Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Let it Snow!

OK, I'm going to be brutally honest! I grew up in Wisconsin and Christmas and snow always went together kind of like salt and pepper. We spent our December days dreaming of a white Christmas and most years we were not disappointed. The magic of snowfall and the quiet crispness of an evening under freshly fallen snow was something I treasured. It never seemed quite as cold when the earth was blanketed with snow.

Fast forward to my first Christmas away from home. I was in southern Mexico, at a jungle training camp. Even though jungle sounds hot, it was quite chilly - no heat, thatch roof hut, etc. That first year wasn't so bad, nor was the second one. That second year I was newly married and the novelty of being a honeymooner hadn't worn off yet. So the fact that Christmas came and went without snow didn't bother me too much.

Fast forward again to our first Christmas in Brazil. This was really far from home and absolutely far from anything remotely resembling snow. Now for my confession...I don't know whether I missed my immediate family more, the snow more or whether it was that all the traditions that were part of Christmas had been ripped away, but my first several Christmases in Brazil were marked by profound homesickness and times of tears and sadness. If I heard "White Christmas" or "Jingle Bells" or "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" I would go into a tailspin of homesickness. If I had the option, I would turn those tunes off! Perhaps it had something to do with being the second oldest of 8 children which meant that I had a significant part to play in making Christmas a fun time of the year for the rest of my siblings. In any case, I hate to admit that it took me many, many years to separate Christmas and snow and to begin to enjoy Christmas in the tropics with improvised Christmas trees made of "palm branch" and 85 degree weather.

We (our little family) began to make our own traditions. Over time, one of our favorites was to go swimming and boating on Christmas Day! Being all together on Christmas was a high priority. The last Christmas we spent together with John, we were in Dallas, TX and it snowed. I can see in my mind's eye, the delight of all three kids plus their dad, romping in the snow as it fell, building a snowman, throwing snowballs - it was all such a novelty for my "jungle" kiddos.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for snow at Christmas time, but not enough to make the trek to Wisconsin or even Iowa and risk having to drive in a snowstorm. But Christmas is far more about treasuring special times with those who are closest and dearest to me - and even making new memories and traditions. And it's all about celebrating the baby, Emmanuel - God with us - who makes it possible for us to be with God for all eternity.

What are your memories of Christmas and snow? I'd love to have you share them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Who Are You Mentoring?

Are you passing on your values to the next generation? And are they passing them on to their offspring?

There is much to be said for having mentors and being a mentor. One of the greatest joys we can experience is summed up in the 3rd epistle of John in the Bible. Verse 4 says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." The apostle John is talking about spiritual children in this case, but it applies to physical children as well.

Nothing encourages us more than to watch our children walking in integrity, wholeness, uprightness, dignity, loving God and His laws and ways, etc.

As we searched for our middle son, John, after he disappeared in the Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of his colleagues told us about a conversation she had had with John not too long before his hike. During that conversation she had asked him whether he was happy about his upbringing or whether he wished he had not been raised as a "missionary kid.". She told us that his answer was an unequivocal, "I loved my upbringing and I would like to be just like my parents and do just what they are doing." From the way she told us, I think his response must have surprised her although it certainly didn't surprise us.

Some people, looking at the fact that we took our children into Indian villages, exposed them to danger and disease, not to mention hardships of every kind, taught them God's Word, expected them to obey us, instilled both a love and fear of God in them - yes, some might criticize us for being too controlling or too heavy-handed with them. In the midst of the circumstances of life we tried to pass on through our mentoring, a sense of purpose and calling that transcends difficulties and develops faith that produces character.

And each of our 3 children came out of that "mentoring" and "discipling" experience both thankful and grateful for it. And it gives us great joy to see them impacting others around them, praying with others, giving them godly counsel, speaking the truth in love to those who will hear it.

Our spiritual children have even greater and more far-reaching impact. In fact, we have no idea of the impact they are having all around the world! We have a vast number of spiritual offspring scattered throughout the world, most of whom we will only meet when we all gather for the wedding banquet our bridegroom, Jesus, is preparing for us. I say that, not to our glory or praise, but to His. He is able to take common ordinary folks, full of flaws and shortcomings and use us anyway to accomplish His purposes. And for that we are deeply humbled and profoundly grateful.

Who are you mentoring and how are you doing it? What kind of heritage are you passing on?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anyone Can be Thankful - Or Can They?

Thanksgiving is always a bittersweet time for us. It was on Thanksgiving Day 12 years ago that our son, John left to hike across the Kohala mountains on the northeastern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. It was just another Thanksgiving Day and we of course, joined with our extended family in giving thanks. Ho-hum....

John even expressed in his own words all of the things he was thankful for. This is what he wrote in his journal 6 days before Thanksgiving:
"Well, since Thanksgiving is coming up, I'm going to work on counting my blessings, which, says Mom, are many. First off, I'm living in Hawaii right near HI Volcanoes National Park. It would be hard to imagine a more unique spot on the planet. I have a job with the U.S. Geological Survey, an important organization that will be spicy on my resume. I'm working in field biology, gaining valuable experience that will help me in my decision of whether to pursue graduate studies, and if so, in what. I'm in better physical condition than I have been since I was 15 (with the possible exception of times near field day at PQQ). I have an awesome mountain bike for the first time in my life, and so far I haven't entirely killed myself on it yet. I have two wonderful, supportive parents, and an amazing sister and a cool brother. I have a set of extremely varied experiences that is broader culturally, geographically, and educationally than most people gain in a lifetime, and there is no sign that I will cease or slow down in gaining further experience. Most importantly, I'm a child of God and I know where I'm going - I just need help finding out what to do in the meanwhile."
But Thanksgiving of 1999 was the day life threw us a curve ball. And we didn't even see it coming!

So what do you do? How can you be thankful? How is it possible to fulfill the scriptural mandate to "give thanks in everything" when one of the relationships you treasured most on this earth has suddenly and ruthlessly been ripped away from you.

I must confess that it isn't easy. But it is possible!

This week I had the privilege of presenting the "counsel time" to a group of children at our church who attend AWANA club. And I posed this same question to them (ages 3 to 16) - how can you be thankful for something you aren't thankful for? As we worked through this exercise together, I asked each of them to think of something they were NOT thankful for and then to think of a way to turn that into thankfulness.

What I was trying to illustrate was that our words and attitudes have the power to change our perspective like it did in this video.

For me, Thanksgiving Day of 1999 changed my world. But on December 17, 1999 God transformed my heart by giving me His perspective. All I can say is that it was even more radical than the transformation in the video above. God turned my deep sorrow into real joy and yes, even thankfulness for the 22 years I had had with my son. Read our book, Aloha is Forever, for the rest of the story!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Urgency of Purpose

During my devotions this morning I was reading an entry called, "I bless you with the peace of Jesus" out of a little booklet titled, Daily Spirit Blessings by Arthur Burk and Sylvia Gunter. It made me think about the "tyranny of the urgent" vs "the urgency of purpose."

No one walked this earth with an urgency of purpose like Jesus. He was pressed on every side by demands of the crowds yet He filled each day with those things that were priorities in the fulfillment of His ultimate purpose. John 5:19 says that Jesus told the Jewish leaders this: "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself but what He sees the Father do, for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner." Or to put it in laymen terms, "I get my direction for everything I do from my Father. I only follow His lead." As He walked this earth, He accomplished more in the three years of His ministry than most people do in a lifetime and ultimately achieved His purpose in going to the cross. As I pondered this, I believe He was giving us a key to what it means to "walk in the Spirit" when He said He only did what He saw His Father doing.

So how do we accomplish that without being sucked in by the tyranny of the urgent that is around us and pressing in on us from all sides? For one thing, we need to develop that habit of constant communion with the Father, paying attention to the still small voice of guidance that He gives. In order to do that, we often have to quiet the clamor of our flesh and its desires that speak so loudly they try to drown out the Spirit's voice. And we have to discern whether we are listening to God's voice or satan's voice - anyone who has repented of their sin and trusted in Christ's sacrifice on their behalf, has become a child of God. Every child learns to know the sound of his father's voice and it's no different in the spiritual realm - but that's a topic for a different blog entry. Suffice it to say that the key to knowing His voice is spending time with Him, reading His Word and talking to Him on a daily basis.

Another thing we need to do is pay attention to peace. I have learned that peace, or rather, the lack thereof, is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. When peace is gone, so is God's spirit. Jesus spoke these words in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you..." You can count on it; if peace isn't ruling in your heart, He isn't ruling either.

