Blessings Indeed

View at dusk Indianapolis

The view from our hotel room–Indianapolis at dusk

 

 

Tom and I have just come back from the International Gideons Convention that was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. People were there from over 90 countries from around the world. One of the things I love about convention is meeting and getting to know folks from countries that are so different from my own—and hearing of the difficulties many are facing with faith, courage, and perseverance.

As I listened to how God is working, especially in countries where it is hard and even dangerous, to be a Christian, it made me uncomfortable and sometimes ashamed to be a Christian in America. I thought of Luke 12:48: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” I have been given so much and was reminded of my responsibility!

In my last blog, I shared my experience of packing food aid for Syrian refugees. The prayer of my heart is that I will be more mindful of the ways I can make a difference for the Lord and for this hurting world. I don’t ever want to take for granted how much I have been blessed. With that in mind, here are just a few of my recent blessings:

    • Hosting Jean Marc, a gentleman from France for two nights in our home and getting to know him

      Jean Marc 2 (2)

      Tom and Me with Jean Marc

    • Having more food available than I could possibly want or eat
    • The availability of fresh, clean water to drink
    • Being in air-conditioning, protected from the dangerous and excessive heat we were experiencing
    • The view from our hotel room
    • Having dinner with Glen, our new friend from Jamaica
    • Celebrating the two-year-anniversary of my miraculous healing (July 24)
    • The hospitality of Tom’s sister and her husband, Barb and Roy
    • The beauty and peacefulness of their home on a lake
    • That I was able to do these things freely and without fear of attack or fear for my safety

I could bore you by going on and on, but I think you get the picture. I am especially thankful for the blessing of refreshment this time away offered me. And now, it’s time to get back to work to change the world in whatever way I can from my humble home in Pennsylvania.

The most important thing I can do is to treat everyone I meet with love and respect, no matter who they are, no matter their circumstances, no matter their beliefs. If we all acted this way in our own corner of the world, we would make a difference. Smiles and love ARE contagious! Will you join me in doing this?

 

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SO LITTLE TIME; SO MUCH FOOD

Recently I participated in a food packing event sponsored by my friend, Joey Payne of the Global Aid Network (GAiN). This organization sends humanitarian aid of every kind all over the world, including things such as clothes, food, wheelchairs, walkers, washable fabric menstrual pads, refugee bags, blankets and quilts, motorbikes, regular bikes, small stuffed animals, toys, soccer balls . . . The bottom line—if you donate it, they know someone who needs it and will get it to them.

At any rate, Joey brought her show on the road to her hometown of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. She enlisted the help of local churches to raise the money needed to buy the bulk food and supplies, and to round up the volunteers necessary to prepare the food for shipping. The aid from this event was earmarked for the refugees flooding Greece, escaping from the war in Syria. It didn’t take long for both goals to be met.

Upon arrival and registration, each of us was assigned a station and a specific job at that station. Mine was to check the inner seal of the rice-filled bags to be sure not a grain could escape. Other jobs were measuring rice, filling bags, and sealing bags. (Some stations packed lentils, and some packed rice.) Over 200 of us gathered in the large open space of the Big Run War Memorial on a hot and muggy Pennsylvania Saturday (no air conditioning!)

The event was only scheduled for two hours, and I wondered how much could really be accomplished in that short amount of time. A WHOLE lot, I discovered! The final count: 46,282 meals were packed! That translated into being able to feed over 330 refugee families for an entire MONTH.

Even more important has been the response of the people receiving the aid. When GAiN volunteers deliver the meals, they are asked by many of the mostly Muslim refugees, “Why are you Christians doing this for us when our own people are the reason we are here? Why do you care?” It has opened many opportunities for them to talk about the love that rules us as Christians and the love that compels us to action. These volunteers return with testimonies of hearts being touched because we are seeing them hungry and are giving them food (Matthew 25:35).

I started to think. If we could do that much in just two hours, how many we could feed if we did that for 8 hours or for 5 days, or for a month? While I’m not good at numbers, it is obvious, even to me, how many lives could be touched exponentially.

Each of us can do something. And when that something is added to someone else’s something, before long, we ARE making a difference. We are being “God with skin” to these folks. And as Christians, it’s what we do. 

