Thursday, June 28, 2018

The End of One Story, the Beginning of Another

I flip through the calendar, a gift from my missionary daughter. Family face after family face jump off the pages. Grandkids roasting marshmallows during our Grandparent Camp, splashing in a sparkling pool, tip-toeing through ocean waves that kiss the shore, digging in the sand, holding each other in a group huddle, baking cookies, carving pumpkins, wrestling on the floor . . . well, the list could go on.

Good times at Mission Manor, the name we've given our home since we house our missionary kids from time to time when they come off the field.
I pause to reflect on a quote written beside one calendar page.

Sometimes you have to let one story end so the next one can begin, so says Winnie the Pooh.

I lower the calendar to my lap, ponder the truth of that statement.

How we've lived that with all three of our missionary daughters and their families who are spread around the world. If we've learned anything in the last 14 years since our firstborn left for India, it's that the missionary life is one of many transitions.

One story ends, another begins.

Currently, one family lives with us until August when they hope to leave for language school. God gifted us 12 years with this daughter and fam as they served in inner city ministry in our hometown. Now, the Lord is leading them to overseas ministry. It will be an adjustment for all of us.

But we must let that story end, so that a new story can begin in Africa.

Each story has its share of joy and sorrow, adapting, moving forward to embrace the next God-given task for His glory.

For His glory! Isn't that the ultimate purpose of every story? At least I think it should be . . .

That He might be exalted among the nations; that He might be exalted in the earth! 
(see Ps. 46:10)

His grand story of redemption through Christ will never end. Those who know and love Him will be singing the glory of this story for all eternity! May we be forever grateful/humbled that He has invited us to play a part.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

30-Day Praise Challenge!

Hope you're enjoying summer with time to relax and regroup. Yet, even in summertime, a noisy world screams at us in a plethora of ways!

One helpful exercise you might want to incorporate into your daily quiet time is a Good Thoughts list based on the words in Philippians 4:8. I've found that dwelling on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good report, excellent, and worthy of praise provides a powerful uplift to my day. Many others testify to the same.

It can be even more rewarding to watch for these concepts in Scriptures you are already studying. Be sure to write them down. Chronicling adds to the richness, which you can then share with others. The samples below are drawn from this morning's quiet time in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. Here's how to do it. Keep in mind the words may vary according to your translation.

TRUE: Name something that is true, i.e., God (Eloheim) created the world and all that is in it! (Genesis, chapter one). God's glory in the majestic mountain range at Carvin's Cove (later in the day while sitting at the Cove); my life held in a holy, loving God's hands. (No need to write complete sentences--often a word or two will express something that is true. Notice that I also drew from what was around me and what I know to be true about God from other scripture passages. The idea is start small. Over time, you will likely add depth to your list).

HONORABLE: Marriage (Genesis 2:24-25, also reminded me of Hebrews 13:4).

RIGHT: Leaving parents, cleaving to spouse (Genesis 2:24); praying with Jonathan and family this morning before they left for Indiana.

PURE: the marriage bed (undefiled--Heb. 13:4); a holy God; quiet moments with Abba Father.

LOVELY: the precious stones mentioned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:11-12). Reminded me of the precious stones of the holy city in Revelation 21:18-21; ripples on the water at Carvin's Cove.

GOOD REPORT: the Lord God pursues (Genesis 3:9); God made garments to cover Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21)--a foreshadowing of how Christ would later shed His blood to cover my sin.

EXCELLENT: the work God has given me to do (Genesis, chapter 2).

WORTHY OF PRAISE: Grandchildren sharing about Togo in VBS the other evening.

If you're up for it, take the 30-DAY PRAISE CHALLENGE and see if jotting down feedback on these words  helps you think in a more godly way. I find that the list grows in depth and variety the more I engage in the exercise, which is exciting and fulfilling!

