Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Citizenship...

I had the privilege to attend a Naturalization Ceremony now, months ago. I’d always heard how moving they were, and had always hoped to see one. My first experience in being invited to such a celebration was in 1993 when a janitor at our church asked me to help him answer some of the questions for which he needed to be prepared in his naturalization test… questions that some of our graduates of schools today can’t seem to answer. He, his wife and family had escaped from Cuba. We often prayed for his brothers and sisters as they were making attempts over the years to make it to the US Air Force airfield where they would be safe and have asylum privileges. They just had to get past the land mines and bullets first. Several had failed, sitting years in a less than comfortable prison. But, as a mom with small children, I passed up the opportunity to see him naturalized. I concluded it to be too much work to get ready and cart 4 kids, age 3 to 10 down to the Houston court! That day, we could have observed 2,000 take their oath, say the pledge and become citizens. I will always think fondly as I remember his excitement that he was now an American… with a very patriotic heart.

Now, 18 years later, I found myself watching the event of 50 taking the oath of citizenship… representing Iran, Afghanistan, Togo, Canada, UK, and about 25 other nations. Those waiting to be naturalized were dressed for the occasion…dresses and suits, without exception. They stood before 3 judges whose first duty was to declare the school auditorium where we were located, a courtroom. The judges gave personal messages and directives to the anticipating foreigners… many of whom had never had voting privileges! The rest of us, the many witnesses, friends, surrounded them in the bleachers, were waiting and listening to their pledge and swearing-in. And then, in a first act as new citizens, we joined them in the Pledge of Allegiance… followed by the proclamation of their citizenship and welcoming them to American responsibilities and privileges.

At that moment, the witnesses came alive. The new citizens beamed…and the crowd present to greet them erupted in cheering. Not just normal cheering, but with loud whoops, hollers and whistling… for such a length of time that I began to wonder if it would come to an end. It went on and on. Finally, it settled enough that final thoughts were declared by the judges, and the “witnesses” swooped down to the new citizens and greeted them. Voter registration and Social Security lines formed to apply for the privileges now afforded them as American citizens. And, I couldn’t help but wonder….

... about the excitement and exuberance displayed in the heavenlies over one gaining citizenship in the kingdom of GOD. From the Word we know heaven celebrates, but as I clapped and cheered for the new Americans, my heart filled with both wonder and imagination of what happens each time GOD’s kingdom welcomes another citizen. How loud is that heavenly shout of joy and excitement? How long does it last? Do they wait with great anticipation or longing to welcome the new citizen home, like my anxiousness to get to my friend Kossi to welcome him as an American? And at the same time, there was an anticipation… of my return to my home. In fact, a citizenship that is not of this world. And I wondered, do I live like a foreigner longing for a better place, preparing for the citizenship I’ve been given in His kingdom? Do I study to be better prepared for the privileges of citizenship with the LORD? Am I willing to be self-sacrificing for this incredible privilege? Do I understand what incredible gifts I’ve been given? Not only as a citizen in America, but also heaven?

After hugs, pictures and watching many celebrate their new citizenship in a faulty, though wonderful nation and hearing their statements about this day being a dream come true, I left the ceremony thankful regarding for where I live. My heart was most grateful for America, my birth home, a place where many long to belong. But my greatest joy was in another place…a kingdom where I’d been given a citizenship that was indescribable and irrevocable… oh, so much more than of which I have dreamed. As I drove away, I imagined the cheering witnesses surrounding my entrance into that kingdom 37 years ago, when I placed my trust in Jesus’ blood for my forgiveness of sin…

And then, remembering the excitement of the national naturalization in which I had just participated, I reflected on the fact this gathering was a dim reflection in comparison to the day a Believer enters the Kingdom of the One and only GOD for his eternal rest!

May our hearts fully embrace with a great tenderness, thankfulness and anticipation the wonder of that truth!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Blessed Christmas to you...

Merry Christmas...

As I sit waiting for the Christmas bread to rise, the children as still in their beds. I love these hours each Christmas morning when it is just me, the bread, the Christmas lights and the music. It gives me time to pause and think on that small baby born so long ago, and yet, how He is so real today:

He is the Bread of Life... and as I knead the bread, I recall how I have often felt the push of life, sometimes so intense I would scream for relief. Yet, He has always been my portion, my rescuer, my comfort and peace.

