//Living God's Love

A Terrible Idea

by Antoinette Alba

As an artist and writer, I go through a process of deciding which ideas are worth making into a completed piece. I brainstorm, I scribble, I make studies, and I choose which ideas I want to pursue. I assign value to those ideas: which are good, which are bad, and which desperately need to be thrown in the trash. Beyond that, I decide which is the most important and which is the least, and often by the time I get to the last on the list I don’t care about that idea anymore.

Other times I try to force certain ideas to work, and because of that force they are more resistant to come to life. I have notebooks filled with bad ideas and maybe five good ones. I scribble thoughts on Post-it notes or in my phone, only to return to those ideas later and realize that I can’t remember where I was going with that or why I thought it was a good idea in the first place. For me, ideas are easily discarded because I know there are so many rattling around in my mind that I will have lost nothing by throwing this one away.

Because I experience this in my own process of creation, I am all the more awed that God never did that to us. That He didn’t just crumple up the ball and toss it in the bin. That He not only pursued what any of us would consider a terrible idea, He considered it a wonderful idea, an idea worth all the trouble it was going to bring. He assigned a value to us that is more precious than a sea of jewels. He deemed us worthy enough to ransom from the chains of sin.

I am amazed that He let His creation take on a life of its own and made something beautiful out of us, even though we’re broken, even though we’ve been made ugly by a life separate from Him. I am astounded by God’s commitment to us, like an artist working through a challenging area of a painting struggling to be born. Better than the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel, God makes masterpieces in the sky out of pollution and golden hearts out of hardened stone.

I am grateful for the identity God clothes us in—an identity in which we are loved, in which we are pursued, in which we are worth being saved. Because without this identity, it is too easy to be what others deem us to be, what others try to make us. Because we are blessed by an incredibly strong, exciting, and empowered identity as the children of God, we don’t have to be what people say we are or believe we are. We can simply put that down, walk away, and be who God calls us to be.

 

Antoinette Alba is an artist and writer based in California.

2020-01-10T17:11:35-08:00January 13th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Grandpa’s Gift

by Faith Hoyt

When my twin sister and I were 7 years old, our grandpa gave us a special gift. It wasn’t something we could use right away—we were still quite young. But he knew we’d be old enough eventually, and he saw an opportunity to teach us.

The gift was a workbench. He had built it himself and painted it a bright white. It was a sturdy thing. Hanging from long nails on the back wall of the workbench were two sets of tools. Grandpa had carefully traced around each tool with a black marker to help us remember where they went. (The outlines helped us keep things tidy—not that he was anticipating messes!)

I remember beholding this amazing gift for the first time. I reached up to inspect each treasure: my own hammer, pliers, screwdriver, tape measure, wrench, and hacksaw. The gift came with a few stern words about safety, a gentle smile, and a lesson on how to use the C-clamps he’d secured to each end of the bench.

The workbench sat in our garage for a few years, occasionally getting used when mom or dad was around. When my sister and I were a little older, we started using our tools more often. The freedom to do what we wanted was exhilarating. We started simple at first—nailing together scraps of wood and assembling all manner of castaway materials into treasures. Our tool sets helped us take our forts to the next level. Working at our workbench helped build confidence, sharpen skills, and reinforce lessons (such as how not to use a hacksaw). Cuts and scrapes reminded us that our tools were the real deal and that we’d need to handle them more carefully next time.

Over time our tool sets were used for more practical purposes. Each time I reached for my hammer, I thought about my grandpa and his own workshop on my grandparents’ property in Grass Valley, California. Of all the places my sister and I would explore, the long building with the chicken coop at the end was my favorite. I would wander through his workshop staring wide-eyed at all the marvelously shaped everything’s that filled his workspace. He was a masterful builder, carpenter, and inventor. He was my role model for building good things and taking good care of them. Because of his gift, we had our own workspace and the chance to do what grandpa did.

The only thing that remains of his gift is the workbench, which has since been refinished and repurposed. Also, I’ve held on to most of that wealth of practical knowledge my grandpa willingly imparted to a couple of kids who wanted to learn.

I appreciate so much about this memory. What stands out for me now as an adult is the trust my grandpa (and my parents) gave my sister and me. We were trusted to use our tools safely and wisely. Our workbench and all its accessories were entrusted to our care. It’s an amazing feeling to be trusted—even more so when that trust comes with responsibility.

