Author Archives: Julie

This world is NOT my home!

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through…

So, will we spend the rest of our lives in Brazil?  I think some of the following facts have prompted that question…

– we’re now closer to 55 than 50,

– we’re no longer the “green-horns” but are considered veteran missionaries (we just completed 30 years with Baptist Mid-Missions),

– we are “empty nesters”,

– we have 4 precious grandkids in the USA (and we love their parents, too!),

– our youngest (whom we love very much) also lives in the USA,

– Julie’s parents aren’t getting any younger,

– some of our supporting churches are having a hard time finding a pastor, including our home church.

 

On the other hand…

– there are fewer and fewer missionaries on the field to whom we can ask advice or counsel, or that can take care of mission business (…are we it?),

– we have 1 adorable granddaughter who lives in south Brazil and another one will soon join the family (and we love their parents, too!),

– we both teach various classes at the Carirí Baptist Seminary and count ourselves privileged to have a part in training the future Baptist church leaders of Brazil and missionaries who serve in various countries of the world,

– Jim’s mom lives nearby and she’s not getting any younger,

– our latest ministry endeavor is the OASIS, a restful place where Brazilian missionaries can stay when they return to Brazil on furlough,

– we’re currently building our (2nd) dream house at the OASIS.

Roof Line (1) (Large)

Dream house #2

Either way…

– sometimes we’re so busy we usually don’t know which end is up.  (Jim thrives on that, I just try to keep up.)

 

Wow.  It sounds a bit crazy, but that’s us at the moment.  More experienced, wiser, grayer, older?  When I look back at the past 12 years, it’s been a wild ride that I wouldn’t change for the world.  Some of the crazy curve-balls the Lord threw at us weren’t always pleasant, but I wouldn’t change the learning curves for anything.  Those curves have brought us to where we are today.

 

Let me share some of the quick details about some of those curves.

 

Twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma.  To make a REALLY long story short, I had a very successful surgery to remove it.  The results:  total deafness in my left ear but still smiling, with no facial paralysis.  Oh, and I was left with only one balance system.  That’s been a bit tricky at times, but God has kept me on my feet (literally) through a lot of stressful situations.  The best thing?  I came out of that experience more spiritually balanced than ever.  God taught me how to really, truly trust Him.  What a precious lesson and a much needed one for the approaching curves…

 

A few months after my surgery, our first-born (Josiah) left for college.  Multiple curves.  I don’t think I  need to go into any more details.

 

The next year, our middle child (Joy Anna) left for college.  I think you understand…

 

The next year, our first dream house almost became a nightmare.  It was way, way too big

DSC01770 (Large)

Dream house #1

without two of our kids.  On top of that, God drastically turned the Dollar/Brazilian Real exchange rate so that we lost 50% of our buying power almost overnight.  Then it became too much to maintain.  But we never lacked and He always provided, which in that case meant giving us a buyer.  God sold that dream house for us.  The money went into a savings account and we became “homeless”.

 

I’ll use that term very loosely, for we never lacked and God always provided . . . seemingly countless times.  Here’s a quick run-down.  🙂

 

1)  A year was spent as house-sitters for missionary colleagues who were on furlough.

2)  A year was spent in Faith (Baptist Bible College) apartments while we were on furlough.

3)  Two months were spent in another colleague’s guest bedroom when we returned from furlough.

4)  Six months were spent house-sitting for other colleagues while they were on furlough.

5)  Two years were spent living in an adapted dorm on the Carirí Bible college campus.

6)  Five months were spent in a gorgeous farmhouse that my Dad remodeled.  We were privileged to be the first to live there while we were on a short furlough.

7)  Eighteen months were spent in married student housing near the Carirí Bible college campus.

8)  Two years have passed since we moved into one of the house/apartments at the OASIS, originally meant for other missionaries, not us.  😉

9)  Six months of those last two years were spent in an apartment in Austin, MN, (and on the road) while we were on a short furlough last year.

 

So why is all of this important?  No, we’ve never been truly “homeless” and certainly never without places of ministry.  God has been ever faithful to provide SO many places to stay and serve.  But the lesson and the truth of being a pilgrim has been well ingrained and duly learned after living in so many different places.  This world is not our home, we’re just a passin’ through.  Believe me, those words have a whole new meaning because of the past ten years.  If He hadn’t sold our first dream house in 2007, I would probably still be chasing after the wrong things.