He is the Light of the World... and as I wait for the bread to sit in warmth, untouched (for just a little while of relief), I gaze at the lights that surround me. The littlest lights burn the brightest. They glow. Jesus came into this world as a little baby and shed light to our world like no other has ever accomplished... and across time to every generation. And, wonder of wonders, as each of us came to the knowledge that He shed His blood for us and we embraced that truth, He made us lights to this world for which He would soon die.

He is the source of joy in all things... and as I sing to the traditional (and yes, new) Christmas music, I remember the angels and shepherds on that night. It had to be an anticipating, questioning hope as the shepherds listened to the "Halleljuhal" chorus of the evening as they followed the starlight in the country. But, it pulled their hearts with wonder. As I sing, I can't help but think about the coming "Hallelujah" chorus that we as Believers will have the privilege to sing with the other Believers of all generations from the beginning of time. My anticipation is full of that day as I write to you this morning. We who believe have a hope that the world can not comprehend...

A shower is running upstairs. In a few minutes, the "Blessings of my youth" will descend the stairs, and the quiet will become louder. As we sit down to Christmas bread, the final advent piece will come out of its box... the baby Jesus. We will say Luke 2: 1- 20 together, pray and the celebration begins... with Jesus at the center of our hearts.

The morning Mary travailed to give birth, she had no comprehension how her obedience would effect a Senior South Dakota girl in the fall of 1973... let alone the same, OK woman, through life to a Christmas morning of 2009. She knew, I'm convinced, she was kissing a very special babe as she touched and drank in the smell of that precious baby head. But, I'm also convinced, she had no idea what that would bring. As she tenderly kissed the face of GOD... her choice of obedience to GOD's plan is a blessing to me.

I pray this coming year, my obedience to Him will be a blessing to all of you.

Hallelujah.... He is born.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Ah Ha" Moments...

I have now finished a study in Proverbs that I highly recommend by Kathleen Nielson, and the book that has taken me months to finish, Lost in the Middle.  Perhaps it is because my life has many events in the living these last 12 months, that emotional work has taken a vested amount of time, or that a disorientation of what to do now that I, for the first time in 53 years, have truly been on my own or a combination of all (the truer picture) that it has taken so long to accomplish these 2 studies in my life. However, I have recently come to see that the truest scenario is... GOD's timing!


My blog over these last months has reflected the heartache and searching of a woman that was truly disoriented.  The expressions were real and accurate.  I concluded many years ago that living the story of my life for Him, would be best used by Him, when told vulnerably and accurately as occasions presented themselves.  Not that all is exposed to anyone, for there are things best kept in nonpublic places, but the sharing of the process and journey is at the heart of who I am... a simple, sinful woman, with a very big, capable God.  For if my journey can help any other woman in her living, that is a part of His use of my life in Him.  I do not want to hinder His use of His own creation in anyway...so, I share pain, joy and what I have learned with Him in it all.  Therefore, it  is right and time for me to also share what I have found recently, taking me further away from hard places visited this year, to the time I am currently enjoying.  Thus, I need to share some "ah ha" moments!


"Ah ha" moments are joyous times for me.  They come after moments, months, years of shaking my head, or seeking the relief of a trembling heart, constant or sporadic.  Since emotional aches seem to match the concern or pain experienced in the responsibility of  many roles a woman has as widow and parent, with all fluctuating wildly at times…spinning heads and hearts become familiar.  My spinning heart and head, this time around, came from many events happening all at once in my life... of which GOD seemed fit to pile them all into a 6 month period.  I once heard a woman in ministry say (early 1900's, NO I am not that old!), "the greatest compliment GOD can pay you is when He stokes the furnace."  I have remembered that multiple times in life, and smile at how true that rings.  It, I have found, is actually a statement or act of His great care and jealous love for me.  The stoking of the furnace means He is very near and watching very carefully what pressures I'm experiencing and who or what treasure He is forming.  I know that, I teach that... and it is frustrating when I don't feel that.  So, when all these things heaped in my life, they together pressurized my aloneness and meaning or value in this life.  I found myself "feeling" lies... and struggling not to believe them.  Concluding that, in my case, these things had to be true... circumstances told me so.  I would pray...and would gain periodic, good relief... but even now, skeletons still sometimes rattle and raise issues and struggles over again.   So, when a moment with the LORD brings the reaction, "ah ha", there is a sweep of excitement in knowing what the enemy is that I am battling.  Those moments bring to me a name for the opposition ... an enemy at which I can take aim...


