Heart Lifters for Difficult Times

Diana Savage’s 52 Heart Lifters for Difficult Times (Harvest House) is the perfect Valentine for my sweetheart! The pastel colors, the delicate daisy on the front cover, might indicate a  book intended for a feminine audience, but a look at the table of contents indicate that the pithy devotionals inside apply to either gender. Here’s a sampling: Who is God’s Interpreter, starring an absentminded, umbrella-snatching professor; In the Shadow of Tradition, featuring Punxsatawney Phil, the groundhog weather prognosticator; Wisdom for Overwhelmed Fathers, about parenting challenges; and the piece that sold the book to me, one for Valentine’s Day called Like…Fantasy Football Games. 

Every devotional begins with a humorous story, followed by unique and thought-provoking applications of God’s principles to our own lives. Each is tied up with a ribbon of humor at the end, making 52 neat and memorable gift packages to encourage either man or woman…or in our case, both of us. For what could be more romantic than sharing one of these devotions, perhaps as part of a weekly date night?

photo credit: France1978 via photopin cc

Adventure Ahead in Kako, Alaska

This perfect weather makes it hard to sit at my computer and faithfully churn out blog posts, although I’ve tried. Half-a-dozen posts wait to be finished and shared with you. I promise, I’ll post this one. I want you to know about Kako Retreat Center. Hank and I are looking forward to the adventure of our lives this month when we fly to Alaska for the annual Ladies’ Berry Picking Retreat.

Where in the world is Kako? Well, Kako Retreat Center is in Alaska, about 400 miles from the nearest road that could connect it to the rest of the world. It’s on the site of an old gold mine six miles from the Yukon River, on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. Barges bring supplies up the Yukon in summer, but otherwise the only way to get there, or to reach the 56 villages within Kako’s one hundred sixty-mile radius of influence, is to fly by bush plane.

Kako has been the home of missionaries Dave and Vera Penz for thirty years. Since their marriage in1983, these faithful servants of God have been developing this oasis of hope in the wilds of Alaska. With the help of volunteers from all over the U.S.A., they’ve been reaching out to approximately 31,000 Eskimo, 1,000 Indian and 3,500 white people within Kako’s circle of influence. Dave and volunteer pilots from both Alaska and the lower forty-eight have spent countless hours flying young people to Kako for summer camps. They also bring adults and families in for Christ-centered retreats, workshops, leadership training classes, seminars and counseling throughout the year.

Hank and I will be serving in any way we can while we’re there. Hank is even willing to wash dishes! I’ll be doing research for a book about the Penzes and Kako.

 We’ll get acquainted with the women who will spend the days berry picking in the hills near the center. In the evenings, they’ll listen to Dave’s daughter Jeanne Rodkey talk about “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” Jeanne grew up in the villages and understands their culture first hand.

 Some of these women know Jesus as Friend, some don’t know him yet. But they need a friend like Jesus. It’s estimated that over ninety percent of Native women have suffered some kind of abuse in their home villages: alcohol, drugs, sexual and physical abuse…the whole gamut. Suicide rates are much higher in the villages than in the rest of the country. Even the Christian young people find it hard to resist pervasive cultural influences that cause them to bring babies into this same abusive environment. Many girls are single moms by the time they are fifteen or sixteen.

Kako Retreat Center is faith-based and completely independent. At Kako, people find hope. It’s a safe place for the people to come and rest, away from the noise and chaos of village life. They learn from God’s word, and receive encouragement to help them live godly lives back in their villages.

 Lives are being turned around because of what happens at the retreat center, but the enemy always fights back when evil is challenged. Because of that, Kako and all those involved with it need the prayers of God’s people.

For more about the Penzes, see Sun Breaks for Feb. 12, 2013 (Two Heroes); Jan. 9, 2013 (Bad Decision); Jan. 7/13 (A Memorable Moose Hunt)

Vera (center) and two friends

The Light of Christmas

Our home is cozy this afternoon. Outside, it’s raining and foggy, two conditions that often coincide in northwest Washington’s winter weather. A gray blanket blots out Camano Island, Port Susan, and the Stillaguamish bottomlands and has tucked itself in against the bottom of our hill. Soon our outdoor holiday lights will come on, proclaiming that in spite of the dull weather, Christmas is coming.

At church last Sunday, we lit the second Advent candle on the wreath near the pulpit. This, the second of three purple candles, represents the love God has for us in sending Jesus as a babe in the manger. Advent is the Season of Lights, so on each of the five Sundays of Advent, we light one candle, the five together representing Christ, the Light of the World. The first purple candle stands for the hope of the prophets who foretold his coming, the second, his love. The third, a pink candle, represents joy. The fourth, which is purple, stands for peace. On Christmas Eve, we light the last candle, the white one, to signify that Christ has come into the world.