 

We really get attached to things in this terrestrial life.  Houses.  Family.  Friends.  Ministry.  Jobs.    Cars.  Pets.  Places.  Stuff.  None of it will go with us, except those souls that we can lead to Christ through our testimony and example.  True pilgrims don’t count the things of this world to be dear because they won’t last.  Investing in people will.

 

I’m still learning all of the facets of being a pilgrim.  But I can confidently say that God brought us to NE Brazil.  Then He took us from church-planting on the east coast to bring us to the desert oasis of the Carirí to serve at the Bible college.  And while we’re still serving at the Bible college, we’re serving in different positions than when He originally led us here.  He can change that again or take us to another place in Brazil, to any other country in the world, or even back to the place from which we were sent:  Austin, MN.  That’s up to Him.  It’s up to us to trust and obey when He leads.

 

So, no, we’re not planning on going anywhere until He leads.  But if and when He does, the house (and all the stuff!) will stay where it is with no regrets.  Believe me, that’s not exactly how I felt ten years ago when I had to leave my first dream house with glass windows and screens, hot running water in the kitchen and baths, a real dishwasher (beside the kids), plenty of space to decorate, and lots of space to entertain and receive guests!   Our new home will have a few of the same amenities but the way that I look at them is so different.  Yes, our prayer is that our home will continue to be used for His glory to encourage others who have made sacrifices to “go”.  But now I have a much better understanding of what true contentment is:  to focus on Christ, His purpose and plan.  The curves have become much easier to manage when God is in the driver’s seat because HE knows what’s around the bend.    

 

The move ten years ago was the beginning of a lesson in the life of a pilgrim.  Sacrifice, yes.  Giving things up, yes.  Letting things go, yes.  Learning what really matters, yes.  Investing in the eternal, yes.  Most importantly, the example and instruction that has been passed on to others will have hopefully landed on listening ears and teachable hearts.  Not to our acclaim, but for the glory of the Lord  and His eternal kingdom.  ‘Cause I’m just a pilgrim.  And I’m just a passin’ through.

 

P.S.  The well-know hymn, Anywhere with Jesus, has been running tough my mind lately.  It was sung (in Portuguese) on August 9th, at the commissioning service of one of our former students, Criselite Siebra.  Cris is headed for Bolivia as a missionary in a few months but had to say good-bye to her family on Wednesday evening.  (If you want to peek in on the moment, check out the video post on my FB page.)  It was humbling to hug her mom and try to encourage her as she struggled to say good-bye to her beloved daughter.  I shared with her that my life as a pilgrim would never have begun had my Mom and Dad not been willing to let go.

They gave up a daughter,  a son-in-law, and the privilege of having three of their grandkids close to them during the formative years.   There are some sacrifices that are made daily, on the part of many, not just the ones He calls to go.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for being willing to parent a pilgrim!  Thanks for understanding, Josiah, Nikki, Jeremy, Lydia, Tabitha, and Jordan; Fabio, Joy Anna, Kristi, and Baby V.;  Jennifer; our siblings and their families; our sending church family.  Part of our hearts long to be with you every day and to live a “normal” life.  But normal needs to be measured by the standard of God’s will.  Going anywhere with Jesus is one of the possibilities, and it does have great rewards in spite of the sacrifices.  Thanks again for being willing to make that sacrifice.  Because we’re all pilgrims, just a passin’ through.

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What About the Guy who Cut His Hand?

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the fact that every life has a story and every story is full of life

Let me tell you one that’s absolutely true.  I remember.  I was there.

Here’s a quick calendar of events that happened from January through April of 1988 as a background:

Late January:  We moved from our “borrowed” home in Austin to Julie’s parent’s basement.

Early February:  We rejoiced and celebrated a year of full-time deputation by reaching the 100% mark!  But meetings had been scheduled, so we kept travelling in Missouri and Kansas until early March.

Late February:  Jim’s Dad (Jerry) had a health crisis while travelling in Arizona.  We suggested that he get a second opinion from Mayo Clinic, less an hour away from our home near Austin, MN.

Early March:  Jim made the last deputation trip (a return visit) to a church in South Dakota.  Julie stayed home because she was 9 months pregnant.

Evening of March 14:  We attended the BMM Tri-annual Conference in Owatonna, MN.

2:00 AM, March 16th:  Julie woke up Jim so that he could take her to the hospital.  Josiah stayed sleeping peacefully in Grandma and Grandpa Hansen’s basement.

4:22 AM, March 16th:   Joy Anna Leonard was born at St. Olaf Hospital, Austin, MN.

Evening of March 16th:  Back in Owatonna and accompanied by our pastor, (sleepy) Jim was included in the Inner Circle, the prayer of dedication for those going to their field of service before the next BMM Tri-annual meeting.  Julie, of course, couldn’t make it to the event. 