As a young person in the church, I long to feel that same trust. I want to approach a role knowing there’s someone behind me to guide me, encourage me, and let me grow into it. If I’m lucky, I might just have the chance to build something good—and bless my community in the process.

 

Faith Hoyt is the assistant editor of the Pacific Union Recorder and a communication specialist with the Communication and Community Engagement Department of the Pacific Union. She is pursuing an MBA at La Sierra University.

2020-01-05T18:19:15-08:00January 6th, 2020|Living God's Love|

A Convocation

by Becky De Oliveira

August 2009. My husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now, this is the “best kind of cancer to have” as no fewer than a dozen people informed me at the time—and experience proved them more or less correct. Japhet recovered after only two surgeries and two rounds of radiation over a period of about 15 months. It only cost us about $11, 000 out of pocket, and I only had to talk to a representative from an insurance company questioning the “appropriateness of the treatment” at 7:30 in the morning on one occasion. While it was suggested, in the end we never did have to fly to Malaysia for cheaper treatment. He had both his surgeries in the great state of Michigan—in St. Joseph and Ann Arbor, respectively.

So in the grand scheme, no big deal. But at the time, I was freaking out. Our kids were small—just nine and five years old. You hear the word cancer and everything fades to black. I catastrophized a little. I’d be left alone to raise these kids. They would have no father. I would have no husband. We lived in Michigan, away from both our families, but at least I had a job there. Would I be able to keep it? What was I going to do?

The day of his first surgery, in St. Joseph, I hung out the whole day until the surgeon came to speak to me. “There was cancer everywhere,” he said, ominously. “I think I got it all.” (As it turns out, he hadn’t. Hence the second surgery 15 months later in Ann Arbor.) I unleashed a torrent of tears all the way home—relief? fear?—and then pulled myself together to put on a brave and happy face for the kids, who knew Dad was sick but weren’t especially worried out it. And that, of course, was by design.

He was awake the next morning, so I visited him before going to work. He was groggy and in pain. When I arrived on campus, emotionally frazzled and raw, I headed to Pioneer Memorial Church for convocation. I was unprepared to march as I usually would—I’d left my regalia at home—but I didn’t feel like going to my empty office alone. I wanted to be where people were, and convocation was where everyone was that morning. I found the rest of the members of my department. They were all lined up and ready to march into the church. They urged me to join them. “I’m not wearing my regalia,” I pointed out. “Who cares?” they said, waving their hands dismissively. They engulfed me into a great warm wave of robed and hooded bodies, and I was swept along, up the middle aisle of Pioneer Memorial Church, wearing jeans and, probably, a t-shirt. I saw some of my students in the audience. They smiled and waved. “Look how cool Becky is,” some of them later said they whispered to each other. “She doesn’t even have to wear the stupid gown!”

The fallout, of course, was swift. There was a lengthy email to the faculty the next day urging appropriate attire for convocation, but the person who wrote it had no idea of my personal circumstances. He didn’t understand how much that simple act of inclusion— “You will join us; you are one of us; we don’t care what you’re wearing” —had soothed my weary soul. It made me stronger and more able to face everything that came: the drive home from the hospital, the two weeks of post-radiation isolation, the weeks of recovery, the worry, the bills, the holding it all together so the kids would feel secure and no one would be too uncomfortable.

Turns out I did have family in Michigan.

 

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

2019-12-29T15:26:32-08:00December 30th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Suspending Skepticism

by J. Murdock

Whenever someone begins a statement with, “You’re not going to believe this, but…” I always wonder what led them to lead off with an expectation of disbelief. Of course, these days it seems like everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In a world of false claims and a constant barrage of argumentation between what “he said” and “she said,” there is an unspoken skepticism about everything.

Skepticism is understood to be an attitude of doubt about the authenticity of things we see or hear. In many ways, skepticism can be a healthy approach to information when it is given without supporting facts that can be verified readily. Skepticism is what led me to keep my cool when I received a phone call from the Social Security Administration informing me that my Social Security number had been suspended because it had been involved in a crime, and I needed to confirm my SSN to reactivate it after paying a small fee of $100. Because of my skepticism, I was able to save myself $100 up front and a season of headaches trying to cancel credit cards that were opened in my name after the fact. But what happens when the same skepticism that aided me in protecting my assets grows to doubt more than just the suspect things in my life and begins to isolate me from anything other than my own opinion in the echo chamber to which I retreat to for safety and security?

