Wednesday, July 22, 2020

God Amid the Chaos

- Maricka Herrer

I admit—I sighed that morning when I opened my Bible reading plan. 


Not exactly the most encouraging read, particularly in April 2020. Reading of the baffling, and at times sickening, sin-caused suffering is painful, perhaps all the more so when it strikingly resembles sin’s destruction in our own world.  True, the unique position of Israel as God’s chosen nation prevents us from drawing strict parallels between their story and current states of affairs. Yet, the general sentiment of the two was similar—chaos.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit kept me reading that morning, using two truths faithful Bible college professors did their best to engrain in our student minds. The first was the forceful, elongated emphasis one teacher would place on “all Scripture” every time he quoted 2 Tim. 3:16, to remind us that all of God’s Word, including Judges, is useful to us. The second, from another instructor, was a simple Bible study question: If nothing else, always ask yourself when reading the Bible—what does this teach me about God?

God in the Big Story 

I had been thankful many times for the correction to perspective that question brought, and this time it was no different. Asking what Judges teaches me about God did not diminish the appalling realization of the downward spiral of corruption that sin brings, or of the woeful deceitfulness of the human heart. Yet, perhaps because current world events and personal experiences made the turmoil of Judges more palpable, answering that question from the ancient narrative lifted the eyes of my heart, amid chaos, beyond chaos, to see Him, gloriously radiant in antithesis to the darkness:

Just and holy. True to His nature, not letting Israel’s sin go unpunished, just as He had warned them before they entered Canaan.

Faithful and good. Still, not forsaking a stubborn, blatantly disobedient people, who had so shamelessly broken their covenant with Him, and using the dreadful consequences of their unfaithfulness to call them back to Himself, the only source of true life.

Compassionate. Saving Israel when, time and again they pled for deliverance, after the consequences of their sin had brought them to ruin, and the things in which they had so foolishly placed their trust in days of abundance, proved to be worthless. 

Sovereign. Showcasing His omnipotence by using the most unlikely (and even at times most unsavory) people and confounding methods, to destroy some of the most powerful nations of that time and deliver His people.

God in the Back Stories - “In The Days The Judges Ruled...”

Yahweh did not show Himself as this kind of God only in His dealings with His people as a whole, during this turbulent time of their history. The two books immediately following Judges, Ruth and 1 Samuel, give us a glimpse into the lives of a few ordinary people alive during that period. And what their stories reveal is that Yahweh is the same God to “the least of these” as to the great and many.

Sometime during the last century of the 300 years the judges ruled Israel, a helpless widow returned from years of famine-forced exile in Moab. She had no husband, no children, no hope—just a widowed daughter-in-law from a nation that God had cursed. Yet, in His care, Yahweh stepped into Naomi’s life, through the simple faithfulness of Ruth. And in so doing, He tenderly displayed His own faithfulness and utter goodness to a woman who, in her despair, had begun to believe the lie that He was out to bring her bitterness.

Decades later, a heartbroken, childless woman, wept at the entry of God’s House in Shiloh, her painful reality a curse by society’s standards, ridiculed by her competition, and misunderstood by her husband. Yet, God heard Hannah’s voiceless, tear-soaked prayer, and showed His compassion on the sorrows of the despised.

But He did not leave it there. Unbeknownst to them, their existence, along with that of Israel, was being woven into the eternal redemption plan He was orchestrating for His people, and ultimately, for the whole world. 

Little did Hannah know that her Samuel, the blessing from God that took away her reproach, would become the last and greatest of the judges, who would lead Israel back to their God. Naomi, Ruth and Boaz had no inkling that Obed, the child who had already brought them such hope and joy, would become the grandfather of David, God’s chosen king, nor that they all would be part of the genealogy of the Messiah, the Son of God Himself, the Redeemer of the world.

God in Our Story

That God, Israel’s Yahweh, is our God today. What a soul-calming realization it was that April morning, and as world events and unexpected circumstances revealed the fragility of our supposed certainties, the familiar truths of God’s unchanging character proved once again to be the life-anchor.

Whether in the sweeping histories of nations or the intimate spaces of our individual lives, He is sovereign, His reign unthreatened by whatever chaos may be raging. Despite what circumstances may seem to indicate, or what lies Satan may be whispering to our hearts, our God will always be faithful to His promises, and always, completely, infinitely good. He is still holy and just, and will ultimately set aright all that is unjust in the world. He is still compassionate, saving those who come to Him in repentance, seeing and caring for those suffering, whether they be whole nations under oppression or the unseen, unspoken pain of a single heart.

And in it all, our lives are not lost in a meaningless cycle of life and death, ebb and flow, fortune and disaster. Instead, in a way only the all-wise God can now see, our stories are part of an eternal plan, the design of which, if we could see it now as we see those of Naomi, Ruth and Hannah, would leave us breathless.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


“Nurses dispense comfort, compassion and caring 
without even a prescription.”
- Val Saintsbury

It was shortly after 2 a.m. rounds when the call light panel lit up and chimed.  I could hear groans as the nursing staff all looked at the panel, seeing the room number which was requesting our assistance.  Much to the relief of the other nurses hovered over their charts, I quickly responded that I would answer the call!