This line from the little devotional I read this morning stood out to me, "I bless you with being peaceful because you know ahead of time that your Father God will partner with you to provide adequacy for each day, whether a day with pain or pleasure." Peace comes from walking in that assurance that He is there, just as He said He would be, no matter what your circumstances.

All of what I've already said presumes that we know what our purpose and calling is here on this earth. Without a sense of purpose that gives us the urgency to accomplish that purpose, we will inevitably be driven by the urgencies of life; the tyranny of the urgent. Obviously there are things that are legitimate urgencies in our lives such as getting meals on the table, getting the laundry done, earning a living, etc. However, God also has a destiny He would like each of us to fulfill and until that sense of destiny becomes more urgent than the common ordinary urgencies of life, we will have great difficulty accomplishing our calling.

So today I bless you with the knowledge of your calling and the ability to walk hand in hand with Him to accomplish it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Part 2 of Rotten Egg in the Omelet

I've left you hanging and hopefully pondering long enough. Let's get back to our rotten egg in the omelet illustration. And please remember that it's only an illustration. Real truth, in my opinion, is only obtained by a careful study of the Scriptures, God's Word. (II Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness...")

So what did you think? Does God weigh the good we have done against the bad and judge whether we are worthy to be allowed into His presence? You probably already guessed that I am going to say, "No." Let me explain why.

The Scriptures are full of references to the fact that we have all sinned; no one is righteous, not even one of us. The most well known reference is in Romans 3:23. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And in I John 1:8 it says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect world but given free choice to walk in fellowship and communion with their creator, they chose disobedience (sin) and walked away from that perfect fellowship. You may say, "Wait a minute! Adam and Eve? Give me a break!" OK, would you have made the choice not to disobey, especially when tempted into believing that you would become like God and have the knowledge of good and evil just by eating the forbidden fruit? I submit to you that if it hadn't been Eve, it would have been someone else and sin would have entered the world sooner or later.

BUT God is merciful and loving. The only way to exercise perfect justice was to condemn sin - in other words, all came under condemnation. Romans 6:23a says, "...the wages of sin is death." Because we all sin, we all deserve the just wage of sin; death. Without going into great detail, let me just submit to you that the death God refers to here is spiritual death, not actual physical death, and the best way to sum that up is to equate spiritual death with separation from God - as though a chasm separates man from God. (I'm being very simplistic - whole books have been written to explain this, yet it is simple enough for even a young child to understand.)

So if the wages of sin is death or to get back to the omelet illustration, throwing out the eggs with the rotten one that contaminates the whole bunch, then someone has to die; someone has to pay that death penalty. That's where God's love shines - "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). Most of us have heard that often enough that it doesn't really sink in. What God did on the cross was this: "...He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us," (II Corinthians 5:21a). The penalty we deserved, God placed upon His Son, Jesus, calling Him unrighteous who was completely and totally righteous. Why? "That we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (II Corinthians 5:21b).

There is a lengthy passage of Scripture in Ephesians 2 starting with verse 4 that explains why God did this. It also explains how the good we do is a result of God's mercy and grace toward us. It is the effect and not the cause. Religious systems would want us to believe that we can do enough good to please God, but God says He is the one who took the first step to reconcile us to himself in Christ, resulting in a total inner transformation of the heart (like throwing out the rotten egg mixture). He gives us a completely new beginning and  even still is gracious and merciful to forgive us when we confess the sins we commit after trusting Him for salvation. Let me quote the Ephesians passage here:
But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:4-10 - italics are mine.)
Hallelujah! I, for one, am very glad He loved me that much. But the best part is that because we all start on a level playing field - all of us condemned sinners, we all have the same access to Him based on what Jesus did on the cross. The only requirement is to believe that what He did was sufficient and to accept His gift of life. His aloha is forever!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rotten Egg in the Omelet

Have you ever had the misfortune of cracking open a rotten egg? I have! My daughter has been a backyard farmer girl ever since I can remember. She always collected the eggs from her chickens and we had wonderful fresh eggs to eat on a continual basis.

One day I went to break an egg into a frying pan to have my usual breakfast of a fried egg and toast. I heard some peeping noises and wondered where they might be coming from but didn't give it a second thought. The oil in the frying pan was just right and I could almost hear the sizzling of the egg as it fried. But to my shock and utter dismay, when I cracked the shell open there was a blood covered little chick just about ready to peck its way out of its shell! In case you're wondering, it didn't land in the hot oil, but it also didn't survive. One more day inside the shell might have been sufficient.

It was a long time before I could persuade myself to eat another fried egg and what had been a regular combo on my breakfast menu became a rarity.

As I was praying the other day for my AWANA class (AWANA = Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed from II Timothy 2:15) the Lord reminded me of an illustration of the gospel message.

Imagine making an omelet. First you throw in one egg, then another, then another. After 5 eggs are cracked into your bowl, you crack the 6th one and it is rotten. It falls into your bowl of eggs before you can stop it. Can you proceed and make an edible omelet out of your bowl full of eggs? No! And no matter how many good eggs you add to your bowl, it will continue to be inedible because of the one rotten egg. (If you've never smelled a rotten egg, I recommend that you let one sit out on your counter for about 6 to 8 weeks and then crack it open. This illustration will make a lot more sense to you.)

So in order to make a good tasting omelet, you must throw out the whole bowl full of eggs, wash everything and start all over. If you're smart, you'll crack each egg into a saucer or small cup first and then add it to your bowlful. Yummm...nothing better than a freshly made omelet.

What is the point? If you were God, would you accept a little sin (bad) along with all the good someone has done and let them into heaven? What do you think? What do you say? Does the good in you outweigh the bad?

To be continued...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cause for Celebration

39 years of marriage. That is cause for celebration! When I met him 39 plus years ago on a tiny airstrip in southern Mexico, I could not have imagined that he would become my husband. At first glance we had nothing in common. But when he offered to help me do up the dishes and we began to talk, I discovered how wrong I was about that.

Our backgrounds of being trained and discipled by The Navigators, a para church organization that worked on college campuses, gave us a great deal to talk about. We compared notes about Navigator training programs, conferences, etc. Who were mutual friends and/or acquaintances? What verses had we each memorized? We discovered we had been at a big conference together a few years before we met. That spiritual common ground gave us a good foundation for building a solid and deeply satisfying relationship. I highly recommend that if you are a believer, you pray for and allow God to lead you to another strong believer who has the same set of values, principles and spiritual background. That has been invaluable in enabling us to build a strong, healthy, lasting relationship.

We were also headed in the same direction in our life purpose and goals. God had called each of us separately into the mission organization, Wycliffe Bible Translators. And although we hadn't met during our initial linguistics training, God orchestrated our meeting on that Tzeltal Indian village airstrip; one from Wisconsin, one from Texas. That common life purpose and goal has joined us and knit us together in a powerful way. Even as God redirected that goal over the years, He continued to give us unity in our calling and purpose.

Lest I lead you to believe that everything was a bed of roses, it wasn't. But the rosy times have far outweighed the not so rosy ones. We've discovered that our differences have made us more dependent upon each other. My weaknesses are complemented by his strengths and his by mine. I've often told friends that in many ways I have become who I am today because of the positive influence of my dear husband who has a heart of gold.

He is one in a million and even though he continues to walk about 2 paces ahead of me when we are going anywhere, I wouldn't trade him for anything. (I guess he learned that in the Tzeltal Indian village where the husband always walks at least 100 feet ahead of his wife.)

As long as we are walking in sync with the Lord and with each other, it really doesn't matter that much whether he walks physically beside me or ahead of me. One habit we developed from the very beginning of our marriage was that of praying together daily. There are days when that isn't possible, but for the most part that continues to be a habit that has drawn us closer both to the Lord and to each other over the years.

39 great years! Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." The 3rd cord in our relationship is Jesus. He is the glue; the love potion that holds everything together! We look forward to many, many more years of glorifying God together through our marriage as chapter 5 of Ephesians describes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More on Being Bilingual

We had a pleasant banter going on over dinner recently. I had made absolutely delicious homemade hamburger buns! And we had the music going in the background. Even my grandson was eating more and talking less than usual.

As the meal was drawing to a close my husband said, "How about some sorvete for dessert?" So of course we started talking about sorvete and trying to get my grandson to speak some Portuguese. His task was to figure out what "sorvete" was in English. Eventually my son said, "Grandpa even gave you a clue. He said what it was in English back in the beginning of this conversation."

We all looked at him and said, "No, he didn't." He insisted he had said it in English and we three insisted he hadn't. Finally, (since the majority rules) he admitted he was in error, with much embarrassment and turning a deep rosy red.

