Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year

I just figured out today that I was born in a leap year. It wasn’t much worth noting because I wasn’t born until June. It made a little more difference when my oldest child was born in a leap year. Her due date was six days after the 29th, but she decided to make her appearance five days before. Even there, it didn’t really affect anything.

The time it most closely affected my life was in the early days of this new century. On February 29, 2000, I was diagnosed with cancer. Even then I could see some comedy in it—I would have an anniversary to mark it only every four years. That’s the way it’s been, and that’s been fine with me.

How does one celebrate an anniversary like that? I suppose that depends on what has happened in the years between. In my case, I can only rejoice and praise God that I’ve had no more recurrence. I’m taking a number of medications (including for atrial fibrillation and Graves disease), but nothing related to cancer. I do some things right in my eating habits, and that’s good, but I could do a lot more. I’m making some fresh attempts this year.

If I were dealing with a return of the dread disease, I’m sure it would be different, but I’m not going to think about that. And that’s not head in the sand; it’s reality. When I was waiting for the final diagnosis (and on a few other occasions in my life), I said I was preparing myself for the worse. That wasn’t a lack of faith. I said, “If I get good news, I’ll know how to handle that without special preparation.”

I feel the same way about my current situation and blessing. Yes, I realize the analogy is the opposite, but I still believe the same. That’s because I have faith and confidence that if I should have to deal with it again, my Heavenly Father who saw me through it the first time would be right there with me again.

I did have a thought this new year that I’m quite sure I’ve never had before. Having passed the three-quarter century mark during the past year, it occurs to me to wonder …

When Leap Year rolls around again, will I still be here?

The next thought I had surprised me. You know, that really is possible and not that far a stretch in these days.

“My times are in Thy hands” is as true today as it was thousands of years ago when first spoken.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Postcards

I got a special packet in the mail this week. My cousin Joy sent me a collection of postcards which I believe came through her mother. All were written by someone in our family to someone in the writer’s family. Most, but not all, recipients were also our family, such as when my grandmother or grandfather wrote to her parents or his mother—i.e., my great-grandparents. Dates on them ranged from 1907 to 1944 during the War. Almost all carried 1-cent stamps.

One was written to my great-great-grandmother in August 1909 just four months before she died. It’s from a nephew of hers who years later planted in me the first germ of love for genealogy. He has an interesting handwriting—surprisingly tiny for a man, and quite neat, but so far I haven’t been able to decipher all of it. He says he wants to see her “so bad”—I wonder if that happened before she died in December?

The front of that card is special because it is of the North Chester Church which was my grandfather’s first pastorate where he met and married my grandmother, and where generations of my ancestors attended, out there in the countryside northwest of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the little bit I have dabbled in painting, I have done a small painting of it, steeple and all. In our recent trips up there, we’ve been sad to discover that the top part of the steeple is no longer. Our guess is that when it deteriorated too much, it was too expensive to rebuild as it had been, so they just finished it off with something simple.

One postcard is a cartoon sketch written to my other great-grandmother by her stepson. It’s postmarked 1908 and shows a guy in the bathroom with suspenders down, splashing water on his face from the commode while he complains, “Goll darn this old wash basin anyway. The water runs out before I can wash my face.” Methinks there’s a bit of a history lesson there somewhere.

My grandfather was a preacher who traveled a lot, and many of these postcards are a testament to that. One is a picture of the Old North Church in Boston. I’m impressed with how often in his travels he wrote to his in-laws and how he never failed to address them as “Dear Father and Mother.”

Two priceless postcards relate directly to me. One is of a broad street in Paris in late 1938. My parents and I (age two) spent seven months there while they studied French in order to continue their mission work in the French colony of French Equatorial Africa (as it was known before independence divided it into four separate countries). My mother wrote on the back that the penciled arrow at the far end of the street was the point from which my father had taken a picture of “our street.” She also wrote, “We go down the steps right across from there the other way to get our groceries—around the lower street.”

The one that touches my heart the most is dated Aug. 24, 1938. It predates the Paris street one perhaps by only a few weeks. It boasts of being an “actual photograph” of the ocean-going vessel, the S.S. New York. My grandmother writes to her parents:

“Dear Ones – We are here in N.Y. and this is the boat they sail on tonight. We have been all through [it]. It is hard to see them go, but God’s Grace is sufficient. We had a good trip here & and a fun time at our [mission] conference in Cory [PA]. We leave for home tonight. Love, Fern.”

“It is hard to see them go,” she said.

I’m so glad they didn’t know that, because of the War already brewing, they would not see us again for seven years.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Loss

Loss is an inevitable part of life. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from the aggravating loss of misplacing your keys to the devastating loss in the death of a spouse. For some losses, such as the keys, we have to blame ourselves. Other times the blame falls on others—the drunk driver who caused the accident. The most painful times are when we want to blame God.

In recent times we’ve watched loss stick up its head for us and many in our lives. Last summer we had to part with the sweet little dog we had loved for twelve years. A friend had her marriage and family snatched away from her. (Though it was a step-family, she had been very close to them.) A former coworker watched his wife lose her valiant fight against a tumor in her brain. Most recently, a young couple, ecstatic over the prospect of twin girls, lost one of them at 32 weeks and but for the quick skills of the doctors would have lost the other one. At every occasion in this little girl’s life, someone will be missing.