Entering the room of one of the most difficult patients to whom I have ever given care, I asked  how I could help. This patient was a Catholic priest, and in his final stage of cancer. Over  previous weeks and admissions, I had the opportunity of having multiple short conversations with him. On one occasion, he asked if I was married and noted that I did not wear a wedding ring. I smiled and told him yes, that I was happily married and blessed with a wonderful husband and three beautiful children. The questions followed, with the priest wanting to know my husband’s occupation, the size of our “parish," and even asking if my husband preached "store house" tithing. Over the multiple times that I answered his call light, he would question me about our church and beliefs.  

Answering the call light this night was similar in his requests for care, every little request before leaving his room taking forever to complete (pull the tray table ½ inch this way, put my head up one inch, move my water glass ¼ inch that way…the details were so time consuming), but was also strikingly different. As he again turned the subject to our church and religion, I felt God’s nudge to share with him the plan of salvation. I told him that we both knew that death was imminent, and I wanted him to be prepared to meet Jesus. Just as I would speak to a child, using the scriptures of the Roman Road, I shared that we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Jesus died on the cross for our sins because of His great love for us; if we confess our sins to Him and believe Him for forgiveness He is faithful to forgive us, and we can accept His gift of eternal life. He then asked me if I would pray with him. I took his hand and asked him to pray along with me as I prayed the sinner’s prayer. When the prayer was ended, with tears in his eyes, he peacefully said, “I think I can sleep now.” Then he made a statement that left me wondering, “If anyone gives you any trouble for being in here so long (about 45 minutes) refer them to me.” 

On my next scheduled shift, my supervisor, a sweet Methodist lady, asked me if I had heard that our patient had passed away. You see, when I had been interviewed by her for the position on the Oncology Unit, she told me to feel free to pray or read scripture with any patient that was open to it. So even though I was a Protestant working in a Catholic hospital, I had an open door to share Jesus with those who were so close to eternity, and my opportunities were many! Hearing the account of my last moments with this patient, my supervisor became so excited and said, "Oh, just wait until I tell the nuns and priests!" Then she began to tell me the rest of the the story.  My patient was not just a priest, he was one who had oversight of the diocese in that area. (No wonder he told me to refer questioners to him!) The nuns and priests in the hospital had felt he was so high above them that they could not minister to his spiritual needs. My supervisor said they would be so thrilled to know that someone had met that need. God had used me that night, just a simple nurse following the nudge of the Holy Spirit, to share Jesus. I was just a willing vessel through which He could work.  Someday, I plan to see that Catholic priest in heaven!

When considering my role as a nurse, I have always felt it to be a ministry. An unknown author once said, “When you are a nurse, you know that every day you will touch a life or a life will touch yours.” Knowing that every human being to which I give physical care has a soul, I also have an obligation to minister to their spiritual and emotional needs to the best of my ability. I have been so grateful for the opportunities to minister to the spiritual needs of my patients. Nursing is rewarding work, but also very hard work for those who are in it for more than a paycheck. You don’t leave your ministry at the time clock when you end your shift. Your concern and prayers for your patients continue. You celebrate even baby steps toward recovery, and you grieve when the doctor says, “We have done all we can do.”  

As we celebrate Nurses Week, I congratulate every nurse working in every field of the profession! Mahatma Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Some are on the front lines of service frantically trying to save the life of someone hovering between life and death. Others are behind a desk making policies and putting in place procedures for those life and death situations. Wherever you are as a nurse, I challenge you to give it your best. Your character will be as important as the knowledge that you have obtained. We need hard working, ethical, and morally upright Christian nurses to most effectively minister to the whole patient-physically, spiritually and emotionally. And during this time of COVID – 19, treating all three is more needed than ever.  

Congratulations on choosing to serve others!  Happy Nurses’ Week!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Empowerment: Are We Sure?

- guest article by Joan Stetler

“Being a wife and mother is akin to being in a comfortable concentration camp.”

So said feminist, Betty Friedan in the 1960s, enlightening women everywhere of their inhumane and unjust victim existence.

Womanhood, motherhood, the home and family have been under attack for a long time. But Betty and her feminist pals weren’t content to keep their deviant brand of sunshine and cheer to themselves. She wrote a book called The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and became an immediate celebrity. In 1976, a New York literary club included it with works by Marx and Mao Zedong in its exhibit on “Books As Troublemakers.” So now we all know who to hang with if we’re looking for a better and more exciting life!

Why did Betty become a sudden celebrity with her new message for women? What was its message of appeal? 
One word - power. 

Forces Against the Family

But there were other forces arrayed against the home and family which had been coming together for over a hundred years that will further explain this loud cacophony of disgruntled women’s voices. Liberal theology, enlightenment, rationalization, modern biblical criticism, social gospel, neo-orthodoxy, and fundamentalist-modernist controversy were influencing seminaries and preachers to make significant changes in practical biblical application in messages to their congregants, thereby affecting society at large. Evolution and atheism began being promoted as the more intellectual and highbrow way to think. Who would be so boring and uninformed to actually want to be guided by truth? 

