One School Year Ends and a Summer Begins

Yesterday I went to take care of a few things to finish up with my classroom for my morning class for the year. It is a ritual every May for me to go put books away, sort through papers and other things to decide what to keep and what to put in recycling, and say goodbye for the summer to some of the staff.

Part of the year end ritual for me is to sit and drink a cup of coffee in the empty classroom after I finish. It is something I do to process the end of a year. The classroom may have been empty, but it is full of memories from the year with the moms in my class. Some of the moms will return in September and some I said goodbye to last week. Tomorrow we will have lunch at a popular buffet restaurant courtesy of Rotary Club 14.

As I drank my coffee, I thought about how much they accomplished this year. I also thought about the life changing moments for some of them such as two moms having babies in January.

Something else I reflected on is how much my life has changed in the five years I have taught in the school. I started teaching Family Literacy in 2009 and have been in three different schools and in this one for five years. In the past five years I have found out about two chronic illnesses I have. My reality has changed in how I live, but my calling has not changed.

Over the summer I will still teach groups at my church, evening classes at the college, and private lessons. Over the summer I will continue to visit people in their homes. Over the summer I will pray for the Lord to connect me with people who he wants me to share his love with.

But for my morning class, one year is finished and a new one will start in three months.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

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A Safe Place to Land

My life and ministry for the past 20 years has been all about helping refugees and immigrants to feel that my home city is a safe place to land in hopes that they can see Jesus as a safe place to land.

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I have listened as they shared their stories of terrible loss and tragedy. The suffering they have been through is unfathomable for those of us who live in western countries.

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My desire has been to be the hand of a stranger that reaches out to show them a safe place to land.

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I never found a song that expressed how my refugee friends feel and my desire to reach out to them until recently I listened to a secular song by Sara Bareilles and John Legend, A Safe Place to Land. The song captures so many things for me.

There are so many suffering people around us in our workplaces, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, if we would only reach out and be the hand of a hopeful stranger as the song says. Maybe it is the single mom, the person who struggles with depression.anxiety, the person who doesn’t know their father, the person living in poverty feeling trapped or the victim of abuse.. There are so many suffering people around us.

Do we want to be the hand of a hopeful stranger, a light in the dark, to show them a safe place to land until the sun comes up in their lives as the song says?

As I grow older and my body is racked with the effects of chronic illness, I pray for the strength to keep reaching out the hand of a hopeful stranger,

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Want to Make Summer Break Count

Sunday afternoon I visited a family from Iran, We had lunch together as part of their observance of it being 30 days since the husband’s father passed away. For Mandean people, 30 days is an important time to come together again to remember the person who passed away.

My desire was to try to be a blessing to my friends by coming alongside them at an important time for them

I hope to spend more time with my refugee and immigrant friends this summer. For my morning class, summer break has already started. Last week we had summer weather here, so I jumped the gun a little bit and got my summer haircut and beard trim last week.

But then this week started with rainy cooler days, so maybe my summer haircut was a bit early. πŸ™‚

Summers for me have been a time God shows me things. They have been times of realizing significant directions from God and also times of significant changes for me.

A few examples”

July 1995 the doctor finally diagnosed my problem after a two year struggle with hypothyroid.

June 1997 was my first international trip going to Romania for a ministry trip.

July 2001 I began teaching English as a Second Language at the college where I teach.

June 2010 I went on a ministry trip to Mexico and Jesus showed me he wanted me to study Spanish.

June 2013 I went on a ministry trip to Brazil and Jesus showed me he wanted me to study Portuguese.

July 2017 I found out I have Celiacs Disease.

July 2018 I started medication for depression and anxiety brought on by autoimmune problems.

SO

With my summer break for my morning classes having started already and a five week total break coming in June/July

I have decided on a few things to make this summer meaningful since I won’t have any ministry trips.

1-Spend time with Jesus.

2- Summer reading

3- Spend more time socializing with my refugee/immigrant friends.

4- Practice my Spanish more.

5- Practice my Portuguese more.

6- Get caught up with bloggers.

7- Write more short stories.

If you have books you have found meaningful, please let me know. I have not formulated my summer reading program yet. My budget is very limited for a summer reading list, but please share books that have blessed you.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Music Mondays- Held by Natalie Grant

There are songs that grab my attention not only because of the message in the song and how beautifully it is sung, but also because when I listen to the song I get the feeling the person singing has experienced hardship in their lives. Their song is an expression of God carrying them through a difficult time.

Natalie Grant has shared about her struggles with bulimia during an emotionally abusive relationship, her struggle with depression, and her cancer scare when she was treated for thyroid cancer.

Natalie sings from a heart that Jesus has carried through struggles, but the writer of Held, Christa Wells, wrote it because of three women who influenced her life. The three women had lost someone dear to them and two of them had lost a child.

As Natalie sings the song, one lyric stands out to me:

“If hope is born of suffering
If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our Savior”

When we suffer in this life, we can let it overwhelm and consume us or we can look to the person who suffered-Jesus. The line in the song, “Can we not wait, for one hour, watching for our Savior.” refers to Jesus praying the night before he was crucified. His disciples fell asleep while they were supposed be watching for him.

