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Posted on Nov 25, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, My Crazy Family | 13 comments

True Religion

True Religion

Photo Credit: Lydia Wenger Wade

The home that I’m staying in tonight is located in rural Iowa. It belongs to my aunt and uncle and I’m here with my parents for a family reunion. It’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever had the privilege of staying in. It’s an old farmhouse surrounded by barns and out buildings. Some of those buildings house a few animals – goats, ducks, chickens, dogs, and cats. Once it was a working farm with cows and pigs and crops, but my aunt and uncle have retired from farming.

It’s hard for me to describe this home adequately. On the outside it looks regular enough. You enter through a side door into a mud room with a wooden coat hanger and a place for muddy boots. Next is a dining room with a large, well-worn table and brown carpet. The kitchen, a long and narrow room with a few cabinets and some storage, is behind the dining room. The living room has large windows that overlook the beautiful countryside and give my aunt and uncle the ability to watch deer and other wildlife as they wander through.

The bedroom I’m staying in tonight is what got me to thinking of the beauty of this home. The bedroom has a linoleum floor, two small beds with colorful, tropical fish themed comforters, and matching curtains. It has an old bureau with a mirror, a lamp clipped to the top of the mirror, and another lamp near the door. There are some hooks hanging from the wall that serve as a closet of sorts. The wall is blonde paneling and above the bed I’m sleeping in is a large wooden cross with praying hands in the center of it.

I brushed my teeth tonight before bed in the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever been in outside of an airplane. It is maybe two inches wider than me on either side and the light is on a pull chain. The electrical outlets won’t allow me to plug anything in because they aren’t three-pronged outlets.

The beauty of this old farmhouse struck me when I walked in the door tonight. Seated at the kitchen table was a young boy, perhaps twelve years old. He wore leg braces and didn’t stand to greet me. When we were introduced, he spoke with difficulty. My uncle was playing a card game with him. For the first thirty minutes I was here, I was able to observe my aunt and uncle interacting with the boy. They understood what he was saying, they treated him with dignity, and they laughed and joked with him. Soon it was time for my uncle to take the boy home.

The bedroom I’m sleeping in tonight was prepared with children in mind. Today the child that my aunt and uncle were caring for went home at the end of the day, but there have been countless children who have not been able to go home because their homes were not safe places. My aunt and uncle have spent countless years of their lives as foster parents. To the best of my knowledge, they began 28 years ago by taking in a little blue-eyed, blonde girl whose mother wasn’t able to care for her. They fell in love with her and adopted her. Today I know her simply as my cousin Devon.

Trent and Devon – all grown up

Devon was the first in a long line of children for whom my aunt and uncle provided a home. She’s the only one they adopted, but they continued to provide a home for needy children for many years. I’m sure putting a linoleum floor in a bedroom frequented by displaced children was the wisest thing to do. I can just imagine carpet with gum stuck to it, holes from the adventurous things children do, and messes made by those who haven’t been taught basic cleanliness skills.

They were given the most difficult cases over the years because they were able to achieve such tremendous results. I don’t know many details of the children who stayed here and what was accomplished because my aunt and uncle don’t talk about it much. It’s just something they have done.

My aunt and uncle are well into their sixties now and I don’t think they take in foster children any longer. These days they are licensed to work with special needs children. They provide care for children whose families need assistance. That’s why my uncle was playing Skip Bo with the young boy I met today. His family needs help and they are providing it.

Photo Credit: Lydia Wenger Wade

There’s a wall full of children’s pictures here. It tells the story of the children who have lived under this roof. The beauty of this home is in the love that resides here. The beauty of this home is in the way two people have chosen to give of themselves to help others. The beauty in this home is in the legacy they are leaving their grandchildren. Their oldest grandchild is now in college majoring in social work. They have made such an impact on me that I look forward to the day I can follow in their footsteps and bring hurting children into my home to help them, to show them love, to teach them responsibility, and to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.

