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So far Lauren Smith has created 85 blog entries.

Engaging

by Becky De Oliveira

 

My most finely-honed skill is waking up in the morning, and it’s probably the thing about me—other than the fact that I attended a Nirvana concert when Kurt Cobain was still alive, back in 1992—that tends to most impress other people. I get up at precisely 4:46 a.m. every day. Yes, even weekends. My birthday. Christmas Day.

“Wow,” people say. “You must be so productive.”

You would think. But no. Not really. I run. Walk a bit. Read a bit. My day pretty much goes downhill from there. I work, of course, but rarely accomplish as much as I’d planned. In the morning, the day stretches ahead, filled with possibility. There are all kinds of things I might achieve! I make lists of them while I run. I tell myself that I will spend no fewer than 30 minutes writing and that I’ll start the minute I get my kids out the door for school. This almost never happens; I tend instead to work in sporadic bursts of energy interrupted by long periods of inertia.

The fact is that I am, and always have been, a whole lot better and more productive in my head. I have had to struggle to become any kind of doer. One of my favorite children’s books is Oh the Thinks You Can Think by Dr. Seuss. “You can think about red. You can think about pink. You can think up a horse. Oh, the thinks you can think!” I’ve thought of some great stuff. Story plotlines. Poems. Novels. Paintings. T-shirt designs. Ball gowns. How I might win the Olympics in shot put. Birch bark canoes. Ways to make my own shoes.

And as a kid, thinking was pretty much all I did. I made up stories, invented contraptions, and tunneled all the way to China, in my mind. What I disliked about doing was that nothing worked out quite the way I’d imagined it would. I could never quite pull off the intricately beaded Indian costume, the full-sized battering ram, or the igloo. Nearly every project ended in profound disappointment. In my head, I landed my round off/back handspring/back tuck every single time—to the thunderous applause of a huge audience—but at the gym, I mostly landed on my head. It took me a long time to learn how to actually do things and accept their inherent imperfections.

A large part of doing is really nothing more than making a simple decision to act. It sounds simple, but can be incredibly hard to do sometimes.

For example, during my senior year of high school, I went skiing with a group from school. About the time we got in our cars to drive home, the road through the mountain pass was closed because of concern about avalanches. I was already in the car with a woman and her daughter—people I did not know particularly well but had ended up riding with. The two of them walked back to the lodge—as did many people—and ate French fries and drank hot chocolate and generally made merry. Not me. I decided that the road would open more quickly if I hunkered down in the back seat of the car, damp and cold. I had nothing to eat and became increasingly grumpy and miserable as the hours crept by. The woman and her daughter came back eventually and ate an entire bag of chocolate chip cookies without offering me a single one, and I fumed and stewed and became increasingly miserable. The roads finally opened, and I got home in time to jump in the shower and get ready to go to school. Not a high point in my life.

Contrast that with another day—similar in many ways, but one that I consider among the best days of my life. Perhaps three years later, I was driving back to college and crossing the same mountain pass. Again, an avalanche warning closed the highway and I, along with dozens of other drivers, was diverted to a truck stop. For maybe half an hour I sat in my car, wrapped in a down sleeping bag and staring out the window. Then, for some reason, I decided to get out of the car. Just that one simple thing: I got out of the car. And magic! Lining up to use the pay phone—this being the era before mobiles were widely used—I met two other people around my age and we formed a sort of posse of activity. We three pushed cars out of ditches and drove around rescuing people. We sat in the diner and drank free coffee and listened for updates with the other stranded travelers. We exchanged stories and made friendly banter with waitresses and truck drivers and elderly people. Together all of us in the diner cheered when, near dawn, the pass was reopened and we continued on our respective journeys, never to see each other again. I’ll never forget the profound sense of community and accomplishment I felt that night. All because I worked up the nerve to do the thing that so often eludes me: Engage.

Engaging—whether with other people or with your own work—requires courage and action. It requires you to overcome both fear and inertia—for real, not just in your imagination.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-06-07T16:49:51-07:00June 10th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Reflections on a Film Festival

by Becky De Oliveira

 

Last week I attended Mountainfilm 2019 in Telluride, CO, for the first time ever, as part of a large and loosely connected group of people. A couple of them I knew well, a few more I’d casually interacted with in the past. The rest were completely new. I’m talking only about the 40 to 50 people who made up the group I was with, not the hundreds of absolute strangers I queued with and shared restaurant, restroom, trail, theater, and gondola space with over the four days.