... and mine is/was named, IDENTITY REPLACEMENT.  That is not the climax you were looking for, is it?  Me neither.  But it was real when I found it... and I'm sure in days ahead, I will still need to deal with it. Revelation of its presence started with the dissatisfaction in my perception of who I was to my young adult children.  It didn't feel right.  What was wrong with me?  Transition was/is not easy for me relationally... though it has been asked of me again and again in my life story.  I now realize that what had intensified or exacerbated this difficult process (as it is hard for any parent I've realized, even in the married who have each other to navigate it together), has been my single parenthood.  I realized that as in every other difficult time in my life (divorce, miscarriage, burial of parents, brain cancer and burying my husband), I took a deep breath, prayed constantly, and poured myself into the task at hand... raising 4 children alone… in teen years.  I, thanks to Him, didn't need to worry about finances, so there was no distraction of a job.  I had felt lead and promised myself as well, that I would not date until all children had left home, choosing not to put them through the ups and downs of "mom's relationships".  Ministry was done as a family...my responsibility in the LORD was them. I threw myself into the task at hand.


It is a serpent-like invasion into the soul, that lets one depend on the LORD, pray and do what He calls one to do...yet, simultaneously sends down deceptive, unseen roots into the heart. Little did I know that as I stepped up to the plate to do the hardest job asked of me on this earth, single parenting after burying my love in this life, the enemy would insidiously compromise who I was without detection.  Sitting, reading and praying on my way to see my son internationally, it was in the Chicago airport that the first "ah ha" came.  As I arrived and shared my heart with my son, I told him I felt I had detected an explanation of the turmoil I had experienced in the last year, but that I was still trying to process it.   It involved the only thing I had so devoted my life to in the last 10 years... "the godly, wise mom"… and I was asking myself it it had become the center of life for me.  But, somehow, I told him, it didn't fit the whole "ah ha" gap, though it was close.  I had to process it.  The next 2 days of study and time gave me the final "ah ha", and I thought about it long and hard before bringing it out for my son to see.  It was the one that was the "relief ah ha".  It fit.  And it was much more insidious than any obvious idols we entreat.   I realized I had replaced part of my identity as His child, his daughter, with the identity of a "loving, good, fun Mom, who was also loved".  I, who have taught on the 3 W's of life, key of which is my IDENTITY in Him...ALONE!  I who knew/knows I could never have made it in this life so far without my Father in Heaven, had slowly been invaded with a replacement in my heart.  An identity replacement that then demanded finding my worth from the invading "kingdom"... or the results of my parenting, especially relationally.


Now, if worldly success could be the barometer sufficient to fill my worth gap, my children would be all I need.  My children give me such joy in their relationships, callings and their hearts to follow God.  We are close.  But except for this highly relational woman, I could have skidded through without detection of the invasion. However, God made me relational, some of my children would say to the “extreme”.  I cannot question Him on that... He knows best, but, it uncovered and identified my enemy for me after a prolonged struggle.  You see, the replacement in my heart demanded from where I could feel loved.  It was never fully satisfied, and I could never meet my own standards for the “good” mom.  It left me struggling in pain.  I had been needed for years by children that I deeply loved, and now the very normal process for which I raised them, independent and obedient to Him, left me often times, writhing.  As I found the enemy, named it and refocused my IDENTITY in Him, the demand shrank… almost immediately bringing huge relief.  Cured over night?  I think not.  (That would be the next lie the enemy could use, keeping me off guard.)  It has this demanding nature to it, often beyond understanding. No, it will still  “rear its head”, I’m sure. 


