Comfort, Joy and Hope on Olivia’s Birthday

IMG_0393Olivia was born on December 20, 1988. She was delivered in a doctor’s office by a Papua New Guinean doctor and his down to earth, blunt nurse. In America if the cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, the nurse might say, ‘Hold off on pushing, dearie. Breathe, breathe, Ok, there we go, all good now.’ My PNG nurse simply shouted, ’You are keelling de baby! Stop pushing! You are keelling de baby!’ That works too. I obeyed her, the cord was untangled and our little girl was safely born.

That was Monday. Kim and I and our new baby came directly home to the Lae guest house and introduced our fifth child to the other four.

On Wednesday of the same week, I went to the local hospital for a minor surgery. In no time at all I was wrapped in a stained -but clean -white sheet. What looked like baling twine was tied around my ankle and attached to it was a note which had my name, procedure and doctor written on it. I lay on a gurney as it was pushed out one building, down an outside alley and into another building to await my turn in the operating room.

That done, home we went again to anticipate Christmas two days hence. Because we were away from our island home and in Lae City to have our baby, we did not have Christmas decorations with us. A friend gave us a small plastic tree complete with lights. We put it on a coffee table, made a few decorations and called it good. It was a lovely time. We had our new baby. Our family was complete, 3 boys and now 2 girls. How happy we were.

On Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed Kim and I put the presents we had brought back with us from the states under the tree, filled the stockings, snuggled our baby and counted our blessings.

hibiscus flowers in treeEarly Christmas morning I went outside and picked several hibiscus flowers, brought them inside to place among the branches of our little plastic tree. Now it looked extra pretty and festive and PNG appropriate!

Hibiscus flowers, once picked, live only a few hours. For the time we opened gifts they remained bright and beautiful. By afternoon they were drooping. By nightfall they were closed up and finished.

This month of Olivia’s birth I think of her short yet lovely, bright, happy life. I push past the pain and bewilderment of loss to savor with love and thanksgiving the dear lovely happy gift she was and is to our family.

Last Sunday in church we sang, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord. Blessed be His name. He gives and takes away. My heart will say, blessed be his name.’ My husband and I cannot sing that song without tears in our eyes. Our trembling lips can barely form the words. But I like to think this. God did give us Olivia and for her short life she brought joy, delight and laughter to our family. And God did not just ruthlessly take her away. He took her away to Himself. His grace was in the giving her to us and his grace is also in the welcoming her home to be with him forever.

I don’t know if there will be hibiscus flowers in heaven but if there are, they will forever be alive and vibrant. As will Olivia. As will we. ‘And forever we shall be with the Lord.’ This then is our comfort and hope.

Across the Gully

Clink clunk clink….dawn is close to breaking, the sun is barely coming up and across the gully between our two bush houses, I hear the clink of ice being put in a thermos for the day’s drinking water. It is 1984 and we are in the Mouk village of Gigina on the island of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Our coworkers are up and at wimg542ork. They breakfast early, ‘red up’ the table and continue their study of the Mouk language. Mark and Gloria worked hard; after all, said some, at 35 they were a bit old to learn a language.

But learn it they did – and well. Then Mark started teaching. Beginning with Genesis he told the story of God – creation, the fall of man, and OT stories showing the character and plan of God. And then he told the rest of the story – Jesus, his sinless life, vicarious death and victorious resurrection. The Mouk people, amazed by God’s grace and love in sending a savior, believed. They rejoiced in their salvation boisterously, singing, dancing and even grabbing Mark and tossing him in the air. I remember hearing Mark say (via an old cassette tape) that ’If I were to die today, I would feel my life had been worth it.’

1923578_524149119358_4225_nOur part in the Mouk work was temporary. My husband Kim built the airstrip and I did medical work; when the airstrip was completed we headed off to another village to do the same thing. Across the island in the Yombon hamlet of the Asengseng people group, we rejoiced when we heard via our two-way radio the news that the Mouk believed the truth of the Gospel.