Skepticism becomes cynicism quickly if we aren’t careful to create an internal system of checks and balances. Cynicism is the belief that all people are motivated by self-interest. Cynicism leads to tunnel vision that can barricade you from hearing opinions different from your own because they don’t match what you already believe to be true. It has the ability to place you in alliance with the news station you watch because the other news station is comprised of villains, liars, and cheats. Cynicism is no longer an attitude but a belief that breeds a lifestyle of doubt.

Imagine for a moment that you find yourself in the middle of a field and a voice speaks from the figure of an angel reflecting the Light of the Lord into the darkness. That angel says that a baby has been delivered to the world as the Savior of all humanity. The angel then tells you that God has selected you to visit the baby and his parents, in order to bear witness to the greatest miracle ever to happen on earth.

The skeptic, while skeptical, is also intrigued and may actually take the side quest to Bethlehem to see whether or not the story is true. The cynic likely wouldn’t move a muscle and would instead declare the story “fake news.”

The shepherds were neither skeptics nor cynics. According to Luke 2:15, they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (NIV).

We all have the opportunity to apply logic and reason to everything we hear in order to preserve our sanity in an otherwise confusing world. But before you make a final decision and act in line with how you have predetermined the order of the world to be, reserve judgment when something in your soul stirs. Your mind and heart may already be swayed by the positions you have taken up to this point, but your soul still belongs to the Lord. Keep it open to the will of the Spirit. For if you do, you will find yourself at the start of an unforgettable journey you can’t afford to miss out on. Merry Christmas!

 

J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado. This blog is adapted from a piece he wrote for Daily Walk, the Boulder church devotional and study guide.

2019-12-23T11:29:53-08:00December 23rd, 2019|Living God's Love|

The Warmest Welcome

by Becky De Oliveira

I moved to Colorado with my family in 2014, and Boulder Adventist Church was only my children’s third church. As a pastoral family, we haven’t moved around as much as some do, and even when my husband has changed jobs (church to conference, for instance) we’ve been able to stay in our house and community.

I was nervous about moving to Colorado from Andrews University where my kids and I flew safely under the radar. Japhet wasn’t “the pastor;” he was the chaplain. There is a slight but significant distinction, and I knew I’d had it easy for a long time. At Boulder we would live in a fishbowl, under a microscope, the beneficiaries of continued scrutiny, so I was told. I remembered it from England—the way people would pay attention to my clothes, to the way I handled my children. The massive ace I carried in my pocket in the UK was my status as a foreigner; because I was American the judgment fell less harshly. People made allowances for whatever I did, kindly assuming cultural differences or pure ignorance. I knew I would receive no such free pass at Boulder. “Ugh,” I said to myself when I thought about it.

We arrived on a Wednesday, as did a pair of Australian houseguests who politely stepped over the clutter of unpacked or semi-unpacked boxes as they used our parsonage as a base for travel around greater Denver. Our oldest son started high school the very next day. There were flowers on the porch when we arrived, with a short note welcoming us. (Japhet had already been living in the area for more than eight months, staying with a generous couple who provided him a room and sense of family.) Maybe the flowers don’t sound like a huge deal; perhaps many churches extend gestures like this. But none we’d ever encountered. The flowers were only the beginning. In the five years Japhet served as Boulder church pastor, a role he only left this past summer, church members went far above and beyond the call of duty to make us feel loved and welcome. Birthday and Christmas gifts. Lunches and dinners out. Excursions across the state to experience more of our new home. An anonymous donor provided our youngest son with an intensive educational experience that made a huge difference to his learning and confidence. Two couples took our oldest son on a medical mission trip to Belize, an experience that he enjoyed and that proved important for his college applications later on. We often received random gift cards for Whole Foods or Flatirons Coffee. Our kids received bicycles. But best of all was the unconditional friendship offered by so many people in the church—whether or not my husband always did exactly as they wished. My children were not criticized or harassed. Having heard firsthand or read about nightmarish stories of pastoral family bullying, I cannot express how relieved I am to have raised my kids more or less to adulthood without any major church-induced trauma.

When Japhet took a job in California this summer and decided to commute for a couple of years while I finish my doctoral work and our youngest son completes high school, a few people encouraged us to find another church, to give the new pastor “space.” We’re absolutely giving Pastor Jenniffer Ogden (who is fabulous!) space, but we’re sticking with our people, with our community. “Where else could we possibly go?” I asked Japhet, rhetorically. “These are our people; we have no others in this place. We love these people.”

