Category Archives: Thankfulness

Someone To Remember

pretty-elderly-ladyI walked into her home. It was dark. A small light in the kitchen was the token illumination for her humble home, which was sparsely furnished with tattered cast offs. Among the few old pictures decorating the walls, there was one of a beautiful woman with dreams in her eyes…the elderly woman standing in front of me. She was still pretty and neat, her white hair neatly pulled back in a traditional European bun, garbed in a coat – in the house.

James 1 admonishes us to visit the widow and the orphan. This evening’s visit was my attempt at reaching out of my comfort zone to be an obedient Christian.

She invited me to sit down. She was very talkative in her Eastern European accent, which I found comforting (being introverted). She told me how much she loved the preaching of the pastor of our church. As she could no longer attend church, the deacons faithfully brought her the tapes of the Sunday sermons.

I thought: Why does she like this pastor so much? He says nothing. I listen and listen, but all I hear every week is, “You can make a difference!”  I could feel my critical heart becoming even more cynical, fueled by my awareness that this poor woman was living in a ghetto with no resources and shattered dreams.

“Why is that?” I asked.

She answered in her lyrical voice,  “ He talks about my Lord, Jesus Christ! He is all I have now!”

Throughout the evening I heard her story. She grew up in Latvia, not far across the river from the Tsar’s palace. Her father was the Tsar’s personal doctor. But sadly, the royal family was murdered one fateful evening in 1917, and even her father could not bring the dead back to life. In spite of the unrest and instability of Russia, Latvia continued as a peaceful state. Lilijan grew up privileged. She was beautiful. She sang. She married a congressman of Latvia. They started their family.

Life did not stay beautiful. Dreams were shattered as Hitler did his thing and eventually Stalin did his thing. Latvia was nothing but a pawn in the world revolution. One night, political madmen came in and killed her husband.

Somehow, pregnant Lilijan escaped with her young daughter. They made their way through Eastern Germany.  People were starving.  Soldiers were everywhere. She talked about how Christianity became much more than an ethnic tradition, how Jesus became much more than a name, and how God became much more than an impersonal deity as He met their basic needs.

Lilijan came to the United States as a refugee and started life over. She was no longer a Latvian princess. No one seemed even to remember Latvia after the Soviet Union swallowed it up. She became a line worker at a GM plant and eventually married, only to be discarded later in the American way.

Liljan had two children. Her daughter, Rose grew up, got married and moved away She would visit but not often. Lilijan’s son suffered from schizophrenia, making her life extremely difficult when he wasn’t hospitalized. She continued to love him and have hope for him. She longed for the day when she would be in that country that her Savior had prepared for her. She longed for her Prince of Peace.

As I listened to her that night, I did not understand. It all seemed so hopeless. What  a sad ending. Certainly not the stuff of a Jane Austin novel!

Even though I was a mother of two at the time, I was still a child in my soul. I thought as a child. I wanted to dream. I did not know God shatters dreams to reveal to us the desires of His heart that will make us whole.

But now, many years later, after disappointments and quiet tragedies that broke my heart to heal my soul, I am a woman. I no longer think like a child. I can see more clearly. The name of Jesus now lifts my soul. Whether I am in a ghetto home or a palace,  and whether I’m in a traditional church with the facade of ancient stability that echos the songs of ages past or I’m in a postmodern warehouse that markets itself with popular Christian rhythms, I can now say with Lilijan: I rejoice when I  hear the name of Jesus! I am thankful to be with those who worship God. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

(This post was written by Connie Sikma, from my writers’ group. Connie didn’t have any pictures of Liljan, who is now with her Prince of Peace. However, a sweet friend from my Sunday school class kindly allowed me to take her photo for an illustration. Thank you so much, Connie and Shirley!)


