Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Invisible Ones

We have done a lot of traveling of late, by car and by airplane. We've been to both coasts and several locations in-between. On one road trip, I was alone with the three children. A "low-tire" light came on in our new van. I was 30 miles from anywhere, so I said a quick prayer and drove to the gas station at the southern end of the reservation where we live.

I went into the gas station and asked if there was air available anywhere. I explained that I had a low tire and three kids with me. The Jicarilla man at the counter said he'd have someone meet me "over there" by the air. I wasn't sure where the air was, or why I needed someone to meet me, but I took the kids and headed in the direction of his head nod. I drove across the highway to a service lot area, then a young man rolled down his window and said, "You need air?" Relieved, I nodded. He waved me into an area where I saw a coiled up air hose.

Getting out of the van, I pulled out my tire gauge and walked to check the front tire. The young man was already checking the passenger front tire. After I checked the front driver's side tire, I went to the rear tires. I was checking the rear tire when the young man came around the back of the van. He looked surprised and said, "I was just going to check that one." I said, "Thank you! This is the low one." I walked toward the air hose and said, "Is it okay for me to fill it? Or are you supposed to?" He said, "I'll do it."

When he was done, I said thank you to him. He stopped and looked at me for a long moment. Then he said, "No one ever gets out of their car. I always just do it. Thank you for helping." I was stunned.

No one ever gets out of their car? To help fill up their own tires with air? They expect someone else just to do it for them?

To use a cliche: What would Jesus do? Would he be one of those many who expect others to serve him? Or would he be getting his hands dirty with the tire gunk while he checks the air pressure?

Would Jesus ignore the shuttle bus drivers, the bathroom custodians, the airport concessionaires? Would he just expect them to do their jobs and make his life more comfortable, more convenient?

I doubt it. Jesus was never afraid of service. He came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). No one was invisible to Jesus.

We humans, especially we Christians, need to see the "invisible ones." We cannot fail to acknowledge, to thank, to serve Jesus in our interactions with those whose role is service. If we assume a haughty demeanor, we are walking away from Jesus. Even in the Old Testament, we are admonished to be humble:  Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, But humility goes before honor. Proverbs 18:12.

In our hearts and minds, there should be no "invisible ones." To follow Jesus is to check our pride and to develop humility and a heart for service.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today, I was with my stepdad, my daughter, and my husband on the hike of a lifetime. We were on the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with two nights of reservations at Phantom Ranch. I was especially excited because this was the stepdad that introduced me to the Canyon when I was 14, that taught me to love the outdoors, and that began my lifelong love of geology.

A year ago today, I had a near-fatal asthma attack about 5 miles down the trail. My then-10-year-old was the only other of our hiking party that was with me. I must confess that my only real thoughts during the minute or two that I couldn't breathe (At. All.) were for my daughter. I didn't even pray for God to save my life. I didn't want my daughter to experience the trauma of losing her mom in front of her young eyes. I did everything I could to minimize her fear... and obviously, I survived.

This anniversary has made me reflect on the life God has so generously allowed me to live since that day. I've been able to enjoy our daughter's continued growth and development, both physically and spiritually. It's been a joy! She is a delightful young woman, firmly grounded in faith, and I enjoy her very much every day.

One of the ways in which she has grown is as a big sister. For eight months now, she has filled the role of in-house big sister to our two foster boys. She is a fabulous older sister! She cares for them, plays with them, guides them, and loves them. She has gotten less self-absorbed and more generous. They are a blessing to us all! A blessing I never would have known at all if I had died on the trail. I'm so glad that God had a plan for them to live with us for whatever length of time it turns out to be. They are funny, sweet, smart, and loving. They bring us joy every day.

In the past year, I have been able to visit all three of my parents twice. They are all growing older, and it is such a delight to spend time with them. Several of my friends have lost their parents recently, and I am graced with the presence of all of mine and my husband's. We try to spend time with them on the phone, via email, and in person as often as possible.

And, because God continued my life, I celebrated my tenth wedding anniversary with my beloved, Brad. Our marriage and family are precious, and I am grateful to be here to continue to love them.