Margaret Sanger began her twisted push for population control and eugenics, setting the stage for the 1973 legalization of abortion. And perhaps the single most powerful influence on society came from Hollywood. Affairs, workplace infidelity, immodest dress and behavior, partying, smoking, drinking, gambling all began to be glamorized and made sophisticated by the messages sent everyday, all day from the producers of television. Housewives were made to appear as dull drudges. 

Then war happened; women left the home and went to public work to promote the nation’s efforts. The family began to realize the effect of an absent mother. The traditional balance of support and care for one another as husband and wife began to wear away. Men felt freer to pursue their own afterwork interests. Mom was thrown in with male attentions and making her own money, but she had just as much work to be done at home. Women would soon feel this lack of commitment, cohesion and mutual support; they began to exchange their homes and families for sexual freedom, money and careers. Divorces became commonplace. Relationships between husbands, wives, and children were broken. Children suffered emotionally. Young people drank, took drugs, joined gangs and committed suicide. Teenage pregnancy rose. The pill was invented. Soon we were in the middle of an STD, HIV/AIDS epidemic. Something had gone horribly wrong in American society. 

Voices and Dissent

We had many voices warning us of our steep moral decline, voices such as James Dobson, Kevin Leman, Henry Cloud, Phyliss Schlafly. They helped many and salvaged many homes. But women’s quest for empowerment still continues its increasingly aggressive fist-shaking and man-hating. 

We watch in horror as women march in the streets screaming vulgar obscenities, holding up figurative heads of those in authority, wishing them physical harm. We try to look at the daily news online and are met with pornographic litterings of celebrities. Families with small children attend sports events where half-time shows are comprised of shocking, lewd and depraved acts. Then we’re supposed to feel sorrow for those who have used their bodies to obtain sought-after acting roles and then want to charge the directors with rape. I ran onto this terribly frightful quote
So many people think the rise of women and the evisceration of our culture are somehow coincidental. But it’s been calculated and deliberate . . . it is the result of hate - hating God, hating life, hating society, hating men, hating babies, hating our families, hating our white male Founders, hating happiness, hating heterosexuality, hating western civilization.
Why did intelligent, educated women come to these mad, insane conclusions? Why are women still falling for the same old, ancient, satanic, Garden of Eden, “Why don’t you just live a little” line?

The Power of Created Design

Women are intrinsically created by God to be naturally sensitive, intuitive, creative, with limitless potential for love, tenderness and affection. We love beauty, manners, romance, flowers, candlelight, sweet nothings, babies, baby magic baths, and adorable children. We can scream about inconveniences and injustices at the top of our lungs, but all of these wonderful nurturing gifts are undeniably programmed into our innermost beings, our feminine DNA, our complex, intricate hormonal structures, our mental construct of superb multi-tasking abilities, and our ever-changing emotional variants. When we bond in a physical way by choosing to honor our created design, our minds, our emotions and our spiritual components become inseparably, irreparably, and unchangeably intertwined.  (Speaking of empowerment - why, we women have the world eating out of our hands, literally, with all the comfort foods that our families and loved ones consume with much enthusiasm and fondness for favorites. But women do much more than mere cooking and cleaning.)

And when we buck against the created design in us, we’re trying to come up with some warped sense of happiness and fulfillment with power, money and career? No wonder we’re crazy with anger!

God has given women a very strategic and vital role in the delicate balance of society. Women with their innate sensitivity were designed to be the conscience and character of our families. We have the power to create fidelity and virtue by being pure and modest in our thoughts, motives and actions and by instilling the same in our children. When we walk into a room, we either exude wholesome goodness or questionable deportment. The Bible calls this “shamefacedness and sobriety.” When we carry out this essential role, societal ills are kept in check. We maintain a safe and orderly society. Without it, we risk the gradual but sure destabilization of civility. 

Women Who Changed the World

Think about the forever-altered course for humanity that came from Eve’s choice of forbidden fruit in place of quiet, evening conversations in the garden with her husband and God, the Creator Who came to talk with them personally. 

Think about Sarah and the far-reaching implications of bearing Isaac in her old age. 

And Jochebed, with her baby Moses that she hid in the bulrushes, along with his famous babysitting sister, Miriam. Jochebed’s Moses, who is considered the greatest of Jewish leaders and prophets, who authored five books of the Bible. 

Rahab, who intuitively sized up the men of God who had her life in their hands and made a deal with them which protected a nation and her own family by hanging a simple scarlet cord in her window. 

Consider Abigail with her diplomacy skills and picnic lunch that kept a lot of angry men, including the soon to be king, David, from making rash decisions and from perhaps altering his future. 

And then there was Deborah, who was a national leader, judge and military leader over Israel for sixty years.
She judged while sitting under a palm tree - a setting rabbinic tradition maintains that validated her fairness, openness, and refusal to show partiality . . . The Bible records no dissent or rebellion against her leadership. Leadership resides not in gender but in character and gifting. The Israelites recognized her abilities and prospered under her tenure. 
(How’s that for empowerment, girls?) 
Remember Queen Esther and her policy-making, political positioning dinner dates that preserved the life of the nation of Israel and exalted the Jewish status in the Persian kingdom? 

