It is hard to believe that three years ago today, Steven came home from his final tour of duty with the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. He had spent 22 of the previous 24 months there. From February to December of 2004 he was at Camp Fallujah, not far from the town of Fallujah, Iraq. He came home for a month. Then, for a full twelve months (except for a couple of weeks R& R with me in England in September) from January 2005 to January 2006, he was in Baghdad, first at Camp Victory in the south part of Baghdad and then on assignment to the State Department at the Embassy in the Green Zone of Baghdad.
It was a difficult time for both Steven and me. Although by this time in his career with the USMC Steven was a lieutenant Colonel, neither of his assignments had been "cushy". At Camp Fallujah there had been almost daily bombardments of rockets, with travel outside of the camp being extremely dangerous due to roadside bombs. The quarters were spartan by US standards. The heat was oppressive, well into the 100's. And the hours were long, long. No days off. Having to make decisions that could drastically affect peoples' lives forever was probably the hardest part, though.
At Camp Victory and the Embassy a lot of the same conditions prevailed, but there was the added danger of many low, fast helicopter flights between the camp and the embassy, and vehicle convoys several times a week through the most dangerous parts of Baghdad. One time his convoy was even the target of a vehicular suicide bomber. Although he was technically a logistical advisor to the Ministry of Interior, part of his mission was to report on corruption when he found it. He had some enemies in high places.
At home, although I did not face the same kinds of discomfort or dangers, my heart was with my husband. We talked on the phone, or emailed each other daily. I acted as the conduit for most of the news between Steven and the rest of our family and friends.
I also had to be strong at home, to help guide our son Phil through his last year of high school and later, as he was making his transition into the "real world". And then there was all the household and financial decisions to be made: home repairs, car breakdowns, repairs, purchases and bills, etc. I had a lot on my plate.
The LORD God got us through it all. A key factor in it was that family, friends, and church were so very faithful to hold us up in prayer! Steven says that was a palpable reality in Iraq. Whenever his attention was turned even slightly toward God, the Presence of God was right there comforting and strengthening him! He attributed that directly to the prayers at home. He also found Christian brothers in the military that would openly pray with him during critical transitions and decisions.
God used Steven, not only in the military missions, but as a witness to unbelievers and to several Muslims. One of his Muslim friends even accepted Christ!
And Steven came home to me safe and sound.
I'll finish up with a couple of excerpts from my journal at that time:
"At 10:22 this morning, Steven called me from Kuwait. He's coming home tomorrow! He talked a very nice Marine Corps Staff Sergeant into sending him straight to San Diego (instead of going to Florida first) so he could be here for my birthday (1-31). WOW!!! I need to pick him up at the San Diego Airport tomorrow at 4 PM. He's coming on United--flight #6156. I was hopping around the room like popcorn after that!"
2-7-06 (We were settled into a very nice cabin on the beach at Camp Pendleton.) "This morning we woke up about 6 AM. We got up and had breakfast. Steven left for work at 7:30 AM. I washed up the dishes and did my Bible reading. At about 8:30 AM, I decided to take a walk down the beach. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning! The sun was shining. Temperature perfect--not too hot, or cold. I had the whole beach to myself--just the seagulls and other sea birds and the breakers. I was so overwhelmed by the peacefulness and beauty, I just started crying, singing a worship song to the LORD for His blessings.
The LORD has blessed us in so many ways this past week: bringing Steven home safely--in time for my birthday and our anniversary; giving us safe travel between here and Tehachapi; giving Steven a job here at Camp Pendleton that fits with his interests and skills; giving us a good realtor (and possible good price) for the house in Tehachapi; giving Steven a warm reception with family, friends, and even strangers (ie. Olive Garden); and a beautiful temporary place to live this week on the beach. I just have a real peace that God is going to work out the rest of the particulars, including where we are to live and go to church."
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Psalm 23; 5,6
On this day five years ago our beautiful, beloved daughter, Sherri, married our handsome, (and truly wonderful) son-in-law, Jeremy! In spite of the rain that day in Buellton, California, it was a phenomenal day. The wedding was gorgeous. It was also poignant in that Sherri and Jeremy had moved up their wedding date so that her dad, Steven, could give her away. He was leaving very shortly for a 10-month tour of duty in Iraq. Needless to say, there were several moments during the ceremony when dry eyes were hard to find! The song, “Butterfly Kisses”, was a popular song at that time and one of Steven’s favorites. Although it was difficult to choose, I have picked a few of the 255+ photos we took that day to share with you here.
