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 One of the Bible verses that terrifies me the most is Matthew 24:12.  “Because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many with grow cold.”

The word Matthew uses for “love” in this passage is agape, indicating that believers will possess chilly, unresponsive hearts.  (Agape refers to the unconditional, other-centered love of God).  And I’ve seen this cool-down happen with increasing frequency as the days grow darker and terror abounds.  I’ve felt the icy grip myself.

Fear seems to be the greatest culprit.  Here in the West, we especially fear our privileged way of life being shaken, our freedoms being taken.  So we shrink back and batten down the hatches of our hearts.  We call for air strikes and more border patrols and we no longer welcome the stranger into our homes.  The spirit of fear convinces us that we need to protect ourselves above all else, love of God be damned.

But friends, I need to tell you–those who wish to do us harm are already here.  While we’ve been distracted by all the things, the Enemy has been gathering his army.  There is only one weapon this Enemy fears–the love of God–and it has been conspicuously absent in recent days.  If we truly believed in the power of this love, and waged it as a weapon at the first sign of terror, would we be in this pickle today?

I’ve worked with a refugee resettlement agency in Portland for many years now.  About six years ago, I went to a volunteer training where we were all puzzled by the influx of young men from the middle east.  Families were being more carefully screen and denied entrance, but the young men had no such trouble.  Some of the volunteers complained about these refugees, saying they came from privilege and were not happy with their quality of life in the states.  (By the way, the US government decides who gets in, the resettlement agencies just provide resources).

One day, the head of the resettlement program sent out an email asking if one of the volunteers could take food to a young Iraqi man who was recovering from knee surgery and unable to care for himself.  No one jumped at the opportunity, so I volunteered, thinking I’d just drop off a pizza.  But the Lord had other ideas and clearly suggested I look up a few recipes for Iraqi fare, so I ended up preparing quite the feast for the dude.  Turned out he lived with three other young men, all from different places in the Middle East, and they were thrilled with my offering.  I prayed for the sick guy, chatted up his friends for a bit and took my leave.  I heard later from the volunteer coordinator how much they’d appreciated this act of kindness.

I never thought I’d see them again, but my daughter and her family just moved into the same apartment complex.  Like almost directly across from where the guys lived!   I’m praying for a chance to reconnect with them again, fully armed, of course, with the love of God.  Who knows what kind of ambush He wants to set?

(It’s not just refugee resettledment programs that have screening issues.  A few years back, I worked for a mission agency that recruited believers to work in Canada, Alaska and Russia.  I was contacted by a couple from Egypt who felt the Lord was calling them to ministry in Alaska.  As I began to process their paperwork (all done electronically), I noticed that some of their “references” gave responses that appeared to be cut and pasted.  The only contact info for the references were hotmail accounts (no phone numbers or addresses).  When I tried to contact their pastor reference, I couldn’t even find the town they said their church was in.  With all my spidey senses tingling, I told them they weren’t a good fit for our organization.

TThe very next day, a group of “missionaries” were arrested as suspected terrorists.  They’d been lliving in Mexico and then applied to (and were accepted by) a mission agency operating in the US.   Pretty sure that wasn’t the first–or the last time–this tactic was used.  All to say, every time we think we’ve secured our borders, the Enemy will figure out another way to worm his way in.)**

I think his sneakiest maneuver of all  is using fear to neutralize the love of God in our hearts.

Today,  I challenge you to invite the Holy Spirit to search your hearts and reveal any strongholds of cold love.  Repent of any bitterness or unforgiveness or fear that holds you hostage.  Then ask the Lord to show you the incredible heighth and depth, length and breadth of His love for you–and your enemies.

The Lord of Hosts is gathering His army as surely as the Enemy of our souls is positioning his.  We are not helpless, for greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.  We are not defenseless; we have the sword of the Spirit.  We don’t have to cower in fear. In Christ, we have His love, His power and  wisdom from above.   We can receive  our marching  orders through prayer.

I love this quote by Rees Howell, a man called by God to war against Hitler with prayer.  “God is preparing His instrument; a company to fight world battles on their knees.

