Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Laser-Like Focus

After enjoying an unusually long and warm fall here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, winter has arrived.  We have enough snow for skiing and snowshoeing and have already survived a deep freeze.  With Christmas just around the corner, we “Yoopers” are a happy bunch.  Unlike many of my southern friends, we embrace cold and snow (for the most part); Christmas would hardly be Christmas without the white stuff!

Having said all that, I have a “warm weather” memory to share.  It really wasn’t that long ago….just seems like it when I look outside.  Last September I learned a lesson that is actually applicable to the season we are in right now.

We had one of those beautiful warm, sunny days.  It must have been a Wednesday because that is Charlie’s “Jacob day”.  Our 5 year old grandson gets picked up by his Papa at school and they spend the rest of the day together while daddy is at work.

Jacob’s daddy has a lovely home on a peninsula (named Portage Point) that juts out into a bay flowing in from Lake Michigan.  Picture in your mind: inviting lake front property complete with seagull sounds, warm sand and choppy waves just made for jumping.  “Jacob’s beach” produces driftwood, weedy lake plants, rocks and sticks…..all wondrous items of interest to our 5 year old young man.

That particular day I drove out to join Jacob and his Papa; when I walked in the house, it was obvious they were not there.  I knew right where to look, of course.  I headed out the back yard and down to the beach.  Way off in the distance I could see them.  It wasn’t too terribly far (maybe a block) but they were beyond shouting distance; between the wind and sound of the waves, all I could do was wave at them.

What happened next has been burned into my memory.  Charlie bent down and talked to Jacob while pointing down the beach in my direction. The next thing I knew, Jacob ran, full speed ahead, toward me.  What is so meaningful is, Jacob has Down syndrome and he is challenged to stay focused on anything.  But that day he had laser-like focus.  Nothing stopped him.  Not driftwood.  Not sticks (which he loves!).  Not seagulls.  Nothing.  He did not stop until he got to me and then his Nana (that would be me!) bent down to his level and gathered him up into a huge hug.

Fast forward about 3 months; we are now in the Christmas season with THE DAY right around the corner.  As a follower of Christ, I want so much to focus on the birth of Jesus, my Savior.  But is my focus as strong at Jacob’s was that day on the beach?  Do I have my eyes on Jesus?  Or am I getting distracted by all of the side issues that our culture has built into this season?

In the Bible, the book of Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus.  Even though I have read it and heard it multiple times, God has a way of pointing out to me, something I missed….or forgot….or just really need to focus on in the moment.

Remember how the angel appeared to the shepherds in the field (Luke 2: 8-14) proclaiming the birth of Jesus?  Luke 2:15, 16, “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’  And they went with haste….. Talk about laser-like focus.

I LOVE Christmas, always have.  But as I journey with Jesus, as I approach the celebration of His birth, my prayer is that nothing will become more important than HIM!  I continue to work at (with some progress) keeping this holiday season is simple as possible.  Even so, how easy it is, to forget to spend time talking to God in my quiet place.  I want to be like Jacob; just as he focused on reaching me that fall day, I want to set my sight on Jesus and run to Him.  Laser-like focus.

May you experience, in a deep way, the richness of this celebration we call “Christmas”.  May the Jesus born in the stable, who grew to be a man, who died on the old rugged cross, only to rise again and defeat death….may that Jesus live in you!


Sunday, November 27, 2016

God's Grace In a "Chance" Encounter


I didn’t know her name but we struck up a conversation in the women’s locker room at my local YMCA.  Our exercise time overlapped that day, although I often see her in the capacity of an employee; she is part of the team that keeps the Y clean and appealing.

As we talked, I asked her name because, you see, months earlier Peggy had offered me a moment of undeserved grace.  At that earlier time we had parted company without the exchange of names and this time I wanted to know how to greet this lovely woman.

My “chance encounter” with Peggy had occurred several months ago in the Y parking lot.  I headed to my car after my regular ½ mile swim, noting that it was very windy.  I remember cautioning myself to hang on to my car door.  As I opened the door, the wind gusted, grabbed the door from me and whacked into the car right next to me.  It hit the mirror post and I cringed.  I hoped that nothing had happened but, on looking closer…there it was.  A very noticeable scratch. DARN!