Steven and I feel that both of our children were special gifts from God. One was born to us and one was literally handed to us. Back in February 1973 when Steven and I were married, we decided that we would like to give birth to one child and adopt any others. On Christmas Day 1978 our daughter Sherri was born to us after a long and difficult delivery. Although we knew that we eventually wanted to adopt a child, we got caught up in the busy-ness of life and didn’t actively pursue the adoption process. When Sherri was a baby, Steven went on active duty with the USMC as an officer and we began the standard military life of changing duty stations every three or four years. In January 1984 we were sent on a three-year tour of duty to Okinawa. We told our family and friends before we left that we might check into adopting a child from overseas while were in Okinawa, but once again, we didn’t pursue it. God had other plans for us, though! In late November 1985 we got a call from Steven’s mom back in the States, wanting to know if we wanted a baby! It happened that she had gone from her home in Arnold, California to visit a longtime lady friend in Lompoc, California. While she was there, her friend’s daughter came to visit, obviously pregnant and close to delivery. Steven’s mom started asking her about the baby, and she admitted that she couldn’t keep the baby. Someone had given her money to get an abortion, but she had decided she didn’t want to do that, so was going to give him up for adoption instead. She really wanted to be part of the process, though. She wanted to be able to choose the parents, so she wasn’t going through an agency. She only had two criteria for the prospective parents: 1) that they were born-again Christians, and 2) that they were in the military. When Steven’s mom heard that, she perked up! She said, “I know someone that fits those criteria: my son and his wife in Okinawa. Would you mind if I gave them a call?” The girl said, “No, go right ahead.” So that’s when Steven’s mom called us. After only a couple seconds’ hesitation we said, “Yes!” Steven took 30 days leave and Sherri got off early for her Christmas break from school, and we caught a military hop to Travis Air Force Base in California. (That flight is a story in itself: We kept getting bumped. So we spiraled all the way around the Pacific Ocean, traveling almost 24,000 miles to get 6000!) Steven’s parents were at Travis to meet us and took us down to Lompoc, where we stayed with family until the baby was to be born (supposedly around Christmas). While we were waiting, we collected the necessary release forms with signatures and had guardianship papers drawn up. Wouldn’t you know it, though, Phil decided to be late! :) Steven’s 30-day leave was up and Sherri needed to get back to school, so Steven and Sherri got a military hop back to Okinawa. I stayed until after Phil was born. He was born on January 18, 1986. Although I wasn’t in the delivery room, I was at the hospital when he was born and got to hold him when he was 20 minutes old and help clean him up. I spent the night with family friends and the next morning, I got a call from the hospital saying: “Come get him, he’s yours!” So I picked him up from the hospital when he was 12 hours old and took him home! It took about a week to get the necessary passport and visa for him. Then I flew to Oregon to show him off to my parents and family. We stayed about a week there. Then we took a commercial flight to Okinawa. After we got back to Okinawa, it took about 6 months to complete the adoption. Under the Status of Forces Agreement with Japan, many legal actions our military personnel undertake in Okinawa are legally binding here in the States, including adoption. So, Phil’s adoption was completed with a Japanese lawyer and is in Japanese! (It came with an English translation, though. :>) Although, we, as a family, have experienced all the normal ups and downs and frustrations of child rearing and growing up, none of us regret the adoption experience. It was an open adoption, so Phil knows his birth-mother, his siblings, and has all his life had regular and loving contact with his birth-mother’s parents. They were very precious and supportive. Steven and I can truly say that we have been blessed more than we have blessed!
There was a statement made at our last home fellowship that God seems to be “shameless” at times when it comes to enticing us with “carrots”. The scenario in question: Boy is raised in a Christian home and accepts Christ as his savior. Boy is convinced by an unbelieving college professor to “ditch all the God-stuff” because it’s intellectually untenable. Boy meets pretty Girl that he would like to have a relationship with. Girl has accepted Christ as her savior and doesn’t want to have a relationship with Boy who doesn’t believe. Boy decides to reinvestigate his childhood faith and in doing so, rededicates his life to Christ. End result: Boy gets Girl AND a relationship to Christ. Question: Did God cheat by sending the pretty Girl?
