//Living God's Love

Building the New

by Darla Lauterbach-Reeves

Are we focused on fixing the past? Or building the new?

Jesus has the power to make all things new—and one glorious day He literally and physically will. But, while we are still here, He helps us too.

He doesn’t erase the past, but He provides wisdom from it. He doesn’t change what hurt us, but He equips forgiveness for it and provides a testimony from it. He doesn’t remove the people; He teaches us new ways of relating to them.

In heaven, all our troubles will vanish. Until then, looking to Jesus in our hurts can lead to better decisions, courage, and change.

He doesn’t call us to live like our parents did. He doesn’t call us to live like our friends do. He doesn’t call us to cower to human beings. He calls us to follow Him. The King of the universe calls us to make Him the King of our hearts. And when we do, we should expect change. Changes in ourselves and in our circumstances.

The prophet Isaiah uses these words: “Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there” (Isaiah 43:19, GNT).

He goes to work on us and for us. Change is scary, but when we make Him the King of our hearts, we can also expect His help in these changes. He asks us to. Consider the words of the Psalmist: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8, NIV).

Sometimes the new things He is doing don’t seem good at first. They may even appear to be the very opposite of good. I’ve had this experience many times. What I thought was a disaster was really Him making His way. So I’ve learned to trust. I say, “Lord, I know You are working. This is how You create change. In all things.” We need to know God is still good and always good, even—and especially—when things are not.

Last week, I apologized to my daughter for mistakes I’d made. Almost immediately, Jesus lifted a burden from my heart. Today, no matter her opinion of me, I’ve done what He called me to do. And I thank God for that fresh start. May we all trust His love enough to be human. To admit where we’ve messed up. To humble ourselves, receive His mercy, and show our kids how to do that as well. I believe God put this burden on my heart to better my future relationship with my daughter. And I thank Him for that.

Building the new is exciting. With Jesus in our hearts, we can expect help when the waves crash. He may not stop the storm, but He will show us how to maneuver through whatever it may bring and how to receive His peace and strength in the midst of it.

We can’t change our past, but we can learn from it. We can’t change people’s minds, but we can love them anyway—and from a distance when necessary. We can’t force our way through circumstances, but we can ask God to lead the way and follow Him step by gracious step.

What are you doing today to better yourself? Your relationships? Your health? Your finances? Your future? Your something new? Let’s build something beautiful with God.

 

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 & Noble.

2019-09-22T10:10:26-07:00September 23rd, 2019|Living God's Love|

A Feast

by Ray Tetz

This afternoon we headed over to our local international grocery store, and for a few minutes I was my father—for whom a trip through the produce section of any kind of specialty market was a grand adventure.

I sauntered past the prepackaged stuff disdainfully, heading straight for the bins of vegetables and fruit that required a hand and eye well trained in their selection, and I got down to business.

We got some of those little Persian cucumbers that make great pickles but are also delicious to eat out of hand. Some local beefsteak tomatoes that will be too ripe to sell tomorrow. What they call “champagne” grapes that just look to me like the seedless grapes left on the vine behind the first picking. They are sweet beyond description. There were fleshy purple plums—soft but not too soft—and some sort of hybrid between a plum and an apricot that is just the sort of thing that would get my dad thinking about how to add a tree to his yard.

Since tomorrow marks the 16th anniversary of his passing, it’s been close to 20 years since I walked around a farmers’ market or produce department with my dad. You say that you’ll never forget all these little moments, but of course you do. At least, the way you remember changes— some moments become more memorable, even as whole years are all but forgotten. But I can still see him amidst the veggies, trading remarks with an old Asian woman who was skeptical about the quality of the cabbage, or helping a confused-looking new husband with a grocery list pick out some apples.

Driving home, I thought of how he would have riffled through the bags before he settled in behind the wheel, looking for something to taste test on the way. No doubt he would have selected the smallest of the cucumbers. After biting into it with a crack, he would offer it around the car in case any of us were so inclined.

Now I’m roasting garlic in the oven, and tonight for dinner we’ll carefully slice the Iranian flatbread we bought for no other reason than it looked like something Dad would’ve liked. We will layer it with French feta, thick slices of those fresh tomatoes, what’s left of the cucumbers, cloves of well-baked garlic mashed up into a pungent, earthy spread, with just a little salt. There’ll be some basil picked at the very last moment from the garden, and seconds on our favorites.

