Souvenirs for the Soul: The Testimony of God Shows Up in Unexpected Places

In my pre-waking moments, I thought I was on a subway again. I’d been in the country only a few days, and with my group of journeymen missionaries had ridden several trains and subways, touring the city as we acclimated to the culture. Awakened long before my alarm rang, I thought someone was shaking my bed. My eyes rolled open to realize my bed was indeed shaking though no one was near it.

I sat straight up wondering,

“Is this an earthquake? …

We’re rocking, not rumbling. What am I supposed to do when there’s an earthquake?” My roommate and I sat dumbly blinking at each other. But when after only a few seconds the swaying stopped, we both returned to sleep for another hour.

“Welcome to Japan,” our orientation leader said a few hours later. It was the first, and strongest (6.1 on the Richter scale), of innumerable earthquakes I would experience over the next two years.

I had gone to Japan because I wanted to know what parts of the gospel resonated with a culture far different from my own.

Though I had a job to do, teaching English and working in a church, personally, I was there to expand my understanding of the God I loved. Obviously, I can’t share it all in a single blog. But I can share some of the highlights.

SONY DSC1. Japan is a group-oriented culture. They seek to not stand out as individuals. So in their churches, unity is a must. They never do anything significant without 100% agreement. We Americans have a lot to learn from them about surrendering our individual agendas (uh-hum … pet preferences) for the sake of the body.

July 24 - kiwihug on unsplash

2. When I served there in 1988 and 1989, less than one percent of Japan’s population was Christian. What I loved about this was that people weren’t afraid to ask real questions. Questions I tended to either ignore because they’re too scary to delve into (in case I might change my mind about my faith), or questions I took for granted because that’s what I had been taught and it hadn’t occurred to me to challenge those teachings. I grew to love digging into the Bible and into my own suppositions to solidify what was Biblical truth and what I could set aside. (photo courtesy of kiwihug on unsplash)

 

3. Whenever you visited anyone, you always brought a gift. Always. What a sweet gesture of appreciation! I wish I would remember to do this more often now.

July 24 - boots off

4. You’re probably quite familiar with the Japanese practice of taking shoes off at the door when you enter a home (and even churches and other places). In fact, other countries, and in many northern states (because sloppiness sticks to your shoes in the spring when snow melts), this same practice is observed. When I taught the gospel to a group of Japanese ladies, the removal of dirty shoes served as a great picture of our sin being removed before entering the holy presence of God.

What’s cool about the Japanese, is that the host always has slippers for you to wear so your feet don’t get cold. I suppose this, too, is a picture of God’s grace—clothing us in His righteousness.

July 24 gideon-peter-caringal-2389955. The Shinto shrine’s layout is very similar to the Old Testament tabernacle. Now isn’t that interesting? Japan for thousands of years has prided itself on its autonomy, and yet they built their places of worship with strong similarities to the instructions found in the Bible. How did that happen? (photo courtesy of Gideon Peter Caringal on unsplash, and of the very shrine I visited in the area of Tokyo where I lived)

Now hear me carefully. I’m not a universalist. I believe there’s no god or religion founder who came close to doing what Jesus did for us. None died for the world but Jesus. None rose from the grave but Jesus. None sent His Spirit to live with us but Jesus. This sets Jesus apart, and far above, any other.

But the Japanese shrines, to me, were prime examples of what Paul said:

“… what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, …” (Romans 1:19-20, NKJV)?

So, if God has made himself known to an autonomous island country, has He not also made himself clearly known to people of other cultures? What about the culture your child/ren came from? Maybe this is how we can reach them with the love of God.

Souvenir for the Soul:

Start with what’s familiar to them that reflects the character of God and His salvation story, and build on that.

July 24 Foundational Awareness of God

Because it’s true that …

The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness,
And all the peoples see His glory.

Psalm 97:4-7 (NKJV)

Souvenirs for the Soul: A Glass of Ice-Cold Water

It started as a tiny drug store in a prairie town of 326 people. The new owners took possession in 1931, serving the community which had been devastated by the Great Depression and was just entering the dust bowl years. The owners lived in a small space in the back of the store, separated only by a blanket suspended from the ceiling.

After four-and-a-half years of hardly a customer, they considered selling and moving on to better opportunities. But one smoldering summer day, the wife had a Divine inspiration.

“The people in those cars going up and down the highway must surely be thirsty. What if we put up signs offering a free glass of ice water?” Before they’d finished setting up the signs people were already stopping by for water (and ice cream).

