Friday, April 14, 2017

     This week in Doug’s rehabilitation has shown steady improvement, but it has not been without discouragements and little setbacks. I’ve watched him struggle with his emotions as he desperately tries to recall a word that used to be on the tip of his tongue. I’ve watched him grunt as he uses every ounce of strength to lift is leg off the mat. I’ve watched him teeter as he reaches for an object on one side of the table and moves it to the other. And, I’ve watched him as he takes unsteady steps while supported by his therapist. He has managed to improve despite a blood transfusion, clots, fatigue, pain, anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite and depression.

     As I watched I struggled with my own emotions, fatigue and discouragement. My prayers have been desperate pleas for his recovery. I lie down at night wondering if he’ll get any sleep. I wake up in the morning knowing I’ll have to prod and coddle to get him ready for the day. By the end of the day we’re both exhausted and about to give up. 

     Tuesday, the 18th marks the one year anniversary of Doug’s cancer diagnosis. The weeks following were filled with activity, anxiety and a lot of disappointment. Then he started chemotherapy and things settled into somewhat of a routine. A look at the statistics for pancreatic cancer reveal that he has already lived far longer than he should have. We got encouraging news in January relating to his cancer, but since then he has had a number of other setbacks with infections and, most recently, his stroke. It’s been an incredibly difficult year and I don’t anticipate a reprieve any time soon.

     I often wonder if God is telling me “His grace is sufficient for me” as I plead Doug’s cause before Him. However, I count on Him for daily strength because I’m just that exhausted. I count on Him for daily grace because I’m just that discouraged. I count on His promise to not abandon me because I very often feel alone. And I count on His Word because it gives me comfort. 

      My Bible reading today took me to Ephesians 3:20-21 - “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” These verses of encouragement have come up many times during this journey as have many others. I’ve claimed them and I cling to them. Along with that I pray that our lives will glorify the Lord even in the trials. I pray the Lord will have mercy on us and heal Doug. Mostly, I pray God will accomplish His purpose soon. I’m so weary.

Friday, January 30, 2015

And Yet Another Blog on Marriage

My mother forwards emails to me every so often. Some are informational, but most are just entertaining…like the one I got last week. It was a review of emails circulating during 2014 with all that information that turned us into a paranoid mess and left us almost paralyzed. For example, I no longer ask for lemon slices in my water at restaurants. I’m really afraid to put most anything in my mouth because it’s probably on some “no eat” list somewhere. I’m terrified to touch any public door and am seriously considering buying a box of latex gloves to keep in my purse.

Of course, it’s not just the emails that are passed around. Facebook is just as inundated with articles and blog posts warning us of this or that. If I had small children I would be in such a quandary about vaccinations. That pendulum seems to be swinging back, though, which gives me no end of relief. My kids’ shot records are three 8 ½ x 11 pages full of stamps and signatures. My goodness, what have I done to my children!?!

I’m also not sure how many on Facebook are my true friends because I didn’t repost that status testing their loyalty to me. I may have no real friends. Probably, I would rather not know. 

And don’t even get me started on the yoga pants articles circulating right now.

My biggest pet peeve, though, has to do with the myriad articles on marriage. Is my husband my soul mate or not? I’m afraid to answer that question because I’ve seen blog posts on both sides of that argument. Then there are the 53 things I should be doing to make my marriage better, be a better wife, make my husband happier, ensure that he’ll only have eyes for me, you name it. Honestly, if I acted on some of those recommendations my husband would think I’d become a total nut job. I’m convinced there’s a blog somewhere out there on why we should share the responsibility of the garage door opener in order to strengthen our communication.

So why do I subject myself to the constant barrage of information? Well, as incredible as it may seem, I read these articles because I know there’s always room for improvement. My husband and I have been at this for 28+ years and we are not perfect. And as a teacher of women I’m always looking for material and illustrations for lessons. Recently, I find myself just plain frustrated because I feel I can never be the woman in the article. I have never read through a list and been able to say to myself, “Whew! I must be doing everything right.” But, then I realized that, once again, I’m losing perspective on what’s important in a marriage. I’ve allowed the voice of man to obscure the voice of Scripture.

