Turn Your Eyes…



Turn Your Eyes…

It’s been a long time since my last blog on this site. My life has had maybe more than my share of changes and challenges in the past couple months. I have started some blogs, but then got interrupted, or didn’t want to continue that particular train of thought for various reasons. It did however get me thinking about the truth of an old tune that has been playing in my head lately; “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.”

So I want to scribble down here some thoughts on “turn your eyes…” Yes, I know, it’s obvious, where we are looking makes a big difference in where we go and how we get there. But what am I turning my eyes to? I have to admit that lately I have been turning my eyes to the circumstances that have been challenging me. To be honest, starting a new life in a new culture with a new language and a new family, and new habits and customs is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to do, and when you are my age, it makes it even more difficult to adapt. Add to that the challenges of an accident that results in a broken leg… I now have a place and eight screws in my right leg, the removal of my gall bladder, double pneumonia and a weakened heart muscle, and a burn on my hand from hot bacon grease. All of that has kept my eyes pretty much focused on my circumstances, I admit. If I were to change that little tune to the other side, it might go something like this: “turn your eyes on circumstances, look at all that is challenging your life, and the things of this world will overwhelm your soul, and you’ll be sure to despair every day.”

Turn your eyes…. Friends have asked me, “what is the Lord saying to you?” and I had to say that in this season, the heavens were bronze, and I was not hearing anything. Once I started a blog entitled, “Insights from the backside of the dessert.” But I thought it might be a little too negative. I was stuck… all I could turn my eyes on were the challenges, the difficulties, the disappointments. Not a good place to be. Not a healthy place to be. The stresses of my new challenges were taking a toll on my physical health resulting in a weakened heart muscle, and another change in my lifestyle.

Then there’s the other old song; “Where could I go, oh, where could I go? Seeking a refuge for my sould?” “Where could I go but to the Lord?” Hebrews 12:1- 2 says:Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne

OK, Lord, I am turning my eyes to you, I want to look full in your wonderful face, because I know you are beautiful, and merciful and gracious, and in your face I find the acceptance and love that you proved on Calvary. I want you to perfect my faith because I am not able to do that myself. I do not have the power. I turn my eyes to you who are in heaven, and I await the day when I will be able to look into your face in person. You have to help me because I cannot keep my eyes on you without your power and your help. It’s too easy for me to turn my eyes back again on my circumstances. Help me to strip away everything that hinders me from turning my eyes upon you, and looking full in your wonderful face. I’m looking, Lord, and I am fascinated. I’m looking, Lord and that is enough for this moment because that it all I have.


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February 10, 2012 – Memories, Taxes and Tears

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind…. last week I was in Wisconsin and had a wonderful time teaching at the College of Prayer there. It was a powerful time. Met a dear sister whose husband had only passed away last May. Still fresh…When you meet someone like that, there is a “knowing.” I think especially when it is still so fresh… only five months for me. But there is a “knowing” that others can not grasp unless they have walked in this land. The week was good – and busy. I came back to business and the reality that I have a meeting with my tax man next Monday night. Well, that presented a problem. At the very time that Marilou fell sick, my computers hard drive died as well. Interesting, eh?
 But that meant that I lost some data, and… I am W-A-Y behind in trying to get all that data put back into the Quicken files. So I have been trying, between phone calls, and other obligations to get caught up.

So that lead me to a very unexpected “First” tonight. I was going through the checks, inputting them into Quicken…pretty boring and routine… had some music on in the background… just routine… right?
Until I began to input checks for the down payment on the house… for the inspection on the house… the last check I wrote for our old apartment….suddenly a flood of memories and emotions again came rising to the surface… remembering how happy we were… remembering the look on her face when we signed the papers at closing…writing the check for the curtains… for the small rugs for the living room. Memories, Taxes, and Tears. They all came flooding in, and I realized … I was at another one of those signposts along the way in this Land of Firsts.

A welcome chat from a friend in Brazil broke the flood for a while. I explained what I was experiencing. They had wonderful words about God’s faithfulness. I saw it as a divine interruption, but still… Here I am again…tears streaming down my face, snot running down my lip, and it’s like the grief is just as real now, as it was that first day.  You know, it’s supposed to get better, or so they say. But you hit one of these “signposts” and it’s like that underground river comes roaring back to life. So… my release is here… writing it out…release..my relief valve.  Gosh I miss her!