Jesus suffered in this life. It is comforting for me to know that the same Jesus I look to in prayer as I live with chronic illness and pain, suffered pain and understands pain.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Living with Chronic Illness- National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

Today is a rare double post day for me. I posted about Mother’s Day earlier because moms are so awesome. πŸ™‚

As someone living with Fibromyalgia, I also want to recognize that today is National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day.

I like the saying that not all disabilities are visible. The pain and fatigue I live with each day makes life difficult. Just yesterday I woke up at 5 am because I couldn’t sleep well. Since I had nothing scheduled, I went back to sleep from 7 to 12:30. I probably could have slept more.

There is no cure for Fibromyalgia and there is no fully effective medication to treat the symptoms.A few medications provide some help for some people, but not for others. It is more a matter of trying to manage and cope.

I have mornings that I don’t think I can make it through the day, but I give the day to Jesus in prayer and ask him to carry me through the day. Some of those days have been special in the sense of seeing what Jesus does, but I would still prefer not to live with Fibro and would not wish it on anyone.

So I want to give a shout out to my fellow Fibro warriors and anyone living with a chronic illness. Sometimes we can feel alone as we live with a chronic illness. Those are the days I try to spend with Jesus.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

When God Gives A Gentle Nudge

God did it again. He gave me a gentle nudge of a reminder while I was in the midst of a painful day. He gave me a soft knock on the door of my spirit.

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Fridays I usually relax in the evenings at home unless there is a function to go to. Relaxation is vital for me as I live with chronic illness. I was experiencing a pain flare up and debated if I should go to an informal evening of worship at my church.

I gutted it out and went to church. I couldn’t even raise my arms during worship, but I was there to worship Jesus with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We also had some prayer time between sets of worship songs. I felt led to pray for the unity of our church as we go through a transition year.

Then it happened through a conversation with a brother in Jesus who met me when I first started going to the church 25 years ago. He shared something with me that Jesus used to encourage me. He said, “I was thinking about how I first met you at a prayer time when you first started coming to church and you were so sick you could barely speak and now here you are still praying for the church.”

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Jesus spoke to me through that one comment to let me know he is still working through me. When the pain hits or when the fatigue hits, I can start to feel useless. I had even told the Lord that recently in prayer that I am not what I used to be and maybe am ineffective due to living with chronic illness. My friend’s comment snapped me out of it. There is still work for me to do in his kingdom here on earth.

We need each other in the family of Jesus. When we are down, darkness wants to pounce and magnify what we are going through. But if we express what is on our heats and souls to our eternal big brother Jesus, he will move. He will speak truth to us. That is what my friend’s comment was all about and he didn’t even know it.

Today I can relax at home. I hope to spend time listening to worship music. I may take a nap or two. Living with chronic illness necessitates rest. But I will do so not feeling useless.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Music Mondays- You Know My Name by Tasha Cobbs Leonard with Jimi Cravity

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We can all feel alone in life at times or perhaps lonely. For people living with chronic illness, there are times we can feel excluded from life because all of a sudden we have a flare up or we experience fatigue to the point of needing to stay home and rest.

If someone struggles with clinical depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, bipolar, PTSD from trauma such as abuse, or any other mental health issue, there is the added component of stigma that piles on top. The feelings of shame or the feelings of being misunderstood cause us to feel separated from others.

Last year in the summer I started on medication for depression and anxiety. I tried for a long time to handle it through my prayer life and my faith, but due to living with chronic illness such as Fibromyalgia, among others. made it increasingly difficult to do so. I knew I need to do something, so I offered to resign my ministry if taking medication would mean others could not understand. Sadly, there is stigma even in the church for mental health issues. But when I offered to resign, the pastor who my ministry is under told me, “This is a medical issue. You won’t resign.’

I share my story for a few reasons. First of all in hopes that someone else who is struggling might read my post and be encouraged. Secondly to be willing to raise my voice with others who struggle in hopes of addressing stigma.

Thirdly and most importantly to me, to reassure that no matter what we go through in life, Jesus is there by our side if we want him to be. We may not feel it, but he is there. He knows us by name. He knows us better than we know ourselves and he loves us. He loves us so much that he died for us and defeated death for us.

He knows your name dear reader. He is with you right now. I want to share this music video ‘You Know My Name” by Tasha Cobbs Leonard. It is a beautiful song that reminds me that Jesus is with me and he knows my name. He knows me and knows my struggles. I hope it blesses you too.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Trees

“I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.”

from Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem about trees

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Confession time- I have a love/hate relationship with trees. Obviously the poet Joyce Kilmer didn’t have allergies.

I love the imagery of trees in the bible such as Psalm 1 comparing a person who delights in the law of God to a tree planted by streams of water. Trees represent life as in the Tree of Life.

Trees give us oxygen and clean our air. Trees give us shade in the summer time. Trees give us delicious treats like apples, oranges, and bananas. Trees provide a home for the birds who sing in the morning.