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This piece appears in the Winter 2019 edition of Mountain Views.

2019-12-16T16:14:40-08:00December 16th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Quentina and A Christmas Carol

by Diana Fish

This time of year, when I’m with my students in the Junior Sabbath School class I teach at Holbrook Indian School (HIS), I like to ask the question, “What do you think of when you hear the name Ebenezer Scrooge?” If they know who he is, they often say, “Humbug!” “He hates Christmas.” “He is a stingy old miser!” They never seem to remember the end of the story when Scrooge is a changed man—born again, if you will.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” This is the conclusion that we all seem to forget. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol demonstrates how Ebenezer Scrooge responded to God’s love and mercy in giving him a second chance.

At HIS, we seek to help our students see themselves in the light of God’s love for them—a love that stays the same, regardless of the harmful choices they’ve made or the horrific things that have happened to them. Often, our students are weighed down with past regrets, wounds caused by people who were supposed to be looking out for their best interest, and broken hearts caused by abandonment whether by choice or because of an early death.

But there is hope! When our students open their hearts to the possibilities of a loving God who created them with a purpose, a change begins to happen. When they begin to see themselves through the eyes of our merciful Creator who truly wants what is best for them, they begin to come to life. It is a miraculous thing to witness.

No student has impacted me more than Quentina, who came to Holbrook as a fifth grader. She was a wild child—some might even say feral. Once I tried to take a group picture of the elementary class with our principal, Mr. Ojeda. She was everywhere: under the table, behind the students, jumping back and forth. I couldn’t get a good shot with her in it. Then in the last picture, there she was in all her glory: a big blur leaping right in front of Mr. Ojeda and all of the students.

She once yelled at the teacher who was trying to help her, “Just give me an F!” Trips to the principal’s office were a daily thing. However, over the four years she’s been at HIS, a transformation has taken place. She is now on the honor roll and cares very much about her grades. She loves to read. She dreams of going into law enforcement so she can help people. And recently, she was baptized. When asked why she made the decision to follow Jesus, she said it is because she wants to help her family.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Quentina experienced rebirth. She doesn’t fully understand what that means yet, but she is truly a new creation. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV). She has responded to our God of second chances.

Quentina is why we keep doing what we do at HIS. When we see her, we are filled with a renewed sense of purpose. Many of our students do not respond the way she has—it can be terribly discouraging when we see our students reject what God has to offer them. But then we remember the end of the story. In the famous last words of A Christmas Carol, “God bless Us, Every One!”

 

Diana Fish is the development director at Holbrook Indian School in Holbrook, Arizona.

2019-12-09T11:59:30-08:00December 9th, 2019|Living God's Love|

For the Laughs

by Becky De Oliveira

I was baptized at the age of nine by a pastor named Ham, and people found this hilarious. “An Adventist pastor named Ham!” they’d cry, wiping the tears from their eyes. “Your baptism probably isn’t even legitimate!” “A better name would be Pastor Stripple!” Even now, in an age with a great many more sources of humor—thanks especially to the Internet—the name kills. Nowhere else in Christendom can you get quite as much mileage out of Levitical law or meat substitutes. Or, for that matter, persecution. Make a crack about the cave you will one day inhabit, or your eventual but certain death in the electric chair anywhere outside of Adventism, and you’ll get a nervous stare.

Our jokes never get threadbare either. When I lived in England and my children were small, our church offered a selection of hot drinks after the service and these included both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. Every single week offered a variation on the same riff:

“Coffee, please.”

“Righty-o. Decaf?”

“No, I need the stimulating effects of the caffeine, thanks. If you could throw in a pinch of black pepper, that would be awesome.”

Here the server would pull an exaggerated face, wag a finger, and say, “Ooo-ooh”—and

then go ahead and pour the coffee. No one actually stood in judgment—they were offering the coffee after all—but everyone felt compelled 1) to note that we were breaking ranks and 2) to make a joke of it. What does this say about Adventists? Perhaps merely that we’re the kind of people who care very much about doing the right things, that we realize we lack consensus in some cases as to what those things are and exactly how important to make them, and that in spite of our differences we do agree to coexist as a somewhat messy and often incoherent community of sorts. That in spite of our hardline rhetoric, we really do understand that people are where they are—and that some of them are young mothers who never get quite enough sleep. And I love that about being a Seventh-day Adventist.