Major dilemma time.  I tried hard to convince myself that it was just a typical parking lot incident; after all, didn’t we take those chances whenever we parked in a parking lot?  You can see where my thinking was going.  Not in a good direction.

Well, my conscience played on me and the inner dialogue went into full gear.  I pictured the owner of the car (it was a nice car, by the way…clean and free of dents and scratches) getting an estimate for damages and presenting me with a hefty bill.  No one ever wants to contact their insurance agency because of the threat of rates increasing.  That, plus more, played through my thought process.

I knew deep in my heart that I had to ‘fess up.  As I was agonizing over all of this, a friend walked out to her car. We stopped and chatted about my situation.  Neither of us knew who owned the car but that didn’t have to stop me from doing the right thing by leaving a note on the windshield.

Just then, “Peggy” walked out.  She walked in the direction of the car but didn’t head toward the driver side.  She didn’t appear to be the car’s owner.  About the time I did a silent “whew”…thinking I would not have to make that confession face-to-face, Peggy went to the passenger side of her now newly “scratched” car and I knew my moment of truth had arrived.  My friend wished me luck and drove away.

I confessed to Peggy that I had damaged her car and pointed to the scratch. She was very calm, examined the “offense” and said, “ok”.  OK!!!!!???  I told her I would be happy to pay for the damage and she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “no problem, those things happen in parking lots.”  (I wanted to give her a huge hug but decided that may be a bit of overkill!)

Wow!  Who does that these days?!  I believe I had just experienced a touch of God’s grace wrapped in human form.  I left Peggy with a grateful heart and a renewed determination to treat others with the same grace I had just received.

I have heard a lovely definition attached to the letters of the word “grace”:
God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense.  Isn’t that what the gospel message is all about?  My salvation was very costly, but it wasn’t my cost.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, I received a free gift.  No strings attached!  I just had to genuinely receive that gift.  And that free gift is available to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Thanksgiving 2016 is now in the review mirror (hah!  A little play on words here) and my encounter with Peggy in the locker room reminded me again of how grateful I am for grace.  The memory of her generous gift of grace caused me to be thankful, once again.

As we head into Christmas, I plan to celebrate the awesome grace offered through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8 & 9, “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.”  There are so many wonderful opportunities to serve and love on others.  Come join your heart with mine as we journey to the manger.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Nana, Come Home!

Those words (in my title) were so precious to me, so inviting, so sweet to hear.  Those words came from the mouth of my 2 ½ year old grandson, said in the charming way of a child learning to express himself.

Gus’ mommy works in the world of speech and language development; her passion is centered on helping people of all ages, with communication challenges. So it’s no surprise that her own children would get great coaching as they develop their communication skills.

Sometime ago Gus’ daddy (my son) called me to arrange some FaceTime and I was delighted. Between busy schedules on both ends and the challenge of the three hour time difference, we don’t get as much opportunity to connect as I would like.

We made our connection and as I watched Gus on camera, it was obvious he was totally enthralled with his cars and trucks.  His daddy persisted in asking Gus, “who do you see?” It took a couple of times asking that question to get Gus to refocus.  Finally I saw that precious grin as Gus looked straight into the camera and he answered his dad, “Nana”.

But what came next totally melted my heart….he said, “Nana, come home.”  I knew in that instant that my developing relationship with Gus (after not seeing each other for several months), was intact and growing.  He was inviting his Nana to come to his home!  Because Gus and his brother live so far away, I want to everything possible to love on them.  I want to be a presence in their lives.  I literally praise God for that computer when it becomes an instrument of connection.

As wonderful as it is to hear my sweet grandson invite me to “come home”, how much more amazing is it to hear God say “Judy, come home”?  His Word says that this earth isn’t really our home; we are just passing through this life.  Our time here is very important but a heavenly destination/home is awaiting all of us who have placed our trust in Christ.

In Philippians 3:20 we are told that our citizenship is in heaven.  And that very well-known scripture, John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  What does that mean?  It means Jesus is the way home.

I am so thankful to know…. to be assured by God’s promises…  that because I have trusted Christ to bring me home, this world’s problems are just temporary.  God has blessed me with a life on earth that I love, but when the time comes to “go home”, I can be certain that He has provided the way and I will live with my Creator forever.


