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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Home for Christmas

At 44 I’m still a Daddy’s girl.  I LOVE my Dad!  I love his bright blue eyes that twinkle mischievously. I love his squeeze-the-breath-outta-ya hugs.  I love that he is allergic to technology and thinks Facebook is something you’d find on a shelf at the library. I love that he is the only person I know who’s been pulled over for driving too slow…twice.

I love that he lives simply (he is the poster child for all Minimalists!). I love that he values people over possessions and is willing to help anyone in need. I love that every Sunday for the last 25 years he’s called me just to say he loves me. I love that he is a quiet man of few words, but right below the surface is a boisterous laugh just waiting to fill the air. I love that he plays old hymns on his harmonica while two-stepping around the room.

I love his work ethic—work hard, and if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. I love his interest in others—he doesn’t talk about himself, instead he asks questions to find out how you are doing! I love his gratitude – every person that has helped him on his journey from the hospital staff to the medical professionals, from his friends to his family--EVERYONE hears, “Thank you! You have a good day now.”

I love his humility—he never prays for healing or peace or comfort for himself, instead he prays that Jesus’ light will shine through him.  I love his faith and the light that emanates from him wherever he goes. I love the grace and strength he exhibits when life hands him lemons. I love that he loves Jesus with his whole heart. My Dad is just one of those salt-of-the-earth men who makes the world a better place.

Ten months ago my beautiful Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer.  While my response is to beg God to heal him, my Dad’s response is to praise God for each day he's given.

On December 23rd Heaven opened its doors and called my Dad home…home for Christmas. And although my heart aches for the loss of such a man as he, I can’t imagine a better gift for my Dad than to celebrate Christmas with his beloved Savior.  Welcome Dad, welcome home.

To all of our friends and family, thank you for walking with and praying for us over the last ten months. Letting go of my Dad has been so painful, and although his passing leaves a deep hole in our lives, God has used your prayers, support and encouragement to begin filling that hole with comfort, peace, and love.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Christmas Spirit

I LOVE everything Christmas! The twinkling lights, the perfect trees, the fancy packages, cards from friends, Bing Crosby, peppermint mochas, and all the hustle and bustle of the season. Yep, I’m one of those crazy Christmas lovers that turns on the Christmas music in September and bribes my sweet husband with the promise of a “guy movie” if he’ll watch a Christmas movie with me…in July.

So imagine my disappointment when December comes around and the only hint that it IS Christmastime in our little corner of the world is our own Charlie Brown Christmas tree and a small display of holiday items for sale at the village store. There are no commercials telling us the must-haves of the season, no billboards counting down the shopping days, no nativity scenes in people’s yards or lights on their houses, no Christmas parties or gift exchanges, no cheerful “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” greetings from our neighbors. No Christmas spirit. For a Christmas-lovin’ gal like me it just doesn’t FEEL like Christmas!

As I sit on my couch, drowning my disappointment in a hot peppermint mocha (because hot peppermint mochas make EVERYTHING better), a little jingle pops in my head, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” And then it hits me like a snowball in the face: if Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without all the commercial trimmings and trappings then perhaps my heart has wandered away from truly believing that Jesus IS the reason for the season. Ouch. Not even my peppermint mocha can sweeten that spoonful of reality.

So this year, instead of mourning our Christmases past, I am working on letting go of all the things I hold on to as “Christmas” and letting God replace that hole with a deeper desire to know and honor Him all year long. After all, isn’t He the true Christmas spirit?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Norman Rockwell-ish

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is upon us and Christmas is just around the corner! Back in Oregon we spent the holidays at my in-law’s home where we could always count on a roaring fire in the fireplace, a table straight out of Martha Stewart Living, gourmet food served on fine china, the Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas music playing in the background, and happy chatter filling the air as the kids played games and the adults caught up on the latest news around town.