Here’s the astonishing thing: Every single person appeared friendly, positive, upbeat, and eager to connect. The people of Mountainfilm 2019 struck up conversations on the gondola, in the normal queues we joined at least one hour before any film or event we wanted to see, and in the super queue that many of us joined four hours before Oprah was due to appear onstage with guest director Cheryl Strayed. We languished in the grass under the hot Colorado sun and talked about what we’d seen, where we were from, what we thought was exciting in the world today. One possible chink in the conviviality of Mountainfilm 2019 seemed to appear when Q cards were handed out for Oprah 90 minutes earlier than they normally would be, but I didn’t personally observe any anger in the prospective audience members who were turned away. I intuited it from the volunteer staff who, when I asked if I could go inside to use the restroom, said, “Sure, just don’t talk to us about the queuing process!”

The group I was with mostly identified as Christians, but certainly not everyone else in attendance would have thought of themselves this way. I’ve been going to church for long enough to know that groups of Christians don’t always manifest this kind of pure bliss. Sometimes I wonder: Do they ever? If so, when? What unique blend of circumstances and ingredients results in the synchronicity of seemingly very different people from all over the country, previously unknown to one another, meeting up and immediately feeling connected in the pursuit of higher ideals and values? Certainly this is the intention of an event like Mountainfilm that focuses on “environmental, cultural, climbing, political and social justice issues that matter.” One attendee, the ethnobotanist Wade Davis, is quoted as saying, “All the best people I’ve ever known, I met at Mountainfilm.” It is entirely possible that some people leave this event deeply alienated and embittered, feeling disrespected and abused, hurting in ways that will take a lifetime to heal, but I saw no evidence of any of these problems. Most of the people I talked to were frequent attendees; many proclaimed the festival an annual must.

What is it about church that turns out so very differently for so many people? On the surface, these two things have a great deal in common. Both are seeking to bring people together around a set of ideals. Both appeal to the concept and practice of love. Both want to communicate their visions of how to make the world a better place for the billions who inhabit it. What makes Mountainfilm a resounding success in this pursuit and many churches, well, less successful?

Another way to look at this question might be to ask if there is anything that could cause Mountainfilm attendees to go away hurt and angry. I’m not certain, but I imagine that if the attendees picked on one another, criticizing clothes and hairstyles, that might affect the vibe. What if some people were told that they weren’t welcome because of their gender or sexual orientation? What if only a very narrow range of films were on offer and these promoted a worldview that is more closed than open? What if those attending couldn’t eat what they liked without disapproving glances from everyone else? Or what if everyone showed up with a critical attitude, ready to hate everything they see?

I’ve been perplexed by the issues in churches for as long as I’ve been involved with them at close range. Why are we so eager to criticize each other? Why are we so quick to take offense at almost everything that happens? Why do we not focus more on the high ideals we share and less on the logistics?

Author and director Cheryl Strayed gave one example of putting positivity back into the world at the closing discussion on Monday morning, which happened to be Memorial Day. She told the story of a man who became enraged with her in traffic while she was driving a group of teenagers. She’d accidentally cut him off, and he swore and screamed and called her names. At the next light, she pulled up beside him, rolled down the window, and said, “Sir, I apologize for upsetting you. I can see you’re having a bad day. I hope it gets better.” Completely stunned and disarmed, the man immediately apologized for his behavior: “I should never have spoken to you that way. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Maybe this is all that it would take—simply remembering every day, many times a day, as often as it takes, that those around us are only human. They need love and grace and forgiveness—from God, certainly, but also from us. And we need those things too.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-06-02T17:02:51-07:00June 3rd, 2019|Living God's Love|

We Still Have This Hope

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

 

“When all hope is gone, sad songs say so much,” sings Elton John in his classic “Sad Songs.” His song is way too sad for me. When I’m feeling hopeless I gravitate toward hopeful songs. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And, “We have this hope that burns within our hearts.” These are the songs that “say so much” to me. How very blessed we are to have this “Hope” with a capital “H”—the kind of Hope that can come from Christ alone.

Even though I was born with an abundance of hope and joy, I’ve been from hope to hopeless and back to hope a number of times, like a mini rollercoaster of hope. When prayers weren’t answered the way I thought they should be, I’d lose a bit of hope.

From the age of six, I prayed for my brother Ron to be healed of schizophrenia, the chronic paranoid variety of the disease. From a complete nervous breakdown at the age of 21 through to his death at 68, he remained a very sick man. His illness was unpredictable, often scary, and always a complete mystery to me. Our family “hoped and prayed” for decades for the miracle of healing that never happened. We “hoped against hope” because “hope springs eternal.” I learned all the “hope” quotations and acronyms (Having Only Positive Expectations or HOffers Peace Every day). And I especially learned the verses of Scripture about hope, like this one: “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8: 24-25, NIV). We waited ever so patiently.

