My Eyes Can’t Believe It!

Me and Sofya

Sofya fishing

Here I stand, blubbing, as I watch my granddaughter place a ‘fishing pole’ gently over the top of a cardboard wall and watch excitedly to see what she will ‘catch’. It’s a Pollyanna world and I’m falling apart. I’m not gently tearing, wiping a stray bit of wetness from my eye. No! I am actually BLUBBING! Blubbing means that you can’t hold it back. There is nothing attractive about it, you simply BURST! And this is me, on this hot July 4th, in central Arizona, on the town square with all the other revelers, unable to hold it in.

I don’t care. It’s all just too wonderful. I look at Sofia as her mom drapes red, white, and blue beads over her neck. She waves her patriotic fan. It is all excellent. This is so hard to believe and yet I know….it’s true! I am standing here watching my granddaughter enjoy her first Fourth of July in America!

This week will mark the one year anniversary of her arrival. What a year it’s been! Today will be the last holiday of her first year of American holidays. Next week begins her second year in America and she enters it chattering along in English and reading her first words, like any other five year old.

She woke up this morning knowing today was a special day. Her mom’s been teaching her the meaning of Independence Day and she probably knows it better than the average American child. She’s been read the story about the King who demanded too much from his subjects, the colonists who threw tea in the harbor, the war that took place, and the new country that was formed. She read this in a book her mother wrote for her in preparation for this day. Blessed, lovely mother.

When it’s time for the National Anthem and everyone stands with their hands over their heart, there is a little girl standing right along with them.

At the end of the day, as fireworks light up the night sky, I listen to our Portugese friends next to us, Noel and Maks chattering along in Russian, Spanish and English from our native Arizonans, and I look over to see a little girl with face uplifted,

” My eyes can’t believe it!”

No, Sofia, my eyes can’t believe it either. I can’t believe you’re really here! God bless America and God bless this wonderful girl.

 

Casey’s Journey

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“Do you know this dog’s name, Sofia?” I asked my little granddaughter. The stuffed toy I held was a little worse for wear. His original overalls had been tattered and torn and he now sported a new pair. His conductor’s hat was firmly attached to his head, though he HAD lost one ear.  Yes, Casey dog had traveled the world in his 34 years…..

‘When your mom was a baby, just about the size of Mariana, her father, your Dyedushka, brought Casey home. You see, Casey lived in a store. He always wanted a family and when Dyedushka picked him up, tucked him under his arm, and paid for him, Casey was excited. Dyedushka brought him home and laid him next to  your mom on her blanket.

Casey lived in your mom’s crib and then later on her bed all the while she grew up.  Then one day your mom began to pack for a journey far away. She put her special things in a trunk to store while she was gone. Casey was one of those special things, and as she picked him up and gently tucked him in the trunk, he wondered where he was going.

For five years Casey waited. He wondered if Noel had forgotten about him…if anyone remembered him anymore.  Meanwhile, Noel was learning Russian and living far away on the other side of the globe. 

One day, she met a handsome man, named Maksim  (your father). They fell in love and soon they were married…the American girl and the Russian man. They were happy and hoped for children of  their own. Soon, they found they were going to have a baby.

Meanwhile, Casey waited. Didn’t anyone notice he was gone? Would he EVER get out of this trunk?

One special day, Noel and Maksim welcomed a little girl into the world. They named her Sofia (that’s you).  As she held her little girl in her arms, Noel thought of Casey dog and how much she wished she could give him to Sofia as Dyedushka had given him to HER.  She wondered if, somehow, Casey could come to Russia. 

Plans were being made for Sofia’s American Baboushka to come for a visit and Noel thought about how great it would be if Casey dog could make the trip too. She gave Baboushka directions on where Casey dog was.

Casey heard the lock being turned. Was it really true? Were they coming to get him? He KNEW they wouldn’t forget!

Gently Baboushka lifted him out of the trunk. His clothes were tattered. After all, he was 29 years old!  Some of his stuffing was escaping from his ripped seams. As the days passed in preparation for the trip to Russia, Baboushka and her daughter Caroline worked on Casey dog. They sewed new overalls for him. They stitched his ripped seams. He began to feel young again! 

And then the day came when Casey was placed in a suitcase and began the long flight from Los Angeles to Khabarovsk.  It seemed the flight would never end. Casey could hardly believe he would soon be with Noel again.  He felt the plane settling down for a landing, then felt the bumping of the bags being unloaded. Brrrr…it seemed awfully cold.

Before he knew it, Casey dog felt the suitcase being rolled across a floor and heard the voices of Noel and Baboushka, along with a new voice.

“That must be the husband, Maksim,” he thought.

Everyone climbed in a car and the bags were loaded in the trunk as the long ride home began.

“Will I ever see my Noel?” thought Casey.  He floated off to sleep. It had been a long trip.