For additional devotional resources, check out my book, Breathe Deeply God's Grace.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Daddy's Hands

Often my grandchildren ask me to tell them a story about when I was a little girl. Here is one of their favorites in honor of my Daddy, now in heaven with His Lord. I wrote the piece when he was 87.

Eileen Rife © 2000

A large hand reached down to grasp my small hand. My daddy was walking me to school. I looked up at him in wonder. He was so tall. So strong. Dark wavy hair framed his tanned face. Deep blue eyes twinkled in the morning light. A whistle spewed from his lips. I felt safe. My daddy was with me.
Lost in my reflection, I suddenly felt daddy's hand gently release mine and nudge me inside the school door. As he squeezed me, he planted a warm kiss on my cheek. My heart sank to let daddy go. I fought back the tears, reassuring myself that I would soon be home again.

The school bell rang and I bolted for the school door. Several yards down the sidewalk, I skidded to a stop. I waited as the traffic light changed from red to green. Then I dashed across the street to Mr. Adam's store, my routine stopping place after a tiring school day.

Inside the store, the aroma of fresh fruit filled my nostrils. I observed Mr. Adams in his blood-stained apron slicing meat behind the glass counter. Up front, the cashier rang up an elderly lady's goods as the bag boy meticulously sorted the items into a bag.

I veered to the right, past the cashier and straight to my favorite aisle--CANDY LANE! My mouth watered as I eyed the chocolate bars, lollipops, and bubble gum. 

Mmm, what am I in the mood for today? I pondered. After scanning the goodie buffet, I decided on a two-cent piece of bubble gum--the rectangular pink kind with the twin halves wrapped in cartoon paper. I reached in my pocket to retrieve my money. To my chagrin, my pockets were empty. I frantically racked my brain for a solution. The thought struck that since kind Mr. Adams often gave me candy, he probably wouldn't care if I took this tiny piece of bubble gum. Settled in my mind, I quickly shoved the gum in my pocket and hurried to the door.

Once home, I laid the gum beside my bookbag on the kitchen table and went to the sink to get a drink of water. Just then, daddy entered the kitchen. In his typical booming fashion, he spoke: "How was school today?"

"Fine," I glibly responded. 

Daddy glanced at my bookbag and then at the gum. "Where'd you get the gum?" he casually asked. 
I set my glass down and slowly turned to face daddy while bracing my body against the counter. A flicker of guilt flashed across my mind. Hot shame started at my neck and crept up into my face.
Clearing my throat, I answered, "At Adam's Store." I hoped daddy would be satisfied with that answer. He wasn't. He knew he had not given me any treat money that day. 

Daddy persisted in his line of questioning. All of a sudden, I felt like I'd stepped into a wild west show. I was the bad guy and daddy was the law. I didn't like this show-down. I wanted to run away with the dust at my heels and not look back. But there would be no running today. I was cornered and I knew it.

"Did Mr. Adams give you the gum, Eileen?" daddy asked. 

My face turned red. I felt hot again. Like a trapped firefly trying to escape from a sealed jar, I longed for release from daddy's questions.

At last I mustered the courage to speak. "," I stammered, looking down at the floor. I nervously slid one foot back and forth across the tile. "But Mr. Adams always gives us candy anyway," I shot back. My words even sounded hollow to my ears. I knew I was in serious trouble. Daddy placed a high premium on honesty. This act of treachery was going to cost me. I watched daddy's hands. I expected him to spank me. Instead, he reached for the phone and called Mr. Adams.
When daddy hung up the phone, he turned and faced me. "You best take that gum back," he said with resolve. As I started to leave, daddy softened. He took my arm and gently patted my back. "Supper will be ready when you get home," he added.

In that instant, I felt a reassuring love emanating from daddy's hands. He had used his hands not only to instruct, but also to love, reminding me of my heavenly Father. How often God’s Son had used His hands to love people, to teach, to heal, and then to submit to the nails. All for my benefit.

