Looking back over 2020, looking forward

For many people, 2020 means nightmare scenario. Our memories include sickness, the corona virus scare that began in March, shutdowns and isolation, not being able to see our loved ones, and going through disease and deaths.

For us, living in Spain during much of the year, we experienced all of the above. It was the most difficult year of my lifetime on several fronts, and the only thing that got me through was continually choosing to worship instead of worry.

We faced sickness, death, strict corona virus restrictions, trials, and, on top of that, an international move that began with selling our house and legal issues.

But, God directed our paths.

Even though this was a hard year, we watched as miracles unfolded. I don’t use the word miracles lightly, either. Even our lawyer told us, “You can thank God.” It was obvious that Someone much bigger than us was making things happen.

We arrived in the United States at the beginning of November. Our shipment arrived in good condition in mid-December. We are thankful.

My husband and I are living with a relative while searching for a house. When we found one we both loved and made an offer, we felt like this might be it. We prayed that God would either open or close doors and make it obvious to us if this was the house He wanted for us. Before the inspection, it became clear that this wasn’t the house He wants for us.

I love that we can trust God to guide us well. It is exciting to live like this and watch as He smooths the way or closes the door. All we need to do is follow Him—like silly sheep following the Shepherd. He always leads us well, provides, and protects.

I chose a theme word for 2020. It was worship.

With all that was going on in our lives, much of it unpleasant, I made it a point to turn off my worries and cares and consciously worship. I didn’t do it perfectly. There were days of tears and asking God why. I actually walked out into the yard and poured my heart out to the Lord, telling Him I couldn’t manage without His supernatural help. The great thing is, His help is always freely available.

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (Jeremiah 33:3).

This is my testimony for this past year. God showed me great and mighty things. That’s what He does.

I am looking forward to seeing His mighty hand in 2021.

How has the Lord blessed you this past year? Want to share? Please feel free to comment.

Reverse culture shock: the expats come home

As many of you know, we recently made a second-in-a-lifetime move from Spain to the United States. Many of our Stateside friends say, “Welcome home,” as we try to figure out what our new-old home is like again, after more than 36 years away.

I thought I would share some of our culture shocks with you. You might laugh or think them insignificant, but these stand out to us after living in Europe for a whole generation.

  • big cars, parking lots, highways, and lots of pickup trucks—Very few European roads are wider than three lanes each way, and only in major cities will you find three lanes. Although there are SUVs and even pickup trucks in Europe, they are majorly scaled-down versions. Eighteen-wheelers are also much smaller. How else could they wind up and down narrow mountain roads? Most cars are much smaller. You’ll be hard pressed to find large parking lots in Europe.
  • language—Since arriving, we have actually answered people we don’t know in Spanish, even if they ask a question in English. Oh, well … even this shall pass.
  • soft, fluffy toilet paper—No comparison.
  • overwhelming variety in stores—My husband was looking for a brand of deoderant he likes. There were many fragrance options for his brand. In Europe, there would be one or two options max. The cereal food aisle is a whole, long aisle. The same goes for everything. The sheer abundance in the USA is amazing.
  • waste—I am awed by the amount of non-careful buying and trashing that goes on. I’m not talking about our family members, but this is our general observation.
  • food additives—I knew a while back to anticipate this change. In Europe, we make most things from scratch, and there are no GMO foods. Here, it’s very different. Have you ever read the ingredient list on a bottle of salad dressing, for example? It’s a whole paragraph including colorings, preservatives, and sugar syrups.
  • customer service—Gotta give it to the USA for nice, patient people whose job it is to serve you.
  • dressing down—In the Detroit airport, we saw one young woman wearing colorful, fuzzy winter pajamas and slippers, at midday. In Europe, you might spy someone emptying the trash in a housecoat, but you would never see anyone out in public in pajamas. Never. Sloppy, filthy clothing—even work clothes—would not be worn out on the street. Here, it’s another story entirely. Also, men wearing shorts and coats will take some getting used to.
  • being able to run more than one appliance at a time—In Europe, you pay for a certain amount of electricity. If you go over that, the lights dim or the electricity cuts off altogether. Here, one can run the washer, dishwasher, microwave, oven, and fans at the same time. Luxury!
  • non-gluten—European people (with few exceptions) never worry about gluten. They bake the best breads and pastries in the world. Here, potato chip bags are marked “non-gluten.” I guess that means potato chips are thereby healthy?
  • style—This year in the USA, fall fashion is easy. All you need is something animal print, preferably leopard, something buffalo check, and ankle boots. In Europe, though once in a while one might spy leopard print on a scarf or shoes, I cannot even imagine that anyone would wear big, red buffalo checks.
  • clothes dryers—Will I ever grow accustomed to these?
  • huge gallon jugs of milk—In Europe, we have little cartons that hold one liter (quart), and they don’t require refrigeration. Love them! I’m building muscles while pouring milk in my coffee. Win-win.
  • self check-out—A genius thought of this.
  • watery coffee—Americans think coffee should resemble Earl Grey tea. Europeans think black means black.