What one thing can or are you doing to help others at home or around the world? Share your experiences in the “Comments” section.

My American Heroes

Jenna

Jenna reading her essay

Here in the United States today is Memorial Day. While we normally spend the day having picnics and spending time with family and friends, what my family and I did this morning is what Memorial Day is really about. Rather than going to our town’s parade and remembrance ceremony, we headed down the road to my sister’s town.

 

Jenna, my 14-year-old niece, marched in their small parade. She was the first place winner in the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen Essay contest. During the ceremony at the VFW, she received a medal and read her piece on “What Freedom Means to Me”. Her words were eloquent and meaningful. In the essay, she talked about the death of a family friend who died in 2007 as the result of a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq.

Russell KurtzThat young man, Sgt. Russell Kurtz was not only a family friend, but Tom and my godson. His death, just days after his 22nd birthday, shook us and our community to the core. I can never again look at the fight for freedom in the detached way I viewed it on the evening news, as something that happens to “other people”. It is real and raw and heart-wrenching.

But the keynote speaker at the ceremony said that while 79% of people between the ages of 59-64 have close relatives who served in the military, in the 18-29 age group that number drops to 33%. Jenna’s essay won in the middle school category, but the VFW commander said there was not one single entry from the high school students. Without the personal connection, do our young people take their freedom for granted? Will they forget the price that has been paid over the generations to pay for and secure our freedom?

I hope and pray not. Today, I view Jenna as a hero for reminding her generation of what freedom really means. And after the ceremony, my husband, daughter, and I honored and visited the grave of the bravest American hero we have ever known.Russells grave

God’s Continued Blessings

stack-of-rocks-mountain-markerThe steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

I am rejoicing! God continues his work in me and blesses me!

Earlier this week, I had an echocardiogram, another six-minute walk, and a checkup with Doctor Mike (my pulmonary hypertension specialist). When he reviewed the results of the echo, he told me that my heart is “perfect” and I now have the pulmonary pressures of an eighteen-year-old! Praise the Lord! This journey known as my healing has been filled with milestones along the way. His mercies have indeed been new every morning.

I recently heard a Bible teaching from Joshua 4:1-7 regarding the establishment of memorial stones set up by Joshua so the people of Israel might see them and remember what God had done for them at that location. Even prior to Joshua God commanded the people to do this many times throughout the Old Testament, such as when Jacob had his dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder to heaven. I especially love the stories that end with the phrase “and they remain there to this day.” Even today we read those accounts, remember, and marvel at God’s power and majesty as displayed in his works among the Israelites.

My memorial stones consist of writings and calendar notations–and I don’t want to forget any of the stories associated with them. It’s humbling for me to see how people’s hearts are touched and encouraged when I recount God’s goodness in my life. What an awesome God I serve! May I always be a living memorial stone that declares God’s glory with my life, testimony, and actions.

Feel free to share a “memorial stone event” from your life in the Comments.

 

Bible Study 101?

Bible-Genesis with glasses

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net  Photo by Janaka Dharmasena

From April 21-24 Tom and I attended the Pennsylvania State Gideons Convention. Since we joined the Gideons in 2010, we have been blessed in ways too numerous to mention (including my miraculous healing which I have described in previous posts.)

 

I’ve done a lot of Bible study throughout my life. It’s one of my favorite activities. I’ve done studies where you take a book of the Bible and go through it verse-by-verse. I’ve taken one verse and meditated on it for insight over days and weeks. I’ve looked up specific words to see how they were used in the original language, context, and other verses.

But the Bible teacher who taught three 45-minute sessions, showed me Bible study on a whole new level. Dr. Dino Pedrone, pastor, author, and president of Davis College took our conference theme: “Declare His glory among the nations” (1 Chronicles 16:24) and divided it into three phrases. When he told us he would spend a session on each phrase, “Declare”, “His glory”, and “Among the nations”, I wondered how he would find that much to say about each. O, ye of little faith!

I won’t go through what he taught in those sessions. But Dr. Pedrone took us all over the Bible to expand our understanding of each phrase. He demonstrated how the entire Bible is woven together. He gave us action plans for putting each phrase and the verse as a whole into practice. Suffice it to say I learned a whole new way to plumb the depths of God’s Word. The Bible is the only book that is living and breathing and actively working in our lives (1 Timothy 3:16). Every book, every chapter, every verse, every word has so many layers of meaning and truth that we will never peel back a fraction of those layers this side of glory.

