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26 November, 2016

Remembering, with Gratitude in My Heart

 Today I cut up a mango. Three of them, actually. And as I did so, I remembered this conversation.

“You live in Africa. Please, tell me the perfect way to cut a mango.” (Said with a friendly smile.)

“Well, I don’t know if there is a perfect way. I just cut them like this because it works for me.” (Laughing.)

“Yes, well, I guess there really isn’t a perfect way for much of anything, is there? Not much perfection this side of heaven.” (Said with a slight sigh as she watched me cut the mango.)

“So true. But one day we will know perfection and it will likely astound us.”

Janette Stoltzfus and daughter Melissa
The friend with whom I shared this conversation, the one looking to find the perfect way to cut up a mango, left for heaven a year ago. She knows perfection. I have no doubt she was initially astounded.

But then again, I doubt she was all that astonished. At least not for long. I mean, I doubt she experienced culture shock in any great degree. She had been practicing the culture of heaven for as long as I have known her, which was not nearly long enough.

My friend, she gave. And gave. And gave some more. And actually she is still giving, for through her generosity others learned to give and as generosity became her culture so it continues in her family and friends and through her community-at-large. She is still somehow giving us all so much.

She loved. And loved. And loved some more. She is still loving, actually, through all she taught her family and her friends, loving in how she established the culture of her home and her life. Yes, she still loves. Love never stops. It just keeps on giving, keeps on living.

She worshiped God. A lot. She worshiped our God and Savior as naturally as she welcomed people into her home. She led us in worship. She showed us living is an act of worship to the God who made us, who died for us, the very one who created heaven for us. She trusted God and served Him with her whole being. I find great joy in knowing she is still worshiping God, wholly and truly and without any hindrance or distraction. I feel eager to do the same one day, where she is, with her, smiling together as we worship our God.

She prayed as she was taught, “Your kingdom come and Your will be done here as it is in heaven.” I heard her. We wept and prayed it together; around the table in her home in Oregon, around the table in our home in Kenya, at church….she prayed, praising God for His faithfulness. And God answered, by the way. His Kingdom is at hand. My friend lived there even as she is now living there.

And so, having lived in the Kingdom of God for most of her life, I know my friend may have been astounded at the first glance of perfection, but then I presume she recognized the Kingdom right away and felt quite at home. I have no doubt it was but a moment before she turned and smiled, ready to welcome the next one in.

I cut a mango today. Three of them, actually. And I dripped a tear or two as I remembered my friend, grateful for her in my life. I remain grateful Janette is still giving and loving and worshiping and praising.


28 September, 2016

A Season of Flurries

We are in a season of flurries. Flurries of activity are frequent, almost constant some days. This season is marked by lots of people coming and going; travel, trips to the airport, arrangements to be made, and lots of, “hurry-up—let’s-go!” We have the privilege of welcoming people into Uganda, showing people the ministries in which WGM Uganda missionaries serve, hearing testimonies of transformation in lives and communities and hearing how people are being served.

Some days this season is very tiring. Some days we hear heart-breaking stories. Some days the flurry requires traipsing through the mud. Some days, it doesn’t even matter and we don’t even notice the fatigue and our hearts rejoice and we don’t even see the mud.

Worship during Masese AGC service
After a traffic-hassled trip from Kampala to Jinja and a restless night in a noisy town, we experienced our Living God in the worship service at Masese AGC. The music was beautiful, the children adorable, God’s Word was inspiring and the Holy Spirit moved among us. People chose to go deep with Christ, leaving behind the comfort of shore and the safety of shallow commitment. What a joy to pray with them. And joy flowed again as three young people prayed in repentance of sin and acceptance of Christ’s free gift of salvation. We rejoiced with the angels in heaven!

Overlooking the Nile River
Before the next flurry we had a bit of Sabbath rest as we paused on the shore of the great River Nile. 

Streams in the path
Tuesday evening it rained, hard. Large drops pelted down, creating streams of flowing water where just a couple of weeks ago the dry and dusty path felt crunchy beneath our feet. Today, the rain eventually slowed and mamas carefully made their way through the mud and filth to hear God’s Word taught in truth and to pray. Missionary mamas joined in, interceding and asking for Truth to be revealed and for Living Water to flow and cleanse. Women found hope in Jesus and a new freedom in His cleansing.

This is a season of flurries, and all of heaven is rejoicing!

10 August, 2016

Reflecting in Gratitude

August 10, 2015, a date etched in my mind. The day of my open heart surgery for aortic valve replacement and repair/replacement of the ascending aortic aneurysm. The first day on my road to recovery from a failing valve and growing aneurysm. I can’t believe it is already August 10 again!
As I reflect on the past 13 months, memories of preparation for surgery, going through surgery, learning to live with limited movement for several weeks, regaining strength, healing from pericarditis and cardiac rehabilitation work all swirl through my mind. And overriding it is the
realization, “All is well.”

My brief time in the hospital for surgery and four nights after surgery was filled with learning…
day 2 post op
how to control nausea caused by the drugs, how to move correctly, how to manage pain, how to rest when I needed it and how to use my "best friend", a heart shaped pillow, which was a necessity for movement in the early days following surgery.

My early days at home were filled with wonder that I could be THAT tired so easily, that I needed to rest THAT much and that I was prayed for by THAT many people. The words of encouragement and assurance of prayer poured in from around the world. Our WGM family, African friends and many others assured us they were traveling the road of recovery with us. Christine and I were strengthened and encouraged.

The onset of fever was an enigma to many, but perseverance in pursuing the cause led to proper treatment for pericarditis, a common occurrence following heart surgery. The right drug brought rapid relief. I was able to work hard in my cardiac rehabilitation classes and my recovery continued on a steady course from there onward.

3 mos post op 
Four months after surgery Christine and I boarded the plane to carry us home to Uganda. We arrived in Kampala December 31, an hour or so before midnight. On our way home from the airport, just as we crested the hill into Kampala, the clock struck midnight and the fireworks went off all over the city. We could see them all around as. Our hearts exclaimed, “All of Kampala is celebrating God’s faithfulness with us, His goodness to see us home to Kampala!”

We continue to proclaim God’s faithfulness. Surely, the Living God is among us! We rejoice in His provision for our return. His healing touch restored me fully. All is well.

Today, August 10, 2016, Christine and I are taking the day as Sabbath rest. Time to reflect, time to praise our God, time to rejoice in God’s faithfulness. We are remembering His provision through His people. Prayer, meals, words of encouragement, cards, text messages, hugs (very gently at first), housing, help at every turn. The Body of Christ ministered to us. All is well.

I am fine. I have no restrictions. I feel good. I play basketball for a couple of hours once a week. I completed my first run/walk 5K. I have no problem walking the hills of Kampala, Uganda. I work hard and I play hard. I am fine. All is well. And I am forever grateful.