I’m sure there are many more shocks in store for us. Living here is like being ducks out of water, although we’re supposed to be coming home. Our home was the Basque Country. Almost as if we were immigrants, we are discovering the New World of the USA.

I am thankful that the Lord never changes and He cares about our goofy moments and promises to be near.

There’s a Bible story about crossing the Jordan River. Joshua commanded the tribes of Israel to place twelve stones where the people carrying the ark stood—on dry ground, in the middle of the river. Later, those stones were moved and piled up again, as a monument.

During our intercontinental move, I have often felt the urge to erect a pile of stones of remembrance. Each step of the way, and even as we begin to settle in here, we have witnessed God’s hand working.

When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever (Joshua 4:21b-24).

If you were ever an expat and came home, feel free to share your “reverse” culture shock moments with us.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

Worshiping in the valley

At the beginning of 2020, I chose a theme word. A message I heard at Christmastime moved me profoundly. It wasn’t about choosing a word or anything like that. Instead, the sermon was about worship.

After the message, the music minister led the church in worshiping quietly however each person wanted. We could kneel, remain seated, or whatever.

It was a beautiful time of corporate worship and met a need in my heart. As a result, I chose the word worship as my key word for this year.

So far, this has been a valley year. I don’t want to bother you with the details, but it has been one of the most difficult years in my life. Many uncertainties, awful trials, the passing of a loved one, and isolation in Spain because of Covid19 have turned me to the Lord, clamoring for help, praying with groans, not knowing even how to trust—not understanding what is happening.

I have quoted Proverbs 3:5-6 to myself probably more than a hundred times, and I may make it two hundred before the year is out.

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Lord, I acknowledge You. I know you’re in control, and you know exactly where You’re leading us, even when we are clueless.

How is your year going? Is it a valley?

Be encouraged.

God is still the awesome One who spoke and created the world. He is still the miracle working, history making God. He’s the One who loves you. He died for you. He rose from the grave, conquering death, and gives us hope and purpose.

Worship is praise.

Praising God for Who He is.

Just worship.

My friend, Jane, shared this poem. I asked the author, Nicole Madaus, if I could share it with you. She graciously gave me permission.

  • When you have been hurt and life is far from fair,
  • When your heart is breaking, choose to worship there.
  • When you’re overwhelmed by the burdens that you bear,
  • As you struggle neath the load, choose to worship there.
  • When the secrets that you carry hurt too much to share,
  • When you’re suffering in silence, choose to worship there.
  • When it feels like there will never be an answer to your prayer,
  • In the time of waiting, choose to worship there.
  • When you are grieving over an empty chair,
  • Even in your sorrow, you can worship there.
  • It may not change the trial, but it will change your point of view.
  • It may not change your suffering, but it can change you.
  • Worship can bring healing; it can set you free.
  • Move your focus off your problems, and put it back on Me!
  • Worship will remind you that I am in control
  • And that knowledge can bring comfort to your troubled soul.
  • Worship offers hope in the midst of deep despair,
  • So whatever you are facing, choose to worship there!

Let’s bless the Lord today. He is worthy.

*By Nicole Madaus

By the bootstraps

There’s an old saying, “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” from back when men wore long riding boots that had handy dandy loops at the top for pulling them on. The meaning of this saying is the impossibility of pulling oneself up by oneself.

That’s where I was this week: vainly pulling on spiritual bootstraps and still feeling miserable.

It didn’t help that it rained all week.

Life circumstances—including the locked-in one—haven’t been favorable, either.