Over the years I’ve discovered that having a healthy relationship with my husband is really quite simple and the principles are found in Ephesians 5:22-28. 1) Wives submit to husbands. 2) Husbands love wives. It sounds pretty cut and dried. Paul also gives us several reasons for this divinely established standard, the most important being that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with His Church.  It’s basic and it’s foundational to a strong marriage.

Now, is it easy for me to submit? Well, I’m a sinner and so is he, so, no. We both make mistakes and sometimes there’s a power struggle. However, it’s easier than it used to be because I’ve grown over the years. Nevertheless, there are days when I’m submitting while clenching my teeth. I’m doing things that I would rather not do, I’m saying things I really shouldn’t say and I’m acting downright childish because I can’t get my way. But, I’m learning.

How about for him, does he love me? Well, yes, he does, but it’s not always easy. I know because I know me, sometimes I’m not that lovable.  But he’s also grown over the years. I can tell you this, we communicate better now than when we were first married, we understand each other better, we know each other’s likes and dislikes and we tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies more easily. It’s been a good 28 years—not perfect, but good. I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.

So, is my husband my soul mate? Is he the love of my life? I hate to reduce my relationship to a cliché. Let me answer it this way, I know what he likes, I know how he thinks, I appreciate who he is and who he’s become, I respect his leadership and we’re pretty much joined at the hip. I’d rather be with him on any given day than with anyone else. I know that I would die for him and he for me. I guess, yes, is the answer to both questions.

When it’s all said and done, though, I’ll keep reading articles and blogs on marriage, clichés and all. Most of the time I find something I can apply to my life. I’m still growing. But, I will also remind myself that the standard for a healthy marriage comes from Scripture. I will persist if for no other reason than my love for Christ and a vow I made to my husband all those years ago. Everything else is…well, it’s just food for thought. I’ll look at it. I’ll probably sniff it. But I may not always bite.

Oh, and I will definitely keep up on that yoga pants debate…

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Lights

One of the things I enjoy about furlough is seeing the Christmas lights and lighted decorations on lawns. People in Brazil may hang a string of lights on their upstairs window, but nothing compares to what Americans are able to do simply because they do not put a wall around their houses. Shrubs are covered with the lights that seem to form a blanket over the top. Windows and doors are bordered with multicolored lights that outline the house. Some have the lighted reindeer and Santa lawn decorations. One house down the street even covered a large anchor in the yard with white lights. It seems there is no end to options if you want to put out some Christmas decorations. And, I can best enjoy them while riding down the street at night. They can make a trip to the local Walgreens a pleasure and I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

It seems to me the lights take on a whole new measure of “prettiness” when they are covered by a blanket of snow. Last night was our first significant snowfall and I did not venture out, but I would like to this evening just to ride around and look at the lights under the snow. They glow differently and add an extra measure of beauty to the Christmas decorations. As I was thinking about these lights I was reminded of the fact that our Savior came to this world as a light. John 1:4-5 say, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I keep several flashlights handy. I even had one that had a magnet stuck to my refrigerator. I keep them in the kitchen and on a large dresser under the stairs. Anyone that borrows them has to return them to those spots. Why? Because when the power goes out I want to be able to find them! You can imagine how irritated I get when they’re not where they’re supposed to be when I look for them. But, I digress… Anyway, I also use them when we are doing small repairs because sometimes you just need a little extra light when trying to put something back together. These flashlights are indispensable to me because they guide me in the dark. When the power goes out it’s nice to be able to see a few feet in front of me. I hate running into walls! I can save myself a lot of time if I can see what I’m doing when I’m putting that appliance back together. The light is a guide.

However, this is not some great revelation on my part. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my pathCross references:.” (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word does the same thing and the Word was personified in the person of Jesus Christ. His Word guides me. He guides me. He lights the way so I can see where I’m going and keeps me from getting myself in trouble. I’m kept from running into the walls of sin and guided to not waste my time on trying to decide between right and wrong. What’s right is clearly illuminated.

