Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A life well lived


For years I had very few opportunities to rub shoulders with wrinkled wise ones... till God moved us to a church wealthy in age. Now I'm looking for any excuse I can find to spend time with folks over eighty. 

Sitting down and listening to Henry Stuursma tell the story of his life slowed my own life down, gave me much-needed perspective, and made me worship a God who masterfully pens our days....


It was the year Winston Churchill became British minister, Albert Einstein unveiled his theory of relativity, and Babe Ruth made homerun history. And while it didn’t make any news headlines, the birth of Henry Stuursma was no less extraordinary. Humbly begun in a small town of Iowa on April 25, 1921, Henry’s life would be shaped by constant change, courage, sorrows, and joys—and these in turn would forge a legacy of love.

The Early Years 
Henry was the youngest of seven children, and when he was just 18 months old, his mother died suddenly, leaving his sisters to raise him. Several years later, his father’s chronic asthma drove the family to seek a better climate in Denver, Colorado. There his father met and married his second wife—providing little Henry with a much-needed mother.

Two of Henry’s brothers were twins, one of whom had Down syndrome. In the 1920’s, very little was understood about the syndrome and his brother was labeled a Mongloid. Doctors counseled his parents to institutionalize their son, but they refused. So Jake remained an integral, beloved part of the family, and Henry learned to love and value a sibling with special needs.

When his asthma didn’t improve, Henry’s father loaded up his wife and three children (the oldest four remained in Iowa) and set off for what he’d heard was “the land of milk and honey”—California. It was 1929, and it took two weeks to drive the 800 miles from Denver to Mentone. Henry recalls the trip with fondness even though his seat was the tailgate of the truck, where he shivered through rain and snow. Every time they encountered a hill, they drove up backwards; it was the only way the gasoline could reach the engine. In retrospect, Henry recognizes the strength of his mother, caring for three children in these less-than-favorable conditions:

“Mom would get up early and make breakfast. Then she’d make sandwiches for coffee time. Then she’d make lunch. And then she’d make some more for afternoon teatime. And then [she and Dad would] try early enough to find cabins and go to a grocery store because there was no McDonald’s back then. We were chasing around, causing trouble. She was busy cooking and fixing things for supper. She must have worked her head off. And she was a city girl too. In fact, she came out of Holland. Her dad was a professor at University of Leiden. And she came here and married in Denver, and that guy died, and then she married Dad. And she came out here to work at a chicken farm.”

Henry’s father had his heart set on working a dairy farm in Mentone, but when that fell through, he started a chicken farm instead. Henry remembers the Flood of 1938, when the streets were submerged and “rocks as big as a VW” were loosed from the mountains and rolled down, causing the ground to quake. The storm knocked out the gas supply, which was the heat source for the farm’s chicks. Henry’s family had just purchased 2,000 chicks, so they brought them all inside the house, spread out newspapers, and kept them warm by the stove. “We had a noisy couple of nights,” he says with twinkles in his eyes.

Henry speaks of many close-knit relationships, of Redlands Christian School days (he was in the first ninth-grade graduating class), and of the church on Clay Street, filled with young people who loved choir performances and “stupid plays” that would turn out huge crowds.

In Love and War  
Henry’s personal relationship with God grew under the influence of the Southern California Young People’s Group. The new association drew participants from as far away as Los Angeles, a city that he says was “just starting; roads weren’t that good; [it was a] long haul to L.A.” It was at a Young People’s summer camp at Forest Home in 1940 that Henry met “an amazing woman” named Betty. It was love at first sight.

Betty lived in L.A., so Henry scraped together gas money from his weekly salary of $10 to go visit her and take her on dates. Then news came that postponed any hopes they had of marriage. At a Young People’s gathering he and his friends “heard war was declared, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Our days of freedom are over with; we’ll be called.’ Sure enough, it wasn’t long. I could have been exempted [because of the family business], but I felt like I should go.”

Henry was stationed in Alaska, and he and Betty exchanged love letters. When he was reassigned to San Francisco to work in embarkation/debarkation, Henry was finally free to marry Betty. It was 1945, and the war had made it difficult to find a place to live in the city, so the newlyweds shared an apartment with another couple. He happily recalls meeting “a lot of interesting people” during that time.

Making a Home
When the war was over, he and Betty returned to Mentone where they started both a new chicken farm and, more importantly, a family. They bought a tiny house with knotty pine walls and a huge yard, added 6 children and 30,000 chickens, and called it home.