My aunt and uncle seem to understand the command of Christ to care for the fatherless better than nearly anyone I know. I know that it has not been easy for them. You can see in their eyes that their hearts have broken many times. I have no doubt there have been times of great frustration and personal sacrifice. Yet they have continued to help.

This is true religion. This is true beauty.

I live near one of the wealthiest areas in the nation and am regularly in mini-mansions that are decorated with all the latest things. They are gorgeous and tasteful. They smell wonderful and have soft music playing in the background. But in an old farmhouse in rural Iowa, I have discovered true beauty. It is the beauty of a life well-spent. It is the beauty of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

Robert and Linda admiring their newest grandson

Thank you, Uncle Robert and Aunt Linda, for being the real thing. I am honored to call you family.

James 1:27 (ASV) – Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

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Posted on Jun 21, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, My Crazy Family | 7 comments

Orie Wenger

Orie Wenger

My Uncle Orie, my dad’s youngest brother, passed away two weeks ago (June 6, 2009) at age 55.  I happened to be home in South Carolina for a visit.  Uncle Orie had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in February.  He had been sick for a while before that, but they thought it was something else.  My uncle was never a big man, and this type of cancer makes it impossible to digest food, so he got smaller and smaller every time I went home.  It was so hard to see him suffering and in pain.  In spite of my concern for him when I saw him, he had a good attitude even on the last day.  I am so thankful that I was able to pray with him on that Friday evening. 

To describe my uncle to someone who didn’t know him is an interesting task.  Dad and Orie grew up on a farm in Iowa, in a family of six boys and two girls.  They worked hard and moved quickly.  There was no such thing as slow with them.  I don’t like slow much myself, but the way they paced themselves makes me look like a turtle.  Possibly as a result of the constant rush they were in, Orie developed a bit of a stutter.  He always seemed to be in a hurry to get his words out and unable to slow down long enough to let his brain and mouth work together. 

Orie was missing a finger.  I’ve heard the story before but don’t exactly recall it.  I think it had something to do with accidentally shooting oil into his finger (I can’t explain how that might happen…) and not going to the doctor until a bad infection had set in.  Anyway, it was a farming accident and certainly made him unique! 

He grew up Mennonite and was good at making things with his hands – especially with wood.  He liked to drive cars and run anything with a motor.  (By the way, Mennonite is not Amish.  They were simple, but drove cars and had modern appliances.)  When some of my boy cousins reached age 18, he took them to fill out their “conscientious objector” papers with the government so they would never be forced to fight in a war.  (Mennonites are pacifists.)  I don’t know how he stood on war in his later years though.

When I was a kid, he fed me fried calf brains for dinner.  Mom about died.  Not only did I eat them, but I kept telling Mom that it was “the best chicken” I’d ever had.  I’ve never had them since then and have no intention of ever trying them again. 

When Orie lived in Iowa, he built a cabin out in the woods.  Our family went out there often for get-togethers.  There are around 100 of us now if you count all the spouses and children.  Having all those people at his cabin made him really, really happy.  If Orie was anything, it was hospitable.  He had such a gift of mercy and compassion, and he loved to have people in his home.  The house he built in South Carolina is three stories.  On the first floor, there are two apartments – one for Grandma and Grandpa; one for a single mom who needed help.  On the second floor is their main living area – master bedroom, big kitchen, living room, office, and bedroom.  On the third floor are more bedrooms and bathrooms, a large living area with a pool table and big screen TV, and a kitchenette.  If you’re counting, that makes four kitchens, three laundry rooms, and I think six bathrooms.  Why in the world would he build such a house?  He NEEDED it.  That house has been constantly filled with people ever since the day it was built.  That was just who he was.  There were always more cars at Uncle Orie’s house than parking spaces.  I think over the years my brother may have spent more time over there with our cousin who is his age than he did at our own house. 

He cared about my ministry and always asked how things at my church in Nashville were going.  He had faith until the very end that God would heal his body and he would be a testimony to others of miraculous healing.  He was a friend to me when I was struggling to communicate with my dad.  He has been a friend to my brother.  There are many other things I could write about my uncle here, but these are my main memories of him.  It’s hard to imagine the world without him.