I met with one of the pastors this morning. The church where we had her memorial. The last church Marilou ever attended on this earth. He is so kind. He met with me before I went to Wisconsin, and said he thought I needed a family here. And they wanted to be that family. I do, I need a family… Not to replace Esther and Tony and Jonathan and Carol, but some folks who will be around here. I was thinking as I came back from my meeting with him how good it would be if I had someone I could just talk to here.
But I find it difficult, because by the time you call, or find someone home, that wave of emotion has crested, and you’re in the lull between waves. So you just kind of ride each wave as it comes until they subside again, and retreat back to that underground river.

 It’s not all been so bad. I’ve had some really good days. And things are changing I think. I still feel the void of her absence, but I truly want to venture out in this new season of my life. I was told Monday by a dear friend I need to “follow my heart.”  I want to, I just have to figure out what that really is. How does this new house play into that? Where does my income come from? So much is still unknown, unsettled. It’s not like my wife died and I go back to my job and plug away. About the same time, my job has sort of disappeared, my income has disappeared, and EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING in my life is floating in suspended animation. Waiting for what? I’m not sure.

Well, I’ve got to work on these taxes. I’m right at September…and I have to push through to the end of the year. So I’ll slug away here with my Memories, Taxes and Tears…

… till next time…

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January 24, 2012 – "An Arm Outstreched"

It was a gosh-awful start to the day… sitting in my office hearing the sound of water dripping from the ceiling on the the floor in the bathroom/ laundry room that is next to my office. Somewhere in the unseen spaces of the bathroom upstairs… water was leaking. And it was not going to be one of those “easy fixes.” That became evident.

Another first… it’s one thing to barely squeak by under “normal” circumstances. But with no income from the ministry, and the familiar looming of depletion of bank accounts, something like this can seem like a stab in the heart. Maybe it was because of what I had been reading this morning. I am slowly and devotionally reading my way through the Psalms. Today it was Psalm 94. And especially one verse near the end caught my attention. 94:19  “…in the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” It was a challenge when I first read it. Now it was becoming life.

Inquiries about somepne that might be able to help led to dead ends. I tried the usual obvious types of inquiries, and it seemed that this one was going to take a lot more work. Probably tearing up the ceiling below to expose that stupid leak. It became a day filled with futility. Nothing really seemed to turn out well. Yes, Father reminded me that we are on an adventure… I’ve been trying to climb out of the sidecar, and I had forgotten that He was still driving. I chuckled when He first reminded me, but that didn’t seem to erase the dark cloud that had settled in my thoughts.

The afternoon was turning into a pit of anxieties. It’s one thing to try to carry on and make it day by day in this land when everything is just going ok, but this was one more plate to try to keep spinning. It was one more heavy weight to carry when I was already on very, very thin ice. No income, a week of reminders of how alone I am. It all began to fall in around me. I honestly thought for the first time in all of this, that I just didn’t want to go any farther. It is too much trouble. It’s too hard. I don’t even know if it’s really worth it all.  The emptiness, the extra load… I could hear the ice cracking under my feet. I could see the plates falling toward the floor. And then… two things happened at almost the very same time.

First thing was, I got a text from a friend in Indonesia on Yahoo! Messenger.While chatting, I went and brought in the mail.
My friend from Indonesia was an easy and sympathetic victim of my depressive thoughts. Caring and willing to “listen” (that takes on a different meaning now with all the digital conversations we have going on). That is until she asked me a simple question about English grammar, and a phrase she had planned on using for a new outreach campaign. It was not proper English at all, and the phrase was already approved and “going to press.” Embarrassment and panic filled her texts now… what could she do? What would be proper? I gave her a couple of suggestions, and the new campaign slogan was born and an emergency meeting was called.  It was maybe like when Peter was sinking down into the water after a few successful steps, and there, an arm outstretched to put him back into the boat.