Loss hits us in other ways, too. Loss of vision causes confusion, struggle, and sadness. Loss of freedom brings pain, not only emotionally, but sometimes physically. Loss of a limb, or even the temporary use of a limb, can slow our world down in frustrating ways. Loss of an opportunity can set us back and pile up frustration. Loss of a dream can leave a hollow, gaping hole in the spirit.

How we deal with the losses in our lives often defines our character. If we stew, rant, or wail, we may release some emotion—but it seldom changes or improves anything. If we close up, pull into a shell, and hold the rest of the world at bay, we nurse the loss and keep it alive. If we strike out and strike back, we risk destroying relationships and perhaps opportunities.

A strong, foundational faith in God can be an anchor when dealing with loss. Having faith that God knows what will be best frees me to accept a loss without debilitating hopelessness.

I learned something about loss when we brought my precious daddy to our home for what turned out to be the last fifteen days of his life. The better the relationship, the more pain you will suffer when you lose it. Yet I’ve never found anyone willing to trade the good of the relationship for hurting less when it was gone.

May God grant give us strength to face the losses of life with courage, wisdom, and confidence in His divine ability to help. May we deal with them in ways that make us people of God and our world a better place.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Time

Time…it’s a merciless taskmaster, isn’t it? When we’re very young, it seems to crawl. The birthday, or Christmas, or the trip to grandma’s—all seem like they will never arrive. All efforts to speed them up fall short. On the other hand, as every senior knows, the longer you live, the faster time seems to move. The appointment you’ve been thinking was next week is suddenly upon you. The bill you were putting off paying is now overdue. The week is just getting started—and oops! You find yourself at the end of it.

Years ago I came up with what I decided is a logical reason for why life feels this way. Think about it. When you were five years old, a year was twenty percent of your life. By the time you reached ten, a year was only ten percent of your life, and at twenty years, it was only four percent. At age fifty, a year is down to only .02 percent of your life. No wonder it seems to flash by more quickly! I’m not sure how scientific that reasoning is, but it makes sense to me.

No wonder God urges us in Scripture to “number” our days (Ps. 90:12). The reason given for that urging is that we might “gain a heart of wisdom.” My, how we all need that!

These days I find myself feeling like the final moments of an egg timer. The sand is moving faster and faster, and the amount in the top half is shrinking visibly. The difference between an egg timer and real life, however, is that in the timer I can always see exactly how much is left. In life I can’t. I have no idea whether God is going to give me five more years, or fifteen—or only five more weeks.

My heart knows that I don’t want to know that number. To know it was short would put immense pressure on me to accomplish things I know I both need and want to do before I check out. If I knew it were long, I’m sure I would find myself stressing about whether my body will serve me that long, what will happen to dear family members—not to mention what might happen in this teetering world.

But the fact that I don’t know beyond this day or hour creates its own kind of stress. All of it waves in my face that one profound word – TRUST!! I admit I’m not doing very well with it these days. I’m not worrying much about “bucket-list” things that so many talk about. I’ve had an incredibly rich and rewarding life. But I do find myself stressing about whether I’m accomplishing the things God wants me to be accomplishing at this time, this year, this month, tomorrow.

Everything in me knows that God has it all under control. He knows exactly what lies ahead. I’m so grateful for that, and I am grateful that I do not know any more than I do. Twelve years ago when I had cancer, we found and posted on our bathroom door a sign that said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. God is already there.”

We’ve moved to another home in another state, but the sign is still on our bathroom door—only now it’s the bathroom my husband uses. Maybe I need to put it where I can see it even more often.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Another New Year

Today my grandfather would be one hundred thirty-two years old. He was fifty six when I made him a grandfather—a year younger, come to think of it, than I was when I became a grandmother. A year or so from now, I’ll be the age he was when he died—but I expect to stick around longer than that.

Back to the new year. When I was young, I was very sentimental about seeing an old year out and a new one in. That has worn off a bit with the years. What I still really miss is the New Years Eve services we always had in our churches up north. We would gather at 9 in the evening, have an hour of games or a movie, then an hour of refreshments and fellowship, and finally an hour with a devotional talk and communion. Yes, I do miss that.

New years are time to make note of milestones. A big one for me every time the calendar rolls around is that I chalk up one more year free of cancer. This year (if God keeps it at bay again) will mark a dozen years for me. An interesting twist is that 2012 is a leap year, and I got my diagnosis on February 29, 2000. I could say it is only the third anniversary, but I guess that would be facetious. Seriously, I am most grateful, and this year I am determined to keep my eating habits on a healthier level.

And then there are the new-year resolutions. Like most people, I have a mixed record. I know that some folks, after years of failing with resolutions, resolve not to make them any more, but something in me can’t seem to help it. I don’t know if it’s because there’s always so much in my life that needs improvement, or that I’m such a visionary, or simply because I enjoy setting challenges. My vision for 2012 is a big one, big enough and close enough to my heart that I’m not ready to share it too far afield yet. The good thing about it is that it’s one that will be accomplished in “pieces,” so even if I don’t accomplish all of it, I know I’ll accomplish some of it, and that will carry its own measure of success. Maybe after I accomplish a few of those pieces, I’ll feel like talking about it.