2017 June 19 Hot Traveling

Photo courtesy of Pablo Garcia Saldana @ Unsplash

Handing out free, ice-cold water changed the owners’ lives.

Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD now occupies an entire block, and hosts as many as 20,000 visitors a day. Our family stops there every time we travel down Interstate 90. We just can’t resist a place that has experienced God’s blessings by doing things God’s way. Well, truth be told, I guess we can’t resist their ice cream either.

Once he’d earned enough money to begin traveling, Wall Drug founder, Ted Hustead, had another brilliant idea. While on vacation in London, he hung a huge sign on a wall in a subway station. It humorously informed the locals that Wall Drug was only 5,160 miles away. The sign then offered free information about South Dakota to anyone who wrote them. In short order they began receiving 15-20 letters a day.

Signs began appearing all over the world—sometimes only as large as a road sign—with an arrow pointing in the direction of Wall, SD, and listing the distance to the store. They’ve shown up in places like Paris, Kenya, and even Antarctica. My husband saw one for the first time while touring Greece. It was these signs that drew us to make our first stop while on vacation with our children in 2001.

Since we homeschooled we had decided to take a month-long vacation that September. Temps would be cooler and crowds would be much lighter than traveling during the summer months. As their teacher, I wanted to make every day a learning opportunity. So, in researching our route, I discovered Wall Drug was only a few blocks off the interstate.

When we got there we all made a beeline for that promised free glass of water. We simply had to have a taste of history. Of course, the cooler of water was placed right inside the ice cream parlor where we discovered something even more inviting.

When planning for this trip, I decided to adopt an activity my father had conducted during one of our summer vacations. To minimize teenage sibling arguments, he prepared daily devotions. I did the same, by writing devotions that had to do with what we’d be visiting each day. Well, you might guess what Scripture I used for us to meditate on the day we visited Wall Drug. Yes, Matthew 10:42

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. … And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward”

(Matthew 10:40 and 42, NASB).

Souvenir for the Soul

When we do the simplest of things, meeting the most basic of needs, as representatives of Jesus’ compassion for the vulnerable, we are promised great reward.

Ted Hustead, in telling the story of Wall Drug’s history, said,

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

Sometimes we think we’ll make the biggest impact by doing big things. Well the story of Wall Drug begs to differ. Jesus begs to differ. It’s such a relief to know our greatest impact is made when doing the small things.

June 19 Cup of Cold Water

So maybe that’s the way we can break through the big walls our “unattached” kids have erected. We don’t have to knock down those walls.

We simply need to stand on our tip toes, extend a hand over, and offer a cup of water.

Something as simple as a smile, a light touch to a shoulder, a few words of encouragement (like “I believe in you.”), a moment to listen (with mouth closed while looking straight into their eyes). These refreshing gestures, will go along way in softening their hearts. You may not notice what happens on the other side of those walls, but in years to come you just might get to hear them tell of the little ways you quenched their thirst.

Souvenirs for the Soul: Lessons Learned on Summer Vacations

Ah, the summers of my childhood.

Raised in a typical middle-class home, my parents somehow managed to take our family to new places across the country. Camping on Minnesota lakes. Visiting friends in the Missouri Ozarks. Stopping at the painted dessert, petrified forest, white sands, and the Grand Canyon, enroute to extended family in Arizona. I’ve a bucketful of memories from up-close-and-personal interactions with America the Beautiful.

My husband also enjoyed childhood opportunities to experience life beyond his home town. His parents took him to amazing places in the Northwest such as the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, and Yellowstone National Park.

So it’s no surprise we wanted to pass similar experiences on to our children as well. We are so blessed in this country with breath-taking panoramas, incredible histories, and opportunities to interact with both. I’m grateful our family has been able to experience so much of it together.

Jun 5 Travel

Bryce Canyon, Utah 2001

Father God loves it when we experience new people and places.

He gets to show us a new dimension to His creative powers and His love for mankind. In fact, as I’ve reflected on some of the places I’ve visited, I can think of several lessons God has taught me.

We don’t plan to travel this summer. As empty-nesters we have the privilege of avoiding the summer crowds, heat, gas prices, and bugs. But I thought it would be fun to share about some of the places I’ve visited over the years and the fun little treasures God has shown me along the way.

I’m titling this summer series Souvenirs for the Soul. I look forward to reliving some memories as I share them with you.

But you know what else I love?