Now, however, I find myself appropriately enjoying what is given me relationally ... with less demand by my "needs".  My refocused identity as His wonderful creation, living His story, can be filled in the value and worth He sees in me.  It is relationally what I had always desired, but the undetected identity replacement was in its way.  As has always been true in my life, the identification of sin...the understanding of deception... is the hardest for me.  But when it is revealed and named, there is nothing I desire more than its annihilation...eradication from my life.  Getting the identification is just so hard and painful at times.  However, the struggle of getting there is always worth the freedom it brings.


In it all, GOD proves His relentless pursuit of His own.  This struggle proves just that... I am His, and He loves me desperately.  I am beautiful and becoming more beautiful in His eyes and in His heart. There is really nothing more needed.  We as women, especially God-fearing single/married, and /or moms, often do not see the transfer of identity or value of who we are because of our wholehearted devotion to those we truly love... and our calling to them.  We become so involved in that calling that who we are is what we are in those roles.  It can be children, husband, house, clothes or a job.  It is hard because they are legitimate, Biblical callings... demanding much energy and time, heart and soul.  It should not surprise us that the enemy knows how to use our greatest intensities and strongest attitudes to do us harm.


We must be careful.  We need to step back periodically to re-identify ourselves... in Him alone, with all of our roles under the canopy of His bought and protected daughter.   We must look for an "ah ha" moment in the detection of "value" exchanges or "demands" to fill our emotional, spiritual, physical needs in places that cannot accomplish our fill.  Our value cannot be filled in our "man", friends, children or career. We must seek out those invasions and pull out the tendrils around our heart.  Knowing and understanding scripturally are not the only weapons needed against such a deceptive enemy.


Our Father is desperately jealous of our devotion… having died and rose again to give us the utmost in identity… His child.  In that alone is true peace, freedom, and rewarding relationships…


…the grandest, renewed “ah ha” moment of all!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Final Thoughts on Ecuador...

Deuteronomy 29: 29
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God,
but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever,
that we may observe all the words of the Law."

As we ascended out of Quito, I looked out the plane window. I had hoped, as we had entered the country in the darkness of night, that when we left Ecuador, I would see the terrain... the secrets of the beautiful Andes' volcanoes... from above. It was quickly obvious to me, however, I would only catch glimpses of the beautiful Andes around the city. Fog clouded my ability to see below. Little clearings made me wish or long that the day had been clear... that even now something would happen... so I could drink in the beauty I knew was hidden. God only knew if I would ever return again... I wanted to see it now.

Then, stepping back from my "demands" or "hopes", I reflected on the secrets that had been given to me on this trip....

... the secret of a smile, through the fog of a language barrier. I had arrived, needing an interpreter. I left, still needing an interpreter. But laughter, hugs, gratitude, sadness, fear and hope were secrets revealed and shared from heart to heart without a spoken, understood word. It evidenced itself in helping the Doctor in an exam room and holding an anxious woman's hand, who was left to trust us without adequate communication of what we were doing (interpreters were not always available).

... the secret of grateful hands bringing us fresh oranges from her produce, to thank us for yesterdays care... when the sale of them could have fed her family.

... the secret of laughter when interpretation revealed the humor in what was said, compared to what was understood.

... the secret of new life. New pregnancies, small babies... anticipating, loving mothers... a world wide understood language.

... the secret of death and suffering, tears without words.... broken, failing bodies under a heavy burden of hard manual labor... that desired hope.

... the secret of fellowship and praise, a unified understanding and teamwork of those whose words we could not understand... in care for the masses standing at the gate asking for help and cure.

... the secret of eternal life, given to those who believed as the good news of forgiveness and life in Christ was shared.

As the clouds hid even more beauty than I could imagine, my heart turned heavenward. For the secrets revealed in Ecuador came in the gift of giving and caring for another. How special that our Lord gives and yet, keeps many things yet to be revealed for a later day... in His time, in His way... for us and our sons and grandsons.

I tasted only of what He desired to reveal that day. It was a foretaste of much to come. May we seek glimpses of Him now, and longingly desire to see the rest of His beauty... as much as we do His creation around us.

