Monday, December 31, 2012

Religion that's real

It's a little verse - one of so so many, but for us this verse has changed so much of what we are and do:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
~ James 1:27
Thirty little words that make all the difference.
In my Bible (which I have had since 2001) I put a star next to this verse Nov. thirty 2003, and then made a note Jan 24 2006 by the word orphan ("12,000 in Africa from AIDS").  But when we got married in 2009 and ever since this verse has grown and grown in importance to really become the direction and daily choices in our life.  Orphans have always been on my heart - even when I was a child.  And when I was 15 a burden for widows entered my heart.  For whatever reason God has not let me escape these burdens and calls on my heart even at times when I have wanted to very much.  Like tonight.
It's New Year's Eve - and of the 4 we have had since being married only one has been spent out with friends and family.  And tonight I will be home again (boo hoo) most of the night "alone" as Joshua has to work.  And the reason I can't go out is because I have chosen to look after widows.  It was my choice - it was my calling.  And I hate that my selfish little heart at times does this grudgingly.  And I hate that I feel sorry for myself when my friends are out on the town, or spending the evening with their kids, or doing whatever they want.  I am ashamed at my attitude - when in reality this is such a gift and such a blessing to me.  As we look toward caring for orphans (which at times feels so much more ... "fun" - oh how little I know) God has really been working on my heart showing me that caring for widows, and those who need our help and our company is such an important part of being who he wants us to be.  He has been showing me that even as this path is so different than most newlyweds - it is FILLED with blessings.  Filled to overflowing.  He is showing me that even though we thought we would be caring for orphans directly by now - we are fulfilling His great calling on our lives right now.
Being given to God for His work should be what each of us does as Christians - this is true "religion".  This life is NOT meant to just live for whatever makes us happy in the moment.  The verse says to "visit" orphans and widows in their distress.  I never really looked at it as I am now - but the verse doesn't say we should scoop them out of the distress, or even that we should take care of all their needs, or fix all their problems.  I think one reason my heart has had a hard time really doing what I am called to with wholeness has been that I was trying to shield myself from the distress.  To visit someone in their distress means it is going to probably be distressing for you too.  It's not gonna be easy - it's gonna hurt like crazy at times.  To visit someone in their distress means that we have to have open eyes to the pain they are feeling - and that will bring pain on us.  It means sometimes that we sit and cry with them because of the distress in their hearts.  It means giving extra hugs when there are no words to say that can comfort someone who has watched a spouse, or parents or loved ones die.  It means not pushing away the parts that are uncomfortable.  It means being 100% with that person. 
Caring for orphans is quite glamorized in our culture - movie stars adopting and volunteering to work in orphanages.  Youth groups building schools for orphans. ... And I am overjoyed that more and more of God's people are seeing the need for orphan care.  But what about the other part of this verse - what about the widows, what about the elderly grandma who can't take care of her home, what about the war hero who can't mow his lawn anymore, what about that neighbor who can't go out to get groceries?  What about the mentally handicapped guy who sits at the senior center just wanting someone to talk to? Where are the Christians then?  I have heard a certain sentence more times than I can count: "Bless you for doing elder care .. I could never do that".  Really?  We can't just pick the parts of God's commands that work for us.  While not everyone may be in a place where doing this full time is possible - every one of us should do something.  Even if it's visiting the nursing home once a month to sing hymns.  Even if it's writing to an elderly relative.  Even if it's loving that grumpy old man who never says a positive word.  We need to take it all or we bring shame on His great Name.  We need to enter in and be part of the lives of those who need us.  We are CALLED to do this as children of God. 
And yet - more times than I can count my heart wants to escape the things in life that are not always fun.  So, I leave this past year in somber remembrance of His grace to me.  His grace in keeping me here while I kicked and screamed.  His grace in allowing me to learn.  His grace in showing me what real religion is all about.  His grace in giving me a new year in which to do better.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Of Acceptance and a Lovely Grandma

The first time I met her she didn't say much.  I wasn't even part of the family - wasn't even dating my sweet Farmer Boy at the time when his Grandpa and Grandma Miracle came to visit and took us out for Chinese food.  They treated me just like I was part of the family, but I don't remember much about that visit other than thinking how sweet of them to insist that I join the family for lunch.

The next time I met them was on our wedding day.  It was a glorious sunshiny day and for me it was a day of a blurr and then moments that seemed like time stood still.  We had planned to have all the married people come to the dance floor and then exit based on length of marriage ("all those who have been married less than a year ...") until the longest married couple was the only one still dancing.  Unknown to me was the fact that Grandpa and Grandma Miracle had never danced together publicly and a cousin pressured them into joining the married dance.  It was dark except for the light from lanterns and the moon and stars as they danced in a group that got smaller and smaller until only they were left.  I remember my new Husband and I taking a gift of a framed quote with artwork to them as their prize.  The quote was: "Grow Old Along With Me, The Best is Yet to Be". 

A year later we planned a trip to go visit them in Southern Washington and I was nervous.  After all, I was still a relatively new bride and was feeling like I wasn't really fitting in with my new family. We were about an hour away when Grandma called and said that dinner was ready and where were we?  When we arrived dinner was ready and we sat and enjoyed home made beef veggie soup with veggies from their large market garden.  I began to relax as my Farmer Boy talked with his Grandpa and Grandma about farming and the growing season.  I fell asleep that night on the hide a bed feeling like maybe I had found a new set of grandparents who accepted me as their own (on the same trip I was able to spend a night with the other set of my Husband's grandparents who also accepted me as their own!)

