Monday, May 30, 2016

On Mission, Part Two

My last blog post described an amazing “missional” experience that took me to Trail’s End Ranch (TER) in Ekalaka, Montana.  (If you missed that one, you may want to go to to get a bit of background for this post.)  TER sits on a portion of 720 acres of land in the SE corner of the state; much of the land, at least in that area, is primarily wide open spaces.  However, the camp itself is nestled in among high hills, surrounded by magnificent Ponderosa Pines.

Because of the remoteness of this unique geographical area, it was nearly impossible to access the internet, to open voice mails and to generally communicate with the outside world (apart from inside the TER office and even there, I was told, the connection could be slow).  Truthfully, it was rather liberating to not be so connected.  It was much easier to focus on our mission,  to develop relationships and to serve one another.

However, we did get creative and figured out how to work with our limitations.  We had families at home and desired to stay in communication with them, even with the limitations.  One of the “solutions” to this challenge was to take a hike up the steep hill behind our cabin.  We could hike straight up or take a long 2-track road to the top.  We had to find the absolute highest point but we had a double blessing once we arrived: we could make our calls and send our texts…. and the views were spectacular!

I’m thankful I was still in good enough shape to embrace the challenge of that uphill hike!  We were significantly above sea level and by the time I reached the top, getting oxygen in my lungs became challenging!  It was worth it to be able to check out the small village on the other side of the ridge, to look down on the camp and see the beauty of such “holy ground”….taking in God’s amazing creation.

I found myself thinking about my communication with God.  Do I put the same effort into talking with Him?  Am I so eager to hear His voice through daily prayer and the reading of His Word that I will carve out that time every day no matter what “hills” are in my path that day?  Speaking truth….there are days when I allow other things, people and distractions to get in the way of my time with Jesus.  When that happens, I miss the “view” of life He has planned for me that day.  My to-do list becomes more important than walking with God on the lofty ridges prayer provides.  Being in His Word gives me the energy I need to face the challenges of my day, the ones only He knows I will face. 

My relationship with God, through His Son, is much more important than anyone on the other end of my cell phone or any text message I might receive.  Philippians 4:6:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And then what does the very next verse say? Verse 7: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

I don’t know about you but I greatly desire the peace God promises and the guarding of my heart and mind.  So I am renewing my commitment to climb up to the ridge each day, the “ridge” of carving out quiet time with God, so I might converse with Him and hear His voice.  Will you think about doing the same?

Monday, May 23, 2016

On Mission, Part One

Charlie and I just returned from “Big Sky Country” where we were on mission with a team from our local church.  Trail’s End Ranch, a wonderful Christian camp and retreat center is located in Ekalaka, Montana and our team drove out from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (a 20+ hour trip) to help construct a new chapel.  We also helped in other ways to prepare the property for this summer’s camping sessions.

A bit of background information is in order to give you a good picture of this wonderful place. Trail’s End Ranch (TER) is situated on 720 acres with access to much of Custer National Forest.  The camp offers multiple activities including, but not limited to: biking, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, paint balling, geocaching, and on it goes. 

The most important focus, within all of this wonderful activity, is leading the campers to establishing a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus.  Last summer they had over 120 first time decisions for Christ! Throughout the week the campers are introduced to Jesus, learn how to grow in their relationship with Him and then learn how to share it with others.

What a privilege it was to work side by side with my brothers and sisters (in Christ).  I came away believing I had truly been on “holy ground”.  Every board we stained, every nail that was hammered, every space that was cleaned was done to further the kingdom!

The first two days, those of us not experienced in building construction, tackled some areas of camp that needed cleaning and sprucing up - areas where the winter dirt accumulated because they had been targeted to be torn down and rebuilt.  As it often goes, other priorities rose to the top of the camp budget and those areas were needed for one more summer.

So we got out the plastic gloves, the Pine Sol, brooms and rags and went to work!  We scrubbed….and scrubbed…and, you guessed it, scrubbed some more.  Joanne broke down boxes; Jo cleared and cleaned shelves. Brenda made sense of the office space, removing dust and bug carcasses.  I dug deep into the ice cream cases making them sparkle once again.

We enjoyed wonderful devotionals by Jim Pardee (camp director) after breakfast each day.  Jim took God’s Word and translated it into practical life applications.  We took those messages and convictions into our daily activities; God’s Word encouraged our motivation to be cooperative kingdom builders.  That daily time centered our hearts on Him, rather than on ourselves.

TER is well maintained; campers stay in clean, safe accommodations.  The staff works very hard but they welcome support that comes from many sources.  It was such a joy to participate in the heart of God’s ministry through real life hands-on work.

Over the winter, during a time of dormancy, dirt and dead bugs accumulated.  With every dead bug I wiped up and every bucket of dirty water I dumped, a powerful reminder overwhelmed me.