Can you claim that assurance?  My friends, God has his arms wide open.  He is ready to welcome you home.  If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, you do not have to wait a moment longer.  You can pray a simple prayer: A – admit you are a sinner; C – confess that sin and ask Jesus into your life; T – thank Him for His gift of your salvation.  And then one day you will hear those wonderful words, “Welcome home.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

Big Picture or Laser-Like Focus?

According to my mother, I was blessed (?) with the “gift of gab” since I was a wee little girl.  My aunt relishes the story of a blueberry picking adventure with me when I was little; ants crawled all over me as I perched myself on an ant hill.  I was oblivious as I gabbed on about whatever was on my mind at the moment.

It should be no surprise that I am now in a “speaking ministry”!  I mean, how many women get legitimate reasons to talk and share….with people actually listening?  God called me to this wonderful place but He has also equipped me; I have learned what to say, how to say and when to NOT “say”! 
 
Recently I set out on a speaking trip that involved five events in three days.  We took routes through the back roads of a beautiful area of Wisconsin and enjoyed two overnights in the homes of gracious women.

A dear friend accompanied me and I especially appreciated Linda’s navigation skills.  With the help of her smart phone app, we determined best routes and times needed to get from one event to the next.

Speaking five times at five different locations required a laser-like focus.  It meant  pin-pointing specific turns, focusing on the names of key women who had been my contacts and remembering what materials I needed each time.

Something strange happened, though. After speaking, then heading to the next one…. and then the next, etc.…along the way, someone would ask, “And where were you yesterday?”  Or maybe I would hear, “which club did you speak at on Monday?” The “strange” part of this was, I couldn’t always remember!

Later, as I shared this dilemma with my husband, he made a statement that was spot on:  “It’s like looking through a keyhole”. Bingo!  That’s exactly what was happening.  My focus for each event was so strong that my mind shoved aside what had already come to be.

Linda and I eventually looked at my larger atlas and we were able to put each destination, each stop and each adventure into a bigger picture.  The Wisconsin map showed us how it all came together.

I believe my journey with Jesus is comparable to that. There are times He wants me to totally focus on Him, or perhaps on a specific scripture, or possibly on a special moment/time/event.  When I am meeting with someone who needs encouragement, it is imperative that I use that laser-like focus to listen, think and speak thoughtfully.

On the other hand, when I headed up a women’s ministry team at my church, it was critical that I see the big picture of how all the sub teams fit within the mission of the women’s team….and to take that a step further, how this team complemented the larger picture of the mission of our local church.

I like the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18a, “Where there is no vision, the people perish;” this scripture refers to the big picture of where God is taking us.  But unless we break that vision down into goals and strategies, it goes nowhere. 

The book of Acts describes a focus on the “nitty gritty/the components needed to organize that first church.   Acts chapter 6 describes the choosing of elders and the formation of the first board of deacons.  The larger picture/vision had emerged through the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.  It was time to get the believers organized to fulfill Christ’s mission.
 
God has designed each of us with His purpose for our lives.  We get to be a part of that grand vision by living out our own God-given purposes.  He calls, gifts and equips us.  Isn’t that exciting?  We all share the same purpose/big vision (think gospel message here) but we live out that purpose within our individual life circumstances. 

What exciting journey are you on?  Is it challenging?  Is it fulfilling?  Is it fun? Busy?  One thing I know for certain: Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Amen!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I am totally embracing our fall season!  In the past, due to our relatively brief summers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I was not ready to give up on summer as we approached the end of August .  This summer brought warmer than usual temperatures and a bit more humidity, which may be why I am so enthusiastic about fall.  

Summer is now in the rear view mirror but I have one last reflection, specifically about my “grandchildren time”.  My oldest grandson (Henry) is six and he has such wisdom, mixed with the innocence of childhood.  I love experiencing life from his perspective.  As an adult I sometimes complicate issues.  Sound familiar?

Last July was so special because I had more time than usual with Henry.  I spent a few days with him in his home; then he and I flew back to Michigan where Cha Cha (my husband), Henry and I filled up a week with love, joy and lots of activity. 

