Tag Archives: waiting

Help Us to Not Be Afraid; Winter Birch [Poems by Mom]

Life has been too busy of late for me to blog. Worse, I’m afraid I let my busyness keep me from even reading, until today, this post that Mom prepared a month ago.

A month is a long time when your father is battling cancer. It is also a long time when your mother’s neglected post is about the questions she is asking in the shadow of death.

Mom’s post is now slightly dated. Dad has already begun chemotherapy. Thankfully, he has not had any unexpected reactions to any of his treatments. But we expect he will be tired and weak for the next six months, and the possibility of too-soon death remains very real. The heartbeat of Mom’s post is not dated at all.

I will let Mom take over from here, except to ask you to please pray for my parents (and Mom’s friend mentioned below) as autumn, and perhaps winter, nears.


An autumn/winter poem in the middle of summer? Exactly. That is the question we ask of life right now…

Photo Credit: White Rabbit Studio via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: White Rabbit Studio via Compfight cc

When Autumn Comes Too Soon

I have a dear friend in the bloom of life, serving God in the summer season of family and church and witness. But autumn has suddenly grabbed her by the ankles and abducted her away from the perfect life-cycle that ends with a gentle winter waiting for release. Her remaining allotted number of years are now counted out as weeks instead, and time has turned traitor on us all.

My husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma a little over four years ago. Though a bit of a roller-coaster ride, the journey has not been too arduous up till now: three radiation sessions that were well-tolerated, and continued energy and good health otherwise. Now the lumps are multiplying and growing, some threatening to obstruct his airways, and so the oncologists are advising chemotherapy. That was the bad word we hoped to push off for many years and hopefully forever. Ken will be seventy in December and feels he has reached the biblically-allotted lifespan. But seventy in our day is not old, and Ken is a youngish seventy, still working hard much of the time. We are ready for autumn, perhaps, but winter?

I have been reading Psalm 90 the past months. I call it the Angry Psalm. Is God really so angry with us as the psalmist says? I have always loved this psalm, the security of having a timeless, eternal God as our dwelling place, the unfailing love that satisfies us every morning, and yes, the poetry of the piteous, poignant images about our numbered days, our little tale acted out during our directed time on earth.

Moses is credited with writing this Psalm: “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” That made me a little angry. Moses says we are consumed by God’s anger, and troubled by His wrath. But what does he know of threescore years and ten, living as he did to one hundred and twenty, and climbing his last mountain to meet God with mind alert, limbs still rippling with powerful muscles, and eyes as clear-sighted as a hawk’s? What does he know of wits stolen while the heart still beats strong, of eyes once love-filled glazing in confusion, of aging bodies lingering endlessly in uselessness and pain, or of believers in the prime of life struck down by rampaging warring cells in their beautiful bodies?

Then I calm myself down and acknowledge all the death and suffering and pouring out of judgement that Moses witnessed during the wilderness wanderings. He knew painfully well the “labour and sorrow” that can attend the longest lifespan. There is deep pathos and empathy in this psalm, and it is a prayer, so Moses dares to be as honest as we only dare be when we are speaking to God, pouring out our hearts before Him, when we are not presuming to speak for Him to others.

“How long?” Moses asks, and humanity has been asking this, the most frequently recorded question in the Bible, since time began. We ask it when time drags too long in the agony of an endless minute of unbearable pain. Our days too can be as a thousand years. We ask it when time flies away in a heartbeat, stealing our joyful hours when they have barely begun. How long will I have to treasure this moment? And we ask it when we bow before God and ache with the puzzle of life and time, and of God’s will in His measuring and meting out of time and what it brings. Why must life be so short and our troubles so long? So often our hopes spring up new and fresh in the morning, and by evening are withered and dry.

“So teach us to number our days.” Like Abraham I bombard God with numbers in my prayers. “If 1000 years are with you as one day, would it be such a hardship to give my friend fifty more? Thirty? Twenty? Please just ten?!” Can God understand how much we can long for time—more time—to watch time unfold with our loved ones, our children? But then, do I understand how unworthy I am of even one breath of life, one moment of time?

Photo Credit: londonlass16 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: londonlass16 via Compfight cc

Oh Ageless, Ancient One, You hold us in Your hands. How calmly You carry us. How angrily You consume us, mind and body, sweat and sin, turning us back to dust again. And oh, how quickly You awaken from somewhere in the back of our little wave-battered craft, to speak your transforming “Peace, be still!” into our anxiety of waiting and despair. In the twinkling of an eye, behold you come quickly.

