Tuesday, January 13, 2015

True Confessions of a Really, Really Messed up Missionary

We are set to return to Rwanda on Tuesday, January 20.   

One week from TODAY.   

As I reflect on our fundraising/furlough time in the USA, I am both amazed at all that's been crammed into 5 ½ months [e.g., we spoke 24 times], but also sadly surprised at my myriad weaknesses and the sinful ways I've attempted to cope with stresses.  (The fact that I’m surprised by my sinfulness and brokenness shows I still don’t really “get” the gospel message – that Christ Jesus came into the world to save SINNERS – and that I still, after all these years and reasons to know otherwise, think of myself more highly than I ought.)

After struggling and hurting and crying and yelling and eating bad, processed, white-sugar laden food, and yay, even after reverting back to my Classic Coca-Cola habit (dang it – I made it 8 weeks this time!), I finally opened my Bible and drank from the life-giving, clear, cool water that is God’s Word. 

God’s HOLY Word: 

The ONLY thing that satisfies.

The ONLY thing that breathes life into my soul.

The ONLY thing that can truly help.

Why did I wander and try to fix my emotional hurts with my own band-aids, AGAIN?  

Will I ever learn?  (Don’t answer that.) 

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

God, in his tender mercy and amazing, awe-inspiring patience with me, led me to Matthew 3, which was the Scripture reading for our sermon in church last Sunday.

"…..But after me" (says John the Baptist) "comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.

I was immediately struck by the reminder that my Jesus is so, so powerful.  He is stronger than I am, like, by a mile.  By many miles.  To the moon and back powerful.  Ah, what a scary yet totally life giving and reassuring comfort to remember.

Later in the chapter, I read what God the Father said about Jesus when he came up out of the water, after being baptized by John. 

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  


At first, this made me feel sad (I know, I'm sick), because I was thinking of how I was God’s daughter, and yet, God couldn’t be pleased with me, the way I’ve been sulking and crying and running. 

You know how, when you're down, EVERYTHING starts to feel like it's about you, and another excuse for a pity party?  If not, then I guess you have other issues.....but this is one of mine.  

Thankfully, I quickly remembered the TRUTH, that God IS pleased with me, and realized that my sadness was a symptom of believing lies again (the lie that I have to earn God's pleasure with me).

 Oh Yeah!  Duh!!  What is the most wonderful thing about Jesus? 

 Jesus took my place – Jesus gave me His perfect obedience and behavior…… so.... God IS pleased with me, even though I’ve been just awful lately.  Ah, what a relief.  What comfort.  Thank you, Jesus.

SO, Why have I been acting so awful?  

I don’t know, but I'm reminded that I was this way just before we left for Rwanda the other two times.  Ouch.  Reflecting on it, I realized it is never pretty before we leave. 

I am a wreck:  a crying, stressed-out, mess. Saying good-bye to my parents and all my kids, preparing for the transition and move.....I just don't handle it well at all. 

I want to run from the airport and hide in the closet of my house on Lakewood Drive with all my family.  (It'd be kinda crowded, but....)

And, what’s funny is, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE RWANDA AND CONGO, AND KENYA (where the kids go to school).  I LOVE IT!  I’ve been blessed with so many friends there.  I LOVE THE PEOPLE, I love the culture, I love the food, I love the market, I love the walking-paths, I love the clothes,  I love the lake, I love the mountains, I love the rain, I love the beautiful GREEN grass and trees everywhere, I love pretty much everything about Rwanda.  It is a beautiful, blessed place.

But I also love my home in Texas, and my family, and I do not like leaving them.  It is so hard for me to leave them. 

However, I think there is a spiritual component that is strongest of all.  As I continued reading in Matthew this morning, this is what jumped out at me.

As soon as God said those words about being “well pleased” with Jesus, his son, then God the Spirit capped off that “Attaboy” announcement by having a pizza party for him.

Um, no.  That's not how the story goes.  Actually, the Holy Spirit capped off that "Attaboy" announcement by leading Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (chapter 4, verse 1).  

Excuse me. 


Right after announcing He is WELL PLEASED with Jesus, Jesus gets taken into the wilderness and temptation??  Huh? What am I missing here?  Have we read this story so many times that we have quit noticing how weird that sounds?  Furthermore......

And..... after being tempted and going through hell for 40 days, HE STARTED HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY.

