2 Corinthians 7:5-6 When we [Paul and his team] arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.
Up until the 18th century, amethyst was included in the cardinal, or most valuable, gemstones (along with diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald). However, since the discovery of extensive deposits in locations such as Brazil, it has lost most of its value. The highest-grade amethyst is exceptionally rare. (Wikipedia)
I grew up in a remote village in the highlands of Guatemala. American visitors were rare. When I was four, a family traveled the rough mountain road to visit us. The mother of this family—I’ll call her Mrs. B—fascinated me. She was gentle and soft-spoken, with a ready smile and laugh. Her eyes sparkled. She had kind words for everyone and seemed to radiate happiness. She gave me a glimpse of another world, another way of living, a possible different future. I found myself thinking, When I grow up, I want to be like her.
That’s still true. I’m intrigued and challenged when I encounter graciousness, the word I later assigned to my memory of Mrs. B. She encouraged me with new possibilities. With hope. Not because she related to me in any particular way during her brief time in our home, but simply by her manner of being.
When I read the history of the amethyst, I remembered Mrs. B. At four, she sparkled for me like a precious gem. As I grew up, I discovered Mrs. B’s qualities in many people: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness . . . all the gifts of the Spirit. No less lovely for being more common than rare.
In my novel Horse Thief 1898, I modeled Cathleen, and at a younger stage in life, Aisling, after Mrs. B. Cathleen and Aisling (and doubtless Mrs. B) have faults, weaknesses, struggles. They are capable of hurting those they love. Yet they embody graciousness.
Isaiah 54:10 “The mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
Topaz is one of the hardest naturally occurring minerals,
yet it must be treated with greater care than some other minerals of similar hardness.
My dad would be 96 today. Do they celebrate birthdays in Heaven?
In choosing topaz to honor Dad, I’m interpreting its hardness as toughness. He endured so much, age 84 seemed too young for him to die. We weren’t prepared. He was diagnosed with metastatic cancer on his birthday and died just 23 days later, on Nov. 12, 2008. Not long enough for us, his eight children, to extend the care to him we wanted to give.
There were other reasons too that it seemed Dad was taken from us too soon. For twenty years, he shepherded our mother through the tangle of Alzheimer’s. When forced by his own health to admit her to a care facility, though, he came alive again. He traveled to visit his children. He participated in family gatherings. He played with great-grandchildren and indulged his neglected hobbies: music, photography, woodworking, and needlepoint, to name a few. But while we were just starting to know our father again, after his long absence, God took him Home.
Dad learned to be tough early on. His family home was foreclosed during the Depression because his parents were unable to handle one mortgage payment—of less than $100. His baby sister died. His father worked on the railroad and spent most of his sparse times at home sleeping.
A Wycliffe Bible translator in a remote highland village of Guatemala, Dad built our furniture, figured out how we could have hot water (by running pipes through our wood-burning stove) and weathered rejection from the people he had gone to serve. Over many frustrating years, he showed kindness to the people around us and rejoiced when some finally began to understand God’s faithful love.
I’m just scratching the surface of Dad’s creativity, resourcefulness, his love of making God’s Word make sense in another culture and his linguistic skills. Through difficulties that might have broken other men, he never lost his sense of humor. We rolled our eyes at his puns, but his jokes lightened the stresses of life. He told me Mom having Alzheimers was an advantage in that he could tell the same joke repeatedly and she laughed every time. Here are a couple out of many, many favorites:
“I love exercise. I could watch it for hours.”
“I love the beach. The only things about it I can’t stand are the sun and sand and salty water.”
“I was watching a fight on TV and a hockey game broke out!”
Miss you, Dad. Happy birthday. Thanks for sharing with us God’s faithful, merciful love.
Isaiah 33:2, 5-6 But Lord, be merciful to us, for we have waited for you. Be our strong arm each day, and our salvation in times of trouble. . . Though the Lord is very great and lives in heaven, he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness. In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord will be your treasure.
“Precious opal shows a variable interplay of internal colors.” Wikipedia
Dr. P retired. Retired! Irrationally, I found myself thinking, How could he?
We lived a continent away. We depended on Dr. P’s counsel, and lately Karis had been sick more often than not. Maybe his partner will care for Karis. Nope. His partner said, “I’ve watched Dr. P care for Karis for years. But I have no idea what to do for her.”
Finding a doctor for Karis in São Paulo took months. Months of frustration as one lead after another led to a “no”; months of worry as Karis’s symptoms worsened; months of questioning whether God noticed our need.
Finally, a chain of contacts led us to Dr. Garcia. Karis fell in love on our first visit, for his first questions were not about her health, but about herself: her interests, her hopes and dreams. As he examined her, they talked about the Spanish poets. By the time he called me into the room, they were on to existential philosophers. “I have so much I need to read before I see him again!” Karis exclaimed on our way home. “In the original languages?” I teased.