African Flower Thanksgiving

ixia-at-kirsetenbosch-national-botanical-garden-south-africaMay your Thanksgiving is blessed with joy this year! coral-tree-in-kirsetenbosch-national-botanical-garden-south-africaIf you’re an American, I hope you’re able to celebrate with loved ones,
and maybe enjoy a turkey dinner too! phylica-pubescens-featherhead-or-flannel-flower-bush-in-afternoon-sun-at-kirsetenbosch-national-botanical-garden-south-africaIf you’re not an American,
I still hope you will take a few minutes today to count your blessings. pink-cluster-of-roses-africaRight at the top of my list is God and all those with whom I share love. everlasting-flowers-south-africaI can’t think of anything more wonderful! golden-trumpet-tree-south-africa-cape-townI’m also thankful for the scripture, which feeds my soul. african-daisies-south-africaSomewhere way under that, but still exciting to me are beauty and color, bougainvilleaso today I want to share with you some of the lovely flowers I saw in Africa, angel-trumpet-tree-south-africapaired with a few of my favorite verses on the subject of thankfulness:  poinsettias-south-africa“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).  yellow-proteas-south-africa“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,
and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High” (Psalm 92:1). pink-rose-africa“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). flamboyant-tree-south-africa“I will praise the name of God with a song,
and will magnify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30). lilies-south-africa“Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his,
and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Psalm 30:4). jacaranda-tree “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2). scadoxus-multiflorus-or-red-ball-of-fire-at-victoria-falls-zimbabwe“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). bougainvillea-along-chobe-marina-lodge-botswana“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:4) african-orange-flower“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). hibiscus-and-bougainvillea-botswana“We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). jasmine-cape-town-south-africa“O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 107:1).

Adventures You’d Rather Miss: Chariots or Jaggernauts

Springtime in KentuckyA week ago we had to make a low-flying trip (in a rental car)Springtime in Kentucky FArm to retrieve our RV from the hills of Kentucky, Farm. Springtime in Kentuckywhere it had been languishing in a repair shop for several weeks after the electrical motherboard failed on our return from spring break.Springtime in Kentucky 1It was a lovely spring evening that Friday when Alan got off work,Rainbow. Springtime in Kentuckyand we decided to make ice cream from our hail (as Almanzo Wilder would say)Horses in Kentuckyby enjoying this unexpected trip just 3 days after our return from California.Springtime in Kentucky 1-65The roadsides were laced with frilly, pink redbud trees.Highways jammed with spring break traffic(Although, I must say, I-65 was jammed with spring break traffic, particularly with a 23-mile section of I-75 closed due to a mud and rock slide.)Blackberry Pancakes from Cracker BarrelHowever, we enjoyed our travel and time together immensely,
had a fabulous breakfast the next morning at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant,  Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace Memorialand even stopped briefly to visit the Old Kentucky Home of Abraham Lincoln, Happy Valley Roadwhich was right on our way back to 610 “Happy Valley Road” in Glasgow, KY, Redbud trees in Kentuckywhere our RV had been (theoretically) nursed back to perfect health.  RVHowever, much to our alarm, Alan discovered that the RV had no turn signals and the lights still weren’t working properly (honestly???)
…and that the electrical repair mechanic had already left for the day.  Service GarageSo…Alan and a mechanic who didn’t know much more than Alan did frogged around until they discovered we could use our turn signals as long as the emergency light switch was pulled out but not activated, and away we went. Freak spring stormUnfortunately, a freak winter storm brewed up as we headed into Indiana. High winds sweep across farmlandWinds were recorded at 71 mph in Straughn, IN, just to the east of us,Storm clouds rolloing in and there were power outages in Indianapolis as we drove through. Heavy traffic Freak spring stormNot only our RV, but even the heaviest trucks were shifting sideways involuntarily on the road at times, Snowstorm on highway 2making driving conditions very treacherous.Slush on roads But, the worst was yet to come.Snowstorm on highwayIt was dark and growing late by the time we reached Michigan. Spring BlizzardBlinding lake effect snow was sweeping across the highway, making it almost impossible to see more than about 40 feet in front of our vehicle. Blinding Snow StormOur “Sanctuary” (as we’d named our motor home)
had gone from feeling like a chariot to a jaggernaut. Spring Storm in MichiganWould we (or others) be crushed by the momentum of this unstoppable storm? Traffic AccidentI’m sure there were accidents that night,Our lane at night although by God’s mercy we did arrive home safely
in the midnight hours of Sunday morning. Door LocksHowever, we had one last challenge.
For some reason, neither of our keys worked in the front door!  😦
We have no idea why, but Alan eventually had to break in through our garage door by repeatedly bashing the lock with a sledge hammer.Poor visibility in Freak spring storm At Sunday school later that day, our teacher mentioned that
all the difficult misadventures in our lives Freak spring storm Poor visibility in MIcan either serve as chariots to bring us closer to God,
or as jaggernauts to destroy us. The difference is in how we respond. Sun and storm cloudsDoes the trial cause us to draw nearer to God and increase our faith,
or does the hardship make us bitter and disbelieving?Sunset during stormGod wants us to respond in faith, drawing nearer to him
and asking Him for help…learning to be grateful for his mercies Freak spring storm 4rather than becoming angry because we didn’t get what we wanted
or were expecting (which is usually our personal idea of perfection).  Snowstorm on highway 3Got any misadventures in your life
that you wish you weren’t having to experience? Freak spring storm at nightCan you let them be chariots to bring you closer to God
rather than jaggernauts that destroy your faith under their crushing weight?