My son had passed the acid test of being a true bilingual; when you understand everything that was said, but have no idea which language was spoken.

I've heard people say that you are bilingual when you dream in your second language, but I believe that's only the beginning of becoming bilingual. The true test is the one my son passed. I've even taken that a step further and am often not even aware of which language I'm using when I speak to someone. This, incidentally, can result in strange and confused reactions from my listeners.

Wouldn't you like to be bilingual? What other language would you like to speak and why?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blessing Your Child

How do you bless your child? I know, that sounds like a strange question, especially since blessing is what all of us want for our children. We all dream of the best for our children. But did you know there is a proactive way of making sure that your children are blessed?

We began a couple of years ago to celebrate a Sabbath meal together on Friday evenings. No, we're not Jewish but we have observed that one of the reasons so many Jewish people are prosperous is because receiving a verbal "blessing" on a regular basis is part of their culture.

During our Sabbath meal we celebrate communion together, thanking the Father for sending his Son, Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sin. From the very beginning the Bible tells of one who would come and through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. The one who fulfilled all of the prophesies and through whom we are blessed is Jesus. He suffered the ultimate curse and humiliation of death on a cross and separation from His Father so that through Him we could have life and an eternal relationship with God the Father. So knowing that blessing comes through Jesus, we celebrate that at the beginning of our meal.

Then at the end of the meal, my husband speaks a blessing over each of our children and our grandchild, blessing them with wisdom, knowledge, direction, prosperity, and in short, declaring God's promises over their lives.

In order to do this, we have to see past what is actually happening and agree by faith with what God the Father says in His word about us and about our future. Those are the things we are to speak over ourselves and over each other.

To bless means "to enable to prosper." Who have you enabled to prosper through  your words and/or actions lately?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Being Bilingual

Being bilingual is such an awesome privilege! But it's one that most Americans don't really understand. The vast majority of Americans are monolingual, speaking and understanding only one language; English. I was among them, even though I studied German in high school and college. If I had had the opportunity, I would have been able to get by in Germany with my limited knowledge of the language. But it wouldn't have made me comfortable!

After college, I began to study linguistics and a whole new world opened up to me. My next step was to learn a little bit of a language that was very different from any I had ever encountered. I did OK, and I seemed to have a knack for understanding the meaning the other speaker was trying to communicate even though I didn't really understand the words. But I digress...

My husband and I started on our journey to becoming bilingual when we arrived in Brazil in 1974. After two weeks in the country, we moved in with a Brazilian family who spoke only Portuguese. Believe me, that was NOT comfortable. But we knew that the only way to really learn the language was to immerse ourselves in it. It was incredibly taxing and tiring to struggle to understand  and communicate in a language we were just barely learning. But it was one of the best decisions we could ever have made and it put us way ahead in our understanding not only of the language, but also the culture of the people of Brazil.

Fast forward to our children - they had the "misfortune" of living in an American/British missionary community where English was the language of choice. So we had to be proactive in exposing them to Portuguese. We sent them to Portuguese speaking preschool. Our son learned how to mix all of his food into one homogeneous mixture on his plate before he ate but not much Portuguese and he beseeched me daily with his big, round eyes to come back and get him soon. Our daughter who was a little older, went to school kicking and screaming every day, but in spite of that, developed a passionate love for Portuguese, Brazil and everything Brazilian. She also managed to become truly bilingual.

Fast forward again to our third son - he was almost 7 years younger than our middle son and even though by this time we were living in a place that allowed him to have much more interaction and exposure to Portuguese, he was not learning it well. So we debated about putting him into a Brazilian school for 4th grade. I sought John's counsel. He was the one who had pleaded with me not to leave him very long at the preschool. He said, "Mom, I would give an arm and a leg to be able to speak Portuguese well." That sealed it. Off to a Brazilian school for our 4th grader. He learned Portuguese well enough to have pretty flawless pronunciation and took it upon himself to correct ours at every opportunity.

Fast forward yet again to our grandson - our expectation was that he would grow up learning both languages at the same time; English from his mother and Portuguese from his Brazilian father. That expectation was dashed when his father left when our grandson was just beginning to talk. So we now have a 5 year old who needs to learn Portuguese and who isn't the least bit interested in doing so. Now what? We are looking for a way to endow him with the incredible gift of being a bilingual. We're starting to speak Portuguese for at least part of the time during every meal. Since our grandson loves to talk, something is bound to happen.

By the way, our own Portuguese improved dramatically when we invited a young Brazilian woman to come and stay with us for awhile. She came intending to stay for about a month to six weeks and ended up living with us for 4 years instead. Maybe we need to do that again.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Remember 9/11

The image is forever burned into my memory. We were in a very remote little town in Brazil visiting a pastor and his family and had just returned from a spin around the town. Suddenly our host rushed out of the house shouting, "Come quick, come quick. Something terrible is happening." We ran in and watched the television screen in horror. We could barely grasp what we were seeing. Within a minute or two we watched as a plane flew into the second tower. How was this possible? Wasn't this America? Nothing of this magnitude had ever happened before in our great "land of the free" and "home of the brave." How could it be happening now? It was impossible to comprehend. Our hosts were horrified and dumbfounded as well. Seemingly, this invincible giant called America wasn't really invincible after all. It was all being played out right before our eyes on the TV screen.

The atmosphere became one of somber reflection rather like that of a funeral. Was the America we knew now dead and gone? Would the American people really rise up and rout the forces attempting to destroy it from within? Only time would tell what the implications and ramifications of this historic event would be.

The immediate response was a spirit of courage, compassion, neighborliness and love that rose up among the people, not only of New York, but all over the country. It was demonstrated vividly by so many who gave their time, resources, energy and even their lives on behalf of others. Churches opened their doors and throngs turned to God for answers.

Now 10 years later, it seems as though the Trojan army hidden within the "horse" is winning. In the name of tolerance, God is being forced out of our schools, our military, our important events, our lives. In a country that was founded by people who sought freedom of religion, we now have organizations with names like "Freedom From Religion." The faith that made America great and the faith that equipped the nation to deal with such a tragic event as 9/11 is being stripped away and we don't know how it is happening. There seems to be freedom for all religions except Christianity in this land that was founded on the principles that all Christians hold dear.

But there is hope. I believe that even though we as a nation may be facing even darker hours than that of 9/11, God still stands ready to bless America. We must do our part to compassionately and kindly stand up for what is right and true in the same way that many of our forefathers did. Are there enough Americans left who truly believe that America is worth fighting for? Worth living for? Worth dying for? Only time will tell...
We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.
     Franklin Delano Roosevelt 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thankful Thursday (Even Though it's Sunday)

I saw a post yesterday titled Thankful Thursday and got permission from Misty to "steal" her idea. But Thursday, Friday and Saturday all got away from me. Here it is Sunday, but I'm going to post this anyway.

Thursday was August 25th - my father-in-law's birthday. How thankful I am for him and the legacy he left. I see so many amazing traces of his legacy in my children. He was quite a man. He knew what he believed and he stood his ground no matter what the challenges. He was a loving, caring husband and father. In fact, as my mother-in-law grew more and more disoriented due to Alzheimer's, he faithfully and tenderly cared for her. Even though he had his own health issues, he pretty much laid down his life for his wife. (He's been gone now since 1999.)

He was fun-loving and that was something somewhat foreign to me when I married into the family. My introduction the first time my new husband and I stayed with my in-laws was to find a rubber snake in my suitcase. A day or two later, it was some plastic "barf." My husband and my children have tended toward the fun-loving side often to my dismay and occasionally to my utter terror!

My father-in-law was disciplined, a trait that showed up primarily in my middle son, although the others also have traces. My father-in-law used to brag about how he would take his last hot shower of the season on a specific date which never changed, by the way, no matter what the actual temperature. Then in the fall he had a specific date to start taking hot showers again. The lawn was mowed on schedule every 5 days whether it needed it or not. He kept impeccable records of everything, even the date and type of bread he made in his bread maker.

He also had the incredible ability to juggle several tasks at once. His job as an air traffic controller required it. Even at home he could listen to one game on the radio, have another on the TV and carry on a conversation at the same time. My daughter seems to have inherited this trait the strongest. How she manages to keep so many balls in the air at one time is a mystery to me! Her granddad's legacy?