After a couple of hours Casey knew they must be home. Car doors were opened, and again the bags were moved….this time they were carried inside. Casey could hardly contain himself! Soon! Surely soon they’d open the suitcases!  And then it happened. Casey heard the zipper being pulled and a hand reached in and picked him up.  He tried to look calm and collected, but he just KNEW he HAD to have a peek at his girl.

There she was, his Noel, the one who had snuggled him as a little girl and whom he had watched grow into a beautiful young woman. And here she was, picking him up, gently looking him over and then, ever so gently placing him in a crib with a new little girl—- HER little girl. He had another little girl to take care of! She hadn’t forgotten! He looked at this new baby and smiled as she snuggled up next to him. This was where HE belonged.’

“And so Sofia, even though you left a lot of things in Russia, Casey dog came back to America with you. He’s 35 years old now, but he needed to be with you, and your mom, and now with little Mariana. He’s come a long way since that day when Dyedushka picked him up from the store shelf…around the world and back!”

Casey dog’s heart swelled as he listened to Baboushka tell his story….no, they hadn’t forgotten and HE wouldn’t either. No matter how far he had to travel, he’d always be here for his girls.

In the Weeds

IMG_4911In the weeds. Sometimes you find encouragement in the most unlikely places. My daughter and I were pulling out weeds in my son’s backyard. This is a great job to do with someone because it is conducive to conversation and emotion. Pull, yank, haul, throw, chat, pull, yank, chat, throw, pause and repeat. It is one of those nice tasks where you are down in the dirt and leaves and weeds and it is easy to talk about all the things in life that are potentially choking your joy. We all have worries that we will either hang onto or toss in the refuse pile.

So I was telling my daughter all my ‘stuff’.  And would you not think a 61 year old Nana with 5 kids and 3 grands would have lived long enough to leave the litany of worries and complaints in God’s hands? But on I droned, bemoaning what the world has come to and adding the ‘this and that’ of my personal fears and hurt feelings and again…. worries.

And my dear daughter, down there in the weeds with me, helped me to look up. ‘Mom’, she said,’ At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, Is Christ enough?’ And I knew immediately what she meant and also felt the quick right then and there in that moment kind of relief in knowing God has these very days in his loving hands and I can rest from my worry.

I have been thinking about this all week. Worries are like verb conjugations – they have a past, present and future. I thought of April 15th, the very day I was facing a skin cancer op. My verse for the day was ‘I will trust and not be afraid.’ (I had worried my way through the month preceding the day.)

My husband and I headed off to the Micrographic/Dermatologic Surgery. Four hours and 18 stitches later, I was back home, relaxing in hubby’s chair, sipping a latte made for me by son # three, and I realized that my worries had now been conjugated to the past tense and all was well. I mean I did have a swollen eye, a livid stitch line, and a ‘skin wound care instructions’ pamphlet to follow, but the skin cancer was gone and as my granddaughter said, ‘It will be fine, Nana.’ (My grandson, on the other hand, said, Nana, please put your sunglasses back on!’) A couple of months later, I am fine with barely a scar.

We all know that things don’t always work out so nicely. God is not Santa Claus or a magic genie. We don’t know how He will answer our prayers. Thus we sit in the weeds and worry instead of enjoying this unique day we have been given. This morning as I was on the last mile of my run, this song came sweet and clear from my ipod to my heart.

In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus.
You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus.

When I am alone, give me Jesus.
You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus.

When I come to die, give me Jesus.
You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus.

I purpose to live a more ‘in the moment, trusting Jesus, joyous’ kind of life. Pull, yank, throw, there goes that worry. Pull, yank, throw, there goes the next. I don’t want to let the joys and God given pleasures of this day be choked out by the worries of tomorrow.

Years ago when we lived in Brazil for a short time, I complained to my friend Maria after a particularly hard day. I described it in my halting Portuguese as a ’dia horrivel’. She responded, ’Oh, no, Viviana. This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’

She was quoting an often repeated verse from the Psalms. Another translation says it like this: This is the day that Lord Jehovah has made; come, we will leap for joy and rejoice in him!

Look up. Find the joy. Leap for happiness. Savor the goodness in this day. Rest in Christ. These days we are living in are given to us by God. Enjoy them. Enjoy Him. And yes, Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, who loves us and gave himself for us, is enough.

Jesus Never Promised I’d be Pretty

stone of helpJesus never promised I’d be pretty. This I said to my husband as I looked at the gash on my face from a relatively minor skin cancer op. Then I put on my running shoes and headed out to run and think.

I thought of all the things God never promised. He did not promise Adam and Eve they could do their own thing with no consequences.   He did not tell Job there would be no trials in his life. He didn’t tell the Psalmist there would be no valley of the shadow of death. He did not promise the NT believers that they would not suffer tribulation. He did not tell the martyrs throughout the ages that they would not suffer for the gospel. He did not tell Corrie Ten Boom that her life would be persecution free. He did not promise Nate Saint that his mission to the Auca Indians would bear fruit in his lifetime. He did not promise us a hassle free, easy, perfect life.