So, before his ministry started, Jesus went through an intense period of suffering and temptation, that he was led to go into by the Holy Spirit.  Hmmmm. 

Not that I’m saying I am like Jesus, because clearly, I am not – except for the part where Jesus has imputed his righteousness to me, so he has made me officially like him. 

But what I am saying is, I remembered.  This is just what to expect before we start a new season of ministry.  Happens every time.  It used to happen before camp and club meetings in youth ministry with Young Life, and it happens now before we return to Rwanda.  Perhaps (!) the temptations and trials are just precursors to ministry, just like they were for Jesus.
Perhaps the devil really, really doesn’t want us to live sacrificially,

Perhaps he really doesn't want us to give up living in Texas so that Tim can do surgery for God’s people who need it in a place with way too few surgeons to go around.   

Perhaps the devil wants God's people to keep dying of things than can be cured with simple surgery,

and Perhaps the devil knows the way to do that is to discourage surgeons from going back to Rwanda.  Or surgeons’ wives. 

Perhaps the devil hates God’s people and wants to keep them from getting the help that God wants them to have. 

Perhaps he wants to take me out of the game so he can get to Tim, and take him out of the game, too.

I wonder what the devil is trying to get some of you reading this blog to NOT do for Jesus?  I wonder how some of you get discouraged or tempted to retreat?  Please tell me I’m not the only one.  Will you pray for me to keep following Jesus, to resist the devil, to be strong in the LORD?  If you write me, or comment below with your struggles, I will pray for you, too. 

“Finally, be strong in the LORD and in His mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand
Against the devil’s schemes.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
But against the rulers, against the authorities,
Against the powers of this dark world
And against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes,
You may be able to stand your ground,
And after you have done everything, to stand. 
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,
With the breastplate of righteousness in place,
And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

 In addition to all this, take up your shield of faith,
With which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,
Which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."

Ephesians 6:10-18

I only feel slightly awkward posting about my spiritual and emotional struggle.  The reason?  I know there are many others in the same boat with me.  And also, I know my struggles actually qualify me to continue to serve as a missionary, rather than disqualify.  

I sometimes believe the lie that I must be all together to serve Jesus, to share His awesomeness with others.  That's so wrong.  

I am sharing HIS awesomeness, not mine.  I don't have to be awesome to tell others that someone ELSE is awesome.  I don't have to be good at basketball to declare the truth that Manu Ginobli is a great basketball player for the Spurs.  

My weaknesses remind me:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all surpassing power is from God, and not from us."  2 Corinthians 4:7

What weakness can you give to God, so He can show His power through YOU?  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"I remember EVERYTHING!!"

If you've read this blog at all, then you know that God answered our prayers to be able to adopt our little boy, Deste, this past June - on my big brother Jim's birthday (June 24)!

Previous posts detail some of our adventures with Deste since that day.  Sometimes, we wonder how much he remembers from the old days, back when we first got to know him when he was just 3 years old, and a patient in our hospital.

Last night, Ruthie came in his room while I was tucking him in for bed.  She started talking with Deste about how special he is and how much she has loved him for so long.  She asked him, "Deste, do you remember me from the hospital?  Do you remember how I used to come down and play with you?"  He looked up at Ruthie with the biggest, most tender eyes, and said ever-so-clearly,
"Yes.  I remember.  I remember EVERYTHING." 

Ruthie and I looked at each other with our mouths open - we were not expecting that answer!  He was so young!  How could he remember all that?

Ruthie asked, "Well, what do you remember, Deste?  What do you remember that we used to do together?"

Deste grinned at her and said, "FANTA."
Oh, how that boy used to LOVE it when Ruthie would come down (every day!) and buy him and his buddies an orange fanta, as seen here above.  It wasn't really Fanta, but an orange drink of some kind.  We tried it and didn't find it at all appealing, but the little ones in the hospital thought it was awesome.  

We laughed and laughed!  That was Deste's favorite thing back then.  Ruthie would come down to the hospital and buy an Orange Fanta for not only Deste, but for many other little kids at the hospital, as well.  In fact, she used her entire $5 a week allowance on those Fantas for kids.  Hey, why not share America's problem with kid tooth decay all over the globe?  (ugh.)  Seriously, the kids just loved this luxurious treat that Ruthie would shower on them almost each day.  She had a little "posse", as we called it, of his buddies with whom she played for hours every day.  I guess she (and certainly I) wasn't sure if the kids would remember those fun times for very long, but at least, it turns out, Deste certainly does.

