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: Wild Horses Are Not Lone Rangers

You don’t want to be out there after dark. It turns pitch black and there’re no street lights to guide you back to town.

Homeschooling afforded us some far-reaching field trips.

Some people call them family vacations. But since we traveled during the fall—after the heat settled down, the mosquitoes were hopefully dead, and the masses of other families were back home with their kids tucked away in public/private schools—and since I made sure our kids wrote in their journals, I choose to call them field trips.

In 2001, we planned a month-long trip, visiting several national parks and other western venues. To prepare for this adventure we started the basic academic subjects in early August. Additionally, I ordered travel magazines from the states we would visit. I assigned each of our children to pick an attraction for us to visit. Then they had to research and “teach” us about that place: why it was worth visiting, its history and unique features, and how should we prepare (special shoes, safety measures, precautions).

We learned about Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, and … I can’t remember … maybe Bryce Canyon. But our oldest wanted to us to hunt down wild horses deep in the desert outside Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Did you know wild horses don’t roam alone?

They live in one of two types of herds: a stallion and his harem and foals, or a group of bachelors. (I can just imagine how a bunch of would-be harem owners behave.)

So in Wyoming, we set out on a 23-mile trek, in the heat of a sunny afternoon, carefully traversing dirt roads, while scanning the terrain in search of a herd. Several miles into the trip we spotted one not far off the road. We got as close as we respectfully could, stopped our van, and waited.

In a matter of seconds we knew who the lead mare was—the one that took charge when we drove up. She and a few others trotted across the road in front of us, while she called for the others to follow. We could literally hear her encouragement. It seemed to take a little convincing, but they all eventually crossed over and kept on going—their long tails blowing in the breeze.

We’d been to Mt Rushmore and Yellowstone by this point, but nothing captured my breath like these beautiful creatures. Strong, determined, untethered owners of free-range.

This experience gave me a new understanding of what it means to be “wild.”

You can’t just do what you want, how you want, when you want. Humans, like horses, are meant to live in community. And we are all meant to follow a leader. One leader.

Now this isn’t a lesson on leadership. No, it’s a lesson about the fact that we can be beautifully wild, but we still live in order with others. We need each other. Alone we die; together we thrive. The only way to get along is by refusing to fight for the head spot, and instead regularly choosing to submit to that head.

And who is that head? Have you guessed it yet? It’s not Mom. It’s not even Dad. And it’s never, ever the kids.

God is our Head.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
(Colossians 1:18, NASB)

July 17 Hearts Moving toward Christ

For our wedding announcements Bob made the design in the above photo. It symbolizes two hearts, uniting into one. The only way for that union to happen is as each of us move toward Jesus (the cross). If one of us chooses to live outside the lordship of Christ, our unity will weaken. But as long as we continued to grow closer to God, we will automatically grow closer to each other.

This is true in all our relationships. Now, I know our children don’t understand how to live under Christ as their head. It’s a hard concept for any of us to grasp. But, I do know this: the best way to parent is to surrender our parenting to the Father.

July 17 Wild Side

How do we do this?

I’m curious what you would say. How do you as a mom surrender to God practically?

For me, it took a lot of listening. Getting past my emotions, be willing to set aside my agenda, and listening. It meant measuring my words, actions, reactions, methods of discipline, and expressions of love against God’s word. It meant apologizing when I needed to, and sometimes adjusting the consequences I had handed out in the middle of a hot and messy moment. And it meant redefining my expectations.

So, trapped and restrained mom, do you long to run wild?

You can. As long as you remember wild does not mean going solo. You need to surround yourself with others like-minded, common-experienced moms. And more importantly, you need to know and follow the voice of the great Head.

Remarkable Faith

I’m in the middle of a first time experience, and I’m loving it. I have the privilege of serving on Shauna Lettelier’s launch team for her book …

Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marvels at the Faith of Unremarkable People

… to be released July 11th. And here’s the cool thing: Shauna has also been a nonbiological mom.

The last Monday of every month this year, I’ve featured a guest blogger. Today I’m doing that a little differently. I thought it would be fun if I interviewed Shauna so she could share directly with you how being a nonbiological mom helped her discover Remarkable Faith. You’ll be touched by her all-too-familiar story and the beautiful way God redeemed a difficult time in her life.

June 26 Shauna Letellier Remarkable Faith is a Braided ...

Tell us about your experience as a nonbiological mom.

We had the privilege of fostering two little girls for 16 months. They came to us when they were 16 months and 2.5 years, joining our three biological boys ages 7, 6, and 5, and making us a family of seven!

What were your greatest struggles in parenting these children?

My greatest struggles were mostly internal and spiritual. I could not understand why it was so hard. If God had called us to it, (and we believed he did), if his heart beats for the orphan and widow in their distress, why on earth was I constantly on the edge of panic and out of patience with everyone in my family. In my estimation I was messing up all the most important things I had hoped to do so well.

Wow, does that ever sound familiar!

I felt like I was parenting en-mass. They became a little group of people I had to shuffle from here to there. I had to run them through the tub one at a time like a machine. I fed and washed them all, and in between the shuffling, bathing and washing, I was sprinting towards the next event, trying to stay ahead of their needs. And if for one second I took my hand off, closed my eyes, failed to plan ahead, a dam of unmet needs would break on me and it would take days to recover from the fatigue, fits, and fallout. I learned to never get behind. It led to living life in a state of low grade panic, with no time or energy for relationships with the children, or others.