When we decorate our homes and streets with multitudes of twinkling lights at Christmastime, we are saying that the Light of the World is coming; better yet, he’s here.

I love that Christmas comes in the dark of winter. How better for us to know our need of light? How better to see the Light when he comes? Some people dread Christmas because of unhappy associations from the past. Others are living in murky times right now, times that fog the future. These circumstances…loss of jobs, divorce, death… can make one’s outlook as bleak as the fog that hides the view out our window.

We’ve had Christmases like that. Among them were financial hard times and frightening periods of illness. When our children were still young, my husband had a heart attack and lost his job, both in the same Christmas season. The kids and I decorated a tiny tree and took it to his hospital room, where we tried without much success to celebrate Christmas. Years later my father had emergency surgery in mid-December and died at the hospital. Five years ago we lost my mother on December 22, the day after her 99th birthday, and two Decembers later, we lost dear niece Tami to cancer. Those were seasons of darkness, yet because Jesus had come, they couldn’t blot out the Light. We still had hope, love, peace, and even a deep joy.

After lighting the Advent candle at church, we sang a song called, “One Day!” I’d not particularly noticed the third verse before. Here’s what it says:

    One day they left him alone in the garden,
    One day he rested, from suffering free;
    Angels came down o’er His tomb to keep vigil,
    Hope of the hopeless, my Savior is He!*
         *Rev. J. Wilbur Chapman, D.D. and Chas. H. Marsh, 1910

Jesus suffered, not because of anything he had done, but to redeem us from the suffering caused by man’s sinful condition. He rested in the blackness of the garden tomb, then rose again to light our worlds.

When seasons of suffering come to us, we can rest in the darkness as Jesus did, knowing our heavenly Father sees what we’re going through. He will use our suffering for his good purpose.

A Christmas Moment




offers up
December berries.
 its branches
nature sings and celebrates:
chickadees in neat tuxedos,
red-sweatered robins,
svelte varied thrush with banded throat;
and on a weathered rail there lights one regal jay,
a bandit king in royal blue.
Oh, what a Christmas moment…
joyous gift
to this gray day!

Princess Fairy

Marva, the Princess Fairy

My husband had only time to call my name before he fell back on the pillows and his heart stopped. Standing alone beside his hospital bed, I knew he’d already embarked upon his eternal life. Though stunned, I felt wrapped in a kind of peace that held sorrow at bay. I spent the rest of that night at my son’s house. As the hours of wakefulness passed, I lay there imagining what wonders Bob might be experiencing. I was more in awe than in grief…that would come later as the reality of my aloneness sank in.

My children were out of the nest. Not many of my friends or family had yet passed this way…how could they understand? The house was quiet except for our old Irish setter who missed Bob, too, and let me cry into her soft coat. But God had someone special in mind to help fill the empty place in my heart…a little brown sprite named Marva.

My son had been engaged to Marva’s mother for several months. They’d already planned their wedding for June. I’d been slow to recognize the budding romance, probably because of the differences in their cultures. When I realized they were serious, I invited mother and daughter to meet me for lunch so we could get better acquainted. They stepped out of their car. The two-and a half-year-old spied me across the parking lot and flew to meet me, a dozen tiny braids bobbing about her head. “Grandma!” she cried, and launched herself into my arms.

Grandma! I wasn’t her Grandma! But as those little arms went about my neck and she snuggled against me, suddenly the name seemed like the sweetest word on earth.

Rob and Lydia’s wedding went on as planned. Gratefully, I filled my days with making curtains for their house and helping wherever I could. When they left for their honeymoon, just a month after Bob’s death, Marva stayed with me and Sharon Dog. We baked cookies together, we washed dishes together, we drew and cut out paper dolls. I was taking a crash course in Grandma-hood, but Marva was a natural.

Marva knew that Halloween meant costumes and candy. “What are you going to be?” I asked her.

“A princess fairy,” she replied.

So her mother sewed her a gossamer gown of pink, with long puffed sleeves and layers and layers in the skirt. She wore a sparkly tiara, and fluttery, see-through wings. Her daddy made a star-tipped wand as a finishing touch. Marva loved the dress. She wore it to church; she wore it to town. She wore it out. But by that time, she’d made herself a place in my heart that she will never outgrow.


Little girl with dancing eyes,
You stole into my lonely heart.
You wrapped my heartstrings
round you, Princess Fairy,
As if you’d lived within it
from the start.