Many years later, in 2011 we were back in PNG helping where we could. One of the Mouk men who was visiting Hoskins town where we were living handed Kim an envelope with a letter of thanks and a one hundred kina note for the work Kim had done in building the airstrip. To say we were humbled would be an understatement. We were touched by the sacrificial gift – a way to show their ‘tenk yu tru’ for something done years ago. It seemed to us to be another evidence of God working in their lives.

Later that year we flew into the Mouk village of Gigina for a weekend. As the plane landed on the small airstrip, a midweek church service had just finished. The people came to greet us, the women with Bibles on their heads.

Those Bibles, by the way, were translated into the Mouk language by those ‘early to rise, hardworking people’, Mark and Gloria. Now, more than twenty-five years later, the next generation in the village was reading their Bibles and faithfully following God. So much had changed from the time long ago when we had lived with them. Fear of the tumbuna was gone. Family relationships were healed. Husbands were kind to their wives. Children were learning to read. There was a school, a church and a medical building.

We visited with the people, telling them about our family and hearing about theirs and we laughed together as we remembered the olden days when we were young and our children were little. And then we had a good time worshiping with them in their dirt floor, plank walled church building.IMG_0126

As we chatted about life in general and the things important to us, one of the women said to me, ‘Life here is hard but we are trusting God every day.’ I thought of that as I got on the plane to leave. I was going back to a clean house in town with running water. There would be bought food which I could prepare on my stove – or perhaps microwave and I would be sleeping in a comfortable bed. My Mouk friend would be walking a mile or two to her garden for food which she would cook over an open fire, bathing in the river and sleeping on a stick bed in her thatch roof house. Her life was hard but her faith strong. She was clear and emphatic about that! There is no question that God’s truth had brought hope, joy and freedom to these people.

Just weeks ago, Mark passed away after a short battle with cancer. All of these memories came dancing across my mind – the challenging and blessed beginning days, the early mornings, the hard work, the reward, and the continuing faith.

I think of Mark and his split second journey across the ‘gully’ to his new heavenly home. He has joined the many Mouk believers who have gone on before – all a part now of a great cloud of witnesses from various tribes and tongues and people and nations singing praises to God in a place not bound by time, limited by language or touched by sorrow. With complete joy and hope realized, they are at home with Jesus. For them the beginning of Forever is at hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget to Look Up!

Don’t forget to look up. I say this to myself when I am in the ‘home place’. Greenville, Maine is a beautiful picturesque town with mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. But here, as everywhere, there are things that must be done so it is easy to be busy.  There is wood to stack, windows to clean, dishes to wash, card games to play and so on and so forth, as Gramps would say.  And I need to get my daily run in. I enjoy these wonderfully normal moments of everyday life but sometimes I forget to look at the beauty all around me.

So this week at the end of a run as I was walking up the last hill, I purposely turned around and looked up to see this.IMG_6205

Amazing. Beautiful. Lovely. Truly awesome. I think the beauty of this place is a reflection and reminder of the Creator. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, says the Psalmist; My help comes from the maker of all.

As I look at all the beauty around me I realize I need to look up with more than my eyes. Like how about my heart, my soul, my mind. It is easy to get all caught up in the everyday circumstances of life. I am in that muddled state on a regular basis. So look up, I say to myself.

Look up …..at Jesus on the cross. See his love.

Look up…at the Risen Christ. See his power.

Look up …..at the Author and Completer of your faith, the Lover of your soul, the Keeper of your heart.

So I am looking up and sighing and resting and smiling and laughing with thanksgiving and joy.

He is more amazing than his creation, more beautiful than the stars, more lovely than the most exquisite flower. He is powerful, and loving and truly awesome.
There is a phrase in Pidgin English that expresses the superlative in a simple and clear way. Bilong winim ol. The nth degree. The most. The extreme. That is the God we look up to. He is good and powerful and just and loving – bilong winim ol!

I was thinking about all this while on my way to visit a friend this week and the song, Turn Your eyes upon Jesus just happened  providentially played on the radio. So I have been singing it both reviewing and anticipating God’s kind and never-ending work in my life.