On the day before he died, Dad called me and my sister to let us know that he wasn’t doing well.  He said we should go over there and see him.  My sister and I quickly drove over, uncertain about arriving unannounced or what to say, but sure that we wanted to see him one last time.  The man I saw that night was much too thin and suffering, but his heart was turned toward God.  He was so glad to see us.  He called us by name.  Without a conscious thought, my hands reached out to touch him and prayers started out of me.  I wanted so badly for God to take away his pain.  I prayed that he would have comfort, strength, and healing.  I felt so helpless and insignificant in the face of his pain.  And I kissed his hand before I left, trying to get out before the tears I knew were coming spilled out. 

My grandmother, Aunt Bev, and cousins David, Lydia, and Joseph will miss him the most.  They have been by his side through this battle, caring for him and supporting him.  My Aunt Bev is truly a woman of God.  She ministered to Orie all of his life, but in these past months she cut out all distractions and focused on him and their family.  Please pray for them as you read this blog.  Their lives have been shockingly altered by his passing and they need our prayers as they grieve and try to figure out how to go on from here.

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Posted on May 26, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Just Goofing Around, My Crazy Family | 3 comments

Shortpants

My mother, who is petite and small, had no idea what to do with me, tall even as a baby.  I was always at least a head taller than the other kids my age.  Mom had a difficult job just trying to dress me in clothes that allowed me to look like a little girl but still fit properly and were affordable.  My grandfather nicknamed me “shortpants”, which I guess I don’t need to explain any further.  It was a hard job for her.  Thankfully, she knows how to sew, so I often wore beautiful, handmade clothes.  I liked that because I could basically customize the outfits, picking out the fabric and the pattern.

When I got into middle school and went to a Christian school where we had to wear skirts all the time (girls and boys), we had a whole new issue.  The skirts had to touch the top of our knees and long skirts were not in style.  I can’t tell you how many times I was in the principal’s office for my short skirts.  Plus, we wore pantyhose.  The fit guide on the back of the package said I needed queen-sized because of my height, so that’s what Mom bought.  The queen-sized hose were too big for me, so I could pull them up to the very top of my stomach.  My even taller best friend had the same problem so together we freakishly wore our pantyhose over our entire stomachs.  Cute.  Really cute. 

By high school I had figured out that short pants were not a good thing.  I forced my mother to get me pants that were long enough, or maybe even a little too long.  (By the way, I was joking back there about boys also wearing skirts. :-))  Mom still bought me clothes that were several sizes too big.  She had done that when I was a child because I grew so quickly that getting clothes a few sizes too big extended the time I was able to wear them and saved us money.  Once I stopped growing though, the habit was not changed.  I constantly pinned clothes to make them fit better.  It didn’t occur to me to buy things smaller.  

When I got to college and gained the freshman-fifteen, I was surprised to find that my clothes actually started to fit.  The pins came out and I was suddenly filling out my clothes and they looked good.  It was quite the surprise. 

I gained more weight during college and have had a hard time losing it.  I’ve done all kinds of diets and exercise programs, but discovered that my excess weight is something I use as a shield to protect myself.  I’ve been to counselors, life coaches, pastors, holistic healers, nutritionists, and personal trainers.  I’ve read every book on the subject I can find.  I’ve prayed and prayed for healing and deliverance.  I want to be whole and healed.  I want to be able to help others who are struggling with similar issues. 

These struggles have put my body image issues into perspective.  There was a time when I obsessed about being taller than everyone else and wishing I could be petite and small.  I wouldn’t even become too good of friends with people who emphasized my feelings of awkwardness by having the gall to be significantly smaller than me.  I obsessed over the parts of my body that didn’t look like a super-model – I’ll spare you the list…  This journey has taught me that little flaws are a blessing.  Little flaws can be covered up.  I’ve learned to appreciate the things about myself that I can. 

These days I actually enjoy my height.  I’ve learned how to find clothes that fit.  I’ve learned the importance of feeling comfortable in those clothes.  But this is the skin I’ve been in all my life:  too tall, too thin, too heavy, too smart, too loud, too opinionated, too bossy, too busy, too religious, too rebellious.  Whatever.  Here I am, trying to be the best I can be. 