Elizabeth with her son, John the Baptist, the announcer and forerunner of the Messiah? 

And lastly, there was Mary, the mother of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ - Jesus, whose life was such an history altering event that the ancient calendars were forever changed. We still use Christ’s birth and death (B.C.) and (A.D.), to tabulate time. 

Yes, truly our churches, our schools and our homes are in crises. We, as women, have the ability, the gifting, the skill set; we have this opportunity and this moment in time, to bring back conscience, character and Christianity to our communities, our country, our continent and our world.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Thoughts from the Classroom

                                           -Stephanie Burley
Three decades ago, Congress made a declaration which recognized teachers all across America.  They called it National Teacher Day, and for five years it was celebrated on March 7th.  In 1985, The National PTA took things a bit further and established Teacher Appreciation Week.  Since that time, Teacher Appreciation Week is celebrated annually the first week of May, with Tuesday being named National Teacher Day. That's a bit of information you may or may not have known, but the important thing to recognize is that teachers not only deserve our prayers and support, they desperately need it. Now more than ever. 

One of the greatest lessons we have learned through this national crisis is the importance of a strong yet flexible educational process.  If your children typically leave home and go to school each day, your world was upended mid-March as schools were shuttered and stay-at-home orders were issued with as little as a day's notice.  This has affected each family differently, depending on family dynamics, needs of the child, accessibility to curriculum and technology, and the preparedness of the school to pivot to a distance learning format.  What is the one constant in this process?  The teacher.

As a caring educator, the teacher is taking this opportunity to engage with students in a way that assures them of their individual importance.  She spends her days interacting, offering feedback, explaining difficult concepts, and giving the students a sense of security by being a constant in this ever-changing time.  Like you, she is adapting to circumstances for which she was unprepared.  Like your children, she is grieving the loss of the end-of-year celebratory events and the opportunity to close out the school year along side of her closest companions.  For many teachers, the 2019-2020 school year is the last in what may have been a lengthy tenure.  They are retiring or moving into a different career path.  This journey was supposed to culminate in celebration and reflection with students, parents, and co-workers as the school-year came to a close.  

Although we are now socially distanced, teachers have remained fully engaged.  So how can parents and students recognize and support our teachers during this special week?  Let me share some meaningful ideas:
  • Have your child create a card for the teacher and mail it to her.  An emailed note would suffice if you are unable to secure an address. In the note, have your child name a specific action or trait of the teacher for which he/she is appreciative.  For instance, "I love how you take extra time to help me in Math." Or, "Your field trips are my favorite!"
  • Take a meal to your teacher.  Everyone is busy right now, and teachers are no exception.  Days are long and often run into dinner time.  Maybe you can run lunch to her home at noon, deliver dinner to her family at six, or even just drop a dessert by her house for her to enjoy as she wishes.  Those acts of kindness are never forgotten.  An alternative idea is to order a meal for her and have it delivered.
  • Place a hanging basket of seasonal flowers on her porch or have a bouquet delivered from a local florist. 
  • Find out where your teacher has her vehicle's oil changed and give her a gift card for that service.  An alternative would be a gift card to a local car wash.
  • If the teacher doesn't have a membership to a local wholesale club, purchase one for her.
  • For coffee lovers, Panera Bread is currently offering a monthly coffee subscription.  Click here for details.  Gift cards to local shops and national chains are a great idea, as well.  As an alternative, a gift bag of coffee (or tea) related items or K-cups is a fun surprise.
These are just a few ideas varying from no cost to a larger investment, but the sentiment is the same, and I promise you, your thoughtfulness will make her day!

On a different note, maybe you are struggling in your relationship with your child's teacher and you're just not sure what to do.  Let me encourage you to pursue the following actions:
  • Pray for your child's teacher.  I don't mean just a passing "bless her" type prayer, but pray specifically for her.  Ask God to empower her to flourish in this season of upended expectations.  Ask Him to give her strength for her days.  There's a good chance that your child's teacher is taking care of/teaching her own children at home while she's supervising the students who are in her virtual classroom. These changes are significant to everyone, and your child's teacher is no exception.
  • Give your child's teacher the benefit of the doubt. If your child is struggling and the temptation is to blame the teacher, remember your child's teacher is human.  You may not be seeing the whole picture, so it's helpful to talk with your child and explain that you are sure that his/her teacher is doing her best.  Then stick with the problem to help find a solution.  Avoid speaking negatively of the teacher in front of your child.  That is counterproductive to building what needs to be a good and effective relationship.  Also keep in mind that, in many cases, teachers are simply carrying out instructions provided by principals and administrators.  They are seeking to meet mandates they didn't create, and this can create extra pressure, especially with so many new things happening quickly.  
  • Communicate with your child's teacher.  Begin by telling her that you are praying specifically and daily for she and her family.  Let her know that you understand that this time of virtual or distance learning is tough for teachers, parents, and students, and that you are willing to do everything you can to lighten her load and help your child succeed.  Then follow through with that.  If you or your child are frustrated, be clear and respectful in your communication with her.  Seek resolution, not further conflict. Be open to honest, constructive criticism.  I assure you, there is no place your child's teacher would rather be right now than in the classroom, fulfilling her God-given calling.  The best thing you can do for her during this time is to communicate well.
  • Look for the good in your child's teacher.  Personality clashes are a real thing, and they aren't necessarily a bad thing.  However, what we choose to do with them makes a huge difference in our relationships.  Your child may not like his/her teacher.  You may not like your child's teacher.  But that doesn't mean your child's teacher cannot be a positive force for good in your child's life.  If there are glaring problems creating lingering issues, of course, that could be a sign of further problems and you need to seek God's help and use the proper chain of command in securing a resolution.  Many times, though, frustrations are brought about by a simple misunderstanding or a personality clash.  How can you work through this?  Understand that your child's personality may be difficult for the teacher, as well.  All teachers have students who are more difficult for them to relate to than others, and a good teacher will make it nearly impossible for a student to tell the difference.  The best way for you to work through a personality clash with your child's teacher?  Look for the good.  Make a list of her positive qualities and find ways to weave those into your conversations with your child.  List the sacrifices she makes.  List the fun activities she plans.  Yes, even include the seemingly demanding assignments she issues.  All of those things are helping your child grow into the person he or she needs to be.  
As we head into the home stretch of the 2019-2020 school year, we realize it has taken a team effort between parents, teachers, and students to arrive at the completion of a successful term.  No one asked for this challenge, but we are meeting it in ways we never thought possible.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Speed Bumps on My Road Called Contentment