The question relates back very well to what we studied this Sunday in church in the book of Romans 10:1-13:
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel* is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, "The man who does those things shall live by them."* 6 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'"* (that is, to bring Christ down from above) 7 or, "'Who will descend into the abyss?'"* (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart"* (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."* 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."* (NKJV)
Our pastor, Mark, did a very good job of illuminating this passage. Throughout our study of the book of Romans we have seen that salvation is a gift of God’s grace through our faith in Christ. Here we see how simple it really is. In verse 4, it says that “Christ is the end of the law”. “End” in the Greek is “telos” which can mean termination, fulfillment, or goal. When we have Christ, nothing else is necessary for salvation. But how do we “have Christ”? As in verse 6, do we need to “ascend” (to physical, or spiritual heights) to find Christ? Or, as in verse 7, do we need to “descend” (to physical, or spiritual humiliation) to find Christ? The answer, of course, is “No”. GOD IS NOT LOST! He is very near us. Verse 8 says that His word is near us, in our mouth and in our heart. We cannot “find” God by any effort of our own, any striving to go high, or go low. He finds us, in our everyday lives and loves, when we yield to what we know, in our heart of hearts is true: God is alive, He has sent His Son Jesus to rescue us, and He wants a relationship with us. He is standing at the door, right now, knocking. Are we going to let Him in?
So the answer to the original question, Does God “cheat” when He sends us “carrots”? is, of course, “No”. God meets us in our everyday lives. He gives us choices, to believe, or not. Will we yield?
I was in the middle of trying to get some of my old artwork into a digital format when Elena did her lovely piece on Morning Glories in her blog. I thought I would share a layout that I did on them from a scrapbook-style art journal that I started several years ago. I surely do love the "Heavenly Blue" variety of Morning Glories, but their ephemeral beauty is difficult to catch in a slow medium like colored pencil! :)
Since I have entitled my blog “Mercy Triumphs”, I would like to share with you a time when mercy triumphed in my life. It was actually the first time that I was profoundly aware of God’s mercy towards me. I was 30 years old. But let me start at the beginning. . .
I don’t remember when I first came to faith. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents were the born-again, spirit-filled, Bible-believing, make-a-difference-in-your-everyday-life kind of Christians. In fact, I came from a long line of such kind of believers. So naturally, my parents taught me to love Jesus as my Savior and we went to church every chance we could get.
One Sunday when I was about seven, my pastor’s wife, who was also my Sunday school teacher, came to my older sister and me after church and asked us if we had ever gone down to the altar in the front of the church and asked Jesus to come into our hearts. Since neither of us could remember doing that, we went down to the altar with our pastor’s wife and repeated “the sinner’s prayer” with her and asked Jesus to come in. But even as we were doing that, I remember thinking to myself, “But, I love Jesus and I belong to Him!”
So from my earliest memories I knew I loved Jesus. I grew up learning from both my parents and my teachers at church all the stories of the Bible and the gospel message of how Jesus had died to save me from my sins.
But in spite of all that, I still got it stuck in my head that God loved me because I was good. Knowing I must be good, I became a "pleaser" par excellence. I knew, almost instinctively, when Mom was upset because we kids hadn’t done our chores in a timely manner, so I would scurry around and do what was required, so that my siblings would get in trouble, and I wouldn’t! If left in charge of my younger brother and sister, they could expect a sermon from me about acting right, if they wanted to go to heaven. Being “Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes” required that I do everything my parents, my schoolteachers, my Sunday school teachers, my pastor, and everybody else in authority, including God, wanted. So it’s not surprising that I went to Bible college, intending to become a missionary.
That I married a Marine and not a missionary is another story, but my mode of operating didn’t change. I simply added my husband to the list of people I needed to please. After a two-year enlistment in the USMC, Steven and I decided to go back to Bethany Bible College where we had met, to complete our B.A. degrees in psychology. At first things went well. I got straight-A’s for my efforts the first semester back at Bethany. Even though finances were tight, and we both had to work (in addition to being full-time students), we were able to scrape together a down payment to buy a small cabin in the deep woods near Bethany. But after about six months into this endeavor, things began to fall apart for me. Spurred on by the straight-A’s, I had set new academic and personal goals for myself, which were proving harder to realize than I had hoped. Financial and time limitations made any improvements to our little cabin impossible. We even had to scrounge old newspapers to burn in our wood stove to keep warm. It was dark when I left in the morning and dark when I got home at night. I got a bad case of poison oak from the bushes surrounding our cabin. With school and jobs, Steven and I were not seeing very much of each other. In addition, Steven was getting a lot more satisfaction and social interaction from his job than I was from mine. On top of all that, there was a philosophical/ theological debate raging between the administration and faculty of Bethany that was filtering down to the students, causing much dissatisfaction. As if that wasn’t enough, the Church at large (for those of you old enough to remember :)) was very deep into the “Shepherding” movement with its emphasis on authority and submission, which I was not at all sure that I wanted to be a part of. The thought finally came crashing into my mind that I could not do it! All this frantic activity that I was doing to please all the voices in my head was not working!
