Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

“At least I can’t die young anymore! Guess I can scratch that off my bucket list,” Brian grinned just before blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. Not that he really had dying young ON his bucket list, but he IS the oldest known survivor of his type of treatment for his particular type of cancer, which he was diagnosed with when he was only 27. (Very scary to me personally, because my youngest son was 27 yesterday.)

Brian never dreamed he’d make it to his 60th birthday (and frankly, I wasn’t so sure either), so it was with a sense of grateful joy and awe that our Birthday Club treated Brian to a very special birthday party yesterday!

Where to take him? That was easy! The day before he was born, his mother and father were at the John Ball Zoo, and his mom started having contractions, so Brian says he was “almost born at the zoo!”

Brian only visited the zoo once in his life, on his 10th birthday, and he remembered being fascinated by the antics of the otters. Since he hasn’t been back in 50 years, he thought visiting the zoo would be the perfect way to spend his day!

Of course, we wanted to see everything (and pretty much did), but—you know—like everybody, we wanted to make sure we saw “the lions,

the (sleeping? oh, no!) tigers
and (SLEEPING!! 😦 ) bears. Oh, no!”

But, there was no shortage of excitement and fun, including a few “firsts” for Brian, such as petting a goat

and taking a ride on a funicular. (Not sure they were on his bucket list as such, but he thoroughly enjoyed the new experiences!)

We also made a new friend: Herbie! Herbie is 34 and one of the oldest Magellanic penguins in captivity in the world. Herbie’s fur is almost all grey, and he seemed content to swim on the surface, but he was still swimming! It was a little hard not to miss some of the similarities between our new and old friends. Very touching.

Oh, but I wanted to tell you about how teamwork makes the dream work! In this photo, you see Susan in a wheel chair! She turned her ankle helping one of her daughters the day before our outing. Thankfully, her beloved husband took a day off work to help us get the dream team around!

An aphorism of their son-in-law, Seth’s (so we call it a Sethism), is that “teamwork makes the dream work.” I don’t know who said it first, so if you know, please let us know, but . . .isn’t this a clever truism?

And, isn’t God good!? Brian was never able to marry or have a family. His father died several years ago, and his mother passed away 23 weeks ago to the day. But, he has us. He has a family of brothers and sisters in Christ to love him and appreciate him. Brian is a real prayer warrior! He can’t travel much, but he never misses a prayer meeting via telephone for the church on Sunday morning, and he’s never missed a single Monday night prayer meeting for my son Jonathan’s ministry.

He’s knitted booties for all our grand kids, always smiles, and always says it’s too early to start complaining (although he could well have started 33 years ago).

I hope his story brightens your day. It certainly brightened ours!

God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land” (Psalm 68:6).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (35): “Agree with Your Adversary.” ??

Do you have an adversary? Somebody who opposes you at every turn? You may not have a true enemy (although around the world, I know many who do), but I think all of us can think of someone who tends to oppose us on a consistent basis.

Family of Canada Geese having breakfast at our cottage

If there were someone in my life who fit that description, I would not post a photo of them or tell their story at any rate, so I’ll use the Canada geese, who’ve been driving us nuts by gobbling up all our grass seed, the deer, who like to devour our flowers, the squirrels, who hang upside down from our bird feeder in order to steal the birds’ food, and the birds, who strip our cherry trees before the fruit has a chance to ripen, leaving the ground littered with merely pecked-at fruit!

Squirrel stealing our birds’ food

These are not serious offenders compared to what humans do to one another, but I think they will suffice as gentle illustrations for what Jesus wants us to understand.

One of the deer who check our flower pot each morning in hopes of finding tasty flowers

Both Matthew and Luke recount the same command, which puzzled me for many years. Matthew 5:25-26 states, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” This message is repeated in Luke 12:58-59, “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.59 I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.

Male Cardinal in our Bing Cherry Tree

For years I was stumped by this, thinking that we should never back down from a fight. I mean, aren’t we supposed to stand against sin and evil? This thinking was reinforced by such verses as, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Ah, the pride of youth!

Hairy Woodpecker

The verses in today’s meditation are pointing out the likelihood of each of us to be wrong! Jesus didn’t say to give in to evil (which we are taught to stand against), but to learn how to compromise with our “adversaries” . . . those whose views oppose ours.