If it were not for the cleansing power of Jesus through His life, death and resurrection, my life would be full of accumulated dirt, “buggy” areas and layers of dust.  Apart from Christ, there would not be enough “Pine Sol” available to make me clean/acceptable before a holy God.  Romans 3:23 tells us that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That means me! And you!  Praise God for providing Jesus to clean me up!

My cleaning efforts at TER were nothing compared to all Jesus went through on my (and your) behalf.  The desire of my heart is for all people everywhere to know and love the One Who carries our sins and burdens, our guilt and our “dirt”.  Jesus doesn’t just clean us up – He gives us a brand new heart.  Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

The simple words of a song I learned as a child ring true eternally: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  His love gives us a fresh, clean start…every day.  Will you allow Him to bring freshness and new life to you…today?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The "Some of Us" on Mother's Day

As I contemplated what to write on Mother's Day, I came across a blog post written by a good friend.  I loved her perspective so, with her permission, I am sharing Leslie's blog. It is a bit longer than my usual blogs but it is oh so good!  This is part one of a series but I will be featuring only this post.  Below is a link to Leslie's blog if you want to read future posts.

Leslie Neal Segraves is a passionate speaker, writer, and co-founder and President of 10/40 Connections.  10/40 is dedicated to spreading tangible hope to unreached peoples by meeting both physical and spiritual needs.  Leslie and her husband Chad, along with their three sweet children, share Christ's love across the globe in many different ways.  To learn more or to book Leslie for a speaking engagement, visit her blog, or go to her mission website at

"Mother’s Day comes again.  For many this day simply connotes a celebration – a precious card from the kiddos, a chaotic meal at an over-crowded restaurant, and tight squeezes from your little cuties (and maybe not so tight from those rebellious teenagers as you try to remember those good ol’ days and look to the coming better ones with faith!).

But not everyone moves through Mother’s Day with all happy thoughts and memories. Those “some of us” on Mother’s Day include:

  • For some of us, we grieve that we have no child. Either married and infertile, or single and childless, we catch ourselves at times dreaming of the “what-ifs.”
  • For some of us, we grieve our miscarriages and wonder if we can ever get pregnant again?
  • For some of us, we remember the child we buried.  We hold onto the memories and wish for just one more day.
  • For some of us, we hold our adopted children and mourn their early trauma, yet feel intensely grateful and connected to our child’s birth mom though we may never meet.
  • For some of us, we grieve the life within us that we intentionally ended purposefully. We fight our shame and seek to remember that Jesus forgives.
  • For some of us, we can see the number of children who live in our house, but we can also count the ones who only lived a little while inside our tummies.
I am in the “some of us” category. I miscarried one child (She would be 7 now). I adopted one child (now 2.5). I birthed two children (now 8 and 6).

So on Mother’s Day, I laugh and tickle ribs and read cards. I will wrap my arms around my children, breathe their scent, and delight in their presence. But as I look into the eyes of my adopted daughter, my heart imagines the story of her birth mom. I feel the part of my daughter’s story that deals with loss. I ache for my daughter and her biological mom. I feel connected to them through our shared journeys of loss.
I lost a child in pregnancy. The pain of losing a child (though I never met her) was piercing.

I read a blog once of someone who said that as soon as her baby emerged from the womb, she became a mother. No!! I am a mother of four – yet only three live on earth. It doesn’t require birth to become a mother; it requires conception.

Even if you have miscarried, and even if you still find your arms empty, you ARE a mother. Even if you have one child in your arms, if you miscarried another, you have TWO children! Mother’s Day is difficult for those of us who have miscarried because we are the mother of a child no longer here, a child we’ve never met and yet long for deeply. Just typing that sentence brings tears to my eyes.
For those of you struggling on Mother’s Day, I want to leave you with three ideas that might help you make it through Mother’s Day with a little more hope. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I have learned a few things that have helped me on my own journey.

1.     Extend grace to yourself for where you find yourself in your grief. After my miscarriage (it took place in December 2008 – I’ll share more in a later post), at various unexplainable times, I found and find myself sometimes experiencing intense longing for my daughter. In the first six months after my miscarriage I often thought, “When will I work my way through this grief?” I remember the day I came to a startling realization. My grief would never fully dissolve. My heart now contains a deep scar. Though I might cope with the loss differently 2 years later than the week of, I will always carry this scar. I finally realized that this is my “new normal.” Now, when I suddenly experience intense emotions for Baby Joy, I just move with it. Heaven is the place of no more tears – not earth.

2.     Take time to remember your child. Sometimes in our grief, we want to keep ourselves busy so we won’t notice the ache in our hearts as much. I have found that it helps me to get up earlier on Mother’s Day and have some time by myself thinking about Joy. I sometimes take time to write her a letter in a journal I keep for her. We light a candle for Phoebe’s birth mom and another candle we light for Joy. In later posts, I will share other ways we remember Joy as a family (there are several!).

