Category Archives: Autobiography

Sacred Fire (inspired by A.J. Sherrill)

Last night, Alan and I celebrated our 46th anniversary! Such a joy!! This morning, as I was reflecting back over our marriage, it occurred to me that when I prepared my last blog (on how Christ can heal us), I hadn’t really made any particular connection to the every day struggles we all face, but I listened to two messages Sunday night that were so good, and so appropriate, that I want to share the gist of them with you. Throughout the course of my life, the two hardest conscious struggles (probably more significant unconscious challenges) relate to self control in what I eat and what I think about. I’ve always felt very “normal” (if such a thing exists), so my guess is that these almost come as standard weaknesses on most human models coming off the assembly line. Can you identify?

A.J. Sherrill (a local pastor) taught a two-part series called “The Soul of Sexuality.” I’ll put links at the end and highly recommend them as healthy soul food to help you manage your appetites (maybe not as much for food, however).  In turn, A. J. gives much of the credit for his teaching to Richard Rohr, a little monk from Albuquerque, with whom he spent a week some years ago, trying to understand life. You may think a monk wouldn’t be the best resource for understanding how to cope with our innate sex drive, but think again. Any monk who has actually been able to keep his vow of celibacy has spent his entire adult life trying to figure out how to handle his own drives.

Even as a married woman, dealing with our sexual impulses is challenging! I remember when I was mid-forties, asking my spiritual mentor (who was about 80), when men stopped making passes at women. She nodded thoughtfully and replied, “Oh, maybe sometime between 75 and 80.” I was shocked and felt doomed! Would I never be free from unwanted male advances? Men I love, just like I love women. But, men challenging my commitment to my marriage, I do not appreciate. It’s not funny, and it’s not fun. Worst case scenario, it can actually be tempting, which was terrifying when I was 40 and my husband was way too busy to pay attention to me.

So, I used to complain to the Lord, “Why did you make us sexual beings, anyway? Why couldn’t you have made us without sexual passion???” One of the most helpful resources I found was Living with Your Passions, by Erwin W. Lutzer. (It came out in 1983 but is still available on Amazon.) After reading Lutzer’s book, I came to a somewhat grumbly surrender to the thought that God must have known what he was doing and determined to learn how to live a moral life despite my immoral heart, but I wasn’t thrilled about the challenge.

After studying the Song of Solomon for ten years, I decided that God intends our chief love to be spiritual, and that as we’re drawn into a love relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we find joy and strength that surpasses human love . . . an energy and beauty that causes those around to marvel: “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies” (Song of Solomon 6:13: the dance between our soul and the Trinity [my interpretation]).

A.J. took it a step further, and I love what he had to say. The “why” of sexuality is about “beauty, mystery, and meaning . . . Your sexuality is an echo of a larger cosmic mystery unfolding, which is the story of Christ and the Church.” “God is not a stoic force; he’s a passionate lover.” (I’m putting everything in quotation marks but they may not be perfect; I was typing as fast as I could!) God is Israel’s husband (Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 31) and in the New Testament, we learn that we, the Church, are the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5). From John 7 and 15, we can infer that our marriage to Christ is designed to flow into the stream of life and bear spiritual children and spiritual fruit. In John 14 we are offered the Kiddushim—the covenant of love—and now we’re just waiting for the Huppah, when Jesus comes back to receive his bride (us!).

“Information in the head is not the same as intimacy in the heart. We were made for intimacy.” “Ya had” means to throw out your hands. Let go! Let God dwell in us so much that through us He will produce fruit! Hebrews 12—throw off all false lovers and fix our eyes on our true lover, Jesus. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating our love covenant with Christ. He wants us to understand how much we’re loved and feast with him. He has never forgotten us or forsaken us, even though we have failed him and had other lovers and idols. Come and feast with him. Let him heal you!

The first message dealt with vertical love; the second message with horizontal.  A.J. offered three scripts for how sex is handled in our culture: Erotic play, Intimate connection, and Covenental Promise. He offered some excellent quotes thinking through the value and power of sexual energy (a couple of which I’ll write out for  you below), and he ended with an invitation to reach a “higher altitude” for viewing. “Sexuality is the best instrument for learning self-control There are times when offering yourself is a gift and when withholding yourself is a gift.” If you’re in a relationship right now, he suggested that you “Talk with your partner about what you want without finger pointing, but by offering your longings, not your complaints. Complaints create emotional distance, but longings are redemptive. You’ve trusted God with your soul. Will you trust him with your body?”

