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Archive for the ‘Faithfulness’ Category

Winter Berries at Sunset

Winter Berries at Sunset

I’m taking a cue from Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy and Katie at Cakes, Tea and Dreams and asking the question, “What’s saving my life right now?” I love this discipline of focusing on the positive things, as little as they may seem.

This verse comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

This one, too:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Here are some of the things that I am thankful for, or, that are saving my life, this winter:

  • Lighting candles. I bought a couple of brass candlesticks in November and lit tapers every time I had friends over during the holidays and burned through several candles. I light them when I’m home alone, too. The glow from just two candles can fill an evening with comfort and warmth.
Candles are meant to be lit.

Candles are meant to be lit.

  • Hosting family and friends. In December, I hosted a Christmas party for my small group, a Lessons and Carols service, dinner and movie nights, Christmas Eve with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and six-year-old niece. In January, I hosted a pizza and game night, spent an afternoon watching movies with my niece, and hosted my small group. I love having people over and I love making memories in my little house.
Late night pie

Late night pie

Morning at home

Morning at home

  • Lavender Body Butter. Minnesota winters are dry, resulting in extremely dry skin. My hands  I bought a jar of this body butter at a roadside stand on the Old Mission Peninsula while on vacation in Traverse City, Michigan two summers ago and it was well worth it. I’m sensitive to harsh chemicals and fragrances, and lotions tend to make my skin drier. This body butter is fabulous. On my desk at work, I keep a bar of hard lotion that my mom made from many of the same ingredients.
  • Hot Chocolate. I love coffee and tea, both. But this winter I rediscovered my childhood love: hot chocolate. I gave Smitten Kitchen’s Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix to my coworkers last Christmas, and made some for myself as well. I have savored many marshmallow-topped mugs this winter.
Cuppa Hot Chocolate

Cuppa Hot Chocolate

  • 5ft inf. I don’t know how or when I discovered this website and Instagram feed, but I’m sure glad I did. The cheerful and creative arrangements of flowers and objects are like Vitamin D for my soul.
  • Sunsets. A couple weeks ago, I noticed that the sun set after I got off work. That is a hopeful sign indeed. The darkest days are past and spring isn’t far off. While winter is lovely, I savor the little signs of warmer and brighter days ahead.
The sun sets after 5 pm!

The sun sets after 5 pm!

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My small group started 2013 off by delving into Luke’s Gospel.

Last night, we read and discussed Luke 1:39-80. Right before this passage, we read about Gabriel visiting Mary with the news that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive the Son of God. Mary’s response? “Behold, I am the servant (literally, slave) of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

The next thing we see in Luke’s narrative is Mary traveling to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who was barren, but is now in her sixth month month of pregnancy. This would have been a long journey. We wondered if it was hard for Mary, perhaps as young as 12 or 13,  to convince her parents to let her travel, presumably alone, to visit her older cousin. At this point, it’s likely that no one knew that Mary was pregnant.

The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at Mary’s greeting, she’s filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth would not have known that Mary was pregnant. Last night, someone wondered whether Mary herself knew until this blessing. (Something I never thought of!)

Mary responds with her famous Magnificat, a song of praise to the Lord. (We also pondered whether she actually sang it. Maybe? ;)) Her song is bursting with allusions to the Old Testament. In his book on Luke, Michael Card says, “With wisdom far beyond her years, she sings with gratitude that the Lord has looked with favor upon her, his slave.” This was the first thing out of her mouth when greeting perhaps the first person who knew about her pregnancy, not words of worry over what people would think about her or how she would raise the child as a single mother. (We all know that an angel will also appear to Joseph, but she wouldn’t have known that at the time.) I believe that this shows Mary’s heart, and is also a work of the Holy Spirit in her life.

Mary’s response has me asking myself not only how I would have responded, but how I will respond to the call of God in my own life. Sure, the things that He’s calling me to might not seem so grand, and even may seem a little dull at times, but will I be obedient? Mary was available to the call of God in her life, even though it involved great risk.

In the study guide we’re using, N. T. Wright asks, “In what ways, even small ones, can you be involved in this work that God desires in his world? How do you see God’s larger purposes in the world intersecting with your own life, your individual hopes, dreams and fears?” Those are great questions to mull over.

On a related note, it might be more than a month past Christmas, but because of this study, I’ve been listening to Jason Gray’s Christmas Stories album, which is a new favorite. I love his song for Mary:

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My part in this story is small, but it is still a part of my story, and one that changed my life forever.