My dad is eighty-seven now. He shuffles when he walks. I take his weak hand in my strong hand. He looks up at me with a smile and that familiar twinkle in his clear blue eyes and I smile back. 

“Isn’t God good?” daddy says. 

“Yes, daddy, He sure is,” I respond.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"Curtains" by Guest Blogger, Michelle Archer

Have you ever felt like your world is being rocked, that someone is pulling a rug out from under you, and you are struggling just to keep your balance? 

It's May and we are fully in transition mode. We are currently packing boxes, moving things out of the house, emptying rooms, taking down decorations, and making needed repairs to the house before we move out on May 26th. This is all a small part of a change that will quickly get much larger and more complicated. Not only are we packing for Africa, we also have to pack some things to go to France for language school. We also have a few items staying here in the states that would not make it through Africa. When we moved to Virginia 12 years ago it seemed complicated, but now we are moving in essence to three different places at the same time. We are living in chaos.

With every load that is taken out of the house, I am constantly looking at what is left and trying to make the best out of what we still have. I still try to make the house feel like home while I can by moving simple decorations to common areas in the house. One of the ways I have done this is with curtains. The other day I had moved some cheap simple curtains from one room to another  room. Shortly after that my husband, Jonathan, walked into the dining room where I had just re-hung these curtains and said, "Why in the world are you putting up curtains? Everything has to go. No one cares if you decorated today. They are coming over to help paint." In all honesty he was right, no one cares and they all understand that we are moving, packing, and things are a bit crazy.

Life is in transition. So why put up the curtains?

Well, as my rug gets pulled from under me, I can still see my curtains, and I still have a sense of home. I'm learning, we all are learning, to make the best of what you have and to appreciate the riches of Jesus, but that doesn't mean we won't miss our home. We are all learning to make this journey and incredible adventure.

How are we doing this? When Kylie's room was completely emptied, we set up a mirror, pulled out some tutus, and turned it into a dance studio for her and sister Mary. It made it OK to have her things packed away. When Ethan's room cleared out next, we pulled out a few camping items and set up his tent to embrace the adventure.

Transition is tough, but I choose to embrace the old cliche', "Lemons make great lemonade."

God helps us make the best of all the changes, and He constantly reminds me that He will be my home when we have no home. Wherever we may be at any moment, we can make the best of any situation and even "hang up the curtains." 

-Michelle, missionary to Africa

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Now available for pre-order! Only $2.99 on Kindle!

 Loni Parker, a music major struggling to find employment, seeks refuge at Camp Hope only to encounter the man who took her sight.

On the verge of college graduation, Loni Parker seeks employment as a music teacher, but no one will hire her since she’s blind. Or so she thinks. To take her mind off her troubles, her roommate invites her to spring retreat at Camp Hope in the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. Unbeknown to Loni, Michael Ackerman, the director, is an ex-con responsible for the accident that caused her blindness. When Loni warms up to camp and wants to return as a summer counselor, Michael opposes the idea, which only makes Loni want to prove herself all the more. Though she doesn’t expect to fall for the guy. Still, her need for independence and dream of teaching win out, taking her far away from her beloved Camp Hope . . . and a certain director.

Camp director Michael Ackerman recognizes Lonie instantly and wants to avoid her at all costs. Yet, despite the guilt pushing him from her, a growing attraction draws him to the determined woman. She sees more with her heart than the average person does with his eyes. But her presence also dredges up a long-buried anger toward his alcoholic father that he’d just as soon keep hidden. When circumstances spin out of control, Michael is forced to face a past that may destroy his present.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bike Shop: A Father's Sacrifice

Thinking about my dad today . . . how he worked hard, sacrificed.

As a fulltime missionary with Children's Bible Mission, he supported his family with church donations. No extra cash really, especially at Christmas with three children to think about.

I don't think it dawned on me as a child that Daddy did some of the work he did in order to supplement his missionary offerings.