Lord, make us such a company of love.  Teach us to fight on our knees.

**I am NOT saying we shouldn’t be wise about who we welcome into our country.  Naivete is not our friend.  But God’s mercy triumphs  over judgement  (James 2:13)

finishing well


  I am a bit of a late bloomer.  Some of the things I’m proudest/fondest of happened after I turned 50.

I taught myself to garden and then how to preserve and can the fruits (and veggies) of my labor.

I climbed my first mountain (Mount St. Helens would have been a lot tougher pre-eruption).

I took up snow-shoeing.

I started running (in those really funny looking toe-shoes).

Today, at the ripe old age of 59, I ran my first race!

It was only a 5K, and I have to admit I was a tad nervous.  So nervous, in fact, that I decided not to eat before the race.  My daughter and race buddy, Danielle, told me this wasn’t a good idea.  But I paid no attention to her sage advice.

  We lined up with the 10 minute miler group and I kept pace with Danielle for maybe five minutes.  I felt pretty good about my steady-eddy pace for the first two miles, but then it hit me.  My fuel tank was on empty.  The half grilled cheese sandwich I’d eaten twelve hours earlier was long gone.

My pace slowed to a shuffle and I began to tell myself it didn’t matter if I walked across the finish line.  At least I tried, right?

My un-pep talk was quickly interrupted by faint cheers and applause for all who finished the race.  I can’t explain what happened next, but I was transported as this verse came to mind:

  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . . Hebrews 12:1

My weariness mysteriously vanished and I sprinted toward the finish line, energized by the applause of heaven.  I was no longer just a participant in a 5K, I was part of the Great Race, run by all who follow the Lamb.  I knew that my son and those who’ve finished the race before me were part of that great cloud of heavenly witnesses, cheering me on.     

The vision faded as I crossed the finish line, but I finished strong.  (I ran a 10.40 mile if you must know).

Today, I earned a medal (OK, just a wooden medalion saying I’d participated) but my real prize was a foretaste of the day when I’ll hear “Well done, my faithful one!”


  
I wept my way through another memorial service last week, even though I’d never met the young man we mourned.  My tears flowed in solidarity with the parents who’d just buried their only son.  My heart ached for the uncharted journey ahead of them.  

It’s a long one.

As the service moved from celebrating Steve’s life to focusing on heaven, my mourning turned to anticipation.  Tear of grief and gladness mingled on my cheeks as I remembered yet again that this world is not my home, I’m only passing through . . .

On August 30, thirty-one years will have passed since we held our son.  Thirty-one long years since we heard his silly giggle, felt the sun-kissed warmth of his skin.  If you do the math (and you can’t because I’m not telling how old I am), it’s probable that we won’t have to wait another thirty-one years to see Jonah again.  We’re on the home stretch toward heaven.  

My heart doesn’t ache so much now for what was--it longs for what will be.  But on this earth, there’s no way to really separate those two realities, so we embrace the sorrow and the joy and set our faces toward eternity.

Come, Lord Jesus, come . . .

thin skinned


I used to blog prolifically about my mission trips. I’d post stories, sometimes daily, about what was happening during our outreach. Lots of pictures, along with detailed descriptions of the desperate conditions of those we went to serve.

Of course, I’d tell the stories of what God was doing as well, but it was almost like I needed to set the scene (poverty, disease, injustice) to really show off His work. And maybe justify my journey?

The stories I shared were true–but honestly, I am not sure they were honoring to the people we served. I don’t think they’d be thrilled to read about themselves in the somber hues I painted them. And that really bothers me . . .

I do have one story to tell about our recent trip to Cambodia, however.
The purpose was mostly missionary care–we went to love on our friends who serve in Phnom Penh. But part of caring is witnessing what they do. So we spent quite a bit of time following our friends around to get a feel for their daily lives of ministry.

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One day, we got to visit a small village not far from Phnom Penh. Every Sunday, a dozen or so young people from our friends’ church head to this community after worship service. Most go by “moto”–(motorcycle or moped)–to share the love of Jesus with the Buddhist villagers. The Cambodian pastor takes a small group of youth to go with him to evangelize, while others stay behind to play with the local children or pass out food and hygiene items.