Our holidays in the village look a little different. We serve as many canned, boxed and prebaked foods as possible, on paper plates and plastic folding tables, with the hum of the diesel heater serenading anyone who decides to venture up to the church for a warm meal.  Not your Norman Rockwell scene but quite possibly the very essence of what he hoped to convey in his paintings…simplicity mixed with a little chaos, sprinkled with laughter, and blended together with love…the perfect environment for thankfulness. May you also enjoy a very Norman Rockwell-ish Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

If You Build It, They Will Come

"What do you mean I have to go in my 'birthday suit'?" I asked.

"Exactly what I said, you know, free willy!" responded the villager with a smile. Every bone in my prudish body recoiled at the thought of taking a 250-degree steam bath with a group of naked men all huddled inside a 6'x6' wood-fired banya. "God, you've taken so much, at least let me keep my modesty," I pleaded. "If not for me, then for the sight of the villagers as my glowing, freakishly white body would surely blind any onlooker." in the village. So much to learn, so much to experience, so different than what we're accustomed to. "Taking banya" is no exception. Fortunately for everyone involved that night, including me, taking banya with my skivvies on was deemed acceptable for the "wimpy whitey".
Not that long ago these steam houses played an important part of village life. They were a place for families and friends to gather, talk, pray, and wash with each other. Much like a sauna in the lower 48, these steam houses were essential for the physical, spiritual and mental health of the participants.  But over the years indoor plumbing made its way to the village and the banya fires were snuffed out. Today there are only a couple active banyas so very few people are able to participate in this tradition.

The more I was invited and participated in the banya, the more I grew to love it. It relaxes, cleanses, and provides a great place to have deep conversations with others. As I was enjoying a banya one night (with my skivvies on, of course), God pressed on my heart a "build-it-and-they-will-come" moment. "What?! Build a banya?"

"Yes. Build a banya and open it up for the entire village to enjoy."

So we built a banya.

A generous donor funded the project and as the building began to take shape, the villagers caught the wave of excitement and donated body soap, wash rags, and firewood. Our friends from Sonshine Treasures sent us scripture verses to put inside the walls and cover the building with God's word and their prayers. In the first week of "lighting up" 25 villagers (20% of the village) steamed in our banya! From 7-year-olds to 70-year-olds people are now basking in the warmth of the building. Our prayer is that the villagers will experience the warmth of Jesus as they relax in the warmth of the banya.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Remember the Cross

We all love happy endings.  We love when the prince comes and rescues the princess; we love when the evil step-sisters get what’s due them; and we love when our team wins the Super Bowl.  But sometimes in our excitement to experience the happily ever after, we fast forward to the end of the story instead of starting from the beginning.  In fact, this is so common in our culture that a man named Paul Harvey created a radio show just to give us the rest of the story!  Why?  Because sometimes, in order to fully appreciate the “happily ever after” we need to hear the whole story.

And so it is with the Easter story.  Oh, we all know the G-rated version of the Easter story, but most of us just want to rush to the empty tomb and forget about the not-so-nice part of the story.  But without a TRUE understanding of the rest of the story, we cannot fully appreciate the empty tomb in the happy ending.

So come back with me 2000 years ago to the Holy Week in Jerusalem.  Let’s pick up the story where Pontius Pilate has washed his hands of Jesus and handed him over to the angry crowd.  By this time Jesus has already suffered a great deal:  Judas has betrayed him and the other disciples have abandoned him, the palace guards have “spit in his face and struck him with their fists.” (Matt. 26:27); and he has been subjected to unlawful trials in which he is falsely accused of blasphemy.  Here is where the story becomes even more unbelievable.

Now in the hands of the angry crowd, Jesus is stripped completely naked in front of a large crowd of soldiers, his hands are tied to a post above his head, and a Roman legionnaire steps forward, mockingly delivering the first blow of the whip, a whip made of several strips of leather embedded with sharp pieces of bone and lead.  The first few blows rip into Jesus’ flesh.  One, two, three, four, five.…39 lashes later, Jesus’ skin is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is a mass of torn bleeding tissue.