Karis’s life was tough. Treatment was often painful and costly. But Dr. Garcia saw her; for him the practice of medicine was art as much as science. He helped her believe her life was worth fighting for. He set firm boundaries when Karis tested her limits. But he also advocated for her freedom when others wanted to keep her in too narrow a box.He paid attention to her heart and mind, not just her physical distress.
How does a mom say an adequate thank you for such blessing in her daughter’s life? There will be time, yes, in eternity, to express the wonder of a God who loves so much, in such variable and inter-reflecting colors. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Dr. Garcia, a man free to love his patients with wisdom as well as knowledge.
Luke 18:7-8 Don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?
“Sapphire’s blue can be vivid and saturated, like it’s lit from within.”
Idagly and Otto are one pastoral couple among many who have chosen to stay in Venezuela, even though most professionals have left. It would be easy for them to leave, because Otto is Colombian. But they and their three young children believe God has called them to serve and to suffer with the Venezuelan people. Most days, God’s justice doesn’t feel like it’s being granted quickly, but they hold tightly to this promise anyway. Apparently, God’s sense of timing is different from ours.
To say life is not easy is an understatement. Idagly says the question in Luke 18:8 challenges her every day as she deals with frequent blackouts, the daily struggle for food, clean water, medicines and fuel which if they are available at all require endless hours standing in lines, practically nonexistent health care, no public transportation or services like garbage pickup, and on and on. Starving people have killed and eaten the animals in the zoos.
Caracas is ranked at the top of the most dangerous cities in the world. Otto and Idagly’s children were kept indoors even before the coronavirus hit, because it’s too risky for them to be outside. The current MONTHLY minimum wage is worth less than $2.00 in U.S. currency. With almost no protection, the few health workers still working in Venezuela are dying of COVID-19 one by one.
Since she can’t get gas for her stove, when she has electricity, Idagly cooks on a small electric burner as much food as she can, as fast as she can before power goes out again. But how does she preserve that food, in a hot climate with such frequent power outages?
I am stunned, challenged, and blessed by the strength and grace of our friends. Last Monday Idagly described for me a gathering by Zoom of pastors and their wives all facing the same circumstances. “But the tone of the meeting was praise. It’s just amazing how God is showing his faithfulness to us, even in small things. We KNOW God is caring for us.”
The Holy Spirit, alive within them, shines even more brightly because of the surrounding darkness. For me, Otto and Idagly and the other pastors and their families in Venezuela whom we know and love fit right in with the great examples of faith listed in Hebrews 11.
Will you join me in praying for them, and thanking God for the radiance of their lives?
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27 Solomon lifted his hands toward heaven, and he prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on earth below. You keep your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before you in wholehearted devotion. . . . But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!
Exodus 35:30-35 Then Moses told the people of Israel, “The Lord has specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. The Lord has filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft. And the Lord has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach their skills to others. The Lord has given them special skills as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple, and scarlet thread on fine linen cloth, and weavers. They excel as craftsmen and as designers. . . Let them construct and furnish the Tabernacle, just as the Lord has commanded.”
“Even when they are mined in the same area, each individual emerald has its own unique look that sets it apart from the rest.” Wikipedia
We were guests at one of the fincas (ranches) owned by our host, Emilio (not his real name). This one sheltered two hundred horses, many of them prize winners on the racetrack. But the bottom had fallen out of horseracing in this country. “I lose money every day caring for these horses, so financially this finca doesn’t make sense,” Emilio told me. “But there’s no way to sell it. No one wants these beautiful creatures anymore. Yet I love them.”
Emilio was graciously giving me an early-morning tour of the finca, introducing me to some of his equestrian beauties. As we walked, he told me some of his story. He was the son of a poor emerald miner. The mine workers were paid too little to survive. They hid a few of the emeralds when they turned in their finds each day, so their families wouldn’t starve.
Emilio laughed. “The miners often gathered at my father’s house to look over their haul and distribute the rough gems for cutting and selling. I was so interested, from the time I was a toddler, that they threw me the stones they didn’t think had much value. I watched my father and learned the basics of faceting. While he was in the mine, I practiced with his tools on the inferior stones they would have thrown away. By the time I was ten, they started noticing my work and gave me more valuable stones to cut for them. I began earning a small commission.”
We stopped as a finca workman approached. “The mountain lion has taken down another of the colts. I think it’s time to go after it.”
“First, contact the local authorities,” Emilio instructed. “The mountain lion too is one of God’s creatures. Perhaps we don’t have to kill it.”
The man left and Emilio continued his story. “As a teenager, I began earning real money. And I became proud. I lived a life that was not pleasing to God and hurt many people, especially women. But eventually I met God, through Jesus. My life changed dramatically. I began rising early to pray and study Scripture one, two hours every morning before I went to work.