But most important in this year, God has continued to shape me more and more in the image of Christ. I claim no part in this; it is solely God's work in me and through me. But I am excited to see the work He is doing in my heart, my mind, and my soul. I serve Him with joy and gratitude, and this is not of me; it is of Him. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to mold me and use me for His service. I am glad I am here to be Jesus' hands and feet in this place to which He has called us. I joyfully do the work to which we are called.

We never know when our earthly life will end. We can only choose how to spend the time we're given here. I will never regret choosing to spend my life in the service of God.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

No Doubt!

I recently had a dear friend contact me and ask me to pray for her grandmother. Her grandmother had just entered hospice care, and my friend was already grieving. She said, "There has to be something beyond this life, right?" I answered, "No doubt!"

But doubt does haunt me. I was raised in the church and attended regularly with genuine faith until college. Then I took an Intro to Religion class and fell in love with an atheist. I started questioning everything.I stopped going to church regularly, then all together. I married an agnostic and we raised our children in a non-Christian home... until the children were 7 and 8. More than a decade of doubting...

Then I realized I wanted my children to have background in the Bible, even if I didn't believe it literally (at that point). So I took them to the church denomination of my childhood, and my daughter and I attended regularly.  After a year or so of singing, praying guardedly, and not taking communion, one Sunday I heard my God say to me, "Just take the bread and the cup." You see, God is faithful, even when we are not. So I did. And I experienced communion with God again.

That was the beginning of the best part of my life. Bad things happened, but God was at my side again. The crooked path to where I am now was difficult at times, but I knew I would make it through. I read my Bible again. I prayed. I truly became a part of my church. I divorced and remarried a man who was attending seminary. We accepted raising our granddaughter, moving to a reservation in New Mexico, and raising two foster sons. My faith is strong.

And I still fight against doubt. That rational part of my brain (Satan uses this, for sure) still whispers lies into my heart. Lies that were planted all those years ago in college, that stole me away from my faith for over a decade. That led me to a place of depression and despair.

The difference is that now I turn toward God, not away from Him. I turn to the Scriptures and find Truth. I remember those times when God's presence was so strong that there was no room for doubt:

     1) That experience at the communion table when God said, "Just take the bread and the cup."
     2) That moment when my first marriage was coming to an end (abuse was involved) and God said out loud to me: "Someday you will have a relationship so good that you won't even remember this one."  I had never before, and have never again, experienced such a clear, direct message from God. (And I do have a relationship that good now!)
     3) The weekend that I was praying about whether to follow God's will and parent our now-11-year-old daughter.
     4) The unfolding of Brad's being called to ministry here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
     5) The prayers and answers about whether to suddenly become foster parents.

There are other moments in my life when I have felt very close to God, and when I purposefully recall them, the doubts that have crept in are rushed out.

Another weapon in the battle against Satan's lies is Scripture. There are many encouraging verses in the Bible. Some of my favorites are:

Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:24

And for me, a third weapon against the whispers of doubt is Christian music. I am cautious about what I listen to because I want it to be Scripture-based, but good Christian music reinforces the Gospel message. One example is Bethel Music's No Longer Slaves. Listening to high quality, Scriptural, Christian music retunes my heart to God's Truth.

I am a child of God.

Christ's atonement makes me flawless in God's eyes. He will not see my doubts and failures. He will see in me Christ's righteousness.

Amazing Grace.

I will turn toward that amazing grace for the rest of my life, with God's help. No doubt.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What's Up?

Life.

It's what happens to you while you're planning your future. It's the accumulation of events that happen on the days that are so busy you forget to eat. Some days it feels like life is passing you by at light speed, and other days it feels like the last half hour took four days to happen.

Life is what's happening at our place, and it's left me with little to no time to blog. I am finishing up my teaching year next week. Our family has decided that I will only homeschool the kids in our home after next week. So for now, that means I'll be teaching our 11 year old daughter and our foster sons. It may stay that way for a while, or it may be that I'll be teaching only our 11 year old, depending on what the court's next decision is.

While we wait for that decision in June, we have been planning for and participating in our 31 year old daughter's wedding. It was less than a week ago, and it was a delight in every way! We love our new son-in-law, and our daughter and grandchildren are very happy. We traveled to California for the wedding, so we took a few days to relax on the beach and have fun at SeaWorld.