After "Fanta", he said, "And Bread.  You always gave me bread.  And you gave bread to all my friends.  It was goooood."

And then he said, "And you took me to buy clothes.  And I got to pick them out myself.  And you gave me a big ball, and we played and played with my ball every day.

And I went on the swings.  And you took my picture every day on your phone."
And we walked everywhere

He certainly did remember everything after all!  His little eyes twinkled and he gave Ruthie a big hug goodnight.

I guess it sounds like a little thing, but I am so glad he remembers those times with Ruthie.  I'm glad he understands we have loved him for a very long time.

Fanta may not be good for teeth, or for any other nutritional need - but evidently, it is good for the heart.  That, and time spent together, spelled L-O-V-E to him. 

Those sticky, sugary orange Fantas lodged in someone's memory as a sign of how very loved he was,  and as a sign of his friend Ruthie's generosity, because not only did he get Fanta, but because she loved him, all of his little hospital friends used to get Fantas, too.  And bread.

Help me be like Deste, and always remember YOUR blessings, O Lord.  Help me to never forget your good gifts to me, your faithfulness and love.  "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." - James 1:17. 

Psalm 103:1-5

1"Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed."

I pray I will one day, or even today, be able to tell God, "I remember everything", about all the GOOD things he has done for me.  I pray I'll remember all the ways He has shown me, in little tangible or intangible things He has provided, like an Orange Fanta, that He loves me, that I am worthwhile to Him, and that He is willing and able to provide gifts to other of my friends, through me, because of HIS generosity.  I pray he will remove any and all bitterness from me and fill me only with thankfulness for all he has given.  

Is that your prayer as well?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below!  :)


Monday, December 1, 2014

When I'm hurting like now.....

I've been on a roller coaster ride of emotions of late.  And I don't mean a fun roller coaster ride, one I voluntarily boarded.  I mean a terrifying roller-coaster ride, like the one I unwillingly rode after my "dear" big brothers physically PUT ME ON the huge, new ride in Houston's former theme park, Astroworld, back in the 1970s, "because if I would just try it, I'd like it". (I don't want to admit it, but they were right.  After screaming through the entire first ride, I voluntarily jumped on about 5 more times that day, and enjoyed every terrifying second.)

Why all the emotions?

1.  Rwanda beckons, America clings. I miss our African home, yet do not want to leave my American one.  Watching my mom serve perhaps her 55th or so Thanksgiving meal this holiday, with much of my original family all around, I wondered how many more Thanksgivings we would have around that long, oak table - or if I'd enjoy any more there at all.  Looking at my sister and brothers and wondering how long until I'll see them again, and wishing we could be together more.  Wishing I was closer to some, wishing I could express my love for them better, wishing I could just have more play time with some. (Do I sound like a really spoiled almost 50 year old?  I know everyone's lives are hectic....I guess I'm just writing this because I'm hoping someone else says, "I can relate to how you're feeling!"  Certainly I'm not the only one?? I hope not.)

I don't have the pictures from this year's Thanksgiving, so here is one from times gone by. Many things have changed since this photo, but the cousins' love for one another (and this photo is missing many cousins) and for PIE, have not changed at all.

These two truths keeps helping me stay somewhat grounded, when I remember to reflect on them.   And this morning, my sister, Ann, who prays a lot for me and who is a great listener, sent me some songs which lifted my spirit and reminded me of these truths.  (Thanks, Ann.)

TRUTH #1: THIS WORLD IS NOT MY HOME.  (So I don't have to fiercely cling to it like my very life depends on it.)  This world is only an echo, a shadow, of my true home, where I'm headed - my home with Jesus.  That thought comes from Hebrews 13, among other places in God's Word.  Here are some especially helpful verses for my feeling-lost heart, and maybe for yours.  (I'm using the New Living Translation.) 