But He did promise to be with us- in the valley, on the mountain top, on the level path, even unto the end of the age. He promised to save us to the uttermost, completely and forever. He promised to always intercede for us; in fact, he ever lives to do this. He promised peace that passes all understanding. And he promised that when all is said and done our tears will be wiped away and we will live with Him forever. I love all the superlatives – the most, the best, the highest. Extreme promises.

All the promises of God are yes, says the Bible. I like that. To which we say, amen . That means, by the way, another yes. A resounding unqualified yes……..

As is often the case when I run a song kept coming to my mind.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;
Samuel, after a God given, miraculous victory, placed a stone as a reminder that God gave victory, salvation and help. He called it

ebenezer

Ebenezer, the stone of help, and said, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

.Ayuh, I thought as I finished my run. I think I’ll go find a stone or better yet many stones and emblazon upon them the promises of God. I could put them on my windowsills, bookcases, bedside stands, places where I can see them every day.

But then I remember that God’s very words are already written on my heart.

And that, my own personal Ebenezer, I raise.

O taste and see

God is truly very good.

Somewhere over the rainbow...

There are very few people who can claim not to love the way a baby’s skin smells… or who have never wanted to “eat up” a baby, round cheeks and all. And no, I am not referring to Jonathan Swift’s famous proposal to solve the “Irish problem”. It’s just that impulse one gets when holding a clean, fat baby; maybe the way to the heart really is through the stomach, or maybe our gluttonous instincts associate love with eating.

I did not honestly think I would have this opportunity again; I did not think there would be baby’s cheeks, round or otherwise, or the smell of Johnson’s baby lotion in my immediate experience. I did not expect to ever have that ecstatic burst of love that just wants to “eat up” a baby. And I am being serially dumbfounded as I watch this incredibly, amazingly healthy child. It’s quite a…

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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

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2014-01-24 10.17.27Great is Thy faithfulness oh God my father;

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not; Thy compassions they fail not.

As Thou hast been thou forever will be.

So says that glorious hymn I’ve sung for as long as I can remember. I sang it. I believed it, or so I thought. But in the last seven months, I KNOW I believe it. God’s faithfulness has been exhibited in this little Russian family as he has healed, helped, and heartened in innumerable ways.

Today, as I made my daily drive to school, I wasn’t alone. A Russian sprite was tucked firmly in her seat as she chattered along to me…asking questions, telling stories….all in English. As she rushed into the preschool room, after an absence of one month, she threw her arms wide and shouted,

” Ms. Lynda!” As if to say, here I am and really, didn’t you miss me?

I smiled as I continued on to my office. Our little Sofya (or Sofia L as she likes to call herself now) is firmly settled in her new country. She chatters on in English scarcely pausing for breath, and I have to remind myself this is the same girl who arrived just seven months ago chattering away in Russian.

One month ago her sister, Mariana, made her appearance…..perfect in every way. I will never forget sitting in that waiting room at 3:30 AM and hearing a quiet voice say,

“Mum?”

I turned and quickly walked to our son-in-law, who threw his arms around me  and burst into tears of joy, relief, thankfulness.  I will also always remember that wonderful nurse who, after examining Mariana, approached the foot of Noel’s bed and stated in firm, clear tones,

“Your baby is perfectly healthy. She is perfect.”

And then, today, a young mother stopped by the school to pick her little girl up. She carried a baby in and showed her off….a perfect little girl who is growing by leaps and bounds.  As I watched her share her blessing with the staff and students and accept the admiration of her lovely baby, I stepped back and swallowed hard.

Yes, God, great is your faithfulness……as You have been, You forever will be..

Snow in the Desert

2014-02-03 14.01.392014-02-03 14.02.052014-02-03 14.01.45Today I attended a Winterfest in the desert. It was a warm, sunny Arizona day, but I was with ice skaters, polar bears, and an igloo. You see, today I visited a classroom extraordinaire. After teaching a unit on winter and polar animals, this magnificent teacher planned a winter day in Arizona. It didn’t just happen; preparations had been going on for a month.

The children’s excitement built as they saw their igloo taking shape and made milk carton polar bears. Snowflakes appeared, dangling from the ceiling, and icicles hung from the corner ‘treehouse’. On the long awaited day, paper plates were taped on stockinged feet, miniature hockey sticks and miniature goal posts took their place  as the children played a game of ice hockey with a nerf ball as the puck . Penguins stood quietly watching and since the air conditioner was turned up to full strength, they had no worries.   A snowball fight ensued with paper snowballs….planned chaos and spontaneous joy with polar bear ice cream to follow.

This is true learning. These children will never forget their adventure into northern climes —- the animals, the sports, and  the teacher who led them there. And over it all hangs the knowledge that the wonderful God of creation made it all. Whether  desert or  winter wonderland, He is the Maker.  God has blessed these children by placing them in a splendid school with a splendid teacher ……… twelve wonderful explorers being led on a glorious journey into the world of learning.

As an educator, it  is almost too wonderful to imagine. As a parent, it is beautiful to see. At this blessed school, it is an everyday occurrence.