I remember how Your Son counted out time in unbearable blistering seconds on the cross, measuring pain in the torturous traverse of the sun’s shadow on the dial, in its creeping rays across the turning earth, and in the trickle of blood and sweat down His disfigured face. He too finished his years like a tale told, a sigh, a moan. But He also finished it with a cry of victory! He had accomplished what You had assigned Him to do in His time on earth. I praise You that because of His finished work, we too can live lives that accomplish Your plan for us, whether our lifespan be long or short. Because Your Son provided forgiveness for our sin, we can be saved from wrath and live under Your favour. We can manifest Your beauty in our lives, Your glory to our children. We can safely abide in the eternal.

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The following poems were written many years ago. The first one, Help Us To Not Be Afraid Of Your Will, was written in 1979 after my mother went for a biopsy of a breast lump, which thankfully turned out to be benign. The poem was written on my knees, a prayer for my mother, which I shared with her before she went to the doctor for the results. The poem meant a lot to her and so holds some nostalgia for me, despite its simplicity and lack of imagery.

In 2000–2001 I wrote a new version which I feel is better poetry: Winter Birch. However my husband says he prefers the original, that it is easier to follow. There is something about the repeated refrain, “Help us to not be afraid of Your will” that echoes the cry of the struggling soul. The most repeated command in scripture is “Fear not,” “Be not afraid.” How can we face an unexpected autumn, the chill of winter? God invites us to turn from fear to faith, from doubt to praise, and meets us with unexpected gifts in His hands. As we wait for Ken’s chemotherapy consultation we are asking God for grace to do that, and to move beyond fear and questioning to faith and hope.

—Elaine Gingrich, July 12, 2016


Dwight again: I want to underscore a pair of observations Mom shared. What is “the most frequently recorded question in the Bible”? And what is “the most repeated command in scripture”? Did you catch them? Here they are again, a painful, promising, perfectly-matched pair: “How long?” and “Fear not!”

Now on to Mom’s poems.


HELP US TO NOT BE AFRAID

When we must lay down the work in our hand
And all our projects and prospects stand still,
When our life’s pattern is not as we planned,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.

When we stand waiting in doubt’s desert land,
Wondering if yet our life’s dreams we’ll fulfil,
When we pray, lifting our heart in our hand,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.

When all the questions within us demand
That we find answers our deep needs to fill,
And there are reasons we don’t understand,
Help us to not be afraid of Your will.

When all alone and all trembling we stand,
Help us to feel what Your love is, until
Finally we see the good gifts in Your Hand.
Then we will not be afraid of Your will.

—Elaine Gingrich, November 1979

UPDATE: A friend of Mom named Kelsie Troyer put this poem to music and recorded herself singing it. Her musical setting is unpretentious and sincere, fitting for a prayer. Feel free to sing along:


Photo Credit: Maria Duynisveld via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Maria Duynisveld via Compfight cc

WINTER BIRCH

Oh God, these winter birch that lift their limbs
Empty of obvious purpose to the skies,
Have known the autumn chill, yet raise their hymns
Of pearly praise to You. They ask no whys.

Their leaves fell too. They know of letting go.
They trembled in the blast of death’s alarms,
But do not seem afraid through wind and snow.
They wait for spring. And still they raise their arms.

And should the changing seasons strip us too
And leave us purposeless, yet, when we pray
Lifting our hearts in trembling hands to you,
We would not fear your will nor doubt your way.

Help us to praise, though scattered on the ground
Beneath us lie dear dreams and withered plans,
That like these birch that quietly astound,
We look up fearless with faith-lifted hands.

—Elaine Gingrich, June 1, 2000/January 2001


For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed these poems, or want to show your support for Mom and Dad in this difficult season, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!


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Churchfunding Update 8: An Invitation to Special Prayer

We invite friends near and far to join us in special prayer over the next week, asking God to lead us to a house in Atlanta. Our hunt for a house to buy is taking longer than we had hoped. The wait will soon become more expensive, unless we can move into a house before April (more below).

Unless the Lord provides the house, they labor in vain that look for one! We know that we can’t force God’s hand (and we don’t want to). But we also know that our Father invites us to “pester” him boldly with our needs (Luke 18:1-8), confident in his wisdom and goodness. We invite you to help us do this.

What has been happening with our house hunt? The  winter months have been really faith-stretching. We missed our first-choice house in the late fall, partly because we didn’t find funding in time. Few new houses came on the market in December. Steve and Christy Smucker (our future teammates) discovered they had a bad mold problem in their house, so we thought they might also need a new house. In addition, I had some really unnerving health problems that led to a colonoscopy early this month. (I sincerely thank God that my health has been returning!)

So we did little house hunting for a month or two.