Freak spring storm 2“Then Job answered and said, I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number. Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not. Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou? (Job 9:1-4,10-12)

A Different Sort of Night Before Christmas

Cozy fireplace on Christmas EveThis was passed on to my by a cousin, but it made me think of my son Michael, who’s in the military and can’t get home for Christmas this year. However, Mike’s family is hosting some of their closest friends right now, because the father in that family is serving in Afghanistan tonight.

A Different Christmas Poem
The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.Snowy StreetThe sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So slumbered I, perhaps I started to dream.Twinkly Christmas TreeThe sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.SoldierA soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Trooper, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
“What are you doing?” I asked without fear,
“Come in this moment. It’s freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!”
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.
To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light
Then he sighed and he said, “It’s really all right,
I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night.”Soldier on guard duty “It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died in Europe on a day in December,”
Then he said,”That’s a Christmas ‘Gram always remembers.”
I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures. He’s sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and Blue American Flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother.
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.”
“So go back inside,” he said, “harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.”
“But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
“Give you money,” I asked, “or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.”
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
“Just tell us you love us, and never forget.SoldiersTo fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.”

If you’re enjoying a sense of relative peace and security today as I am—no matter where you live around the world— I hope we stop to consider that on a human level, a major part of the equation is the sacrifice and commitment of our military personnel, most of whom are not able to be home for Christmas so that the rest of us can. May God bless and keep them. May God end war and bring peace and goodwill to all people in every nation through the redemption found in Jesus Christ, who came to earth on “Christmas Eve” so long ago.

“The dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1:78-79


Thanksgiving Day Joys: Gan En and Gan Xie

Thanksgiving Turkeys copyHappy Thanksgiving Day to you! May your day be deeply refreshing and filled with joy as you consider all the blessings in your life! I’m also praying that your life is filled with gan en and gan xie! (Do you trust me enough to be glad?!)

I have a lovely young friend named Shelly who has given her life to serve in China as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. She mentioned in a letter recently that the Chinese have two words for gratefulness: Gan en, which expresses the deep thankfulness we have for the foundational positives of our existence, and gan xie, which expresses thankfulness for the small, transitory kindnesses we experience day by day.

As I thank God for all the blessings that are a part of my life this morning, I want to remember both the gan en and the gan xie. The gan en of my life includes peace that the God of this universe is in his very essence GOOD…that the most powerful force is positive, not negative, and that this God loved me so much that He sent his son to die for me (and you, and the entire world), so that by accepting Him as our savior we can receive eternal life. That is foundational to my experience of love, joy, and peace, and it’s all I really need. Beyond that, I could also go on forever, but those two facts: that God is good, and that He has provided for our eternal well being, are enough gan en to hold me. Duck splashing down on our lakeThe gan xie are not so obvious, but they are the little sparks of joy that brighten our days. For me, that includes such simple things as hearing the song of a bird (or even better, the voice of one of my kids on the phone 🙂 ), or watching a duck splash down on our lake… feeling a kind touch or smelling the scent of pine on a warm waft of breeze. Simple joys that sometimes only last a moment, but they lift my spirit on even the greyest days.

How about you? What are some of the gan en and gan xie of your life? I’d love to hear about them, but most of all I’d love to have you join me this Thanksgiving in praising God, from whom all blessings flow.

