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Introductory Remarks

This is the post excerpt.

I find opportunities to share meaningful thoughts to be few and far between, yet I much enjoy diving deeper than conversations typically delve.  This Pondering Pictures blog will be a place to put my pondering into writing.  Photographs will serve as inspirations, as starting points.  It is my intention to begin a journey, an adventure in writing.  I do not know where it will take me.  Perhaps I shall visit deep places, or perhaps gentle slopes.  I invite you to join my pondering journey.

Painted Rock

This first picture brings back memories of the summer I graduated high school and of Julie Muhilly, my best friend’s mom.  I lovingly called her “crazy Julie.”  My friend was often embarrassed, but I always enjoyed being around her mom.  One of my fun memories of her was the week I spent with her at Redwood Family Camp.  She had us load up her car with all sizes of river rocks to paint.  I thought she was joking at first.  Nope.  Here is the evidence.  I noticed these two paintings this morning while taking photos for a Facebook challenge.

These rocks remind me that it’s OK to be who I am, just as God made me.  I don’t have to fit into someone’s mold.  I just need to love the people around me and be myself.  I hope that I may be that person to my children’s friends.

What If I Died Today?

This morning while driving to church I asked myself this question. What if I died today?  Would God be disappointed with me?  Would I have accomplished what God put me on earth to do?  Whose lives have I touched?  Did I make a difference?

I knew immediately that it would not be possible for me to know all of those whom I have touched.  It seemed that many who had the most long-term impact in my life would have no idea what a difference they have made.

My mind went to a friend who is much older than me.  When I was a shy teen she gave me some words of wisdom that have many times emboldened me to risk reaching out.  I feel certain that she would not remember what she said.  I don’t remember her exact words myself.  I just know that it changed my life.

I wonder if I have been that for someone.  I wonder if anything I have said or done has spurred others on to love and good works.  What if I impacted only one person?

My mind goes back to Family Camp 1992.  I had just graduated high school.  The youth minister asked each of us teens a question.  If I could do one thing, anything, what would it be?  Without premeditation, I answered that I wanted to touch one person’s life for Christ.

My heart’s desire was to spend my entire life serving the Lord in full-time ministry.  I felt called to the foreign missions field.  Twenty-eight years later here I am in Warrensburg, MO serving as the Pastor’s wife at Family Life Assembly of God and wondering if I make a difference.  Usually I feel fairly confident that I have followed the Lord’s path for me even though I have not yet made it to the foreign field.  But then the questions come . . . What if I died today?  Would I hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant?”  Has my life thus far made a difference?

I have given birth to four children that are all off to good starts.  Who knows what impact they will have on the world?

Bob Jones, a well-respected prophet in certain circles and who is now with the Lord, changed my life.  I saw him on video tell of a time he died, heart attack I think.  The Lord asked him if he had learned to love and sent him back.  He lived many more years.

My current heart’s cry comes from that testimony I heard from Bob Jones.  Lord, let me learn to love like you.  Let me see the gold in people.  Let me love the ones that are difficult, those who are close enough to get under my skin.  I hope I will get to meet Bob in eternity to thank him for his ministry.

Earlier today I was thinking I need to consciously run my mind through all of the people who have impacted my life for good.  Just now my thoughts shifted.  What about all the other people who did mundane tasks that allowed me to live another day?  What about the kindergarten teacher I had before we moved to Willits whose name I do not even remember?  What about the person who watered the flowers in front of the church I attended as a kid to keep it beautiful?  or the board members who approved hosting a youth camp in a seemingly insignificant town called Point Arena, CA where I encountered the Lord?

Suddenly I feel more connected.

I need to serve, to make a difference for others, even if it is a simple act that no one will remember.  Today I cooked lunch for my family.  It was not a memorable meal.  I’m sure Daniel will never look back over his life and say to me, “Remember that one Sunday after church when you made us a ham dinner and overcooked the sweet potatoes in the InstaPot?”  Even so, it made me feel good to serve my family a meal.  I need to serve.  This is how I love.