“A healthy sexuality is the single most powerful vehicle there is to lead us to  selflessness and joy, just as unhealthy sexuality helps constellate selfishness and unhappiness as does nothing else . . . Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides. It is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.” —Ronald Rolheiser

“The fire of sex is so powerful, so precious, so close to the heart and soul of a person, and so godly, that it either gives life or it takes it away. Despite our culture’s protests, it is not casual and can never be casual.” —Rolheiser

So, in light of Jesus healing the lame man—and offering to heal us too!— if you’re restless or unhappy with your sex life (or lack thereof), this is a great time to let Jesus heal your wounded heart! Consider watching the two messages (which together are shorter than a movie!):

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-1

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-2

I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Merry Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends!  This has been a year of joy for me, not because everything has always been easy—or even because everything went the way I’d hoped—but because I knew God was in it, and God is good. He loves us, and everything He gives us, He gives us for our good, and so that we will bring glory to Him! Bearing this in mind, I’m going to share the happy highlights and leave the lowlights right where they belong— in my prayer closet!  First, Alan and I have had a truly wonderful year in most ways. Alan still hasn’t retired, although he’s thinking he might in a couple of years.  Meanwhile, he’s working like a trooper, which gives me ample time to enjoy  family and friends as well as pursuing writing and photography.         We took a few big trips together: A full transit of the Panama Canal last winter, & a relaxing, fascinating trip to Iceland, Norway, and the North Sea last summer.   We also spent a week in Southern California with our oldest son and his family.                   Aaron and Carleen have four sons, who are really growing!                                         Aaron still works at LinkedIn,  and Carlie is busy helping with Classical Conversations, which is the homeschooling support system they use in conjunction with teaching their kids.     Gerlinde is also involved with home schooling and Classical Conversations. She and Jon (our son) moved to Chicago this year, where Jon continues teaching for Moody but is also busy developing and directing an innovative virtual reality system for higher Christian education called the Center for Global Theological Education.  Jon flies all over the country (and world) helping provide training for people in leadership positions within the Church global, but now that they live closer, we have the happy privilege of spending more time with Gerlinde and the girls while he’s away—something we couldn’t do when they lived on the West Coast! In July, I had the great joy of traveling to Italy to help out when Michael and Grace had their fifth child:                                                  A precious baby boy! Since then, they’ve moved to Belgium, where Michael serves as a major in the army and is the Dental Clinic Commander at his base. They home schooled until this fall, but now their two oldest have enrolled in public school and are busily trying to learn French so they can understand their lessons!  We have one daughter, whose husband directs the videography department of a mega church in the Detroit area. They have three children and are doing great, although she prefers privacy in public spaces, so I don’t share much about her (although I’d love to!). We are blessed with one married son who lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and two little ones.         Jon and Gerlinde bring their kids to visit often, which we love,  but it’s really a unique privilege to have one family living close enough to interact on a more constant and casual basis. Dan directs the dental clinic at Exalta Health, an outreach to the uninsured and underserved population,                        and Brianna is very busy with Sammy and Ellie,                                        who keep us totally charmed.                I’m just wondering what they’ll be like when they grow up!  Stephen is continuing work on his PhD in musicology from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He is in a whirl of teaching and presenting at conferences, and I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like, but I’m thankful he’s healthy and productive.      Joel is working as an editor at Kregel Publications here in Grand Rapids.Alan and I feel extremely blessed that he has rejoined the “home team” during this season of his life (although we are praying for a wonderful wife for him). 🙂             Meanwhile, we’ve even enjoyed some travel adventures together! We now have 12 children (including in-law kids) and 17 grandchildren, and we  love each one of them with all our hearts!                           We’ve been privileged to keep up with our sibs,               enjoy close fellowship with our church and extended families,                      and have an amazing circle of friends in Grand Rapids,  which is the only community I’ve ever lived in where there are so many kindred spirits I can’t keep up with all of them!  Best of all, we have a God who is our Father, a Savior who is His Son, Jesus, and a Comforter and Guide, who is the blessed Holy Spirit.  Through faith in Christ, we have inherited eternal life, enjoy the fruits of His Spirit,and have become joint heirs with Jesus. Who could wish for more??  My prayer is that you are enjoying the blessings of being God’s child too.                 There is nothing in heaven or on earth any better than that!  “[Jesus] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13).