Jobs like putting bikes together at the Western Auto located on Main Street in our tiny town. Most afternoons during the holiday season, I'd walk from elementary school to the lot behind the store. Yards away as I crunched over the gravel, I'd see Daddy in a small white shed, door open, bent over a bike, tightening a bolt.

Whistling a tune, he'd pull out his trusty bandanna and wipe sweat from his brow. Even in the colder months, Daddy stayed hot.

His face split into a generous smile when he saw me approach. We'd catch up on the day for a few minutes, then I'd turn and skip away home.

A simple exchange. Yet it meant the world to me. Mostly in hindsight. At the time, it just was . . . after all, that was my Daddy. A constant. I didn't really stop to think about this comfort I curled up in. I merely experienced it and went on my way.

Yet now I see how that earthly touch is similar to my relationship with my heavenly Father. A constant comfort that at its best is simply experienced, not necessarily mused upon, but delighted in as it unfolds day by day. A child coming to her Father, enjoying His presence, His provision, because that's what a child does with a faithful Father.

Monday, April 9, 2018

My Anna

My Anna. That's what I call her. Just a wrinkled widow woman, an old country gal really, with a pure, simple devotion to Christ that showed up in her prayers. A visual reminder to me of another Anna, the widow mentioned in Luke 2:36-38 who pointed people to Jesus, served the Lord faithfully, and gave thanks to God.

From the first day my Anna stepped in to my ladies' prayer group, bowed her head and prayed, I knew she was different. Real. No fluffy words to impress, simply one friend talking with another. One day, she was in need of a refrigerator. She prayed humbly, but with expectancy. She knew the Lord would hear and answer. And He did, only a few days later.

Over the seven years we actively prayed together, my Anna taught me to seek the Lord in all things; to never fail to thank Him in all things, and to embrace Him as my number one husband. In prayer, she would often quote portions of Isaiah 54:4-5: Fear not . . . the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.

Women flowed in and out of my weekly prayer group, but my faithful Anna stuck with me until God moved my family to another church. So precious was our weekly time together, that I didn't want to lose it. So on occasion I would stop by her house and tap on her door. A big smile would emerge on that wrinkly face when she opened the door and saw me standing on her stoop. She'd urge me inside to exchange updates, then we'd pray together, just like old times.

The years passed, and my Anna grew more frail. One day as I pulled up to her house, I noticed a "For Sale" sign in the yard. My heart dropped to my stomach. Was she dead? I'd been dreading this moment for a long time. I walked across the street to her neighbor who often looked in on my Anna and shopped for her. She told me she was now in a nursing home and gave me the name. Saddened, but with a sigh of relief to know where she was, I thanked the neighbor.

Determined to keep our relationship alive, I visited my Anna, noticeably more feeble than when I'd seen her last. She didn't remember me but enjoyed hearing the stories that resulted from our prayer times together. Like the time a young man gave his life to the Lord during an Easter service. The time when our oldest daughter committed her life to full-time missions in India. The time when another young man in the grip of drugs and alcohol finally surrendered to Jesus.

With great praise and pleasure, to this day, I realize God is still working in answer to our prayers . . . for a church in demise for so many years, now resurrected and on a new path of growth. For a husband who struggled with pornography but who I now know was actually the strongest during our seven active praying years.

I still visit my Anna, and we still rejoice together over answered prayer. Through a teary, toothless smile she says, "I still love Jesus."

"I know," I tell her, stooping to plant a soft kiss on that ever wrinkling cheek.

She pats my hand. "Now you come back and visit now, ya hear!"

And I do, thankful that though she doesn't remember who I am, in her frailty, in both our frailties, we share a heartbeat that distance and eventually death can't stop, for our love for Jesus binds us for all eternity.

The End of One Story, the Beginning of Another

I flip through the calendar, a gift from my missionary daughter. Family face after family face jump off the pages. Grandkids roasting mar...