14 "For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.
15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.  
16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.   
20-21 Now may the God of peace equip you with all you need
    for doing his will.  May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him.
    All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

TRUTH #2: JESUS PROMISED:  "I will never leave you."  ~ Hebrews 13:5 

Just like we reassure our preschool aged children, when we go to the grocery store, or wherever, that we will never (permanently) leave them, that we will be back.....so also Jesus promises US, "I will never leave you" (not even to go to the grocery store).  What a great promise.  Why do I forget?  My mind doesn't forget, but my heart does sometimes.  I feel all alone, bereft and scared.  Until I remember His promise.  Thank you, Jesus.

Some other things that can send my heart in a tailspin, and have recently done so:

2. Kids coming home and leaving again.  Missing them so much it hurts.  The nest feels at least partly full, and that old comfort of having a full house is there....just long enough for it to hurt all over again, like a scab ripped off by a grown over bandaid that had to get pulled - and fast.

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

3. Living sort of out of boxes and trying to figure out who and what goes in each room each time a new person comes home or leaves again - which feels super often.

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

4. Losing the illusion of control that all our temporary living situations take from me.

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

5. Our beloved pastor, Bob Allen, announcing his upcoming move to a new job within our denomination.  Bob was hugely instrumental in our accepting God's call to move our family to Rwanda.  He strengthened our faith and his strength gave us strength.  While we know God has a purpose for it, and should be glad for him and for Irene, his wife and our good friend, we are struggling with this.  Knowing he is leaving our church feels very much like a kick in the solar plexus.  One more wind of change to add to the gale forces in our lives. 

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

6. Catching a bad cold, and missing a lot of the family Thanksgiving celebration - and then passing that cold on to our college kids, who need to be healthy with finals approaching.

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

7. Needing to pay bills, with finances God hasn't provided yet.

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

8. Coming face to face - again - with my inadequacies, specifically in the house-management realm, and with anything organizationally challenging, including explaining what is needed in our mission to others.  Feeling pretty much like a failure, if I'm being totally honest.  

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5
9. Deste LOVES his teachers, his school, America, Texas, his new family (us!), The Ranch (grandparents' house), Kerrville and learning English.  How is this a discouraging thing?  Well, after almost a whole semester of convincing him daily to go to school, and helping him get used to the USA, now that we will be leaving in a month and a half, he has finally adjusted so well!  He adores his teacher, has so many friends, knows his way around, and is learning leaps and bounds each day.  When I try to prepare his heart for our upcoming move back to Rwanda, he simply says, "That's okay if we go.  I will come back Monday and go to school."  He doesn't understand we are leaving permanently.  He misses many loved ones in Rwanda (especially his Aunt Jeanne and Pacifique), but he also now loves many things and people here.  He feels safe and secure....and I shudder to think that we are about to change his little world again.

At his school's Thanksgiving Program and Feast.  Deste and his classmates recited  a beautiful poem about Thanksgiving.  He did great!  The smiling lady in brown is his wonderful teacher, Mrs. Robertson.  We love her!

The only picture I have of Deste in his Pilgrim Costume.  It was adorable!

Deste and his classmates at "his" table.  These are the kids he is with the most throughout the day.  All are good friends!

Deste and his "best friend after Sam" (his brother), John Allen.  So sweet!

My Little Indian.  <3  So Proud! 

"For this world is not our permanent home; 
we are looking forward to a home yet to come."
Hebrews 13:14 

"I will NEVER leave you."
Hebrews 13:5

I watch my wayward heart and my roller coaster emotions and wonder, "Am I really cut out for this missional, overseas life?  Surely, God should have asked someone else to go to Rwanda so that His people there could have a surgeon and perhaps get an added plus of some learning some English from an old English teacher.  I just really don't have what it takes.  Yet, as I write this, I remember the words from one of the songs sweet Annie sent me this morning.......

"....Then you gently re-remind me
That You've made me from the first
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst.
And I realize the good in me is only there because of who
You are.  
And all I ever have to be is what
You've made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find.
All I ever have to be is what You've made me."
(Sung way back in the 80s by Amy Grant, and written by Gary Chapman.)

I guess I'll put my trust in Him again, if He will strengthen me to do that.  I'll remember that this world is not my home.  That He will never leave me.  And that any good in me is only there because of who HE is, and what HE has put in me.  If He wants us to keep living in Rwanda, then HE can make it happen and can equip me to do His will.  

Because, He will NEVER leave me.  Thanks, Ann, for the reminder.  I love you. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Awesome Gift!

"But Jesus said, 

"Let the children come to me. 

Don't stop them! 

