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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In His Presence

How do I know that I am in Your Presence? How do I have confidence in your love? As I pondered this, I also wondered, who am I to even consider such a lofty thought. What in my experience would lead me to think I would know.

Is this like the quality of humility? That is, if we declare our humility, it is not in our grasp?

As a child, my Dad’s presence brought many thoughts in my heart….love, adoration and joy. I experienced fear and guilt when I disobeyed and I could always expect discipline . But I had confidence in his protection, daily needs such as food and clothing, and always a secure place to sleep.

When one of us children complained about what we did not have, Dad would take us for a ride. He would drive us past house after house, each one more dilapidated and worn than the last, and ask, “Would you like to live here….or here?”

We had a choice to make. We were born into this family, but did we want to stay? We three children looked at the houses and considered the alternatives. Then we looked at the back of Dad’s head as he drove…so strong, so caring, so secure. How could we leave Daddy who loved us?

“Dad, we decided, we want to stay with you. Let’s go home.”

We knew we would have unconditional love, and with it, discipline tempered with forgiveness.

As I ponder the words, In His Presence, I realize that being a part of the family of God holds the same promise of love and discipline that I knew in our earthly family. Discipline that teaches.

Being in His Presence is not all love and light – there is discipline, too. Learning to stay within God’s boundaries where we are safe. Dad taught us about living in his boundaries and we often crossed those boundaries.

Did Dad grow weary in parenting? Yes, I am sure he did, yet God gave him the strength to continue to teach us to be obedient and faithful. For this is how to learn faithfulness and trust in God.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30

When Dad died in 1979, I realized we no longer had his presence here on earth. I knew that Dad’s life had pointed me to God the Father. For me, God became my ‘Abba’ - Daddy.

In His Presence. Often the words of a song and the thoughts He gives me, quicken my heart. And I know His Presence. Learning day by day, I long for that presence when tears of joy fall on my face. That is when I know His presence and I know the freedom of His Love. There is an ebb and flow to knowing His presence, and I long for Him. His Presence is in my heart and mind more and more as I long for the ‘mansion with many rooms He has prepared for me’.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39.

You are my strength, 
Strength like no other

Strength like no other - 
Reaches to me

You are my hope
 - Hope like no other

Hope like no other
 - Reaches to me

In the fullness of Your grace, 
In the power of Your Name

You lift me up - 
You lift me up.

Hillsong -

You make known to me the path of life: in your presence, there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. Psalm 18:12

Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, Proverbs 8:30


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thank You!

My Great Grandmother, Justina Loewen, sent me knitted mittens for my 1937 Christmas present, The mittens were held together with a knitted string. Since she lived a day’s journey away, Mom taught me the wonders of a ‘Thank You’ letter. Laboriously I wrote the required ‘thank you’ letter in my 8 year old handwriting.

But it didn’t touch the wonder that fills me today of having a great grandmother who cared enough to knit mittens for me, her great granddaughter.

What must she have thought as she knitted? Did she remember when her daughter, Anna, my grandmother, was small and needed mittens? Did she interrupt her usual chores to make those mittens, knitting by firelight?

Did she make mittens for all her great grandchildren? How did she choose the color of the yarn? Did she pray for me as she formed each stitch? Did she pray for my children who were fourteen years in the future? Did she pray for her family she had not seen yet, ‘those who come after’ (nach kommen)?

As I looked at the brown mitten that still survives (I lost one mitten because I didn’t like the string holding them together through my coat sleeves), and I wondered why she chose brown. Was it more durable? Then I see the yarn embroidery on the mitten, created by my Grandma Anna, helping her mother. I wonder when she learned to knit. Great Grandmother Loewen was born 30 August 1857, in Einlage, Neider, Chortitza, Russian and came to this country, as a young mother. She endured many hardships in her life.

I tried to learn to knit once, and managed a sweater with backward stitches, and the intricacies of mitten-making was not in my realm. I knew that it took time and effort. Mom, knowing Plautt Dietch, gave me a ‘thank you phrase” that great Grandmother Loewen could read – “Danke du”

Seventy three years later, I want to thank my Great-Grandma Loewen for more than knitting the mittens for me. There was love hiding in the warmth of the mittens, thoughtfulness and prayer nestled in the stitches. The mitten is a reminder of family love.