A few years ago I took Isaac up to Grandma Kay’s grave. We had another child with us that day. As we drove away, I heard Isaac respond to the other boy’s question with, “You haven’t tasted her pancakes!” It caught my attention that Kay’s simple act of serving pancakes had touched her grandson’s heart, that young as he was when she’d gone to heaven, this was what he would remember about her.

This is my prayer tonight.  Lord, may I love like you.  May I love in simple acts of kindness, in mundane acts of service, whether in joy or in tears.  Abba, will you take my acts of love toward others as worship to you.  May they bring a smile to your face.  Would you give me opportunities to encourage others as I have so many times been encouraged by those you’ve placed along my path?  I pray there will be many.  Would you make my ministry effective, not for the sake of impressing anyone, but for the sake of love?  In Jesus name.

Lense Color

It was the summer of 1996.  Culture shock sneaked up on this mountain-raised, Northern California girl.  Inglewood, CA was a world away from Willits, CA.  She looked over the rail at five lanes of traffic going north and five going south, each car basically parked, and she marveled that millions chose to travel this path every day.  She noticed bars covering every window of every house and business, razor wire not only atop fences, but also edging the roof of the former furniture store turned church plant site.  It was a world view shifting summer.

Yes, it was me.  It wasn’t the bars or razor wire that changed me.  It was encountering people of a different culture.

I interned with the church planting team for Inglewood Community Church.  We met weekly with the Senior Pastor, remodeled the building, walked neighborhoods knocking on doors, chatting with residents and praying for them, spent mornings in prayer, prepared for and executed outreaches, planned the first missions convention with a Mission Impossible theme, sold fireworks, packed equipment and set up church at the YMCA each Sunday and tore it down afterward, visited Teen Challenge, camped with the leadership team in a rattlesnake infested area.  My fellow intern and I joked that we experienced everything but a drive by shooting.  He even had his car stolen!

What shifted my lenses was discussions held around Wednesday night Bible studies in one of the three Co-pastor’s homes.  It wasn’t his great exposition of any particular scripture.  It was the fact that nearly every week we talked about race.  Inglewood was primarily black.  It was eye-opening to listen to a black friend tell how he experienced police discrimination.  He was not a criminal.  He had a business installing carpet.  While I no longer remember the details of his story, I clearly remember the bombshell effect it had on my view that racism was a thing of the past.

Growing up in a primarily white community with an ever growing latino population, I only knew one black family.  I was warned that intermarriage could produce children with blotchy skin.  I did hear complaints about illegal immigrants, and I was taught the perspective that the jobs they were supposedly “stealing” were jobs white people were too lazy to do anyway.  Other than that, I was taught that all people are equal, and I believed it.

Only after encountering the reality of racism through other people’s stories did I learn that residents of my own home town and in my own lifetime had threatened to burn down the house of a black family if they didn’t leave immediately.  Shock! 

I had the privilege of visiting the Museum of Tolerance (http://www.museumoftolerance.com/) while on my internship.  The holocaust experiential exhibit was impressive.  Even so, I was most impacted by the entry way.  There were two doors side by side.  One was for prejudiced people and the other for people without prejudice.  Only the prejudiced side was open, driving home the point that we all see the world through tinted glasses.  

After my internship, when asked to choose the issue I felt least prepared to deal with in ministry, I named racism.  Interviewing people for that class project, I was flabbergasted to learn that we had a member of the KKK on campus.  What!?!?!?!  This was Bible college.  There is just no place in the life of a believer for looking down on persons because of their color.  To this day I still cannot believe it.

This morning while I was on FaceBook, an 18 minute YouTube video by Candace Owens caught my attention with its picture of a young black woman next to the words “George Floyd is Not a Martyr.”  After finishing that one I watched a TEDx video by a black man called “What I am Learning from my White Grandchildren – Truths About Race.”  He said, “We tell children that race is real, but that race doesn’t matter. And the opposite is actually true: race is not real, but race does matter.”

I am concerned about what is going on in the country.  I am not watching the news.  I have no interest in a constant stream of bad news about things over which I have no control.  What I do control is myself.  