I love to go places vicariously through other travelers.

I love the free ride their pictures and stories provide. Whether to the neighborhood pool or to the other side of the world, please, please, please, may I join you? All you have to do is share your pictures and stories in the comment section.

Oh, and this summer as you go, keep your eyes open to little lessons God has for you. In fact,

To give you an idea

… of what I’m talking about, let me share a quick lesson with you.

It was the summer before my senior year in college. I was actually by myself and it wasn’t a vacation. I was on the longest airplane ride I’d taken so far in my life, heading from Des Moines, IA to Anchorage, AK, where I was going to serve as a summer missionary. A couple hours into the flight I looked out my window and saw a view of endless, rugged, massive snow-covered mountains. The Yukon Mountains. I grew a bit spooked—thinking if this plane goes down in those mountains, we’ll never be found.

Before my imagination could spark a panic attack, I chose to focus on the beauty beneath me. I chose to allow utter awe to seep in deep. Total amazement at God’s incredible handiwork. Then God whispered a sweet little message into my soul. A message I turned and shared with the gentleman sitting next to me.

Isn’t this view spectacular? Such a testimony of God’s creative genius and ability. But the Bible says that when God created this He looked at it and called it merely “good”. Yet when He looked at the earth after He created man, He called it “very good”. We are the pinnacle of His creation. His prize. Wow! Isn’t it great to know we are valued that much? Loved that much?

If you find yourselves in places of breath-taking splendor this summer,

… remind yourself that to your Creator, you are even more captivating. You are so much so, that you were worth His laying down His life so He could bring you back to Himself.

June 5 Captivating.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Genesis 1:31, NKJV

Arise, Darling! Winter is Over!

We only have one that pops up in our garden each spring. But it only takes one to make me squeal like a three-year-old …

“Look! The daffodil has bloomed!”

Daffodils are one of my favorites. They are the first to bloom around here. With their perky heads and sunny faces, they trumpet promises of warmth and renewal.

2017 May 22 Daffodil

Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden @ Unsplash

God’s promises are like that, too. They trumpet hope like water in the desert, color after a long grey winter, warmth after a bone-deep chill, the beginning of a new productive season. God’s promises are like that because like the flowers we count on to bloom every spring, so God is unchanging and faithful. We can count on His promises because we can count on Him.

Yes, His promises reveal much about His character:

He’s not slow—He’s patient.
He’s bigger than any giant—and He uses the subtlest weapons.
There’s hope beyond our current difficulties—He’s with us in our difficulties.
There’s always a bigger picture—an eternal purpose.

But did you know …

His promises also reveal much about our character?

May 22 God's promises are meaningless unless they've been tested.

For example:

His promise to never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) doesn’t much matter until we’re in a place where He seems to have vanished. We can’t see Him, hear Him, or feel Him. It’s at this point we have to discover if we trust Him even then. It’s at this point we have a choice: to let our trust grow or falter.

What about His promise to prosper us and not harm us, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)? Do we look at our future through the lens of our circumstances today or through His Word?

Then there’s His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). How many times have we allowed death or life, principalities or powers, present circumstances or fear of the future, convince us otherwise?

Oh, and the one we all think we’ve passed when in truth we have failed over and over. Whoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life (John 3:16). How many times have we acted as if our salvation depended on our performance—as if it’s something to be earned?

And there’s other promises we often fail to believe when tested. I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). He will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). And how about, He will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11)?

I find that it’s easy to perk up when we recite God’s promises—that is until those …

promises experience a hard freeze.

And for me, mothering unattached children frequently blew the door wide open to wintry blasts. But you know what? Though I doubted, I clung like crazy to God’s promises.

I’d like to say those promises have evolved over the years. The way they materialized in the end sure looked a lot differently than I expected at the beginning. But the truth is, the promises didn’t change. My understanding of them did. My mind—my heart—is what has been transformed. And I can tell you now, the scent of those promises is much sweeter than I ever imagined.

So what’s popped up in your garden this spring?

Have you considered

… the effort it took for that sprout to push through the soil? Have you pondered what it might be like to endure a long, cold winter, buried in darkness? Do you realize that near death had to happen for new life to grow?

Oh, but you’ve experienced these things haven’t you? Yes, me, too. And that’s why we take the time to stop, gaze, touch, inhale deeply, and praise the Creator as we see His promises blossom into new life before us.

Like Solomon,

Jesus invites us to enter His spring.

May we follow.