For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children."

Matthew 19:14

I received an amazing gift today, and that gift reminded me of just one of the reasons I think Jesus feels the way he does about kids.  "The kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children."  And what are children like, exactly?  Raising one again, I remember daily that they can be messy, moody, cute, innocent, impish, mean, nice, pouty and etc.  But the character trait I think Jesus was thinking of (though of course, I don't really know), was the way kids love with abandon, without concern for themselves.  When they care, they just care.  When they love, they just love.  No planning, no jockeying for position, no strategies - they just love and give and care.  


That's what happened to me today.  After school, a young girl across the street walked over and asked me to please come see her mom because she had something to tell me.  I walked over, wondering what was going on, and her mom, Erica, told me that Emma, her daughter, had a surprise for me.   

Emma came to Trinity Baptist's "Courageous Kids" program this past Sunday night, where I presented a talk about Rwanda and what our family does there.  Emma and her family are new in town, and haven't found things like a church to attend, or doctors, or even places to get haircuts yet.  But she, her little brother and her awesome Mom came anyway, just because I needed someone to help entertain Deste while I was giving my talk!  I showed many pictures and explained about life there, and the ways it is different from life here, along with the ways it is the same.  The kids were so attentive - I was really impressed!  Not once did I have to ask a child to pay attention or quit talking.  
And these were 1st through 6th graders!   

Anyway, it turns out that Emma was especially touched by the stories she heard and the pictures she saw, and when she went home, she told her mom that she wanted to do something to help the children of Kibogora, Rwanda.  She went through her clothes, and picked out many adorable things for them.  These weren't all worn out, raggedy things, these were the cutest clothes ever!  And she donated about 5 pairs of shoes, as well. And, to top it off, she gave $30 from her piggy bank - $30 of her OWN money! 

I almost cried.  

So encouraging.  So trusting!  You can bet I am going to make sure those clothes go to super special kids in our village, and I think I'll use the money to buy food for some families with small children, who are out of groceries.  Either that, or it will go to pay some students' school supply and uniform fees.  


THANK YOU, EMMA!  I know Jesus is so proud of you and so glad you shared what you had with your brothers and sisters in Rwanda.  

AND, THANK YOU, JESUS, FOR EMMA!  Thank you that she cares so much about kids she has never even met, but only saw on a TV screen from my computer one time.  Thank you that her family moved in across the street from us so we could meet them this past August.  Thank you for all the fun she and her little brother, Wesley, have had with Deste.  Please bless Emma, Lord, and bless the clothes and money she has donated, so that it will bless many families in Rwanda.  Amen.   

This picture reminds me of Emma, looking right at Jesus and enjoying his smile as he sees what she did for the children of Kibogora, Rwanda.  


Friday, October 31, 2014

A Message from Heaven

A Great Cloud of Witnesses - especially one!

Hebrews 12: 1-3

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,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Ever have one of those moments when you just KNOW God is speaking straight to your heart?  

I had one of those a few days ago.  It was a reverse Halloween Scary Movie moment.  Instead of chills running down my spine because of fear of the scary monster/goblin/zombie apocalypse, I felt chills because I felt I was on Holy Ground, having a miraculous God-encounter, orchestrated by Him with a message straight for my heart and spirit at that very moment.  Even more, realizing that He had to have planned it long ago for it to unfold as it did, made it all the more amazing.

I'll just tell the story, and you can draw your own summary.  I'm sure some will say it was just a coincidence, and I can't prove that it wasn't.  But for me, it was a definite sign that God loves me and cares so much about me and the things with which I'm struggling (even though they are small things), that he would arrange details to fall together at just the right time, to give me an important message of what really matters, of what will really make me happy or fulfilled or whatever, and to remind me of my purpose in life, which, by the way, isn't to store up things in my garage (explanation below).  I share this not just because it is a cool story (which I think it is!), but to encourage you, as well.  Because we each have a God made purpose for being here on planet Earth.  We each have a job to do, something to create, some purpose to fulfill.  If God would do this for me over a seemingly little, trivial thing, what might He want to say to you to assure you of His love and good plans for your life?  Because believe me, if Jesus's death was enough to get me on good terms with God, I promise you, it was enough for you, too.  If He loves me, that means He's gotta love you, too.  Trust me on this one.