There will be some differences in how we do dinner. Instead of heavy sour cream, I’ll probably settle for some olive oil or maybe a bit of Japanese mayo. And we will likely sit down at the table and eat from a plate with a knife and fork, whereas he would feel most at home eating his supper standing over the sink, so if the juice from the tomato dribbled down his arms he could quickly wash up before going back for round two.

The last photo I have of my father shows him standing in the kitchen, looking for all the world as if he would be there whenever I wanted to find him. It was the day after his birthday, and we were all hoping against hope the treatments would work. We were all trying to say all the right things and do the right things and pretend that it was all just a drill. But it wasn’t.

He had looked up from packing a box of stuff from his own garden that he wanted us to take with us—even though he knew we were getting on a plane. How could we say no? They were his gifts, offered up by his own hand, as fresh and precious as the day itself. A feast.

 

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

2019-09-16T09:29:48-07:00September 16th, 2019|Living God's Love|

The Right Way

by Becky De Oliveira

A few weeks ago, my son and I left home at 3:00 a.m. to climb Mount Massive, the third tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Normally I wear my hiking shoes while I drive, but this time I felt like being extra clever. I wore a pair of soft and flexible Keen slip-ons with my socks and threw the hiking shoes in the backseat. I’d put them on at the trailhead and enjoy the comfort of the drive both there and back with softer shoes.

It was still dark when we arrived, and the parking lot was nearly full. I was lucky to snag the last space, next to a minivan whose driver had all his doors open making it hard for us to maneuver into the space at all. I felt a little stressed and anxious to remember everything. I’d neglected to hang my headlamp around my neck the way I usually do, so I had to dig through the pack to find it. One of my water bottles was leaking. I had some trouble seeing my extra strap well enough to tighten it sufficiently to keep my water bottles from tipping out of their pockets. The previous day I’d read a recent trail report citing early-morning mountain lions stalking hikers on this particular trail, so there was that. But, finally, we were ready to begin, and we headed up the trail chatting cheerfully—considering it was not yet 6:00 a.m. I hit “outdoor walk” on my Apple Watch so I could track our distance and time.

We were about 0.6 miles up the trail—an uphill section—when dawn illuminated the landscape enough that we could turn off our headlamps. I happened to glance down at my feet at this point, and—you guessed it—to my horror I saw that I was still wearing the Keens. In my rush to get everything together and get moving, I’d completely forgotten the hiking shoes resting peacefully on the backseat of the car.

It’s important to note that on many occasions I’ve noticed the inappropriate gear—sometimes specifically footwear—I’ve seen on Colorado’s fourteeners (mountains with an elevation of at least 14, 000 feet). There was the guy at the summit of Bierstadt wearing a pair of shiny lace-up leather dress shoes. The guy on Longs Peak wearing a black zippered leather jacket like The Fonz. “What do these jokers think this is?” I’ve asked, rhetorically. Obviously, they aren’t thinking. Obviously, they’re idiots. And now I’m one of them.

I already feel shame when hiking because I rarely have more than perhaps four of the ten essentials in my pack (Shh, don’t tell my dad!) but at least that incompetence is hidden. Who’s to know? My feet, on the other hand, are out there for anyone passing by to see.

I considered going back to the car to get the shoes, but that would have added 1.2 miles to an already 13-mile hike—one in which the threat of early afternoon lightning is always present, making an early start essential.

I made a judgement call; I hiked Mount Massive in bendy slip-on flat-style shoes—what the Keen company calls “Mary Janes.” I cringed every time we encountered another group of hikers—especially at the summit where we lingered for some time listening to a group of men from Texas or Missouri debate whether Massive was the tallest mountain in the United States (well, no) or whether it was Mount Shasta (again, no), but I couldn’t even bring myself to be particularly judgmental about it. They were having fun. My son and I were too. The weather was perfect—bright blue sky, not too much wind. We basked in the sun and in the panoramic 360-degree view of the Rockies. We shared a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. We were back at the car by 1:45 p.m., and my feet didn’t bother me one bit the whole way.