 

“Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
Flowers [daffodils?] appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

Song of Songs 2:10-13, NIV

When God Seems to Take His Sweet Little Ol’ Time

She was barren, this wife of his youth. Barren throughout her child-bearing years, and well beyond the cessation of her cycling. And THEN God tells him he will be father to a great nation (Genesis 12:2).

What would have gone through your mind if God had made such a promise to you?

May 8 Questions

{Photo courtesy of Evan Dennis @ Unsplash}

I think I would have looked around, trying to figure out who God was really talking to. And it would have been just like me to attempt to take responsibility for fulfilling this promise—and found another vessel to bear my seed. I certainly would have questioned my sanity—and maybe even God’s reliability—as year after year (twenty-five, actually) flew by, with me and the mother of this promised child quickly approaching the God-determined “ending of our years” age of 120.

But God’s promises are like that, aren’t they?

Given, and then left to marinate while we wait, and wait, and doubt, and fume. We question what we heard, or if we had done something to cause God to renege on His promise. We wonder if we’re supposed to DO something ourselves to make it happen. Over time, weariness of faith fogs our vision. In fact, this fog often prevents us from seeing the ways God is actually fulfilling His Word.

But promises from God require childlike faith from us. Trust that behind God’s promises is God’s character.

May 8 God's promisesare backedbyGod's character.

 “God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Numbers 23:19, NASB

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23, NASB

What has God promised you?

If He is God, and He has promised, then He will be faithful.

“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.”
Psalm 27:14 NASB

“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
… Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
… But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.”
Psalm 37:7-9 NASB

A Basketful of Promises

The doorbell rang at our fairly new home.

My mom and we four little girls scurried to see who it could be. Nobody? Nobody was there. Instead we were greeted by an adorable tray of pretty purple pansies floating in little potpie-size tins.

“Look!” my mom sang. “May Day gifts for each of you girls! I wonder who they’re from?”

My memory may not be exact on this event. After all, I was only four or five years old. And it’s an experience never since repeated. Nevertheless, this one sweet moment solidified my belief that May holds a basketful of promises.

Weather warming. Colors blooming. Bare feet running through soft grass.

Mothers to honor. School days to end. Vacations to soon whisk us away.

May 1 Happy May Day!

I’ve said before that most of my writing focuses on hard stuff because I want you to feel welcomed in the midst of your own stormy weather. I want you to not feel like someone is just glossing over your pain—making light of the heavy weight you carry.

But sometimes

… we need to climb aboard the hot-air balloon that will lift us above the storms and carry us into the sunshine. Okay, so hot-air balloons don’t operate in the stormy weather, but let’s pretend they do. I suppose I could use an airplane as an example. But no, I want us to feel the sun warm our skin, smell the fresh air blow through our hair, hear the birds sing, and see the panoramic picture of all God’s really up to.

And let’s add a little taste to the scenario (got to use all five senses, you know). How about your favorite onboard snack? Hot cocoa and muffins? Coffee and chocolate? Wine and cheese? Or maybe it’s the wine and bread we need to savor. You know, that “every time you partake” reminder that all Christ did for us still meets us where we are today.

May is a good month to slow down,

… sit still, breathe deep, and savor God’s promises.

For I know the plans that I have for you … to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11, NASB

God causes all things work together for good …
Romans 8:28, NASB

I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

In all these things we are more than conquerors.
Romans 8:37, NKJV

Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Romans 8:39

I can do all things through Christ.
Philippians 4:13, NKJV

In due time we shall reap …
Galatians 6:9, NASB

[May 1 What promises are sitting at your door today-

… right at your feet, peeking at you in vibrant colors?

Maybe today is a good day to open your door and take a fresh look. I’d love to enjoy their beauty with you. Would you mind sharing with me in the comment section below?

How to See the World More Clearly

Once again I have the privilege to introduce you to another dear mama blogger: Lea Turner. Once again I have to say I love her message! Lea is a mother of five—two of which are nonbio—and one of which is brand new. If anyone can address the topic here today, she can.

In the midst of busy, busy, busy, how do you see clear enough to make an impact on the future? You might be surprised at Lea’s answer. 


What would you want your life to look like in 20 years?

At the beginning of 2017, our pastor asked that question.

The challenge of this question is its demand to focus on what matters most. To scale back the fluff of life and ask what of today will matter tomorrow?

I take the challenge and write one evening what I want life to look like in twenty years:

Continue reading “How to See the World More Clearly”