You know, at times, I struggle with doubts about Him, wondering if I've made the whole God thing up (or not just me, but me and lots of other people, too!).  Sometimes when I see the huge injustices in the world, the pain, the sorrow, the chaos and confusion, I sometimes struggle - especially after being around people  I know are way smarter than me, yet who do not believe in anything beyond the material world we can see and touch.  

However, it is moments like the one I am about to describe that extinguish my doubts and fill me with an uncanny assuredness of not just His existence, but also of His overflowing love for me.   I cannot begin to comprehend it, but I do believe the old lyrics, "My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine".  I'm so thankful for a God who knows me, down to the last detail, who loves me, and who can handle my doubts.

Enough rambling!  Here is what happened - with a little background first.  

This is not my garage, but in some ways, it could be, except most of the stuff in my garage is packed in boxes upon boxes and not just stashed like it is here. The year we left for Rwanda in 2012, I had 4 garage sales, and made many, many trips to Salvation Army and our hospital's Hospice thrift stores to donate our "stuff".  Still, when we moved, we left behind a 2 car garage-turned-playroom sized room full of furniture and other belongings we hadn't sold nor given away, but which we weren't taking to Rwanda with us, as each of us could take 2 large suitcases, 1 carry on, and one backpack.  Our renters graciously allowed us to store our things there, thus eliminating the need for a sizable storage rental unit and saving us money.  (Thank you, Mike and Liz!)  

So, this trip home, one of my jobs is to go through all that stuff that we decided to keep two years ago, and decide what to do with it:  either give it away, sell it, or if we really want to keep it, take it to storage.  Naturally, I want to keep the kids' old art projects and school things I saved as they were growing up.  Those are my treasures.  And pictures.  Of course.  I need that stuff so I can look through it and reminisce in the nursing home!  And I figure our girls will want our china and crystal.  But what about the two couches that our kids might want when they have their first apartment, or that we'll want again when we come back to the United States at some point?  What about our King Sized Bed that Tim sweetly bought for me during my 4th pregnancy, when I was big as a house and really wanted more room as I tried to sleep?  What about our dining room table and chairs?  What about our piano?  .....And the list goes on.  (And no, we can't ship it to Africa.  Too expensive.  Way cheaper to have beds and things made by our friends in Rwanda than ship stuff from America.)

Some days I've had a more eternal view of things, and getting rid of our earthly "treasures" hasn't been so hard.  Other days - like one day last week - I've struggled much more and have just not wanted to let it go.  

I was moving boxes from the garage/play-room of our old house to my borrowed car (Thank you, Eva Smith!), and talking with God as I went.  "Daddy, I just don't want to get rid of all this!  I like this stuff.  What if we end up coming back sooner than we think?  What if I need this?  What if I miss it too much?  What if.....?  I know it will cost too much to store it, but isn't there another way?  This stuff has too many memories to just give away!"  

Basically:  I want to be free from the entanglements that a lot of stuff brings, but on the other hand, I don't.  

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, totally losing sight of all that Jesus gave up for me.  Let's see, He gave up a cush, sweet spot in Heaven, came and lived as a poor man, with a poor family, on Earth, was misunderstood, mistreated and eventually killed - all to reclaim what was His in the first place but had been taken from him by man's first sin and satan's conniving plan, in order to make a way for me (and all of us) to be His again.  

I want to follow His call to Rwanda, to serve His children over there, to bring a tangible sign and reminder of His love and mercy for each person who needs health care and compassion, to share the Love He gives me -- but I don't want to give up my couches so I can do that??  Hmmmm.  Ahem.  Sounds reasonable. 

But, it's not just the couch (or the love seat, or the bed, or, or, or...).  it's the memory of that couch, and how it once was Tim's couch when he was single, and then it became our first piece of furniture together, of how I picked out a fabric to make it our "new" couch, and recovered it, and of nursing each child on that couch in the wee hours of the morning and throughout the day, of sitting on that couch while my children each sounded out words for the first time.  It's the memory of Hannah, Stephen, Ruthie and Sam using the pillows to build forts, and to snuggle under the bottom pillow and hide in Hide N Go Seek. 
Halloween 2007 - on the couch. Hans Solo, Dad, Caveman, and Hannah-Montana. 

