Archive | March 2012

“I Thought No One Would Ever Love Me Again.”

One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was the sentence above—“I thought no one would ever love me again.”  The sweet little girl who uttered those words is Nastia, an orphan in the Ukraine who very soon will be my granddaughter.  She went on to say, “When my father died and my mother started drinking so much that the government took me away and put me in an orphanage, I thought I would never have a family again.”  Can you imagine the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness she must have felt?  It brings tears to my eyes when I hear the despair in the words of this child.  I am not sure how old Nastia was when she went into the orphanage, but she is only thirteen now—so young to have such a sad history already.  Unfortunately for most of the orphans there, their future will probably be just as sad—or even worse.

Tom Benz is the director of Bridges of Faith, which is the organization through which my daughter and son-in-law Julie and David met Nastia and Oleg, the other teen they are adopting.  In Tom’s words:  These children, through no fault of their own, live incarcerated in institutions. They live there because of choices other people made. Most of the thousands of orphans in Ukraine are social orphans. They were abandoned – at birth, as babies, as toddlers, or as school aged children – by the very people who, by all natural rights, should have staunchly and nobly protected them.

If these children live in those institutions until, at age 17 or 18, they graduate, they face a dour statistical future. Five years out, 10% of these kids commit suicide. More than 10% go to prison. Only 10% make any kind of reasonable life. Unbelievably, 60% of the girls land in prostitution.  They become involved with drugs or with the Mafia and if they have not died through suicide they have at least attempted it. 

Overwhelmingly, these kids have never even seen a healthy family, a wholesome relationship between a man and a woman, or a happy home. How can they hope to hit a target that they have never seen?

Julie and David feel compelled by the Lord to rescue children such as these.  They want to at least give them a chance to know the Lord; to give them a happy home and good role models; to   have a better future and life than that which is a part of their statistical probabilities.  Nastia’s words to Julie the other day were heartbreaking, but then she went on to say, “I cannot even begin to tell you how much it means to me that you love me already and want me to be a part of your family.”  It was then that she told Julie that she would like to start calling them mama and papa.  There is joy today in the heart of this young girl—matched only by the joy in the hearts of her new mama and papa, brothers and sister.

What Nastia does not yet know is that she has a big extended family waiting to welcome her with open arms and open hearts.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—she will have more love than she can begin to imagine!  This grandma and grandpa truly love her and Oleg already even though we have yet to meet them.

What Nastia may not have known before is that she was always loved whether it was in a sad, highly dysfunctional home, or in the orphanage.  There was One there who loved her and held her in His arms and had a better plan for her life.  He knew her past; He knows her future, and whether she knew Him or not, He would always love her.  Nastia has been introduced to Jesus now.  We do not yet know if she has accepted Him as her Savior, but as she sees Him working in her life and feels the love He has for her, we pray that she will be drawn to Him and will want to love Him and serve Him as her Lord and Savior.

We all want to be loved.  The cry of this little girl’s lonely heart was to be loved, to be a part of a family again.  People the world over have that same basic need, and when that need is missing from their lives, it leaves a large empty hole in the human heart.  One of the questions Nastia had for Julie the other day was, “What is your last name?  I don’t even know what my new last name will be!”  When Julie told her it was Sanchez, Nastia tried it on for size.  “Anastasia Sanchez—I like it!”  To be loved and to have the family name—what could be better than that!

The Bible tells us that before we even knew Him, God loved us.  John 3:16 says it so simply, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Romans 5:8 makes it even clearer: “But God commendeth [or demonstrated] His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Can you imagine?  Not only did we not know Him, but we were actually His enemies—and yet He loved us so much that He was willing to die for usIn this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:9, 10)  We didn’t know that we were loved, but we were—so much that the ultimate sacrifice was made on our behalf!

The love of God did not simply provide for our salvation when we trusted Him, but it also made us a part of His family!  Galatians 3:26 says, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”  and Romans 8:15-17 tells us, “…Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”  We are not merely converts, but His children!  We will not enter Heaven as His friends, but as His children!

Oleg and Nastia lost their birth families, but they can never be separated from their Heavenly Father once they become His children.  Romans 8 goes on to say, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vs. 38, 39)  Our Father’s love is forever!  Our place in the family is secure.