- Janet Burton
Have you ever had difficulty breathing? I have because my asthma kicks in anytime I have a sinus infection which then develops into bronchitis.
In mid-March I began to hear the news reports about the coronavirus that would be having a great impact on the older population, especially those with respiratory diseases. Whoa! That hit close to home! They were talking about ME and I didn’t like it one bit! Immediately, a “speed bump” of fear sprang up on my road called Contentment. As a nurse, I know about ventilators and multi-system organ failure, and I was not interested in experiencing any of that. 
Fear set up big time. I was afraid to leave my house for anything. For days, I lived trapped in fear. 

Speed Bumps

I had been so content with my life. I had just retired in December and had already made three trips south to be with family at Christmas, to attend Sea Breeze camp and to be with my brother-in-law during his surgery. My friends and I had enjoyed shopping, attending revivals, eating out, etc. We were all looking forward to the InterChurch Holiness Convention and then a “speed bump” of disappointment showed up on my well paved Contentment road. Stay-in-place guidelines until the end of April or longer. Really? 
Truth vs. Falsehood was the next “speed bump” I encountered. 
Oh my, who in the world is telling the truth? Who’s lying? Are we losing our religious freedoms? What is essential? What isn’t essential? Is Covid-19 part of the end-times? Is it a conspiracy? A biological terrorist attack? Opinions were abounding everywhere!
And then there was the boredom “speed bump.” What does one do for hours on end? Well, I’ll tell you later how I avoided letting boredom lead to the loneliness “speed bump”.
Perhaps you experienced these same “speed bumps” or maybe you experienced other ones during this pandemic. Let me share my approach, and the ways I coped with the quarantine.

Conquering Fear

Fear has not always been a major issue with me, so I was surprised when it gripped me fiercely. I could hardly think of anything else except the possibility that I might die from this virus. I just knew if I got “it,” I would die. I told the Lord HE would to have to help me because I couldn’t control this fear. And you know, HE helped me! He brought to my mind all the times He had protected me in various circumstances. God assured me He was able to protect me now and He would be with me. 
Although God relieved my fears, I didn’t throw caution to the wind and do what I wanted. No, I followed the guidelines. In the midst of my fear God worked through my neighbor to provide me with a N95 face mask. I am no longer fearful when I go grocery shopping. Hopefully, this quote from Brian Tracy will help someone: “Stress [fear] comes from within; it is your reaction to circumstances [Covid-19], not the circumstances themselves.” I’m glad I looked to Jesus to defeat Satan’s tactic of fear!

Coping Skills

Disappointments can lead to depression and if you are prone to depression it is especially easy to fall into despair. You might say I did a little grieving over what I was “giving up” to be safe and healthy. I had to implement some previous coping skills to work through this. 
 How do you cope with all the “if he had” or “if he hadn’t opinions,” end-of-times predictions, etc.?
Well, it helps me tremendously not to read and believe everything I read on Facebook. I had to become very discerning about whose posts I read in order not to fill my mind with controversy and negativity. Sometimes I spoke out when I knew a post was giving inaccurate health information. I had to ask a friend not to send me any more messages about the pandemic. To keep a positive mindset, I had to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience [submission] of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5 KJV). God’s Word became my filter to process the end time predictions. To assist me in this effort I enrolled in the free online course offered by God’s Bible School & College on the Book of Revelation (taught by Dr. Stephen Smith). 
Now, back to the boredom “speed bump.” 
As a single person, battling boredom has become a daily activity for me. I have to be intentional so I can ward off loneliness. I take each day as a new day and start each day with “Lord, what do you want me to do today?” It is amazing what He tells me to do. 
Some days God’s answer is to do some long over-due deep cleaning in my house. Other days God tells me specific people to call and check on or to whom I should send a card. One of my friends was really struggling with being homebound, so I colored a picture and took it to her, along with some books and magazines to help cheer her up. Basically, now, as in other times, God wants me to be a blessing to others. When we bless others, we often receive a blessing ourselves, and that helps combat boredom. 
There have been some rewards to the slower schedule. One of my friends bought bird feeders and has enjoyed watching the birds come and go. A couple of my friends and I have discussed how we now do not feel rushed in our devotional time. We are finding God’s grace sufficient as we come from His presence! I obtained a digital library card and have enjoyed reading books from our local library. My new best friends are Facebook (in spite of the negativity), Marco Polo (staying connected with family), and the Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN which has provided me with hours of good music and stories). Online church services and live musical performances have been so helpful to keep me inspired spiritually. 
Yes, I too long for the day when states are “open” again. When that happens, you will find me with bags packed and headed to who knows where-just because I can!