My parents never lost hope. But I did. There were breakthroughs, new therapies, setbacks, some improvements, and more setbacks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years before Ron died, and many years after our parents had passed away, that I came to the life-changing realization that Ron’s once-beautiful mind, which had become so tortured and twisted with mental illness, would be made beautiful again in the earth made new. Hope began to stir anew and took root once again in my heart.

We had a conversation a few years before he passed away that was completely lucid on his part and ultimately healing for me. We almost never spoke of spiritual things. And yet, Ron asked me that day if I’d read the Gospels. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” he said eagerly. “Have you ever read them in one sitting, beginning to end?”

“Of course I’ve read them,” I said, “but not in one sitting. Why do you ask?”

“Because the ‘Story’ is in there and it’s so simple,” he said.

“And what’s the ‘Story,’” I asked hesitantly.

“Jesus took our pain!” he declared triumphantly.

“Jesus took our pain,” I repeated, completely dumbstruck that my mentally ill brother could grasp the essence of the gospel story in just four words. I told Ron that even our dad, great preacher that he was, could never have explained the gospel as eloquently as he just had. Ron liked that.

I know I’ll see my brother again, with his mind and body restored, because I’m holding onto “this hope that burns within my heart.”

My favorite HOPE acronym is Hold On—Pain Ends. I know Ron would like that one, too.

It was 57 years ago that my brother Ron had a nervous breakdown that launched our family into a four-decade journey into the unknown world of schizophrenia. It was also 57 years ago this month that “We Have This Hope” was introduced as the theme song for the 1962 General Conference Session in San Francisco. Wayne Hooper of the Voice of Prophecy wrote the song specifically for the session, the theme of which was also “We Have This Hope.” The song was used again as the theme song for the General Conference sessions of 1966, 1975, 1995, and 2000. It remains an Adventist classic that we sing at camp meetings, in churches, at memorial services, and anywhere Adventists gather to praise God. For me, it’s my personal anthem of hope that fills me with assurance and faith. We still have this hope. Let’s never stop singing it!

Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.

2019-05-27T16:40:57-07:00May 27th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Birdeaux

by Ray Tetz

 

It was a big decision to get a cockatiel—one of those little grey parrots with the cheerful yellow and orange crest. We debated whether or not we had the patience to raise and train a young bird, especially when we’d heard that they could be reclusive and slow to respond to human interaction. We were young and newly married. What did we know?

One young bird was sitting off by herself in the cage, apart from the other cockatiels, and when I extended my finger as a perch, she jumped right on as if she had been waiting for me.

Thus began one of the great relationships of my life.

We called her Birdeaux. She was not reclusive; she was effusive. She was verbal, animated, engaging, funny, and endlessly curious. She didn’t like her cage much but loved to be with us—all the time. She took to sitting on my shoulder while I read or worked. She could hear my car coming home from a half mile away, and she would start squeaking and screeching until I went back to her cage and opened the little door. Then she would jump onto my finger, climb up my arm, and settle onto my shoulder—filled with all the news of the day that she just had to tell me.

Sometimes I would forget she was sitting on my shoulder—she was so much a regular part of my day—and she would remind me that she was being ignored by nibbling at my ear. And then one day I forgot she was there and walked outside—and she flew away.

We could see her climbing higher and higher in the sky, could hear her calling and we called to her, but she didn’t come back. She kept climbing until she was out of sight, and then she was gone.

We were brokenhearted. We drove through the neighborhoods with the car whose sound she knew, posted signs, took out ads in the paper—nothing. Four days went by; it seemed like forever. Her cage was empty. We would have given anything, done anything, to have her home.

Then the phone rang. “I think we’ve got your bird,” the voice said. “She landed on the balcony and she won’t leave us alone. And she won’t stop talking either.”

We had her back. I’m not sure who was the happiest at being reunited, for there was a lot of cooing and talking and scratching of her little head. She wouldn’t leave my shoulder for anything.

Cockatiels weigh about three and a half ounces. They are all feathers and voice box. Their brains are not very big—and if Birdeaux was any indication, they are dedicated entirely to describing the world around them and showing affection and appreciation for the things they recognize, understand, and love. Being loved by a bird—and loving a bird—was one of the purest and most rewarding experiences of my life. Decades after her death (they don’t live forever), I still miss her.

The day she flew away was one of the worst in my life. The day we got her back still shines in my memory.

If losing a bird can break your heart—what can it be like to lose a whole world? No wonder the redemption story is so sweet with emotion and love. No wonder there is great rejoicing over even one who returns to Father’s care. No wonder the reunion is heralded by the greatest song (and winged creatures, I must add!).