I feel bad that there are millions of people, dark skinned or otherwise, whose entire lives they have been treated less than, just because of their color.  I feel badly, because I know there is truth in the stories I’ve heard.  Despite my conviction that we all have choices that determine our fates, I believe things are often more of an uphill battle for some than they are for others.

I feel bad for police officers right now.  How would I feel if I were a police officer?  Suppose I could live up to my ideal and treat everyone equally and always do the right thing.  Still, I could only control myself.  I could speak to a fellow officer who stepped over the line.  I could report him/her if warranted, but I could never make their choices for them.

I feel badly because of my own powerlessness.  How can I be the change?  I try to treat all people respectfully, but I am only one person.  Also, my circle is very limited.

This is my choice.  I will love the one in front of me.  I will pray for our leaders, not with a critical bent but a sincere request for wisdom.  I may be only one, but I am one.  I know that I am not alone.

Things Eternal

A couple of days ago I woke up with the song “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand” in my head.  Interesting.  Obviously I’d heard it before, but it was WAY BACK in my memory archives.  I found it and listened to various version while on my morning walk.  Sang it all that day.  Shared it on FaceBook thinking I may have a friend who needed to hear it.  Three days ago I didn’t even think I knew this song, but now singing it brings tears to my eyes.  It’s become to me a song of prayer for my aunt and uncle, and also a reminder to myself that this physical life is temporary.

I’ve known that my aunt was fighting cancer, but I thought she was doing ok after surgery.  She had to wait for continued treatment due to Covid-19.  Then an unrelated medication caused her liver to shut down.  It came on suddenly.  I’m not even sure at this minute if she is still alive on this earth.  I cannot be there with the family because of this whole virus thing.

I believe my aunt has trusted in Jesus to save her and when her time has come will exit this world and step into eternity with her Lord.  I expect to see her again on the other side.  I imagine her happiness at being reunited with her mom, my grandma.  I imagine her in absolute peace and contentment, having come before the Father, faced his judgment and been found spotless because she was washed in the blood of Jesus.

In singing this song, part of me is crying because of God’s grace on my life and on my aunt’s life.  I have found favor with the Almighty Creator of the universe.  It’s not that I deserved anything.  It’s not my own goodness.  I have been privileged to experience God’s goodness because he chose me.  It hurts to imagine people who don’t have that bedrock under their lives.

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A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” People are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. Isaiah 40:6

While part of me cries tears of gratitude, another part of me cries over my uncle who is losing the one he loves.  I wish I could be there.  I want to give him a big hug and tell him I love him in person.  As this song plays over and over in my head, prayers for my uncle rise to heaven.  I want him to know that he is not alone, even when she is gone from this earth.  My tears cry out to the Lord that he comfort my beloved uncle.

“Build your hopes on things eternal.”  When this line came to my mind again in prayer this morning, I started thinking of the wildflowers I’ve been photographing.  They are here for a few days or perhaps a few weeks, then they are gone until next spring.  Their beauty fades.  I enjoy it while I can.

It set me out searching for related verses.

“Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.”  I Peter 1:3-4

This morning I write to remind myself and to share with my friends.  This earthly life is temporary.  May we all build our hopes on things eternal.

“I am a sinner”

I am a sinner.  I saw this in a friend’s post today.  It provoked me to thought.

What does it mean to be a sinner?  The Bible says that ALL have sinned.  We have all fallen short.  That is absolutely true.  What is not true is that I AM a sinner.  Sin is no longer my identity.

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Well, if I’m not a sinner, who am I?  The truth is . . . I’m a saint.  Whoooooaaaaa!  Hold it right there!

Are you saying you are without fault?  Of course not.  I often wrestle with impatience and anger, among other things, but that is not who I am.  No, I identify with Christ, the one who shed his blood to make me right with the Father.  Because I chose to receive this gift of salvation through Jesus, I am right with God.

I used to see my salvation kind of like this.  Christ’s blood washed my slate clean, and now it’s my job to keep it that way.  That perspective was pretty depressing.  It depended on me being perfect.

Now I see it this way.  My job is to look into the Father’s eyes, to see how my attitudes, thoughts and actions are affecting his heart and then to respond accordingly.  I have the privilege of coming boldly before him, handing him my broken places and trusting him to give grace for this day, for this moment.