In spite of a great mass of apparent evidence to the contrary—including the occasional church member who has gravely cautioned my husband against undue “levity” in his sermons and everyday conversation (and he’s British, so what do they expect?)—I find Adventists to be a largely humorous and self-deprecating lot. I love those t-shirts that show the classic sanctuary diagram with a caption reading “Any questions?” or the ones that say “I ❤ Haystacks.” How many jokes have I heard about bicycles or black pepper or watches or measuring the length of skirts? Our unique history and subculture are—let’s face it—pretty funny. Humor always contains an element of biting truth, and the biting truth behind our humor is the recognition that we are people earnestly trying to live a life of devotion in an imperfect and messed up world. Within the context of our deeply flawed and inconsistent selves. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry. And we’d be of no use to anyone. By joking, we bring ourselves down to earth.

Some people find making fun of faith to be sacrilegious and assume that those who engage in it are less than committed believers, but as a long-standing practitioner of levity often accused of cynicism, I can assure you that this is anything but the case. Humor demonstrates love and acceptance. You mock that which is important to you, that which you love enough and trust enough that you know your jabs can do it no lasting damage.

Among my fondest childhood memories is caroling during the Christmas season with a multigenerational group from church—spreading good cheer on porches all over the city and soliciting donations for our community services projects. What a goofy mess we were! Few of us could sing and, as my parents often noted, those who sang the worst also sang the loudest. But we all muddled through as best we could, sang our hearts out, giggled and tripped each other, leapt over fire hydrants, and snickered off the rude rebuffs of people who called us cult members. We had a clear view of the constellation Orion, all six stanzas of Silent Night committed to memory, a good and noble purpose, a collection tin heavy with quarters, a fistful of leaflets about the Sabbath, and each other. Back at the church community hall, we sipped steaming cups of full-strength Postum, and the laughter continued well into the night.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado. This piece was originally published in Compass Magazine in 2015.

2019-12-01T13:43:28-08:00December 2nd, 2019|Living God's Love|

Encountering the Other

by Becky De Oliveira

 

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings

with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must

think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?”

—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, p. 124

 

It’s that time of year again. Many articles are advising people on how to get through Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who hold different political views and are not shy about sharing them in the most abrasive way possible. The toy company Mattel has come up with a creative solution, issuing a “nonpartisan” Uno game that features no red or blue cards to avoid any association with the Democratic or Republication political parties. The game also has a “veto card” to use against guests who discuss politics. Can I just say that what I’m most thankful for this year is my family, which does not need a game like this to get along?

These days Thanksgiving in my family is a relatively small and stable affair—our immediate nuclear family and sometimes my parents. We are all pretty much on the same page as far as the current state of affairs in the United States goes. The only conflict I can envision erupting this year is a brief spat with my mother over whether we should make the holiday “easy” for me by getting instant food and eating it in a hotel room at the Hampton Inn in Longmont, Colorado. (We will not be doing that.)

When I was a child, we often had Thanksgiving dinner with both sets of grandparents and my mom’s brother, Victor. There was no telling what topics might come up over the course of the visit, which usually lasted several days. One year, my especially gloomy grandmother waited until we were all happily tucking into full, steaming plates to say, “Just think how different it will be once the Sunday Law goes into effect and Reagan puts us in concentration camps.” Indeed.

One year, I was kept awake for hours as I tossed on the sofa, one set of grandparents having commandeered my room, while my uncle berated my mother about the evils of sugar. He was firmly Team Honey. He was also against the idea of eating in general, which was obviously an unpopular stance on Thanksgiving, although my grandparents generally took some of the joy away from it with their carob health pies and other innovations seemingly designed to induce suffering. “Food will kill you,” he’d insist. And if he’d been talking about the health pies, I might concur. But no, he really did mean eating in general. “The goal is to achieve a foodless state,” he’d continue. Once he regaled us all with the story of a delegation of scientists who dug down to the center of the earth and there (presumably amongst the molten rock and fire, or maybe they didn’t dig quite that far) they found a rock. When they cut the rock open, they found a live frog wedged inside. “Why do you think the frog was still alive?” he asked, and none of us had a clue what the answer might be. “Nothing to eat inside the rock,” he said triumphantly.

“Oh, he exhausts me!” my mother would exclaim. But there was never any question of his presence at the table—Thanksgiving, Christmas, any time he felt like turning up. He was family. We had to tolerate him, love him even.