My father-in-law, although he was a man of deep faith, was also somewhat of a worry wart. If he didn't hear from us within what he considered to be a reasonable amount of time, he would go so far as to write out a multiple choice, self-addressed, stamped postcard for us to return to him with an answer to mark; 1) someone is sick and dying 2) lost all my pens 3) we're ok, just haven't gotten around to writing! Having grown up in a family that cared for each other, but not quite so overwhelmingly, that sometimes annoyed me. Not anymore though. I came to understand that his family was more important to him than just about anything.

He was an excellent provider. He was frugal and careful and a hard worker. Thanks to his careful planning, his wife has never lacked and was able to volunteer for an organization she truly cared about. That was a great joy to her. Even now with Alzheimer's, she is completely cared for. This trait was passed on to my youngest son - frugal to a fault, not afraid of hard work (but that goes for my husband and all my children) and very careful in his expenditures.

My father-in-law was also generous. He gave liberally to his church and to many missionaries both financially and by giving his time. He visited the sick and those in nursing homes, wrote caring notes to many who needed encouragement, cared for his neighbors and their homes when needed and generally was helpful to anyone and everyone. We were frequently on the receiving end of his generosity. And all of my children are generous with what they have. They too, were receivers of his generosity.

So yes, I'm thankful for a loving, caring, wonderful father-in-law.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Family Time

Unlike most American families, we almost always have dinner and sometimes even lunch together as a family. Lately we've taken to doing a Sunday morning brunch since our church meets on Wednesday evenings and not on Sundays. That has turned out to be one of the best family times. We're all relaxed and not in a hurry to go anywhere. Plus we're not exhausted from a day of work. It's just fun to sit around over brunch and talk about whatever happens to be on our minds. Usually that involves planning in some form or another. (Want to know what we've been planning?)

The menu often revolves around buttermilk waffles from a recipe in an old Amish cookbook we picked up somewhere. We add eggs or bacon or sausage to the menu, some juice and our special Brazilian coffee. Occasionally we opt for pancakes or french toast as the central part of the meal. A couple of weeks ago I was in a very energetic mood and since we still had fresh blueberries from a pick-your-own farm, I decided to make blueberry crepes. Mind you, I made that decision before looking at a recipe or I probably would have changed my mind. But I had already made the announcement and the whole family was expecting blueberry crepes. So here is the result along with glowing rave reviews and "You can do that again's."

Unfortunately, the blueberry season is over for this year. We have a few in the freezer for special occasions, but we're all already looking forward to next year's blueberry season! I'll probably indulge my family again by treating them to blueberry crepes!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? I videoed this crazy chicken recently and just got to thinking this morning that often I'm a little bit like her and could probably pause and learn a lesson. Here she is trying to incubate 69 eggs! An average hen can handle about a dozen eggs, some can handle a few more or a few less.

So I got to thinking. Hmm... Maybe I'm a little too much like this hen with a few too many projects and passions on my "plate." In my zeal to accomplish much, too often little is really accomplished. I hate to admit it, but maybe I need to learn a lesson from this hen and concentrate on doing just a few things really well.

Now for the stickler! How do I choose? God's help and guidance is the obvious answer. Perhaps there is another lesson the hen can teach me. If I only had 3 weeks left in my life (about the time it takes to hatch out a batch of chicks) how would I spend my time. Aha! There is a key - although I doubt I could accomplish all I want to in just three short weeks.

I would definitely love my loved ones more passionately - and I would write furiously in an attempt to get everything down in print before my demise. And I would try for all I'm worth to bring more people into God's Kingdom. That's what my writing is all about anyway.

I'm sure there are more things I could learn from this crazy hen, but I think I'll mull that over for awhile! Don't you just wonder what must have gone through her mind?

What do you think? Is there a lesson here for you? Please share if you will.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Planning Ahead

Some people are natural born planners. They prefer to have everything planned out months in advance. Last minute changes drive them crazy. I have a few people like that in my circle of friends.

Some people plan ahead for certain things, but are also open to spur of the moment changes to those plans. Probably the majority of us fall in this category.

Then there are the people who like to fly by the seat of their pants. They are natural born adventurers and turn life into a great adventure for everyone around them. My husband happens to be one of those. Since he rarely plans ahead (notice I didn't say never) the story I'm going to tell may seem quite out of character. But it's because of his "character" that I am anxious to share it.

Every school has its bullies and the junior high school my husband attended was no exception. One day the class bullies cornered him in the restroom. He certainly had not planned out this scene in his head and did not know ahead of time what he would do if confronted by the bullies. But motivated by a higher desire to do what was right and stand against them he did what he did. These particular bullies had planned out what they were going to do and they were united in their purpose. They were determined to bring my husband down to their level that day.

They backed him into a corner, crammed a cigarette into his hand and said, "You’re gonna smoke this, or else!"

The young man who is now my husband held that cigarette for a moment and then pulverized it into the commode saying, "No I’m not!" He then shoved his way through the group of bullies and left the restroom.

I have a feeling that their reaction was one of shock and disbelief as they stared at my husband's back and watched him grow another inch in character. And in case you're wondering, they never bothered him again.

Planning ahead - although it may not involve absolute specifics, if we want to maintain our integrity and act according to the principles we have chosen for ourselves, there must be some planning ahead. We must know where our personal limits are and how we plan to uphold them.

For me, long before I started dating, I already had determined my limits and absolutely nothing was going to make me change them. I had planned ahead, not necessarily HOW I was going to enforce the limits, but knowing where my limits were.

I know my son John had that same kind of mentality. He had often heard his dad's story of the bullies in the restroom and each time he heard it I'm sure it reinforced his determination to be a man of integrity himself.

Have you planned ahead in a similar way? Would you mind sharing your experiences?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Planning for Generations

My mind took off in overdrive today as I was listening to a mentoring/coaching call. What I was hearing made me sit up and take notice. The basic question in my mind was, "Do I have short term thinking or long term thinking?" I had heard the concept before but never in quite this way. But that's always the case, isn't it? What we hear and how we hear it depends on all of the other circumstances taking place in our lives at any particular time. This time it hit me hard especially as I've been dealing with challenges of teaching and training or at least helping my daughter teach and train her son. I'm beginning to see attitudes and behavior that if not nipped in the bud now, will produce fruit we don't want in the future.

So I admit it, many times I suffer from short term thinking. I concentrate on the simple task of getting through the day with my sanity intact or getting past the next bill that is due. But concentrating on the immediate can and does often sacrifice the future.

No more! I am now determined to make a conscious effort at planning not only for my grandson's future, but the future of his children and his childrens' children. I need a 100 year plan that will positively impact generations beginning with this one.

One way I can do that is to get the story of our lifetime in missions written. My daughter mentioned just the other day that she was going to be extremely disappointed if my husband and I didn't get all of our "stories" down on paper while we still remembered them. So that is a way to get started. Both of us read all kinds of missionary stories when we were young and they all impacted us and gave us direction for our lives. How we would love to have that kind of an impact on many others!

Do you plan for the long haul? If so, do you have any practical ways of implementing long term planning and thinking? If you do, please share. I'd appreciate it and I have a feeling my other readers would, too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I Write Blogfest

I write because I have something to say. You may think that a bit prideful, but that's probably the bottom line for most writers. I certainly don't write to make money although the more people who read what I write, the better not only for my ego but for my pocketbook.

It's quite possible that many people don't or won't like reading what I write, but if I didn't think it was important to get my thoughts and opinions out there, I wouldn't bother.

So I write on my blog primarily to promote the book my husband and I wrote together, Aloha is Forever. Although the story is sad, it is also inspirational. It is a way of sharing the hope we have as well as honoring our son's memory. Lest you think it might be full of mushy platitudes and silly ideas, nothing could be further from the truth. We tell the heart-wrenching story exactly as it happened but we also tell of the miracle that took place to put our hearts back together again and give us peace. That is a story worth sharing! I hope you take the time to read it.

Giveaway Winners

The book giveaway winners are:

Rose Avelar (name drawn from the basket).
Bonnie Morton (a winner for promoting our giveaway more than any of the other participants).

Congratulations to the winners and a huge thank you to all of you who participated. I sincerely wish we were independently wealthy and in a position to give a book to each person who wants one. However, they aren't that expensive so if you'd like to support us and our ministry and get your hands on a very special book, go ahead and click on Aloha is Forever and order one for yourself and another for a friend or loved one who has recently lost a family member. It will encourage them!

Once again, thanks to everyone who participated. I'll probably do this again next year in honor of John's 35th birthday.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Giveaway Details

Alert: The contest has been extended until tonight, June 25th at midnight (CDT).