Nastia and Oleg will soon see what a happy home is and will feel the security of loving parents who will protect them and care for them.  The way may not always be easy, but with God’s help Who brought them all together in the first place, they will go on to become one family, not only in name, but in love.  We pray they will finally know and understand the love of God in their lives and will cherish their places in the family of God.  After all, Christ died for that very purpose.

Aren’t you glad that He did the same for you?

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SURPRISE!!!

I’ve been working on the plans and preparations for a surprise party the last few weeks!  My sister Cheree, who is often my partner in crime, is throwing a surprise 30th birthday party for her daughter-in-law Nicole.  Cheree and I often work on projects together and it is such fun to be at it again!  From planning an elaborate menu to making up a silly game based on Nicole herself to trying to figure out how exactly we’re going to pull off the surprise itself, we’ve already had a lot of laughs and been pretty impressed with ourselves!

Nicole is a lovely, sweet girl.  She is a giver and always looking for opportunities to help others.  She is soft-spoken, but willing to step forward when she sees a need.  In fact, whenever her name comes up in conversation, someone is bound to say, “She’s such a sweetheart!”  Those words turned out to be the theme for our party.  We’ve tried to keep the decorations from looking too Valentine-ish, but there are plenty of pink and silver hearts and even heart-shaped ice cubes.   It’s a Ladies Night Out type of party and Cheree has tried to think of everything that Nicole and all the women coming will appreciate most.

It says a lot about her and Nicole’s relationship that Cheree wants to do this for her daughter-in-law.  Cheree does a LOT to help Nicole, and in turn Nicole likes to surprise her mother-in-law with thoughtful little gestures or a special little gift now and then.  Cheree raised two boys, so it is nice that she now has the “daughter” she missed out on earlier in life.  It is a love relationship that is often missing between mother- and daughter-in-laws.

Now, of course as Christians we don’t believe in lying, but I don’t think God will hold it against us if we tell a few little lies to Nicole to try to make sure she is truly surprised on the night of her party.  (Oh, and I think I am safe in writing about the big event before it happens because I’m pretty sure she won’t read this blog!)  Cheree dug deep into her bag of devious schemes and came up with a plot to get her to the party without spoiling the surprise, complete with a big fib about having “tickets” to someplace special, secret phone calls and all the guests standing on the corner of the parking lot holding posters that say, among other things, “Surprise!” and “This Way to the Party!”  Now if we can just get through until Thursday night without someone accidentally spilling the beans maybe we can pull off this big surprise!

I love surprises!  I know there are some people who don’t, but whether it is a flower or bag of chocolates that Bob brings home to surprise me, or an unexpected and spontaneous night out, or surprising somebody else, it is just plain old fun.  The only surprise I don’t like is not being prepared for unexpected company.  I want my house and myself to look their best when someone comes over—so please call before popping in!  J

The Lord has some wonderful surprises in store for us but He does not resort to big fibs or little lies to pull them off.  Actually, He’s given us a few hints—just enough to whet our appetites and to look forward with anticipation to what He has planned, but not enough to give away all the awesome details and mind-boggling secrets He is preparing for His children.  We know there’s going to be a party—a celebration that will last for all eternity—but we don’t know exactly when it will begin.  Matthew 25:13 says, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”  The Bible tells us that Jesus himself will come to escort us with the ride of our lives!   “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”  (I Thessalonians 4:16, 17)

Who wants to go to a party in our old, grubby work clothes?  We don’t have to worry about that when this surprise party occurs.  I Corinthians 15:52-55 tells us, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”  I’m not sure what that new body in its party clothes will look like, but I know it’s going to be a whole lot more beautiful than this old one is!

We know the venue where this celebration will take place—Heaven!– but as for the actual set up and décor, we cannot begin to imagine it!   Jesus said He is preparing it for us.  “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2, 3)  It must be pretty spectacular because He said in I Corinthians 2:9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

The party will kick off with a grand feast—the marriage supper in honor of Jesus and His Bride which is the Church.  That’s us—those who have trusted in the shed blood of the Lamb of God for our salvation.  “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.   And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. (Revelation 19:7-9)  What a day of rejoicing that will be!  Blessed, or happy, are all those invited to this party!