How Jesus Came Into My Life

The story of Philip’s conversion and consequent enthusiasm to share his faith is precious to me because it reminds me of my own experience. Many Americans grow up learning John 3:16 by heart (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life), but that was not true of me! In fact, my mother wrote in my baby book—in her list of funny sayings I’d uttered as a toddler—that I thought I should learn something about the Bible. My father was an atheist and my mother agnostic, so the only time I heard God’s name in our home was as part of an angry outburst if my father was upset.

For whatever reason, I never thought about God at all as a child and never had philosophical debates over whether or not He existed. I was totally ignorant and totally thoughtless. All that changed when my older sister won a trip to Washington D.C. and heard Billy Graham preach back in 1962. My sister was as irreligious as I was, but she’d never been to D.C. so entered a Bible verse memory contest with the prize being a free trip to Washington D.C.

She came home utterly transformed. Instead of fighting all the time (as we were wont to do), she became supportive and kind, even offering me use of her favored jewelry if she thought it would look pretty with my outfit, etc. The crowning confusion to me was that she stopped dating her current boyfriend, who was a minister’s son, because he didn’t believe the “gospel.” I wasn’t sure what the “gospel” was, but I figured you couldn’t get any more religious than being a minister’s son, so I was completely baffled by some of her decisions.

She couldn’t really explain things to me, either, at least in a way that penetrated my heart, so she invited me to attend a Youth for Christ rally with her. That evening I heard for the first time in my life that there is a God! That was news to me, but it rang true in my heart, and I believed it. Further, this God who created us and the world, loves us all . . .  including me! I was overjoyed! But, God wants us to be good, not bad, and all of us intentionally choose to do evil sometimes. (That was easy for me to admit as true of myself.) God so ordained life on this earth that “the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together) had provided a remedy for sin so that all of us could “come clean” and be reconciled to God through accepting the death of Christ as payment for our sins and asking the resurrected Christ to reign within our hearts.  I was mesmerized, and when the invitation was given to come down to the front to learn more or pray with somebody, I practically flew down the aisle, crying tears of joy to know that God loved me and that Jesus died for me. I never stopped to wonder if it was true. It was like a light turned on in my heart and brain, and I was all in! I asked God to forgive me for my sins and for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I was flooded with joy and light!

Like my sister, I was full of enthusiasm but not very able to explain the transformation in my heart. My father (an extremely liberal professor), patted me on the head (not literally) and declared it was just a passing phase, pontificating that no thinking adult believed in God.

I’ve had many “adventures” in sharing the good news of Jesus since, but I don’t think I’ve ever become the excellent “fisher of men” that some are. Nevertheless, I will keep sharing my faith wherever I go, not because I’m a thoughtless (or thinking) adult, but because I’ve experienced the love of God, and it is better than anything else in the world to me. The power of God’s love is even better than a cure for cancer, and to know Jesus is to be born again into eternal life that will never end, not even when our physical bodies die!

If you’ve never come face to face with God, I invite you to “Come and see,” just as Philip encouraged Nathanael. Come and see for yourself! Read the Bible. Visit a church where they believe the Bible is true and teach from it. Talk to friends who believe in Jesus. Ask God to forgive your sins, and ask Jesus to save you and make you into a new creation: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5;17).

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”
(Psalm 34:8)Since Jesus Came Into My Heart
(by Rufus H. McDaniel, 1914)

  1. What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    I have light in my soul for which long I have sought,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.

    • Refrain:
      Since Jesus came into my heart,
      Since Jesus came into my heart;
      Floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,
      Since Jesus came into my heart.
  2. I have ceased from my wand’ring and going astray,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And my sins which were many are all washed away,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.
  3. I’m possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And no dark clouds of doubt now my pathway obscure,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.
  4. There’s a light in the valley of death now for me,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And the gates of the City beyond I can see,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.
  5. I shall go there to dwell in that City I know,
    Since Jesus came into my heart;
    And I’m happy, so happy as onward I go,
    Since Jesus came into my heart.

 

 

I Have Sixteen Going on Seventeen…It’s Time to Think Babies!