This is John's birthday week - June 24th! He would be 34 this year. So in honor of his birthday we are giving away a signed copy of our book, Aloha is Forever. I'll be doing the drawing on the 25th and will announce it either on the 25th or 26th. Busy weekend so I'm not sure how all of this will fit into my schedule!

Here are ways you can get your name into the hat:

1. Comment on this blog - one chance for each comment between today (June 21st) and Friday (June 24th). You're welcome to comment on as many posts as you like, just don't make them "one word" comments.
2. Comment on our facebook page - one chance for each comment between today and Friday.
3. Become a new follower of this blog - one chance.
4. Become a new follower of our facebook page - one chance.
5. Share our announcement about the contest in your status on Facebook - two chances.
6. Email at least 2 friends to tell them about our giveaway - one chance per friend.
7. Tweet my blog link - one chance.

In addition to one book in the drawing, we are going to give away one book to the person who accumulates the most total points by the end of the day, June 24th (midnight central daylight time). So two books will be given away. And don't forget to email us telling us what you have done.

For the actions you complete please email us at sharonreece.reece@gmail.com just so we can get an accurate account to put your name in the hat the appropriate number of times. That will also give us your email address so we can contact the winner. Don't worry, we won't be putting your email address into any autoresponder list or selling it or anything of the sort. We respect your privacy!

Thanks for participating and good luck!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weeds in the Garden

As I was digging weeds out of my garden bed recently, sweat was pouring down my face, fogging up my glasses, making them slide down to the tip of my nose and I began to think that gardening is really painful. But the thought of the crop of cucumbers I was eventually going to harvest kept me going.

Two things came to mind as I worked. First, I thought about the original garden. God had provided everything that was needed and the trees were "pleasant to the sight and good for food" according to Genesis 2:9. Water was provided by a river that flowed in and through the garden - no need for irrigation! But something happened. Out of all the trees in the garden there was only one that was forbidden; the tree bearing the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3:6 says, "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, (note that all the trees in the garden were good for food) that it was pleasant to the eyes, (note that all the trees in the garden were pleasant to the eyes) and a tree desirable to make one wise, (note that it was not billed as a wisdom tree, but as a tree that would make one aware of both good and evil) she took of its fruit and ate." In that moment life changed forever for Adam and Eve and consequently for all of humanity.

Life suddenly became difficult.

Genesis 3:17-19 says, "...Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground..."

Much can be said about this account in Genesis. Had it not been Eve and then Adam who took of the forbidden fruit, it would have been someone else. That desire to know what is unknown and to do what is forbidden is in the heart of each one of us. Just observe a small child for a few hours and you'll see it in action.

So there I was, toiling in the thorns and thistles, sweat pouring from my face and not enjoying myself very much. But the end result is still sustenance and even though it's terribly hard work, there is a satisfaction that comes as a result of our labor and toil that doesn't come any other way. And there is the anticipation of the fruit of our labor that is very sweet.

The second thing that came to mind was the fact that sowing naturally results in reaping. Throughout the Bible there are countless places that talk about sowing and reaping. The principle works in agriculture, in finances, in relationships, in spiritual vigor, in academic knowledge, in health, etc. We find examples of this principle just about everywhere we look.

I have a large portion of one garden bed that isn't planted. It is supposed to be filled with okra but instead it is filled with weeds! A two week trip at the time I should have been preparing the soil and sowing the seed, has resulted in no harvest to reap. In fact, not only is there no harvest, but the weeds have grown so thick that I dread tackling the task of removing them! It will be very hard work. But the end of the bed that did get planted with okra is lush and beautiful and I am about to begin reaping an abundant crop of the most delicious heirloom red okra you can ever imagine. Now I realize that there may be many readers who don't consider okra a delicacy, but I assure you that my family is waiting for it with bated breath. It's one of our favorites!

Sowing takes time. It requires sweat and toil to prepare the soil. Then it takes wisdom to know just how deep to plant the seeds, how far apart to place them, etc. Then it requires patience mixed with water to cause the seeds to sprout. In another bed I recently planted an heirloom variety of summer squash so I just went through this cycle once again. If I hadn't watered the bed well, most of it would not have sprouted. Since we haven't had rain in several weeks, watering is a continual task. At the same time we're experiencing drought in the physical, we're also experiencing it in the spiritual realm in this country. And we must get our water from God's word on an ongoing basis or we will not produce fruit in our lives.

You must also sow the right seed to get the right crop. I was just looking at my pepper plants today. Ones I thought were mixed colors of bell peppers look very much like they are yellow sweet banana peppers instead. Oh, no! What a disappointment! I purchased these plants from a store so apparently someone switched the labels around. Believe me, when you are looking for mixed colors of bell peppers, you are not a happy camper when yellow sweet banana peppers appear instead!

This principle works in many areas of life. We reap what we have sown. It's simple. If we sow discord we will reap discord. If we sow peace and joy, we will reap peace and joy. So if you are disappointed by what you're reaping, you may want to think back and remember what you have sown in the past.

Through our book Aloha is Forever that tells the story of losing our son, John, we have purposefully attempted to sow life. He is already seated in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus and using the story of his disappearance to impact the lives of others in a positive way is exactly what he would have wanted.

John 12:24 states it well:
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."

It has been said that we can count the seeds in a piece of fruit, but we can never know how many pieces of fruit there are in one seed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 24th Book Giveaway

Get ready for June 24th! I will be giving away a signed copy of our book on that day in honor of John's birthday. He would be 34 this year and that is cause for celebration.

I'm still thinking about the details of how to do the giveaway so check back for more details later. I will pick a name out of a hat from among all those who comment, become new followers on Facebook, and maybe some other tasks. One chance (name in the hat) for each task completed. I just got the idea from reading another person's blog. Since John isn't here to get any gifts, I can at least give one in his honor!

Any ideas on how to work out the logistics and details of my book giveaway would be most welcome! Thanks.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Animals vs. Plants

Baa...the bleating of sheep made me sit up with a start! It was too loud and too close. But I didn't think too much about it, took my time getting up and dressed and mosied into the kitchen to put on the coffee pot. The "Baa" had been my alarm clock a full 20 minutes before I intended to get up so I wasn't too happy. The coffee would do the trick and finish the task of waking me up.

But one look out the sliding glass door and my boots were on and I was out the door, forgetting all about coffee and anything else. I didn't even think to grab a jacket. The sheep and goats had somehow escaped their pen and were munching on garden goodies. Oh no!

I quickly chased them back toward their pen wondering how they had escaped since half the herd was still inside.

A quick call to my daughter, the owner of the herd brought her running with a bucket of feed and she was able to bribe them back into the pen. We all decided that they didn't like the grass in the pasture area they had been given the previous night. With the help of cattle panels, my daughter had set up a movable, portable sheep/goat pen and was pasturing the herd on the steep sides of the dam where goats and sheep do a better job of mowing than we can manage to do ourselves.

When all was under control, I did a quick survey of the damage to the garden. Apparently they had just discovered it only minutes before I found them since only a few leaves had been nibbled from places that were unimportant. Whew!

The whole incident reminded me of the time when John was young. He had decided to raise geese. He invested in a large basin so they would have plenty of water, built a fence that he thought would contain them, etc. They were beautiful white creatures. Then one day they escaped and he found them chowing down on his orchids, and other plants. I'm sure they had been planning their attack for some time since they could see the plants enticing them from not too far away. They quickly became dinner the very next day. His plants were too important to him to sacrifice them to the geese.

I'm not sure what we're going to do about the sheep and goats. They are definitely NOT going to become dinner. A fence around the garden as well as a better fence around them is on the horizon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Unforgettable Mother's Day

There have been many Mother's Days in my lifetime so far but there is one that is and always has been unforgettable. That was the Mother's Day my son John took me out for lunch. I don't recall that he had ever done that before or that he ever did it again. I'm sure that's what made it so unforgettable.

The time that has passed has erased many of my memories of that day. For instance, I don't remember why it was just the two of us, although I think the reason for my solo trip to the States was my father's funeral. Lots of memories are "floating around" in the back of my mind and I can't seem to put them all together in a coherent manner.

What I do remember is that John and I went to church together in Madison. Afterward he suggested that we go out to eat. He had just finished his freshman year of college and didn't have much extra. In fact, he didn't have any extra money. His grandfather faithfully sent him a small amount of spending money each month, but that had to go a long way. The fact that he was willing to take me out to eat for Mother's Day spoke volumes to me. Then began our search for an appropriate eating place - one that was not too expensive and not too crowded. After much deliberation he finally chose a Chinese restaurant; something we both enjoyed.