Who knew, when my younger brother Joel came back from a mission trip to Ukraine with stars in eyes, that less than two years later, my whole family would be boarding a plane for Ukraine, on a different sort of mission? We felt a little bit like the four hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, and even had a ring-bearer among us. My mom was wearing the sky-blue diamond ring that Joel would offer his Ukrainian sweetheart – my sister-in-law-to-be, whom I had yet to meet.

It was the middle of January – not an ideal time to travel to a land with no indoor plumbing. After an exhausting day of travel and a long wait at customs, we walked through the swinging doors at the Kyiv-Borispol airport to be greeted by hundreds of people who were waiting for arrivals. It was surreal. It didn’t take long for Joel to spot Nataliia and her mom in the crowd and soon we were all on our way to their hometown of K- in the church van, a bumpy four-hour drive.

I should probably explain the Ukraine connection. Our church has had a sister church in K- since 1995 and has sent several teams over to hold children’s and teen day camps, among other ministries. I had been hearing about K- and Light of the Gospel Church for nearly 12 years, but this was my first trip.

We arrived at their house on the outskirts of town late Saturday night. This was the house that Nataliia’s brother, Sergiy, was building for them. I was amazed to find out that he had installed indoor plumbing the week before we arrived! I was also amazed, and humbled, by their hospitality, which transcended culture and language barriers. We were family.

Too early the next morning for someone who had just traveled half-way around the world, we piled into Sergiy’s little blue car and rode to church. Even though I had seen photos and video clips of the church over the years, nothing could have prepared me for stepping foot inside the building. It was overwhelming to be in the midst of people praising God in another language. Most of these people had lived through Soviet oppression, some had seen family members marched off to die, and all of them lived without many of the comforts that we enjoy in the US.

One of the more memorable events of the week was the night Joel asked Nataliia’s father for her hand in marriage. We all bundled up and walked, in the dark, to his house on the other side of town. Dark, in Ukraine, is not quite the same as dark here in the US. There were no street lights, and even the lights in the houses and apartment buildings seemed dim. Not all of the cars had headlights, and they whooshed past us, too close for comfort. When we reached his house, we were shown to a room with only a table, chairs, one cabinet in the corner, a gallon jar of honey, and a single lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. If there was ever a moment when I felt like I had been thrown into a spy thriller, it was then! Her father interrogated Joel, in Ukrainian, as to what his intentions were. I was intimidated, however, Joel seemed to take his questioning in stride. It ended well, and all seven of us piled into her father’s tiny car and rode home. (Seatbelts really aren’t a consideration in Ukraine, though they probably should be…)

We ended up leaving Joel in Ukraine so that he and Nataliia could take care of some paperwork for her future immigration. None of us would have guessed that by the next time we would see each other, Joel and Nataliia would be legally married! It was just a formality, as the church doesn’t recognize government marriages, and vice versa. When we said goodbye at the airport, we were saying goodbye to people who had become like family within just a week’s time. It felt good to be heading home, but it was hard to leave them.

Our travels home included an unintended overnight stay in Frankfurt. At the time we were heading home, there were widespread deadly windstorms all across the European continent. Thankfully we didn’t experience this, but it delayed our flight out of Kyiv, causing us to arrive in Frankfurt much later than scheduled. We raced across the airport (and it’s a huge airport!) to catch our connecting flight, and missed it by about 10 minutes. We waited in a line of hundreds of fellow stranded travelers to be assigned a hotel. I’ll never forget how the guy at the counter let us use his phone to call home. My mom called the church office, and I’m sure that the secretary wasn’t expecting my mom’s response to her, “Oh, hi, Sandy! How are you doing?” (“Uh, we could be better… We’re stuck in Germany.”)

We did finally make it home. And, almost two years and miles of red tape later, so did the rest of the family – all three of them: Joel, Nataliia, and their five-month old daughter!

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He drew me out of many waters. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. Psalm 18:16b & 33

It’s been three years, to the date, since the night I survived a fall through the ice on the Straight River. I’ve told the story many times, at least the condensed version, but have yet to commit the story to writing. It was three years ago, but what happened that night is still vivid in my mind.

I was in the middle of reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, in which he says, “The good stories go to those who don’t give into fear.” I believed, and still believe, that. This particular story began with a conversation I had with a former co-worker who has since retired. We had many common interests, one being a love for outdoor adventures. When I told him that I was borrowing another co-worker’s snowshoes, he suggested a trek on the frozen river that winds through the middle of town. Since the river is only up to one or two feet deep, even if I broke through the ice, it wouldn’t be a huge deal. He recommended bringing ski poles to test the ice as I made my way up the river. Naturally, I thought this sounded wonderful, especially since I had been feeling the effects of cabin fever and needed to spend some time out-of-doors.