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

College and Quarantine: A Candid Conversation

It's almost here.  You know, the moment you've dreamed about since freshman year.  You've climbed out of bed before daylight to make it to early classes, and stayed up long past midnight putting the finishing touches on projects and research papers. You've worked hard to pay your tuition. You've built relationships with professors, classmates and dorm buddies.  You've made mistakes, and you've learned from them.  And it's almost here: the moment your family and friends converge on your campus to watch you turn the tassel.

But there is an interruption that no one saw coming.  Just as you were preparing to savor your final moments as a college student, you received a notice that residence halls were closing, classes would become virtual, and the events of your spring semester would likely be canceled.  Suddenly, all your idealistic hopes and plans crumbled into a heap of confusion, and you are left wondering why.

Thousands just like you are experiencing a similar chapter in their story, and recently we had the opportunity to talk to four young women about how they are affected by the current national crisis.

Let's take a moment to meet them before they share their thoughts:
Katrina Cooley is from Pennsylvania and is a senior at Penn View Bible Institute.
Rebecca Flowers resides in Michigan and is a sophomore at Hobe Sound Bible College. 

Ashley Quesenberry lives in Indiana and is a senior at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences.  While studying at Christ, she resides on the campus of God's Bible School and College.

Laura Sprenkel is from Pennsylvania and is a sophomore at Hobe Sound Bible College.

WOW: Thank you for spending time with us and sharing your hearts during this crazy time.  All four of you lived on a college campus and have unexpectedly moved back home for the remainder of the semester.  How are online classes going?  

Katrina:  It is a learning curve for everyone.  It has made some things more challenging, however, I think is commendable that our school is committed to keeping the standard of excellence through this time.
Rebecca: I'm enjoying seeing my classmates and teachers via video chat.  We have classes at the same time we would if we were on campus.  This is helpful because it gives me a schedule and something to do every day, even if I'm not leaving the house.
Ashley:  It's certainly not preferred or ideal, but through this process of transition, I've been amazed at the dedication of educators across the country.  My own professors have been incredible in providing meaningful content for our classes and have been creative in finding ways for us to still meet the course outcomes.  It is nice for me to be able to log into my class sessions and to hear and sometimes even see my professors and/or my classmates.  I can't say that it's always been easy, especially when I struggle to keep the days straight at times.  I've been late to a class session because I got the times confused.  Thankfully, the professor was very understanding.  We're all just making the best out of the situation at hand.  Perspective influences a lot in this matter.
Laura: Since our school has an online department, the transition to online delivery for class has been, all things considered, relatively smooth.  Having class in my house is reminding me of the time that I was homeschooled!  I miss the classroom setting, but online methods have still allowed for "easy" communication with professors and classmates.

WOW: What are some events that you were looking forward to that are now canceled or threatened, and have you felt a sense of grief over those losses?

Katrina: Since I'm a senior, there would be a lot of "lasts" for me as a student.  I really enjoy Missions Convention and our Jr/Sr banquet, and both of those are canceled.  At this time, we're unsure about graduation, and that is the milestone we all look forward to, especially as seniors. I do struggle with the fact that my senior year won't be normal and I won't get to do all the events one last time, as a senior.  I also think about the unsaid goodbyes.  I never relished the last moments in the classroom with my friends and professors, or in the dorm with my dorm family.
Rebecca: I am so sad that we will miss spring choir tour and IHC, as well as our education department's scheduled trip to Savannah, GA. I'm grieving the lost time with friends, the loss of experiences that would produce growth and change for good, and the loss of time ministering to the kids I work with on the bus route.
Ashley: I am saddened at the cancellation of Easter services, as well as  IHC in Dayton. I've dreamed of graduation day since I started nursing school four years ago.  Now, my formal ceremony is being replaced with a drive-in ceremony, and I'm not even sure I'll get to have an actual pinning ceremony.  Reading those emails was hard.  I admit that I cried tears over the fact that the last half of my senior semester is ending so differently than anticipated.  There's much uncertainty in our lives now, and I think that not being able to know a date for when everything will return to "normal" makes the disappointments harder.  Grief is a normal human response to loss.  In order to accept and move past the hurt, the losses must be grieved in some way.
Laura: At a small Bible college, choir tour is a highlight of the year.  We had been looking forward to this tour since the beginning of fall semester, and had spent many hours in practice and preparation.  It was canceled.  The weekend after I returned home, I attended a friend's wedding.  Instead of one hundred fifty planned wedding guests, there were forty. The wedding date had to be changed so the newlyweds could get to their home state in case the state borders closed.  A family trip to celebrate my sister's graduation has been canceled, and we are unsure if she or my boyfriend will have a graduation.  I tend to get homesick easily, but the day we were told to move out of our dorm rooms , I found myself standing with a group of girls on our hall crying because this was not in our plans.  We all understood that the decision to close the doors for the semester was necessary, but the reality of that decision has been difficult.

