Falling in Faith

Steve VSI

We’ve all heard sermons about walking in faith, but what happens when we fall, when things go deeply awry as we seek to do God’s will? Let me share with you an edited email from my friend Steve Vinton and his wife Susan, founders of Village Schools International, and longtime residents of a village in Tanzania. Please look within this essay for their perspective on the troubles in life and the goodness of God.

Susan slipped in the mud, passed out, broke her arm, and dislocated her wrist. A houseful of people showed up in the early evening bringing her home. I was sick over what had happened and how much pain she was in, while at the same time I was feeling woozy myself from the pain of what I mistakenly thought were kidney stones. Our friend, Dr. Leena, told us the best thing was to make the 13 hour drive to the big hospital in Dar es Salaam. Godfrey and Emmanueli took turns driving that night, and Sarah spent the whole night massaging Susan’s fingers until we were finally all in the emergency room together.

Although Friday was a big holiday in Tanzania, the orthopedic surgeon came in that afternoon anyway and relocated Susan’s wrist. A CT scan showed that I had a blockage coming from my left kidney and putting me into three days of really terrible pain. Once we had Susan taken care of in the emergency room, Godfrey and I went to reception to get started on me. I was told that, since it was a holiday, I could see a general doctor, but then I’d need to come back next week. As he walked me toward another building, we ran into my dear wonderful friend, Dr. Jamal. He talked to the doctors in the emergency room, and the next thing I knew one of his surgeon friends was on his way to the hospital. As soon as they finished Susan’s surgery, it was my turn! (Things were a bit delayed when the electricity went off, but other than that everything was wonderful.) My body is all fixed, although I won’t be good to go home until next Friday, and Susan’s wrist is going to take months to heal.

Once again we are reminded of God’s goodness in all things!

  • A dear old grandmother carrying a huge load of firewood on her head stopped to help Susan where she had fallen.
  • Our students at the college spread messages to the four corners of the country for people to pray.
  • Dr. Jamal “just happened” to bump into me in the hallway here at the hospital.
  • Emmanueli, who never takes naps, had gone home for lunch that day and surprised his wife by saying that he was going to take a nap for “no particular reason.”  But that meant he could drive through the wee hours of the night to get us to the hospital.

Sometimes you just have to smile at ‘coincidences’ like that in order to experience the real joy there is in seeing God at work when the bad things happen.

How I wish that Susan had not fallen! But she did, and what followed was a little glimpse of God arranging really kind things for us.

  • Right now I am not only without pain, but the nurses connived to get Susan and me in a hospital room together so that we get to talk and slowly get better together.
  • When Susan was nauseated and felt she just need a sip of coke, the nurse found out we were here with no money, went out herself, and bought Susan a coke.
  • Later Susan wanted a banana, so when Godfrey & Emmanueli & Sarah came during visiting hours they went and bought us a huge big bunch of deliciously sweet bananas to share.
  • As Susan said, the way she fell she easily could have broken both wrists.
  • How easy it would have been for us to have made a poor decision to go to a closer hospital that couldn’t have helped us!
  • And what would have happened if Dr. Jamal had not been walking down that hall?

Soon we’ll be back home and back into the busy days of what we do—there are schools to visit, classes to teach, big programs to work on—but for right now we just get to be the happy couple here with nothing to do, nowhere at all to go, and we just get to smile and talk and marvel at really how blessed we are.  How nice to just enjoy a nap together—a forced vacation! Life sure is good.

Enjoy Your Day

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I went to Washington! Steve and I spent four days visiting the monuments and museums of our nation’s capital. Travel often means discovery for me. Here are two lessons I learned, or rather re-learned, during the course of this adventure.

Don’t kid yourself. You are not in charge. When I’m traveling, I am more keenly aware of my lack of control. Perhaps it’s the unfamiliar surroundings or the need to try things I simply haven’t mastered (like Uber and the Metro). At any rate, I often find myself relying on God in a different “I can’t do this on my own” sort of way as I prepare for a trip and head out the door. The uncertainties of travel sharpen my eye for the interventions and blessings that keep me on the right track. Little things—check out last month’s blog about shoes—and big things like safety and health. Now back in Houston, I’m hoping to maintain the same level of faith and reliance on our Lord, the same awareness of his blessing, as I jump back into everyday life.

Lesson Two: “Have a nice day?” The people of Washington are inordinately friendly, in my opinion. (Okay, I didn’t meet any politicians, but hopefully I could say the same for them.) Almost all of them end their greeting with “Have a nice day” or “Enjoy your day.” I used to say the first, but intend to try switching to the second. Here’s why. “Have a nice day” seems to indicate that all should be well. We know that, on far too many days, all will not, at least to our way of thinking, be well. We will forget the important, stumble into the inconvenient, experience pain and disappointment, or hear bad news. Some days simply will not be nice.

On the other hand, “Enjoy your day” says to me, “Look for the best. Keep an eye out for the blessing,” or, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “Remember that ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.’” (Look here  to read more of that catechism or to check out the scriptural support for its statements.) “Enjoy your day” means there is reason to rejoice even when the day isn’t nice. I’ve gone back to the real world now. I’m not on vacation anymore. The odds are high that, at some point, perhaps several points in the coming week, my day will not be nice. I hope to be able to rejoice and glorify and enjoy nonetheless. And when I greet friends, I will try to remember to say, “Enjoy your day!”

 

Defying Gravity

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Last year, after listening to the music for quite some time, I finally saw Wicked on stage. Since I grew up watching Wizard of Oz once a year on television (our only option back in the dark ages of video technology), I enjoyed the new spin on an old story. One song still sticks in my brain and pops into my thoughts on occasion. Actually, it’s only one line that keeps on repeating itself. In my imagination, I can hear Elphaba declaring that she will try defying gravity. More than once, as I’ve trudged up my stairs feeling low, I’ve heard those three words resound within my thoughts. I want to try defying gravity this year too.