I may never see the vistas around Quito, Ecuador in this lifetime, but I will see Him... at a day of His choosing. It's a secret for which I long to have the clouds part and to have His glory revealed... to which no vista on earth will ever compare!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Our jungle walk...and drive to Cuenca!

On Friday afternoon, we packed up the clinic and we did some of the "tourist" thing!  There were 2 hiking trips from which to choose.  Most of us chose the trip that kept us out of the rivers... and away from "surprise" creatures of the wet Amazon!  Our trip was full of beautiful vistas, flowers and fun times together.  The taxi took us, but 5 of us walked back together, seeing the park and city square.

The flora was beautiful. 



                         Like  a honeysuckle..

The view of Gualiquiza from the hike... through the jungle trees!

David and Ann along a city wall.  You found bright colors often along the way... reflective of the culture "likes".

As we left the town for Cuenca, we piled in a 40 passenger bus of which 25 people and the luggage and medical equipment filled it.  I sat with one of my favorite new friends, Dr. David Cromer.  He raised his eyebrows and said, "You know we are now embarking on the most dangerous part of our week!?"   He was right.  The roads were wet, collapsing in areas, narrow (the driver had to back up on the mountain roads 3-4 times to make room for another vehicle to come through)
and just plain scary.  

But, the vistas were plain beautiful.  

We arrived safely!

A Week in Ecuador...Part II

     One of the blessings of this trip was the event of having Deborah join the team.  She and I met at my daughter's wedding, the groom being her brother.  I had told her about the trip I was doing in April, and before the week was over she was considering coming with us!  Deborah has this wonderful way with children... and by the end of the week, her communication in  Spanish was admirable.  As a matter of fact, we had a great time getting to know each other better... I loved it.   Every time I turned around it seemed she was with the children.  Dr. David caught her unposed with a posse of kids she was talking to outside our hotel!!!
 (Children telling Deborah and I their ages... after enjoying ice cream that David and I bought them!)




Babies were babies... cute as in any culture!  I haded out "booties" that I had brought from 
home, and the mothers were so grateful.  We handed out candiesand bracelets to older kids, though we waited to do so at times that we would nothave 50 at once surrounding us for such goodies!  They were respectful and all smiles.
    As I watched them play, sometimes for hours of waiting, my heart went out to them.  They were playing in the dirt of the courtyard of which we knew parasites harbor... the same dirt we were sure to wear shoes to protect ourselves. These moms had no alternative but to let them be children and play, though parasites were a surety.  Therefore, every adult and child left the pharmacy having taken the medication, unless they were pregnant,  to rid their system of parasites.  

     A special part of my being with the team was the managing of the lines, calling them into the doctor and assisting him/her with exams if needed.  Though I knew none of their language, suffice a few words, it warmed my heart how smiles and laughter transcend language barriers.  In fact, those very barriers were often the catalyst of laughing with each other.  There was one group of women in particular that had come 4 hours from a small village out of town, and they embraced us in smiles and eyes.  I called one in the group my  "special friend" as she and I had fun trying to talk together.  She was so delightful.  She and another friend, in their 60’s, had brought along 5 others much older, for treatment.  At one point we realized that we had totally misunderstood what the other was saying when the interpreter had time to help us, and we dissolved in laughter.  
You understand then, the delight when on our bus trip through the jungle to Cuenca, several days later, we stopped at a village to use a restroom and as I jumped off the bus, there she was with her bundle of bananas… trying to get to another village to sell them.  Ann took our picture (right, the lady I'm hugging in the white hat).  It drove home that God has made us in His image, and there is no better example of how we care and communicate beyond our language barriers.  Emotions are understood… no matter what one’s language is stated to be.  He made us relational.


     There were things that stretched me…toilets where no paper could be put into them, so it was thrown in cans next to the stool, dirty public areas with children playing in the parasite laden dirt , and seeing babies crying in card board boxes next to their dad as he earned a living shining shoes at the airport entrance.  I saw people with money, who also came to us for the desire to see an American doctor, but the constant poverty and extreme suffering of the working class was indescribable…and I never heard them complain.  They just wanted to have some help to feel better while they did their work.  Hoping against hope that there was some magic cure and provision for them from America.  They sacrificed health and comfort to send their children to the local Catholic schools, getting for them a good education and maybe a way out of their own plight. 