When we are at camp the generator is turned off every night which plunges the island into darkness that can be quite thick if the moon is not out. Before the lights go out, though, I usually have to make a trip from the canteen to my cabin or to the court. The path between these locations can be pretty dark and I get a little nervous if I don’t have my flashlight. Did I mention there are snakes at camp? So, I focus on the light at my destination. The court lights shine brightly ahead of me and I keep my head up and look at them as I walk. I take comfort in the fact that I will be there soon and I will be safe. I know that the light is a refuge if for no other reason than I will be able to see what’s in my surroundings.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) Again, I am trumped by the Word. I take great comfort in seeing the light at my destination or even the proverbial end of the tunnel. Why is that? Because I know that my salvation is there. I won’t be in the darkness anymore and the uncertainty of my surroundings. The light reveals all. Jesus Christ has revealed all about how my life and practice should be. There’s no mystery there. It’s all in plain black and white and I take great comfort in knowing the certainty of the Truth.

As I think about these two great truths for my life I am challenged to also be a light. Jesus told the multitude, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) When we are arriving in Petrolina at night at the end of a trip I can see the glow of the lights from a long way off. As we get closer I begin to distinguish the dots of lights. It can’t be hidden and it invades the darkness. When the Lord applied the metaphor of Christians being the light of the world He meant for me to stand out, to guide unbelievers, and to beckon them with the comfort salvation brings. It’s both practical and profound and I have to ask myself if I am shining my light with enough dedication that it can be seen even under a blanket of the snow of this world.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Missions--Beyond Geography

My father-in-law, a 60 year veteran of active missionary service, made an interesting comment in a recent conversation.  He said, “In our day missions was about geography.” I’m inclined to agree with him. Fifty or sixty years ago missions was about geographical locations. Missionaries went from church to church and presented the need for the Gospel in Africa, South America and Asia. It was about geography. This got me to thinking about our role in missions today and made me wonder if we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of missions.
So, I went back to the father of New Testament missions, the Apostle Paul. He made three missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts. My Bible even has a map of the route he took on each journey. We read the accounts of what happened in many of the cities. And, we logically conclude that missions is geography. We go to a location, preach the Gospel, build a church and then move on to another location.
But then I read the books of Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul is writing to established churches just like he did to the Ephesians, Galatians and Philippians. And what about the Pastoral Epistles? 1 and 2 Timothy are a pastor’s instruction manual. Most of these letters were written after he completed his missionary journeys. This was missions beyond geography. So, why the change? I mean, besides the fact that he was in prison.
Here are my thoughts. In the early years of missions in Brazil the missionaries concentrated on geographical locations because they were reaching people who had not heard the Gospel message. It had never been presented. They were starting from square one. Naturally, they chose to reach cities that had been neglected by previous efforts. In other words, it was about geography.
The following generation comes along and sees that the need for establishing new churches in a particular area is being conducted by the previously established ones that have grown to maturity and autonomy. So, what’s a missionary to do? Go home? Are we finished here? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think there is still something that can be done in these places where the Gospel is firmly planted and growing.
We’ve become creative now with our missionary efforts. We’re seeking new ways to further the Gospel efforts here in Brazil. One way is to mentor and facilitate the national missionary workers by raising funds for construction projects and encouraging them in their work. Another is by establishing a Bible institute for the men and women actively serving in our churches, but not called to full-time ministry. We serve our mission in administrative roles. We involve ourselves in camp ministry with our colleagues and area churches. We encourage and mentor the younger pastors. We partner with the churches in their efforts to reach new neighborhoods in the outlying community. We’ve gone way beyond geography.
I don’t think we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of missions, though. I believe we are where Paul was while he awaited execution in Rome. He was availing the time to encourage and exhort the churches he’d established during the geographical portion of his ministry. The advantage he had was he saw it all in his own lifetime. Many of our first missionaries have been called to Glory without seeing what their efforts have brought. It will be nice to meet up with them and tell them what we were able to do because of their desire to reach those unreached places.
However, I have to say that we have not lost sight of the fact that missions is also still about geography. As I write, a missionary colleague is house hunting in a city that has been untouched by our mission agency. Missionaries in the south of the country are attempting to reach the ever-growing populations. And we are striving to bridge a gap between two valleys that have seen the Lord’s blessing in establishing strong Bible believing churches. The cities between the valleys were not targeted for the Gospel until recently. The difference is that now the national churches are picking up the map and they are perceptive of the need. They’re also making the plans and carrying them out. What do we do? We encourage, guide, raise funds and sometimes even chauffeur them. What can I say? It’s missions beyond geography.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Eternal Optimist

