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.  

Wow.  

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


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thankful


The last ten days, we travelled to The South, where we first met way back in 1991, and where we used to live as a young married couple, to speak about our mission to Rwanda.  We told of our work across the Atlantic, but we also enjoyed renewing, restorative, refreshing fellowship with dear family and friends – most of whom we haven’t seen in years.  Also, we relished time with family, made new friends, including even some new friends who will soon be moving to our part of Africa.  As I type this on our plane, heading back to Texas, I feel such thanks that I could come.  For three weeks before this trip, I fought a cold and a sinus infection that just wouldn’t go away – and even the day before we left, I was wondering if I could make it.  The morning of our departure, however, I felt much better and knew I could go.  Hurrah!  

We couldn't have taken the journey at all if it weren't for our friends in Kerrville here, who so willingly helped out and kept Sam for us while we were gone.  Ten days is a little too long to miss classes in high school!  They drove him, picked him up, washed his clothes, fed him and gave him love.  Wow.  Pretty Incredible.  A big thank you goes out to our friends, Paige, Liz and Chrisie.  As if you all didn't have enough to do, thank you for adding in a whole extra component to your lives for us!

One of our first stops on our journey was the “Prescription for Renewal” conference at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, in Asheville, North Carolina.  What a fabulous conference!  We were surrounded by God's beautiful creation, with other doctors and nurses who have heard and followed the same call we have heard and followed – the call to leave home and bring medical care, in the name of Jesus, to those without adequate health care in other parts of the world. 
While we each spoke about our mission in Rwanda, the highlight for us was hearing Dr. Kent Brantly speak the last night – I don’t think a dry eye was in the house after his speech.

This sweet and FUN nurse and young mama is moving to Kijabe, Kenya this July with her pediatrician husband and children.  She will be living in our friends' house who are going home for furlough and says that she and Ruthie are going to be BFFs!  I think she's right.  :)


The last night, we enjoyed a dinner with dear old friends from Spartanburg, SC, the special town where we lived as newlyweds for five sweet years.  Honestly, we’ve been gone so long, Tim and I weren’t sure how many folks could or would come.  We were honored and humbled when so many people greeted us!   We ate at Wade’s restaurant, an old stand-by favorite, where a mouth watering, seemingly endless array of southern cooked vegetables, sweet iced tea by the gallon, and entrees like fried chicken, chicken fried steak and chicken pot pie grace the menu.  Friend after friend exited the cafeteria-style line and walked in with his or her tray – much to our delight!  It was as if time stood still and we were back in 1995 – except a few gray hairs every now and then!

 
Keith Cox on left and James Dunn on the right



One of my favorite people on the planet, and a true mentor - someone I've so admired since we first met - Annmarie Hope


Annmarie and Steve Hope, two dear friends.  We used to be YL leaders together, back when we were actually young. 

More old YL (and Tennis, for Tim) Spartanburg friends - Teri and Bob Allsbrook.  So special to see these guys!

Sweet Alva, my extra mother and the best Sunday Dinner provider EVER. 

The old staff at Spartanburg Surgical Associates!  The gang was almost ALL there!


Dear friends Katherine and Susan, and our special neighbors, Beverly and Ralph



These adorable twin medical students, Kristi and Karri (sorry if I misspelled those, y'all) gave Tim a ride back to our hotel after his speech at Grand Rounds at his old stomping grounds, Spartanburg Hospital. 






Later, Tim and I talked about how special the evening was for us, and how that reunion must be a small taste of what Heaven will be like for all of God’s children.  Can you just imagine?  It will be a great reunion of so many loved ones – of course, we’ll all be the most happy by far to see Jesus, but I bet we’ll have time to walk around and visit as well, with a new, happy surprise every day of seeing yet another old, cherished friend. 

We’ve had some hard days being home, missing our “other home” in Rwanda, and also just trying to get all our logistics worked out – raising our new 6 year old, travel, medical and evacuation insurance, paperwork, finances, kids in school, new mission agency, plans, travel, etc.  But blessings like last night make all the hard stuff just melt away.  I’m so thankful. 


In between these two events, we packed in many visits with siblings, friends and even former co-worker friends.  I enjoyed taking Deste to his first Pumpkin Patch (in the rain!), and to play in the same park where we’ve taken all four of our other kids at one time or another, the park where I took Hannah-Grace practically every day for the first few years of her life.



(Forgive all the pictures.  Probably boring to look at unless you're me.)
Fran, who used to work in Tim's office.  So good to see her! 

We went to go visit Tim's old senior partner, Vernon Jeffords, in his new home. How fun to see him!


I finally got to meet Chip, my dear, dear friend Nancy's new beau.  They make a great couple! Nancy and James Dunn hosted this gathering. 

Some doc friends with John Tesseneer (in dark shirt),  a kid on our street with whom I used to play basketball before Hannah was born.  Now he is in his thirties.  I feel OLD!  It was SO good to see him. 
Another of Tim's old partners, Dr. Bill Morris and his wife Glenda.  Such great people!

We could NOT have seen all our old friends if it weren't for our Kerrville/Spartanburg friends, Mike and Bess Lee!  They babysat Deste for us that night.  Mike used to live in Kerrville, but now lives just down the street from our old house in Spartanburg.  Here is Deste in the bike trailer, about to go for a ride around our old neighborhood, where Mike and Bess live now.  (Their precious son, Knowlton, is next to him.  He has a bandaid on his eye b/c of eye muscle therapy, but his eye is fine.)

No visit to Spartanburg would be complete without a drive by our old Home, Sweet Home! 

Our old next door neighbor, John, came by to say hi while I was at the park.  Wish Emily could have come too, but it was great to reminisce with John! 

Deste was our photographer on this one.  Breakfast with Nancy and Chip!

Here's a little clearer shot of Nancy and Chip.

We could see our old church, Spartanburg First Baptist, out of our window.

Enjoyed a GREAT visit with my brother Mike in Atlanta. 

Tim's and my apartment, where we lived our first six months of married life together.




Deste with his Aunt Kaye. 


Visiting with Tim's brother Lee, our nephew Brian and with our sis-in-law, Mary.  


The only place we forgot to take pictures was at my sis-in-law Sally's house.  Sally and her family kept Deste for us for four days while we attended the conference at the Cove.  Soo grateful to them!  He had so much fun, he didn't want to leave!  
I guess the trip reminded me of all the ways God has blessed me in these years – sometimes it is easy to lose sight of His blessings when there is so much work to be done.  I’m grateful for the reminder that He is so good, and He has given me so much – and that we should always take the time to rejoice in all He has given!   What do you have to be thankful for today?  I’d love to hear!