“When I look back I see how my planning was so poor, but the Lord always provided and we never went hungry. We had some rough times and almost lost the business. We built it up from practically nothing. But He supplied our needs.”

All six of his kids worked the farm. “Back then they belly-ached, but they say now it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. They all learned how to work; they all learned how to do anything.”

Henry’s love for his kids (and his 18 grandkids and 18 great-grandkids) is contagious. “They are just tops,” he beams and points to their pictures all over the walls. But parenting had its sorrows too. Henry and Betty discovered their eldest son had Huntington’s disease. The effects of the disease were cruel and cost the son both his marriage and an influential job at a hospital in Colorado. He died at the age of 50. Henry explains that the worst part of it was the fact that his grandson also inherited the disease, and passed away at age 30, just two years ago.  

Henry and Betty cared for their son until his death. Betty also took on the full-time care of Jake (Henry’s brother with Down syndrome) till he passed away at 64 years old.

Lifelong Love 
“She was an amazing woman. Never had an argument. She wouldn’t argue. Nope, if we disagreed: ‘Okay,’ she’d say. ‘You have it your way,’ and she’d go on. And next time I’d have a Bible verse laying on my desk or somewhere.”

Henry chokes back tears as he talks about his bride of 69 years. Just two months ago, and just shy of their seventieth wedding anniversary, Betty went home to be with Jesus. Henry still speaks in terms of “we” and “us,” as if Betty might walk into the room and sit beside him at any moment.

But while her presence is still keenly felt, her absence is what Henry describes as “terrible.”

“Right now I feel like someone dumped me in the water and I don’t know which way to swim. It’s terrible. But the Lord gives you strength, and I’m so glad she didn’t suffer. But it’s awful lonesome bad.” His voice breaks with emotion.

“Next month would have been seventy years. And the secret—and I didn’t know it, and I’m finding out now—she had drawers. Every drawer in the house was stuffed full. And I says, ‘Honey, what are you doing with all that?! How come you’re using every drawer in the house?! I knew she was scribbling, and I thought she was writing her own personal diaries, but… It’s prayers!! She’s got books of prayers for every birthday the kids had. Every event. I didn’t know that. I’d be at the table asking, ‘Honey, do you want to pray?’ ‘No, you do it better than I do,’ she’d say. But here I find books of her prayers. What a woman. What a woman. Here she was a city girl, and I took her to the farm. And we didn’t have it easy. And she never complained.”

Henry sits across from me at his turquoise-colored kitchen table, and as twilight settles upon us through the big picture window, I’m teary-eyed. This house that once burst at the seams with busy love is now remarkably quiet. Henry would say it is too quiet.

But if walls could speak, this house would dance. Here is a legacy of love—a story worth telling.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Is God holding out on you? {guest post}


I'm so honored to introduce you to my sweet friend, Meredith Adams. I have been so blessed by Meredith's love for Jesus, her faith in the midst of the entertainment industry, and her dear encouragement in my own life – it is with joy that I get to "share" her with you here tonight...


It’s everywhere. It’s in the grocery store, restaurant, and church. It’s at the mall, the airport, the beach. It’s in songs, novels, and movies. It’s the stuff of fairytales.

Love.

For 27 years I waited to fall in love. It was my hope, my prayer, my longing.

I have always trusted God with my life, known His plan was better than mine. But somewhere along the way I couldn’t help but start to wonder…

Is God holding out on me? 

Have you ever felt this way? Like the Lord is withholding something from you? A relationship? A spouse? A baby? A job? Some sort of healing?

In 2 Kings the Lord's people were thirsty. Like really thirsty. Like walking through a desert with not a drop of water in sight kind of thirsty. They cried out to God in desperation. And I'm pretty sure the answer He gave them was not what they wanted to hear:

"Make this valley full of ditches." (2 Kings 3:16)

Say what?

"God, you want us to do more work? To labor in this beating sun for more hours? Didn't you hear us?! We're thirsty!!" they likely cried out. Needless to say there was probably some grumbling in the desert that day.

I wanted so badly to fall in love, to experience a relationship. I felt as if I were missing out on one of the greatest gifts this life has to offer, one of the greatest gifts God has to offer… love. Yet He didn’t seem to be offering it to me.