3.     Help another mom in need. I believe some of my healing has come from being available to help others. In honor of the one I lost, I try to encourage another mom in need. For example, I might take a new baby blanket to our local pregnancy crisis center. At times I attach a small note to the receiving mother who has chosen life (rather than abortion) for her child. I encourage her and tell her that I bought the blanket in honor of the child I lost through miscarriage. This act enables me to connect a bit to another mother in her own journey as she fights for life for her unborn child (often at great personal sacrifice). I feel like my little one and I are partnering to bring hope to another struggling mom.
After my miscarriage, I could find very few resources to help me in my journey of grief through miscarriage. However, I discovered that when I openly shared my pain of miscarriage, dozens of friends and connections came forward and said, “I too have a child in heaven… I have three… I have never told anyone but with your openness I want you to know…”

On Mother’s Day, those of us in the “some of us” category, may move through our Sunday with a smile gracing our faces, but we may silently struggle. I, for one, want to see the silent struggle shift. I want those who silently grieve miscarriages find an open space to let their children be known and celebrated and remembered – even though no one sees them. And I want those parents to find comfort, encouragement and hope that comes from Christ.

During the next five weeks, I will write about my personal journey into grief through miscarriage, my determination to honor my daughter’s short life, and my unrelenting belief that one day I will see my child, hold her, and know her deeply. Wow, I certainly do not have all the answers, but I do know that miscarriage hurts. I also know God can take the stinking, broken, miserable, painful things in life and literally change eternity through them.
It is my hope that through these blogs over the next few weeks, others who have experienced miscarriages or those walking beside those who have, will find a little encouragement that helps them navigate the confusing and often lonely journey of grieving the child no one has ever met."

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb."  Psalm 139:13

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Desert Lessons

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, lived many other places, and have, again, called the U.P. “home” for the past 12 years.  Because of the abundance of lakes and trees, it seems as though a love for woods and water is almost part of my DNA

The past two years we have been blessed with opportunities to visit family and friends in AZ.  Their home is surrounded by desert with all of the uniqueness of that environment.  I love how new experiences can open up fresh perspectives on life.  Our hosts did a wonderful job of sharing their knowledge of the area and it was amazing how God’s creation, once again, did not disappoint.

The saguaro cacti intrigued me as I sat on the deck and looked out over miles of desert land.  One day I focused on one particular saguaro cactus that I learned was old; the clue was the “arms” it had grown.  Apparently it takes many years to grow an “arm” (up to 50?) and it struck me that those arms looked like they were reaching for the sky.  Occasionally I would observe an arm that had fallen over but usually the arms reached upward.

I could almost imagine this cactus lifting its “arms” in worship.  In Luke 19, when Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on what we refer to as “Palm Sunday”, the people are singing His praises.  The local religious folks are offended by this worship of Jesus and tell Him to shut his disciples down.  Luke 19: 40 says, “He (Jesus) answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”

You see, All of creation was made to worship King Jesus.  Why not the cacti?

As I focused on this lovely plant, pointing toward the heavens, my first thought was, it looked rather lonely.  The saguaro cacti did not seem to grow in close groupings, per my observation.  But when I lifted my eyes for a wider view, they were standing at attention everywhere.  There was a virtual “congregation” of worshipping cacti across the horizon!

As a Christian living in a world that often feels like a spiritual desert, I sometimes feel alone.  It is so much more comfortable to surround myself with other Christians, people who see the world as I do.  But we know God wants us to be “salt” (Matthew 5:13; Colossians 4:6) when we walk among those who do not know Jesus.  Those times can seem lonely.  That is why I loved the picture of those tall, strong cacti plants, reaching for the sky, sprinkled across the desert.  God used that picture to bring encouragement to my heart.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the cholla cacti.  They are very deceptive looking. From a distance they look soft and fuzzy, almost like they have teddy bear arms. But up close, when it’s almost too late to protect oneself, the danger of the plant threatens anyone who comes near. 

There is actually a type called “Jumping Cholla”; the name describes how the little silvery spines on the plant seem to “jump” out and stick to your leg, clothes, or anything that comes close to the plant.  I was happy to have that plant pointed out to me as we were driving past it!

Sometimes life can present us with deceptive temptations, much like the cholla cactus.  The Bible warns us often about not being deceived by something just because it looks good.  And many of God’s good gifts can actually be used for evil in our lives. For example, He provides us with life sustaining food and yet we can abuse food.    

I once had a friend illustrate this “deception” issue in a fun, but succinct way.  She said who wouldn’t be tempted by a plate of warm, chocolate brownies when offered?  Until…..we learn there is just a tiny bit of dog poop that somehow got into the batter!  Yes, gross!  But I dare say, I don’t know anyone who would want to eat those brownies, no matter how little “dp” made its way into the batter.  Friends, we need to watch out for the things in our lives that look appealing but don’t match up perfectly with God’s perfect plan.

As you can see, the desert taught me much!  Praise God for the beauty of His creation and how God spoke to me in the midst of it all!