My thank you to Great-Grandmother Loewen was not adequate then. For she meant much to me. My Grandma’s Mom. Why did it take 73 years for me realize what a precious gift she gave me? I want to thank her for her love and faith in God and understand her heart.

While looking for thoughts on being thankful, I found this quote: On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence – by William Jennings Bryan.

The more I thought about this quote, the more I understand giving thanks. Thankfulness is understanding that we do not live alone and to ourselves. Although independence is considered an American virtue, the soul of man has not surrendered its virtue of needing family and community. And even more, we need faith and trust in God.

We need each other – and thankfulness. In the depths of want and need, we learn that in dependence the need to say ‘thank you’. Not only to each other, but to our Heavenly Father.

How odd that there are so many verses in the Bible that say ‘Give Thanks to the Lord’. Does this dependence also go to the One and Only who gave us life, yes, and knitted us together? In our spiritual arrogance, can we,…will we give thanks to our Lord?

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High. Psalm 7:17

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
 Psalm 136:1-3

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! II Corinthians 9:15

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

This Thanksgiving Day is not just today, but every day to come – and I pray for nach kommen (those who come after), and for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Yes, Great Grandmother Loewen, I thank you.

How can I say thanks

For the things You have done for me,

Things so undeserved,

Yet You gave to prove Your love for me.

The voices of a million angels

Could not express my gratitude.

All that I am and ever hope to be,

I owe it all to Thee.

Andrea Crouch -


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Try Harder!"

It was 1937, on a fall day. I am sure that the leaves were a beautiful colors and the cool brisk wind wouldn’t have ruffled my spirits. But I did not notice. My mind was focused on the report card I held in my hand. It stated, “Emily would do better if she would TRY HARDER.”

The last two words became a neon flashing sign in my mind. As I trudged ever closer to home, I pondered those two words, dissecting them with my 8 year old mind….”Try?” I surely had tried to do my best. “Harder?” How hard is hard? I certainly wouldn’t want to overdo my ‘harder’. I scrunched up my eyes, gritted my teeth and flexed my muscles, was this ‘harder?” How do you know what harder is, and how hard it would be? Were there degrees of harder.

Finally my steps came to the end of my three block journey of contemplation, and I handed the report card to Mom. “She looked at it, and then turned it over. In a voice that held a question, she uttered those words, “Try Harder?” After a time she says, “We will show this to Dad.”

Both my parents were school teachers in a former life. So I knew I was in trouble. I lived in the age when a teacher’s word stood firm.

That wasn’t the only time that I felt the wrath of teachers. In the first grade, we were given a picture of an apple to color red. I smelled the paper, fresh from the mimeograph pan of hardened jelly and ink. I looked at my new box of crayons and chose one. The teacher walked my desk. “That is orange-red! You are to color the apple red.” I asked for another print of the apple, but was told I could only have one. I was crushed and felt the eyes of fellow first graders on me. I wanted to please my teacher. Years later I noted 4 different shades from green to red – apples.

Then in the second grade, I happily colored many pages of Dutch – centered pictures. A windmill, wooden shoes, a dike, tulips - it was great to color these for I knew that my heritage came from Holland. Then the ‘Brad Day’ came. We were told to hold up our hand and wait to be called on, to come to the teacher’s desk and receive the two-pronged brads to complete our notebook. At the end of the day, my arm was tired, and I propped it up with my other hand. Finally I decided to venture up to the desk, saying to my self….my teacher just forgot me, it is ok.

When I arrived at the desk, it seemed like a long journey, and asked for two brads, I was told to go back to my seat and hold up my hand again the next day. At the end of the second day, I knew that somehow I was not worthy of two brads, and I placed the pages in my satchel in the cloakroom, with a sigh.

What did I learn from those two incidents? (And there were more.) When I became a teacher, if children needed something they were welcomed at my desk. If we did an art project, I showed them an example, and encouraged their own thinking and creativity.

