Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are You a Pilgrim?

The First Thanksgiving 1621   Courtesy
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. The Pilgrims had set sail from England on the Mayflower in the fall of 1620 to find a place where they could practice their religious convictions free from the persecution they endured in England.

The trip was no pleasant cruise. A North Atlantic winter storm nearly sank the ship. Short on food, water, and firewood, cold, damp, and hungry, they sickened and many of the original number died en route. Others succumbed to the harsh winter as they struggled to establish a colony.

Governor William Bradford
Governor William Bradford described the perils of their struggle: "So they committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed. Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.

"Thus, out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation."

Less than half of the original Pilgrims survived the journey and that first winter. Yet, they certainly fit the biblical definition of pilgrims in Hebrews 11:13, 16 (NKJV):

"These all died in faith, not having the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They desire a ...heavenly country. Therefore, God...has prepared a city for them."

The Pilgrims desired a country where they could build a community based on biblical principles for their children. Those who died did not received their desires in this life, yet they prepared the way for those of us who have come after them. And they entered the eternal City God had prepared for them.

How about you? Are you a pilgrim? Are you by faith embracing God's promises as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, desiring a heavenly country? Then, you are a pilgrim.

The proof of our faith is not that we receive the promises of God in this life, but that we run the race of life so as to obtain a good reputation with God and man because of our faithfulness (Hebrews 11:39-40).

This Thanksgiving Day, no matter what our situation in this life at this time, let us give thanks to God with grateful hearts for His promises fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled--in this life or in the next.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

I can't remember when I first heard the song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." It was probably in the church I attended as a child in Juneau, Alaska. 

The song has held special meaning for me ever since my freshman year of college. Suffering heartbreak over unrequited love, I was lying on my bed in the dark, when the words of that song popped into my mind, and I began to hum the tune. 

As I came to the words, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace," my dorm room seemed to recede, and the most glorious presence enveloped me. Suddenly, everything was all right. The hurt was gone. I felt joyful and free.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a book of hymn stories, and I found the story behind "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." The writer was Helen Howarth Lemmel, born in England into the home of a Wesleyan minister who immigrated to America when Helen was a child. She loved music and received the best music education her parents could give her.

As a young adult, Helen returned to Europe to study music. There, she met and married a wealthy European, but he left her when she became blind, leaving her to struggle with poverty and many heartaches.

When Helen was 55, she heard a statement that impressed her deeply: "So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face, and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimension."

Helen Howarth Lemmel
"I stood still," Helen said, "and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit."

Although Helen was nearly destitute in her advanced years, her joy and enthusiasm amazed others. When asked how she was doing, she would say, "I'm doing well in all the things that count."

She was always composing hymns. Since she had no way of writing them down because of her blindness, she would call a friend at all hours, and he would rush to her side so he could record the words before she forgot them.

Helen died in 1961, thirteen days before her ninety-eighth birthday. She left nearly five hundred hymns she had written in her lifetime.

Helen had learned that the way to find real joy was to look into the face of Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). 

That experience in college taught me to sing those words whenever times of sorrow and disappointment come my way. When I look "full in His wonderful face," I have found that "the things of earth [do] grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace," and real joy replaces the heartache.

What hymn brings you comfort and joy?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Vietnam Veteran's Memories

(Since tomorrow is Veteran's Day, I am posting this week's blog earlier than usual.)
Captain Robert J, Conti, U. S. Army
On June 9, 1969, the day before our second wedding anniversary, my husband took off from the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, and headed for Vietnam. At midnight, he crossed the International Dateline and totally missed our anniversary that year. So I have celebrated one more anniversary than he has! 

As an infantry officer, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne. In that assignment, Bob was involved in something called “fireflies”--night operations with helicopters.

One large helicopter was equipped with a big searchlight made of large aircraft landing lights. A couple of other helicopters carried rockets and bombs. The observation helicopter would fly high above using infra red to navigate while the others flew near the ground.

At night they'd fly in the dark with no lights until they were over their target. Then, the command helicopter, which Bob flew in, would switch on the lights, making it an easy target for the enemy, while the other two would fly in from the left and the right, crisscrossing under the command helicopter, firing rockets and dropping bombs. It was hazardous. Some of his friends cracked up doing the same thing and died.  

Bob in Vietnam in 1969
Bob says, "Every night I’d have to wait for a helicopter to come to the fire base to pick me up. The waiting was the worst part. I began to understand fear. I’m not talking about just being scared. I mean a fear that gnaws at you and tugs at your nerves.

"The fireflies took place about one or two a.m. I used to wonder if I’d see the sun come up in the morning. Once, we got caught in a monsoon rainstorm and couldn't see in any direction. I really learned about fear that time.