I don't remember anything else about the meal or the restaurant. I think the food was so-so and the atmosphere ok. What made it special was being together with John.

After lunch, neither of us felt like going "home" since my home was in Brazil and his was now Wheaton College. I don't even remember exactly where we were staying at the time. So we decided to go to the Madison Arboretum. It was a gorgeous spring day, perfect for exploring the arboretum and explore we did. He and I explored things at a matching pace. If I had gone to the arboretum with just about anyone else, they would not have taken the time to read all the signs, stop to watch the chipmunks, birds, other wildlife, or look at the unique plants and flowers that were in bloom. Maybe that's what made the day so memorable. Only John and I went at the same pace when it came to exploring things like arboretums.

The day stands out in my memory like no other Mother's Day. When John was in grade school he had made a Mother's Day card for me that said simply, "I like my mom. She does stuff with me." That Mother's Day John did stuff with me. No gift, no card, just doing "stuff" together.

This Mother's Day probably won't be unforgettable. I'll just be doing "stuff" with my other two kids, my grandson and my husband who are still with me and enjoying every minute of it. And that's the way John would want it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Zealous and Zoo What?

I got way behind on posting this last entry of the A to Z Blogging Challenge due to garden work and then thunder storms that required keeping our computers off for the weekend. So here goes for the last entry. I was going to write on Zealous and I will post just a short paragraph about that word and then move onto a fun word I discovered in the dictionary.

My first choice of a Z word was zealous since that describes John to a T. It means to be full of, characterized by, or due to zeal;  ardently active, devoted, or diligent. Normally we think of the word zeal used in the context of religion, or a specific cause. In thinking about my son, zealous could describe just about any activity he engaged in. But he wasn't the type to choose many things to occupy his time. There were just a few things that he was truly zealous about; his relationship with God, his studies, orchids, biking and tropical fish. What are you zeaous about?

Now for the fun word: Z is for Zoo Doo. Yep! It's really an entry in the dictionary. This is going to be fun! The dictionary definition of zoo doo is: compost made from the dung of zoo animals.

When I saw this word, it reminded me of something that happened to me one time in Brazil many years ago. The circus was in town and I had heard that zoo doo was really good for the garden. However, I would have to get some of the zoo animal manure; especially elephant manure, in order to make some. So some friends and I jumped into a pickup truck and went down to the circus to ask for some.

Keep in mind that we hadn't been in Brazil for all that long and I was still working on becoming proficient in Portuguese. We finally found someone who seemed to be caring for the animals so we thought he would be a good candidate to ask about the elephant manure. In my best Portuguese I said what I thought was, "Do you think I could have a load of elephant manure for my garden?"

The response was a rather puzzled look on the man's face. He looked back and forth from me to the pickup truck, to the elephant and continued to seem puzzled. I thought maybe he hadn't heard me or hadn't understood me so I asked again, slightly rephrasing my question.

Finally, after a long hesitation he said, "Well, ma'am, I don't think the elephant is going to fit in your pickup truck!"

We've had many a good laugh at my expense over this! To this day, I have no idea what I really said. (FYI: I did get a load of elephant manure and it made lovely zoo doo.)

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Y" for Young

I just got an e-mail from a friend last night telling me about two little babies who had died. One was a twin. It is so heartbreaking when children die young.

When our son died at the age of 22, we were devastated. Young people aren't supposed to die before their parents. It goes completely against the natural order of things. He had so much going for him. He had just graduated from college with a degree in Biology. He was an original thinker and would probably have been responsible for some important breakthrough in some area. He was in excellent physical condition. I could go on and on.

But after all of the searches were over and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably wouldn't see our son again on this earth, I began to ponder all that had happened and all that we had been through. A family member had shared with me a devotional she had read while we were still in Hawaii. It was based on Isaiah 57:1 & 2.
"The righteous pass away; the godly often die before their time. And no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For the godly who die will rest in peace." (New Living Translation)
Those verses literally changed my life. Instead of focusing on my loss, God had directed my thoughts to eternity and had given me His perspective. It made all the difference. You can read more of the details of how God brought healing and closure to both me and my husband in our book, Aloha is Forever.

Weeks later as I was walking to the grocery store in Brazil (only a block from our house,) it suddenly dawned on me that no matter how long or how short our life is here on earth, it is like the blink of an eye compared to eternity. One day, twenty years, fifty years, eighty years - it really is like a dot compared to a line going on forever that represents eternity. Those of us who are left behind to mourn our loss and experience the pain of a lifetime of separation, feel it acutely. Those who have gone ahead, if they have been redeemed and bought with the blood of the lamb who is Jesus, rest in peace as Isaiah says. That is the basis for our righteousness and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was John's. It does not depend upon anything we have done, it cannot be earned by doing good things, it simply is a gift bestowed upon us by a loving Father who gave His son to become sin so that we could be counted as righteous by faith.

Is Jesus your righteousness? I hope so.

eXcellence and Xenia

I thought I was going to fudge a bit on this one and write on eXcellence. But after reading several other blogs, I discovered a fantastic "X" word that fits right in with what I've been writing about during the A to Z Challenge.

But let me start first with eXcellence because it so well describes my son John. He was always striving for excellence. For him, if something was worth doing it was worth doing well. Here is an excerpt from his journal while in college.
"Another thing is for sure: I do not want to do mediocre work for the Lord; it has to be excellent."
He demonstrated this quality in so many, many ways, like the summer he chose to do a whole year worth of Algebra so he wouldn't be behind all the other students when he went to boarding school. He was an example to us of diligence and striving for excellence; even though he often fell short of that as we all do.

But let me go on to the perfectly marvelous word I learned about today - Xenia. Xenia is a Greek word meaning hospitality. Oh, do we ever know about hospitality!

Xenia was extended to us years ago when we traveled the rivers of the Amazon basin. I'm thinking of one trip in particular when our whole family of 5 piled into an aluminum canoe to go to an Indian village and we were the recipients of xenia along the way. It is probably personified there better than anywhere since there are no hotels to stay in. Each night (the trip took 10 days) we would pull into shore where there was a house or two on high ground. We would be graciously received, given a meal, a place to bathe and a place to hang our hammocks. We would chat with the family hosting us for a short while and soon we would all be fast asleep. In the morning there would be coffee and often beiju, a very chewy bread made from manioc and then we would be off on another leg of our journey. Amazingly, God provided a home for us to stay in every single night of our trip.

Not only did we receive xenia, we also gave it. One time I invited a single woman to come and visit us. She came intending to stay for one month and stayed with us for several years, becoming a dear friend and "family" member.

But probably the ultimate "xenia" experience we had was when we were in Hawaii searching for our son. We stayed the whole month of December 1999 and did not spend any money on hotels. We stayed with several different families, but the most outstanding one was a young couple who heard our story at a church we visited. After the service they came up and offered us their home and their car while they were going to be on another island for Christmas. They had lost a child who lived for only a day after he was born so they understood what we were going through as we searched for our son. But all of the people who weren't believers were amazed. They said, "You mean you didn't even know them and they gave you their home and their car?" It was a testimony to many of the power of the love Christians are to have for one another and a very clear example of xenia.

The Bible tells us to extend hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unaware. I wonder if I have entertained any angels!

Come to my house and you will experience xenia - true hospitality.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What If? and Worship

I had a hard time choosing between these two "W" words so I am going to combine them.

No matter what happens in life, we are always tempted to visit the "What if's." What if he had made different choices, what if we had made different choices, what if he had been somewhere else, etc, etc. You know what I mean. We all do it. Sometimes we can spend hours, days, even years going over and over the "what if's" in our minds.

It's all unproductive because we can never go back and change anything in the past. We only become frustrated, depressed, angry and a multitude of other emotions. And sometimes we even ruin our future by replaying the past.

So we determined in our hearts that we would not "what if" the circumstances surrounding our son's disappearance. That was a choice we made; not unlike any other choice. The Bible talks about it in II Corinthians 10:5.
"...bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (New King James version)
Taking every thought captive and giving it to Christ is probably one of the most helpful disciplines in the life of a Christian. We have certainly found it to be so. It closes the door to the enemy of our souls and doesn't give him any room to bring in confusion, doubt, self-pity, and a multitude of other negative emotions.

We had gone to Hawaii to help search for our missing son, 22 years old and a recent college graduate. He had gone on a 4 day hike across the Kohala and had not returned for work on Monday. He had gone alone - not a good idea but he had no one to go with him.