As if being single for virtually all of high school and college weren’t enough, I have watched, one by one, as my closest friends have found someone with whom to share their lives. I have watched, one by one, as they have walked down the aisle in glowing white. And I have watched, one by one, as many have begun to have children and build a family.

And I have wondered...

Is God holding out on me?

Matthew 6:33 is a verse frequently at the forefront of my mind:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Well, God knew the desire of my heart, and I was delighting myself in Him… So why wasn’t He giving me my desire?

Then one day I did fall in love. And almost a year later the relationship ended. Having now experienced the pain of a breakup, I realize for the first time in my life that maybe those words that were once so infuriating to hear were actually quite accurate.

The truth is, I am so thankful I didn’t fall in love at 17 years old, when I was ill-equipped to handle the intensity of being in love and the pain of parting ways. I am so thankful I haven’t fallen in love multiple times and had to experience multiple breakups. I am so thankful that for the years I was saved from “all that pain and heartache.”


Maybe God wasn’t holding out on me after all.

Maybe He was protecting me. Maybe He was guarding my heart. Maybe He had my best interest in mind all along.

Maybe He was answering my prayers in His own way, in His own timing. Maybe He still is.

And while my first relationship didn’t work out, I believe my experience of being single for so many years, combined with my experience of that first relationship, have equipped me now to love my future husband in a way I never would have been able to before.

And while I am back to being single, back to waiting, I am beginning to see things a little more from His grand perspective and a little less from my own limited perspective.

When His people asked for water in 2 Kings, they were tired, run down. There was no sign of any water appearing. The Lord’s instruction to dig ditches probably sounded more like punishment than provision.

Yet God was preparing the way for His provision. Through their labor. Through their endurance. They just couldn’t see it yet.

Nonetheless they acted in faith and, lo and behold, the next morning, "there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom!" (2 Kings 3:20)… by way of the very ditches they had dug.

Sometimes the Lord makes us dig the very ditches through which His provision will come.

Scripture doesn’t say, "They trusted him, because He answered their prayers." It says:

"He answered their prayers, because they trusted Him." (1 Chronicles 5:7)

I don’t think God wants me to be alone. I no longer believe He’s holding out on me. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

I believe He wants me to love and be loved. I believe He wants me to experience His great gift of marriage in the fullest measure. And I believe He’s preparing my heart each day in a way that will bless my future husband and ultimately bless His kingdom in the greatest way possible.

And that, my friends, is worth the wait. That is worth the grueling work of ditch digging in this “desert.”

Whatever desert through which you are wandering, whatever you are striving so desperately for, God has a plan, a vision, and a provision in store.

Trust in Him. Trust in His plan. Trust in His goodness. 

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

"One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night." – Kahlil Gibran

“Weeping may last for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” – Psalm 30:5

Meredith Adams is an actress and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is currently producing and starring in the series she wrote, How to Lose a Girl in One Date, finishing up her first screenplay, and working as a professional "auditioner" until the Lord provides her next role! Meredith's goal is to help spread the light of Christ throughout the entertainment industry in any way that the Lord would allow her to be so humbly used – for His purposes and for His glory. You may keep up with Meredith through her blog, on IMDb, and her website.

Photo credit for sky scenes: Meredith Adams. 2014.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Press me into Your goodness

When I just reread this prayer I wrote last January, I knew I had to post it. I think you'll resonate with this, dear one. Our circumstances may be vastly different, but my guess is that you've been here too....



January 31, 2014

You take me where I am—distracted, obsessive, exhausted, embarrassed, anxious, impatient (in short, a mess)—and You hold out Your hand, draw me in, and say,

Come, dear daughter, who thirsts.
Come to the waters
And, Colleen, you have no money but
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk,
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
And your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to Me;
Hear, that your soul may live.

O Lord, we are hemmed in by illness and limitations (even after so much forward progress and healing), and by those who, through no fault of their own, cannot understand our limitations and instead make judgments. But it is by this continual “hemming in” that You are teaching me, to my innermost parts, to come to You.

You are pressing me into Your goodness by proving to me again and again that however good something else might be, it can never compare to You.

“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly…”

So that comment that wounded my tender heart—can be forgiven.
The slew of emails and messages and mail I can’t keep up with—can wait another day.
The conflicting advice from naturopaths, functional doctors, pediatricians, chiropractors, and nutritionists—falls silent at the sound of Your voice.
The pang of hurt I feel when Jeremy is the only kid without a slice of pizza—it is quieted in Your love.
The temptation to think only of myself and my small world of constant needs—is conquered by worshiping You in a way that overflows into the service of others.