WOW: How has God been near to you during this time, and what strategies have you used to remain joyful?

Katrina: God has helped me to learn that He knew this was going to happen.  I need to trust that He has me here and living in this moment, as it is, for some specific reason.  I realize that this is time that I can spend with my family: doing projects, playing games, and just being together.  We have played family games almost every night, and eaten dinner together, as well.
Rebecca: God has been near to me through Scripture.  As I reread well known passages, I am reminded again of how faithful He is to me.  God has also been near to me through songs, and I'm thankful for the gift of music.  I really am glad to be home, and am trying to use this time to invest in my relationships with family.  That, as well as staying connected with friends, has helped to be joyful.
Ashley: At the beginning of 2020, I knew that this was going to be my year to learn much about trust, as I have several big changes coming in my life.  The matter of trust keeps popping up in seemingly every area of life these days.  God has used wise people in my life to remind me of trust.  None of this has taken God by surprise.  While the process of learning trust is not comfortable or enjoyable, it's a good and lifelong process.  His ways are always perfect.  He can be trusted.  I've endeavored to be very intentional about using technology to remain in contact with friends, my mentor, my classmates, etc.  Seeing and hearing other human beings outside of my family members is sometimes needed, and always good for the soul. I've been careful to keep my perspective as positive as possible, filtering through what I choose to read.  My sister, Autumn, started a list of thankfulness and posted it on the refrigerator.  Our family has been adding to it each day as we go about our tasks.  It's a good reminder that we all are truly so blessed.
Laura: When your schedule goes from completely full to almost empty in a matter of hours, things begin to come more clearly into focus.  The "empty space" that used to be full is the time that God becomes so much closer to me.  I have time to focus.  This time has allowed me to search and know God more.  I've been digging into what it looks like to pray boldly.  There's no better time to pray bold prayers that when the world feels like it is falling apart around me.  To remain joyful, I'm looking at the positive aspects of this situation.  I have extra time to spend with my family, friends, boyfriend, and my cat (all of which I miss when I'm on campus).  The HSBC girls have started a group chat where we share encouragement and random things that are happening in our quarantined lives.  It's affectionately called "The Smile Chat," and it manages to bring a smile even though my phone is always blowing up with notifications!

WOW:  Do you feel like this experience has changed you, and what would you like to share with others who are in your circumstance who may be struggling?

Katrina: It has changed me.  I realize thing things that I take for granted.  I see that I go through a lot of motions, but wander how much of it reaches my heart.  Do I appreciate the moments while I'm in them instead of always looking back wishing I had?  Do I take the time to tell people what they mean to me and let them know they are appreciated? This quarantine has given a lot of time to think and reflect on what things should be the most important things in our lives.  I'd like to encourage others to cherish the moments you have together with your family.  These are times that everyone will remember.  Make it a time that you won't regret.  Feeling sorry for yourself steals your joy, makes you miserable, and wastes precious time.  Look for the good, and if you can't find anything...start something good.  Pray and see what God would have you do.
Rebecca: This experience has made me rethink my priorities.  I realize how many times I was so preoccupied with unimportant things instead of focusing on the people there in the moment, loving them like a good friend, and enjoying life then and there. If you're struggling, I would encourage you that it's okay to be upset.  Sadness and grief is not a sin.  God is not scared of your feelings (John 11:35).  But don't live in sadness and grief.  Take it to Jesus and ask Him to carry the load with you.  Realize that joy will come in the morning and that this season will end (Psalms 30:5).  We are all in this together.  Don't feel like you are alone.  Remember Jeremiah 29:11.  We have a hope and a future.
Ashley: This experience has changed me.  I realize now the small things that I have before taken for granted.  Things such as a hug from a friend, the luxury of going for a random shopping trip to TJ Maxx, or the relaxation of sitting in an adorable coffee shop.  Even things like attending church and worshiping with other Christ-followers has been taken for granted.  There are countless blessings that I now see more clearly: family time, relationships, my faith, the beauty of nature, and rest.  In my nearly twenty-five years, I have learned that great disappointments often breed much growth if we allow it to happen.  We can either own the disappointments, setbacks, and losses and come through them stronger, or we can allow ourselves to become a victim of them and wallow in our self-pity.  During this time, God has given us all opportunities to learn something, to grow closer to Him.  Lean into the disappointments and the growing process.  The result of what He wants to do in each of us is more beautiful that you or I could possibly imagine.
Laura: How could anyone live through an experience like this without being changed?! I live more in the day to day than I did before.  I feel motivated.  Motivated to accomplish things that I have placed on the back burner because of busyness.  Motivated to embrace where I am no matter the circumstances.  Motivated to achieve academically along the journey to accomplishing my goals.  Motivated to embrace normalcy.  I have newfound appreciation for campus life and the college experience because the temporariness of this time in my life is now vividly real.  My advice to you?  Embrace this time.  I know that sounds like the worst advice anyone could share at a time like this, but embrace it.  Embrace the fact that for perhaps the first time in your life, you can't make your own plans.  Embrace the fact that you get to try something that is maybe completely new.  Embrace the opportunity for God to fill the "empty spaces" on your previously full calendar.  Embrace the opportunity to connect with people, even via technology.  Embrace the feeling that you don't have your life completely figured out, because you don't, and that's okay.  Embrace the abnormalcy that you are currently experiencing because, before you know it, it will be gone and our world will fall into a new normal.  Embrace this rare moment in your life because it's happening for a reason.