I have been praying, tugging on my old bootstraps, and vainly trying to smile … while wanting to throw things, cry, yell, and … you get the picture.

Where does one go for renewal?

Sanity?

Getting back to happy?

Having joy in the middle of several serious trials at once?

Need I mention having a good testimony—shut in with the one who matters most, my husband?

All the “better yourself, be who you were meant to be, bloom where you’re planted, and suck it ups” don’t work. I can tell you. Bootstrap pulling is totally useless, too—unless you’re a boot.

“When life hands you lemons…”

You can’t make lemonade without sugar.

I didn’t have any sugar.

The only remedy in the world for a rotten attitude and loss of joy is: Truth. The more the better.

Only Truth seeping into one’s heart can change the heart’s thinking and feeling.

I wrote up to this point before a death in the family this week. It’s amazing what focusing on what I know about God is helping me to deal with my emotions and our great loss.

Let me share a few truths that have helped me over the last few days:

  • What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me (Psalm 56:3-4).
  • Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest (Joshua 1:9).
  • Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:26-28).
  • For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

Lord, help me focus more on You, and thank You for praying for me, being with me, and working in me. Help me to trust You completely when I am overwhelmed, afraid, sorrowing, and in pain. I want to trust You for those I love, as well. Thank You for your Living Word, that speaks to me exactly what I need to hear.

What Scriptures have helped you this past week? Feel free to share.

Let me out already!

I’m the kind of person that gets cabin fever after two weeks of rain, and during that period I go to church at least four or five times. When it’s raining day after day, I get antsy. I want to see people, be in normal life, just get out and walk.

So, when Spain shut me in—not just me, but all the country—and told me I could not go anywhere at all, it was like the beginning of a long rainy season. Only worse. No church, no grocery store, no nada.

I haven’t been on the inside of a car in many weeks, and I just found out we have at least three weeks more of this ahead of us.

Now, just so you understand, I have seriously enjoyed some aspects of this whole being-at-home adventure. I admit it. I’ve written about these advantages in past blog posts. You can scroll down and read them.

But it’s time to get out.

I feel like a prisoner.

Don’t get me wrong. My contentment hasn’t gone on vacation. I’m not mad at anyone. I wouldn’t even go and protest if I had the freedom to get out and do so. We have a large yard, and I go for a walk in it every day. Today, I took pictures of the neighbor’s cows, who were more than happy to model.

I have a terrific husband who treats me like a queen. We have plenty to eat and a warm house.

Our church services have been a blessing—even while being temporarily distant from our friends. We can even watch our home church’s services live and tune into various devotional thoughts each day.

I keep busy teaching. I always teach online, so there were no adjustments to make, only I pray each teaching day about the quality of connection, since the whole world has moved online.

I’m writing more, finally wrapping up my novel. Someday, I’d love to get it published. That dream seems more real now that the story is almost done.

Easter week, I dug into some boxes and sorted and pitched. Oh, the joy of it!

So, you see, I am fine.

But, get me outta here, already!

Truth is, people weren’t meant to huddle and hunker. They were meant to get out, make friends, enjoy life, interact, and be a blessing and testimony. We need each other.

I don’t know what to make of this whole situation. I firmly believe we probably saved lives by sheltering in place for a few weeks. I certainly hope so.

After a while, though, vulnerable people will be adversely affected mentally. I am wondering what will happen to a population like we have in Spain where many do not know the Lord. Few are readers. I am guessing they’re sitting in front of their TV sets watching whatever news and trash is to be seen.

How will people deal with the death toll? Over 21,000 lives have been lost to Covid19 thus far in Spain. That means probably all their families are mourning—plus others who lost family members to other causes. Christians have hope, and we still sorrow. But few Spanish people know they’ll see their loved ones again.

If the way not to get this virus is to be exceptionally careful with personal hygiene, then we need to do that.

What can be wrong with exercising outside of one’s home? Why keep people from parks and workplaces? Should we further cripple the world’s economies if all the curves are going downward?

I don’t know.

All I know is …

I want out already!

So, I open my Bible and read:

  • My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:2-4).
  • Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).
  • Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy (James 5:11).

Good soldier? Perfect and entire? Happy, patient, and enduring?

I see I have a lot to learn.

Maybe that’s why the Lord’s giving me three more weeks.

How are you doing in confinement? What are you learning?