Before you think me crazy for wanting to fly, let me tell you exactly what I mean.

My grandson is so delightfully quick to laugh. I suspect you and I were the same way as toddlers. When does that fade? And why? I know that Nick is unaware of the difficulties adulthood will bring, but he also knows little of the joys that await him. He laughs in the present moment.

We live in a world that fixates on the grave details of life, and not just the ones that are facing us today. We mull over the pain of the past and our fears of the future, often for no good reason at all. Matthew 6:34 says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Actually, I like the King James Version of that verse even better, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And as we face the “evil” of each day, how often do we falsely imagine ourselves facing it alone, forgetting the One who goes before us and stands behind us?

Here is how I want to try defying gravity. When heavy concerns come into my brain, I want to take them to my Lord in prayer without pause. When I catch myself frowning with furrowed brow, I want to lighten my countenance in a way that confirms the song God has put in my heart. And when I am tempted to join a discussion centered only on the failures of man or the bleak landscape ahead, I want to either walk away or change the course of the conversation. Who would have thought the Wicked Witch of the West could remind me of such important truths? This year, I hope you will try to defy gravity right along with me.

 

Remember to Remember by Beth Smith

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I love the old song, “Count Your Blessings.” The lyrics tell us to, “name them one by one” in order to see what God has done. It’s so important to remember our blessings and to be quick to thank God for them.

Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Do not forget. We need to remember God, who he is and what he’s done for us. In Psalm 77, David was in a really bad way. He couldn’t sleep. He said his soul would not be comforted. He asked such questions as:

  • Has the Lord rejected me forever?
  • Will he never show me favor?
  • Is his unfailing love gone forever?
  • Have his promises failed?

Haven’t we felt that way? I certainly can identify with David. After those questions, though, comes the word “Selah,” which means pause. Then, as if a light bulb has just gone off above his head, a change occurs, and David says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:11-14).

What a change in David’s attitude, his emotions and his outlook! We need our own Selah—a pause, an interlude to stop and consider who God is and what he’s done for us. Perhaps we need to write down our list of blessings so we won’t forget, or so that when we do forget, we can see that list and remember once again.

Even when we do forget about God and his blessings, he doesn’t forget about us. In Isaiah 49:15-16, God says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

That’s amazing! And here’s more good news, offered to you in the form of “homework.” I hope you will read Psalm 103, which begins, “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2). Look at the rest of the Psalm to see how many good things David lists. Since God never changes, those same good things, those benefits, are not just for David, they’re for us too.

Consider making a list of the ways God has blessed you. You’ll be glad you did.

Thank You, God.

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Today I’d like to share two great Thanksgiving memories with you.

The first: Watching the Macy’s Day Parade as my mom’s turkey, dressing, and homemade pecan pie filled our house with a mouthwatering aroma. I’ve given you Kermit. You will have to come up with your own turkey and pie.

The second: Attending Thanksgiving services at St. Andrews  Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Florida. We always sang these wonderful lyrics, published by Theodore Baker in 1894.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

We also had an open mike session, a time when all who were present were given an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness and describe that for which they were thankful. I will begin. I am thankful to be healthy and to be surrounded by a family who loves me. (Of course, that’s just the beginning of my list.)

Now it’s your turn. What’s on the top of your “Thank you, God” list this year?

And to all of you, may this be a very Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

Careless

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I learned to care less about what didn’t matter. (I hope that lesson sticks!) My list of things that matter is much shorter than it used to be. Past decisions, other people’s choices or opinions, plans that don’t affect me, social intricacies, small inconveniences… This doesn’t mean I care less about others around me, but rather that I am careful to conserve my mental and emotional energy for that which I can affect. My feathers don’t ruffle quite as easily as they once did. Computer problems? They look pretty small now. Traffic? Unexpected chores or needed repairs around the house? They aren’t so irritating any more. My “Type A” has slipped, and nicely so.

At times peace and worry warred within me, but peace won out every time. More than one friend commented that she could hear the peace in my voice. I could neither explain nor take credit for that. I began to journal all the “small” miracles that were sprinkled into my days.

  • A good friend, a nurse with very particular views about local medical options, raved about the doctor who would be doing my surgery, as well as the oncologist who would be assisting.
  • The depth and breadth of care and prayer astonished me. Friends and family near and far encouraged me with gifts, cards, texts, and promises of consistent prayer.
  • Just one hour of shopping and $50 yielded four simple dresses I would need after surgery when my body swelled.
  • More than one “chance encounter” led to times of prayer with someone who cared.
  • I was hit with an intense bout of the flu just two weeks before my surgery. How could that be a blessing? It allowed me to see the gaps in my recovery plan. I learned what to buy and how to prepare for several days of limited mobility.

Then the day of surgery came. It was successful. I had very little pain throughout the entire process, astonishing all my caretakers. Many of the post-surgical discomforts I had been warned to expect simply never materialized. No complications arose. No further treatment was prescribed. I am well, and I am changed.

  • I am living more deliberately. I’m more aware of the blessing of tasty food, a soft pillow, a hug from my husband, time to rest and recover…
  • I am expecting less of myself and of those around me.
  • I asked myself why I wanted to be healthy—to keep living—and I’m acting on my answers.

I don’t take my healing as the promise of an easy future. On any day, life can turn in either direction. The gift of getting to stay alive will not be without its moments of pain. And so, joy can only come from trust every single day. Circumstances, no matter what they are, just don’t cut it. Life changed in a moment last July. That may happen again. I have no promise of a similar outcome. I do have the promise of similar peace. So do you:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Next Week: Care More