Yesterday, in a church discussion group, someone mentioned how much they wish there was a model of someone who actually lives life in a way that is good and admirable—the implication being that, in their view, no such model exists. I had two thoughts: first, that our model is supposed to be Jesus, and second—the more interesting thought, in my opinion—that I see models all around me, every day. Sure, not many of us are doing it “the right way.” We’re wearing the wrong shoes; we don’t know which mountains are the tallest; we come from Texas (kidding). But so what? Most of the time we muddle through, half-cocked and unprepared, and we do a reasonable job of life all the same. I look around and mostly I feel proud of us.

Paul writes, in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (ESV). Doesn’t that mean that we can live with boldness and courage and stop worrying about whether we have our ducks in a row? We don’t—and we never will. We’ll climb the mountain anyway. We will live happily ever after.

 

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

2019-09-09T09:56:30-07:00September 9th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Soup’s On

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

I’m not sure why I felt like making my mom’s split pea soup a couple weeks ago, but I did. It was 85 degrees outside— definitely not soup weather. So I cranked up the A/C and looked in the cupboard and fridge. I found the bag of dried split peas in the pantry, and there were carrots, a few stalks of celery, and a rather pathetic-looking onion in the refrigerator drawer. I was all set. My husband walked by while the soup was simmering and said, “Isn’t it too hot out for soup?” “Maybe,” I said, “but I’m thinking about Mom today, and I had the ingredients.” He understood.

There was no one more hospitable than my mom. She could whip up a delicious Sabbath lunch for unexpected guests and make them feel so special and appreciated. My dad always invited people over after church on Sabbath and for impromptu gatherings centered around food. Mom loved it. It was definitely her spiritual gift. She cooked up a storm, entertained her guests, and wouldn’t let anyone help her clean up the kitchen. She did it all. I didn’t inherit her gift of hospitality. I was a Mary, not a Martha. And I never learned to cook like her. Except her soups. I can make soup.

Guests would always linger at our house. They could have stayed all day and into the night if it was up to my mom. She would bring out the popcorn and root beer floats after sundown and want to party on. But Dad was weary, and I was usually so “over it” when lunch was finished. If the guests didn’t have kids my age, I just wanted them to leave so I could change my clothes and be normal. Dad had the unique knack of graciously dismissing our guests when he was tired. “Shall we have a word of prayer before you leave?” he’d ask at around 4:00 p.m. in his soft, deep voice. And it was quite magical. Guests would stand, dad would pray, Mom would hand them containers of leftovers, and they would vanish. Then, while Dad napped, Mom would let me help her tidy the kitchen.

I asked her why she didn’t teach me to cook. “Oh, honey, you have your whole life to cook. No need to learn now,” she said. So I never really mastered the art of cooking. She also said, “If you can read, you can cook,” which would have been fine if she had written down her recipes. Eventually, I got her to write her soup recipes on 3 x 5 cards. She also contributed to Adventist cookbooks over the years and had to type her recipes for those projects. I have quite a collection now, for which I’m so grateful.

I loved all of my mom’s food, but it was her soup that was my comfort food. She was known for her different varieties of homemade soup as much as she was known for her effervescent personality and warm hospitality. From lentil to split pea to Norwegian fruit soup to navy bean, creamy potato, and vegetable, her signature soups rotated through the seasons of my childhood. Every Friday afternoon the aromatic blend of legumes or dried fruits or vegetables could be found simmering in a large pot on the stove. Friday night supper consisted of endless bowls of soup and a never-ending supply of bread, slathered with butter. Not only was Mom’s soup nourishing and downright tasty, it fed something more than my appetite. Her soup was a symbol of togetherness, comfort, belonging, and, ultimately, love. A feast of hospitality for her family and friends.

I realized a few days after making the aforementioned pot of split pea soup that it was the exact 18th anniversary of her death. It was a totally subconscious but tangible remembrance of Mom on that day. No visit to the cemetery as I usually do on special days like anniversaries and birthdays, just a pot of soup. It felt right.

I’ve become more hospitable as the years have passed. Of course, hospitality is not just about cooking and feeding people. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I want to be like my mom in that precise way— I want to make people feel warm, appreciated, and loved.

I’ll never be the cook my mother was, but if it were at all possible, I’d like to invite you over for Friday night supper to share a bowl or two of soup and talk about what God continues to do in our lives—yours and mine. Whether you’re a long time Adventist like me or a new Adventist or one who left long ago and wonders if there’s a way back, remember this: You are family, the table is set, and soup’s on!