The first verse begins, O soul, are you weary and troubled? I have been making up new verses to fit my day. Oh soul, are you muddled and harried? Oh soul, are you sad and worried? Oh soul, are you happy, busy, hurting, rejoicing, desperate? Every day’s story is unique and different with an infinite number of circumstances or choices.

But the chorus is always the same….

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in his wonderful face.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace.

Yes, indeed. Whatever your story is today, don’t forget to look up.

 

Damaged Goods and Jesus

pilgrimBy Viv Walden

Damaged Goods. That is what I am. It is what we all are. I started my run this morning feeling every bit of the damage.

I have lost a child. I’m emotionally fragile.  I worry about my children and grandchildren. I worry about pretty much everything. I am weak in my faith.

Enough about me, I tell myself. Look around. So I thought of the people in my world and the ‘trouble they’ve seen’. Divorce, Cancer, Abuse, depression, sorrow, heartbreak…….

And beyond my small world there is more. War, torture, slavery, death, starvation, poverty, hopelessness. The weight is too heavy.

Then I rounded a corner on my run and the sun was shining. My thoughts rounded a corner too. Thank God. (I was getting a little morose as I sometimes am wont to do.)

I looked Godward and remembered that Jesus is right here with me and He has overcome the world. A song from long ago came to mind and I remembered most of the words.

O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget;
After I’d wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met.
O what a tender, compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart.
Hum hum hum hum da da da da hum……He made all the darkness depart.

Though it may not be popular in this day and age, I am an old fashioned believer in the Jesus of the Bible. I love the Savior of man, healer of sick, and giver of hope. And I think the good that man does in this world is a reflection of the character of God. I think of the many charities, rescuers, givers, well diggers, medical workers, missionaries, – people who care about those around them and those far off.  I thank God that in this fallen world there are lovely splashes, bright slivers and great swaths of hope.

Jesus, my tender, compassionate friend, said, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. This morning He again took my burden for his – a more than fair exchange.

I love it. He takes my burdens and makes my spirit light. I am smiling as I finish my run, even though two pesky dogs have followed me the last mile home. Savior of sin-sick people and damaged goods, thank you. You have redeemed this day.

Seven Years of Sorrow, Seven Years of Hope

me and livThis is the day. Seven years ago today our daughter Olivia went to be with Jesus.  Each year I spend this season thinking about our lovely, happy brave girl. She was a gift from God. This is where my thoughts have been.

There is a time after losing a loved one when panic sets in. I read about this in CS Lewis’  A Grief Observed and I have felt it myself. It is the time when you realize you are moving inexorably away from when you were together. First it is a small gap of hours or days and then one day you realize it has become a chasm larger than the Grand Canyon which, by the way,  was crossed by a Wallenda. There is no crossing this. Not in this life.  And you want to go back to the time when it was only a day or a week since being with your dear loved one, or back farther when even though she was ill, she was there and breathing and a smile might come now and then and the loss was not so permanent.

I was sitting by the grave of our daughter a few years back when I felt this selfsame panic, the feeling of leaving behind the dear presence of Olivia. And I do think it was God who comforted me with His truth. This is not the end. This isn’t all there is. Remember the future. Look ahead.  You are moving away but you are also moving toward – toward the kingdom that shall not be shaken where God will wipe away your tears. Forever.

I thank God for making us with imaginations.  Sometimes when I run I am filled with thoughts of heaven and God and grace and majesty and my hands go up in happiness and worship. I picture Olivia in heaven. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus with her hands on the ground behind her as she looks up into his face.  She is having a marvelous time, love and laughter and light abound. And I imagine that with my hands outstretched and hers on the floor of the heavens as she listens to Jesus …..almost our fingers touch.

One day they will. In that unshakable kingdom where tears are wiped away, the chasm dividing us will be no more. My morning run today mirrored my thoughts. It is a cold, bleak day. The tears flow, but the comfort and hope God gives is present too. The winter sun shines. I know spring is coming.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Vivian Walden

I Miss Us

I shall start this musing with a direct quote from my son Danny. Dan is an interesting young man. He graduated high school a year early, then got a BA in Spanish while nearly completing a minor in French, and picking up some Chinese, German, and Biblical Greek along the way. Now he’s 21 years old, and teaching English in China. This is what he posted on our private “Family Talk” thread on facebook:

“Wow. Nostalgia overload. Just finished watching Cinderella with my nice students here in Jingjiang, and the combination of nostalgia, loneliness (created by the language barrier), tiredness (the heater workmen woke me up 2 hours earlier than usual), and some truly nuggety middle schoolers this afternoon– I had my first and only solid cry since coming to China. I miss you guys, but I also miss the old version of you guys, and the old (i.e. little kid) version of myself. Ah… the passage of time– so depressing.”