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 107:1)

The Birthday Boys: Daniel’s 30th and Samuel’s First

Baby SamuelToday is our grandson Samuel’s first birthday. Baby eating birthday cake It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this chunky, Flying with Daddyhappy,  healthy, playful, sturdy Baby with Pumpkin little pumpkin thanksgiving-day-2014 weighed in at 1 pound 8.5 oz. just one year ago today preemies-foot…a micro preemie with translucent skin november-24-2014-emergency-c-section who looked more like a sci-fi ultrasound come to life than a viable newborn. november-30-2014Samuel means “Asked of God.”  Hannah testified: “For this child I prayed,
and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:27).
That was the cry of our hearts—most of all Daniel and Brianna’s—for five years. happy-grandma I think sometimes God makes us wait a long time
for things He knows will be very hard, Jayna and Illyanana so that when the going is super challenging, Shelly we’ll remember that we asked for it.  🙂  Kathi and Samuel But what a wonderful gift Baby Samuel has been for all of us! Birthday Party Last weekend was the joint celebration Birthday Cake for our son Daniel’s 30th birthday and Samuel’s 1st birthday, Having Fun!and we had SO. Fun at Party MUCH.Daniel and Tony FUN!What's in the Bag? There were lots of family and friends, Mexican Goodies lots of yummy food, So many presents! and lots of presents. Julie Every child is precious, Opening Gifts and every birthday is special, Jayna but I think the harder to come by, John and Samuel the more we appreciate the miracle of life and health. Baby with Bow on Head This Thanksgiving, I am just bursting with praise to God, Baby Opening Presents who has blessed us with such an abundance of good things, best of all grace— Happy Birthdaythe wondrous mercy that enables us to persevere Opening presents 2 through the ebb and flow Baby with a helmet of  life’s joys and tribulations.

Blowing out the Candles “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work…Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God… Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:8,11,15). 

In Honor of Veterans Day: American Sniper: Killing Versus Murder

Happy Veterans Day“God made fishies to live” Alan wailed in stout objection to a fish being taken off a fisherman’s hook when he was a little boy. It’s no accident Alan became a physician—a profession where he could promote healing and life—and I’m thankful! However, I’m also deeply and daily grateful for the brave veterans who guard our country around the clock, around the world. THANK YOU! Am I a hypocrite? I don’t like the idea of killing anything, do you? But, I do kill things, especially insects that invade our home. Is this wrong? I also eat meat, although even vegetarians “kill” lettuce…if killing means to end the life of something.  Is it wrong to kill animals but okay to kill plants? In truth, we’d all be dead via starvation if we literally never killed anything. I think deep in all our hearts is a God-given desire to see life flourish, and yet God has also given us a survival instinct, and that necessitates eating and protecting ourselves. So, when and what is it “okay” to kill, and when is it wrong?American Sniper As a case in point, I’d like to consider this year’s American Sniper, one of America’s most successful war films ever. It’s a true-to-life dramatization of American Navy Seal, Chris Kyle, (deadliest sniper in U.S. history). (The language is terrible and the violence gut-wrenching; R-ratings speak for themselves.)American Sniper 3However, I do want to commend Kyle’s convictions and service to our country. Chris Kyle grew up in a home with a deacon father and Sunday-school teacher mother. He was taught to handle a gun by the time he was 8, and he was taught to love God and country. His heart was to protect the innocent and stop evil. American Sniper 1Like most of our veterans, Chris had a wife and kids, whom he loved dearly. He didn’t go to war because he wanted to hurt anybody; he went to war because he  hated oppression and murder. The first person he killed by snipe was a woman walking toward a group of Marines with a grenade in one hand and a toddler in the other. His reasoning: “The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn’t take any Marines with her. It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn’t care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child.”American Sniper 4Because he was so deadly, the insurgents named him “the Devil of Ramadi” and eventually put an $80,000 bounty on his head, posting signs of him with a cross on his arm as a means of identifying him. At great personal cost, Kyle continued to serve 4 terms in Iraq, and miraculously survived 6 terrorist IED explosions and being shot twice. American Sniper 5In 2009 Kyle was honorably discharged and began a civilian life with his family, eventually spending most of his time helping veterans with PTSD or other debilitating problems. Sadly, one of the very men he was trying to help murdered him (and a friend) while they were at a practice range.  That was not “killing,” that was murder, which brings me back to my original thought. VeteransThe Bible seems to differentiate between killing (ending life) and murder. I believe murder is driven by personal hatred for others. It is a cruel evil and forbidden in the Bible.  We are told not to hate and not to murder. However, in the Bible there are clear directives that evildoers should be punished and governments should be upheld to protect the innocent. A person who is serving under the authority of his country’s government to protect the innocent and stop evil should be appreciated and respected. He is not a murderer. He is a defender of those under his care, just as a parent is responsible for protecting his children. Today, I would like to say “Thank you!” from the bottom of my heart to every person in our military—and the government military forces around the world—who are dedicated to establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for people throughout the world, for today and the future. Their mission is to promote life, not death. I stand in awe of their bravery!

“Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3-4)