Amazing redemption, how sweet the sound!

 

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

2019-05-21T09:08:55-07:00May 20th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Dreamers

by Ray Tetz

 

Peter was not very good at telling jokes. In Acts 2:15, when he says, “These people are not drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning,” this is an example of a joke that didn’t quite work. The people don’t want Peter telling jokes; they want him to explain what had just happened at Pentecost.

Fortunately, Luke is the one telling the story—and he knows how to spin a tale. He rushes right past Peter’s failed joke and quotes Peter quoting Joel 2, a familiar text for everyone listening. They have been reciting this portion of scripture—about a people in trouble—for a thousand years. Peter stands up and says, “In the last days, God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,your young men will see visions,your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18, NIV). (Did you notice? Both men and women.)

When he quoted these words, people were reciting with him, because they knew them by heart. But then he added something unexpected: “These words are fulfilled.” Peter was placing the fledgling church smack dab in the middle of God’s providence. The people listening thought the Messiahwould come and change everything. They didn’t know that the Messiah would come and create a churchthat would change everything.

The phrase “the spirit came upon” is used in the Old Testament to describe when God interjects Himself into a situation. In Numbers 11, the Spirit of the Lord came down on Moses and he shared the Spirit with the 70 elders and they prophesied. When Saul was hunting David, the Spirit of the Lord came on him and all of a sudden he was prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord came on Balaam and he couldn’t curse Israel like he wanted to. The Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon and the Lord gave him an amazing victory. Three times, the Spirit of Lord is recorded as coming on Samson. These are all great stories—but none of them are Acts 2. These were all individuals receiving the Spirit, but in Acts 2 the Spirit of the Lord was given to the whole church.

Amazing! The rest of that phrase—“pour out”—is also important. The term was often used to describe what happens when blood pours out from a sacrifice. It also means to pour out your lifeblood. I poured out my life for that kid. I poured out my life for this church. I poured out my life for that cause. That’s the association. It’s amazing that God pouring out His Spirit means the same thing as a person pouring out their lifeblood.

And so when Peter says, “The Spirit will be poured out,” he’s claiming something for the church that’s never been claimed before. When the people ask, “What just happened?” Peter says, “Pentecost just happened. It’s a deluge. It’s God, pouring Himself out on the entire church. This has never happened in the history of the world and it will probably never happen again.”

It’s a torrent, you’re drowning in it, flooded by it, soaked to the skin. It changes everything. Acts 2 is the Niagara of the Spirit. It’s the Mariana Trench of transformative grace. It’s the tsunami of righteousness. This is beyond anything that anyone’s ever seen. That’s what God calls us to be. Even Peter is astounded by what’s happened, and he tells us: we are called from the dream to being the dreamers.

We’re called from the prophecy to being the prophesiers. We’re called from the future into the present. We’re called from the imagined to the enacted. On the most ordinary day, in the plainest of circumstances, on the train you always take to work, while you’re reading in your favorite chair, when you got up to get a drink during half time, at the table where you always sit for lunch, in the middle of another call, halfway through shaving, on the way out to get the mail, while you’re just reaching for the phone, just outside your kitchen window, as you turn to tell your companion something or ask a question, by the time you reach the end of the chapter, before anyone knew what was happening, before church was over, out of the blue with no warning—not a cloud in the sky—life barges in. Pentecost: a deluge. You’re drenched by God. You get filled up, swamped, transformed, sent straight over the cliff. That’s what Pentecost is.

The unexpected happened because God poured out in His lifeblood, His Spirit, on the people of God to make them His church. Every moment of our lives, every moment of worship, every time we gather, every time we open the Scripture, every time we bow our heads in prayer, every time we turn our hearts toward God—even when we don’t, even when we’re ignoring God, even when we think that God is nowhere around, even when we’re doing things that God has nothing to do with and that we hope He doesn’t see, even those times where we’re completely absorbed with something else—in every one of those moments, the potential exists for Pentecost.

This is an amazing thing. This is what is remarkable. This is what makes the church the body of Christ—so different from what was expected. It’s not external anymore. It’s first person personal. Suddenly, when we realize that the same thing can happen for us and for the entire community of faith, we see that this is what God’s been doing all along. Pouring out, pouring in, pouring through people’s lives.

 

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

2019-05-14T15:23:33-07:00May 14th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Feelings and Responsibility

by Becky De Oliveira

 

For several months now, I have operated in flagrant disregard of the signs on the pedestrian path near my house that I use for running. There is a large-scale construction operation underway on the intersection of Highway 52 and Colorado Boulevard—I’ve heard rumors it may continue for more than a year.