This is what God wants for you.  It was never God’s plan for us to do life on our own.  We were always meant to come to him just as we are.

If you see yourself as a sinner, I have good news.  The Father has a new identity for you.  Come to him today.

Wrestling

Words inspired by the song “Jacob” by Leonard W. Jones.

I’ve posted several times on FaceBook a link to the song “Jacob.”  It’s the song I put on repeat when I am struggling with people.  Now, I should point out that the song is not actually about wrestling with my friends.  It’s about an absolute determination to bless the Lord in worship.  That said, the song speaks to me about my commitment to remain connected in conflict.  For that reason, I play it over and over, and periodically I share it.

Years ago I approached my then pastor about an action he had taken that bothered me.  My message was not hateful, but I dared to question him, and things did not go smoothly.  We went back and forth a few times.  I spent days struggling with my own thoughts.  What should I have done differently?  I had an issue with a friend, and I chose to confront him about it.  What was I supposed to have done?  In my fight to maintain relationship with our pastor, the Lord gave me lyrics from the song “Jacob” where it says, “I will wrestle you like Jacob. I will not release you ’til I bless you.”  I started praying this over the situation.  Like a pit bull locking its jaw, I set my mind not to separate in anger but to work through my offense until I thought and spoke well of my friend.  Many tears did I shed in that wrestling, and I came out the other side with a higher value for relationship.

There is tension between two.  In one hand I typically hold firmly to my belief that I am right.  In the other hand I refuse to let go of my value for this person.  Perhaps there is a more cut and dried answer, but for me the tension must be worked out anew with every significant conflict.  Each time, I must choose value for the person.  My Heavenly Father does not write me off when I am difficult.  Because my Father is tenacious in seeking connection with me, I choose to be tenacious in my love for others.

Love looks like holding on when the road becomes rocky.  It looks like choosing to see the gold in a person who is getting on my nerves.  For me the choice starts with a reminder to myself that this person is beloved of God.  Jesus did not come to die for people who had it all together.  He gave his life to heal us from the twisted way of life in which our sin trapped us.

When I realize that bitterness is taking root in my heart, I must confront it.  Most often the wrestling takes place inside my head or in my prayer room.  On a rare occasion I speak to the person about the issue.  It is never easy.  Choosing connection requires courage.  I like being right and doing things my own way, but God has not called me to live alone.  He has called me to be in community with others, others who think and act differently than I do.

Getting past a conflict requires me to humble myself.  I must recognize where I was wrong.  My motives may have been right.  My argument may have been solid.  No matter.  When I feel bitterness toward someone, I know that somewhere along the line I made a wrong choice.  The bitterness I experience is not the other person’s fault.  It is my own choice.  With God’s help, I can choose to let bitterness go.  I can ask God to help me see the other person as He sees them.  I can choose not to let that person go but to bless them.

Abba, my prayer today for myself and for my friends who read this is that you give me courage to hold on when I feel like walking away from those with whom you have called me to connection.  Help me call out the gold in others.  Help me value people more than having my own way.  Teach me to love tenaciously, like you love.  In Jesus name.

Fault Lines

Yesterday was my day off, which I spent mostly cleaning and cooking.  Some people think taking a day off means you don’t work.  Myself, I try to do whatever nurtures my soul at the time, which is typically either something creative or some sort of project.  The thing that makes it relaxing, work or otherwise, is the freedom to do as I please.

In my quiet place before I started working, I drew a picture of myself.  This is the way I saw myself while in prayer recently and represents how I’ve felt for months.  It’s power locked up in a shell, but the shell is cracking.  The spirit-filled being inside the shell is bursting forth.  It’s not the sudden explosion of a volcano but the gradual moving of fault lines, revealing the heated glow of what lies beneath.

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My earliest childhood dreams had me doing life as either a farmer or a baker.  I cannot pinpoint the time I switched to dreaming of serving the Lord full-time.  First I pictured myself singing with a traveling group like the ones that visited our church frequently.  I loved to sing, in fact that was what I enjoyed about church even during the years that I went only because my parents made me.  My favorite services were the ones with guest singers, even if they sang only one special.