 

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.

2019-08-30T15:16:27-07:00September 2nd, 2019|Living God's Love|

In the Affirmative

by Becky De Oliveira

I’ve lived for long stretches of time in both my native country—the U. S.—and England, so I’ve had ample opportunity to compare the cultures. One of them tends to be much more affirming than the other. In the U. S., if a stranger speaks to you in public, it is likely for one of two reasons. First, they are giving an unsolicited compliment: “I love your shoes!” Or, “I just have to tell you that your hair color is very becoming.” “Why, thanks, random stranger!” you think, and go about your day feeling just that much more puffed up and pleased with yourself for your choice of shoes or hair color. The other type of individual likely to do any kind of verbal drive-by is a street person, who will generally ask if you have any “spare change” and sometimes more specifically, “a quarter.” The creative and funny ones will add the line, “I promise to spend it on beer.”

However, in England, if a stranger deigns to speak to you, it will invariably be to offer some sort of rebuke. English people appear to be genuinely concerned that a total stranger will make a mistake without having anyone there to call him on it. If a woman eats her pudding with a fork instead of a spoon in the woods and there is no one there to comment, does it make a sound? For instance, on just one occasion from dozens of examples I could choose from, I was walking down the street from the village shops in Binfield back to Newbold College, eating from a snack-sized bag of cashew nuts. An elderly woman paused as our paths intersected to ask indignantly, “Can’t you even sit down while you eat your nuts?” There was me, having no idea I was meant to break out the good china and my ancestral silver.

Even the transients get in on the action. Never does a hobo in London ask for money. Sure, money pays for stuff. But who needs stuff when the satisfaction of correcting a total stranger beckons? A few summers ago, while I was walking in St. James’ Park early in the morning and drinking a large cup of coffee I’d purchased from a nearby Café Nero—the only coffee shop open at that hour—one such individual came at me brandishing a large tree limb in Ninja weapon style, twirling it and lunging while shouting, “How much did you pay for that coffee? Oy! OY!”

No matter what you happen to be doing, you can be assured that it will be incorrect either in general principle or in terms of execution. If you are walking on a crowded path with hundreds of other tourists and a runner coming from behind doesn’t feel he has enough space, he’ll shout, “Must you take up the whole path?” But should you happen to hear the thunderous approach of his footsteps and move off the path as a courtesy, you’ll be berated for flattening the grass and upsetting the delicate ecosystem, “You stupid Yank!”

Perhaps it is the years I spent in England, utterly starved of affirmation; or maybe it is because I am a mother, and therefore no doubt part of the problem; or maybe it’s because I’m an educator, or have been and still am from time to time, and these kids today are my kids—but the criticism of children and university-aged students as entitled and spoiled brats expecting eternal and unconditional pats on the back rankles me a little. I’m going to go ahead and push back against conventional wisdom and say that I think we give too few pats on the back, not too many. People need more genuine affirmation, not less.

This isn’t the same as generalized and non-specific praise. I used to work casually for a guy who was fond of saying, “You’re so great. And artsy. You’re just a great, wonderful, artsy, kind of smart person.” However, I did not find this even remotely complimentary, because it was clear that he didn’t really see me. Seeing people is work, and it takes effort. You can’t dial it in—but it is absolutely what we’re here for. I have a print hanging on my wall at home by Brian Andreas, who creates Story People—eccentric little stories and drawings. It reads, “There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.”

The Bible says this “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV).

 

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

2019-08-27T10:54:15-07:00August 27th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Of Bees and Flies

by Becky De Oliveira

 

“Everyone has a ‘risk muscle.’ You keep it in shape by trying new things.

If you don’t, it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day.”

– Roger Von Oech

 

Suppose you have two jars and you fill one with houseflies and the other with bees and cover them with vented lids. After a couple of hours, you remove the lids and go home for the night, leaving both the bees and the flies a clear and equal opportunity for escape. What will you find when you return in the morning? Both jars empty? Not quite. The jar containing the flies will be empty—and if you happened to leave a half-eaten sandwich sitting on the table, you’ll know just where to find them. The jar containing the bees, however, will be full of dead bees, depleted from lack of food and exhausted from flying repeatedly into the glass walls of the jar. It seems that bees are so highly programmed that they just try the same thing over and over again, while flies exhibit random behavior, which is also programmed but just happens to be more effective in this particular situation.