There are so many times….try harder….became a part of my thinking. And I remember. Imagine my surprise to find in “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, the words – Try Harder! – with the admonition, Don’t Try So Hard! What? I read further….

Actions driven by fear and guilt…..are not an antidote to lukewarm, selfish, comfortable living. The answer is love.’

Francis Chan goes on to say, “Grandmother Clara said, ‘I love love.’ Don’t we all? Don’t we crave it? And isn’t it that what God wants of us – to crave this relationship with Him as we crave all genuine love relationships? Isn’t that what brings Him glory – when believers desire Him and not merely slaves who serve Him out of obligation?”

What does that have to do with ‘try harder’? Simply that when we try harder to measure up to a standard that is imposed upon us, we feel fear and guilt. Where as, if our life is built on the love of God who forgives, He takes away fear and guilt and the horrible feeling of never being all we can be because we do all in our own strength.

What happens if we love God so much that we are motivated and compelled to serve Him? Is this trying harder in our own strength? No, it is being nestled in His love so deeply that His strength carries us through our day, over obstacles and the hard times that are sure to come in this life. This relationship with God means freedom from earthly ‘try harder’ and simply learning and serving our Lord. That is called freedom. That is called unconditional love. And we never grow weary, for we are lifted up on eagle wings and the ‘best is yet to come.’

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-11

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121


Tuesday, November 09, 2010


A memory from the 60’s weaves through my thoughts today. It is a warm Mother’s Day afternoon in Southern Illinois, and we drive to the local Dairy Queen for the annual family celebration. My dear husband asks what each one wants from Dairy Queen. I listen as Dan definitively chooses chocolate covered cone, Paul also makes his choice quickly. Tim listens intently to his brothers, and then makes his choice. Anna wants a plain cone. I watch Tim’s face, as concern etches across as their Dad opens the door to go fill the orders. Tim yells out the station wagon window, “Make it a plain cone….no make it chocolate covered…….” By then Dad is ordering. Choices at the Dairy Queen was a muddle for our Tim. He must remember those experiences because he tucks a $5 bill in every Mother’s Day card. And I remember how difficult choices can be.

Choices are difficult at every stage of life. The choices teach us discernment and are based on the underlying values we have chosen for our life. Without the foundation of what is right and what is wrong, we waver in our decision-making every day. Not making choices is not an option, for in not making a choice, we have made a choice.

When I was about 10 years old, Mother gave me a lesson in decision making. Potato harvest was at hand….and a huge hill of potatoes, dug from our garden, appeared in our back yard. Mother told me to sort the potatoes into piles of large, small and in-between sized potatoes. There were no patterns of a large or small or in-between potatoes, it was strictly my decision. I cringed as the hill of potatoes swiftly became a mountain range of potatoes to my eyes. I remember muttering, “How big is big, how little is little?” I began my task on that warm sunny day, knowing I would grow old here beside that pile of potatoes in the backyard.

When the larger decisions came about, I was still concerned with every decision. For I learned that my choices created changes in my life. At first the decisions had to do with learning obedience to my parents. Then they were life-altering decisions – where would I go to college, what would I do with my life, who would I marry? Some decisions were easy and some were difficult. Marrying my husband was easy, and yet after four children, I knew I needed to teach which meant more college to finish my degree and follow that path. And now I can see God’s leading in my life, despite my challenged-decision making ability that followed me. Retirement gave me pause, what would I choose to do now? Who am I? God gave me many things to do and to learn.

Mother, my first teacher, told me that each day she asked God – What would you have me do today. She chose to make God her spiritual compass for her every day activities. When God brought her to a way to serve others, she chose to do so. How easy it would have been for her to choose not to be aware of needs, to sink into a puddle of self-pity and inaction. Her insights and wisdom, so in alignment with God’s Word, continues to bless me thirteen years after her death.

I choose…. What interesting words. What I choose each day denotes action. Choosing means there is a purpose and a direction from which to choose. When visiting with my dear Aunt Irene, she shared with me her testimony. It included these words concerning my Grandfather…. prayed a blessing for his “Nach komen” – those who would come after him. I know now that every choice I make impacts the lives of those I love, even to my “nach komen” for many generations after me. I know I am dependent on God for every aspect of my life and so I choose my path. I choose Jesus.

