Monday, December 15, 2014

Watch for the Light

It's an early morning in December, still dark outside. I curl up into the overstuffed couch, wrapped in my pink fleece robe. Efforts to get up and be productive are more of a challenge these days with cold, gray mornings and frigid temperatures icing the windows.

I force my sleep-fogged eyes to focus on what I'm reading. Moments of quiet before the day is off and running are an antidote for the winter darkness. In addition to reading my Bible, I'm also reading Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. I'm so pleased that I received a copy of this book from the publisher to review.  I find myself looking forward to quiet moments each day. I don't even mind that it's still dark!

At first, I thought this book would be a more typical seasonal devotional--short, meaningful stories with a takeaway biblical principle. Though I always enjoy a good devotional book, Watch for the Light is different. This book is a collection of readings from a wide variety of classic and contemporary sources: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Day, Philip Yancey, T. S. Eliot, Annie Dillard, Martin Luther, and many others. There's a selection for each day of the Christmas season, starting with the last week of November through the first week of January.

These writings are no-fluff. Some are poems, some are longer essays, but rich in meaning and well worth taking time to read and ponder. I've decided I'm not in a hurry to complete this book on schedule, though you could easily read individual selections when you have time--and still find it valuable.

I'll probably be reading Watch for the Light into January. It will be meaningful to consider the thoughts and inspirations of these novelists, poets, theologians, and composers from long ago and from more contemporary times. I'm reminded in these dark days preceding Christmas, to watch for the light, the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. If you were going to add one book to your Advent and Christmas reading, I highly recommend this one. As the editors point out, "it will give new meaning to the phrase 'holiday preparations.'" 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Be a Burden Bearer

When I was 33-years old, I slipped on an icy sidewalk and fractured my knee cap. Ouch! I never dreamed how much something that looked like a simple "skinned knee" could impact my life. In an instant, I had been sidelined. It was as if God had grabbed me and said, "You, Deb. Time out. You're benched until further notice." I had an inkling that I'd been hiding
from my emotional pain. The reality that my husband Randy was an alcoholic lurked in my thoughts. But if I stayed busy enough, I could  avoid the truth that was too painful to confront.

I spent weeks on the couch, my leg in a huge plaster cast from my ankle to my thigh. I couldn't run away--even if I wanted to. Instead, I had a front row seat to observe what was happening in my marriage--and it wasn't pretty.

A friend had told me about a Christian counseling practice in Seattle called Burden Bearers. She encouraged me to call and make an appointment. I remember the day my friend loaded me and my crutches into the backseat of her Ford Pinto, my bulky cast propped on the console. She drove me to my first counseling appointment at Burden Bearers--an important step on my journey toward healing.

A burden bearer was exactly what I needed--and what Jesus commands us to be for others, like my friend was for me.
     Galatians 6:2 tells us:  Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 

It's true that sometimes we feel too weak and overwhelmed to carry another person's burdens. That's when God sends people to help us. Since my knee injury, I've had many opportunities to help someone else who's carrying a heavy load. It's usually in an area where I've also walked and learned and grown--and experienced God's faithfulness and mercy.

I love the story from the book of Mark, about the paralytic man who is carried to Jesus on a mat by his four friends. They're convinced Jesus can help him. When they can't get close enough to Jesus because of the crowds, they take matters into their own hands.They climb up on the roof and make an opening so they can lower their paralyzed friend down --right in front of Jesus. That took some boldness. I probably would've said, I guess we aren't going to see Jesus today...and resigned myself to that. But these friends were determined. They were desperate to help their friend. We will get him to Jesus--no matter what! These friends are burden bearers in every sense of the word.

So what does it mean to come alongside someone in a time of need? How can you be a burden bearer?

  •  Be Available
          You don't need all the answers or a degree in counseling. You need to be willing to listen and offer support. Let your friend know she isn't walking this road alone. Sometimes your quiet presence means everything.    