I did, however, make a solo trip to Atlanta in late January. I met our new realtor for the first time, and he seems to be a good fit. We toured several houses and drove by more. One house was really nice, but a bit pricey for its location. Another (a fixer-upper) was in a superb location—but we discovered it about 5 days too late. My emotions took a roller-coaster ride. But I got a better sense of neighborhoods and streets. I met with Choice Books managers and confirmed that I have a part-time job offer. And Steve and Christy Smucker seem to be conquering the mold problem in their house, so we have some clarity again that our preference is to find a house in their neighborhood.

If we were just looking for a place for our family to live, we could probably settle for one of the houses currently on the market. But we are looking for a place where I can also teach piano (not-too-scary neighborhood, a suitable room, enough parking so neighbors aren’t disturbed), since we expect that to be an important source of our income. And we’d also like enough space to effectively host small church gatherings.

Not many new houses have come on the market since my last Atlanta visit, and it seems to be a seller’s market right now. So, we are torn between waiting for something more ideal or significantly adapting our expectations and simply buying something that will get us to Atlanta. Zonya and I are ready to move, and Steve and Christy are ready for us to come!

Waiting is disorienting. We still feel a peace about moving to Atlanta, but things haven’t been falling into place. Why not? God knows. (Strange thoughts come to mind, like: “God sees we aren’t that preoccupied with specific ideas for serving him in Atlanta, so he’s not feeling urgent about getting us there, but Satan sees our presence in Atlanta would encourage Steves, so he’s hindering our move; thus we are doubly doomed.”) Last night at Bible study we were reminded to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). What does this look like in our situation? (What does it look like while many are homeless this very moment?) I’m not fully sure.

Another factor that increases our sense of urgency is our promise to our lenders that we will begin monthly repayments in April, house or no house. This is only fair, and we do not expect this commitment will bring us any immediate financial difficulty. But it does mean that, unless we are in a new house by April, we will be making $500 loan repayments on top of $450 Iowa rent payments each month. I keep telling God that it would be wise financial stewardship for him to provide a house before then!

In summary, I have started asking God to please lead us to a house before the end of this month. I don’t know much about prayer, and I realize God’s plans for our family might be very different from my hopes and expectations. But I continue to ask, and we invite you to do the same.

So as you remember us over this next week, I invite your prayers.

Please share this post with anyone else who may want to pray.

And thank you! The support of God’s people has greatly encouraged us many times in this house-hunt saga! If you have any counsel, prophetic word, or other encouragement, please comment below.

For Christ and his Church,
Dwight and Zonya and the three little ladies


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Partly Free [Poem by Mom]

Winter is a time of waiting. True, activity abounds in places as varied as ski hills and bird feeders. But the grand cycle of life is largely on pause, or at least pursuing quieter goals, waiting for spring’s exuberance.

SnowyBranch Photo Credit: Greying_Geezer via Compfight cc

Waiting isn’t always easy. It creates unresolved tension between the present and the future. Waiting draws our eye incessantly to the future with its promise of fulfilled hope, yet the very distance of the future means that we return our gaze to the present to find sights that reinforce our hope.

Thankfully, when we wait on God, he provides both a promise worth waiting for and daily mercies to renew our spirits while we wait.

Mom explores thoughts such as these in “Partly Free,” the poem she’s sharing this month. Her words remind me of winters at my childhood home, which is where she wrote this poem years ago. Here is an aerial view of that home, surrounded by lakes and the northern bush (Canadian for “woods”). We lived on the little peninsula right in the middle of the photo:

Mom’s poem also reminds me of some words of Paul, which I’ll share as a final prelude to Mom’s poem:

You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

…We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:15-16, 23-25)

Have we been adopted, or have we not? Truly, we are “partly penned in, partly free.”


PARTLY FREE

Thanks be to God for peaceful northern woods,
That this home is mine,
That all my cares of life and earthly goods
Can be cathedralled in white birch and pine.

For placid lakes that beckon in the morn
With loon’s wailing words,
Still as a waiting church while day is born,
Prayerfully listening to the waking birds.

For winter walks when morning holds its breath,
At God’s extravagance,
Snowfalls cocoon in a world as still as death,
Woodpeckers telegraph my hushed advance.

For skies that lift me from my close-walled house,
From a world too small,
For ancient pines that move me with their boughs,
Bent but unconquered by the wintry squall.

Thanks be to God for His hand-print all around,
In a world that waits;
Nature, as well as my body, still is bound,
Saved by the hope of redemption by His grace.

How I would miss the glimpses of His face
Were this kept from me,
Though I suspect, in any time and place,
I would feel partly penned in, partly free.

—Elaine Gingrich, May-June 1994


For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed this poem, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!


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