The signs declare the path “Closed at Hwy 52.” But I run at 5:30 in the morning and there is generally no one around to observe as I slip between the bulldozers and over the choppy dirt—only about 50 feet—to where the path resumes, paved as normal, still “closed” but exactly the same as it is when “open.” Occasionally, when I return to cross the same 50 feet the workmen have started to arrive, but no one has ever questioned me. No one, that is, until this past Friday when the tall workman, who often harasses my teenage son for crossing that same section on his way home from school, hollered at me from his truck. “You aren’t supposed to be here,” he said. “The path is closed.”

“How else am I to get back to my house?” I retorted. “I live over there,” I added, gesturing at the housing development on the other side of the highway.

“There’s a detour through Frederick,” he said, referring to a town that is on the wrong side of the highway—a town that is not where I live and that is significantly out of my way.

“That makes no sense,” I said arrogantly. “It’s the wrong direction. I don’t live there. It’s miles out of my way.”

“Well, if you’re out here trying to get exercise, maybe it would be good for you,” he snapped, and I almost lost it. I really don’t like it when people tell me what to do and, worse, when they get sarcastic.

“Thanks,” I said, waving my arm dismissively. “You’ve been sohelpful.” The light changed and I continued my run—right between the bulldozers. My anger fueled the last third of a mile, and by the time I got home I was so ramped up that I immediately got into an argument with my husband about the lawn mower. I fumed all morning and determined that I would simply have to make sure I got out for my run early enough that the workman would never see me trespassing through his site. Problem solved.

Later that same day, I spotted a car in my neighborhood with a bumper sticker that read, “My rights don’t end where your feelings begin.” This is the kind of aggressive statement typical of my neighborhood, a place where people fly Don’t Tread on Me flags and seem to be in a constant state of reactionary rage against someone or something they believe is trying to infringe on their rights. My next door neighbor refers to me as “that woman with all the liberal stickers on her car” when my car (a Prius) has three marathon stickers and a Free Cascadia sticker—a sentiment that in and of itself I’m not sure I could place with confidence on the political spectrum.

But the rights/feelings sticker made me stop and think—not just about the ignorant aggression of the sentiment but the equal stupidity of the opposite statement that may have inspired it: “Your rights end where my feelings begin.” (This is a good example of why it is important to avoid a life philosophy that can be placed on a bumper sticker.) I thought about the construction man, a guy I’d taken to referring to in my head as “meth head” when in fact I don’t know the first thing about him or his daily habits and have no reason to suspect methamphetamine use. What are my rights? What are his rights? What are our respective feelings? Maybe I have the right to run where I choose—but in fact I have no idea whether I have this right or not. I probably don’t. Perhaps he has the right to set rules about his construction site and expect them to be followed courteously by the local people who will perhaps benefit from it. We both have feelings: anger, irritation, and the feeling of being disrespected by the other person being the ones that are most obvious.

I made a decision in that moment, and the next afternoon, a Sabbath, I took a walk and found the pedestrian detour he’d referred to and followed it. The next morning I used it as the first portion of my running route and simply readjusted the rest of my route. It wasn’t hard at all; it was no big deal. “A soft answer,” the Bible says, “turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1, NKJV). So does an evaluation of rights and feelings that considers people other than oneself and that tries to avoid reaction and indignant insistence on being right. So yeah, I caved. I demonstrated weakness. I let him win. I did all those things. I don’t regret it, not any of it.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-05-06T14:37:17-07:00May 6th, 2019|Living God's Love|

When They Leave…

by Darla Lauterbach-Reeves

 

Have you been walked away from? Ghosted? Not committed to? Replaced? Even when our kids leave, as is the natural way of life, there is a tremendous amount of pain. It’s a ripping—a tearing away at our heart. I have experienced all of the above. I’ll bet you have too, and if not yet, you may. I want to help you see a positive in the pain.

After my divorce, I boldly asked God to remove anyone not meant for me from my life. I meant that request but never thought it would take so many “tries” to find the right person. It takes a lot of courage to try again with anyone after such a blow as a divorce. It is even harder to stick your neck out when you have kids—and when you’re in public. I had no desire to date “in the dark” or without intention, so I continued in prayer, worked on my weaknesses, gave them to God, and asked Him for help. My deepest desire is to grow closer and closer to God with my partner and show His love to others. I promised myself to take the attitude that if that scares anyone off, so be it. I hate to lose people—I love people—but He comes first.