                I’ve been working with a personal trainer for the last several months. He’d been working with my husband for several months already and it was making a definite difference for him, so I decided I would try it. My initial emotions swung on a pendulum. They started with, “Are you kidding me? I can hardly move.” to “OK, I guess this is not so bad.” One day as Marcos was putting the weights on the leg press I gave him a dubious look and said, “You, my friend, are an eternal optimist.” There were 50kg of weight on it that he expected me to lift. He laughed and said, “Sit down.” Turns out I was able to do it and he probably could have added another 10kg. I keep this in mind as he barks at me like a drill sergeant while I do ab crunches on the mat.
            The fact is that these few months with the trainer have made a difference in several areas. First, I’m losing inches fast. He targets the areas that need the most work and combines the right amount of weight with the ideal number of repetitions. Second, my posture has improved and pain is limited to the ache of just having not used a particular muscle for a long time. Third, he pushes me to do more than I would if I were doing it by myself. I would probably quit after one rep.  And fourth, it relieves stress which has been the most beneficial effect of all.
            My life is stressful. I know there are others who deal with stress and still others who deal with issues that are even more stressful than mine. Stress is part of life and it will always be there. But, let me give you a peek at my life for this week. My husband’s away taking care of business for a couple of days. I’m here taking care of my mother in-law who has some serious health issues. She fell trying to get to the bathroom the other night. There is a young people’s purity seminar this Saturday and we will be housing the guest speaker and his wife. I’m also cooking the meals on Saturday with another local pastor’s wife. My children are both in the States working and going to school and regularly have issues that need our attention. My in-laws and parents are both making some major decisions that may not directly affect me, but are on my mind. And so it goes…
            A facebook friend posted the following quote by an unknown author, "Those who bless God in their trials will be blessed by God through their trials." I immediately thought of Job. He had some serious stress in his life compounded by grief. Job was a good example of righteous suffering. However, he was not without his low points. A Bible college professor once commented, “It did take him 42 chapters to get through it.” I sometimes feel a little like Job, but I also try to remind myself that many times I’m just feeling sorry for myself.
            So, I think back to the personal trainer and the benefits of working with him. Is there any correlation? Is there any way to handle stress in a manner that is pleasing to God? Well, I’m losing interest in the enticements of the world and a carefree life. He never said life would be easy.  My posture and dependence on God are improving and becoming stronger. It’s only by His grace I’m not in the psych ward of the hospital. God is pushing me past the limits I had perceived for myself. It’s at those times I am reminded that I’m not alone. And, when I give the burdens and stress to Him there is a peace that comes that I cannot explain.
            Last night I thought I was at the end of my rope. I really thought that the Lord had handed me more than I could bear. I spent a lot of time in prayer and it would be nice to say I slept like a baby. I didn’t, but I can make it through today. I did ask Him to please bring verses to mind that would help me get through this crisis. This morning I remembered this.  “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3, NKJV) OK. I’ll do it, but as I face the leg press of life I can’t help but send a dubious look toward Heaven and say, “You, Lord, are an Eternal Optimist.” I picture Him smiling and saying, “Sit down.”