Januaries in Minnesota can be quite frigid, but that wasn’t a concern of mine on that moonlit Sunday evening as I parked my car near Cashman Crossing, strapped borrowed snowshoes on my feet, took hold of my mom’s cross country ski poles, and set foot on the solid river. I headed south on the snow-covered ice, making tracks where no one had before. I wound my way through the indigo woods and inhaled the glorious winter air. I reveled in the silence. I savor time spent in God’s creation; it’s one of the ways I feel His love and hear His voice. Time spent out-of-doors refreshes my spirit and this was no exception.

After trekking for about a mile, I began to trust that the ice was strong enough. I was probably a little less careful about testing it with the ski poles. But I knew if I did break through, it wouldn’t be the worst thing, seeing as the river was shallow.

I rounded yet another curve (No, the Straight River is definitely not straight by any stretch of the imagination!) and headed deeper into the woods. It happened so suddenly, yet at the same time it felt like time slowed down – I took a step and heard that terrible thunder of breaking ice – before I knew what was happening, I was sinking into the watery depths – I was waist deep and hadn’t even touched the bottom. I was too stunned to scream, and what good would it do, anyway? I just had to get out. And somehow, I did. Without much drama or struggle, I climbed out of the opening and back onto the unbroken ice in front of me. I made my way to solid ground, only to see that my ski poles were still near the opening. I went back onto the ice to get them. Perhaps the adrenaline was clouding my ability to think clearly?

I made it to shore again, soaking wet, with neither snowshoe secured. I sat down on a log and did what anyone would do in this situation. I got out my cell phone and texted a friend, “I just fell in the river.” She didn’t believe me at first. I don’t know if she truly believed me until I told her the story in person. Looking back, I realize I should’ve called for help. Why didn’t I? What I did was struggle for some time to get the snowshoes back on my feet. I walked back through the woods to the last bend in the river, and got back onto the ice to follow my tracks back to my car. By the time I made it to the car, my jeans were frozen stiff, but I wasn’t cold. (This must have been another effect of the adrenaline; I was most likely in the early stages of hypothermia.)

When I got home, I told my family, in a very matter-of-fact way, that I had just fallen through the ice. They stared at me in disbelief and shock. Seeing my mom’s reaction was my first realization of the seriousness of what had just happened. It wasn’t until weeks, or maybe months, later that it truly sunk in that I could have died that night.

Looking back, I know that Someone was watching out for me. I wasn’t alone as I walked through the woods, and I believe it is likely that an unseen companion pulled me out of the river. My Creator knows the number of hairs on my head and the number of days in my life. I thank God that He spared my life that night, and all the more that He saved me from spiritual death! I rest in knowing that my life is in His hands and am confident that I won’t draw my last breath until He says it’s time.

It was that same weekend of the following year that I closed on my house, which just happens to sit on a hill overlooking the Straight River. Again, I thank God that He not only spared my life, but that He had blessings in store for me that I couldn’t have even imagined!

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See Great is Thy Faithfulness! (House Edition – Part 1)

On Tuesday, November 30th, 2010, I logged in to Facebook to find a message from my mom’s friend, Barb. “Did you see the 2 houses for sale on Plainview? One of them looks really cute!  I could just see you in that house!” I hadn’t seen them, but I looked them up online and instantly recognized one of them as being the first house I ever looked at, back in 2004! So I did a double take on the listing price, because it was a mere one-third of the price it was six years ago.

I had fallen in love with the house back then, but I wasn’t ready to be a homeowner. It was the house that I held all other houses up to – it set the bar high. My “must-haves,” by the way, weren’t big and new, but cozy, old and full of character. I rarely looked at a house if it was built post-WWII.

In 2002, my parents had moved from the house I grew up in, a 1960s rambler, to a 1904 Victorian. Throughout my high school years, they looked at houses, mostly for fun. Occasionally there was one that piqued their interest, but I talked them out of moving every time. I couldn’t imagine not calling that little rambler on the edge of town my home. However, when I was away at college, my power of persuasion wasn’t nearly as potent. It’s a good thing. I don’t think any one of us regretted the move, and because of it, I grew to adore old homes.