Now bees are far more highly regarded than flies, and rightly so. Bees make honey; they pollinate plants. They are black and yellow. They are often fuzzy. They are, perhaps most

importantly, busy. Busy as bees. They make a useful contribution to the world. When their numbers deplete, as they have in recent years, we worry and ask why. If flies, on the other hand, suddenly became extinct, the world would probably throw a spontaneous good riddance party. No one likes flies. They are dirty and annoying. They spit on your food and then drink it in liquid form. They spread an alarming spectrum of diseases. While they like to fly around looking just as busy as bees, anyone can see that they’re charlatans. They are just as useless as that guy at work (we all know the type) who is always running around in a froth of activity but never seems to actually achieve anything. (He probably at least refrains from spitting on your lunch.) But why, you wonder, if something has to be genetically programmed to get trapped in a jar and die, should it be the bees?

This illustration alone should convince any careful observer that we are not living in a just world.

But what it also tells me is that you can’t rely on being perfect and industrious and well- regarded. That may work for you the majority of the time—it may serve you well through most of your life. But there’s a good chance you will, at some point, enter a jar you can’t get out of by doing the same old things you’ve always done. Flies are icky and no one likes them, but they are hands-down champions at survival—even if their lifespan is only a few weeks at most. Why? Because they are persistent and random—and they try lots of different things. They stumble upon solutions, upon open windows and exit routes, not because they’re particularly smart or capable but because they just keep flying around like they have no idea what they’re doing.

I suggest introducing more fly-like behavior to your life. I don’t mean that you should approach annoyingly close to anyone’s ear or spit on their food. But why not try things you haven’t tried before? In all areas of your life—in your spiritual life, in your relationship with God, in the way you approach matters of faith.

See what happens. Who knows? You may discover a sliver of a crack in a door that leads you to a whole new room you never dared to imagine.

 

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 blog is adapted from an editorial original published in the magazine LIFE.info.

2019-08-20T14:36:49-07:00August 20th, 2019|Living God's Love|

A New Creation

by Becky De Oliveira

My grandparents wanted everyone to be perfect, and they worried all the time about the obvious fact that we were not. You had to eat the right foods and think the right thoughts and prepare yourself always—never knowing when Christ might appear—lest you be caught on a bad day and be forever lost. The chances of being caught on a bad day, I intuited, were pretty great. My grandparents held out little hope for themselves and far less for us. My mother wore jeans! I listened to rock music! Neither of my parents chewed their food enough times before swallowing! My brother ate too much pizza!

Because I was a kid and the idea never occurred to me, I didn’t interrogate them about what they really thought or what the implications of their beliefs really were. Did they believe each person had to be literally perfect? And what would that even look like? If a person—say me, for instance—were to become perfect, would that fact be obvious to anyone else? Would it even be evident to me? Would I be perfect if I managed to achieve some level of existence in which no other human being could find fault with me? That seems like quite a trick. I’ve even heard people say rubbish about Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

If you, the individual, get to determine what perfection is, well, it seems like a cop out. It’s almost too easy, but it doesn’t seem like there would be any other way to approach the concept since it seems unlikely that humanity as a whole could develop any definitive set of criteria. A single family probably couldn’t agree on what perfection really is. I doubt two like-minded people could agree completely. Religious people would argue that you can know what God thinks perfection is—what He requires of us—since it is laid out in the Bible, but this doesn’t really appear to be true. For starters, figuring this out would involve going through the entire Bible and making a list of all the things that God commands and then deciding whether they are specific to a certain time and culture or whether they apply to everyone always and then implementing these rules in your life. Just observe the average church community and it will become obvious that people cannot reach consensus regarding what God wants them to do. One journalist, A. J. Jacobs, engaged in a pretty entertaining experiment and wrote about it in a book called The Year of Living Biblically. He describes the project as being “about my quest to live the ultimate biblical life. To follow every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible.” I remember thinking, when I saw this book in a Barnes and Noble display case, that I was pretty sure I’d met a few people who’d done exactly the same thing—they just didn’t write about it.