We know it is coming, but everything else about it is His wonderful secret and a beautiful surprise for us!  I simply cannot wait!

Battery Operated and Fuel Injected

We often say around here that our sweet Robbie may be mentally retarded but he’s not stupid!  When we woke him up early Wednesday morning to get him dressed, he knew something was up and it wasn’t good.  Usually when we are leaving early in the morning, it is for the long trip to Alabama to see his sister Julie and her family and he is excited and happy about that.  This time he sensed that Mom and Dad were up to no good and going bye-bye wasn’t going to be the fun experience he had hoped for.  We didn’t say a word about where we were going, but as we put him in the car that lower lip began to stick out and he started shaking his head “no.”  By the time we got to the hospital, the lip was waaaaaay out there , his brows were furrowed down over his eyes and he was definitely not his normal, friendly, lovey self!  He was glaring at everyone in suspicion and distrust!

Robbie has a Vagus Nerve Stimulator implanted just below his collarbone.  About the size of a pocket watch and similar in appearance to a heart pacemaker, the battery pack is attached to wire leads that coil around Robbie’s vagus nerve and help control and sometimes stop his seizures by providing tiny bursts of electricity to his brain.  We discovered in January that his battery had died and had been waiting anxiously to get it replaced before his seizures went totally out of control as has happened in the past with dire consequences.  A new drug had helped us get through the waiting period, but we were glad to get this additional safety net back in place again.

Once we got his IV in place in preparation for the surgery, Bob and I and the nurses that were hovering around managed to sweet-talk him out of his funk, and for the rest of the day he treated everyone to his beautiful smiles and bestowed his blessings on us all!  Whew!  It was a long day, a very long day, as we gradually went from being scheduled first on the list of outpatient surgeries to very last.  Robbie did very well, though, and eventually woke up full of smiles once more and eager to get out of that bed and go home.  You would never know in the days since then that he had surgery at all.  He’s showed no signs of pain, the wound looks clean and good and he is back to playing with his toys and loving on Mommy and Daddy.

We call Robbie our Bionic Boy.  Not only is he “battery operated” but he is also “fuel injected.”  Robbie has a feeding tube.  He no longer eats or drinks by mouth, but five times a day we inject his liquid food through his feeding tube directly into his stomach with a large syringe.  It is one of the sad things about his life that really hurts me—that he cannot enjoy the pleasures of delicious food or the refreshment of cool beverages in his mouth—but he has become accustomed to it and does not seem to have the desire anymore to take anything by mouth.  I tell him frequently that someday we will sit down together at the banquet table of our Father and he will enjoy for the first time in a long time a wonderful wedding feast—and that he will leap and dance and sing and talk then, too!  I wish you could see the beautiful smile and joy on his face when we talk about Heaven and all that awaits him there!  He seems to understand—perhaps even better than we do.

For now, though, we must contend with things like worn out batteries and malfunctioning feeding tubes.  It sure would be wonderful if they had rechargeable batteries for Robbie’s VNS so he wouldn’t have to go through surgery like the one he just had every five or six years.  I am thankful for his feeding tube, for we know what it was like when he became anorexic due to an allergy to one of his seizure medicines, and later when he lost his swallow mechanism after being in a coma with a tube down his throat for several weeks.  At least now we know he is well-nourished and healthy.

We take for granted what it means to be healthy, I think, and the marvelous bodies that God has given us that work so intricately and complexly according to His master plan.  These carnal bodies do become ill, however, and run-down.  We begin to realize that ever more clearly as we age, don’t we?  More and more I long for the perfect, eternal body God has promised me someday!  In the meantime, we must contend with what we have.  Both physically and spiritually, God wants us to be charged up and fueled up for what He wants us to do!

Unlike the Energizer bunny, I cannot just simply keep going and going and going.  If I want to endure physically and live my life to the fullest spiritually, I must recharge my batteries.  It is not enough to simply feed the body.  Our minds are renewed and our souls are fed when we stay connected with the Father through His Word.  Matthew 4:4 says, “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  At some point I have to plug in my cell phone if I want it to work when I need it.  Likewise, nothing is more disappointing than to find your camera’s battery is dead just when you want to take a picture.  I wonder how many times we have missed an opportunity to be used of God in someone’s life because we have not stayed plugged into  His Word?  How often have we sputtered in our own lives, dragging ourselves through disappointments and trials, because our spiritual batteries have not remained charged in the Word of God?