My response to Dan’s post was, “I miss us, too!” I feel increasingly like this. I love and thoroughly enjoy my kids as young adults, but there are times when I quite piercingly miss my little ones. Laughing at the memory of an old prank or a formerly mispronounced word can bring tears to my eyes. Looking at old pictures can be downright disastrous. I have a slew of old photos and other memorabilia that sorely needs sorting, organizing, putting in scrapbooks, perhaps, and I’ve been very busily putting it off.

And I suffer from a double layer of this condition at Christmas time. Memories of our beautiful tree in the corner of the living room back at the farm, the popcorn balls and fudge Mommy would make every Christmas Eve while we trimmed the tree, trying to sit still and pay attention as Daddy ended the evening with a reading of the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke (and spending a good part of the reading admiring the tree through squinted eyes,) then my four sisters and me all crowded in Mom and Dad’s bed, where we slept each Christmas Eve night. And as we lay there, giggly and excited, our wonderful daddy’s voice coming up the stovepipe hole, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” 

Yes, I miss us! I miss melting tinsel strands on the big, old style Christmas tree lights with my sister Kathy. I miss watching our daddy put on each article of clothing he received, so that he grew fatter and fatter as the gift opening progressed. I miss the orange in the toe of my red stocking, and the popcorn ball in the heel. I miss the ribbon candy, and the trays of dried fruit someone or other sent us each year. I miss my mommy and my daddy, and the constant togetherness I once took so completely for granted.

Yes, I miss us! I double miss us! And I find myself longing for a time and a place where my mother will get to hear my daughter sing, where my children can laugh at my daddy’s dry humor, where the joy and wonder of my childhood and my children’s childhood will somehow be all there together. CS Lewis once wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This is definitely such a desire. An impossible desire – ridiculous and unreasonable, by normal earthly standards. But that’s my desire. An out-of-this-world desire that can only be satisfied outside of this world. 

And it’s appropriate, I guess, that this desire is strongest at Christmas time. We are remembering the birth of an out-of-this-world Child. He once said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Ah, such a place it must be! Where time is no more. But now, for a while, I miss us. Oh, how I miss us! 

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IMG_6058Viv Walden

Hope. One syllable. 4 letters.

It seems like as I grow older I see sorrow all around me. Let’s face it. This world is filled with broken people.

Parents see their children walking headlong away from God.  Their shoulders sag with the weight of it all.

A wife loses her husband in what was supposed to be the happy, relaxed retirement years. She is lonely, sad and overwhelmed.

A family faces the death of a beloved child. Cancer has taken another and we are left bereft. Children see their parents grow old and feeble – and sometimes feeble minded as well. It is not easy. We live in a fallen world. Hard and sad things happen

. I wish I could grab handfuls of hope and give them out – like bouquets from an endless meadow. Or pass around blankets of hope for people to wrap themselves in so they could be warmed and comforted.

But hope isn’t something you can hold in your hand. You hold it in your heart. And it is not something that warms your body; it warms your spirit and keeps you alive.

Hope helps you breathe. It helps you get through the day, through all the days. And the place to find HOPE is in the word of God. CS Lewis says it wonderfully. ” Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. “At present we are on the outside… the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.

But all the pages of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get ‘in’… We will put on glory… that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”

So if you are looking for true hope that sustains, supports, keeps, encourages and is forward looking, open those ‘leaves’ of the New Testament and find the breaths, whispers, and shouts of hope. This God breathed book beckons to all who are weary and heavy laden. And it shouts, Yes, God is real!  Come, know Him and let Him show you a hope-filled present and a glorious future.