At the same time, I was piling  up the mail on my desk. a couple more bills to figure out how to pay. Another one overdue, and the mental calculator is going in my head trying to figure out where the money to pay it will come from. Then…one after another…. envelopes that contained checks for the books that had been shipped out, and a couple that contained extra special gifts. Honestly, probably not enough for the plumber bill, but it was indeed to me, an arm outstretched. As I stretched out an arm to help my friend in Indonesia, Others, sending checks from different places at different times, who were also stretching out an arm to me.

It was a very beautiful and humbling moment, to be reminded that Daddy is there, He is watching. To be honest, I have no idea where this is all going to go. I have no idea where money for mortgage payments, utilities payments, and this plumber are all going to come from, but today, for this moment an arm was outstretched to me, and I grabbed hold with all my might.

…till next time…

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January 21, 2012 – "What is This?"

I find it interesting that most all my entries on this blog seem to be at night. Maybe it’s because I find this such a good release, and by this time of the day, I need to vent. But this week, and especially the last few days have been particularly difficult. Perhaps it’s because I have been holed up in the house having neither desire or ability to venture out due to the snow. At least in Minneapolis, they even plowed the residential streets, but no….not here!

Anyway, today I have taken most all of Marilou’s things and packed them to ship or taken them to Goodwill. Kind of a exclamation point to how I’ve been feeling the last few days. And maybe it is depression… I don’t really know. There’s so much that is up in the air in my life right now….I think it was yesterday, the thought went through my head… “Do older people keep on going because they have a sense of purpose in their life, or just because they haven’t died yet?”  The question comes out of this feeling I’ve been dealing with all week, of how much my life really was woven into hers. I wonder if she knows that now? I sure feel it. I have missed her so much this week. And I still have all around me those reminders of how much she meant to me. Even today, I took the last of her clothing to Goodwill. I dropped the bag of clothes off, and decided to go inside. Bad mistake!!  As I was walking around inside Goodwill, I was hit with this emotional bombshell…”This was her hangout!”  I have never known anybody who could get greater bargains from Goodwill as she could. It was a release for her… to just go isle after isle looking and grazing. That thought hit my mind, and my gut, and I did not run, but I walked very fast out the door, saying to myself… “Big mistake!!”

I packed up some pictures, and other things of hers to send to her sister. Her Dad’s bible… she was so glad to get that after he died. That was a treasure for her. Other pictures and mementos went in the box for her sister. Then I packed up a couple of her ball caps to send to Carol. She had this whole basket full of ball caps, and these were ones she got at Jonathan’s graduations from Trinity Seminary and Oxford University. If there was anything that characterized Marilou, it was her ball caps. They are gone now. Well, I have one pink Minnesota Twins cap, and one of her tie died T-shirts still hanging in the bedroom. Those will be the last link… I just couldn’t do that today.

So what is this? This malaise that hangs over me this week? Every day I have been “on the edge” of tears. I know what it is… and I suppose I should just “embrace” it and get on. Grief. It still is a huge part of my life. It is not something I can escape through business or activity. Like I said last time, it’s a stalker… it jumps at you at the worst of times. But this week it has been relentless. Everything  is a reminder. Friday night the prayer group came over. I do enjoy hosting them, and they seem to like coming here. But this Friday, I lit some candles and it was like… Marilou loved her candles… even lighting the candles poked a hole in my heart.

I’m trying to make some fairly dramatic life changes, like starting my own 501C(3) ministry… and I’m realizing, I don’t have her to bounce things off of anymore. She was always there to be a sounding board, and give me wise, sage advice. Even as I have been moving in this direction, there was one time when I could almost hear her telling me she doesn’t  understand why I don’t believe more in myself. — OK, now I’m trying to type through the tears again. It was that way all week. What is this? Why so intense now? Why for so many days without relief? I’m honestly not sure sometimes how it’s all going to look. I’m so used to her being a part of everything. And now… she’s not. Yea, yea… I know what you would say…”Oh but she is a part … in your memories… blah, blah, blah.”  Yea, but that doesn’t cut the mustard, it’s a flimsy way of trying to placate the intensity of these feelings.  What do I do, when every place I turn there is still, almost as much as at the beginning, that sense of loss… of her NOT being here? What is this now?