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chasing the Peace and Quiet

I live in a noisy country. There is no snow and all the buildings are made of concrete so sound bounces all over the place. And while I don’t necessarily miss the cold and snowy winters of Michigan and New York, I do miss the silence a good snowfall brings. It’s always been one of the things I noticed first thing in the morning after a snowstorm; the silence. It just makes everything seem so peaceful and it gives me pause to reflect on what the Lord has done in my life.
Silence and Solitude is another spiritual discipline I have recently worked to develop in my life. The concept was new to me in the sense that I did not realize it could be developed for the purpose of spiritual growth. Then, of course, I had that moment when the palm hits the forehead and I said, “Well, duh! It’s all right there in the Bible.” Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (NKJV). The psalmist understood that knowing God better and exalting Him in one’s life is best achieved through silence and solitude. Elijah learned the value of silence when he listened for God’s still, small voice in 1 Kings 19:12-14. However, the example of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is probably the most profound. Matthew 26:36 states, “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’” (NKJV). The Lord Jesus knew His hour of suffering was at hand and felt the need to be alone with His Father in a place apart from the others. The incident served to give Him the strength He needed to endure the terrible ordeal that was to come. It’s also what I need to do to face whatever the Lord may have for me. Facebook is enjoyable but it is not where I should run first when looking for strength and courage to press on in life. Comments from my friends about my status are fun and often uplifting, but it is the still small voice in my garden of Gethsemane that will give me the strength I need for the day.
Let me define the words before I go any further. According to Whitney, “silence is the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought” (p. 184). I can see my mother choking on her coffee on this one. I was not known for holding my tongue when I was younger and I still have a hard time keeping quiet. A few pages later Whitney makes a statement that brought me up short. He says, “…the one who doesn’t know how or when to be silent doesn’t know how or when to speak” (p. 193). I think he just said a mouthful.
“Solitude is the Spiritual Discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes” (p. 184). This was illustrated in the example of Elijah and Jesus above. They felt the need to get away from everyone and spend some time alone with God.
Now, in my defense, I was making an attempt to practice these disciplines in my life. I’m usually the first one up in the morning and try to make the most of that time. The outside noise is still at a minimum, the inside noise is manageable with the gurgling of the coffee maker, the dogs crunching on their food and the refrigerator humming. It’s the time I use to read my Bible—I’m working through the book of Isaiah a few verses at a time—I spend time in prayer and just mentally prepare myself for the day. And I don’t say much other than, “Knock it off,” to the dogs. Oh, and I am always sipping a cup of coffee from the heart shaped mug my mother gave me. This quiet time has made a difference in my perspective on life and been like that deep breath we take before we forge ahead with the day’s demands. It’s been good.
So, I’ve found that even with all the noise with which life in this country bombards me, I can find peace and quiet. It’s in practicing the disciplines of silence and solitude and it makes life seem a little more like that snowy morning in New York. It’s just quiet…
Whitney, D. S. (1991). Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: NavPress.
Para os meus amigos Brasileiros:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changing it Up

Pursuing a master’s degree in education is a dream that is becoming reality. I’m about 2/3 of the way through the program and it’s been challenging, often frustrating, but in all, an extremely rewarding learning experience. My most recent class was a side step from all the education courses. It concerned the Dynamics of Spiritual Growth and reading Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life was one of the textbooks. Over the next few blogs I would like to highlight some of the disciplines I found most meaningful.
Not surprisingly, Bible intake was the first discipline treated in Whitney’s book and took up two chapters. Whitney says, “No Spiritual discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word” (p. 28). What had not occurred to me before reading the book were the many ways in which I could “take in” Scripture and it wasn’t that the concepts were new or even radical. I just hadn’t stretched my thinking beyond reading and studying. So, I was encouraged to think outside the parameters I had created and develop the discipline of Bible intake further. Now, I am paying better attention to the messages in church, I’m seeking to do some memorizing, and I’ve recently changed my daily Bible reading format.
I’ve been reading through the Bible every year for the past five years. I started this practice because I really needed something that would get me into the Word every day. Before that I was not disciplined enough to find time every day to read. Reading through the Bible following a year plan really helped. However, the last couple of months I found my mind wandered to things I needed to do while I was trying to read. As a result I was getting nothing from it. It was time for a change. This year I’m starting with the book of Isaiah and a commentary as a companion. I’m reading fewer verses, but getting much more from them. This has increased meditation on the Word and prompted prayers in the middle of reading. The most significant change, though, is there is no set time frame to finish. This will be the real test of my resolve.
There is one habit as it relates to this discipline that has not changed. Reading my Bible is not the very first thing I do in the morning. It’s the third or fourth. The reason? I would not be able to concentrate otherwise. When I get up in the morning the dogs need to be let out and fed. There are usually a few dishes in the sink that I want to wash up. I also look at e-mails and a few other things on the computer. And I cannot function without a cup of coffee. When all that is done I’m ready to sit, read, meditate and pray without interruption. It’s what works.
Actively pursuing the spiritual disciplines has been an interesting process. I’m required to think about what I am doing and why I am doing it. Rethinking Bible intake in order to make it more profitable forced me to set aside the status quo I had established. I was determined to continue with diligence in daily Bible intake without the benefit of the clearly spelled out plan. It’s only January 5th, but I have seen the benefits already. I look forward to what God’s Word has to teach me this year, not to increase my knowledge only, but “for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).
Whitney, D. S. (1991). Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Colorado Springs: NavPress.