And that service can be small, go unnoticed, and feel insignificant, but You see it, and You receive it as an offering of love.

O Lord, this hemming in is both tragic and beautiful. It is my undoing and remaking. It is the hardest and best part of my day. It is what makes me hungry and satisfies my hunger.

It is You, the wound-giver and wound-healer. {Because if You didn’t wound me, I would rush to find my healing in all the wrong places.}

You are so good, infinitely better than the greatest good I have here on earth (and oh do I have some). Turn my heart away from these “light and momentary trials” and teach me how to indulge in this feast called You.


Scriptures referenced: Isaiah 55, Psalm 84:11


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Are you weary of waiting on the Lord?

I bet you're waiting for something right now. And I don't mean the traffic light to change or the water pot to boil. I mean, you're really waiting, aren't you?

I waited a long time for two of my heart's greatest desires, marriage and motherhood. But saying "I do" and "We're due" didn't exonerate me from The Waiting Game. Every day of my life continues to offer me a myriad of opportunities to wait on God for one desire or another.

Waiting can be agonizing, can't it? It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do—and I have to do it all the time.

So why after all these years of waiting am I not good at it yet? Why can it still feel so excruciating?

Join me over at True Woman today as I share what I'm learning in the waiting....




Saturday, August 9, 2014

Life comes in seasons


If we could sit on a sunny patio and chat leisurely over iced coffees tomorrow, I’d want to ask you, “What’s the best part and worst part of this season of your life?”

What would you say, dear one?

What’s making your life painfully difficult right now? And what’s making it beautiful and sweet?

We might shed a few tears together as you answer. Some seasons feel more bitter than beautiful when you’re in the midst of them.

Or maybe I’d laugh with joy as you describe a long-awaited hope fulfilled. We’d talk fast and excitedly, and the time would fly by.

Most likely, though, we’d do a little of both, wouldn’t we? Some tears. Some laughter. As Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Rainbows are made of sunlight and rain.”

So in lieu of that patio conversation, I’ve settled into my couch tonight with a cup of chamomile tea, to share a few things I’m reminding myself these days:

This season of life is a gift. The precious and the painful, they are entwined by gracious hands that never stop doing us good. The very thing that brings us to our knees, makes us weep in despair, or feels like our undoing—that is an integral part of the gift of this season. In time (His time), we will see that our desperation was the beginning of our deliverance.

Sometimes the bitter aspects of life can overshadow the beautiful. Don’t miss out on the joys of this season.

Years ago I had a young friend who was married to a faithful man who loved her and provided lavishly for her. She hated working and wanted nothing more than to get pregnant. She griped constantly. Her husband made it possible for her to quit her job, but even then she was miserable. Soon she became pregnant and gave birth to gorgeous twins. But she couldn’t stop complaining about how easy working used to be and how hard being a mom was now. In every season she had neglected to enjoy the gifts God gave her, so when she finally got what she wanted—she was shockingly unhappy.

Don’t compare seasons. We’ve all lived through those long winter months of life when the dearest ones around us seem to be enjoying a balmy summer. Their joy may feel like the final blow to your hurting heart, and it takes all the grace you can muster to rejoice with them.

But seasons change, sometimes quickly, and someday they too will know their winters while you celebrate your summer. In this mysterious dance of seasons, we learn to offer both comfort and joy to one another, each in our turn.

Some seasons last a long time, but none lasts forever.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Motherhood is teaching me this in spades. I thought I was going to lose my mind when my newborn son had colic and screamed for hours every night. But then he’d nuzzle into my neck and finally fall into a peaceful sleep, and it was magic. By the time he was six months old, both the colic and the newborn nuzzling were gone.

Singleness was a long season. But my twelve-year wait came to a sudden end, and in the blink of an eye a new season was upon me, with brand-new joys and challenges.