Recently I read in Max Lucado’s book….When God Whispers Your Name…. – I choose….Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. The end of Galatians 5:22-23 reads, “Against such things there is no law.”

The fruit of the spirit is an excellent spiritual compass. Selah. (Pause and Reflect). (This word was used recently to describe my Uncle Eli – the Selah Man at his memorial.) In today’s world that spins around us so rapidly with demands and decisions, it is good to pause and reflect and realign my foundational compass on the truth and the way. God has numbered my days, and with each day, I know I have one more day to pray – to love – and to hunger and thirst for His righteousness.

Obedience, faith and trust are the stepping stones to joy everlasting. I remember the lesson in obedience my mother taught me when I was twelve years old (1941). I came home from school ready to relax only to find a sink of dirty dishes and a note, please wash these dishes.. Love, Mom.

I deliberately chose to disobey, and soon forgot the note, although I did wonder why she left the tea towel folded on the wooden counter. When Mother came home an hour later, she calmly said, “I see you did not wash the dishes.” I thought she would be angry, but she was very calm as she unfolded the tea towel and revealed a Hershey chocolate bar.

My eyes grew wide, I could taste that rarely offered chocolate bar. All because I chose not to obey, I lost that treasured chocolate delight.

Even so, that bravado of my teen years, doing as I pleased, has become submission to my husband and to our Lord. Praying for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and our ‘Nack komen’ is my joy as long as He gives me breath, gives me joy.

Each one of us must choose for himself his path. Each one of us must live our lives not in our own wisdom, but His. I just pray that no one misses the treasured delight of a life eternal. How glorious is His Name.

Who, then, are those who fear the LORD? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose. Psalm 25:12

Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, Proverbs 8:10

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

From Death into Life....

How can a day begin so beautifully and then suddenly the light is turned off? It is difficult for my eyes to be accustomed to the shadow in my life. My heart is burdened for Uncle Eli’s family as they walk in darkness of mourning. One cousin wrote, ‘My Uncle Eli’ – he was all our Uncle Eli. We loved him so!

My day was planned, I checked Facebook, and read the message from Uncle Eli’s grandson. -- Rest in peace, grand father, you've plowed your last round. We’ll take care of the rest.

Not my Uncle Eli, I thought. I checked other cousins’ pages, and then I knew. It was true. Just a few days and two years ago, Aunt Edna died.

After I cried and mourned for myself – I will miss him – I began to think about the blessed life Uncle Eli has lived. Uncle Eli, born nine years after Mom, grew up on a farm in central Kansas. A farm whose rich black dirt fed the family, was blessed by God. Uncle Eli knew every contour of each field, and guided, first horses and then tractors with plows, harrows, planters and harvesters in season.

I remember the smell of the fields on Uncle Eli and his brother, Jonas, as they came in from doing the chores in the evening. They were hungry, full of laughter and love for life.

Uncle Eli’s life revolved around God, his wife and family and the land he farmed. A gentle soft-spoken man who sang God’s praises in a beautiful tenor voice. How we will miss him.

Uncle Eli was released from this life in such a sweet way, sitting in a chair after a good breakfast – at peace.

What a reunion is going on in Heaven. He is reunited with his wife, and his baby son, Larry Dean. He is walking over the fields of Heaven, wondering what crops would be best to grow! He is visiting with his Mom and Dad, and the little ones, Gerhard, Daniel, Paul and Hilda who were on this earth only a short time before him. He is with his brother Jonas and with his sisters, Alma, Anna and Bernice. And best of all He has come face to face with our Lord Jesus.

In our sadness, how can we not rejoice in the promises of God? Our lives don’t stop when we stop breathing, but just begin. Death is the beginning of eternity….where there is no pain, no tears or death. And as his granddaughter said, The old has become new. Today Grandpa knows and is fully known.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

Uncle Eli has crossed over the divide and is with the Lord. The lyrics of the song, "I Can Only Imagine", echoes in my heart on this day!

I can only imagine

What it will be like

When I walk

By your side

I can only imagine

What my eyes will see

When your face

Is before me

I can only imagine

Mercy Me