Then I remember… It’s still really only been four and a half months since she left. You know… that’s really not a very long time. I’ve tried hard. I’m trying to make it… I have virtually no income from Sentinel now… I’m trying to strike out on my own… people around me say it’s a good thing… I KNOW Marilou would say it’s a good thing… gives me more liberty to be myself..I’ve got a nice guy renting a room for three months… I’m trying….but..

Tonight…those four and a half months seem like it was only yesterday. Aren’t I supposed to be getting on with my life? Is sitting here writing this with tears running down my cheeks and my nose running into my mouth… is that getting on with my life?  I don’t know, honestly.  What is this? Is this what it’s going to be like for a long, long time to come? It doesn’t feel tonight like I’m making much progress.

But I’ll keep at it… the Lord has been near and has given me a number of promises as I have been spending more time in His Word. He has been patient with me as I have, even still, asked “Why? I don’t understand!!” I even had some thoughts that she got the better of this deal. She didn’t suffer much, she didn’t suffer long, and boom she’s with Jesus. And here I am trying to figure out.. “What is this?”  OK, it’s grief…OK

….’till next time…

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January 12, 2012 – Grief is a Stalker

It’s 10:30 at night, and I need to write this before, or maybe so I can sleep tonight. Did you know… Grief is a stalker?  It always seems to know how  to hit at some of the most unexpected times, like it’s been stalking you all day, waiting for just the right time to pounce. This time it was as I was doing the simple task of folding my laundry and putting things in the drawers. I don’t know why that seems to be a trigger, and it seems kind of silly, that grief would hit while I’m folding my underwear. Maybe it was because I can still hear her little compliment.. “you do a good job, you fold your clothes so small.” And so standing there folding underwear, grief strikes. It’s the usual scenario. My eyes begin to fill with tears, and I think, “I don’t like this place I’m in.” “Why can’t it be the way it used to be?” “I want the old way back again.” And I know it never will be coming back. She will never be coming back. It seems so unfair. This isn’t something I asked for. Even though there are those times when the enemy whispers those accusing words like, “She would still be around if you had been better.” “It’s your fault because you didn’t treat her better.” I know they are lies, but the voice still echoes in my mind.

I can have a bunch of fairly good days, and then, like a stalker who is just out of sight, just out of range… it strikes, and there’s not a lot I can do about it, but shed the tears, taste the salty tears as they roll down my face and omto my lips, and let the waves of weeping roll over me. It’s something that cannot be described with words… it goes far deeper than words. And sometimes that is also part of the pain, because you know that no one else really knows. No one else really can understand, and so the loneliness of that just adds to the terrible emptiness that I feel as the tears drip off my chin. It is a little scary, how  utterly lonely one can feel sometimes.

After a few minutes… that seem much longer.., the waves subside, I can blow my nose, and dry my eyes, and finish putting away the clean clothes. Grief has gone back into hiding, and things settle back down again. And life goes on, And I live with the reality that the stalker is out there, somewhere in the shadows, waiting for another unexpected moment when it will pounce and attack, and I will be defenseless against it’s ravages. Maybe this is the place where you would expect me to write some nice perspective on this issue. But the fact is, I have no pious thing to say. It is what it is, and grief is a stalker, and attacks at the least expected moment, and I just have to deal with it. There’s nothing easy, or smooth about it. It is just plain ugly and nasty, and it will strike again, of this I am sure. There is not much more to say. Grief is not a friend, not an enemy, it just is… out there somewhere waiting for the next vulnerable moment to strike.  Not an obsession, just a reality. It will be back. I will deal the best I can, and move on… continue to worship, continue to try to move ahead, yet always aware that grief is a stalker.

… till next time…

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January 9, 2012 – Muzings and Ponderings…

Although no one WANTS to go through times like these… the loss of a life-long companion, and the associated grief, but times like this can be a gift to us. Sounds strange, but these times cause…naw, really force us to re-evaluate our lives, our habits, our possessions, the things that we have made a part of our lives, whether intentionally or not.

Now, if it were only the issue of my wife dying and dealing with that, that would be more than enough to make me re-think some things, but when there are other major life issues that are also teetering on the brink… What am I to think? How should I respond?  This is not a hypothetical question. Now, I stand face to face with the reality of not having any reliable income source. I have a house we just bought and she lived in for just over one month. Everything that seemed to be “reliable” in my life is now pulled out from underneath me. So what will I do? How do I react?