Temps were approaching 100 when we got to the village, with the kind of humidity that makes it hard to breathe–let alone move. I decided to tag along with the pastor and followed him and a small group of students as he visited with villagers who were taking a siesta in the heat of the day.
There were no doors to knock on, as most folks were taking refuge in the shaded open areas underneath the houses. Men swung in hammocks, women scolded children playing in the dust, dogs hunkered, panting, in any bit of shade they could find–everyone conserving energy on this sweltering day. We were a welcome diversion.

The pastor shared the gospel in every home, eliciting lively discussion with the Buddhist occupants. It was all in Khmer (language of Cambodia), but the students kindly translated for me, delighted to practice their newly acquired English speaking skills on this eager foreigner. (most of the students came to know Jesus through an Engish class taught by our missionary friends).

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As we took our leave of the first home, I asked (through my translator) if I could pray for the family. The pastor–and the women he’d been talking to–thought it was a capital ideal. One woman needed healing, another needed work, a third asked for peace for herself and her family. After a short prayer, I sat next to the woman who wanted peace, swinging my white legs as we sat side by side on the bamboo platform below her house. She’d seen Westerners before but was still fascinated by me–or at least my skin–and picked at a few moles and freckles on my arms as if she was trying to erase them.

As if she knew we were sisters underneath our skin.

Through my translator, I learned we were the same age, although I just celebrated my fifth grandchild while she already had six great-grandchildren. I asked if I could take her picture and she laughed and said yes–but only if I put it on Facebook! We chatted a bit longer as I played peek-a-boo with one of her grandchildren, leaning into her like we were old friends. Finally, we hugged goodbye and our little group set off in the hot sun to the next house.

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The young woman who’d been translating for me fell in beside me as we picked our way through the dust and debree.
“Have you been to this village before?” she asked, overcoming her shyness to make eye contact.
“I haven’t,” I told her. “But I’ve been to many villages like this one in other countries. It feels like I’ve been here before.”

Even as the words left my mouth, I realized I wasn’t referring to tangible similarities between this place and villages I’ve visited in India, Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Alaska (although similarities do exist). It was the connection I felt with the women, the shared humanity, that made the village feel familiar.

I used to be struck by our differences as I traveled to other countries. But now I’m more aware of how we’re all kin, broken and beautiful, full of hopes and dreams and prayers for peace. All in need of a Saviour, hearts beating in unity under our skin.

I hope this story honors my new friend. And maybe she’ll even see her picture on Facebook someday :). I will continue to pray for peace for her and her family . . . the Peace that passes all understanding and longs for every heart to rest in Him.

Hiraeth


I don’t know how many times I’ve had the dream. The details vary, but I’m always in search of the perfect trail, a path deeply etched in my memory. I know the general whereabouts of this road, but the trailhead is lost to me. When I inquire, no one seems to know–or care–about this ancient path that, in my recollection, offers indescribable pleasure.

Even as I search, I feel the familiar road beneath my feet; worn stones and soft moss carpet the narrow trail that undulates lazily over the countryside. I recall crossing singing mountain brooks and ducking through natural arches carved in stone. My heart beats faster as I envision the stretch where the path steepens and leads to dizzying heights, tempting me to cling to the rocks for dear life. I can almost feel the warmth of the sun, the caress of the breeze and the awe of the panoramic view–oh, the view!–that coaxed me to put one shaky foot in front of the other and keep pressing on.

So real and clear are the memories, grief grips my heart. How could I have forgotten? When did I lose the way? Even when I awake, I lie in the darkness, tracing the details in my mind. I ache–for a road I’ve never traveled. I long for a place I’ve never been . . .
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This week I learned that my father is dying, on hospice. I dreamed of the lost trail again last night. And awoke with the familiar longing, a wistfulness I can’t define. In my random scanning of posts on facebook this morning, however, the ache was suddenly–and providentially–defined. It is captured by the celtic word hiraeth–“the grief for the lost places of your past, the places that never were.”