What did God teach you in this experience?

God taught me so many things. He will grant what he requires. And so often we think he requires more than he actually does. Does he require moms to make a certain kind of meal? To keep a certain kind of schedule?

Sometimes I wonder if our journey in foster care was more about God teaching and taking care of me than it was about me teaching and taking care of children.

I had worked so hard at something so important. And for various reasons I felt like I had failed. I figured God was probably disappointed with me.

But he showed me through his word that faith is less about doing and more about depending on Him.

June 26 Shauna Letellier Remarkable Faith is Not Performing

How does this experience tie into your book Remarkable Faith?

I wasn’t homeschooling. I wasn’t a single parent. Each of our five kiddos had unique and individual needs, but none that were medically or developmentally urgent. I wasn’t helping refugees overseas. I wasn’t building orphanages.

Many of my friends were doing much harder things and I was barely making it to church. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the free childcare provided by the nursery and Sunday school teachers may have been my main reason for attending church. “Everyone else” was performing remarkable acts of faith and ministry, and I could barely fix supper.

I began to wonder…

If my faith was pleasing to God, wouldn’t this come easier?
My “acts of faith” are nothing compared to so-and-so. Maybe my faith is second-rate?
If I’m feeling so desperate all the time, maybe I don’t have faith.

I picked up my Bible and discovered something remarkable. When Jesus spoke with his chosen disciples about their faith, he said they were faithless and twisted (see Matthew 17:17, NIV). More than once he exclaimed, “O you of little faith!” But there were others in the gospels whose faith Jesus noticed and commended. He saw their faith, remarked about it, and was even astonished by it!

But here’s the funny thing. We don’t know their names. We only know them because of their sickness, tragedy, and sordid histories. Jesus not only knew them by name, he knew their suffering, and saw great faith in the midst of it.

And if he commended these nameless examples of faith, then maybe mine wasn’t a disappointment to him after all. In each story I discovered that perhaps the most remarkable act of faith is to unreservedly carry our inadequacies to Jesus and trust Him to transform our weakness into worship. Remarkable faith is depending on Christ, not performing for him.

The unlikely examples of faith were so fascinating that I retold them in a series of eight biblical vignettes. Each one weaves history, theology, and fictional detail into their biblical accounts to bring a new perspective to those whose faith feels unremarkable. Those eight stories became my book.

June 26 Shauna Letellier_RemarkableFaith book cover

Thank you, Shauna, for taking time in the midst of a crazy launch season to answer my questions.

What an encouragement your words are for us. How comforting to realize that we too can be women of #remarkable faith.

Friends, I rarely find books I recommend, especially on my blog, because I’m picky that they contain rich content and are well-written. I can say with absolute certainty that Remarkable Faith is worth having. To learn how to pre-order click ⇒ Remarkable Faith. If you order before July 10, you’ll also receive a Bible study guide and other free gifts.


June 26 Shauna Head shotShauna Letellier enjoys weaving strands of history, theology, and fictional detail into a fresh retelling of familiar Bible stories. She draws upon her Bachelors degree in Biblical Studies from Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, as well as a variety of Bible commentaries to drape the fabric fiction over the framework of Scripture. Shauna is a self-proclaimed expert second-guesser but finds certainty in knowing Jesus Christ. She blogs about finding rest and relief in Him at ⇒ Shauna Letellier. With her husband Kurt, she has the wild and hilarious privilege of raising their three boys along the banks of the Missouri River where they fish, swim, and rush off to ballgames.

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

I Often Don’t Like Easter Services

I often don’t like Easter services.

I don’t. I like parts of the service—usually. But I often come away less than satisfied.

The Easter story is packed with lessons:

The prophecies of Passover fulfilled
“Not my will but Yours”
Peter denying Christ
Christ bearing the punishment for our sins
By Christ’s stripes we are healed
The crushing of Satan’s head
Light in our deepest darkness
The defeat of death and the grave
Eternal hope
And so on, and so on, and …

It must be rather difficult for preachers to decide what to focus on. Most usually choose a topic that will speak to those who rarely attend church. (I think that’s a great idea.) And for those who want to break the story into meditation-size pieces, many churches offer several services the week preceding Easter Sunday. (Another great idea.)

But if I was the one planning the Resurrection Sunday service …

Continue reading “I Often Don’t Like Easter Services”

The Divine Finisher

You may remember me sharing that my word for this year (2017) is listen. So in February I asked the Lord what topic He wanted me to cover and felt impressed to study how He has modeled parenting for us. That’s been my theme the past several weeks. I figured who else can show us how to manage difficult children?

But this is an exhaustive topic. That’s actually good. Right?

Does not our heavenly Father continually entice us, make us thirsty, cause us to seek after Him, make us hungry to learn more, go deeper, grow wiser?

So in an attempt to wrap up this topic—leaving so many rich thoughts un-delved—I’d like to look at the idea that this Father does more than teach us how to parent …

He is the divine Parent.

Continue reading “The Divine Finisher”