We three headed back to Oregon via airplane to return him to his parents and brother (Gus).  Another wonderful week was spent with him, Mom, Dad and Gus in Oregon.

Conversations with Henry were life giving, joy producing and often filled with great insights.   Following are a couple of examples:

·        I told Henry, multiple times, that I loved him.  On one of those occasions I reminded him that Jesus loved him too; we also talked about us loving Jesus.  Without missing a beat Henry said, “Why wouldn’t someone love Jesus?”

Isn’t that the question of the century?  I pray his faith is deep and mature before he discovers the painful and sad truth, that not everyone loves Jesus.  I believe God has great plans for Henry; his mommy shared with me that Henry loves to teach his friends about prayer and he will recite his memorized Bible verses to anyone who will listen.

·        In one of our conversations, I told this wonderful grandson that I believe it is important to tell people we love them.  Henry’s response: “God too.”  (meaning we should tell God we love Him).  Me: “I talk to God all day.”  Henry: “It’s like texting Him.”  Truth!

In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  Many Bible scholars believe Jesus was using this example to teach us to come to Him with receptive and trusting hearts, just as children do.

How is your prayer life?  Your walk with Jesus?  Your study time in the Word?  Does it feel bogged down? Complicated? 

Maybe….just maybe…it’s time to get back to that childlike faith, to open your heart to the simplicity of the gospel message.  In that brief conversation with Henry, I believe God was calling me to view Him through the eyes of my grandson’s faith.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Child-like Faith

September has arrived and summer is already behind us.  This past summer was such a full one.  It included 2 trips to the west coast when I retrieved (and then returned) our 6 year old grandson so Nana and Cha Cha could have him to ourselves for a week at our home in the U.P.

On the first trip, my daughter-in-love suggested a day at the beach with her two little dudes. Since the Pacific Ocean was no more than an hour’s drive, it sounded like a great plan!

What an adventure!  We chose to park ourselves at Cannon Beach, a rather well known area.  The natural beauty was breathtaking; we loved the broad beach area and Haystack Rock stood tall and formidable looking.  It may have been July but the air was brisk and the Pacific Ocean was mysterious, cold and a bit on the wild side.

Henry (age 6) was ready to enjoy everything the beach had to offer.  Didn’t matter that it was an overcast and cool-ish day.  The water beckoned him and the pattern of the shallow waves made for a grand wading experience.

Mom (Kerry) wasn’t surprised by Henry’s daring attitude.  At the ripe old age of 6 he has conquered a few challenges (gymnastics, swim lessons, martial arts, to name a few) and all have helped him acquire skills and confidence.

Gus (age 2) however, surprised his mother with a show of bravery that had not been present the last time they were at the beach.  Perhaps we saw a bit of Henry’s influence?  Whatever it was, Gus would walk into the waves with mom, let go of her hand and venture out a few feet.  Then a small wave would roll in and he would run back to the safety of mommy’s welcoming hand.

Gus repeated this experience again and again.  In time, as his confidence and courage surged, he would be less intimidated.  Gus was getting soaking wet! (They did not have bathing suits on because we thought it would be too chilly….silly us! They are boys, after all!)  Those scary waves became less frightening because Mom was nearby. 

As I watched Gus go through this process, I saw a beautiful analogy.  Don’t we learn to trust God in the same way?  As we go into unknown territory, as we face the big waves of life, as we go into challenges that threaten to pull us under – we are safe if we take our Heavenly Father’s hand in total trust.

So what does that actually look like?  I mentally chewed on that question for a time and came up with 3 specifics:
1.     I must spend time (daily) reading and studying my Bible, meditating on specific verses or even a chapter or whole book.
2.     It’s important to spend time talking to and listening to God through prayer.  It’s nothing weird or magical; I hear Him speak to me through His Word, through fellowship with other believers and through Christian music.
3.     And I claim His promises, the ones He wrote using human hands, from what we call “the Bible”.

I love the story of Moses; at the end of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness the whole bunch was on the cusp of arriving at their destination.  Moses had been selected by God to lead the Israelites (this far, anyway) but at the very end, Joshua was to take them into the land itself. 
Moses gave Joshua instructions in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (enemies) for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
 Just as little 2 year old Gus had confidence to venture into the unknown because his mommy was nearby with that available hand, we also can have that same confidence in our Lord.    