Family is easier than non-family. Like most people, I’m not entirely sure what to do with those individuals in my life who spew what I perceive to be hate-filled, crazy (and often misspelled) rants or worse, memes, on social media. Many of them are distant acquaintances and no real action on my part is required, but I like to keep a check on my attitude all the same. A former employee at the school I attended as a child is guilty of online vitriol, even having seen fit to direct it at my mother, a woman in her seventies with late-stage Parkinson’s disease, last year. The thing is, I remember this woman as a kind and generous person. Even now, in between her attacks on everything and everyone, she’ll pause to write me a kind message and ask after my children. She seems to be genuinely fond of me while simultaneously despising my kind. Who is this individual? Which version represents who she really is? The data is conflicting; I can’t resolve it.

So I have stopped trying. There is a story I love of a rabbi approached by one of two members of his community who were embroiled in a disagreement. The rabbi told the individual that he was right. Then the other person came to tell his side of the story. “You are right,” the rabbi said. His wife was incensed. “They can’t both be right,” she said. “You are right too,” replied the rabbi.

My suggestion for Thanksgiving is to approach it “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2, ESV). And don’t worry. You’re probably right.

 

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

2019-11-25T11:47:29-08:00November 25th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Heinous Lies

by Antoinette Alba

For the first time in my life, I understood the draw to shooting up. Yes, you read that right. Sticking a needle in my arm and pushing poison into my veins. Life up to that point had dealt me all kinds of blows, but never had I felt the crushing darkness the way I felt it that night.

The thing about depression that is so crippling is how your mind turns against you. It tells you these heinous lies—like, you’re a failure; you’re alone and always will be; no one understands and, worse, no one cares. It tells you that you should be afraid; you should be terrified because this feeling will never go away. You will always be this messed up person that no one gives a rip about. It was on one of these nights that I found myself pacing around my house, wondering where I could get something, anything, to shut my mind up.

I had just had an emotionally devastating conversation with someone who made me feel worse than worthless. I had some hard truths to face—I would never get what I needed from this person, and she would never willingly give it. In the span of less than an hour, I was brought to a breaking point. Just like that, Satan had seized his moment. Lies began to flood into my mind like a pipe had burst, and I became so weighed down by this heavy, opaque sorrow that I finally understood the desire to pump drugs through my veins. So, I began to pray.

My prayer life has never been solid. I’m not your classic Christian. I don’t get up and make a joyful noise in the front pew, and I don’t thank God for that parking spot right in front of the door. When people ask me about my “relationship with God” I tell them it’s like any relationship. I know God is there. I love Him and I trust Him with my life, but it’s not easy and it takes work. Most of the time God and I have a quiet relationship. We aren’t flashy. We don’t post about it on social media. We don’t take selfies with our dog to make everyone jealous of our perfect life. We don’t call each other weird pet names. We’re just us.

Turning to Him in the middle of this crisis was hard work. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have anyone to call that I could even hope to explain the situation to. The second I said, “I really want to shoot up tonight,” anybody would just tell me not to do that, and that God loves me and I’m special, and blah blah blah. No one would really get it. So, I turned to God because I knew He would.

The Bible says that Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Mark 14:34, NLT). It’s one of my favorite Scriptures because I have felt that way so often. To worship a God who has also felt that way breaks through the lie that I am alone. During a struggle that deep, Jesus reminded me that He’s been there, that He knew what it felt like, and that, like me in that moment, He asked His father for help when He was feeling that way.

I began to meditate on this text: “I am not afraid, because I know you are beside me. Even when it is dark and I can’t see you, I know you are beside me” (paraphrase of Psalm 23:4).

I felt God’s presence with me, and to my surprise I actually fell into a deep, peaceful sleep. God kept watch with me, and in the morning, everything wasn’t better, but I was changed in the light of His love, comfort, and consistency.

 

Antoinette Alba is an artist and writer based in California.

2019-11-17T18:50:21-08:00November 18th, 2019|Living God's Love|

1969 Revisited

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

The year 1969 wasn’t about Woodstock or the moon landing, although I remember the latter event in great detail. We watched it live on television—the Apollo 11 landing and then Neal Armstrong’s famous words as he stepped on the moon’s surface: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I watched my dad wipe tears from his eyes and my mom sit spellbound in the rented trailer on Fenwick Island, Delaware, where we were vacationing that July. I was 13 years old and it didn’t get much better than a vacation at the beach and watching history unfold on live television. For me, though, 1969 was about learning to play the guitar, wishing I was Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and riding my horse, Nellie. And Vietnam—‘69 will always be about Vietnam.