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Week in Ecuador...Part I

     I have returned from a trip in April, that I have hoped to do for years now.  Since as a widow, I very much felt that I should be less risky in my activities until at least the last child was in college (though risk is living life and not location),  I
would pray for my friends, David and Ann, as they went on Medical Missions each year, looking forward to the day I too could go.  After waiting to see if the dates would interrupt our upcoming wedding, a date was set that would allow my going with the obstetrics and gynecology team to care for some of the people in Ecuador.  So, I signed on with Christian Medical and Dental Associates, made plane reservations, and got the needed shots for the area. I am so glad I did.

     Words can't readily describe all that I saw, the people I cared for... but I hope to reflect in part what happened in my short week there.  The airline story is one of a kind that I've never experienced before…and hope to not do so again.  We could not get out of our home airport to reach Houston due to weather in Houston.  When released, we missed the single flight out to Quito by 30 minutes.  We stood in long lines to get on the next evening... and spent some wonderful time with dear friends that took us in!  Jon and Dusty... THANK YOU!    But, that only begins the saga!  Assured our bags (one each) and 3 huge plastic medical carriers (one each) were on the correct flight, we arrived in Quito, meeting up with the other group that had been delayed, without any bags!  We stayed overnight as planned, hoping they would be found... knowing that the next flight was in 24 hours and we would be long gone... deep into the country. 

    Another flight, and 7 hours on a bus through the jungle and we were at our destination ...  Gualaquiza, Ecuador... and without our bags.

   Gualaquiza is a town in the Amazon Basin, in southeast Ecuador.  It’s altitude lies at the transition edge of what would be called the Amazon Jungle, though we were in jungle indeed.  As we arrived late, we missed the set up of pharmacy and clinic…but the team that arrived before did an awesome job without us and we arrived in time to help with the first clinic day in the afternoon.  People were separated according to OB/GYN, pediatric (we had the blessing of a pediatrician), and general care, registered and then triaged according to symptoms.  Those who were potential surgery cases were seen as early in the day as possible so that the appropriate blood work and tests could be run and surgery scheduled for the following day.  After the Doctor had seen the patient, they were sent to native speakers who would talk to them about why we were here… to share God’s love and the gifts He has given us with them.  They could pray, or not, believing that Christ died for their sins and asking His forgiveness, choosing to get to know this new God better.  Many prayed...and many did not.  

    They then went to the pharmacy to get the meds prescribed them…including a month’s worth of vitamins, and a parasite treatment when appropriate.
 (Ann and I started counting a box of 20,000 multivitamins when we arrived… and then started the pediatric vitamins and calcium pills…into packages of 30.   Who knows how many pills we counted as a group!  See picture to right... note what is left of the 20,000 in the bag!)  


    Over 4 ½ days we treated 670 patients.  In no way could we treat them with the same level of technology we have in the States, but how grateful they were.  The people could not thank us enough, bringing fruit to show their gratitude…or paying as much as they could…maybe $ 20 for a surgery or treatment.  They are a people with integrity, working hard and not expecting handouts.  And, whatever you can do, no matter how small… they are so appreciative.  One lady, in her 50’s had been bleeding for several years and the doctors recommended a hysterectomy.  Her first question was, “Can I go back to work the next day?”  Her work was swinging a machete to cut grasses down in roadways and pastures.  I do not know if she decided to have the surgery, because of the great cost to her in pay in not being able to work.  The complaints or symptoms in triage showed great suffering… and aging before their time.  Women my age seemed to be 15- 20 years older.  Men suffered greatly too… and thus they showed up to be seen by an American doctor, even though they knew it was of a clinic specialty for women.  

As with any culture it seems today, the alcohol flowed in celebration or coping skills, and while we were there, a national election and campaign added greatly to the consumption.  I know families are very important to the culture, but could not get a read on what the different dynamics are in relating than we are used to in America.  It seemed as though there were fewer men, and I silently wondered if there were many widows due to the hardship of living.