March 26th:  The doctors at Mayo confirmed that Jim’s Dad had terminal cancer and that any treatment would cause more suffering with no hope for an extension of his life.

April 6th:  While cleaning out the freezer in anticipation of the impending move to Brazil, Julie baked two loaves of frozen bread dough.  Jim ate lots of it!

2:00 AM, April 7th:  Jim woke up Julie so that she could take him to the hospital because of intense abdominal pains.  Baby Joy Anna went along for the ride and 18-month old Josiah stayed sleeping peacefully in Grandma and Grandpa Hansen’s basement.

 

So here’s the rest of the story…

Jim was admitted to the Emergency Room at St. Olaf in Austin, MN, and we were told to wait for the doctor on call.  As we talked, prayed and waited, two huge questions loomed in our minds: 

1) What was the cause of his pain:  the large amount of warm, homemade bread he had consumed the previous day or was it something more serious? and  2)  On whom could we call to be Jim’s doctor? 

I was raised in Austin but my family doctors were in the retirement stage and their new female partner was my wonderful OBGYN.  Although she had accompanied both of my pregnancies and had delivered both of our children, Jim didn’t feel comfortable with her, especially since his case obviously had nothing to do with having a baby.  Honestly, our minds went blank and we asked the Lord for wisdom.  As we prayed, we heard an insistent rustling on the other side of the closed curtain in the isolated ER area.  In the next instant, the curtain was pushed aside and we heard the incredulous question, “What are you two doing here?” 

There stood Dr. Russell Kooy, general surgeon, faithful member of First Baptist Church in Austin, an all-around talented guy, and an angel sent from Heaven.  I’m not sure who was more surprised at that moment; him or us!  We had obviously forgotten about “Doc” Kooy, but God hadn’t.  It took a few seconds for us to gather our wits and all of the thoughts that were racing through our minds.  Jim quickly explained what was happening and then we heard his reassuring response.  It went something like this:  “I was called in to stitch up a guy who cut his hand while working on the line at the Hormel (meat-processing) plant.  I’ll be back in a little while to take care of you, so don’t let any other doctor examine you.  I’m with you on this one and we’ll get to the bottom of it.” 

True to his word, he was back and took full charge of Jim’s case.  But, during those early hours of the day, every test came back negative and nothing could be confirmed.  Wise Doc Kooy admitted Jim for observation and ordered more tests throughout the day.  To make a long story short, 6:00 in the evening finally rolled around.  Nothing seemed to be happening then everything happened at once:  Doc Kooy gave Jim a gentle poke in the lower right abdomen which proverbially sent him to the ceiling in intense pain just as the lab nurse walked in to announce that his white blood counts were nearly off the charts.  Appendicitis was the diagnosis and they whipped him off to surgery.  A few hours later, he was back in his room trying to sleep off the affects of the anesthesia. 

Wow.  God had been so good to us!  He sent us a godly man who patiently walked us through a day of waiting for test results, an emergency surgery, and a short hospital stay.  God gave us peace and calm in the midst of the storm by sending a friend, servant and skilled surgeon to care for Jim.  The surgery went well and there were no complications.  Mind you, there were some other interesting consequences as a result of the whole episode. 

–       Jim spent his 25th birthday (April 8th) in the hospital.  (The nurses brought him a cake, sang to him then told him he wasn’t allowed to have a piece.  Dietary restrictions, you know.)

–       He was put on strict lifting limitations.  He could hold Joy Anna but only while he was sitting.  We set up a step stool in front of the changing table so that Josiah could climb up for Jim to change his diapers.  And we were supposed to be packing for our move to Brazil.  That was put on hold for a while, but Jim isn’t one to sit still…

–       Dad Leonard was still in Rochester, recuperating from surgery and waiting to be released to return to Ankeny, IA, where his parents lived.  Jim was able to drive so he took advantage of the time to visit daily with Dad.  Absolutely precious.

To say the least, we were rejoicing in God’s protection and provision.  Once again, He had showed Himself faithful and true.  We were reminded again that “all things work together for good to those who love God”. 

But one huge question remains unanswered in my mind:  So, what about the guy who cut his hand?  Did he accept the consequences with grace and calm?  Did he realize that his “accident” was being used of God to bring us a very special doctor at just the perfect time, in just the right place?  Nah, probably not.  Not unless Doc Kooy, in the process of stitching up the man’s hand, told who he had just happened to find waiting in another section of the emergency room. 