First, you need to understand that this is not the first time that dire circumstances have stared me in the face. There have been many times through the years, but those were times when I had my love and my lives companion with me and we would help support one another, and encourage one another. This is a challenge I essentially face alone. Essentially. Sure there are wonderful people around, and family is around. But this is not their struggle. It is mine.

Secondly, you must understand that I write this not from a spirit of despair or hopelessness. Not at all. Tonight I have been listening to a beautiful CD from Maranatha Music called. “Be Still and Know.” A combination of music and Scripture. It’s like the Lord and I are having a conversation with this tonight. I know He is near, I know He is the provider… I believe in Him.  But there is something more to this wresting in my spirit…something hard to explain.

This was sparked by an article that my daughter Esther posted on Facebook. It was an article by a nurse who tends terminal patients. The article was about the five regrets people had on their death beds.
 The article talked about the usual things of wishing they had not worked so much, enjoyed life more, been closer to their friends. But the message of this article resonated a different message to me. What I took from this article was this: There are rare times in our lives when we have the opportunity to stop, take an honest assessment of our lives, and have the opportunity to walk in a new direction, to “re-invent” ourselves. The overwhelming message to me, is that I stand at such a time. My spouse is gone, my “job” is gone… if I could “re-invent” myself now, if I could head off in a new direction… what would that be? Can I really do that at age 63? Why not? But … what?

Again, be careful you do not hear me wrongly. I am not talking about abandoning my faith. Never! I am in a deeper love relationship with my God and Savior now than I have ever been in my entire life. I only want it to go deeper. I love to serve Him and others. I have had the honor of doing and seeing amazing things. Things that few have the privilege of being a part of. I am not turning my back on that. I am deeply, deeply, humbly thankful for all God has allowed me to do in these years. But…

Is this a time, an opening into a whole new future that God is giving to me? I stand at the threshold, and it’s as if “Someone” is asking me what I want to do, who I want to be when I step on the other side of that threshold. And the honest answer to that question is… I don’t know! That’s what is so scary! I am more able, and more willing at this point in my life to take some radical move than I have ever been. I am looking at this whole future of mine, however long it lasts, as my “great adventure” with my Daddy. But right now, I do not know what that should, could, or what I want it to look like.

I do not want the door to close, and I stand here, and then wish I had taken that one step across the threshold. I am more afraid of that than of anything. That I will hesitate too long, and miss this opportunity. So I wonder, and I ponder and I pray… Lord, Don’t let me miss this… even if it seems crazy to everyone, if it is you, I am ready… show me the way. What will that be? Just maybe I’ll  have a chance to write it here… someday. maybe someday soon.

….till next time…

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January 1, 2012 – New Year Musings…

So begins a New Year…

Sometimes I think that one of the hardest aspects of the journey of grief is the fact that  nothing every stops long enough for you to “catch your breath.”  We say this about time anyway because our lives are so filled with hectic activity. But in this new Land of Firsts… this New Year is like a rude intrusion into my life. A New Year? I have not had a New Year where I have been this alone in over forty years. Thinking of Marilou’s tradition of having black-eyed peas and cornbread on New Years day. She always loved holidays. I have bins of decorations for Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, plus Christmas. It just would not be the same to try to duplicate what was her joy to do.

And I’m not sure I can really get my mind and heart around the fact that this is a New Year without her. Not just a few months…January 3rd is my spiritual birthday – 43 years – and is the fourth month by date, from September 3rd. Only four months, and now I am rudely confronted with the reality that ALL of my future will be without her. I’m pretty sure I am not grasping that at all. Plans, future, dreams and aspirations, all have to be thought of differently now. As a single person.

Yes, I know…many people face this situation, but this is my life, my future. Ok, so I never wanted to feel sorry for myself, and I don’t want to focus on the negative, but there is a matter of “wrestling with reality.” OK, I just need to learn how to think, plan, and pray into my future in light of this new reality. This is part of walking through this “Land of Firsts.” It’s not just looking back in astonishment, it is looking forward and trying to adjust to a totally different reality than one year ago. or 40 years ago. I guess part of it is that my mind is so used to thinking, planning, dreaming for two. Now its different. More “Firsts” in this new land I live in.