At least these days my mother has been relieved of the responsibility of trying to find clothes to fit me.  And short of some kind of alien invasion where I’m forced to wear whatever I can find on a journey to safety, you will never see me in a pair of pants that are too short.

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Posted on Apr 17, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Just Goofing Around, My Crazy Family | 7 comments

Humor

Humor

When I was a kid, we used to sit down at the table and wait for Dad to pray for the food.  But semi-regularly, he wouldn’t pray.  He’d hold up his pointer finger and that was a sign to all of us to put our fingers up too.  The last one with their finger up had to pray.    

It always seemed like a kind of weird ritual to me, but I put my finger up with everyone else in the race to not be last.  But we were a Christian family, Dad was a pastor, and we were taught to pray without ceasing.  Why then did we race to see who “had” to pray?     

I don’t know that it was so much about who “had” to pray.  None of us really minded praying for dinner.  It was more about being silly and having a little fun.  We’re all pretty competitive in my family.  We all wanted to win, even if the prize was not having to pray for dinner that night.    

 

  

  

Family Ski Trip, 2004. Adam's face had met the snow.

 

 Sometimes I think as Christians that we get too serious about everything.  Yes, Christianity is serious business.  There’s nothing funny about Christ’s death and suffering.  God is a holy God and to be revered.  But does that mean that we can’t ever let loose and laugh?  I don’t think so.    

I think that God truly appreciates it when His people have a sense of humor and enjoy life.  I think He appreciates it when we throw our heads back and laugh loudly over something crazy or ridiculous.  Humor can be used in so many ways – to ease the tension between people, to break down barriers, to make another person laugh.  Making other people laugh is one of my favorite things to do.      

 

  

  

Just goofing around...

 

 A few days ago I was complaining to a friend of mine who just had two babies in two years about my ticking biological clock.  (Not that I’m out prowling for a baby daddy or anything like that…  I’d rather be childless and at peace than dealing with a chaotic home life.)  My friend’s idea of how to cheer me up included some very graphic descriptions about the toll babies take on a woman’s body.  I won’t regale you with those details here…  Trust me, you don’t want to know.  She had me doubled over with laughter, tears running down my face, and I believe I even snorted!  And after that information, I decided that I’m doing just fine the way I am.  Maybe I’ll even adopt!  Yikes!  That description should keep me content for a while with the status quo.

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Posted on Apr 1, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, My Crazy Family | 7 comments

Comfort

When you grow up in a Christian home, there are certain words and phrases that become as familiar to you as the faces of your family members. Certain typical requests or ways of wording things roll off the tongue easily because they’re dear to the heart of your parents and make their mark in your heart and mind.

This is the case with my family. I grew up hearing some of the same words over and over again. There were prayers for “sweet dreams”; I’ve often had a “hedge of protection” placed around me and “angels to stand charge over me.” There are many more examples.

As an adult, there’s something about hearing these familiar words from the voice of my father and mother that soothes a place deep inside me. When I am in distress, sick, or upset, their prayers comfort like none other.

I can pray for myself. I have many friends and colleagues who are willing to pray for me and shake the heavens with their cries. But in my time of need, I want to hear my father’s voice. I want to hear my mother’s comforting words. I need to know that they are interceding for me.

Today I had such an experience. I felt a little foolish calling my mother this morning to let her know I had a stressful day ahead. I felt a little silly calling my father to request prayer when I am capable of prayer myself. But oh, how those familiar words flow over me like the warmth of a hug. And even as a grown woman, I draw strength from them. Today I am grateful for praying parents who are willing to cry out to God for me.

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Posted on Mar 20, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, My Crazy Family | 2 comments

Wisdom isn’t Free

I recently heard a father talk about how he prayed for his children to have wealth and financial security.  This amazing father is setting up his children to be financially successful.  My first thought was: Brilliant!  What a great gift to his children!  My second thought was: I wish my parents had prayed that for me.  Maybe then I wouldn’t be suffering like I am right now, trying to get free from debt.  