Perfection—if you define it as following rules—is a bit of a cop out because following rules isn’t that hard. For one thing, as Jacobs points out, “fundamentalists may claim to take the Bible literally, but they actually just pick and choose certain rules to follow.” Because everyone does ultimately decide what constitutes a “perfectly” lived life, all you would have to do is create for yourself a list of rules. Lines you will not cross. And then follow the rules and stay inside the lines. Or redefine what they really mean when and if you fall short.

I would imagine that many people really are perfect in this sense. It’s not hard to stick to a vegan diet, to exercise a certain number of minutes per day, to devote a certain amount of time to prayer and Bible study, to be ready for Sabbath right as the sun dips behind the hills. I mean it’s hard, but it’s possible. It can be done. I myself have followed rather elaborate sets of rules—that admittedly changed from time to time, becoming either more or less restrictive depending on how I chose to rationalize them—for long periods of time. What I understand about religious fundamentalists is that there is great safety in ticking off day after day of “perfection.” I’ve often mused to myself that life isn’t really that hard—all you have to do is get through one day without doing anything massively stupid. One day at a time, just like the Alcoholics Anonymous creed emphasizes. But, unfortunately, it is entirely possible to do everything right on a micro level and still end up in a very wrong place in more wholistic terms. You can be so right that you’re wrong.

It’s surprising in many ways that perfectionism remains such a problem for Adventists. With our emphasis on healthcare, one would think we’d have highlighted the link between perfectionism and mental health—particularly depression, anxiety, and suicide—not to mention other health problems such as cardiovascular disease.

There are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest we must be perfect, although the word can be interpreted as meaning “complete” or “mature” rather than “flawless.” Even so, there are far more verses that speak of God’s love, mercy, willingness to accept us, and ability to transform our lives. For instance, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). This is a statement of fact, not a cautionary prediction based on whether or not we happen to achieve certain goals or exhibit certain behaviors. We are new creations. That is even better than perfect.

 

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

2019-08-13T16:13:04-07:00August 13th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Sisters Day

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

The first Sunday of August every year is National Sisters Day, which celebrates the unique bond between sisters. I had no clue the holiday even existed until I received a card from Pati last Friday. I worked with Pati and her sister Lorraine for many years in media ministry. Her card brought tears to my eyes and totally made my day!

I never had a biological sister. My three older brothers were great. They played with me, teased me, and taught me how to throw a football and ride a horse. But I didn’t have that “sister” bond that comes from having a female sibling. The bond between Pati and Lorraine was beyond special; I’ve never seen two women who were closer. And I was envious, but in a good way. I loved being around them. They had their own secret language it seemed, even though they were five years apart.

I love being around all women who have sisters—twin sisters, big families full of sisters, any sisters. They have something I don’t have. I have BFFs and amazing girlfriends. One friend gave me a pendant that reads, “Best Friends are the Sisters We Choose!” I love that. I have a group of “prayer sisters” and several girlfriends who are as close as sisters. But there’s no one quite like Pati.

When Pati retired and moved away, we kept in touch by email and text. We’d send birthday cards and Christmas cards. Sometimes, out of the blue, I’d get cards from her that would encourage me right when I needed the lift. When I was in the midst of depression, Pati sent me a card saying that I was on her GPL: her geographical prayer list. There were 97 people on her list for whom she prayed every day—by name! Oh, how I needed to hear that, right at that moment. She didn’t know my issue, but she had included me in her GPL. I assured her that I was praying for her as well.

In the spring of 2018, Pati sent news that Lorraine was sick. I began to pray in earnest. I took Lorraine’s name to every prayer group of which I was a part. I sent cards to Lorraine and texts and emails to Pati. We shared scripture and assurances with each other. We prayed for complete healing. I made audio recordings on my iPhone of favorite hymns and songs with my guitar and emailed them. Lorraine’s husband and Pati lovingly cared for Lorraine during her nine-month battle with cancer. There were new treatments and doctor’s visits. And then there was hospice and earthly goodbyes. Pati was heartbroken and grief stricken, as were Lorraine’s daughters and husband. For Pati, it was the hardest of good-byes. Heaven didn’t seem soon enough.

