girl up and put her in a home where she will be loved, taught, and hopefully helped medically. The family is checking into getting cochlear implants so she can learn to hear and speak and have a more normal life. But they have a short window of time. She is 5 and a half, and they evidently only perform these implants on children until the age of six. Won’t you join us in prayer for the MediCal and financial support they need to have this surgery done before their little one turns six?

Isaiah 40:27 (MSG) talks about this amazing God:

“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.”

It’s only when we hope in God that we can impact a world that seems hopeless–sometimes, one child at a time.

“Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

“It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

God CARES. He LASTS. He doesn’t change. He hasn’t lost track of his children, including me. That gives me hope.

Loss … and Hope

Don and I were enjoying the beauty of Hawaii, its turquoise waters, clear and sunny skies, when we heard that nine people were murdered in cold blood in our hometown of San Jose, California. Nine Valley Transportation Authority employees, leaving behind spouses, children, siblings. Men between the ages of 29 and 63. The shooter then killed himself.

According to his ex-wife, the shooter often complained about his work, feeling others got easier assignments than he did. She told the Bay Area News group “When he was in a good mood he was a great guy. When he was mad, he was mad.”

These families will grieve the loss of their loved ones deeply. Little children will grow up without their fathers. Wives are left to raise children as single parents. And we need to reach out and care for them in ways we can, even while we pray for their comfort.

So much tragedy, so much loss and pain. How can we respond to such senseless violence?

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I just read about an eighth-grade math teacher who heard gunshots in the hallway. She told her students to run to the high school and not to look back! But the teacher went into the hallway to see how she could help. A young girl holding a gun had already shot two students (who were hurt but would recover). The teacher went to see if she could help the wounded, then looked up to see the girl pointing the gun at her.

Quietly, the teacher spoke to the girl. She approached and put her hand over the girl’s hand, which held the gun. The girl released the gun. The teacher called the police but didn’t stop there. Instead, she took the girl into her arms, holding and comforting her until help arrived. The woman’s actions took courage; they also showed compassion for a young girl just forming the rest of her life.

My relationship with God through Jesus Christ has given me hope in the midst of grief and suffering. Yes, I’ve felt depressed and alone. But God never left me. He is faithful and true. Jesus said of himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV)

The apostle John wrote about God’s amazing love when he said,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, NIV

My oldest brother gave the eulogy at my father’s memorial service. He said, “For 57 years, Dad, you’ve taught me how to live. This last month, you’ve taught me how to die.” Our father died with grace and courage, trusting that the God who led him for 85 years would not abandon him in death.

What a legacy if we can teach our children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren how to live for Jesus; and how to die with confidence in his eternal salvation.

Do you know this Jesus? Want to know more about him? Let’s talk.

But God …

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Like most of us, I want to live with purpose. And yet at times I find my purpose wavering … I need a rest; I’m not equipped to deal with that issue; that person’s pain is too much for me to handle. I’m overwhelmed! Do you ever feel like that?

I pulled out a post from six years ago because I was reminded of it in our pastor’s sermon this morning.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–

Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV

That’s the beauty of God’s empowering. Many challenges are too much for me to handle. I am inadequate. I don’t know what to do. But my God will enable me if I take one step at a time, believing He will meet me at the next one.

I experienced many God-moments when my first husband was waiting for an organ transplant in Florida. Three thousand miles from home, we needed housing, local support, and insurance approval. In one email to friends I expressed the challenges we faced, then listed some of the ways we had seen God’s love and grace. I wrote:

“We are in big trouble on our own (health, costs, housing, ongoing tests) … it isn’t a bed of roses …

BUT GOD … allowed Jerry’s test results Friday to be positive, removing a potential obstacle to transplantation …

BUT GOD … ensured final dollar authorization for the dual transplant …

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BUT GOD … led our California pastor to connect us with Pastor X here in Gainesville, with whom we’ve already started to have wonderful fellowship and support …

BUT GOD … led Pastor X to follow up with us and to allow us to share with his church body, which is actively responding to our needs.

BUT GOD … has shown us His faithfulness over and over through people we’ve met, the kindness of strangers in antique shops who’ve offered us housing or suggested resources, and by giving us incredible opportunities to connect with people and share our lives and His faithfulness with them.”

Dr. Helen Rosaveare was a single missionary working in the Congo from 1953 to 1973. During the political instability of the 1960s she was brutally gang-raped by rebels. As she tells it, during that terror one word kept recurring in her mind. “Privilege.” She had the privilege of suffering for Christ. That is truly beyond one’s own capability, strength or adequacy.

But GOD empowered her to survive that and continue to minister for Him.

Grace. It’s all God’s grace. It’s not good when someone is raped, murdered, terminally ill, depressed, or insecure. But it is grace, the grace of God that shows up when we most need it, that empowers us to take one step at a time, experiencing His presence which then empowers us to take the next step. Sometimes I think I’ve done something of value … but then I’m reminded that it is all about the grace of God. He uses our availability even more than our ability.

Here’s the rest of that wonderful passage which speaks so clearly of the “But Gods” in our lives, and of the grace he gives us day by day. We were born with a sin nature, following our own desires and impulses. And then Paul writes this message of amazing hope.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV

So what are the “But Gods” in your life? I’d love to hear.