Every time we venture into our unknowns, we can lean into the love, strength, courage and promises of God.  Grab His hand and take a step of faith.  If you want to learn more about trusting the only One Who is totally trustworthy, please send me an email at jmvader45@gmail.com.  I would love to encourage you.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Perspective: You Get to Choose!


This week I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Dr. Michelle Bengtson as a guest blogger.  I have had the pleasure of serving on her book launch team.  Enjoy!

Perspective: You Get to Choose!

Dr. Michelle Bengtson

When you look back over your life, have you ever gone through times when you’ve experience pain so great that you didn’t know how or if you would survive your circumstances?

I remember those times. Those days when I suffered from depression and I wondered where my next breath would come from. Times when I couldn’t pray for God to help me make it through the day because I had to pray for help to make it through the next five minutes. And then there were those times when all I could offer in the way of prayer was a whispered, “Help….!”

John 10:10 warns us that we have an enemy, a thief in fact, whose purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy us. In those difficult times, it definitely seemed he was out to steal, kill, and destroy me at all costs: in my finances, in my business, in my relationships, in my health, in my family. He tried very hard to convince me, “You’re not going to make it through this!”

There were days, weeks even, that it would have been easy to believe his lie. But scripture says to remain “alert and sober.” We must recognize the enemy and his lies, and counter them with God’s truth. Believing his lies is a fast track to anxiety, depression, or worse. If I had agreed with his lie, I might not have survived those times.

Instead, Scripture encourages us: And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8 NLT).

We often cannot choose the circumstances we find ourselves in, yet we can choose to be alert and sober, aware of the enemy’s lies and countering them with God’s truth. While we cannot always escape life’s trials, we can choose our attitude in response to them.

For example, rather than worrying about the difficulties which is choosing fear over faith, we can choose to trust God and let Him determine the outcome of those trials, which produces hope, and in the end, victory.

The lyrics from Mandisa’s song “Overcomer” resonated with this part of my journey. In this song, she sang of how we can’t let our circumstances get the best of us. With God we are an overcomer, and we’ve got to stay in the fight until the end. We might feel like we’re going down, like things are hopeless, but ultimately God holds us up and helps us overcome whatever we face.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8VoUYtx0kw

To a very large degree, it is a matter of perspective.  What will you choose to believe and focus your mind on today?

~~

Author, speaker and board certified clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson is also a wife, mother and friend. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith to address issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for them. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith. Dr. Michelle Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She blogs regularly on her own site: http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com Dr. Bengtson’s book “Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” (Revell publishers, August 16, 2016) is available for purchase now:  http://drmichellebengtson.com/hope-prevails-book/

For more hope, stay connected with her at:
Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/DrMBengtson (@DrMBengtson)



Short Brief about “Hope Prevails”:
Hope Prevails
Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression
Dr. Michelle Bengtson

Speaking from personal and professional experience, a neuropsychologist unpacks what depression is, shows how it affects us spiritually, and offers hope for living the abundant life.

Neuropsychologist Offers Hope to Those Struggling with Depression
-By 2020, depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide
  • An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression
  • As with the bestselling My Stroke of Insight, the author experienced the same condition she treats
  • Helpful features include personal stories, biblical truths, prayers, and music recommendations

As a board-certified neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson has seen the devastation that people experience when depression sweeps into their lives. She knew what research advocated in terms of the most effective treatments and prescribed them to her clients. But when she personally experienced to the ravages of depression, she found that the treatments she had been using with her patients didn’t help her. As a result, her personal experience became the catalyst for a more holistic approach to treating depression in others.

In Hope Prevails, Dr. Bengtson writes with deep compassion and empathy, blending her extensive training and faith, to offer readers a hope that is grounded in God’s love and grace. She helps readers understand what depression is, how it affects them spiritually, and what, by God’s grace, it cannot do. The result is a treatment plan that addresses the whole person—not just chemical imbalances in the brain.

For those who struggle with depression and those that want to help them, Hope Prevails offers real help, hope, and healing for the future.