Have you ever felt as though God is somehow using you, through some kind of suffering, to be the part of someone else’s bigger, beautiful masterpiece?  It may even seem like mere coincidence because there’s no rhyme or reason.  There’s real pain, yet no real answers.  I know that’s how Job felt.  He suffered real, traumatizing pain and questioned God’s purpose but was never told why.  He was, however, able to see the completed masterpiece later on in his own life because of God’s repeated blessings.  Think of the valuable and precious lessons he and his friends learned along the way!  (Job 38-42)

Another example would be Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph felt real pain (betrayal, lies, imprisonment, abandonment, etc.) yet he kept his eyes focused on his almighty God.  That focus enabled him to withstand the immediate pain and hardships and kept him going long enough to see (in part) God’s overwhelming blessings.  He won so many spiritual victories in his journey but only his bones made it to the Promised Land.  Consider his brothers; they just wanted to be rid of a pesky younger brother of whom they were incredibly jealous.  They had no idea that they were actually fulfilling his God-given dreams (which irritated them to no end), helping him to rise to a position in which he would actually save their lives. 

So what about the guy who cut his hand?  So what about me?  I know that God is working on me daily, to make me more like Him.  He can do that in any way He wishes; by giving me a principle role, a small speaking part, a part in the crowd or even as a stage hand or designer.  Who am I to question His method or His means?  I simply need to understand more of who He is.  That’s exactly what Job discovered through all of his pain.  Pain isn’t always easy to handle, especially in a world that seems to have the idea that pain isn’t good for us.  If Jim had ignored his pain, the situation could have gotten pretty ugly.  Pain won’t kill you but the problem it calls attention to will, if it’s not given due attention.  And that’s where the comfort of Romans 8: 28 truly hits home:  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

As I reflect on 2013 and look forward to 2014, I know that God has given me some painful situations on which I need to meditate then leave in His hands to see how He will work things out.  That’s easier said than done but exactly what I need to do to grow in His grace.  Some of that pain is indirect; not necessarily created by me or even what I would consider deserved.  Many times that type of suffering isn’t looked upon with great patience or delight.  But that doesn’t make any difference in God’s overall plan.  (Isaiah 55: 8-9) He wants to mold me, no matter what it takes, to His image.     

So, what about the guy who cut his hand?  I know it’s a bit overdue but I’d like to express my thanks. 

Therefore, to the man from the Austin Hormel plant who cut his hand in the wee hours of the morning of April 7th, 1988:  thank you.  Thank you for being a key player in a story of which you never knew the beginning nor ever discovered the ending; for being an important part in the bigger picture of which you never saw.  Thank you for enduring the traumatic pain of those God-induced circumstances.  Thank you for bearing a scar on your hand for the rest of your life because we were in need of a caring, skilled surgeon.  Uh, that brings to mind another story.  Incidentally, I know another “innocent” man who has scars on His hands because God needed Him to be the key player from the beginning to the end in the most important story ever told; the very principle part of the bigger picture that is yet to unfold.  Indeed, an extremely difficult role and totally undeserved, but very lovingly and obediently executed.  Because every life has a story and every story is full of life.  In this case, that life is eternal…  “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  2Corinthians 9: 15

Please read Philippians 2: 1-18 and Romans 8: 31-39 for the perfect conclusion.

Hugs and sincere wishes for a wonderful, God-planned 2014,  Julie 

P.S.  Thanks, Doc Kooy, for getting up from your warm bed on a cold night when your call buzzer went off.  Thank you for allowing God to use you to encourage us in our time of need.  May He richly bless you!

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“When I Grow Up” … Living the Unplanned Dream

Authors Note:  I should probably make a list of disclaimers here:  I’ve never before written an article for a blog, it takes me forever to write because I write, read, re-write, re-read, etc., etc.   But I can sincerely assure you that I’m not writing to show my literary skills but rather to share a teachable heart.  With the Bible as my guide and the Holy Spirit as my teacher, I’m still learning;  Lord willing, a masterpiece in the making.  *sigh*  There’s an awesomely large amount of work yet to be done…

I can’t really say that, as a small child, I remember dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  There wasn’t really anything that I knew  that I wanted to be.  I loved my family, my church, my school, my friends, my life.  Maybe at that stage, I just wanted to live that life  forever.  But since life obviously doesn’t work that way, I had to grow up. 

