ANN MAREE GOUDZWAARD|CONTRIBUTOR
My entire backyard burst with the colors of spring. Everything bloomed. It was a perfect, 70-degree day and the landscape showed off. I looked out my window and saw the wicker chairs scattered under the pergola and balloons dotted on the boulders strategically situated throughout the yard. When we invested in landscaping last year, I had visions of hosting joyful events. The picturesque backdrop was perfect for a tea party or bridal shower. In fact, we planned to host a “baby sprinkle” for my daughter that very day. (A “sprinkle” is a baby shower for couples who already have children.) Cori and Brett had all they needed for two kids, but then they found out they were expecting twins. So, we planned a sprinkle to help them provide for multiple babies.
We hosted a memorial for the twins (Deacon and Hallie) that day instead.
In 2020, the pandemic reminded us to preface our plans with “if the Lord wills.” Everyone’s agenda hit a “hard stop,” and we realized how precarious goals are. For our family, 2021 ushered in the opportunity to experience that truth in real time. My husband and I planned for chaotic bliss in adding a twelfth and thirteenth grandchild to our already bustling family. Together with our other children, we coordinated our calendars to support Cori and Brett at her due date. God had another plan. The Lord willed something different. Something more difficult. An accommodation we had no idea we would need to make. And so began my education in grief.
What’s essential in the grief process is to try and grasp God’s redemptive plans. This takes time. It may even last indefinitely. In Delicious Despair 101, I wrote that Martin Luther fully expected the pain of suffering to result in a transformation. For instance, in opposition to the “first step” of grief (denial), candor looks suffering in the face and says, “Yes, that really happened.” Candor acknowledges devastation, but it also asks, “Now what do I do?” Wallowing in self-pity over the events God ordains is antithetical to biblical grieving. In 1 Thess. 4:13, Paul instructs mourners not to grieve as those without hope. So, we must keep moving through our grief and actively seek wisdom to reinterpret what happened as perfect and good…
I was privileged to attend a small Christian university. At the beginning of every semester, regardless of the subject, my professors began their new classes with a reminder of God’s creation. My chemistry professor enthusiastically announced we would be amazed at how God had constructed the atom. A calculus professor started his semester telling us that math demonstrated God’s order in the universe. Even the fine arts professors would introduce their topics by reminding us that God knitted each individual together before anyone else even knew they existed. The authors whose works we would read were graciously knitted together with talents for communicating ideas through the written word. Studying under godly professors gave me an appreciation for learning subjects with an eye toward how each fit into God’s creative plan.
One of my retirement goals was to get back into college to study subjects that had always fascinated me. Ornithology was on my list. Birds are so diverse and so numerous; scientists are still working on categorizing the eleven thousand known species. The sights and sounds of birds are a beautiful part of God’s order. Birds have been remarkably designed with vision, hearing, touch, and smell senses that surpass that of humans. Some birds can see ultraviolet wavelengths, and some, like eagles, can see four focal points that they watch at once. Certain owls can catch a mouse in total darkness, guided only by their hearing. The sandpipers’ bills are so sensitive that they can detect differences in pressure when they probe mud to sense things before even touching them. Many birds use an acute sense of smell for navigation. Others can sense the magnetic field, read the stars, track the sun, and hear infrasound as part of their navigational skills.
Luke calls our attention to birds in chapter 12: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (v. 24). As much as I have been in awe of the birds I have studied, I am reminded in this verse of how much more in awe I should be of those God made in His image…
One of the perks of studying abroad with a college theater group was free or cheap tickets to theatrical productions playing wherever we were. Actors like to play to full houses, so if there are spare tickets, they are happy to find worthy recipients. On one such occasion while I was studying in Italy, the British National Theatre was touring with their production of The Passion Play, and we somehow gleaned tickets for a performance in Rome.
Because we had the “cheap seats” (the groundlings), we got to be very close to the action, sometimes part of the action, as we stood on the floor (for six hours with one dinner break). The first act told stories from the Old Testament, and the second act, the story of Christ from the gospels. Of course, during the Palm Sunday scene, everyone was excitedly cheering. Then during the Good Friday scenes, most of the audience was excitedly jeering. Except me. As one who seemed to be the “token Christian” in my group, I was not about to cry out, “Crucify Him!” I loved Jesus and wanted no part in demanding His crucifixion. And that’s what I shared when a couple of the others asked why I had been quiet.
I thought of myself like one of the women who had followed Him and watched the crucifixion, devastated by His murder. I had even portrayed Mary Magdalene several times in an Easter monologue―but I had not considered why she followed Him even to death. (See Mark 16:9.) That kind of gratitude was not part of my response at the play, nor even part of my testimony….
I recently enjoyed a morning hike to a waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. As I hiked closer to the stream, the rushing of the water drowned out all the other noises of the forest. I could no longer hear the birds singing to one another. I sat down to take in my surroundings and a passage that I had just studied came to mind, a reminder from the LORD of His work in me.