Psalm 116:7 says, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” So dear one, here’s what I keep preaching to myself:

1. Embrace today’s hardships. They are gifts from God.

2. Embrace today’s joys. They are gifts from God.

3. Stop playing the comparison game. It robs me of these gifts from God.

4. This season will soon pass. Don’t miss out on these gifts from God.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Other Side of Jealousy {guest post}


It is my joy and honor to introduce you to my precious friend Danielle Walker. Danielle is a beautiful, witty, intelligent lawyer who resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her dog, Julie Anne. Of all the amazing descriptions I could use for Danielle, the one that comes to mind most quickly is "forgiving." For some reason, despite my countless shortcomings, Danielle has chosen to remain my friend and speak great encouragement into my life over many years. Her love for and obedience to Christ is compelling, and I'm thrilled to share with you here some of the overflow of her rich spiritual life....  



I call it “In your face-book,” she told me. “I hate Facebook.”

I nodded, absorbing her reasons not to post updates on a given topic.

She didn’t say it, but I had to guess that perhaps her abhorrence of Facebook was at least partially related to the fact that God had not yet given her the desire of her heart in the form of a baby.

God knows that I know it’s impossible to get on Facebook without seeing “in your face” reminders of un-motherhood: pregnancy announcements, birth announcements…babies, grandbabies…videos, photos…funny sayings, cute faces…pajama pictures, pool pictures...ultrasound shots…maternity photos…My Little Pony cakes—you name it. Kids unapologetically brighten up the world and lighten up the Internet. And I’m glad they do.

Just the same, I could understand why my friend might avoid Facebook like the Gaza Strip. It was a constant assault on her deepest pain. Everyone else has what she doesn’t have. And it hurts.
It wasn’t Facebook’s fault exactly; deep down—deep, deep down—the problem was jealousy. I don’t know what it is about jealousy, but we do not want to call it that. I suspect jealously has worn more nametags than just about any other sin.

Admit it or not, of all the people who have told me they quit Facebook and of all the reasons they have given, I suspect that jealousy is the one unnamed deactivator of many an account.

Because other peoples’ lives tend to be perfect on Facebook. I confess there have been times I clicked through someone else’s photos and thought, She has everything: she’s beautiful, married to a good man, wonderful kids, nice house, nice vacations… and eventually closed the screen with an overwhelming sense of discontentment. My life stinks…

I’ve struggled with jealousy. It has chewed me up then spit me out in worthless chunks like a redneck, tobacco, and a country road. In fact, there have been full weeks—months—years—when the only times I wasn’t struggling with jealousy was when I had given up completely. It can still ruin a good day quicker than my alarm clock.

I know I’m not alone.  I remember times when two of my friends confessed to me that they were jealous of me. I wanted to laugh. But they were serious. These were painful confessions for them.

I wanted to laugh because both came at particularly low times for me. I knew if they really, truly knew my life, they would be anxious to take their own set of troubles and go home. If they knew the tears I cried, the pressures I faced, and the mistakes I’ve made, they would probably be whistling on their way to work—thank God, I’m not her!

And when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t trade with them either. Not even with the gorgeous girls with successful husbands and adorable kids. Not the movie stars; not the world-class musicians; not even the ice skaters.

There will always be someone out there—probably on the edges of my circle of friends—who is prettier, funnier, nicer, smarter, richer, and just happier than me. They will be young and interesting when I’m old and boring. They will be available when I am tied up. They will think of the right thing to say when words have failed my completely. They will make friends when I can’t even make hot chocolate.

But now that perfect girl is affecting me less.

I have a wonderful life. In fact, I am richly blessed beyond what I can ever deserve.

But that is beside the point.

The point is that I am learning the truth about jealousy. If you are jealous of someone, you either don’t know them well enough or you haven’t known them long enough. The fact is, their life either has troubles or will have troubles. Serious troubles. And unless they have chosen an attitude of gratitude, they probably think their life stinks too.

On the other side of your jealousy is a hurting, confused, lonely, and even scared girl that you just don’t know yet.

I thank God that even though I will always struggle, I’m coming to the realization that jealousy is me believing the lie that I would be happier if my life were different; when in reality it would only be…well…different. In the process, God has freed me to see Facebook as God’s brag book—budding romances, happy families, new opportunities, God’s creation, and, of course, God’s amazing gift of new lives in small packages. As friend after friend has gotten married and had kids, I’ve been able to genuinely say, “I’m so happy for you!” Because I am.

Just the same, if it causes you to stumble, or if you just don’t like it, there is no harm in staying away from Facebook. And unless you are truly ready for war, this would be a good time to stay out of the Gaza Strip.


Visit Danielle at Law, Grace, and Real Estate to enjoy more of her writing.