I know there will be many, many more “Firsts” on this journey… now I have passed one of the “Milestones” along the way. I will be OK, I will be different, and by God’s grace I will not simply be OK, I will be Caleb who conquers his mountain. By God’s grace, this is the beginning of a new reality. And by God’s grace there will be victories and new heights to conquer. By His Grace.

…until next time…

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December 29, 2011 — Who Am I?

Grief  is a strange companion.

You never know when he will show up or what will be his weapon of choice at any given moment.
The other day, I was working on cataloging the video that we were able to shoot while in Brazil in Algodao de Jandaira.
It was an amazing privilege to be there and to speak at the dedication of a memorial to the Bible, to commemorate what God has done in this desert community. The transformation of this community is the theme of the book I wrote about Algodao de Jandaira, called When God Transforms the Desert.

If you would like a copy, email me at steveloopstra@gmail.com with the number you want and a shipping address.

Well, part of the footage I reviewed was of my visit to the mountain top at Algodao where I put a picture of Marilou and myself in the crevice of the rocks there and spread her ashes across the top of the mountain. As I watched the footage, I looked at the person on the screen in front of me, and thought…. “who is that?”
 that old man…

“Who am I?”  I’m not sure I even know myself anymore. There are those times (it’s been a while) when on the inside I feel young and full of enthusiasm, but then I see a picture of myself and it almost hurts. And now that I am alone, it is even more of a question… “Who am I?”

I know all the “spiritual” and “psychological” answers, but the reality is, I have begun a quest to figure out who I am now. Who am I to be? I don’t think I realized, and I don’t think even Marilou ever realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in who we were together. It’s the kind of thing where you don’t realize what it is like until it’s gone.

This is a question that is not answered by zippy little phrases. This is a question that comes from the very core of the being… it challenges trite and simple answers. It’s the kind of question you ask when you look yourself in the mirror and you’re not sure you recognize that person anymore. It’s the kind of question you ask when you don’t remember how you got to where you are. And you are not sure where you are going. I have a whole list of things from the Bible that I have studied in these last months about who I want to be. But this question of “Who Am I?” is deep, it searches past the trivial and surface existence in which we live most of our lives. “Who the heck am I, anyway?”

I guess that is part of the adventure that I am on with my “Daddy” now. Maybe a combination of finding out who He made me to be in this chapter of my life, and “reinventing” myself… into what, I’m not sure right now.
 I have a cold now, with cough and aches, so I suppose that adds to my vulnerability  to these kinds of questions. And it’s always weird watching yourself on video. But it is still a challenging question, after 63 years, trying to figure out who I am!!!  What does it mean to me now, to live alone? Should I, do I want to, stay that way?

I guess that’s part of the “adventure,” right? Otherwise if would be called something other than an “adventure.”  I wonder who I will turn out to be? Today, I feel pretty vulnerable. It just seems to weird talking about this at my age. But no matter what, I do want to finish strong. I want to point people to our Great God. I want to be faithful. I want to be like Caleb who conquered his mountain in the last season of his life.

As I enter into a New Year, maybe as never before, the question looms before me…”Who Am I?”  The answer will follow…

…till later…

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December 22, 2011 — "Turning a Page"

I made it back from Brazil on the 20th of December… still recovering from the travels, but this was a hugely significant trip. I think we all knew it would be, but I find it was very cathartic for me…

The first part of the trip was busy with speaking and traveling…plane flights and six hour bus rides.

It was a great honor  … it always is… to speak at some of these events… a citywide rally for “The Day of the Bible,” That morning they had over 200 cars in a parade through town.

The dedication of a monument at the entrance to the city of Algodao de Jandaira. I was so glad to have the book, “When God Transforms the Desert” to be able to present to them. That was one of the reasons for the trip. As soon as I heard they were doing this, it was on my calendar and the book process (with a few interruptions) was finally completed.

But the other main reason for my trip was to visit the sites on the prayer mountains where Marilou and I were in July of 2010. What God did in her life in those days, I would only discover when she was in the depths of her last days on this earth, and she would tell me how much she wanted more of His presence. I knew that trip had been of eternal significance. So returning was vital. We had agreed on it before she passed away.