  •  Be Bold
           Be a "roof ripper," as a friend of mine described the actions of the paralytic man's friends.  Step out of your comfort zone. Send the note or email. Even better, make the phone call. Offer to be a burden bearer.  

  • Be Compassionate
It's easy to get caught up in our daily routines and not be aware of others who are hurting. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, said:
                    Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God. 
         And then help me do something about it. Take action. Get beyond my own self-centered  thinking. Lord, help us be connected with others so we'll know when there's a need.   

Our world is filled with hurt and pain. You don't have to look far to find opportunities to reach out to others who are struggling. I can hardly imagine where I'd be today if I hadn't had friends who came to carry me through some tough times. I am so grateful for the opportunity to pass this comfort on to others.
    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 

    Who is in your life who needs a burden bearer?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

After the Firestorm: Finding Out What Matters Most

The view from our house on July 17, 2014
I've never been so happy to turn a calendar page as I was at the end of August. I flipped the page from August to September, breathing a guarded sigh of relief. Our world has been rocked by the firestorm that blew up on July 17. During the summer and early fall, wildfires are part of life here in hot, dry north central Washington. We've seen the mushroom-cloud smoke plumes that tower skyward. We've witnessed hillsides burning in the distance. The Thirtymile Fire in 2001 seemed relatively insignificant until it raged out-of-control, killing four young firefighters. I remember the somber gathering held at our local high school gym where we paid our respects. This heartbreaking tragedy  caused the forest service to re-evaluate firefighting protocols.

But this year, the Carlton Complex Fire became the largest fire in Washington state history, burning more than 250,000 acres. Long-time residents say they've never seen anything like it. Unlike other fires, this one destroyed homes--more than 300 at last count. These are friends and neighbors who have lost everything. I can't imagine where you begin to start over. The fire, ignited by a lightning strike near Carlton, traveled more than 25 miles in less than 8 hours to burn hundreds of homes near Pateros. People barely had time to evacuate. It's nothing short of a miracle that no lives were lost that night and in the following days and weeks.

We were without power and water for 10 days in the area where I live. Others "camped" without electricity for almost 3 weeks. Everyone has been affected by the stress of living on high alert--not knowing if and when you'll have to evacuate or if a new fire will be ignited by lightning or something as random as a tire rim from a flat tire creating sparks. And if the fires weren't bad enough, mudslides caused by heavy rain and flash flooding several weeks later, washed out roads and destroyed more homes. It's hard to wrap my mind around the devastation.

Yet in the midst of  disaster, you can't help but notice the bright spots. I think of the hardworking heroes who have given so much to our communities...the firefighters who relentlessly dug fire lines in 100 degree weather, the local PUD joined by other utility companies who worked 16-hour days to get the power on, Red Cross volunteers who came to lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on. Community centers and schools were transformed into shelters staffed by volunteers. Almost immediately, donations of supplies poured in. A statement said they couldn't accept any more donations. There simply wasn't room.

A benefit, "Blues for the Burn," was sponsored by the organizers of the popular summer Rhythm & Blues Festival. More than 400 people enjoyed an evening of music and dancing. Many came from out-of-town, wanting to support the beautiful Methow Valley and those who have lost so much. All proceeds went to our local food bank/charitable organization, "The Cove," who will distribute the funds. I'm amazed and moved by the generosity of our community.

In September, I had the privilege of helping at a fire relief clothing event sponsored by The Heart of CAbi Foundation and Independent CAbi Consultants. More than 90 women who had lost all their personal clothing in the fires or mudslides came to "shop" for brand new designer clothing--except they didn't need any shopping dollars. CAbi, a clothing company, donated 1,000 items of clothing. Each woman who attended went home with at least 10 free new outfits. I stood by to offer coffee, muffins, scones, and sandwiches--but most important, I listened to their stories of loss, gave hugs, and even helped dry some tears. 