“One morning, after reading about Solomon, I felt God asking me as he did Solomon, ‘What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!’ [1 Kings 3:5]. I asked for vision, for the ability to see the uniqueness of every emerald, to be able to cut each one precisely to reveal its distinct radiance. God granted my request. I knew it that very day when I went to work. I had vision I could never have imagined. I could see into the ‘soul’ of each emerald and knew how to reveal the beauty endowed by its Creator. I went from being a good craftsman to a gifted one. People noticed. Today I am the most sought-after emerald cutter in my country, even though I don’t do marketing, use a computer, or own a cell phone.
“But this gift and the wealth it brought me has come with a huge cost. It has introduced complexities into my life I know I am not wise enough to navigate, and I have made many mistakes. I beg the Lord every morning for help.”
We had circled back to the house and were joined by my husband and his wife. I have not had an opportunity to talk more with Emilio about his story. I watch from a distance, intrigued by God’s work in their lives, praying for his guidance through the pressures they face. The largest emerald mining operation in their country was bought out by a foreign firm, which now exports and cuts the emeralds that would have made their way to Emilio. Our friends’ financial status has actually become precarious. What is God doing? What is the next chapter in this tale? I’m as curious as you!
I’ve been thinking more about Emilio and about Bezalel and Oholiab since joining a group called United Adoration, www.unitedadoration.com: “We are on a mission to revitalize the creativity of the local church by empowering artists to write music & create art in their own language, culture, and context.” Check it out! I’m gaining new vision for the arts as worship, as God’s Spirit pours out his gifting in the Temple of the worldwide Body of Christ. That’s a topic for another time.
Matthew 10:26-31 Don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed . . . Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God . . . What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
“Long before Marco Polo found his way to Asia, Burmese warriors were embedding the stones under their skin to make them invincible in battle . . . That rubies even exist, says Peter Heaney, geosciences professor at Penn State University, is something of a ‘minor geological miracle.’” https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/the-geology-of-rubies
Neide, a young woman who worked at our mission office in São Paulo, Brazil, hungered for God. She wanted every part of herself to be cleansed and healed from her messy background. She longed for the fruits of God’s Spirit to flourish in her soul.
I didn’t know this until we were assigned to the same small group to meet regularly and pray for each other. Neide asked for time outside of those weekly encounters, to open her heart fully to the Lord’s work in her life.
We talked once about being rough gems pulled from the darkness of mines and now placed in the hands of a skilled lapidary who saw the unique beauty in each of us. He could clean, grind, facet and polish us until we glowed for him. A painful process, often. But in his hands, we were safe.
A walk and then a long bus ride brought Neide to work each day and took her home. She began to use that time to soak in God’s love for her.
One morning, Neide didn’t show up for work. Her brutalized body was found tossed behind bushes between her bus stop and her home.
When I think of who is in Heaven with our daughter Karis, sometimes I think of Neide sparkling in her worship, joyfully offering her whole self in praise to the Lord she loved more than life.
The Lord God will rescue his people, just as a shepherd rescues his sheep. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How wonderful and beautiful they will be! (Zechariah 9:16-17)
Micah 7:7-9 As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me . . . Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light . . . The Lord will bring me into the light, and I will see his righteousness.
“You’re safe because you’re with me,” Vania [not her real name] whispered. “Don’t ever come here alone.”
Slipping through a narrow break between buildings on a busy São Paulo street, we plunged steeply downhill on an uneven staircase through a hive of makeshift dwellings and the stench of festering garbage.
But it was the silence that unnerved me. People were everywhere, but they seemed frozen in place, all eyes fixed on us. Even the half-naked children stared. I had to focus on not falling as I followed Ivani down, down, down, until abruptly she turned left, walked through someone’s home, across a stinking passageway, up a few steps and into a room lit only by the glare of hot sunlight streaming through the open door. Someone lay on a pallet in a dim corner. Vania’s mother. She had sent Vania to fetch me to pray for her.
These memories flooded my mind as twenty years later and a continent away, I saw a message from Vania pop up on Facebook. “Can we talk? My father died. I am in deep grief.”
Vania’s father. He arrived as Vania and I prayed for her mother. I noticed a change in the atmosphere even before Vania gripped my arm mid-prayer. Looking up, I felt punched in the gut by a look I can only describe as pure hatred. “Out,” he spat.
Vania kissed her mother and pulled me past him and out the door, back up and up to the safety of the street. “Go. I’ll call you.” And she disappeared.
Staring at my computer screen, I pondered the miracle of Vania. Her passionate love for Jesus. Her pilgrimage toward healing from a lifetime of abuses, neglect and trauma. Her determination to conquer sixth grade, and then seventh . . . Her inexplicable love for her broken family.
My computer dinged. I typed “Of course. Call. I’m sorry for your loss” and hit Send. But was I sorry? In light of all that man had done to my friend? No. “Lord, I don’t have Vania’s Spirit-fueled love. Forgive me. Use her again to teach me. Have mercy on his soul. And on mine.”