All that to say, the 1937 cottage won me over in 2004 and surprised me in 2010. It was a foreclosure, though, and the low price may have been indicative of major damage. On Wednesday, I called the realtor I had been working with for the past few years. On Thursday, I saw the house, knowing that there were already two offers on it, though neither had been accepted. The house was in great shape and didn’t seem like a foreclosure, aside from where the bank had pried the back door open. On Friday morning, I made an offer after talking to my boss. He encouraged me to offer just a little more that what I had planned. On the following Monday, my realtor called while I was home sick to tell me that the seller liked my offer and wanted to proceed!

And proceed we did. The home inspection went wonderfully. The inspector, who had driven down from the Cities in a blizzard, was impressed with the structural soundness, the condition, and the low price of the house. Before I knew it, I was signing the closing documents on Friday, January 14th, 2011!

Throughout the whole process, I felt confident that, no matter what the outcome was, God would be faithful. I was at peace, even though the odds were against me. I later learned that all three offers were extremely close. Had I not talked to my boss right before making an offer, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the house. I also found out that Barb had inadvertantly clicked on a link while reading the Owatonna People’s Press website. That link brought her to the listing for my house – she wouldn’t have seen it otherwise! During the home inspection, I noticed something on the outside of the house by the back door. It was small, and nearly blended into the stucco – a cross.

No one knows what tomorrow may bring. I may be living at Cheery Hill for years to come, or I may not. But it is part of my story, which is part of a greater story – the story of a God who’s faithful.

The first song I sang in my house, to an empty and unfurnished living room, was this:

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 will 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.
 
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
 
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

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Tonight, as I was driving back to town after taking some photos, I was thinking about how quickly life can change – how we don’t know what the future will hold, not even the next moment. No sooner had I thought that, when almost simultaneously I saw, and hit, a deer! It was right there – I couldn’t not hit it. I screamed as my car slammed into it. What a terrible feeling…

God is faithful. I could have been injured, and He’d still be faithful. But I’m typing this from the comfort of my home. The image of the deer, the sound of the crash, and the smell of the blood is fresh in my memory, but I am unharmed. While being stranded on the side of a dark highway alone could be a bit frightening, God sent a kind woman and her 10 or 11-year old son to make sure I was okay and to wait with me. (A true good Samaritan, she even asked if there was anything more that she could do after my dad arrived on the scene.) The deer was still alive, and crawled into the woods. The officer who eventually showed up said it’s possible that she could heal, so I’m hoping she survives. My car, while it definitely needs to be repaired, is drivable. It could have been much worse.

Praise God for His protection and provision! Tomorrow I will call my insurance company, but tonight I will rest easy.

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I will remember the deeds of the LORD;  yes, I will remember your wonders of old. Psalm 77:11

Throughout Scripture, God is reminding His people to remember His past faithfulness. How often do I forget, when faced with uncertainty, that God has always been faithful to me? When fear creeps in, I need only look back at the signs of God’s faithfulness throughout my life to help me gain perspective and know once again that, yes, the Lord will give what is good.

When I was being threatened with a law suit in the fall of 2005 because I had “backed out” of a purchase agreement on a house, God was faithful. I was in the process of buying a house that, frankly, was too expensive for me. I had roommates lined up, and it seemed like I was making the right decision. That is, until I woke up on a Sunday morning and knew without a doubt that God had spoken to me in my sleep – no, I couldn’t buy the house. (This wasn’t an audible voice.)

My realtor was in shock; things had been moving along so quickly; it was my dream house. The following week, I got a call from my realtor saying that the sellers were talking to a lawyer about sueing me. I reminded her that there was still one contingency that I hadn’t signed off on, and according to what she had previously told me, until I did, I wasn’t locked in. (And even if I had, I don’t believe I would be locked in until signing the closing documents.) She said she’d look into it. It felt like no one was on my side, but I knew that God had warned me. I knew I was doing the right thing.

In the end, I lost my earnest money and the money I had spent on a home inspection. I considered it a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. I was relieved when the house sold the following spring. Looking back, after a few years had passed, I could see exactly how God had spared me. The month I was going to close on the house was the height of the housing bubble on one of the graphs that I came across. Who knew that property values were about to plummet? Not me. Up until that point, everyone told me that a house was an investment that will always appreciate in value.

Over the next five years, I looked at other houses on occasion. God closed a few more doors, albeit with a little less dramatic flare. However, I was not actively looking when a Facebook message from a friend of my mom’s appeared in my inbox on November 30, 2010…

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