The first stop was in Belo Horizonte. Pastor Ronaldo Cota and his wife Elaine picked me up from the airport and we went directly there… to the prayer mountain. It could not have been more perfect. The picture I brought was of Marilou and I there at sunset after spending most of the day. Now, a year and a  half later, we arrived in late afternoon, moving toward sunset. The hill itself is a lot of bare rock and dirt, and not many places to bury the picture, but at the edge of some grass I found a spot. I dug with a rock, buried the picture and covered it with ashes, and sobbed… the memories flooding my mind of our time there together with Him. Now to make her a permanent part of that place of 24/7 prayer was profound.

As I packed the soil down, the clouds overhead and rain in the distance. I asked the Lord if He might send the rain to settle the ground. As we headed down the mountain, the lightning flashed and the thunder rolled and it began to rain. I sent  up a short, “Thank you, Father,” and we headed to their home in Sabara where we had stayed. I gave them a magnet Esther had made and a copy of the memorial service bulletin.

The next day we drove up to the mountain there in Sabara. This is where we had pitched the tent, and I had a picture of her sitting in the door of the tent singing to the Lord. I dug a hole about where the tent was, and added a small purple flower I had picked on the way up. Again, the tears flowed as I thought back to those days we spent there, and her diary entry about the birds and her desire to fly free.

Elaine remembered that Marilou told her that she like butterflies. And as the Lord knows all these things… as we were getting ready to leave…. a lone butterfly flittered right in front of me as if to make sure I saw it. And the birds that had been absent the whole time we were there, now appeared and glided on the updrafts coming up the sides of the hill. Another little personal touch from a loving Heavenly Father. Thank you, Lord.

That same afternoon I caught a flight to Joao Pessoa, a three and a half hour plane ride North East of Belo Horizonte. My good friends there, Marcio and Claudia Chaves and their daughter Carol accompanied me to the beach where Marilou and I stayed that July in 2010. It was the place where I took a picture of our feet together in the surf and then got bowled over by a wave and my phone got drowned… Marilou was screaming… it was quite a funny experience. Now, I took a picture of just my feet there. I dug a hole in the wet sand, and as I mixed the ashes in the hole,

Claudia and Carol prayed for me in the distance. I later went back to look at that place, and the surf had washed her picture out to sea… so fitting since she loved the ocean… now that laminated picture is floating somewhere off the coast of Brazil.

The last stop was the mountain top in Algodao de Jandaira. The place really that started all of this. A group from Algodao accompanied me to the top of the mountain, and there I found a deep crevice in the rock and pour and scattered her ashes from the top of the mountain. They sang and prayed. A fitting end to my mission.

It was such a joy to be able to present to them the copy of my book, “When God Transforms the Desert.” It was after all, their story, and the memorial at the entrance to town is now there to give testimony to the fact. And there, in those days I had a very strong inner conviction that a page had been turned. A new chapter was now beginning in my life. It is not that I do not still weep and miss her. I cried just this morning and told her that I missed her. It is that now, this is a new chapter, a new adventure. Sunday night after preaching twice in the First Baptist Church of Valentina, I lay on the bed in Marcio and Claudia’s home. As I closed my eyes, a very clear picture appeared. Not like a photo, but like a line drawing in blue pencil. It was of a motorcycle and side car. An adult male with a helmet on was sitting on the motorcycle, and a young boy, also with his helmet on, was sitting in the side car. Both had big grins on their faces as if they were really enjoying the ride. I knew immediately this was a picture for me of my “Daddy” and me as we set out on this new adventure together. Since then, whenever something new or challenging comes along, I see that little boy grinning from ear to ear, and I know whatever comes my way, it’s part of my “Daddy’s” adventure He has for me.

Turning a page can be such a simple thing, but it can take you from one chapter to the next, and as you begin the new chapter, you wonder what you will find as you move ahead. What will be part of my new adventure? I have not a clue, but I know my “Daddy” is driving, so I can enjoy the ride… Turning a page, can be quite an adventure itself.