If you love The Sound of Music as much as I do, then there are probably times when some of the musical’s lyrics pop into your head, and that’s what’s been playing in my brain for the past nine months, ever since my daughter-in-law Grace told me that she was pregnant. “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is the song, but with slightly altered lyrics, because Alan and I have sixteen beautiful grandchildren and are now looking forward to a seventeenth very soon! Mike and Grace are expecting their fifth baby at the end of July. Grace’s mom graduated to glory when Grace was a young teenager, so I’ve had the special privilege of being first on call when they have a new baby. This means I will have been to Philadelphia, Germany, Hawaii, South Korea, and now Italy in the last 11 years! I am overjoyed, but as you might guess, this also means I won’t have time to write much for awhile. If I don’t post, or if I just post a photo and a few lines, know that I’m in my glory enjoying some of life’s best moments and may not have much to say until after Labor Day. I mean, not only Grace’s day of labor, but America’s Labor Day, which is September 3. Meanwhile, God bless you! May you continue with joy on your pilgrimage through this world. I will be trying to follow Jesus. I hope that is your aspiration as well!

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;  To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them”(Psalm 103:17-18).

(P.S.—My son, “Major Michael Armstrong” is not the one with bells ringing over his head. This photo was taken by the wife of the guy with the smooch! My son is really the man on the extreme right side of the photo, and it was taken at a recent graduation from yet another training program which will qualify him for possible promotion.)

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Summer Setting!

Summer has now been setting in my life for many years, and yesterday marked my tenth anniversary of writing “all about it!” With over half a million views and 2,222+ followers, I’m still incentivized to write my heart out when and while I can! Beyond that, people from 215 nations and territories have stopped by at some time or another, which is approaching most of the countries in existence, except for the heart of Africa and Turkmenistan. (This is the beginning of the “Global Map”of visitors to Summer Setting; the complete list of nations is at the end of this post.)

As I prayed about what to write for this personally special occasion, it occurred to me to look back and remember all that God has done for me as I’ve attempted to glorify Him, enjoy Him forever, and share His love with you:

From seven years ago: This is my 365th post since starting to blog three years ago, and I discovered with astonishment and joy that this site  has been visited almost 30,000 times! “Summer Setting” was intended to have a double meaning, expressing both the sentiment that the setting of my life is still sunny and warm—like  summer sunshine—but that I am aging and this wonderful “Indian Summer” season will transition into fall soon.  Like the shimmering sun disappearing behind a vast expanse of ocean, the summer of my life is setting.

I want to thank each person who has cared enough to look in on my life and  walk the pilgrim road with me a little. Thank you for this wonderful privilege! It’s my earnest desire to bring joy to you as I share what I’m learning about the life and love that God has granted me.

Because of my husband’s prostate cancer, I’ve been reading a lot about life and death issues lately. I found this touching quote from Walt Wangerin’s Letters from the Land of Cancer (written as he was preparing to meet his Maker): “Good night, good friends. The nice thing about these letters is that you can quit reading them at any paragraph. No guilt to you, no fear in me that I might have burdened or bored you.”

And so it is with me too! I will begin my “second” year’s worth of letters—casting them into cyberspace like crumbs upon the waters—with the hope of encouraging whomever God sends my way…and very eager to hear anything you’d like to share with me. May the Lord bless you!

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)

Fifth Anniversary: Today is the fifth anniversary of my blog. I’ve been blessed by more than 128,000 visits (nearly half of them during this past year) from 168 countries and now have 193 “followers”. . .

It’s a “dream come true” to be able to share God and all He’s done for me with people around the world. When my sister and I were in our early 20’s, we started a trek around the world to share the good news of Jesus, but our mother almost died in a car accident, and so we came home. Probably for the best. She was not a believer at the time (although she did become a Christian before she died, praise God! 🙂  ), and my naive sister and my naive self might have gotten ourselves killed on such a mission. However, the Lord knew our hearts were in it…and still are! So, now, at the tender age of 62, after having reared our brood of seven darlings, my husband has granted me the freedom to write a blog rather than get a full-time job somewhere.

I look at it as being allowed to be a self-supporting missionary of sorts, trying to reach out with the gospel of hope from my desk at home. I don’t suppose my sister Annie and I would have really made it to 168 countries in our trek or have met 128,213 people on our way. Isn’t God amazing? He hears the cries of our hearts and delights to answer. Granted, the answer has come some forty+ years later, and in a way I could never have dreamed, but God is full of surprises and has an infinite number of ways to answer our prayers and fill our hearts with joy! Bless you for being a part. I am so grateful for you and your ministry in my life, too! Thank you for being fellow pilgrims with me through this awesome life!