Thank you, Dr. Pedrone, for giving me another tool to help me dig deeper into the Word!

(What is your favorite way to study the Bible? Or what is the best Bible study you’ve ever done? Leave me a comment with your answers!)

God + Gifts = Joy and Thankfulness

Like most people, I have been encouraged at various points in my life to keep a thankfulness journal. Being the office and school supply nerd that I am, I could never start one until I’d located the perfect blank book and pen. I’d begin eagerly enough, but before long the delight with my stupendous stationary and the enthusiasm of tracking what I was thankful for at the end of each day dwindled until the entries stopped. I always wondered why I found this so difficult to do. My personality is of the glass-half-full variety, and I’ve been blessed with what Rachel Carson calls “the sense of wonder”.

One day, I picked up a book by Ann Voskamp entitled One Thousand Gifts, knowing nothing about it. Her beautiful use of language and unique way of expressing ideas drew me in immediately. What she wrote not only made the light bulb go on for me, but was life-changing. When sharing with a friend her struggle to cultivate joy, despite recognizing her many blessings and being thankful for them, this friend gave Ann a challenge: make a list of one thousand gifts God has given you.

That last phrase reverberated in my mind and heart–gifts God has given you. Gifts. God. Has. Given. You. GIFTS GOD HAS GIVEN YOU! This simple shift in semantics was transformational. Instead of thankfulness being about me, what was I thankful for, now became what God has given me. And so I started another journal.

Now that my focus was on God and the gifts that are all around me, my list grew and grew. I couldn’t wait to find the treasures God would put in front of me each day. Some items were simple, such as snuggling with my dog on the couch, the scent of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, or the finch watching me from the underside of my living room awning. And some were more complex–marveling at the wonder of my salvation, God’s grace in a moment of weakness, or a new revelation into a verse of scripture.

And what I discovered was that I became filled with joy by seeing God’s hand in every aspect of my life which then triggered a deep sense of gratitude.

I no longer struggle to record in my journal. Some days my problem becomes not being able to STOP recording gifts–indeed, a good “problem” to have! It proves once again that when we focus on God instead of ourselves, we open ourselves to being filled with God’s joy and in turn, we respond with praise and thankfulness.

“Bless (affectionately, gratefully praise) the Lord, O my soul; and forget not (one of) all His benefits.” Psalm 102:2 (Amplified)

“Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad” Psalm 35:27a

(Check out Ann Voskamp’s wonderful inspirational blog, A Holy Experience It also contains information about her book One Thousand Gifts.)

Looking Back–One Year Later

Declare His Glory 2Tom and I just returned from the 2015 International Gideons Convention. The theme this year was 1 Chronicles 16:24–Declare His Glory among the Nations! While there, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of God’s gift of healing to me. As I look back, I see it as a year of declaring God’s glory in my life.

I first shared my healing with my church family by writing an article for my church newsletter. Several speaking opportunities both inside and outside of my church presented themselves. Seven weeks after my healing, I declared God’s glory to another one of my doctors, the transplant doctor who had followed me since my transplant evaluation in 2010. She saw the evidence as she spoke with me and heard the evidence as she listened to my lungs. That day, after telling me that my team of doctors had met and decided it was time to begin the transplant process, she closed my transplant file.

In August, I had contact with an editor from Decision magazine during Franklin Graham’s Festival of Hope crusade here in Pittsburgh. I had contact in both August and October with folks from our local Christian TV station. The editor of our Gideons International publication contacted me. And in June, a very rough outline of the book I’m planning to write about my healing, life after healing, and the issues and questions that arise from such a life-changing event caught the eye of a literary agent who will be working with me to develop the book and sell it for me.

Last year was a time of declaring his glory while waiting, listening, and learning about my new life and the call that came with it. Now that I have the medical documentation needed for the media contacts and the interest in my book, I look forward to giving God the glory in ways that I pray will touch more hearts and lives for Christ. This will be a year of moving forward, actively and in faith, into the call on my life to Declare His Glory in larger and ever-widening circles.

I am here, Lord. Send me.

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