I had an emotional breakdown, curled up in bed in a fetal position, crying, for two days.
Steven finally convinced me to go to a counselor. So I did, with little relief. My solution was to get angry. I thought, “Phooey on them! Now, I will do as I please!" I got angry with everyone I considered an authority in my life: Steven, my parents, the school administration, church leadership and so on up, including God. And I stayed that way for seven years!
Things got really bad between Steven and me. By the time he was back in the Marine Corps as an officer finances were OK, but I was still angry. The only thing that was keeping Steven from asking for a divorce was our four-year-old daughter. He adored her and knew what divorce could do to kids. A popular song at the time, “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast!” kept playing over in his mind. But he did volunteer to take a six-month float to Okinawa, just to get away from me. I had become that hard to live with.
God used the time that Steven was away to deal with me. I saw where my anger had led me, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, I was so tired of the anger! I really wanted the joy that I had experienced as a child, serving God with my whole heart. It was at that point that God spoke to my heart. He said,
“Denise, I have not moved—you have! All the joy you will ever want is right here with Me. Come back!”
So I did. And the anger that I had carried for seven years melted.
That, of course, was not the end of the story. There were many more things to be learned, some of them very hard. But it was the beginning of my understanding of God’s mercy. Because I realized that God had loved me the entire seven years that I was angry with Him! He did not cast me off, even though I was pushing hard against Him. He let me go to end of myself and take a look, and then gently drew me back to Himself in love. How could I not love Him in return?
“Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 136:26
We just put my mother-in-law, Marguerite, on a plane to her home in California this evening. She has spent the past couple weeks with Steven and me here in Oregon, sharing Christmas and New Year’s. It’s been a very relaxing and enjoyable visit. We took this picture of her at a restaurant here in town, before she left. I feel honored to have known this precious lady for over 36 years! I am also in awe of the fact that in all that time, she and I have never had an argument, or even cross words. She has always been supportive of Steven and my relationship. In fact, she was the one who first suggested to Steven that he ought to marry me! :) We have shared many good times and sad times. I treasure them all, including the countless hours spent recounting God’s goodness. Count me blessed!
Well, I am keeping one resolution for the New Year: creating a blog. My sister, Elena, was my initial inspiration for what a beautiful blog could look like. Then I found the magazine, Artful Blogging, and I saw that there are literally thousands of gorgeous, uplifting blogs out there! I want to be a part of that world.
Daydreams have played an important role in my life (hence my email address). I need the quiet time of daydreams to sort out where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. Daydreams are the starting point of most of my creative endeavors: remodeling, gardening, sewing, art quilting, beading, doll-making, drawing, painting, writing, etc. But more importantly, daydreams (a.k.a. meditations) are an important part of my spiritual journey. They help me understand and incorporate truths from the Bible into my life. I am hoping that this blog will become an extension of the daydream process, both visually and verbally.
So, in my daydream for today, I would like for this to be a two-way path: sharing from my heart and learning from yours.
The theme of my life is God's enduring mercy that does not let us go. I have been married to Steven for 36 years. It's been a long, winding path with many hills and valleys, but God's gracious love has brought us through. We are still loving God and each other! We have a grown daughter and son, who are each married to wonderful spouses. And we have one grandson thus far. After many years away, we have returned to the Rogue Valley in Oregon. We are thoroughly enjoying our retirement home.
I would love to hear from you! You can leave a comment by clicking on the comment button after each post, e-mail me, or go to the subscription button below, sign up for free and get each new post e-mailed to you.
Below are some of my favorite worship songs. You may listen to them if you click the big arrow button (>). They will randomly shuffle through, but if you would like to listen to a particular song, you may just click on that title in the list. To pause the player just click on the pause button (ll). Enjoy!