Richard M. Nixon became president in 1969, and while Vietnam seemed like someone else’s war, it soon became our war, too, when my brother Bobby was drafted. Having a brother in Vietnam brought its own kind of anxiety to our family. I prayed for his safety every night and wrote letters to him and helped Mom with the care packages. He was seven years my senior and the closest brother I had. George, my oldest brother, got married and left home when I was three. Ronnie was 14 years older than me; following a complete nervous breakdown, he lived in a state hospital near our home. Bobby was all I had. He was more serious and grown-up when he came back from boot camp and headed quite quickly to Vietnam—which seemed like such a scary place. Bobby was a medic in 1969— right at the height of U. S. troop involvement. I just wanted him to come home safely.

I cried a lot about the war and about Bobby being gone. I strummed the three chords I had learned on the guitar and sang my Peter, Paul and Mary songs: “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? And how many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand? And how many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” And that’s where I thought the answers were—blowing in the wind, just out of my grasp.

When the telegram arrived, hand-delivered by two uniformed men, I watched in slow motion as my dad accepted the black bordered envelope and ripped it open with mom at his side. I stood in the background, too afraid to move. When their eyes lit upon the words “not seriously wounded,” they actually fell to their knees right there at the front door and wept tears of joy. I didn’t know what to feel. Elated, of course. Bobby was coming home, and he’d only had some shrapnel in his leg. He would be at Walter Reed Hospital for several weeks. It was the best possible news.

But I was numb, too. So many conflicting emotions would follow. I was so proud of Bobby. He’d served his country, made it through with only the most minor of physical wounds, but he was so different when he returned. Something had changed. He would never talk about the war. And he wasn’t proud of his service, Purple Heart and all. He was broken, but I was too young to know why. I had Nellie, the horse, who listened to all my mixed feelings, and I had my music. I also had that simple childlike faith that would only later become something solid—my faith at age 13 felt mushy, like Jell-O. I wanted to believe everything would work out. That Bobby would be normal again. That Ronnie would be healed of schizophrenia. That Romans 8:28 was true and all things really do “work together for good to them that love God.” It just didn’t feel as if my prayers were being answered.

I was just as surprised as my parents when Bobby re-enlisted, got married, and moved to San Antonio, Texas, stationed at Fort Sam Houston. He would live in the South the rest of his life—Texas and Georgia. And he would struggle for the rest of his life with the addiction issues that had begun, I later learned, in Vietnam. Marriage, a beautiful daughter, a divorce, remarriage, a series of jobs as a car salesman for different dealerships, buying a home in Georgia, losing that home to foreclosure, two grandchildren he adored, then cancer, and a too-early death at age 60. I am grateful the story of Bobby’s life doesn’t end there. Bobby, on his deathbed, found the one Answer that wasn’t blowing in the wind. It turned out to be real, tangible, and solid.

In October of 2009, when we learned Bobby didn’t have long to live, my oldest brother George and I flew to Georgia to visit him in the hospital. We would fly back just a few weeks later for his funeral. In between the two visits, Bobby and I talked on the phone while he was still lucid. He told me he wanted to be “saved.” I explained that he just needed to “call on the name of the Lord” and he would be saved. He’d see our parents again. We’d all be together again. And he did call on the name of the Lord. He prayed a simple prayer asking for forgiveness and surrendering himself, perhaps for the first time in his life, to Jesus.

When I sat with his wife, daughter and family, our brother, and a few friends at his simple, sweet service at a military cemetery in Milledgeville, Georgia, I was filled with such gratitude for the gift of Bobby to the world. And for the gift of all the wounded warriors who fought and survived the atrocities of wars. And for those who didn’t survive. I was taken back to 1969, to the girl singing, “How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? And how many deaths will it take ‘til he knows that too many people have died?”

I know now, 50 years later, that the answer is not just blowing in the wind. For me, it is my faith, stronger and more solid with each passing year. The soundtrack of my life still includes the great folk songs and ballads of 1969, but it was a different song that I sang at Bobby’s service, standing next to his flag-draped coffin: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

 

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.

2019-11-08T17:01:23-08:00November 11th, 2019|Living God's Love|