The next morning Grandpa and Joshua went off to work at the local farmer's market and I was home alone with Grandma.  As soon as we were alone Grandma began showing me the pictures of family and telling me stories about relatives I knew and many I had never met.  She then surprised me by pulling out binders of family trees and pictures and memoirs that went back many generations.  She told me story after story of great uncles, great grandparents, parents, cousins and times my Husband spent with them working in the garden as a kid.  We talked about reading and how she always read the Little House books to her kids and grand kids - which were some of my favorite books growing up too.  She showed me Raggedy Ann dolls she had made for grand kids and we talked about my rag dolls as a kid too.  She told me how I am now a member of the family and how important it is to keep family history alive.  Most of all I remember the fact that she never once made me feel like an in law - but made me feel like her very own grand daughter.  I will treasure those memories always.

On December 21, my husband and I traveled again to that house full of wonderful memories and we listened as Grandpa told about saying good-bye to the love of his life as Grandma had passed into heaven quite suddenly.  I tried to hold back tears as I imagined what it would be like to know that your spouse was never again going to stand in the home you had made together.  I felt like of all of people there I was the one that Grandma knew least.  We only visited the once after we were married (something I will probably regret all my life).  And even though I knew her least of all - I still had been welcomed as her grand daughter. 

In thinking about the life of this godly woman I have been encouraged even more to love fully and to never pass up an opportunity to tell someone how important they are - and to show them that they are accepted and loved.  I want to be like Grandma Miracle - I want to read to my children and grandchildren, I want to care about family and keeping family history alive.  I want to remember birthdays (she would always post a picture of family members who had birthdays on facebook).  I want to make a cozy home for my Husband.  I want to cook nutritious meals.  I want to love fully.

So to the Grandma I only knew briefly, but loved deeply, thank you for inspiring me to be a better person.  Thank you for accepting me just the way I am as part of your family.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I sat in shocked silence watching the news of the evil that took those lives yesterday.  It was painful to watch and know that the families of these children and adults will never be the same.  It was shocking because it was such a "perfect" town.  It was shocking because the children were so young.  It was shocking because Christmastime is supposed to be happy. 

All day I walked around in a daze, grieving in my heart for this horrific act of violence.  But I was also grieved over the deaths of so many children and adults who will not be grieved by many, will not be honored like they should be.  The people in The Democratic Republic of Congo are being wiped out by a rebel group of pure evil.  Acts are being done to innocent children that are unspeakable.  Hundreds are dying.  I don't have an actual count because I don't even know if anyone knows.  While every person in America today know the numbers from yesterday - children are being killed and not remembered.  Please understand that I am not saying it is wrong to honor and to grieve deeply over those 20 children and 6 adults who lost their lives yesterday.  We should grieve.  God does.  Every life is precious and no child should die especially from violence like that.  I wept as I watched the news.  The Bible says we should weep with those who weep.  But, today there are family members in the Congo weeping over the loss of children too.  There are people who have fled everything to live in horrible conditions in refugee camps.  They know that every person they loved is gone.  They may never be able to return to their homes (if they are even left standing).  They didn't love their children, wives, husbands, sisters, or brothers any less than the families of the Sandyhook school.   While the victims of the shooting yesterday will receive the highest honor in memorial services and be laid to rest among beautiful flowers, the children who die in the Congo may never be properly buried.  They likely will not have a beautiful memorial service attended by people who love them.  The family members may never even get a chance to say good-bye.  And it's not right.

Why is it that those who die in other countries are so easily forgotten and ignored?  Every life has the same sacredness.  Every life is precious.  Is it because of the poverty of the country?  Is it because of the danger of being in the Congo right now?  There aren't media swarming the place of the deaths in the Congo - is it because they are afraid for their own safety?  Is it because we don't live in Africa so it doesn't hit us with such force?  A shooting on US soil feels like a personal attack to us, while every day people are killing with guns hundreds of people in other countries and we don't feel a thing.  Why?

As I said before, I believe it is right to grieve the loss of life that took place yesterday in Conneticut.  We should be broken hearted over the evil.  But we shouldn't only be broken hearted over evil that is close to home.  My brother posted the following quote on his facebook wall the other day and it touched my heart because we are selfish people.  We wall ourselves off from tragedy that isn't our own.

                     "I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal,
                     turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty,
                     vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them
                    living apart, is almost unaware of the destiny of all the rest. His
                    children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human
                    race; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he stands alongside
                    them but does not see them; he touches them without feeling them;
                   he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his
                   family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country.”

                                                                                                  ~Tocqueville, 184

Oh God, let our hearts be broken for the suffering in the whole world - not just the suffering that touches close to home.  Let our eyes not be closed to the pain of others, just because our children are safe ... give us love and a passion for justice not only in our own country, but all over the world!

In closing I wanted to share a verse I read in my daily devotional - it was actually supposed to be for yesterday but I didn't read yesterday.  I thought it was very appropriate to remember that this time on earth is not all there is - and even when evil prevails in carrying out unspeakable crimes, there will be a day of judgement - and for those who believe there will be a new earth ruled by the Lord in which there will be not more tears, death and sin.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.

The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.
Psalm 37:5-13