It's how I can look at that couch and see in my mind's eye, a bunch of little imps in their pajamas jumping on that couch, even though Mommy and Daddy told them a million times not to do that.  My reluctance to lose the couch is, I think, coming from some sort of fear that I'll lose those precious moments and memories, shared ON, UNDER AND BEHIND the couch, if I lose the couch.  When in reality, it is Just.A.Couch.  Same with the bed, same with the house, same with the sandbox outside, same with the chicken coop, same with all of it!  My daughter Ruthie reminded me before she left for school this term:  "Mom, it's okay.  REALLY.  We'll always have the memories." ("Unless of course, I end up with Alzheimer's", I ruefully thought.)  "We don't need the physical items to retain the memories or our love for each other, Mom.  You can let go."  She is right.  But still, I struggle.  

I'm finally to the Story!  

So, last week, I was having my typical talk with God about all this stuff, even as I loaded more of it into the car to take it to Salvation Army (Don't you just love Salvation Army and all they do?).  After picking up a really heavy box, I came back into the garage and saw an envelope on the file cabinet, just sitting there by itself.  

I almost threw it away, thinking it was trash.  But then I thought, "Better just check inside in case something important is in there."

Remember, seeing this envelope interrupted my conversation with God, where I was whining to Him that I didn't want to give up all our "stuff" so we could more affordably go back to Rwanda, where He has called us to work.  I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too, or I wanted to have my stuff and serve Him, too.  But Jesus was pretty clear, wasn't He, when He said, "You cannot serve both God and Mammon"? ~ Matthew 6:24

(Often, "mammon" is translated as "money".  Mammon means, loosely, "stuff" according to the Linda Berg Bible dictionary, or "material wealth or possessions", according to Merriam-Webster.)

So, I opened up the envelope, and a short letter, and another short letter, and two strips of paper were inside.  I saw the strips first, and opened first one, then the other.  Here they are:  

Both strips of paper said the same thing ~ they were Bible verses, copied down in familiar handwriting, but whose handwriting it was, I couldn't quite recall.  The verses said, "Do not store up treasure here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves.  Wherever your treasure is, there you heart and thoughts will be.  Matthew 6:19-21

I was so taken aback, I had to sit down a moment and catch my breath (which meant I had to sit on the floor!  No empty chairs in that crazy room!).  That this was a direct answer from my loving God to my complaints and pleas just moments before, I had no doubt.  It felt like a direct line, as surely as a voice, answering my questions.  

Then, I remembered that more was in the envelope.  "Maybe I can figure out who sent this to me, and why?", I thought.  I opened this first letter, and it didn't make a lot of sense to me.  Something about Christmas presents, and understanding our concern with giving our kids too many things over the holiday season, and encouraging us to remember "we are the parents" when deciding these things.  But no name, no date, no identification at all. Hmmm, who in the world sent this?  Then, I opened this last page.  And I finally remembered whose handwriting was on those strips of paper.  

These Bible verses were from Tim's MOM, Ernestine Berg, forwarded to us with the accompanying note by her son, Bobby, who was taking care of her in the last stages of her life at the time.  She wrote the letter and Bible verses to us in February 1999, and  died May 4 of that same year, a few months later.  

So, back in 1999, when she was sick and in pain with cancer, and in the last few months of her life, Ernestine Berg wrote down some Bible verses, one copy for me and one for Tim, to remind us not to invest our treasure on this earth, but to invest it in Heaven.  She reminded us that where our TREASURE (our time, our money, our possessions) was, there our HEARTS would be.  

Do I want to keep looking back?  Do I want to keep wishing for my house on this earth and for times long gone?  The kids are grown.  I love them so much, and I loved them when they were little.  But having that couch or that house or that anything will not make them little again, nor would I want it to.  I love them right now!  I cherish who they've grown to become!  And my hope isn't found in the past, nor in those special moments or memories.  My hope is in Jesus, and in the awesome house, and couch and fun and joy that awaits me and all my friends and family who love him in Heaven.  THAT is where I want to be.  THAT is where I want to yearn for.  THAT destiny is where I want my focus to stay, and where I want to be thinking about and telling friends about while I'm journeying through this earth right now.  