Watching the children play in the waves at the beach was pure joy. Showing them the tiny clams in the sand and the crabs and anemones in the tide pools was great fun for this ocean-loving teacher-mama. Our daughter discovered that she desperately wants to learn to surf. Just fun.

Not so fun was that our 1992 Dodge van died the week before our trip. And the 2005 Honda van we bought to replace it died the day after we bought it. Thankfully, the dealership has a 7-day money-back guarantee, of which we took advantage. And 36 hours before our departure, we were purchasing a 2015 Toyota van, which served us very well on our California
adventure.

Also not so fun, in the weeks surrounding our California trip, both Pastor Brad and I have had MRIs to determine the cause of significant pains. I must admit that I "borrow trouble," as my mother would say, when my husband has health issues. I pray for peace, but I often find myself worrying about "what might happen."

And there's a lot of "What might happen" lately. We don't know the future of our parenting with the boys. We don't know for sure that the financial gap in funding our ministry here in Dulce will be filled. We don't know how the health issues will ultimately go. We don't know if I'll be homeschooling one child next year, in which case I could go to work part time, or three, in which case I will not have time to work.

But while it might seem that "What's up?" is everything, that's not really how I see it or feel it. I am very deeply knowing that the answer to "What's up?" is: God. Each of these uncertainties is in His hands, and I know He works all these things for my good. My eternal good. What more security could I need?

It's often an uneasy thing to not know what's coming in our lives, but when we can rest in the knowledge that God is in charge and we can trust Him, we can wait with peace. I know that we will love the children in our home for the rest of our lives, whether they live in our home or not. I know that financial worries will not change the ministry of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church; we will continue to serve the community here. I know that eventually, health issues will end our lives. I'd rather it happened much later than now, but I imagine that will also be true when I'm 90! Whenever I am called home, I pray that I can go with trust and peace.

So, each day, as life comes (however it comes!), I pray for God's will to be done. I pray that I can deeply love these children... and still let them go with grace when it is time for them to go. I pray that the craziness of the days leaves me amused, not crazy myself! I pray that God will grant my husband and me many more years of wedded bliss, and that if He doesn't, He will guide my life in every way.

What's up next? A trip to NY to visit with some of the supporters for this mission. A summer filled with grandchildren and friends, paint, water, shaving cream, and more. VBS. Work groups. A summer children's theater production.

Life.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

the deepest well

I must begin this post by acknowledging the source of the title. The Deepest Well is a book published in 2018. It was written by Nadine Burke Harris, MD, and it has changed my life. For me, usually things that "change my life" are faith-oriented. This is not. However, I can certainly see the medical and social-emotional information in this book being used in a faith-based manner.

I bought this book for personal reasons. Several of my children (currently in and out of my home) and many of my students over the years have had experiences with childhood adversity. Plus, my own childhood was full of adversity. I thought I might learn something that would help me parent better or live better.

What I got was much bigger than that. When I started reading, I realized that this woman has made remarkable connections, well-backed by science, among many of the concerns of my entire life. My 30+ years as a teacher. My 30+ years as a parent. An adoptive parent. A foster parent. A step-parent. My 40+ years as a caring person trying to understand poverty, discrimination, trauma, and recovery. My 8+ years of friendship with a woman who has made it her life's work to interrupt the cycle of dysfunction among African and African American youth.  My 4+ years as a resident in the community of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, where the endemic struggles of Native Americans are apparent.

There are so many situations, both personal and professional, where I have wondered how someone got into the situation they're in or why they continue to respond in ways that are self-destructive. I've read broadly, listened even more broadly, and pondered for many hours trying to figure out how to help someone, especially a child, who is deeply traumatized by events in their life.

This book opens a new way of thinking about intractable problems. It suggests dealing with an underlying difficulty instead of the symptoms of that difficulty. In constructivist terms, it's a shift in paradigm.

The new paradigm builds our understanding of biological stress responses and how they can get hyper-triggered to the point that the stress response is dysfunctional. That dysfunction leads to illness in addition to dysfunctional behavior. By addressing the biological dysfunction, many of the consequences can be improved, or even reversed.