Canada Goose with gosling . . . gobbling up our grass seed! 😦

In the case of our geese, they leave droppings everywhere and are busy eating up all the fresh grass seed, which we just planted now that most of the construction is complete. My contention is that my grandchildren are coming, and I would like them to be able to play in grass rather than slip and slide in muddy goose droppings!

Pair of Canada geese with young family

Their contention is that they have a big family to rear, and I usually don’t complain about their pecking through our grass, who why should I complain now? Mother Goose says I’ve stopped being a very nice neighbor.

Robin feeding chicks

If we were taken to the Great Judge, who do you think would win the case? I’m not sure. Feeding your family is more important than having a grassy yard, but on the other hand, if the geese would eat elsewhere this summer (and there are plenty of lawns around our lake), they would be rewarded by abundant grass for pecking next year, so perhaps the judge would rule in favor of our being able to shoo them off! Besides, there is such a thing as private property . . . but, Canada geese are protected by law too. So . . .?? If I had everybody vote, I’ll bet there would be people on both sides of the issue!

So it is with all of life. Each of us has a different sets of needs and wants, and all of us tend to see “our side” of issues as having more value and weight. But, God wants us to learn how to figure out a compromise that meets the needs of all parties concerned!

Reddish Egret

And, to prod us in the direction of love and understanding, he warns us that things can get really ugly if we don’t figure things out on our own. If we fail to work things out, we might end up on the wrong side of the verdict, and once an issue goes before the court, even though we feel dead sure that we are right, the judge might decide we’re dead wrong. We might end up in a lot of trouble for a long time. And, once you’re in jail, it becomes a bit of a moot issue whether or not your behavior was justified. The bigger issue is that you are no longer able to live your life freely .

Queen Elizabeth I of England, 1575, Public Domain

The first Queen Elizabeth of England (who was later crowned queen in 1559), while in prison lamented that she wished she could trade places with the milk maid outside her prison walls just so she could be free again. So, it’s not simply about being “right,” it’s about learning how to live with those around you, how to love others too (not just yourself), and how to live in harmony with others as much as is possible. Humility, not pride, should reign supreme in our hearts!

Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9).

Just an Itsy Bitsy Mouse

What’s not to love about a tiny mouse? Bright black eyes, pink ears and tail, tiny little paws. Soft and shy.

While they’re adorable when you find them out in the field, and it’s somewhat funny to find an old boot stuffed full of dog food that they’ve stolen from your pet’s dish,

it’s not adorable or funny when they confer with the mice of NIHM on how to colonize your screen house and start chewing holes in your home!

Therefore, we’ve had to resort to capturing them in live traps and taking them to a nearby reserve where we set them free to begin life anew in a vast park with ample supplies of all things mousely.

Alan and I have started making little dates out of our evening adventures, but—despite transporting them to new and improved surroundings—I always feel a little sad in case we’re separating parents and children (or whatnot), and so I make up stories about how this mouse is actually the husband, who is going to build a new nest in preparation for his beloved wife . . .

who will be arriving just in time for dinner tomorrow. In fact, over the past few months, Alan has caught myriad mice and chipmunks between his 6 live traps laden with peanut butter and bird seed . . . an apparently irresistible combination!

I have such a mother’s heart for little creatures that it’s hard to relocate them, but I’m thankful that Alan has a father’s heart to protect our home from intruders, even little ones, because they are actually quite destructive and dirty.

Remembering Song of Solomon 2:15 has helped me reconcile myself to the fact that “we ain’t in heaven yet,” and if we don’t protect ourselves from invasion, the consequences can be severe. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

We do have lots of tender grapes growing now, and possibly a fox or two in our woods, but even more importantly, I think there is a spiritual message for us in this passage.

Mice aren’t bad, and chipmunks aren’t bad. Neither are mosquitoes, spiders, flies, ants, or stinkbugs. But, if they invade our homes, then they are out of place and need to be captured and removed!