In my teen years I dreamt of being a pastor’s wife, like Jane, my pastor’s wife.  My senior year I felt called to missions, so I started imagining myself as a missionary’s wife.  After four years at Bible college I married a pastor, not one by position but a man with a pastoral calling.  Four kids and seventeen years later my husband and I were finally privileged to step into full-time ministry.

I had a rough start.  It wasn’t the people.  They have been very kind.  My problem was that I could not figure out where I fit in John Mark’s ministry with his leadership style.  I pulled back, withdrew from trying to contribute other than playing keyboard on the worship team and attending minister meetings.  At the time we were meeting together with another church, which only complicated my issues.  Things changed for me when the church moved into our own building and I agreed to take over as Treasurer/Bookkeeper.  I began to see myself as having a place.

When I recognized this past April that the Lord was directing me, myself, to be ordained, I pondered it long.  In fact, I have been pondering that for the past seven months.  What is my place?  Where do I fit?  I’m not going to go pastor a church somewhere myself.  I’m going to stay right here and serve with my husband.  I suppose that on the outside, people see me pretty much the same as I was before, but on the inside something has come alive.  That living thing inside me is welling up.  It is putting pressure on the shell that has covered me.  I see the fault lines appearing.  This is me.

Cracks

I felt honored to have been asked to prepare a cake for some friends’ 50th Anniversary.  I relish opportunities to create, particularly things useful.  When I finish I cannot stop looking at my creation.  I simply love what I create.  It doesn’t come out perfect.  None of them ever come out perfect, but the flaws are part of the creation.

For the anniversary cake pictured below, I was asked to use an icing recipe I’d never used before as well as an application method that was new to me.  My feelings were strung between confidence that I can do things I put my mind to and nerves that I could possibly ruin a key element of my friends’ special occasion.

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The week of the event I baked on Thursday, wondering whether the two larger cakes forming the bottom layer were done in the middle despite the toothpick having come out clean.  Friday afternoon I uncovered questionably dense, moist centers in both.  Were they safe?  After consulting my local expert, Mom, I decided to cut out the centers and replace them with smaller cakes.  The resulting bottom layer was white with a chocolate center.

Allowing for emergencies, I iced and stacked the cakes Friday, and things went smoothly once I had the centers replaced.  I awoke Saturday morning to separation in the icing.  Places where I had used heat to smooth the crusting buttercream frosting now glistened with melted butter.  Although I was able to dry the spots with paper towels, the cautiously driven ride to church made visible the frosting’s weaknesses.  Cracks!  Despite this fact, everyone was pleased with the finished product.

How appropriate.  Marriages are like that.  They have cracks.  Even when we take care on the ride, cracks develop.  The question is what do we do with those cracks.  If we focus on them, we will only see more faults and may despair.  Those people who make it to their 50th wedding anniversary are the ones who have chosen to make the best of it.  There are no perfect people, thus their are no perfect unions of people.

Some flaws can be covered so no one ever notices.  Other flaws are right out in the open where everyone can see them.  It’s my choice whether I create something beautiful around the cracks or whether I discard the structure.

Here’s the tough thing.  Building a beautiful marriage isn’t a choice that is made once and for all at the altar.  It is millions of tiny choices made moment by moment.

In a group of older women I once told of a time early in my marriage that I considered leaving my husband.  I was surprised to discover that every one of them had been there.  We all honor those who persevere and make it through the long haul.

50th wedding anniversaries bring tears to my eyes every time I see them.  THAT is love.  It’s not giving up when you have every reason.  It’s choosing to see the jewels that God put in your spouse despite the ugly that is showing its head.

Today I choose life.  This moment I choose life.

If you are a believer, you above others can make it the long haul.  You have a secret weapon living inside you called Holy Spirit.  You are not obligated to do what your nature tells you when your spouse offends (and vice versa).  You can call out to the Lord.  He knows you inside and out and loves you just the way you are, cracks and all.

May you find joy in the journey.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense.” Proverbs 17:9a