Sometimes I thought me “being me” was the problem. I did a lot of inner work and crying out to God. Still, in my heartbreak and bewilderment, I trusted God’s heart in the pain and the questions. What was going on in my life? Why? Even my truest friends didn’t understand why any of this had to be part of my story. I prayed, they prayed. I loved, they loved.

Rejection is one of the most excruciating things on this planet. I have not only been rejected, but I have also done the rejecting. That’s hard too, but I knew it was best for me and my girls. I’ll just go ahead and assume the guys who rejected me felt the same way, and I wish them the very best. I’ve learned from each relationship, even through the hurt, and I truly appreciate the way dating the “wrong” people pushed me closer to God. I became a fighter, a learner, a stronger person. These relationships helped me dig deep for healing and to find my truest Lover and Corrector. But I can say now that I fully trust God’s heart in each painful experience—and would do so again. I trust that He wants what’s best for me. And I trust that anyone He chooses to remove from my life would ultimately distract me from my first love, which is Him. Either that, or I would distract them from Him.

Now I realize that the lessons I’ve learned have given me a ministry. I wouldn’t have the lessons without the story. I’ve always loved to write, but I wouldn’t have the content without the story. It’s been in the confusion and rejection that I found my beloved Jesus and a way to use the gift He’s given me. He’s the One who never turns His back on me—or leaves for college or draws a final breath. Rather, He holds me closer than ever. Each time I’ve experienced loss, this has been confirmed and has deepened our relationship.

I pray that this helps me understand and sympathize with my daughters’ dating experiences better than before. I also hope that I can help others heal from their childhoods or divorces, and that maybe they can even gain insights from their past relationships if they choose to date again. I pray that sharing my experiences helps others not only stay married but have a better marriage. I pray it helps others find worth in Christ and not in those who walk away or put them down. I pray it helps women to find their beauty in their Creator and men to recognize that both sexes have the same Creator and Father. I pray it helps us all remember and recognize that we are accountable to Him for carrying out the tasks He has put us here to achieve. What has He asked you to do?

The enemy messes with me. He discourages me and tries to silence me. But I continue to pray that my lips and fingers never stop praising my faithful God—the One who lovingly turned His back only to protect us from His Glory (Exodus 33:23). The One who will return and never have to leave again. The One who welcomes the prodigal sons and daughters home. The One who asks me to share my heart. The One who craves His time with me. The One who teaches me.

May each rejection, loss, and season of sadness push you closer to His heart. That is His will for all of us.

 

Darla Lauterbach-Reeves was raised in the church, but it wasn’t until her marriage fell apart that she came to truly know her Greatest Love—Jesus—in whom she found the relationship she had always craved. She is the author of the book He Loves Me THAT Much? available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

2019-04-28T16:00:35-07:00April 29th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Joy Hard Won

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

 

How does one “rejoice in the Lord always” and then rejoice some more? This directive in Philippians 4:4 is hard for me. I sing along with everyone, “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart, down in my heart,” but maybe my joy is buried so deep in my heart that it doesn’t reach my brain. Because I sometimes feel joyless.

And that is how I felt on a cold December day in 2000 when Ken Wade, the producer at Voice of Prophecy, and I went to the Joni and Friends ministry in Agoura, California, to do a radio interview with Joni Eareckson Tada about an article on joy that she had recently written for Decision magazine.

I am in awe of Joni, who is one of the world’s leading international advocates for people affected by disability. A diving accident in 1967 left her a quadriplegic in a wheelchair at the age of 17. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a determination to help others in similar situations. She founded Joni and Friends in 1979, and the organization quickly grew to provide Christ-centered programs to special needs families, churches, and communities.

I had laid my dear father to rest just a few weeks earlier, and I couldn’t shake the exhaustion, sadness, and joylessness I felt. I missed him so very much. What I didn’t count on was that Joni’s joy was positively contagious. As she propelled herself in her high-tech wheelchair into the conference room where we’d already set up the digital recorder and mic, she looked stunning with every hair in place and her makeup perfectly applied. What struck me immediately was her gorgeous smile and her kind, penetrating eyes. They were filled with joy!

Joni was the first to suggest that we ask God to bless our efforts. Ken had already turned on the recorder, and by the end of her simple but powerful prayer, I was beginning to “catch” some of her joy. She prayed:

Days like this are always wonderful, Lord Jesus, when the clouds hang heavy on the coastal mountains and it’s a gray day and it reminds us that change is helpful and variety is always a gift from you. And these clouds remind us that there are showers of blessing that come from your heaven. We thank you for these dear friends who are going to be sharing some incredible insights about your joy! And, Lord Jesus, it occurs to us that we’re a bunch of sour-faced people and we get grumpy and irritated, and yet your joy is so powerful. You are the high Hoover Dam of Joy! It’s spilling and splashing over heaven’s walls, and we just seem so satisfied to drink from a mud puddle. So please help us to appreciate your joy by the insights shared today. And now give us your words. We ask in your name. Amen.