It’s been nearly nine months since Lorraine’s memorial service—excruciating months for Pati as she tries to adjust to the new normal of life without her sister. Her card arrived last Friday, again at the precise moment that I needed it. In it were six pictures of Pati and Lorraine—from toddlers to teenagers to adult women. And then one sheet of paper that said, in part: “August 4 is Sisters Day, so I thought I’d send you some sister pictures. Here is what a sister means to me when I think of Lorraine. These words come from my hurting heart.”

What followed was a beautiful acronym of the word SISTER with descriptive words like sympathetic, irreplaceable, sensitive, treasured, elegant, and radiant. Each word reminded me of the Lorraine I knew. She had left such a legacy of love for all of us.

Pati added a few words I will treasure forever. “Connie, since you don’t have a sister, let’s share Sisters Day together.”

Yes, let’s do that, I thought as I grabbed a tissue and my phone to text Pati. The generosity of that one sentence filled me with such gratitude. I may not have a biological sister, but I belong to a sisterhood of remarkable women who use their own brokenness to heal others. Sisters like Pati.

 

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.

2019-08-05T16:51:11-07:00August 5th, 2019|Living God's Love|

If Looks Could Heal

by Faith Hoyt

I feel fortunate to have traveled to several countries where I was immersed in different languages—and though some attempted conversations were a complete mystery, others needed no translation.

When I was 21 years old, I travelled to Taipei, Taiwan, with a group of eighth-grade students on a class trip. It was an incredible opportunity. Our trip took educational excursions and enjoyed some fun sightseeing (including visiting the Taipei Zoo, where a portion of the movie Life of Pi was filmed). The easiest way around the city was via the Metro station. Each day we made our way to the subway and navigated the maze of rails to destinations around the city.

One afternoon on our way back from the Taipei Zoo, our somewhat rowdy group (students, teachers, and volunteers) crowded ourselves into a corner of the train while sharing our delight at having managed to squeeze into the last available group for panda viewing. Soon we settled down, the motion of the train lulling us into sleepy trances.

In my sleepy state, I started paying casual attention to my immediate surroundings. I noted the contrast between my experience riding BART into San Francisco and the subways in Taipei. It felt a little like the difference between a concert and a library. On the Taipei subway, there was an unspoken code of conduct that everyone adhered to. Younger people were quick to give up their seat for older travelers. Young children rode the subways by themselves in safety. Everyone kept their noise and their persons to themselves.

While I was looking about, I noticed a cluster of three older women sitting across from us and to our left. I realized that they were observing my group with mild discomfort—though not the kind that makes a person feel unwelcome. Something was amiss. I sat and watched them for a full minute out of the corner of my eye as they continued leaning in, speaking softly in Mandarin or Taiwanese Hokkien, with slight nods of their heads indicating agreement. I looked around for a clue. Suddenly, it dawned me. Each side of the subway trains were lined with plastic benches with three dips in each bench. I looked to the cluster of three women, each sitting in their respective dip. Then I looked down at where I was perched on the edge of a bench. Aha!

I stood up and moved to the left where a row of benches sat empty. The second my backside sat squarely in the dip, each of the women now sitting directly across from me sat up straight and nodded their heads in approval. I received warm looks from each of them—big smiles which I returned. I laughed a little to myself. It felt oddly fun. What first seemed like gossipy attention was really concern for my safety and the general order of that subway ride. These women were the self-appointed safeguards of that Metro, and that community.

I wish all expressions of concern went as well as this interaction apparently did. I sometimes hear people share their frustration over chastisement from someone in their church. Someone who went out of their way to point out an error of some sort. Not subtle, gentle, and out of genuine concern like the women on that Taipei subway (though perhaps the language barrier saved me a little distress). When I hear stories of overt and hurtful “correcting” it makes me cringe. I know there are ways of expressing care and concern that result in understanding and inspire belonging rather than making one feel judged and ostracized.

Those three Taiwanese women managed to get me up and into the right seat without making me feeling accosted by judgment. The warmth on their faces once I was safely in my own seat revealed their relief. The point isn’t that I changed my seat, but rather that this subtle interaction helped me understand—and feel part of—a community, instead of feeling like a nuisance or a problem. You know what I think? Looks can heal, too.

 

Faith Hoyt is communication intern for the Pacific Union Conference. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, and attends the Heavenly Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Lake Tahoe.