As for 2011, over all it was a good year, though the one sad thing was very sad. Losing our sweet doggie after twelve years was tough, but some members of our extended family had a very tough year in far more important ways. Through God’s grace and strength, they have kept clinging to Him and taking one step at a time. May God give us all grace to do that in the year ahead.

A bright spot in 2011 was that I signed with an agent—but so far that hasn’t resulted in my getting a publisher. I’ve resurrected another of my writing projects that was tucked away for many years, but truthfully, I don’t know what God’s plans are for either the fiction or the nonfiction. I’m just trying to stay tuned.

At least one of my resolutions for 2012 is right here before me—I have restarted my blog. I could beat myself purple for letting it languish for seven months, but I am resolved that blogs are supposed to be our servants, not our masters. We’ll see how it goes.

Above all,the one thing I know is that my life and those of the ones I love are all in God's hands. Whatever happens will not be a surprise to Him, and He will walk with us through it--whether it brings laughter, satisfaction, challenge, or tears.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Great Thou Art

Have you ever heard of a bride standing in her wedding dress, facing up a staircase, and leading a choir?

Now you have because that’s what I did the afternoon I got married.

In those days, in the fifties and sixties, overseas missions had almost no high schools on the field, so most teenagers had to attend boarding schools in their home countries. To help meet that need, for ten years my parents made a home for our mission’s teenagers in Wheaton, Illinois. Because of all the maple trees on the two and a half-acre property and because our mission was Mid-Missions, we named the home Mid-Maples. Many years, we had twenty or so around our two large dining tables for every meal. During the early years, I was attending college there in town, so I was part of that large family.


We were a mission operation, and the imagination of many folks and churches was captured by those young people who were separated from their parents, at least for one year and some for as many as four. The year my parents furnished the home, before the arrival of the teens, churches got the vision to supply the mountain of linens that would be needed, and each year at Christmas they asked for sizes and wish lists and sent boxes and boxes of gifts.

When we had an invitation to visit one of these interested churches, we decided to put together a program. The young people from different countries dressed in typical clothing of their countries and sang in the languages they had grown up with. We wanted to use our theme song, “It Will Be Worth It All,” so we prepared it as a group number with the young people singing parts. I became the designated choir director, and we ended up many Sunday evenings traveling to churches within driving distance to present our program. In time, we added other musical numbers. One of those was a song fairly new to America in the 1950s—“How Great Thou Art.” My dad would close the meetings with a meditation on godly young people.


I was a senior in college the year serious romance and a diamond ring came into my life. Because most of the young people stayed right through the summer, our August wedding became a huge family affair—especially since we decided to hold it right there in the large Mid-Maples house. In my wedding dress I came down the front stairs with my Daddy, and Fred and I said our vows said in front of the big picture window with the bamboo-print curtains. Some of the guys served as ushers, other directed traffic outside the house, two of them lit the candles, and three of the girls served the cake and refreshments in the big side yard afterwards.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to use “How Great Thou Art” as one of the music numbers for the service. The kids gathered in the front hall at the top of the stairs, and I stood in my wedding dress facing up the stairs, unseen from the seventy-five people in the living room and dining room below. From there I led them in singing, and it turned out pretty well.

That hymn would probably have meant a lot to me all these years even if we hadn’t used it like that in our wedding, but because we did, it has meant even more. It is a great song with great truth and has become an icon of music for many in our Christian faith.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Memorial Sunday for Last Year's Flood

We had a special and touching church service this morning. It was framed as a memorial to the big flood a year ago this weekend when we had fifteen inches of rain in 48 hours. The pastor told how a year ago about fifteen people (that included us) had made it to church when he realized they needed to cancel it. Fifty families in our church alone were affected to some degree, at least half of them losing everything.

In the children's sermon he held up the visual he had planned to use for the children that Sunday a year ago--it was a framed picture of Noah's Ark. The point he made with it is that the first thing Noah did after coming out of the ark and that traumatic experience was to worship the Lord.

We had two testimonials--one from the lady who ended up organizing much of the effort as our church served for a month as a disaster-relief center for the community. She said she never got over the joy of watching someone leave with a smile after they had come in completely beaten down. The other came from a couple who lost everything in the flood (I don't mind telling you there were tears with that one).

The choir sang a thrilling arrangement of the song, "The Anchor Holds."
The anchor holds though the ship is battered;
The anchor holds though the sails are torn;
I have fallen on my knees as I faced the raging seas.
The anchor holds in spite of the storm.

We sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

Our pastor brought an excellent message from Ps. 40:1-3 and Ps. 93, including these verses: “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Especially in light of what has happened to so many in our same part of the country this past week (over 350 dead from tornados), it was touching, sobering, and a powerful reminder that our Anchor does hold in the face of the storms that come our way in this earthly journey.