We joined with the many other searchers to try to find John or to find some clue that would give us an idea of what might have happened to him. But we found nothing. When we began to come to the realization that we would not see him again on this earth, my husband felt the Father urging him to go up to the mountain and worship Him. So we took a borrowed guitar (not that worship necessarily means music; although that often helps) and went up to the backside of the Kohala just over the mountain from where John had been hiking. We croaked out some songs because we both had laryngitis. But worship is always a matter of the heart, and we were worshiping the God we loveand have served all our lives, not because we were expecting anything but because we wanted Him to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we trusted Him with our son as well as with our own lives.

After a little while we drove around to the Pololu trailhead. As we drove up we could see a complete double rainbow extending from the valley to the sea. The rainbow is a beautiful expression of God's promises and of His faithfulness. We worshiped some more, the praises and songs flowing from our hearts as the tears flowed from our eyes.

When we finished, not that one is ever finished worshiping the Lord, we stopped by the home of the couple we had met on our first day of searching for John. They lived almost at the trailhead. We chatted a little and the wife asked if she could "sing over us." We had never had anyone sing over us and we weren't sure what that meant but we agreed. She then knelt down in front of us on her little patio and began to sing Darlene Zschech's song, "Shout to the Lord." She wove the movements of hula into her song in one of the most beautiful expressions of worship we have ever experienced. The tears flowed freely. It was one of the most precious moments of our lives.

Worship is a profound expression of trust and faith in a God who is sovereign and who is able to do what the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 8:28.
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (New King James Version)
He is able to take any circumstance of life and transform it into something that is good and glorifying to Himself. That is why we discipline ourselves not to visit the "What if's." We choose instead, to worship the only One who is worthy of our worship, honor and praise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Volcanoes National Park

V is for Volcanoes National Park. That was the location of the USGS base of operations for the project John was working on.

Volcanoes National Park was created to preserve the natural setting of Kilauea and Mauna Loa. It is also a refuge for the islands native plants and animals and a link to its human past. The park contains two of the world's most active volcanoes, Kilawea and Mauna Loa and offers insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. If you want to see volcanoes, this national park is the place to go.

The park is extensive and offers visitors' centers, 150 miles of wilderness hiking trails, camping areas and more. When we were there we were able to take some of the hikes, including hiking through a lava tube, seeing the caldera and seeing the active lava flow from Kilauea making its way to the sea.

Kilauea isn't what I imagined it to be. When I thought of volcanoes erupting, the image that came to my mind was of a volcano spewing molten lava from its top. So although Kilauea Volcano has erupted lava almost continuously from its east rift zone since 1983, it is more like small streams of lava slowly oozing out from the side of the volcano. At times the flow is spectacular, but what we saw was pretty small compared to the image I had in my mind. Although not always spectacular, these lava flows have been significant because they have added over 568 acres of new land to the southern shore of Kilauea and covered 8.7 miles of highway with lava as deep as 115 feet. From 1983 to 1991, lava flows repeatedly invaded communities on Kilauea's southern coast. Not only did it bury the highway, it also destroyed 181 houses and a visitor center in the park. This is a shot of the lava flowing into the sea and forming more land mass.

Photo by Rick Reece - all rights reserved.

We walked across several areas where you could still see that there had been a road at one time but most of it was now covered with crusty, barren, sharp lava.

 Photo by Rick Reece - all rights reserved.

Walking out to the area of active lava flow was nteresting. Although the trail was marked, it was too easy for people to stray off the trail. It was hot and dry and we were glad we had taken water. The lava was very uneven and in some places still warm under our feet from lava that had been flowing in previous days. We were told that the lava flow was most spectacular at night so on our second trip to Hawaii, we went at night. Here is one of the pictures we took from about 10 or 12 feet away from the flow.

Photo by Rick Reece - all rights reserved.

Most of John's co-workers had gone to see the lava one night about a month after he arrived in Hawaii. He hadn't gone because just that day he had been biking and taken a spill that he was still hurting from. So he never got to see Kilauea - something he had looked forward to with great anticipation.

The most recent eruption of Kilauea took place in March of 2011 and was in a very remote and inaccessible location in the park. Visitors were not able to see the eruption except through video footage. That eruption has now ceased. No one can predict where the next eruption will occur.

Have you ever seen "live" lava flowing?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U S Geological Survey

U is for USGS. That stands for the United States Geological Survey.

My post is intended as a public "thank you" to the wonderful people who helped us search for our son John. He had been in Hawaii working as an intern for the USGS for about two months before he took off on his hike over the Thanksgiving holiday.

This is what the USGS does (quoted from their official webpage):

"The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and usable information."

John had graduated from Wheaton College in 1999 with a major in Biology. During the summer he had worked on a project through the University of Missouri, St. Louis. And for the fall he had landed the prestigious privilege of working as an intern on a USGS project in Hawaii. It was a big deal for him and he was looking forward to it even though it would barely pay enough to cover his expenses.

He was working on the Palila bird project. The Palila was endangered because of introduced species that had upset the natural ecosystem of its habitat. During the week the team camped up on Mauna Kea and on the weekends they would return to the base camp to wash clothes, enter and analyze data and prepare meals for the coming week.

What we could never have anticipated was the overwhelming support and help we received from the USGS people when John disappeared. They spearheaded one of the most extensive and intense searches for a missing person that had ever been done on the Big Island. (Many people disappear every year just on the Big Island alone.)

We want to publicly thank Paul Banko, the head of the Palila bird project, Steve Dougill, John's immediate supervisor and all of the many, many other USGS personnel who helped with the searches, as well as with many other details we probably don't even know about. The USGS contributed countless man hours to the search, as well as vehicles and perhaps most importantly, their knowledge of the island and its people to help in the searches. We were amazed and will forever be grateful.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Third Culture Kids

T is for Third Culture Kids. "Who in the world are they?" you might ask. They frequently find themselves asking that same question.

At least one whole book has been written on this subject and I will just give a brief summary here.

Third culture kids are those who are raised in a culture that is not the culture of their parents, although it may include many of the customs of their parents' culture. Often they take on characteristics of the culture in which they are living, yet are not 100% part of it. They identify most closely with other Third Culture Kids instead of with those of either their parents culture or the culture in which they find themselves living.

Our children are third culture kids, two of the three having been born and raised in Brazil. They consider themselves to be more Brazilian than American, but frequently feel like fish out of water in certain situations in each of the cultures. They are neither Brazilian nor American but a curious mixture that makes them members of a rather small group known as third culture kids.

Children of missionaries, of diplomats and of military personnel who live with their families in another culture are all part of this "small" group. They are blessed with a unique perspective, being able to identify and observe both the strengths and weaknesses of each culture. But they are also often emotionally tied to both cultures while belonging to neither and this can definitely be stressful. They are children without a country, yet having at least two "homes."

John was one of these third culture kids. Even though he was born in the United States, most of his growing up years were spent in Brazil. Three of his high school years were spent at boarding school - yet another culture. Returning to the USA for college wasn't easy. There were many challenges and many things, such as how to manage a bank account that were completely foreign to him. Most of the friends he grew close to were other missionary kids (MK's) who understood and had the same kinds of challenges. One of his closest friends was Korean but had been raised by missionary parents who lived in Japan so he had 3 cultures to deal with.

Have you known or do you know any third culture kids?

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Searches

My next posts for the A to Z Challenge will mainly be related to something about our son John.

Searches, searches, searches. When our son failed to return from a hike he had taken across the Kohala over the 1999 Thanksgiving weekend, the county sent out helicopters, mobilized searchers, advised everyone in the vicinity and one of the most extensive searches for a missing person on the Big Island was launched.

Searches continued that whole week involving hundreds of man hours and flight hours. Finally we arrived in Hawaii on the following Sunday - 10 days after John left on his hike. Our arrival gave added impetus to the searches. The authorities had already given up searching, doubting that he had even arrived at the trail head since he had hitchhiked to the area. But the searches continued, spearheaded by the department of the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for which John had been working. We met and strategized and of course their counsel was fundamental to the searches since we knew nothing about the island. We flew to Honolulu for TV interviews in an attempt to find the people or person who had given him the last ride up to the trail head.

Teams were sent out all that next week, distributing flyers, knocking on doors, questioning everyone who was available. We participated to the extent that we could but we were sedentary middle aged parents in no condition to hike the rough terrain where our son had gone. But teams of other young people hiked the trails and were as dedicated to the search as we were.

But it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.