2019-07-28T13:04:06-07:00July 29th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Destructive Goal Pursuit

by Becky De Oliveira

D. Christopher Kayes, a specialist in organizational behavior, wrote a book called Destructive Goal Pursuit that focuses on the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, finding there insights about the dysfunctions that are common in goal-setting. He identifies a problem he calls goalodicy—a combination of goal and theodicy—a philosophical term he coined to describe the actions of people who hold onto beliefs even when all evidence contradicts the validity of these beliefs.

Research has shown that gamblers and investors have a lot of trouble weaning themselves from putting money into losing prospects. Organizations with established goals tend to stick with them, going in the same direction regardless of consequences, rather than changing course. Kayes refers to this “escalation of commitment to a failing course of action.” He cites research indicating that the greater the insecurity a group feels about their chance of achieving the goal, the harder they’ll try. The more likely they consider failure to be, the more entrenched they become in their particular set of behaviors. As they observe their surroundings—say the weather—they will interpret conditions more negatively than they really are, almost searching for further evidence to suggest the likelihood of failure. Indicators of likely failure cause the group to put even more effort into achieving the goal.

I can see destructive goal pursuit so clearly in other (often well-intentioned) people. Maybe they are those seeking unity for the church—and seeming to push it ever closer to discord. Those who want to make America great—but whose rhetoric seems to weaken the very values of inclusion, acceptance, opportunity, and democracy that have made this country great.

Can I see it in myself?

One thing I really do believe—that might qualify me as a bona fide delusional—is that the majority of people are trying to do the right thing. They have different ideas about what the right thing is—and different driving forces. And they sometimes do destructive things—probably without flat-out intending to.

I use my grandma Elsie as an example. She’s been dead now for several years, and she was my grandfather’s second wife. They married before I was born, so I always knew her as my grandmother. And she was a rigid and hypercritical person. She worried about everything—whether my clothing indicated that I was a schizophrenic, whether it was a sin for my brother to eat pizza, whether naming my youngest son Jonah was theologically suspect since Jonah was not a wholly positive Biblical character, having elected to disobey God.

“Oh, I just love you so much, Becky,” she’d say from time to time, without warmth. She was hard to love until I became old enough to understand something important about her. Her only son, Bob, died in a motorcycle accident when he was only 16 years old. They found a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. In my grandmother’s Adventist universe, smoking was a big sin—possibly a barrier to salvation. She was not at all sure Bob would be in heaven—but, but on the off chance that he made it, she wanted to be sure she was there as well. She could not afford to put a foot wrong. And I think she did love me—all of us—but her love for her son and her fear of losing him forever was so much stronger than any other emotion she was capable of feeling or expressing.

She probably told herself that she criticized us in order to help us, to make sure that we were in heaven. She probably figured we’d thank her. And to be honest with you, should I see her again, I will thank her. I think she did the best she could. Her capacity was limited—as is mine in other, different, ways. I understand her now. I sympathize. And I still think it’s the wrong way to live. But why? What’s wrong with having heaven as your goal? Well, nothing. Unless having heaven as your goal makes you so unpleasant and judgmental that you compromise the image of God you’re projecting to other people.

We have unbelievable challenges to face as the rhetoric in our country and our faith group seems to grow ever more bitter and divisive. What is the best way to live out our Christian faith?

I would not presume to tell you what your priorities should be—or which hill you should die on, if any. I would only suggest that you remember to check in with yourself about your goals and activities to make sure they really reflect the things that are most important to you as a disciple of Christ. I’m not suggesting you allow yourself to be driven by fear or that you become timid or cowardly. As people of faith, we have every reason to be bold. Live boldly in the knowledge that what you do can make a tremendous difference to other people. Isaiah 54:2 reads, “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes” (ESV). This seems like a good place to start as we consider how to make a difference in a big, complex, beautiful, awful, wonderful, tragic, depressing, and exhilarating world. A big tent. Strong stakes. Lots of people inside. What can we do to bring meaning and joy and self-worth and courage to the people around us?

The three rules of mountaineering: It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks. The first rule of Christianity: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).

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

 

1 D. Christopher Kayes, Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mt. Everest Disaster (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 46.

2019-07-22T14:19:38-07:00July 22nd, 2019|Living God's Love|