"During those months, I began to draw closer to the Lord. That well-known hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” often came into my heart and mind. I kept thinking that no matter what happened, with Jesus, it is well with my soul. I can handle it. I did. And I made it through.

"One time, as my unit was being relieved by another unit at a fire base, I got into the command chopper with my pilot, and we lifted off. Immediately, the command chopper of the next battalion landed. Other choppers were coming in behind him.

"Suddenly, Viet Cong soldiers sprang up out of the grass right next to the landing area and fired away, killing their S3 officer and severely wounding the others. The VC had infiltrated during the change over and were already in place when I jogged to my chopper. The man sitting in the same position in that helicopter that I sat in on my chopper had his arm and leg shot off. I thank God that He protected me on that occasion. I didn’t even get a scratch."

The 82nd Airborne went home after six months, and Bob had six more to go, so he was assigned as an intelligence officer, S2, on an advisory team to a Vietnamese unit in Tay Ninh Province. "We had to ride in helicopters a lot. I made it a practice not to fly unless my job required it.

"Two weeks before I came home, my best friend, Major Barton, the S3 officer on the advisory team, invited me to fly along with him to visit the province chief that Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day, but I said no. I wanted to go to church and then write letters to my wife. That day his helicopter crashed, and all on board were killed."

At the end of the longest year of our lives, Bob returned home on Memorial Day, 1970. Although he suffers from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, I am especially thankful every Veteran's Day that my husband came home from Vietnam unharmed.

I'd love to hear about a veteran you'd like to honor.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mended Heart

Ever since my husband Bob had triple bypass surgery on his heart in the spring of 2000, he has suffered with varying degrees of congestive heart failure and possible sudden death syndrome due to ventricular fibrillation. The VA has determined that his heart condition, along with diabetes, is a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

In 2008, his body swelled up. I had to buy him bigger clothes. Huge water blisters erupted on his legs as fluid oozed out. He couldn't breathe lying in bed, so he had to sit up in a recliner to sleep.

His cardiologist tried to correct the problem with medication, but after several months, he was no better. When I awoke each morning, I wondered if he would still be with me.

One night as I crawled into an empty bed, I simply prayed, "Lord, please heal my husband."

During the next few weeks, the swelling began to recede and the water blisters dried up. Even so, his cardiologist decided that he needed to have a cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implanted, which would require a one-hour surgery. The day of the surgery, I sat in the waiting room long after all the others had been called back to their loved ones' bedsides. After four hours, Bob's doctor finally appeared.

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
"We've been trying all this time but were unable to get the 'third' wire into place," the arrhythmia specialist said. "Despite his size [Bob's 6'4" tall], his veins are small. Let's see how he does. If he needs the 'third' lead, we can send him to New York City, where they can insert it between his ribs and wrap it around his heart."

Bob recovered quickly, and for quite a while his congestive heart failure was well controlled with the "first" lead (he only needed the first and third leads for his condition). It was a comfort to us for him to have his own personal EMT on board in case of potentially fatal arrhythmias.

Then at his heart checkup in 2014, his cardiologist recommended that he have another open-heart surgery to replace his mitral valve. At that time, the surgeon planned to wrap the "third" wire around his heart, but he found too much scar tissue so he couldn't do it. Bob came through that seven-hour surgery well and surprised the medical staff at how quickly he recovered.

But as the months passed, he didn't feel was well as he had expected. On our road trip to Washington State this summer, he had so much trouble breathing, especially in the mountains and high plains, that he told everyone this would be our last trip west.

This fall, his doctors decided that it was time to replace his defibrillator. "We'll try again to get that 'third' lead in. Technology's better now," they said.

October 7th, 2015, Bob was wheeled into the OR for the one-hour procedure. In the waiting room I counted down the hour then another hour and another. I knew they were having trouble inserting that 'third' wire.

The Three Leads
As I was praying more fervently, a verse from Isaiah suddenly popped into my mind that God would "make the crooked paths straight." I claimed that promise for the vein into Bob's heart.

After nearly four hours, Bob's doctor appeared in the doorway. "We knew from the last time that we might have trouble with that "third" wire," he said.

Oh, no, I thought, afraid he was going to give me bad news.

"There are three veins available," he continued. "We couldn't get it into the first two and were just about to give up on the third one when all of a sudden it surprised us and popped in."

"I was praying," I told him.

It's been four weeks, and Bob is back to his daily hour-long walk and has been telling me over and over how much better he feels. "I'm even thinking about another trip out West next summer," he says.

I'd love to hear about a time God has sent his Word and touched you in a special way.

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