Dr. Michelle Bengtson (PhD, Nova Southeastern University) has been a neuropsychologist for over twenty years. She interned at the University of Oklahoma with “The Father of Neuropsychology,” Dr. Oscar “Oz” Parsons, and completed postdoctoral training at both the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, and the University of Alabama Health Sciences Center in Birmingham, Alabama. She lives in Dallas/Fort Worth with her husband, their two sons, and two dogs. Among her favorite things are beaches, boating, and sea salt caramel. Learn more at www.drmichellebengtson.com.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Navigating Choppy Water

Last Sunday at church I ran into a dear friend I had not connected with in some time.  After the service, we did a quick “catch-up” and explored the possibility of getting out on the water that afternoon in kayaks.

Later, Sue contacted me and we made plans.  Keep in mind, I am incredibly blessed to live 3 blocks from Lake Michigan plus one more block to a kayak launching area.

Sue came over and we loaded up my 2 kayaks and other necessary stuff.  It was an amazing day to be out on the water.  We put the kayaks in near the public beach, an area somewhat protected by the wind.  We paddled about, enjoying our time together, the feel of the breeze and God’s amazing beauty.

Sue and I spent the first part of our kayaking on calm water, water easy to navigate.  Because the harbor was relatively smooth, I could choose how hard or easy I wanted to paddle.  After kayaking around the yacht club area, Sue suggested we head around the island which meant heading out into more open water. (Our local public beach is located on an island with a small bridge providing access from the main part of the lake front park.)

We agreed we could always head back to the safety of the harbor but the wind direction led us to believe we could easily get around the island.  

Feeling adventuresome, we headed out and as we rounded the end of the island, paddling into more open water….guess what?  It began to get more choppy and wavy.  Oh well…..  We kept going.  By the time we realized the wind had probably shifted, we were well into it.  We had to do some serious paddling!

I must disclose, although I don’t often put my life jacket on, I do when I encounter rough water.  I never felt really threatened; the water was warm (we have had a lot of hot days), my life jacket would have kept me afloat and my cell phone was protected in a water proof bag attached to my kayak.

But we had to really work!  When it’s rough out on the lake, it is so much easier to either go directly into the wave or to position the kayak to allow the wave to carry  it toward the shore.  Going sideways is scary…lots of buffeting about, kind of a tippy feeling as the kayak bobbles in whatever direction.

Isn’t life like that?  Sometimes we choose a life path that looks like fun but with no guarantees all will go well.  Don’t we sometimes get into situations we could not fully predict?  When that happens….then what?

For example, we get married with great hopes and dreams… and then life happens.  What do we do with the inevitable challenges that come?  Or we decide to have a family, believing that our children will grow up to be strong, healthy God lovers…and then children go their own ways, not necessarily what we choose for them.

Perhaps it’s a new job.  I once pursued a job I thought I would love and had skills for and I ended up hating it.  That period in my life was one of the lowest times I have had to date.

God tells us in His Word, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…..  The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  (Psalm 46: 1, 2 & 7)

We can head straight into the waves of life; we can approach those rough waters with confidence, knowing God is our ultimate “life jacket”, that He has our backs. We can bounce around on the waves of life without losing sight of land (or of Him).  We do not have to drift around sideways; as we approach troubling times, we can move into them headlong.  He will guide and direct us.

Sue and I landed safely that day.  We worked hard at our paddling; we laughed at the switched wind and we left the lake that day with muscles that had been stressed.  When we allow ourselves to paddle with God (whether it’s straight into the waves or being carried by them), we are assured we will come to a place of safety.  Always.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Travel Mercies

Prayer plays an important role in my life and it’s especially soul-satisfying to pray with other like-minded believers.  When someone is getting ready to travel, we ask God for “travel mercies.”  One day I asked myself, “exactly what am I praying for, anyway?”  Is it as simple as just praying for safety? 

I think I may have experienced a glimpse of God’s perspective on “travel mercies” during a recent trip.  I was flying from Michigan to Oregon to visit my son and his family. 

My flight was booked out of Green Bay, WI (better connections than our local airport offers), about a 2 hour drive from our home.  I arrived in plenty of time, boarded my plane and after a brief flight to Chicago, found the gate for my cross country flight.  So far, so good. So. Far.