To recharge our home phone we simply put it back into its saddle.  From time to time, though, I have come back to find that the handset has not charged properly because someone did not place it in the saddle correctly with its contacts fully connected to the charging unit.  It was even worse a few months ago when the phone wasn’t charging at all.  I thought it was broken and—sigh—we were going to have to replace it again, when finally I discovered that the unit wasn’t even plugged into the wall!  Once it was plugged in and the connection was restored, it has worked very well.

In the same manner, we must not only be plugged into God’s Word, but we must stay connected through prayer.   Oftentimes, after Jesus had ministered to a large crowd, he went away to be alone with His Father and pray.  Matthew 14:23 tells us that after Jesus had fed the five thousand and preached and healed many, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”  He re-connected with His Father.  When the Pharisees sought to kill Him, and later in the garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus going off alone to pray.  If Jesus needed that connection through prayer to His Father, then we most certainly do, as well. Prayer is our ultimate power source, but it is of no use to us if we do not stay connected.

There is another way of recharging and that is of dispensing power!  What?  How can we power up while giving power away?  I learned this lesson the hard way.  The laptop I had before this one had its battery completely die after only a year or two.  I wanted to conserve the battery, so I very seldom used it and instead relied almost solely on plugging the computer into the wall.  When it died I was surprised to learn that a battery must be regularly drained and then completely recharged from time to time or it will deteriorate.  Because I was constantly giving it juice and never dispensing that power it finally just gave up the ghost.  Do you know how expensive a laptop battery is?  It was going to cost me $130 to replace it, so I decided to just forget it, but from then on I had no choice—I was always tied to the wall, like it or not.

We believers are often like that dead battery.  We go to church and Bible studies, we listen to Christian music, read Christian books but many times we are guilty of taking power in and storing it, but rarely dispensing it!  How do we dispense power?  By using it to serve others.   Jesus was our example.  Matthew 20:28 says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Philippians 2:5-8 goes on to say, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” When we take the focus off ourselves and put it on encouraging, uplifting, helping, blessing others, we are recharged and blessed ourselves.

We sure do love our Bionic Boy!  The Lord has used Robbie over and over again through the years to teach us and mold us into the kind of people and followers of His that He wants us to be.  Even now, when Robbie’s life is so limited, we see lessons to learn and are blessed beyond measure to have his life touch ours.  God has provided for Robbie’s physical well-being according to His will and we are so grateful to Him.  He wants us, as well, to take care of ourselves physically with proper nourishment, exercise, rest and so on, and even more importantly to stay charged up and fueled spiritually.

Picking Up the Pieces

Once again this week America has found herself glued to the television as we anxiously watched a terrible outbreak of vicious tornadoes sweep across the South and Midwest of our nation.  With these deadly storms becoming all too frequent and ever more violent, it seems, the tornado season is off to a far earlier start than normal.  We held our breath as wave after wave of twisters spun across more than a dozen states, grieving for those who were struck and praying for loved ones who live in the path of the deadly storms.  I have a beloved daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Alabama who were under warnings and watches for hours.  Aunts and uncles and cousins in Tennessee had close calls as tornadoes swept past, fortunately missing them, praise the Lord.  My own state of Indiana suffered some of the worst damage in this tornadic outbreak.  It almost seemed like a science fiction movie as nearly one hundred twisters in a single day wreaked destruction and death across our land.

Then came the aftermath.  As the storms passed, survivors climbed out of the wreckage or crawled out of their hidey-holes to rush to the aid of others who were trapped.  We watched on television as they stared in awe at the unimaginable devastation all around them, and we stared in awe along with them.  Our hearts broke for them as they cried, not knowing if family members had survived, or hearing the bad news that a neighbor had died.  Homes were destroyed; whole towns wiped out; livelihoods lost; lives changed forever in just the few minutes that it took for a tornado to blast its way through.