Oh, but the soldiers are not done yet!  They can’t believe their good fortune!  They have permission from the higher-ups to pulverize a KING!  And not just any king, but the King of the JEWS!  And so their tortuous rampage continues.  They throw a scarlet robe across His bleeding shoulders and place a staff in his hand for a scepter.  To complete the kingly outfit, they construct a crown of thorns and pound it onto his head.  All the while they continue to mock him, spit on him, and strike his head over and over with the staff they have placed in his hand.  Finally, beaten and battered beyond recognition, the guards violently rip the robe off Jesus’ back, the robe that has now glued itself to the strips of flesh.

After putting his clothes back on him, the soldiers stand Jesus up and tie the 110 pound cross bar of the cross on his shredded shoulders.  Then they begin the 650 yard journey along the Via Dolorosa.  The crowd is mocking him, and the guards continue to spit on him and beat him.  There are people everywhere, watching, but Jesus is alone.

Part way to Golgotha, Jesus stumbles and falls from the weight of the cross beam, the copious amounts of blood loss, and the excruciating pain from his beatings.  An onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, is ordered to carry the cross for Jesus the rest of the way.

They reach Golgotha and Simon drops the cross beam.  Once again, Jesus is stripped naked.  The guards throw him back on to the cross beam with His bloodied shoulders scraping against the wood.  The soldiers waste no time in driving the 6 inch wrought-iron nails through Jesus’ wrists and into the wood.  The cross bar is lifted into place on the vertical post of the cross which is permanently in the ground.  His left foot is then pressed against his right foot and another long nail is driven through both feet and into the wooden cross.  A sign is nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Dr. C. Truman Davis describes what happens next:  “At this point, as the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain.  With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward, and thus air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled.  Spasmodically, he is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.  It was undoubtedly during these periods that He gasped, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  And finally, six long and excruciating hours after the crucifixion began, Jesus cries out, “It is finished.  Father!  Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Some time later, when the soldiers come to break his legs to hasten his death, they notice he is already dead.  But just to make sure, one of the soldiers pierces Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  In the medical world, this escape of water indicates that Jesus has not died from suffocation as is usually the case in crucifixions, but rather, he has died of heart failure, aka, a broken heart.

Finally, His mission of atonement is complete.

And here is where we reach our happy ending:  Jesus is risen!  Because of that fateful day 2000 years ago, our sins are dead and we have new life!  Don’t let a romanticized version of a beautiful wooden cross standing in the middle of a daffodil patch minimize what Jesus did for you and me!   Don’t allow the cross to become a cliché in your life, its meaning as empty as Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning!

Yes, the death of Jesus is horrific and painful to talk about.  But if we don’t ever visit Jesus’ death and acknowledge that our sins put him on the cross, we will never fully appreciate the empty tomb in the happy ending.  And without the empty tomb, there IS no happily ever after!

I want to challenge you to not let your Easter celebration slip by without thanking Jesus for taking your place on the cross.  Thank him for carrying all your sins and failures to the grave and leaving them there when He rose again.   And thank Him for showing his love for you through the REST of the story.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Merry Moose-mas

Before we moved to Port Graham the only kind of hunting I did was for a good deal at my favorite home décor store.  I could move silently down the aisles and quickly scope out all the red tag sales until I found the perfect deal.  After paying for my prize, I’d bag it and pack it home.  Quick, easy, no mess.

Then we moved to Alaska.

Here in Alaska hunting looks a little different.  Oh it still involves moving silently down the aisles (of trees) and scoping out your surroundings (to make sure you’re not being followed by any number of hungry four-legged creatures), and the head of the prize can still be used in home décor but that’s about where the similarities begin and end.  I’m still growing accustomed to this sort of hunting…and decorating.

Moose hunting is a big deal in the village and this year's hunt did not disappoint.  Never having seen a moose up close and personal before, and thinking we could help pack it back to the village, we hopped on our ATV and drove out to the site.  If you’ve ever wondered how big a moose is, imagine a minivan with hair and hooves and you’d have a pretty good idea of the size.  Then imagine having to pack that hairy minivan with hooves through a swampy field, up a treacherous hill, and down a gravel road to the village.  Now I know why meat is so expensive!