As I was getting ready to board the next plane and settle in for the 4 hour flight, the gate agent announced there would be a delay due to a “mechanical problem”. A second announcement told us the problem wasn’t fixed but they were confident it would be soon, so they were going to get us on board.  Great. Right?

The boarding process went smoothly but I didn’t sense any forward movement toward take off.   More waiting.

The pilot soon apologized that the problem was not fixed and we would all have to get off the plane.  Once we all were off the aircraft, the gate agent informed us another plane was due in shortly that would get us to Portland.  I could feel my anxiety level rising.

The plane did arrive and we looked forward to being on our way. We were encouraged to board quickly because FAA regulations required us to be in the air by a certain time.  We complied and the airplane filled up.

Well, to cut to the chase (I will not keep you in suspense!), after sitting on that plane for a time, the announcement was made that we had missed our take off by two minutes!  WHAT!!!!!  TWO MINUTES?!!!  We weren’t going anywhere.

Travel mercies” – not so much!  Or so it seemed.

As soon as we were all off the plane, it got pretty chaotic.  The airline issued vouchers for a hotel, cabs and a couple of meals.  I kept reminding myself of God’s sovereignty, how nothing is a surprise to Him!

Travel mercies”…..in the midst of my disappointment and fatigue, I began to get a wonderful picture of God’s provisions…a glimpse of His divine nature as He cared for me. 
  • My cab driver was the best!  Kind, over-the-top helpful making multiple trips to accommodate the varied travel schedules of his passengers.
  • My room was lovely, clean and safe.
  • I had a cell phone to keep in touch with my loved ones.
  •  My suitcase was available.
  • The next morning, an airline employee (at the airport) went out of her way to help me navigate the system.   (Maybe she took pity on me when I asked her if she wanted to see a grown woman cry?!)

Yes, I made it.  “Travel mercies”….for sure.

As in life, God never promises we will travel this road without challenges and complications.  I. Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

This experience provided a glimpse of how He cares for us, through it all.  My grumbling (mostly internal) didn’t help in any way. What I most needed was an attitude of gratitude instead of an anxious heart.  

Because of my faith in Christ and His atoning work on the cross, I am assured that my life journey WILL take me to my heavenly home one day, no matter the roadblocks I may encounter.  Thank you, Jesus, for your “travel mercies”.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Strrrrreched!

After spending almost a month at Trail’s End Ranch (TER) in Ekalaka, Montana, it is pretty safe to say, it has been a long time since I have been that challenged.

I believe God had been preparing my husband for “such a time as this” (as it says in the book of Esther).  Charlie’s life resume’ was proof…. we looked back at his years of teaching, his experiences working at summer camps and ultimately, his commitment to Christ.  I was excited for him and the opportunity for both of us to minister at this amazing place.

However, there was a slice of reality staring us in the face:  I have no gifting in the world of teaching small children much of anything.  Mind you, I loved parenting, am over-the-top crazy about grand parenting and enjoy our friends’ children.  But please don’t ask me to teach groups of kids or be a cabin counselor!   

And what about the whole camping experience?  ….again, not my thing!  So why was I so excited about working at TER?   Second guessing God can be a bit risky.  None-the-less, I believed God had a HUGE plan for Charlie…. and I got to be part of it!  There were plenty of things for me to do but it was primarily about Charlie’s “call” and my support.

I knew it would be challenging and hard but I also knew God was up to something and He did not disappoint.  I was stretched!

First:  Participating in two weeks of staff training gave us much needed preparation and opportunities to bond with the young staff.  What a varied group of young men and women; we were clearly the “oldsters” in the group.  As I listened to personal testimonies, I was amazed at the things these young people had already had to wrestle with.  How would I begin to relate to them?  Would they learn to trust me? (I was the age of their grandmothers.)  How were we all going to become a cohesive community, ready to help campers come to know Jesus and grow in Him?

Surely Jesus faced some of the same challenges as He pulled together His team!  His disciples were a cross section of the current culture.  I mean, throw a tax collector (not exactly a liked or trusted occupation) in an intimate setting with a rough and rugged fisherman and watch the sparks fly!  How Jesus impacted those 12 men set the pattern for what happens anytime He is at the center.