Titus 3:5-7: He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Regeneration and Renewing
The pouring down of that waterfall helped me ponder the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. This passage in Titus is one of two New Testament occurrences of the word “regeneration.” The original audience would have pictured water baptism, which is the outward sign pointing to the inward reality of the Spirit’s washing, and of our cleansed conscience (Hebrews 9:8-14). In Old Testament sacrifices, the sprinkling of the blood symbolized cleansing; water now symbolizes the cleansing that is ours in Christ.
The Spirit does the work of regeneration. As He does, the voices surrounding us urging us to just try harder, or the accusatory voices using the Law to conjure up old guilt, begin to fade away. The Spirit washing us by regeneration is the beginning of our new life, the beginning of His rich work in us.
In addition to regeneration is the Spirit’s work of renewal where He makes all things new. He doesn’t patch us up, fix what is broken, or strengthen us to remake ourselves; rather, He makes us anew, born again. He takes Christ’s work on the cross and applies it to each of us so that we might have abundant life and growth in Him (see Colossians 3:10)….
PRACTICE is a word worthy of adoration.
PRACTICE is a solid, steady friend. The one that shows up day after day to get all the things done. PRACTICE extends a hand of grace and a boost of encouragement. It leaves room for mistakes and allows for another opportunity to do it better. PRACTICE gives the pat on the back and reassuringly says, “You’ll never do it perfectly and that’s okay. Just do your best today!”
When PRACTICE made an appearance in the Bible, I admit I was initially surprised. It doesn’t seem like a particularly holy word. I’m used to seeing PRACTICE hang out with friends like PIANO, BASKETBALL, FLASH CARDS, and PARALLEL PARKING. Nonetheless, I happily waved PRACTICE over to sit down and visit for a moment.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 (NIV)
Sports are a logical thing to practice. There are rules to memorize, cardiovascular gains to make, and muscles to build in order to succeed. Music makes sense to practice. Success with scales, songs, and styles all require the dedication that only practice time can give.
Most of us can envision what steps must be taken and what benchmarks must be reached in order to succeed in a variety of life-skills. But hospitality? How do you practice hospitality?
In his letters to Titus and Timothy, Paul gives hints on how to build up spiritual disciplines. He tells Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). He tells Titus to “be a model of good works” and dedicates a large portion of his letter on how the older generations should train up the younger ones through example (Titus 2:7).
I began to think through the examples of hospitality I have witnessed in the lives of gracious women God has placed around me….
My father was dying of cancer, and I was caring for our twenty-two-year-old son who had already had three surgeries for a brain tumor and now required IV antibiotics four times daily. I skipped my yearly physical and my yearly mammogram. I ate more sugar and exercised less. I slept poorly. Strands of hair came out in my hands as I washed it. Dark half-moons carved themselves into the skin under my eyes, and fatigue fell over me like a persistent fog. During my most intense season of caregiving, my self-care deteriorated rapidly, and my body paid the price.
According to the 2020 AARP Study on Caregiving, I was not alone. Of the approximately 53 million people who are now providing unpaid care for an adult with “health or functional needs,” at least 23 percent say caregiving has worsened their physical health.[i] Kelly Markham, LCSW and palliative care expert, explains the lethal cycle: The caregiver believes that she alone can tend to the loved one properly; the loved one often reinforces that belief. Under the chronic stress of caregiving, the caregiver’s health suffers. Committed to caring for her loved one, the caregiver neglects her own care. Such neglect of self-care has been shown to lead to an earlier and higher mortality rate for caregivers as compared to non-caregivers.
One in five people are now unpaid caregivers and 61 percent of caregivers are women. Chances are, you know an unpaid caregiver. To minister well to our caregiving friends, we can help them understand the gospel call to self-care and assist them in practical ways.
The Gospel Call to Self-Care for Caregivers
First, we can help the caregiver recognize that the type of self-care advocated is not self-indulgence. Sadly, some people have destroyed their own health in the name of denying themselves and taking up their crosses (Luke 9:23). When Jesus called us to deny ourselves, he did not mean for us to deny or denigrate our humanity—our mental, emotional, and physical needs for rest, exercise, good nutrition, and medical care. Jesus himself acknowledged his human limitations by sleeping and eating and taking time away from his ministry to pray and rest (Mark 4:35-40; Matthew 14:22-23). Jesus tended to his physical health and to that of others, showing us how to live our calling to “glorify God” in our bodies, because they are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Self-care of this kind is not self-indulgent, but rather, responsible stewardship…
Our world cries out for purpose and hope. The need for an encourager to arise amid a desperate situation is not new. In Judges 4, we meet Deborah, a woman whom God used to perform that task for the nation of Israel.
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. (Judges 4:4-5 NIV)
Deborah’s passion for God made her available to Him, and accessible to the people of Israel. According to Deborah’s own words, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).
Deborah’s obedience infused with the power of God’s Spirit enabled her to lead the Israelites out of bondage. Although God may not call all of us to a position of national leadership, He does exhort each of us to take new life to our own villages.
This is not as difficult as you may think. Consider Merriam Webster’s definition of village: “A settlement usually larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town.” Now consider your circle of influence. In most villages, a large country house is at the center. Consider yourself that country house and realize God is not asking you to encourage the whole world. Just your part of it…