It’s easy to imagine the parallels in our lives and families, isn’t it? Got anything in your life that isn’t “bad” in and of itself, but will erode and damage your home if you don’t remove it? Maybe you can start having some nightly dates with your spouse to “catch” those sneaky little foxes and get rid of them! Don’t be sentimental. Be severe!! Protect yourself and your loved ones!

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” (2 Corinthians 10:3-7).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (34): The Sweet Relief of Reconciliation

Matthew 5:23-24 “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” This is the first less-than-imperative “command” of Christ that I’m going to tackle. While meditating through the gospels last year, I found 33 such teachings and wondered if these “If-then” declarations should be included as commands, since technically they are “conditional” rather than “imperative” statements. So, do we “have” to obey them? Only if the first part of the statement is true: If we want to give something to the Lord, then God wants us to be reconciled to anyone who has something against us first.

Do you want to give something to the Lord? I do. My life. My heart. My thoughts. My actions. I want my life to be a gift to God that makes him happy. Do you feel that way? If so, then God says the first gift we can give him is this: We should seek forgiveness for how we’ve hurt our loved ones and reconcile with them. God loves each of us so much that he identifies with each person’s pain. He doesn’t want any of his children left out or left behind! “Trinity” comes from two words meaning “tri-unity.” God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are often defined by their being three in one. “Three-way UNITY!”

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17:21-23, he prays: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us . . that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” God wants us to live in love and unity with one another even more than he wants us to give him any other type of gift!

Wow! This says something profound about how highly God values unity and how deeply he desires it. Jesus prayed to his father for unity in the Church. Reconciliation is a precious gift that we can give him. No where does Jesus command us to give God anything! Did you know that? Although the word “give” is mentioned 1392 times in the Bible (KJV), in the New Testament it isn’t until Judgment Day that we are told, “Fear God, and give glory to him” (Revelation 14:7).

The vast majority of times giving is mentioned, it is in the context of God giving to us, and our giving to other people. It’s like the runoff of rain on our roof. God showers us—our home—with blessings, and the runoff waters the gardens of loved ones—friends and neighbors—all around us. We live in a vast spiritual ecosystem of clouds, rain, runoff, streams, lakes, oceans, transpiration and evaporation, only it’s not literal water that our spirits crave, but receiving and giving love and forgiveness.

How do we seek forgiveness and reconciliation? I think we can start by asking God to show us how we’ve hurt the other person (which we may never fully comprehend) and to help us understand how they feel. We need to repent—to be genuinely sorry—so sorry that we will go way out of our way to make sure we don’t do the same thing again—and then to seek their forgiveness.

What if they won’t forgive us? “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19). I have seen this dynamic over and over again! Even if the offender repents, the offended person is often unwilling to forgive, because to forgive means the offended person has to absorb the pain and suffering caused by the offender, while the offender “gets off scott free.” Many people choose to hold a grudge and refuse to forgive, but this is not the way of Christ, who prayed for those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). I think it is only through a deep experience of God’s forgiveness and love for us that we are able to truly forgive those who have hurt us. This is the way of Christ . . . and the way of the cross.

If you have sincerely repented and tried to reconcile, but without success, don’t despair. Just as we persevere in prayers for our loved ones to trust Christ as their savior, so we need to persevere in prayer for those we’ve offended to find the grace to forgive us. There is sweet relief in reconciliation, and that is our calling, so don’t give up, but don’t let disunity discourage you from faith. Keep your faith in God. Keep looking up and find your joy in him! Remember that someday He will bring unity and peace to earth. In the meantime, we can “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV), and we can practice: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).

All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Growing Pains

This pretty much sums up my natural sentiment toward change. I’m a resistor. The whole problem must be never getting a good dose of Thomas Edison’s bright idea: “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” 🙂

In fact, had not our 30-year-old wooden walkway become so rotten that it was a slipping hazard during every rain . . . and the cedar siding so rotten that both the birds and the bees were nesting in it (no joke) . . . well, maybe I could have protested that the status quo was quite comfy and good enough for me. But, it was not, and even I knew something had to be done. So, Silvio (who has pretty much remade our home at this point) ripped off the front porch, and the Big Dig began.

After lots of lively debate (which I tend to lose), there was considerable “vision creep” (as my husband calls it), and instead of a new porch, Alan thought a new sun room would be even nicer.