Joni’s prayer calmed my nerves. I asked her how she was able to have such joy, and the answer that followed filled the rest of our five-minute interview. She said, “I don’t do it.” Then she went on to describe her daily routine. “After my husband Ken leaves for work at 6:00 a.m., I’m alone until I hear the front door open at 7:00 a.m. That’s when a friend arrives to get me up. While I listen to her run water for coffee, I begin to pray, ‘Lord Jesus, my friend will soon give me a bath, get me dressed, sit me in my chair, brush my hair and teeth, and send me out the door. I don’t have the strength to face this routine one more time. I have no resources. I don’t have a smile to take into the day. But you do. May I have yours? God, I need you desperately.”’

“And does He give you that smile?” I asked, already knowing her answer.

“I turn my head toward my friend and give her a smile sent straight from heaven. It’s not mine. It’s God’s,” Joni explained. “Whatever joy you see today was hard won this morning.”

Joni went on to describe how the weaker we are, the more we need to learn to lean on God—and the more we lean on God, the stronger we will discover Him to be.

I totally forgot about myself and my loss during that hour with Joni. I learned in a fresh new way that I needed to keep my eyes focused on Jesus. She showed me that the “harder won” the joy, the more it is appreciated.

At the end of our interview, we gave Joni some Voice of Prophecy materials and a copy of my dad’s autobiography, My Dream. “I don’t know if you’ve heard of my father,” I said, “but he was a television evangelist for many years and he just passed away. I’d like you to have this.”

“George Vandeman!” she exclaimed. “I used to watch It Is Written when I was lying in a hospital bed in Baltimore, Maryland. I would flip through the channels looking for religious programs and I found him.”

I left Joni’s office feeling incredibly blessed and not even a little bit sorry for myself. We all experience sadness and the loss of precious loved ones. But Joni reminded me that God, the Source of all Joy, would always be there to put His joy—however hard it is won—down deep in my heart, and His smile back on my face.

Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.

2019-04-25T14:17:12-07:00April 22nd, 2019|Living God's Love|

Our Wrongdoings Pile Up

by Becky De Oliveira

 

Isaiah 59:12-15 in The Message translation points the finger directly at each of us. It uses the word “our” repeatedly, as in, “Our wrongdoings pile up before you, God, our sins stand up and accuse us” (Verses 12-15). And just so we can’t argue that we really aren’t all that bad because we haven’t robbed any banks, killed anyone, slept with anyone else’s husband or wife, worshipped any golden images, or told any whopping lies, the prophet itemizes what he means by “wrongdoings” or “sins.” These are as follows: 1) Mocking and denying God, 2) Not following God, 3) Spreading false rumors, 4) Inciting sedition, and 5) Muttering malice. These are not as shocking as murder or theft or—gasp—adultery. They sound somewhat tame, at least when I imagine myself doing any of them. Other people? That’s another story entirely.

I recently took a lengthy health survey at my university, and one of its more interesting techniques was first to ask the respondent about, say, his or her drinking behavior and then ask what the respondent thinks other people would report about themselves. “How often do you pass out when you’ve been drinking?” it asks. Then “How often do you think the average student at your university passes out when they’vebeen drinking?” It feels a little tricky, like a kind of Rorschach test. “I have thisfriendwho passes out a lot when he drinks . . . Not me, just a friend.” Uh, yeah, OK. Maybe one could look at these five sins in the same way. Think about whether you do them—then think about other people. Then go back to yourself.

Let’s take a look at two of the sins that are easy to see other people doing: spreading false rumors and muttering malice. My first reaction is to think that I do neither of these; I am careful with what I say about others publicly and I’m always upbeat and positive. Other people? When we moved out here to Colorado, an organization published books containing false statements about the One project (co-founded by my husband and his friends) and sent them to all the elders in our church, along with just about everyone else in the state. This was not helpful. “These people,” I have been known to fume, “have ruined my life and nothing and no one has stopped them.” Of course they think they were telling the truth, bravely and boldly. So there’s that. Everyone has a point of view. Perhaps I could be called to account for the fact that I am making this accusation here in writing. I think I am defending my family but maybe I’m spreading false rumors too. My understanding is at no point complete; I don’t even know these people.