Eighth Anniversary: On Submitting our Passions to God   Today marks the eighth anniversary of Summer Setting, and I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoy photo journalism. Actually, I love it with a passion. It’s “work” so satisfying that I look forward to it. It’s therapeutic; it energizes me; it makes me feel happy! Reminds me of my son Michael, who got totally splattered with fresh concrete once while helping build a house down in Mexico. Instead of expressing dismay (which was my reaction), he just grinned: “I never knew this mission trip was going to be so much fun!” What can I say? When you feel really passionate about what you’re doing, what’s a little mud on your face?

Ninth Anniversary: April 8 marked the ninth anniversary of my blog, Summer Setting, and it’s still one of the highlights of my daily life! Although my primary goal in writing is an attempt to be faithful to the calling I feel like God has given me, it’s been super rewarding and motivating to check in on my “Stats” page every once in a while. For instance, this past week people from over 60 countries looked at blog posts, and in the last 3 days Summer Setting was accessed over 1,300 times. That sounds like a lot to me, but given that I now have close to 2,000 followers, it also seemed like a curiously small number until I learned from WordPress’s “Happiness Engineers” that their statistics don’t include any of the followers who have asked to have my posts sent directly to their email accounts every day, since they don’t have a tracking system to know who has opened those emails.

 

And, those reminiscences now bring me back to the present! I’ve been struck by several verses from the Gospel of John lately. In all we do—whether it’s writing a blog, studying and trying to grow up, working at a job, taking care of children, sitting in a retirement center or trying to survive in a  refugee camp— may everything we do be to the glory of God and to lift up the name of Jesus! May we seek the honor that comes from God alone, testifying to His Word and His truth, so that others too may know the joy of His salvation and eternal life.

Jesus said, “I receive not testimony from man; but these things I say, that ye might be saved.” (John 5:34) “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44).

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).

 

United States

333438

United Kingdom

20172

Germany

17946

Canada

17192

France

11776

Australia

8483

Taiwan

8263

India

7658

Philippines

4728

South Africa

4030

Italy

3815

Brazil

3385

Netherlands

3069

Ireland

2661

European Union

2632

South Korea

2519

Spain

2518

Russia

2348

Thailand

2345

Japan

2268

Indonesia

2217

Turkey

2071

Singapore

1945

Norway

1827

Poland

1690

Romania

1579

Mexico

1493

Malaysia

1467

New Zealand

1442

Belgium

1425

Sweden

1326

Greece

1204

Switzerland

1202

Hungary

1176

Israel

1075

Hong Kong SAR China

1019

Colombia

959

Ukraine

946

Czech Republic

910

Vietnam

885

Pakistan

854

Austria

828

Argentina

823

Denmark

823

United Arab Emirates

814

Finland

765

Portugal

713

Saudi Arabia

649

Croatia

632

Serbia

600

Bulgaria

596

Slovakia

478

Egypt

463

Trinidad & Tobago

414

Kenya

410

Chile

366

Nigeria

363

Slovenia

351

Tunisia

318

Bangladesh

315

Lebanon

313

Sri Lanka

304

Peru

293

Puerto Rico

284

Lithuania

275

Estonia

260

Jamaica

249

Latvia

249

Kuwait

240

Morocco

211

Georgia

197

Iraq

193

Tanzania

193

Ghana

183

Macedonia

181

Algeria

175

Qatar

173

Malta

164

Jordan

162

China

161

Cyprus

156

Bosnia & Herzegovina

155

Costa Rica

150

Cambodia

148

Ecuador

143

Albania

140

Venezuela

137

Belarus

134

Iceland

115

Nepal

115

Armenia

101

Uruguay

97

Azerbaijan

96

Guatemala

93

Oman

90

Dominican Republic

87

Bahrain

87

Palestinian Territories

85

Myanmar (Burma)