I can’t explain all the reasoning behind the decisions, but apparently for structural soundness, it made sense to put a basement underneath the sun room, and Silvio thought it might be a good idea to have more room to store our junk anyway.

Now, even I wasn’t dumb enough to fall for that idea, but it did occur to me that I would love more space for our kids and grandchildren (who now number 29 and often come to visit), and so with the carrot of a little guest apartment somewhere down the road, I gave in. That was over a year ago.

Renovation is always full of surprises. One of the first was learning that the old foundation for the porch was not just made from posts but out of huge concrete abutments that had to be broken off.

Every day I marveled at the powerful machinery and massive amount of work that had to take place. There wasn’t one chance in a million I would have had the know-how or muscle to do all the work.

Thankfully, we have a great builder whom I pretty much trust with my life at this point, but I’m sure he had many a headache trying to figure out everything and coordinate all the men and machinery.

There were constant setbacks over the months, and lots of “oops” moments, like the time all the draping in the basement (hung to keep concrete mud spray from showering our music gear and library) fell down while the men were working. That day, the main room in our basement was filled with something that reminded me of the volcanic ash spewing from Mt. St. Helen when it erupted back in 1980. Close friends who lived in Portland, Oregon (70 miles from the eruption) said their rain gutters became clogged with volcanic ash that turned to concrete when it rained. That’s just about the way I felt!!

Well, I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, it was a long,

long,

long,

long,

painstaking process!

I’ve had a lot of time over the months to think about the impossibility of my ever being able to do what this huge team of guys did, and to think about my own life, which needs renovation too.

I am thankful for God (the master builder in my life), and his huge team (the Church) who work together helping me with the renovations I need. In a million years, I wouldn’t have the know-how or spiritual power to perfect myself. Would you? Do you resist change the way I do? Although I trust God with my life, I still find myself fussing and disagreeing from time to time. I wonder if I give Jesus headaches the way Silvio has had headaches from trying to get everything “just right.” 😦 🙂

At any rate, we’re far from done, and the grass is just beginning to grow,

but the sun room is finally finished, just in time for Alan’s birthday (today), so he’ll be able to sit in his new room tonight!

(Which, BTW, is a whole lot bigger than our cozy little living room!)

I can’t exactly tell you what Tanglewood Cottage will look like when all the renovations are done, but I can tell you—by faith—that it will be wonderful . . . just like I will be when I’m all finished (in heaven).

“End of Construction—Thank you for your patience.”

Like Billy Graham’s wife, I have every confidence that someday all the rotten boards and siding in my life will be replaced, and all the renovations will be complete. I will be like Jesus! If you give God your life, He’ll do the same for you! You might not turn out exactly like you were planning, but the net effect will be better than you could have imagined!

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 5:15).

Forgiveness: A Grace Disguised

One of the most emotionally fragrant books I’ve ever experienced is A Grace Disguised, written by Jerry Sittser as a reflection on his experiences of losing his mother, his wife, and his daughter all in one fatal crash when a drunken man plowed into their car. The title includes “how the soul grows through loss.” I can’t begin to explain how inspirational and nurturing this book was to me, but I can just say, “Think about reading it!” (I have a copy if you live in the Grand Rapids area and would like to borrow it.) It’s a short book that walks you through his family’s life, their death, and his struggle to survive and establish a new life following this unthinkable tragedy. (He was left with three small children to rear alone!) Jerry is very open about the raw pain and excruciating process, but grace shines out all around like beams of light radiating from behind thunderheads. In fact, grace undergirds the story like a brilliant silver lining under black clouds, leaving the reader (me) with a deep peace in knowing that God was there through it all, steady and unchanging behind the storm.

The book is too full of wrestlings and wisdom to try a thorough review, but the single most moving chapter to me was his learning to forgive and his thoughts on the power and importance of forgivenesss. I’d like to quote the whole chapter, but let me just quote a couple of ideas. He starts by describing how he had a desire for revenge. “The real problem, however, is not revenge itself but the unforgiving heart behind revenge. Unforgiveness is like fire that smolders in the belly, like smoke that smothers the soul. It is destructive because it is insidious. Occasionally it flares up in the form of bitter denunciation and explosions of rage. But most of the time it is content to stay low to the ground, where it goes unnoticed, quietly doing its deadly work” (p. 136).