It seems like disasters, whether natural events, or tragedies like 9/11, tend to draw people together. Suddenly we're shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to help and encourage others wherever we can. Even though I pray we never have another summer like this one, I'm grateful for the overwhelming support we've received--and for this reminder:

The things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hand. –Gloria Gaither
I've had a first-hand glimpse of this through those in our community who are bravely moving forward after losing so much.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What I've Learned through a Lifetime of Marriage

My husband Randy and I recently celebrated 44 years of marriage.
Our anniversary celebration at Steak 'N Shake
Wow--how can that be possible when we're only 30+ years old? Well... we haven't been that age for a long time, but it's still hard to imagine we've spent most of a lifetime together.

When we first got married, I had this naive notion that all we needed was love. Da...da...da...da... da....All you need is love...All together now...When I hear those words, I automatically want to burst into song. Never mind about the misunderstandings and the immaturity of two 19 year-olds who are going to become parents before their first anniversary. As long as we have love, we will stay together. Wasn't that also a song? Love will keep us together. If only it were that simple.

We do need love, but not the kind Hollywood portrays or most of us envision. I remember seeing the movie Love Story with Randy when we were dating. Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw (can you believe she's 75?) looked deeply into each other's eyes and proclaimed, Love means never having to say you're sorry.

How sweet (and unrealistic) is that? But that's the love I was looking for...where romantic feelings never fade and you sail off together as best friends and lovers without a disagreement or ever raising your voice or crying yourself to sleep.

After 44 years and weathering many marital ups and downs, I've learned a lot about real-life relationships:

  • There's no such thing as 50/50 in marriage. Many times you'll be the one giving more than you bargained for. It would be nice if everything were split neatly in half. The reality is that each of you will be called on at different times to give more than your share. It's also good not to keep score.   
  • Recognize the myth of the greener grass. It's possible there is "greener grass," but many of us see the grass and want to vault over the fence without considering the costs. The repercussions of an affair are devastating for everyone. Two families are directly affected, as well as extended family and friends. Life is never the same after trust in a marriage has been broken. God can heal and bring reconciliation, but the price paid is excruciatingly high.
  • Love the one you're with. What would happen if you intentionally treated your spouse as if you really loved him/her? Not the Love Story type of love, but love that's patient, kind, steadfast in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times. God's kind of love that never fails.  
Randy and I have been blessed to experience this love in our marriage. It didn't come naturally, though. It took a lot of pain and struggle and heartache. We both realized the ability to love well was only possible if we were willing to get beyond our selfishness. As we experienced God's grace, we were then able to begin to love each other unconditionally. Not perfectly, but in a way that says I want the best for you. I'm willing to do whatever I can to encourage you, to build you up, to help you become the person God created you to be.

And guess what? I found out I married the right guy-- the one who has been God's gift to me for almost a lifetime. And yes, we've learned that saying you're sorry is at the top of the list!

If you're struggling to love your spouse, there is hope! Small acts of kindness can be a good starting place. I would love to pray with you and encourage you to believe that God's love never fails. 



Friday, July 04, 2014

Let Freedom Never Be Forgotten

In the late 1970s, Randy and I and our two sons spent three years stationed on Okinawa, Japan with the Air Force. On our first 4th of July overseas, we gathered with other families of the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron to celebrate the freedoms I had often taken for granted.

If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine being back home and not on an island the size of New Jersey. I savored the familiar aroma of barbecued hamburgers and hotdogs. Picnic tables laden with steaming corn-on-the-cob, baked beans, and even juicy watermelon, an expensive delicacy in the Far East, waited for the lineup of hungry guests.      

Living in another culture had offered a multitude of new opportunities. I enrolled in Japanese courses, our sons played with Okinawan children with hardly a language barrier, and we sampled tempura-coated vegetables managing chopsticks instead of forks.  