Second:  There were the physical challenges.  It was hot and dusty walking up and down those hills plus we were 5000 feet above sea level. (see my last blog.)  I did not sleep well so experienced almost daily fatigue.  And working in the “snak shak” the second two weeks was physically draining.

Third:  I was clearly operating outside my area of giftedness (my personal ministry is focused on grown up women), as I learned new skills.  I worked hard at just keeping up with it all!

God was SO faithful.  I lived out Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.”  Over the two weeks of staff training I became close to some of the young summer staff and enjoyed wonderful connections with the full time staff and their families.  Through the physical challenges, I was better exercised than I have been in a long time….I was able to take those hills “in a single bound”….well, sort of. 

There were mornings I just wanted to jump in our car and head home but ALWAYS, into the day, I would realize how much I LOVED being there!  Go figure!  I believe it had everything to do with realizing how privileged we were to actually be able to participate in such a strong ministry.

In the words of Jesus, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35b)

I loved being in Montana but there are “fields ripe for harvest” right where I live, and where you live.  God calls ALL believers to actively work in His fields.  Where has God called you?  I would love for you to leave your story in the comments section at the end of this blog post; let’s encourage one another.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Path

It’s been two weeks since we left the comfort of home to head for Trail’s End Ranch (TER) in Ekalaka, Montana; what an adventure!  These past two weeks have been challenging and growth producing.  I am adjusting to:
  •   Being away from the comfort of my own home
  •    Finding my unique role in this newly formed  community
  •    Forming relationships with a staff many years  younger  than me
  •    Learning new skills including the “how” of  leading a child to Christ (or anyone of any  age)
  •    Getting along on less sleep
  •    Having limited opportunity to connect with  loved ones outside of TER
  •    Living in the moment

We are blessed with a lovely “home-away-from-home”, a fully equipped apartment located above the garage of the home of the directors of TER. This home is located ½ mile from the central part of the camp with two ways to get back and forth – either via the main highway or via a 2-track road or path.  I LOVE this path and walk it every day, unless it rains (rare, so far).  I’m happy if I have opportunity to walk it twice during the day.

Allow me to describe “the path”:  
  • It is located on a hilly ridge that runs parallel to the highway.  It runs through leafy trees, Ponderosa Pines and “woodsy” vegetation, with open areas that offer breathtaking vistas spanning miles.  Trees, ridges, open fields and the big, blue Montana sky come together to show off God’s handiwork.
  • The hills are steep and filled with rocks and gullies and they are taxing!  It’s the best exercise I have had in a long time. I am happy to report that after two weeks of walking this path, I can now get all the way to the dining hall without stopping to catch my breath.  (Let’s not forget to also factor in the fact that we are 5000 feet up!)
  • The path is just long enough to provide a great walking experience, but not long enough to discourage me from using it every day.
  • I feel safe using this path.   In some mysterious way, this whole camp feels like “holy ground”.  Must admit, I do keep my eyes open for snakes but they have been hiding (whew).
  • I will admit, I prefer to not walk the path at night alone (if Charlie is not with me).  It feels creepy but, really, nothing about the path has changed since the daylight hours…it’s what my imagination does with it!
  •  It’s a dusty path (since we have had so little rain) and, oddly enough, that contributes to the whole sense of adventure.  After all, this is the “wild west”.  (I know, I’ve watched too many cowboy movies where the men ride onto the ranch covered in trail dust.)

This physical path is a vivid representation of my spiritual path/my journey with God:
·        God has led me through some amazing scenery; sometimes it’s been lush and rich with unimaginable blessings.  Conversely, that path has also taken me up and down rugged mountains with challenges that have taxed my strength, stretched my boundaries and drained my energy.
·        Then there have been those moments when the path was dry and dusty; the grit of life overwhelmed me.  Suddenly….God would bring me to a place where the view opened up, the vistas were clear and beautiful and once again, I stood in awe of His grace.
·        When I walk my journey focusing on the light of Christ, I feel safe and secure – like my Montana path in the daylight.
·        There have also been periods of darkness in my life, sometimes because of nothing I have done, but too often because I have taken my eyes off Jesus.
 
Proverbs 3: 5-6 says, “Trust in the lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Are you currently on a dusty, hilly road?  Or are you walking on level ground with lovely views? Either way, trust in the Lord with all your heart.