The problem, then, is to learn how to forgive, even if the offender has not repented and asked forgiveness (as his alcoholic offender never did). “Unforgiveness makes a person sick by projecting the same scene of pain into the soul day after day, as if it were a videotape that never stops. Every time the scene is replayed, he or she relives the pain and becomes angry and bitter all over again. That repetition pollutes the soul. Forgiveness requires that we refuse to play the videotape and choose to put it on the shelf. We remember the painful loss; we are aware of who is responsible. But, we do not play it over and over again. Instead, we play other tapes that bring healing to us. Thus, forgiveness not only relieves an offender from guilt; it also heals us from our sickness of soul” (144).

Sittser goes on to point out that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting (which we’ll never be able to do anyway). He grapples with his anger at God, too: “I held God responsible for my circumstances. I placed my confidence in him; I also argued with him. In any case, God played the key role” (147).


“Faith also changes our attitude about the people who wrong us, for it forces us to view their wrongdoing in the light of our own. Knowledge of God reveals knowledge of ourselves as well. We learn that we bear the image of God, but we also see that we are sinful. Sinful people need God’s forgiveness. Jesus once said that people who are forgiven much love much. The experience of forgiveness makes us forgiving. Once we see ourselves as people who need God’s mercy, we will be more likely to show mercy to others” (147).

Well, I can’t explain the book very well, but if you have suffered a great loss in your life and struggle to forgive, please consider reading Sittser’s story! As a supporting P.S of his life—I discovered that Sittser was teaching in Spokane, Washington, when the accident occurred. As I have a son who was also teaching in Spokane, Washington, I asked him if he knew Jerry Sittser. “Yes! We’ve had lunch together!” So, Jerry Sittser continues to thrive academically and spiritually, even years later!

While trying to prepare this, I was also touched by this wonderful consideration in the daily devotional that my son Joel gave me for Christmas (and we read together at the breakfast table):

“The final test of compassionate prayer goes beyond prayers for fellow Christians, members of the community, friends, and relatives. Jesus says it most unambiguously, ‘I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44); and in the depth of his agony on the cross, he prays for those who are killing him, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34). Here the full significance of the discipline of prayer becomes visible. Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own heart” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, You Are The Beloved, May 19).

Have You Experienced Being Indivisible? How About Iraq?

If you are in the military, have a loved one in the military, or would like to get a little better appreciation for the sacrifices and challenges facing those who are giving their lives to protect our safety, then I want to encourage you to watch Indivisible. (By the way, I’m guessing the pressures and problems would be very similar for any military personnel from a democratic nation.)

Indivisible (2018) is based on the true story of Army Chaplain Darren Turner, who was deployed to Iraq back in 2007, fresh out of seminary and basic training.

This left his wife, Heather, alone at Fort Stewart to care for their three young children among the community of other women whose husbands were also deployed.

Every deployment is dangerous and gut-wrenchingly difficult, but Darren ended up supporting the Special Forces, which was sort of the hardest of the hard!

I have a son in the military who was deployed to Iraq, and I can vouch for the constant strain and fear that I battled as a mother, who spent many hours on her knees while he was gone.

Indivisible does a masterful job of relating the terrors and traumas of war. Will our loved one survive? Will he be injured? Will he recover?

Even if he survives, will he be able to overcome all the horrors of death and destruction that he’s experienced?

What about the wives who’ve been left behind, who are constantly plagued by an emotional roller coaster of worry while trying to be emotionally stable for their children?

For many families, life is never quite the same after living through a deployment, and trying to rebuild a strong marriage bond is more of a challenge than some marriages can handle.

The lessons that Darren and Heather learned (and have been willing to share) are critical for young couples who are serving in the military. I wish every person in the service or who has a loved one in military service would see this movie!

It’s raw. It’s real. It’s sad, but there’s also a message of hope for a light at the end of the tunnel of PTSD and broken hearts.

God made a way for Darren, Heather, and a bunch of brave young soldiers and their wives, and He can do the same for you.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NABRE).