So while in 7th grade (called “junior high” back in the 70’s), I was positive that I had discovered my life’s calling:  interior decorating.  That shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.  That is, anyone who knows my extremely creative and talented Dad.  It’s sufficient to say that, when it comes to remodeling projects, Dad can transform the worst into the best, the impossible into reality, tossed aside junk into gorgeous, sought-after masterpieces.  It’s in the genes, no doubt, but it also shows in the elbow grease that he so diligently taught my siblings and me to apply.  My new life’s goal became the dream of remodeling and living in a renovated barn.  I think that Dad would have loved to have helped me with that project, but it never happened.  God had other plans. 

When God called me to be a missionary, my new love became working with children; in Vacation Bible School, in AWANA, in Sunday School, at Bible camp.  That new goal was played out in various ways that brought so much satisfaction, especially after I had my own kids.   Yet God changed that love to another in a way which I never expected, never asked for, nor even dreamed possible. 

God needed to teach me a few important lessons, so He put me to teach.  That may sound counter- productive, but it’s really quite logical; a teacher learns much more in the process of preparation than any student will ever assimilate through class lectures, notes, activities or homework.  So, not necessarily realizing exactly what God had in mind, I suddenly found myself teaching female Bible college students.  

Frankly, I was somewhat pushed into the position as a last minute, maybe even temporary, solution.  It truly was last minute:  the responsibility was handed to me just three weeks before classes were to begin.  I had never prepared organized class notes or lesson plans for a 2-credit college course or anything even comparable.  It was an interesting adventure, especially since I was homeschooling our three kids at the time.  But most importantly, through that process I discovered that I was the one that needed to be taught, and on a more permanent basis! 

So here I am, almost 15 years later, still teaching and still learning.  That initial 2-credit class has developed into four separate courses:  The original, Christian Worker II (The Biblical Woman and Her Home), plus Evangelism through Special Events, Culinary Arts, and Raising Children.  Every year I try to update my class notes simply because God is still revising my heart  and my head.  Many times, there are cultural differences and linguistic challenges that are very disheartening.   Sometimes there is a lack of dedicated students or those that don’t take the Word of God seriously.  At other times I lose my focus and concentrate on my needs instead of fixing my eyes on Christ.  Sincerely, there have been many times that I just wanted to quit.  But God’s grace is sufficient and I’m still learning to depend on Him for every little detail.   Yes, there are times that I fail in being excellently prepared or in blamelessly living what I teach.  But with each short-coming, the more I desire and realize my need for a truly humble and teachable spirit.

SO, what do I want to be when I grow up?  (Wait!  Did I just hear you laugh?)  The TRUTH:  I turned fifty this year.  Yes, I do feel a bit older and much wiser, but that’s the exciting part.  Titus 2: 3-5 exhorts, “the older women likewise, be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things – that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”   With God’s help, I’m striving to be that  woman, the woman of Titus 2.  Yes, there are days when I don’t play well the part or fit the description of a more mature, godly woman in the most excellent manner that best delights my Lord.  But I have grown, I am growing, and I desire to grow more in the grace and knowledge of my Savior.

Although there are a few downsides to what God has asked me to do, there are also some huge rewards.  When John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth” (3 John 4), he expressed a grateful satisfaction to see what he had taught being put into practice in the lives of those who he had mentored.  I completely understand and whole heartedly agree.  As we travel to different places when Jim is asked to speak in churches, it thrills my heart to stay in the homes of some of my former students.  As pastor’s or missionaries wives, they share how they use recipes, practice hospitality, plan church programs, work with a family budget, train their children, and teach the other women in their congregations; many things that were taught or reinforced as they sat in my classes.  Mind you, that’s not to sing my praises, but to state the blessings of a wonderful God who will use those who are willing to be used, even when it seems that no one is listening or paying attention.  There’s no greater incentive to keep on keeping on than those faithful examples.  I have to keep reminding myself of those encouraging blessings.

Am I doing what I dreamed of being as a teenager?  No.  Am I doing what God desires of me?  I trust that I am and know that if I’m not, He’ll lead me to that perfect place.  And that’s a dream come true. 

Delighting in the Lord,  Julie            

Psalm 37: 3-8

BTW and FYI:  God has been so gracious to me.  Even though He called me away from interior decorating as a profession, I’ve had innumerable opportunities to decorate the various homes that we’ve occupied.  (Last count, it’s been 19 over a period of 28 years, ranging in time from 1 month to 13 years, not including various times at my Mom and Dad’s during short furloughs.  No joking.)  The Lord even allowed Jim and I to design the home in which we lived for 13 years as we raised our kids and are currently in the process of designing our next terrestrial residence.  We’re leaving the details of the eternal one with Him.  (John 14:1-6)

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