How could anyone have a love/hate relationship with trees?

Simple- I am allergic to tree pollen. The time of year when everyone else is excited to see flowers bloom on certain trees, I hope for a big thunderstorm to blow those blossoms off. For two months each spring, I wish lived in a place where trees do not bud new leaves all at once as they come back to life.

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Yes, each April and May, I HATE trees because they mean taking allergy pills and using allergy sprays. They mean sitting inside out of the pollen and checking pollen counts each day. Right now, I hate trees for making me miserable. Yes, I am complaining, but I think I needed to write this to unblock my mind and free me up from hating a beautiful part of God’s creation.

But then June comes and the trees aren’t budding anymore and it seems all of the sudden, no tree pollen. Then I love trees. I can go to the park or out for a walk and have no allergy symptoms. As the summer gets hotter I love the shade trees provide.

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In the fall the leaves change color and the skyline of the city comes alive with vivid colors of red, yellow, orange, and gold. Then I love trees for their beauty.

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So I guess trees teach me something about living in this world and in this life. This life is a mixed bag of blessings and struggles. What blesses one person can make trouble for another person. So I guess I will just have to accept that for ten months of the year, I will continue to love trees and not blame them for the two months of misery.

I just hope The Tree of Life in heaven does not emit tree pollen but of course there I won’t have allergies πŸ™‚

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

No One is Insignificant to Jesus

The photo is of me about ten years ago with an elderly Karen refugee and yes she is standing up in the photo. I met her at the wedding of her grandson. I greeted her in the Karen language and then smiled and looked at her as I said, “Yesu Eh Nah.” which means Jesus loves you in the Karen language.

She was so happy that she kept hugging me and followed me until we found someone who could translate. Through the translator she shares her joy over an American greeting her in her language and an American telling her Jesus loves her in her language.

Every time I think of that encounter, I think about how Jesus does not overlook anyone. Every one is important to Jesus. People we might ignore or brush off, are people who are precious to Jesus.

Sadly in the western church, we think too much about who are the kind of people to reach that will help us grow a church body. Such thinking ignores an important fact. Jesus is the one who grows a church, not us. If we care about the people Jesus cares about, he will grow a church, a ministry.

Nothing in the bible is recorded simply to give us a feel good thought or message. If we want to know how important someone like the elderly widow in the picture with me is to Jesus, consider what we find in Mark 12:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, β€œTruly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everythingβ€”all she had to live on.”

The Temple was a busy place. People were coming and going, Important people came and gave a lot of money to God and the Temple. Out of the hundreds of people coming and going, Jesus took note of a lowly widow and her humble offering.

If we are feeling overlooked, unimportant, or brushed aside, it is not from Jesus. He loves all people equally and he takes note of everyone especially those others ignore.

We would do well in the west to not just think of this passage as some quaint story that gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. The passage shows what is on the mind of Jesus.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

The Voice of Jesus

One of my favorite TV shows is The Voice. A big reason I love to watch the voice is how the coaches mentor the singers without demeaning them like on other shows. I also love how the coaches decide who they want on their teams. They listen to the singers voice without seeing them first. It is through listening to the voice blind the coaches decide to hit their button.

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A voice can mean so much to us. A phone call or a voicemail message from someone we care about can lift us up, comfort us, and reassure us.

Jesus said that his followers, that he compared to sheep which are helpless,  will follow him because they know his voice but will not follow a strangers voice because they do not know the strangers voice. The voice of Jesus is so important for us to get to know because by knowing his voice, we can be spared heartache and also grow strong.

But how do we get to know his voice? How do we build that trust in Jesus to feel confident to follow him and confident we are hearing his voice? How do we know we can hit the button to turn around saying. “I want you” to Jesus like what happens on The Voice?

To know anyone’s voice, we need to know the person. We need to spend time with them, talk with them, be around them. It is the people we know well that we recognize simply by hearing their voice.

Fortunately, Jesus has given us things that help in knowing his voice. We have the bible to read and it is available online, in print, in many versions. We have our churches to go to. I feel blessed by both.

There is something that has greatly helped me to grow in knowing his voice- PRAYER and MEDITATION.

As I have gone through the winding road of seeing different doctors to find out what was wrong and to be diagnosed with Celiacs and Fibromyalgia the past few years, I would listen to worship music and pray. This has been my habit for many years. I find listening to worship music helps me to focus while I pray. It is also when ideas come to me for ministry, for writing, and for life.

The past few years, it has been during times of prayer and meditation that I found strength mentally, emotionally and spiritually to keep going. I will never forget the dark hours for me when I could not sleep due to pain and the depression/anxiety caused by both health problems. I was actually praying for Jesus to take me home to heaven.

But then the quiet voice speaks to me in my spirit as I listen to a song that I have listened to hundreds of times. That quiet voice has let me know there is more ahead for me. The voice of Jesus speaks to me through song, prayer, and in my spirit that there is more ahead for me in ministry and this life.

I would like to share the song that has meant so much to me. It Is Well by Kristene DiMarco. Thank you for reading. God Bless.