85

Bahamas

83

Luxembourg

81

Honduras

80

Mauritius

77

Uganda

77

Panama

76

Moldova

74

Kazakhstan

67

Bolivia

65

Mongolia

64

Zimbabwe

59

El Salvador

58

Paraguay

57

Botswana

57

Montenegro

56

Barbados

56

Namibia

47

Ethiopia

45

Zambia

44

Brunei

42

Guam

39

Aruba

35

Laos

33

Libya

32

Belize

31

Nicaragua

31

Sudan

30

Maldives

29

Guyana

28

Monaco

28

Syria

28

Madagascar

28

Afghanistan

23

Bhutan

22

Cameroon

21

French Guiana

21

Fiji

21

Curaçao

20

U.S. Virgin Islands

20

Martinique

19

Antigua & Barbuda

18

Guernsey

18

Isle of Man

18

Jersey

18

Cayman Islands

18

Bermuda

17

Mozambique

17

Côte d’Ivoire

16

St. Kitts & Nevis

16

Réunion

15

French Polynesia

15

Uzbekistan

14

St. Lucia

14

Kyrgyzstan

13

Djibouti

13

Guadeloupe

13

Papua New Guinea

13

Macau SAR China

13

Angola

13

Sint Maarten

13

Haiti

12

New Caledonia

12

Suriname

12

Andorra

12

Faroe Islands

10

Yemen

10

Seychelles

9

Benin

9

Rwanda

8

Senegal

8

Lesotho

8

Micronesia

7

Vatican City

7

Turks & Caicos Islands

6

Burkina Faso

6

Solomon Islands

6

Gibraltar

5

Northern Mariana Islands

5

Somalia

5

Liberia

5

Grenada

5

Tajikistan

5

Congo – Kinshasa

5

Gabon

4

Guinea-Bissau

4

Vanuatu

4

Cuba

4

Malawi

4

Swaziland

4

Åland Islands

4

British Virgin Islands

3

Iran

3

Cape Verde

3

Liechtenstein

3

Samoa

2

Greenland

2

Togo

2

Falkland Islands

2

Cook Islands

2

Dominica

1

American Samoa

1

Caribbean Netherlands

1

Tonga

1

Congo – Brazzaville

1

St. Pierre & Miquelon

1

Sierra Leone

1

Gambia

1

Palau

1

Netherlands Antilles

1

North Korea

1

Burundi

1

South Sudan

1

St. Vincent & Grenadines

1

Timor-Leste

1

Marshall Islands

1

Mauritania

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In Honor of Veterans Day: Out of the Depths

Do you, like me, hate war? Are you looking for something to give you a little hope in the midst of the insanities we’re experiencing around the world? Today I want to join with everyone in our country in honoring those brave men and women who serve in our military, and because it’s Veterans Day, I also want to commend Out of the Depths as one book about war that will leave you with a sense of peace and hope instead of despair. As the author observes at one point, “A man can endure just about anything as long as he has hope. But take away his hope, and all that is left is despair and the relief of suicide.”

Author Edgar Harrell was one of the marines aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis when she was sunk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by two Japanese torpedoes during World War 2. The ship was sailing through shark-infested waters above the Mariana Trench, and her loss is today considered the greatest single disaster in American naval history.

Harrell’s harrowing account of the lives and deaths of hundreds of men taught me many things. Heroes aren’t just brave, they are “people who overcome evil by doing good at great personal risk.” It taught me more about “Semper Fidelis” (the Marine motto: always faithful). Harrell points out from his own experiences as a young man that the best way to be prepared for war is to be prepared for eternity. He learned that there are not only “no atheists in foxholes” (which we’ve heard since World War 1), but there are also no atheists fighting for their life in the midst of the sea, either.

Out of the Depths is an amazing story of agony, loss, miracles, mercy, grace, peace, hope, and learning to forgive. Does Harrell still have PTSD? Yes. But, he’s learned the secret of how to overcome evil with good…even down to embracing the great granddaughter of the the Japanese captain who sank his ship.

As a girl, I could never read or watch stories about war. They were too terrible. It was like reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (which I could never do either). Instead, it seemed reasonable to simply trust that—like Corrie Ten Boom’s father explained to her—God will give you the “ticket” (strength and grace to endure suffering) when you need it, but not before.

However, once one of my sons joined the military as an army dentist, all that changed, and now I have a deep need to find some hope in the midst of this darkest aspect of history. Out of the Depths helped me, and maybe you’d find it helpful too.One last Veterans Day thought, and then I’ll quit. Like the majority of Americans, I have enough to eat every day and get to sleep in a warm, snug bed every night with a reasonable hope of not being attacked, and that’s a huge blessing… probably more security and freedom than 75% of the world enjoys. As Captain Eddie Rickenbacker said when reflecting on the 21 days he spent floating on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean during World War II:  “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain over anything.” I’ve had nothing to complain about my entire life. Thank you, brave military personnel. I pray for your safety, and for the safety of every godly person in this world, no matter where you live. May goodness and peace triumph over evil and greed.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:9-10).