You must understand that the area in which he was hiking was full of deep valleys, lesser valleys, waterfalls that plummeted down the sheer cliffs and precipices that were almost vertical. The vegetation was thick and it was impossible to see the valley floor from helicopters and impossible to search in many areas. Before we arrived in Hawaii, John's boss told us of a bomber that had crashed in that area at the end of World War II. The crew had hiked out across the mountain to safety but it took about 10 years for anyone to find the plane. It had settled under the canopy of the forest in one of the valleys and was "invisible."
 Rick Reece photo - all rights reserved

We were finally able to hire a private helicopter to help with the search. By that time we had already held a memorial service for John but we weren't ready to abandon the search until we had turned over every stone that was within our reach. So on the last couple of days of December 1999, Rick and several experienced men who knew the area well, flew into the remotest valleys and hiked up the valley floors until they could go no further. But they found not a trace.

Later as I contemplated the extent of the searches, the loss of our son, all of the generous helping hands and feet of those who had helped, I was reminded of the parable Jesus told in Luke 15:8 and 9.
"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!'"
In the same way that we searched diligently with all the resources we had available to us, so our heavenly Father searches and longs for each one of his creatures. Jesus continues in Luke 15:10 saying:
"Likewise, I say this to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (New King James version)
Even though our searches for John turned up empty, we are certain that the greatest desire of his heart would be to know that many repented and came into God's Kingdom as a result of hearing his story. That is why we tell it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Righteousness, Part of Hawaii's State Motto

"R" is for Righteousness. I chose this word because the state motto of Hawaii is "Perpetuated in Righteousness." The longer version of the state motto literally translates from Hawaiian as, “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

The dictionary defines the adjective righteous as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin. Righteousness is the noun derived from righteous.

So what does the motto mean? It means that the life within the land is determined by the right acting ways of the people within the state and depends upon the people doing the right thing. Right actions in personal life as well as political (state) life can sum up the motto.

Historically, the motto was first thought to reflect the beliefs of the kingdom. King Kamehameha is said to have spoken these words in the early 1800's when he presided over what was known as the Kingdom of Hawaii. The motto has been used for more than two hundred years throughout the state of Hawaii on seals, gates and various key places in the Hawaiian Islands.

I believe that this motto did not come out of thin air but was based upon the beliefs of the original settlers of the Hawaiian Islands. It speaks of their relationship with 'Io, the benign and loving creator god. In Daniel Kikawa's book, Perpetuated in Righteousness, he tells of the first brave adventurers who "discovered" Hawaii.
"A great leap of faith was required to continue on into thousands of miles of empty blue on blue.In the northerly direction of this wonderful star, our ancestors searched for and found our new home. We had finally found the place 'Io had provided for us! Here we worshipped 'Io, in this land so much like Atea's first home." (My notes of clarification: Atea is the Hawaiian equivalent of Adam. They were following a star that was spoken of in their ancient prophecies.)
Throughout Hawaiian culture there are many things that indicate the desire of the Hawaiians to fulfill their state motto. "Aloha," "ohana" and "hanai" are some of those. See the Afterwards section of Kikawa's book for more details.

Have you observed anything in the Hawaiian culture that indicates the fulfillment of their state motto, "Perpetuated in Righteousness?"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Queen Lili'uokalani

"Q" is for Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of the sovereign nation of Hawaii. She reigned from 1891 to 1893, just a little short of 2 years. During that time she sought to restore some of the power that had been lost during her brother's reign. Local sugar planters and businessmen feared a loss of revenue and influence and sought to overthrow the monarchy. To avoid bloodshed, the Queen yielded her throne on January 17, 1893. A provisional government was established at that time. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed to the United States by a resolution signed by President McKinley.

In 1898 Queen Liliuokalani wrote the book, Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. It was written as an appeal to the conscience of America in an attempt to restore Hawaii as a sovereign land. Here is a quote from the introduction to her book:
"Oh, honest Americans, as Christians hear me for my downtrodden people! Their form of government is as dear to them as yours is precious to you. Quite as warmly as you love your country, so they love theirs. With all your goodly possessions, covering a territory so immense that there yet remain parts unexplored, possessing islands that, although new at hand, had to be neutral ground in time of war, do not covet the little vineyard of Naboth's, so far from your shores, lest the punishment of Ahab fall upon you, if not in your day, in that of your children, for "be not deceived, God is not mocked." The people to whom your fathers told of the living God and taught to call "Father," and whom the sons now seek to despoil and destroy, are crying aloud to Him in their time of trouble; and He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes."
But her poignant plea for justice went unanswered. Queen Liliuokalani died in 1917 at the age of 79.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pololu, John's Point of Departure

P is for Pololu Valley and Pololu Valley Overlook. Pololu is at the very end of Hwy 270 on the Big Island and is probably one of the most beautiful and pristine places on the face of the earth. It was also the launch point of our son, John's hike beginning on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. He and some of his colleagues had visited the area a couple of weeks before and John had loved it. They had spent the day and hiked into the second or third valley from Pololu. So when he decided to take a long hike over the Thanksgiving break, that area of the Kohala Mountains was his logical choice.

The hike down into the Pololu Valley is quite steep but the trail is well defined and has plenty of stone "steps" to help with footing. It's an easy hike down to the valley floor, taking about 10 to 15 minutes unless you stop frequently to take pictures of the awesome views. The valley has a stream that comes down out of the mountains and winds through to the ocean. The beach is black sand, so they say. When my husband and I hiked down into the valley several years after our son had disappeared, the beach was made up of rather large black lava rocks. But several places I read talked about the fine black sand beach of Pololu. I wonder if it depends on the time of year whether you see fine sand or large rocks.

At the time of the initial searches in 1999, my husband and I were not in shape and couldn't make the hike down into the valley. Actually it would have been the hike back up that would have been the real challenge. But we did make that hike on a later trip, leaving before dawn in time to catch the sunrise. It was breathtaking; like being in a private cathedral.

When we decided to hold a memorial service for John, the logical place was the hillside overlooking the Pololu. The pastor of the local Baptist church and his family were gracious enough to help us with the details.
Rick Reece photo, All Rights Reserved

Here are some other interesting facts about Pololu Valley. The word Pololū means long spear in the Hawaiian language. Pololū (Hawaiian spelling: Pololū, stressed on the final 'ū') is the northernmost of a series of valleys that form the east coast of Kohala Mountain.

Prior to European colonization, Pololū Valley was renowned for its kalo (taro) farming. A particular variety of kalo (kalo Pololū) was grown here, notable for its crimson stems. Kalo farming was complemented by rice in the 1800s. In the 20th century, though, the valley fell into disuse.

An average of two or three hiking or hunting groups a month need to be flown out of Kohala by emergency helicopter. The mountain is inviting, but the trails are poorly maintained and the terrain is surprisingly hazardous. One resource manager states bluntly "Kohala eats people."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Orchids of Hawaii

O is for orchids that John Reece loved. When he was ten years old, we went hunting for ferns in the jungle behind our house. He soon lost interest in ferns but discovered the Time-Life book on orchids in the library, brought it home and read it from cover to cover. That began a life-long passion for these beautiful, delicate creations.

When John arrived on the Big Island, his first journal entry told about the orchids on the island. On September 29, 1999 he wrote:
"There is a particular orchid that grows everywhere around here. There are apparently only 3 native Hawaiian orchids, and 4 non-native species that have gone wild. The one I’ve been seeing is terrestrial, has white flowers with purple lip, and grows about 1 meter high. I think it is an introduced species."
After doing a bit of my own research, I confirmed the fact that there are only 3 native Hawaiian orchids and none of them are the flashy, beautiful varieties we think of when we think of an orchid. Experts believe that due to the difficulty of orchid seeds migrating across the vast ocean distance, only 3 varieties managed to make it to the remote islands of Hawaii. For those who may be interested in reading about these native Hawaiian orchids, I'm including a link to another blog that gives detailed information about them. The three native orchid varieties are the Fringed Orchid, Twayblade and Jewel and all three are becoming more and more rare and are considered to be endangered species.

John grew up in Brazil (in the Amazon) so he had plenty of opportunity to develop his knowledge of and passion for orchids. Whenever he and his dad would go out in the boat during high water season, he would collect a few of the orchids he found on the branches. And if trees fell in the jungle or were cut down, he would scour the fallen branches in search of orchids to rescue. He developed quite a collection and cared for them, knew all their names, etc. He was indeed a passionate orchid lover.

After his disappearance, a close friend painted a picture - a collage of the places and things that were significant in his life and of course an orchid was prominent in the painting. We included a photograph of the painting in our book and I am including it here.

Painting done by Julie Eagan Avery