I know that our only hope is in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. He is the one who created human minds to inquire and search for ways to better our lives. I see in this book a way for Christians (and others) to to frame our understanding and to focus our desire to help our neighbors. I highly recommend that you read it.

Friday, March 9, 2018

YES, and

I have had the privilege of helping to raise nine children in my home. I have had the delight of teaching more than six hundred more! The story that follows is a truth taken from several experiences with several of those children. Please do not assign any part of this story to any particular child.

The silence was suspicious, as any parent would know. I found the toddler in the bathroom and asked, "Are you pooping your pants?" The "No!" came quickly, but the smell gave him away.

After I peeled his clothing off, he was standing there covered in poop. "Did you poop your pants?" I asked again, hoping to help him acknowledge the mistake so we could work on preventing it next time.

"No!" he wailed too loudly for the small space. It was a wail I had heard before... every time he did something wrong, actually.

click.

He was afraid. He was afraid that he wouldn't be loved anymore if he pooped his pants. He was afraid he wouldn't be safe anymore if he pooped his pants. His denial was self-preservation, in his mind.

So I said, "Yes, you pooped your pants...AND I love you!" I repeated this several times during the clean-up process. I even said it to his sister later that evening, "Yes, you skipped your chores...AND I love you!" I've said it to many children, many times, "Yes, you messed up... AND I love you!"

Can't you just imagine God looking at us lovingly while we are standing stark naked, covered in the poop of sin, denying that it's there? "Yes," He would say, "You are guilty of adultery...AND I love you!"  "Yes, you were selfish and unkind... AND I love you!" "Yes, you denied me... AND I love you!"

And we stand there, vulnerable and terrified, wailing, "NO! I didn't do it" when all God wants is to help us out of the mess we're in. We can't even SEE the sin, but God, seeing ALL of it, still says, "Yes, you sinned...AND I love you!"

God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to wash away all that poop. We are washed cleaner than the toddler after his shower/bath. What joy! No more stinky and filthy sin. BECAUSE God loved us when we were filthy (Romans 5:8). We can say, "Yes, I sinned. Praise God for washing me whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7)!"

Amen!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Uncomfortable

Early this morning, I answered the doorbell. It was a man I recognized, but didn't know well. I know he drinks. A lot. He didn't seem intoxicated this morning, so I opened the door to him and asked him how I could help him. He inquired if "Pastor" was home. I answered that he was busy. The man asked if I could make a sandwich for him; he was hungry. We've fed him (and many others) before; this is part of the mission here.

So, I made him a couple of bagels and some fruit and drink. He took them, said thanks, and headed on his way. If I'm completely honest, I have to admit I was glad to see him go. It's uncomfortable to spend time with people so different from myself.

Uncomfortable. That actually describes a lot of the mission work here. (And probably elsewhere as well!) Not in our comfort zone. Out of our normal. There is nowhere in the Bible that it tells us that life with God will be comfortable and easy. And it's not.

We serve God when we pick up students from the Jicarilla Apache Student Residence and bring them to church, despite the noise and chaos in the pews. We serve God when we welcome the families of our foster and adopted children into our home and family, despite the different traditions and habits of those families. It's kind of like marriage, we add a whole new family with every new foster or adopted child.

We serve God when we answer the door at midnight and feed, clothe, or transport someone in need. My husband serves God when he preaches the Gospel in a funeral to a gathered group of people who would never otherwise enter a church.

God calls us to the uncomfortable and He makes it easy. Maybe not easy to actually do, but easy to enter into because He is beside us. He calls us to minister to our neighbors... even our drunk neighbors. He calls us to care for the widows and orphans, not just our own families. God calls us to do His work here on Earth and he equips us to do it.

We never have to handle it alone. He is beside us as we foster someone else's children while they deal with the difficulties of life. He holds us while we include those elders in our daily life who do not have family to include them. He never leaves our sides when we invite an unpleasant stranger to join us at the meal table.

We, Christians, are each charged with being Jesus' hands and feet here and now. What is your call? How has God prepared and equipped you for it? He will be with you the entire way, uncomfortable or not. Take the first step and begin the journey to the unknown... you will go marvelous places with spectacular people!!