I would never trade our experiences, but we missed the United States. Silly things like TV commercials that were absent from the Armed Forces station, but showed up with taped programs like Star Trek and Dallas. The usually annoying advertising now gave us glimpses of ordinary life back home. A way of life you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.  

Even a trip to the movie theater on the military base got me choked up with nostalgia. They always played our National Anthem to preface the featured film, against a backdrop of Americana scenes.  Dorothy was right. There really wasn’t any place quite like home--Kansas or otherwise.

Years later, I still remember the rush of emotion I felt when our plane nosed through wispy clouds and the stately Golden Gate Bridge came into view. After three years, we had finally come home to the land of the free and the home of the brave. I would never take my country for granted again. 

Dear Lord, thank you for showing me the great value of freedom. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Letting Go: A Refresher Course

This post seems like deja vu. I've written about my "little" brother several times. Yesterday was his birthday. I called him to tell him I was thinking about him. His mental confusion seemed more pronounced. He admitted to using meth "so he could have some fun on his birthday." Calling him is difficult. It brings his dire circumstances into focus. Somehow it's easier when you don't have to deal with someone up close and personal.

My brother has been homeless for many years. He's addicted to alcohol and meth. Whether he had mental illness and self-treated with substances or has brain damage because of his drug use, doesn't really matter at this point. It's heart-wrenching and frustrating because there isn't anything we as a family can do to help him. He's reluctant to sign up for the now-mandatory health insurance. His pride gets in the way. Because he's so emotionally volatile, he has difficulty working, so he doesn't have any regular income.

After talking with him, I realized I need a refresher course in letting go. The "Letting Go" poem I received at one of the treatment centers my husband Randy went to is a good reminder.

Here are a few thoughts I had as I worked through letting go (once again) of my brother.
  •  To "let go" does not mean to stop caring, it means I can't do it for someone else.
         I will always love my brother. I can't make him want to make healthy choices, though.
  • To "let go" is not to cut myself off, it's the realization I can't control another. 
        I can reach out to my brother without any expectations or demands that he change. 
  • To "let go" is not to fix, but to be supportive. 
       I was able to talk with him without offering advice.
  • To "let go" is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.
      I didn't scold him for doing drugs.
  • To "let go" is not to be in the middle arranging the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.  
       I will never stop praying for my brother. I am powerless, but there is One who has all power. I pray  for him to find God in his life.                  
  •  To "let go" is to fear less, and love more.
What have you learned about "letting go?" How is this making a difference in your relationships? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where Would We Be Without Friends?

When my mom had a mastectomy a couple of years ago, my dear friend Mary came to be with me.
Mary arrived at the hospital after Mom came out of surgery. Seeing a familiar face felt so reassuring. I threw my arms around my friend. I knew I could walk through this because I wasn't walking alone.  Mary drove nearly two hours to be with me in Seattle. After her work shift, she loaded a cooler with bottled water, juices, fruits, and other snacks for us to enjoy at the hotel. She even tucked in a Starbucks gift card. Her presence meant the world to me.

Our friendship spans more than 30 years. We've walked a lot of roads together...weathered the storms of our husbands' battles with alcoholism...  rejoiced with their sobriety...grieved over losses--parents, jobs, pets...celebrated weddings and births. We've shared life together and carried each other's burdens. I don't know where I'd be today without friends like Mary. I believe one of God's most gracious gifts is the gift of friends.

Through the years, as I've been on the receiving end of a friend's kindness, I've asked myself, what kind of friend am I? How can I be a better friend?

Lord, help me to be:
  • The friend who thinks of others and anticipates their needs.

  • The friend who is generous with her time.

  • The friend who is honest and loves you enough to tell you the truth.   

  • The friend who loves and accepts you no matter what.

I've been blessed to have more than one friend like Mary. I pray you also have known the love of such a caring friend. No one can do life alone. God designed us to need one another.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work.
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.  Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

I would love to hear how a friend has made all the difference in your life!