…more next time

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November 27, 2011 – Unbidden at 36.000 Feet

Unbidden at 36,000 Feet
The interesting fact about grief is that it is always with you and often can come bubbling to the surface unbidden at the most inconvenient times. It’s not always predictable as to how and when the tears might come, forcing you to deal as best you can, and for some reason, sometimes in public arenas.
I am actually writing this segment sitting in a Delta flight from Detroit to Seattle. It might seem a bit strange, but such is the “beast” with which I have to deal. OK, so a little background would help.
I flew out to Ohio to be with family for the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a combination of visiting with “our” son, Jonathan and his wife, Carol in Cleveland. For the past two years they have been oversees, so this was the first opportunity to visit them on their turf. It was good to see their home, and Jonathan’s office at Capitol University. I wrote a little of that in the last entry about the movie, The Way. The other part of the visit was to go to Cleveland and meet Esther’s husband, Tony’s family. They put on a big “Italian” get together to celebrate Esther and Tony’s marriage. He has a wonderful family and it was a fun time, although, right in the middle of all the festivities, I was spending some time out on the porch to quietly bawl a little, just thinking how much I missed Marilou being able to be a part of the festivities, thinking how much she would enjoy it. Even had a few tears gushing as I talked with Esther, which really made me upset with myself. I so didn’t want to spoil things for her.
The whole thing was wonderful, and we had a good time. All of it was interspersed with those times of unbidden tears. Never knowing what things might be the trigger, but trying to be watchful so that when it happens I could turn and look away, or walk a distance long enough to compose myself, and re-join the group.
But here I was in the plane in seat 22F, looking out the window and thinking about the fact that a few days from now I will again be on a plane heading to Brazil. Thinking at the same time of the trip in July of 2010 when Marilou and I were on a plane headed to Brazil.  While the music is playing in my headphones, my thoughts wandered their way to the times not too long from now when I will again visit those places where Marilou and I prayed together. 
The beach in Joao Pessoa where I took a picture of the surf washing over our two sets of feet. That was just before I fell, a wave swept over me, Marilou was screaming and the camera drowned. I laughed as in my headphones played the 60’s song, “wipeout.” Then I cried, with my face turned to look out the window as I thought of scattering her ashes on that beach, maybe putting a picture of our feet in the sand there.
Just before that fateful fall!!!

My thoughts went to when I will again visit Sabara and the dear family of Pastor Rolaldo Cota who hosted Marilou and I last July as we pitched a tent and prayed on top of the mountain. I cried again when I thought of putting a picture of her on that mountain top, and spreading her ashes where we had prayed. 

It was hard to keep my face glued toward the window,, because the tears were streaming down my cheeks by now. I thought about being on the mountain top in Algodao de Jandaira where again, we prayed together. By now my cheeks are wet with  tears, I’m trying to wipe my eyes without being too obvious.  Tears streaming unbidden from my eyes as music plays in my ears. Songs like, All I need I Already Have. And then, Somewhere over Eastern South Dakota, flying at 36,000 feet, with tears and running nose, comes the song into my headphones, “Oh the wonderful cross.” And at that very moment, down below… some unknown little town with the street lights lit up, and two lines of amber colored lights, you guessed it, in the form of a cross.
Oh man! Sometimes it’s more than I can handle already, Lord, and then you zap me with one of those little, “Yes, I know, I’m holding you.” Type reminders.  So here I am, typing this into my computer with tear-brimmed eyes, hoping that the guy in the other seat keeps his attention on the movie he  is watching and doesn’t notice the watery glint in my eyes.
Yep, the tears come at the craziest times. But again, I have to say that there are many times when the tears are ones of just overwhelming love and thankfulness to the Lord. I know He is holding me. I know He has a plan for me in all of this. And even that in itself is enough to bring more of the unbidden flood of tears.  It is my custom now, each morning as I rise and each evening before I get into bed, to kneel beside the bed in prayer. Many of those times, the tears flow as I simply say, “Abba, I love you! Jesus, I love you!” Holy Spirit, I love you!”  In some ways, that’s the part of this that I wouldn’t mind if it never lessens. That deep, deep, overwhelming love and gratefulness to the Lord for His love for His mercy. For the gift of having Marilou a part of my life. Yes, pappa, I love you, so much.
…till next time.
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