WOW:  Katrina, Rebecca, Ashley, and Laura, thank you so much for sharing with us!  We appreciate your time, your vulnerability, and your honesty.  These are unprecedented moments that will soon be history, and we know that God is using these days to draw us closer to Himself.  We wish you all the best in the remainder of this semester and in the days ahead!  

To our readers who find yourselves in similar circumstances, we trust you have found encouragement through the words of your peers.  We pray that God will make Himself fully known to you during this time of extreme change in our world.  We challenge you to stay focused, committed, and more determined than ever to be a light in a culture of darkness.  Lots of things may be different, but God's plan for you hasn't changed!

-Stephanie Burley


Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Whole New World

                                  - Christina Black

Some of our dearest friends on earth eat dinner with their whole family almost every Sunday. The other day, though, I was looking through Facebook statuses and saw them, those precious friends, pictured on video messenger with their children and grandchildren. They had taken screen shots of their whole new world experience!

Video family time is such a typical activity for us on the mission field, but I knew it was highly unusual for them, and the separation they no doubt were feeling deeply pulled on my heartstrings. I rather jokingly told them, though, as I hit reply, that they were getting their missionary training! But feeling slightly sobered by the whole event, I began to think. Could it be possible that almost everyone we know, and love will now identify in some new, significant ways with their missionaries? Will recent weeks make a difference in the way we pray for missionaries in the future? Did it even cross our minds that we might be living a “missionary’’ lifestyle during our time of quarantine? As I pondered these ideas, a post appeared on another Facebook page. It was a blog that I read and considered for days. I reached out to the source and asked if I could share some of the ideas his blog had inspired. He readily agreed, and here are some of my recent thoughts:

  New Rules of Life

  1. I am a busy missionary, but I take time, daily, for emails, Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, Marco Polo, and iMessage; because they are my only options if I want to stay connected with my family and friends around the world.
  2. My home is the center of my universe. My office is across the hall from where I sleep. It is where I often teach by Zoom or work online. We cook and eat most of our meals at home. We have to keep ourselves busy during our free time, so sometimes we read books, color, do puzzles, and play games.
  3. We don’t greet people in the same way on the mission field. At home in the States I instinctively know who to hug warmly, who prefers a handshake, and who might just like a smile. I remember when we moved overseas, that I suddenly didn’t know how to greet people! I had to learn new ways to show pleasure when seeing someone.
  4. Especially when we first arrived, on both fields where we have served, I fought to overcome a lot of fear. “Was it safe to eat the food on my plate? Was the table clean? Would good medical care be available if we needed it?  Did I have enough faith to live without a paycheck?” I wondered. 
  5. I woke up one morning about 20 years ago, opened the windows, swept the insects that had collected and died in the hallway as they swarmed around the one little light I left on to attract them, and started some coffee in the old pot with the broken carafe that previous missionaries had left behind. I remember feeling such resounding loneliness. It almost seemed as if I could hear it mocking me.
  6. I remember homeschooling the kids for the first time, trying to find a window unit air conditioner for our bedroom, and searching endlessly for a gentle soap. Shopping weekly was like a search and rescue event! When I found canned green beans, I hid them behind the sardines because I could not afford to buy too many at once, and I also knew there were only a few cans of green beans in the whole country.
  7. I was sitting in a grass hut in the Philippines and voiced my frustration to someone who had known and helped many missionaries. He said these words, and they gave me such hope and comfort, “In a few months everything here will feel normal. It’s just all really different right now. Be patient with yourself.”

   Be Patient with Yourself

I am absolutely sure that each of you dear readers have already started to see the parallels I mentioned earlier as you have followed me through my list of thoughts and memories. You, like your missionaries, have learned to depend heavily on social media recently. In fact, I am going to miss the increased presence of my friends and family there when this is all over!

You have learned to make your home the center of your universe, to greet people differently when you really just want a hug, to ignore your fears and keep doing what you need to do, to live by faith, to power through the loneliness, to shop in a culture without everything in stock that you need, to resist hoarding, and to be patient with yourself while you learn to trust more and worry less in a whole new world.

Please, allow yourself to remember these days- forever! Let the memories fuel your prayers. Pray for your missionaries in a whole new way today and in all of your tomorrows! You see, you have lived some similar experiences!