 

 

Some Healing Balm for Grief and Loss

Becky Baudouin’s book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy was so full of helpful ideas on grieving loss (not only cancer but any loss) that I want to share just a few of the multitude with you this morning:

“Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same.” Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised

“Sometimes you will never know the value of something until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Seuss

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Helen Keller

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when your pain has caused you to forget it.” Cherelea A. Purcell, Restored

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” David Augsburger

“Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“Grief is not a one-time visitor…Grief comes, always uninvited…Grief demands acknowledgement…So invite grief in. Take your time and unpack the bags. Listen to the stories and feel the feelings. Don’t rush the process. Do the hard work of grieving—and make no mistake—it is some of the hardest work  you will ever do.” Becky Baudouin, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy

“When you make your way through grief, you don’t leave that person behind. You bring that person with you, where your memories of that person and your thankfulness for that person [become] a happy experience and not filled with so much pain.” Susan Lutz, GriefShare

“Resignation is an outer posture; surrender is an inner one. Resignation is giving up; surrender is accepting…Surrender invites us to a radical but always freeing posture of nonresistance to reality.” David Benner, Soulful Spirituality

“You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have.” Corrie Ten Boom

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning…Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.” Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder

“I did not get over my loved ones; rather I absorbed the loss into my life…until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised

The rest are all by Becky Baudouin from her book, Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy:

“Like a GPS processing new data so it can determine a new route, we do our best to recalculate—to adjust our thinking based on what we know to be true. Our changed reality forces changes in us. In some ways we become a different version of ourselves, a different version of who we were becoming. We are shaped and forever altered by these moments.”

“I am beginning to see that maybe the best way to lead my children is to let them walk with me.”

“Cancer threatens our future time together, but the gift is that it also fully opens us up to the present.”

“It is a profound privilege to walk with a loved one on an unwanted journey, because in the midst of the darkness and the fear, when we can’t see where we are going, we find out that we are not alone.”

“Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.”

“I’ve searched the Bible for this verse promising that God won’t give us more than we can handle, and I can’t find it…I believe that God is in control and does allow trials to come our way, and that he is always working for our good. but it’s not our own strength that determines how we will weather the storms of life; it’s our dependence on him that matters most.”

“When we put our faith in God rather than in a desired outcome, we are empowered to take the next step, even when we can’t see where we are going. We can rely on God’s unfailing love and goodness even through life’s darkest trials. We can worship him even in the midst of crushing grief and loss, holding on to the promises that he will see us through and heaven awaits us. ‘We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2, New Living Translation).”

“Fast-forwarding is great for skipping television commercials, but it would not be good in real life, even for skipping over the hard moments, because God is in those moments.”

“It’s often difficult to know what to do when our loved ones begin to lose their independence, their health, or their abilities. It is a transition that is never easy or smooth. There is a delicate, impossible-to-find balance between encouraging and pushing, between helping and enabling.”

“Life is best lived in community. She showed me that healing comes as we make ourselves vulnerable and tell our stories…Our stories have the power to become a transforming force in the lives of others.”

“I didn’t expect the sorrow to be laced with beauty. In some ways, it remind me of childbirth…I see my mom being born into heaven.”

“Some people call it grief brain. It feels like your head is stuffed with cotton, and you can’t think clearly…Here’s my explanation for why we can’t think clearly after a tragedy or loss: Part of the brain is processing what happened and another part of the brain is protesting. Amidst this tug-of-war between acceptance and disbelief, there is a whole lot of remembering and mental reorganizing taking place. All of this requires enormous amounts of energy, and it is absolutely exhausting.”

“In pretty much any given moment, if I quiet myself, I can imagine what my mom would say to me. I can still hear her voice and feel her love. Now I know what she was trying to tell me. Her love has become internalized inside my heart, and in a way that means she lives on in my thoughts. It means that she is always with me, in my heart.”

“I don’t think true happiness is found by escaping our everyday lives. I think it’s available and attainable in the mundane, ordinary, less-than-perfect places. I think it’s found by loving God and loving others.”

“Spending time together as a family is one of the best things we can do this side of heaven…loving and accepting one another is the greatest gift we can give, and…together we can make it through anything. We were never meant to walk alone.”