As I sulked about it for a few days, I began making notes to pray for my own children’s financial future.  I dreamed about all the things I could pray for my yet unborn children – financial security, health, godly mates, long life, and so forth.  In the meantime, I was feeling resentful toward my parents for not praying for me to have financial stability and wealth.  As it goes with most of these things, God soon opened my eyes to a greater concept and showed me the wisdom of my own parents.

Mom and Dad were always very intentional about teaching me – Scripture, leadership principles, financial responsibility, stage presence, respect, thankfulness, concern for the under-dog, and even how to do things that seemed like too big for a little girl.  They especially taught me about wisdom, reading Proverbs to me and teaching me about Solomon.  I’m not sure how many times they talked to me about Solomon, or how old I was when I heard the story for the first time, but it is a story that has remained with me all my life.

As I considered the Solomon story, I remembered that God offered Solomon anything he wanted and Solomon asked for wisdom.  I’ve always been struck by the fact that all this happened in a dream.  If Solomon were awake and had friends around him to consult with when God made this offer to him, it might have taken him a while to decide what he wanted.  He might have asked for more power, to be healthy in every way, to be the most influential man who ever lived, or to have his children be wealthy and secure.  All of these are wonderful requests, but in his most vulnerable and open state, he asked for wisdom to rule the people well.  God was so pleased with Solomon’s request he was also granted wealth, honor, and a long life.

Mom and Dad taught me if I prayed for wisdom, God would be pleased with me too.  Not only would He give me wisdom (which God promises in James 1:5), but all the other things I need in life would be given as well.  Suddenly I understood why my parents hadn’t spent a lot of time praying for me to be financially secure or wealthy.  They knew if we prayed for wisdom, those things would come as well.  A wise person cannot help but have honor and be financially successful!

The one thing Dad did not share with me during those lessons is that wisdom isn’t free. 

Wisdom comes with experience, which is why we typically associate the elderly with wisdom.  Our hair gets gray because the life experience we have sucks something out of us.  Our fashion standards today tell us to hide our gray hair because it means we’re O-L-D, when in fact it represents life experience and wisdom.  It’s embarrassing to be 33 years old and have half of the hair surrounding your face already gray – or is it?

I’ve discovered over the years, as I have prayed for wisdom nearly every day of my life and in many situations, it is a costly request.

Wisdom comes with experience.

We have a choice of how to handle each challenge that comes – will we learn from it or will we resent the hard things and waste our time asking God “why?”

The thing is, knowing the cost of wisdom, I’ve continued to pray for it.  When I was in my early 20’s, I saw marriages all around me either ending in divorce or failing to thrive.  I saw people hurting one another out of ignorance or fear and it made me so sad.

I prayed that God would teach my future husband and me everything we needed to know to have a joyful marriage – before we married each other. 

I thought that prayer meant I would learn a lot of things quickly.  I had no idea that more than ten years later, I’d still be in the learning process!

I spent several years regretting that prayer and repenting from it.  But recently God spoke to me during a time of prayer and seeking.  He told me to stop regretting that prayer because He had heard my heart.  He understood what I meant:  I wanted to enter a marriage relationship with tools in place to help me deal with the problems that inevitably come in any intimate relationship.  He heard my heart’s cry and is honoring that request.

My parents did not pray specifically for me to be financially secure or even wealthy, but they did teach me to pray for wisdom, which encompasses all those things.  They also taught me through their daily lives how to be a financially secure person.  They taught me to tithe, to save, and to be frugal.  I did not value those lessons at the time, but they gave me a firm foundation to fall back on when I finally came to my senses about financial matters.  Sometimes I am a slow learner, but my goal is always to be learning and growing.  I’m thankful for those gifts they gave me.

The father who prays for his children to have a secure financial future is a very wise man.  He is doing well for his children.  I’m thankful for parents who also prayed for me to have a secure future by teaching me the value of wisdom and praying for God to bless me with that wonderful gift. 

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