Thank you, Mama Berg, for loving me enough to send those messages, to exert the energy when you really didn't feel well at all to write down those verses for me and for Tim.  I somehow know that you can read this blog, that you know how much those verses helped me, not just when I read them when you sent them 15 years ago, but even more now, when they reappeared on Tim's file cabinet in our storage room.  Thank you for not just sending those verses to me, but for LIVING THEM AS WELL.  YOU WERE SUCH AN AMAZING EXAMPLE OF A LIFE LIVED WITH ETERNITY IN MIND.  

So now, if you didn't believe that God still does miracles today, I guess you'll be rethinking that?  He totally intervened for me, and he even planned that that envelope would be randomly placed on that cabinet 3 years ago when Tim left it there.  (And Tim hardly ever leaves anything in a random place!)

So thankful today for my message from Heaven.  

The End. 

P.S.  For more information on Mama Berg, please read below.  

Ernestine loved Jesus with all her heart, and she LIVED the verses she shared with us back then.  Even though she was a successful doctor, who made a lot of money over her career, she did not get wrapped up in material possession she could so easily have bought.  Instead, she invested in eternity, and she did so sacrifically.  She volunteered extensively with the Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship, serving in a medical capacity in countries all over the world.  She taught VBS in her home church, volunteered in a Crisis Pregnancy Center, donated to countless charities, and supported her church whole-heartedly with her church attendance, her finances and her time.  I don't know how much of the money she earned that she gave away, but I would guess that it was at least 50%, probably more.  She was the definition of WISE STEWARDSHIP AND FRUGALITY.  

Here is a summary of her life, written by her son, Lee Berg, which I copied from his Facebook page: 

"For those of you who didn't know her, she was truly an amazing person. She started life on a farm with two parents who were at various points in their career, teachers. So they understood the value of education.

As I understand it, she graduated high
school at age 16 and started college studying home economics education. After a year, she decided to switch to pre-med. Minor change.

Fast forward to her residency in psychiatry. Having met my Dad, she decided to switch to anesthesiology because it would get her working to help pay for his surgery residency.
Fast forward to her residency in psychiatry. Having met my Dad, she decided to switch to anesthesiology because it would get her working to help pay for his surgery residency.

Fast-forward again to her first child, born when she was 33. Her sixth was born exactly 8 years later when she was 41.


4 years later, her husband died after an 18 month battle with acute leukemia. So now what? She has 6 kids between the ages of 4 and 12. She just kept on, trying her best to make it work.  (Editor's note:  And I would add that she spend a significant portion of her time on her knees, praying for and receiving divine help. -LB)

5 years after that, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was 1973. The state of cancer fighting wasn't anything near what it is today. She took extreme measures and basically survived for another 24 years before it came back.

But during that 24 years, she got to see all of her children grow up and receive higher education, some with advanced degrees. She experienced the joy of 14 grandchildren and traveled the world doing what she loved, providing medical services for those in need.

But there's more. At the age of 67, she decided that after 35 years, she was tired of anesthesiology and wanted to pursue her original psychiatry dream. She applied to many programs and eventually was accepted at the University of Deleware where she eventually completed her residency program in psychiatry.

At the age of 70, she passed her boards and became a board-certified practicing psychiatrist in the state of Georgia. She went on to practice for many years before a recurrence of her original cancer came back.

She provides not just an inspiration, but a baseline of achievement that I still only dream of.

I am still very grateful that I was able to get to know her so well in her later years.

Thanks, Mom!"

~ Lee Berg

THIS song below describes where Ernestine Berg is today, and where I want to be one day, with Jesus and all my friends and family.  And guess what?  My couch will not be there.  And that is fine with me! 

"Uncloudy Day"

Oh, they tell me of a home far beyond the skies
Oh, they tell me of a home far away
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Oh, the land of cloudless day
Oh, the land of an unclouded day
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Oh, they tell me of a home where my friends have gone
Oh, they tell me of that land far away
Where the tree of life in eternal bloom
Sheds its fragrance through the unclouded day

Oh, the land of cloudless day
Oh, the land of an unclouded day
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Oh, they tell me of a King in His beauty there
And they tell me that mine eyes shall behold
Where He sits on the throne that is whiter than snow
In the city that is made of gold

Oh, the land of cloudless day
Oh, the land of an unclouded day
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Oh, they tell me that He smiles on His children there
And His smile drives their sorrows all away
And they tell me that no tears ever come again
In that lovely land of unclouded day

Oh, the land of cloudless day
Oh, the land of an unclouded day
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day