The minivan, er, I mean moose, was disassembled and stuffed into hunting backpacks.  Anxious to help, and ignoring the butcher’s sideways glance and raised eyebrow, I confidently stepped up to receive one of the backpacks loaded with delicious moose ribs. “Load me up!  I’ve got this!”  Three steps later I was questioning my ability to carry the pack through the field and back up the steep hill to the truck but I was not going to ask for help.  No way.

Now I am not the most coordinated of people, and gravity seems to have a stronger pull on me than the average person so it was no surprise when on the way up the hill I stepped into a hidden two-foot hole, fell forward into Maddie who flung out her arms to balance herself and subsequently nailed me in the noggin with her elbow. Little stars danced around my head, and for a moment I thought I saw Elvis singing in the field. Standing back up and dusting off my pride, I continued up the hill.

With each step the backpack got heavier and I slowed to a snail's pace.  When I was half way up the hill (which seemed like Mt. Everest at this point) my foot slipped off a log and my top-heavy load pulled me backwards.  Instantly I transformed into a human windmill trying to prevent the inevitable fall, and when I finally landed I looked like a turtle on its back--there was no way I was going to get out of this one on my own.  At that moment I heard a rustling in the bushes above me and all of the sudden it occurred to me that I was wandering in bear country with a blood-soaked, meat-laden backpack attached to me.  I was like a giant bear snack!  Just before my imagination had me in the jaws of a hungry black bear the rustling stopped and out popped the village Chief.  I'm not sure which one of us was more surprised, but the Chief recovered much more quickly than I did and made no attempt to hide his amusement at my predicament.  After he recovered from his side-splitting laughter, he climbed down the hill, lifted my pack and helped this turtle get back on her feet.

Once I had regained my composure, I had to admit my little mishap with the moose ribs (I like to think of it as tenderizing the meat) was a pretty good reminder about the Christian life.  You see, life loads up our packs with all kinds of anxieties and burdens, but we think we’re strong, independent and capable of bearing that heavy load without anyone’s help.  We’ve got this, right?  But the longer we carry that burden on our own, the heavier it gets and we often stumble and fall under the weight of it all.  But God never intended for us to carry our burdens alone!  He gave us each other and commanded that we “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

As we look in the rear view mirror for this year, we are greatly humbled by the number of people who have helped us carry our load. Without the power of the Holy Spirit and your prayers, encouragement, and support we would be as ineffective as a turtle on its back.  We are truly grateful for your love and friendship.  May you be richly blessed this Christmas season and in the new year ahead.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Great Equalizer

It is a cold and snowy December afternoon when the small plane pulls to a stop on the village runway.  Many villagers have gathered to welcome home one of their own, but this is not a joyful reunion.

We stand at a distance and watch as the family disembarks and then turns to wait silently for their 2-year-old son to join them.  Moments later a small wooden casket emerges from the belly of the plane.  Their son is home.

As the local pastoral family our presence is expected in this sacred moment; as a Chaplain I long to comfort the family; as a mother the haunting scene brings me to my knees and a tidal wave of deep grief floods my being.

A short while later we join the silent procession of villagers as they walk the little boy to his final resting place on a hill overlooking the bay.  It is as if a vacuum has sucked all the oxygen out of the air as the men lower the flower-laden casket into the ground and begin to cover it.  If only the hole in our hearts could be filled so easily!

As I look around at the tear-stained faces I am reminded that death is the Great Equalizer.  It cares nothing for age, wealth, fame, position, health or happiness.  It shows no favoritism.  It takes everything and owes nothing.

The family’s pain will lessen over time but it will never disappear completely, and the question of why will not be answered on this side of heaven.  Don’t wait another minute to hug your loved ones and tell them you love them.  You might not get another chance.
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