And then came the all-too-familiar images of folks digging through the rubble, looking for something,  anything, that was left of their former lives.  Over and over again we heard them say with a weak, sometimes teary smile, “Well, at least we came out alive.  We have each other and that’s all that matters.”  And over and over again we heard, “We’re staying right here.  We will rebuild.  This is our home.”  Several families related that they had just finished in the last few months rebuilding from last year’s tornados and now they had to pick up the pieces and start all over again—but it was home and so they would not give up.  Reporters recounted how some small towns had suffered multiple tornado outbreaks over the years and always come back to rebuild.

I became aware this week of another storm brewing thousands of miles away—a storm on a much smaller scale, and yet equally as devastating to those involved.  The Ukrainian orphanage in which my soon-to-be grandson resides is going to be shut down in May, just a few weeks after Oleg will be adopted into our family.  Oleg will be rescued just in the nick of time, but for the children left behind, the only secure home they have ever known, the only “family” that has ever cared about them, will be ripped away.

Oleg’s orphanage is not the norm there.  It is much smaller with only about thirty children currently residing there—which is most likely why it is being closed.  The director genuinely loves the kids and is looking out for their best interests—something that is rare in the larger orphanages.  The children look upon one another as siblings.  Most of them have already suffered the loss of one or both of their parents, or been severely neglected by an alcoholic parent who has lost all parental rights.  They have been uprooted from their birth parents and their home once and now they will be uprooted once again and most likely put into foster homes, which in most cases are simply taking in children for the money the government will give them.  The older girls and boys who are close to aging out of the system will be forced out into a hard, cruel world alone where the chances that they will become a part of the awful statistics of prostitution, crime and even suicide are great.  There will be no one there to help them pick up the pieces.  The storm that will devastate these kids’ lives will not be a tornado, but its effects will be just as severe.  I feel just as helpless to do anything for them as I do for the thousands who were affected by the twisters here.

The truth is, most of us have gone through or will go through devastating storms in our own personal lives at one time or another.  It may be the death of a loved one, a betrayal or divorce, a child who has gone astray, the onset of a terrible illness, or the loss of a home or job.  We may feel as if we have lost everything.  How do we pick up the pieces of a broken life and rebuild?  How do we help others do the same?

Psalm 40:1-3 speaks to me.  I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.  He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.  And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”  We begin by turning to the Lord.  I am helpless to restore the lives of others devastated by tragedy or the hard circumstances of life, but God is not.  I am often helpless to fix things in my own life, but God is not.  When we cry unto Him for ourselves or for others, He hears us and stretches His hand in love and mercy.

Not only does He rescue us from the muck and the mire and the rubble of the storms in our lives, but He establishes us firmly on a strong foundation—the solid Rock, who is Christ.  Houses  rebuilt after a tornado can come down again, as we heard this week, with another tornado.  A life built on the Rock is secure forever.  He establishes us; He directs us; He never leaves us or forsakes us.

Verse three in this passage goes on to say that He puts a new song in my mouth.  It is a song of joy and peace and praise, and specifically this Scripture says, it is a song of testimony—“Many shall see it, and fear [revere], and shall trust in the Lord.”  An old man who had lost his home was interviewed on TV this morning.  There was something different about him—an attitude of peace and even joy.  “How can you feel like this,” the reporter asked, “when you’ve lost everything?”

“The Lord brought us through this and saved our lives,” the old man answered.  “The house is not important, but my faith is.”  What a testimony played out on TV for many to see!

As I pray for these poor people who have lost so much this week, and for the children in this Ukrainian orphanage who will soon lose their home and “family” as well, it is my prayer that someone will be a testimony to them that God does care and hears their cries; that He will lift them up and establish them if they trust in Him; and that He will give them a new song of peace and joy and praise to God.  May they come to a new faith in Him if they have never trusted Him before, and a deeper faith and closer walk with Him if they were believers already.

We are told to prepare for natural disasters and to have an emergency plan in mind.  The same is true when it comes to the  fiery trials we must walk through in life.  Hide Psalm 40:1-3 in your heart so that you will be prepared for the storms to come.  It will bring comfort and direction when you need it most.  He will pick up the pieces of a broken heart and a broken life and put them back together again.