I’ve always assumed the dream was about heaven. Heavily influenced by books such as Pilgrim’s Progress, I concluded that the symbolism alluded to my final journey home.

But the shadow of my father’s fading cast the dream in a different light. Could the beautiful trail represent the childhood I never had–the experiences I longed for but never realized? Did I ache for the “lost places” of my past–the pleasant places that never existed?

—————————————-

This revelation brought some closure to me. I have not known what to make of my father’s passing. I don’t really know his story–my story–that traces back to strong celtic roots.

I don’t know if he loves Jesus.

I don’t know why he left us.

But I will embrace the ache and say goodbye to my father and my childhood lost.

For the way that was lost will surely be found. And it will lead me home.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

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My heart is full. Margot Louise Strannigan Ealy-Elder arrived at 7:07 yesterday morning (10/18). She was a wee little thing (only 5lbs. 11 oz), but Margot still stole every heart in the room. I know she took my breath away.

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Above is one of my favorite photos, taken just minutes after Margot arrived. We were all so overcome by joy that we laughed and cheered and cried. I had the privilege of being with Lindsay and Nich as they worked together tirelessly to bring Margot into this world. As those two become one in a labor of love, the sterile hospital room became a sacred place.

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Look how beautiful Lindsay is after 29 hours of labor! I’ve coached a lot of births in my day, but have never seen such a determined mama. Throughout the long night, I felt such pride and awe as I witnessed my oldest daughter bring her own daughter into the world with such quiet strength.

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Such a blessed Mimi am I! Thank You, Lord, for your goodness to this family. Three amazing daughters–and now three precious granddaughters. And I’m super excited to meet our first grandson who should arrive shortly . . .

the good earth


You know it’s been a long time since your last post when you can’t even remember the name of your own blog . . .

But hey, our days of homelessness are over (we sold our house in June and have basically couch-surfed for the past four months) and we are settling in to our wee little place in Damascus. The city in Oregon, not the Middle East. Anyway, the house is just under 1200 square feet, which is awesome for someone who hates housework as much as I do.

It’s a good thing I love yard work, since the house sits on a country acre just off Sunnyside road. Greg and I honestly thought we wanted to down-size and live in a more urban, integrated neighborhood, but God apparently had other plans for us. After being outbid on two homes in the ‘hood in Portland (and losing another because the seller wasn’t able to cover the cost of repairs), we were so discouraged that we took a few days off from house hunting to ask God why things weren’t going according to our plan.

It was Greg who first realized that his heart longed for a more rural setting–maybe farm-sitting over the summer caused him to yearn for more open spaces. I was agreeable to looking at more countrified properties, so we let our longsuffering real estate agent know that we were adjusting our sights just a tad. We wanted to be country folk.

And adjust our agent did–and we found our house the very next day!

I literally cried when we walked onto the property. There are two separate orchards with several varieties of apples, pears, plums and cherries. There are a few fig trees. And nut trees! Filberts, walnuts, black walnuts and chestnuts. Did I mention the blueberries? And who knows what else we will discover as the seasons change . . .

Lest you get too envious, I need to get honest here. The property is a mess. The orchards haven’t been maintained and there are random trees growing everywhere, blocking light in strategic places. The older, upper orchard brings to mind Mirkwood forest. There’s a half-dead willow tree that needs to be removed asap (there goes the funds we had set aside for a hot tub) The fir/pine trees that surround the property drop needles with a vengeance. The house, although recently remodeled, has issues as well. We don’t have nearly enough space for all of our stuff . . .

But this is a great adventure! We’ve only been in the place for a week, but I’ve already got two chickens (christened “Pumpkin Ramona and Pumpkin Juba” by the grandbabies). A friend is just finishing up a custom shed for Greg and will then work on my chicken coop. Our list of projects is a mile long, but there’s a deep sense of satisfaction in the prospect of turning this unkempt property into the promised land. Or as we like to say, “Grandbaby Heaven.”

Green acres is the place for me . . .

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