Then there’s muttering malice, which certainly seems connected to spreading false rumors, and which I interpret as meaning complaining about everything and everyone all the time. In a church setting, everyone has this problem. But there is no one worse than me. You can see evidence in the preceding paragraph which is a sanitized summary of one of my big, bad grievances of the past five years. There are more. I complain far too much. For Lent one year, in order to address this character deficiency, I decided to give up complaining. For seven whole weeks. What that meant was that I really couldn’t talk at all. It was a useful exercise though, because it helped me understand how much of what I say and think is 1) negative or 2) pointless. I need to work on cultivating more gratitude and positivity. For example: Not everyone in Colorado has conspired to ruin my life. In fact, I’ve made lots of friends here whom I will love for as long as I live. And I am eternally grateful for them. But it’s somehow easier to focus on the bad things that have happened, especially when I’m feeling sorry for myself generally.

It may not seem like a big deal, but negativity spills over into everything and changes the way we approach life. It does not please God; it is a sin.

Becky De Oliveira is a writer, editor, teacher, and qualitative researcher working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This blog is adapted from a reflection for the Daily Walk, an online Bible study produced by Boulder Adventist Church.

2019-04-15T12:22:23-07:00April 15th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Unexpectedness

by Becky De Oliveira

 

“I hope you’re including the issue of unexpectedness in at least one of your reflections,” my husband, micromanager that he is, mentioned in passing as I was getting close to the end of writing a week’s worth of reflections for an online Bible study that our church creates and distributes to several thousand people around the world. Lucky for me I still had one reflection left to write. “The point of this chapter,” my husband continued, helpfully, since it is often a struggle for me to glean the point of anything, “is that the Messiah, when He came in the form of Jesus Christ, was not what the people were expecting. He didn’t fulfill their ideas of what a Messiah should be.”

Right. I get it. Some years ago, very early in the morning when the streets were nearly empty, I was chased (by a slow and incompetent would-be assailant who promised to cut my throat) into the London Tube at Piccadilly Circus. I appealed for help to the men wearing the orange vests who appeared to be in charge. A few minutes later, after I’d descended several escalators down into the belly of the underground and was waiting for my train and hoping the throat-cutter wouldn’t find me, a cheerful huffing and puffing man with a red nose and a pronounced limp approached to inform me he’d come to save me. He didn’t say it quite like that—no British person ever would—but that was the gist. He was my savior. A closer look revealed that he had a prosthetic leg. Up until that point, I hadn’t been aware of what I was expecting in the person who might protect me from a homicidal maniac, but in that moment I knew for sure that this guy was not it.

“What does a human being have the right to expect?” I used to ask my undergraduate classes at Andrews University. Many of the students would reply, “Nothing,” but that’s a disingenuous answer—or at the least not particularly well thought out—and I could have proven this point easily by giving them all arbitrary Fs and then waiting for the flood of indignant phone calls from Mom and Dad to start pouring in.

We are always exceeding, meeting, or failing to meet expectations or having other people, places, or experiences exceed, meet, or fail ourexpectations. Famous people are often told that they are shorter in person than members of the public expected them to be. Many people express disappointment at the Colosseum, the Alamo, Stonehenge—all of which are not as expected. We expect life to be fair, for the fire truck to come when we call, for our water to be clean, for those who govern over us to act justly and sometimes with mercy. These are reasonable expectations. We also, most of us, carry unreasonable ones. We expect other people to read our minds, to make us happy, for the world to configure itself in such a way as to avoid activating any of our pet peeves. We even have expectations about who should save us and how.

So Jesus Christ was not what the people were “expecting” in a Messiah. Well, what were they expecting? We’re often not explicit about where our disappointment comes from. We have these half-formed and hazy images of things that we’ve never fully articulated and they loom large. Who knows what the people at Jesus’s time were expecting a Messiah to be like. Just different, right? Bigger or smaller. Shorter or taller. More religious. More real. And in clinging to their expectations they missed the power of what was standing in front of them.

In the movie How to Train Your Dragon,Hiccup, miming his father’s disappointed expectations in his son, sarcastically says, “Excuse me, barmaid! I’m afraid you brought me the wrong offspring! I ordered an extra-large boy with beefy arms, extra guts, and glory on the side! This here, this is a talking fishbone!”

What do we expect of a Savior now? What evidence has God provided of what a Savior is? Video game creator Hideo Kojima says, “the story does not trick the player, it is the player that tricks himself.” Perhaps we have everything we need to see the Messiah clearly but we trick ourselves, over and over again.

Becky De Oliveira is a writer, editor, teacher, and qualitative researcher working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This blog is adapted from a reflection for the Daily Walk, an online Bible study produced by Boulder Adventist Church.

2019-04-08T11:12:53-07:00April 8th, 2019|Living God's Love|