Distant Hearts

I think most Christians have those times in their walk with Christ where they feel a bit distant in their hearts. I’ve been in that place for awhile – feeling a little sad and out of sorts – a bit discouraged. Things which once brought pleasure seem to have the joy sapped out of them.

In my ministry life, I’m feeling like my teaching ministry isn’t bearing fruit and sometimes question whether I’m making a difference at all. My devotional life and time in the Word has been slipping. I sense my heart is distant and I’m not growing. I’ve been a Christian for 50 years now, so it’s a hard thing for me to admit I’m struggling in these areas.

One thing I know for sure, while my heart feels distant, God is not. He’s as close to me in my struggle as He is when all seems well. He has not moved – his steadfast love has not changed.

Psalm 119 is very dear to my heart. I re-read it today and found comfort in knowing that the “man after God’s own heart” felt this way at times too. Here we find David often crying out before God in the midst of his struggles, acknowledging that his help would come from God’s Word. Even when he felt like a lost sheep, He knew the Shepherd was near and would deliver him, put the song back in his heart and words of praise on his tongue.

I find assurance knowing that when the heart of one of His servants strays and feels distant and cold, the Good Shepherd is there seeking, drawing her heart back through His Word.

This post is written for Five Minute Friday Link Up. The word for today is “Distant.”

Five Minute Friday: Willing

Hubby asked me earlier this year if I wanted to travel with him to India where he and two other men from our church will be serving in a teaching capacity (I wrote a little more about that in Enlarging My World). I don’t think I answered right away, as I had just placed my mother in assisted living memory care. But there was definitely a tug of willingness and a sincere longing in my heart to travel with him and see firsthand this ministry.

After prayer about the ‘what-if’s’ related to mom’s care while I’m away, I decided to go. God had put the willingness in my heart. Momma was, is, and will always be in God’s very capable hands. 

As soon as I said yes, I learned there was a job for me to do. I would be teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I’ve been busy preparing for that ministry from the moment I learned what my responsibilities would be. There’s a passport to be obtained (check!), immunizations to be received (done!), shopping for appropriate clothing (dragging my feet on that one), and reading nearly every library book I can get my hands on related to ESL. Most days you’ll find me listening to experienced ESL teachers share their teaching tips on YouTube.

Even with this preparation, I have felt for a few weeks now like I’m spinning my wheels. My foot is on the gas, but I’m getting nowhere, and digging myself into a rut of negative thinking. When I find a great idea and try to incorporate it into a lesson plan, ten reasons why it won’t work pop up in my mind.

I have five lessons to teach while I’m there. Five hours to give the students a better grasp of conversational English. Five lessons and five hours — that’s all. I want to make them count.

I’m finding myself melting into a puddle of anxiousness as I wrestle with what to say, what to teach, and how to do this thing I’ve never done before. This wrestling match has driven me to spend more time praying about this ministry opportunity. I know that all of my willingness and preparation in the world won’t matter one iota if the plans that I’m making are my plans alone. I have been reminded once again that my heart must be willing to seek and rely upon the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. 

Here I am, Lord. Please take my willingness to serve You and guide my steps of preparation in the way I should go. Direct my paths to the resources that will be helpful. Shield my heart and mind from that which discourages. Keep my mind focused on what you want me to teach. Your will, not mine.

Interesting how, once I released my tight grip on what and how to teach this class, the Lord directed my steps by allowing me to find the teacher’s edition of the English Grammar and Composition book I had loved using when I home-schooled my daughter eons ago. I thought the book was long since given away, but the Lord knew it was going to be helpful in the future.

Although I’m a little late to the link up, this post is inspired by the writing community at Five Minute Friday. Each participant writes for just 5 minutes on a one-word prompt – last week’s prompt being “willing.”

Assisted Living: What to Expect

When one wrestles with the thought of placing a loved one with memory loss into assisted living, many questions come to mind while making that life altering decision. Thankfully, there are many good books related to caring for a loved one with memory loss…and I’ve probably read most of them. If I could only recommend one, it would be Jolene Brackey’s, Creating Moments of Joy. [I wrote a little book review about this book here.]

I love this page. I live this page.

It’s important to have realistic expectations concerning assisted living memory care.

It has been almost four months since we moved Momma into assisted living at BeeHive Homes of Oregon, WI. She has made a great transition – not without its hiccups, but BeeHive is definitely a gift from God for my sweet mother. In these four months I have fallen in love with each resident who lives there with her and each one responsible for her care.

There are 16 rooms at BeeHive–at any given moment you might find my dear mother in any one of them–although she has her favorites. She loves to nap in Carol’s room, enjoys the sunny window in Caroline’s room, and can often be found rearranging pillows and tending to every one else’s babies in her neighbor Kathi’s room.

On any given day, my mom might be wearing her favorite outfit…or might be looking cute as can be in another lady’s pajamas. The other day I noticed mom wearing her nearby neighbor Roy’s watch; she also had his remote control and he had hers. I’m really not sure who has her colored pencil set, it’s been on the lam for a few weeks, but know they’ll turn up some day…she probably put them in someone else’s drawer for safekeeping on one of her daily adventures tooling around in her wheelchair.

Momma is a gatherer. If something is missing from someone else’s room, it can reasonably be assumed Charlotte probably has it for safe-keeping in her purse, or wrapped in a blanket and tucked away in a drawer in her room. Toilet paper is irresistible. An unattended doll or stuffed animal won’t be lonely for long if she can help it. She even managed to pick up an unattended cell phone that belonged to one of the hospice staff. I half-jokingly remind the staff that if something is missing, just check Charlotte’s purse and drawers…it’s probably there.

Only one of these dolls belongs to Momma – but they are all equally cared for and loved. [Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski]

Slowly, but surely, I’m learning whose stuff belongs to whom (most of it is labeled). I spend the first few minutes of my daily visit returning things she has borrowed and retrieving things she has tucked into places where they don’t belong and returning it to the right place.

One thing is for sure…Momma belongs and is in the right place.

Everyone needs a good neighbor

Not long ago, I pushed Momma in her wheelchair out to the commons area so she would have a change of scenery and perhaps engage with others and be distracted from her current woes. As soon as she saw the other people, she planted her feet so I couldn’t push her any further, then said, “Oh, no! I’m not going there! None of those people like me.”

Just then, I believe, God sent a lovely lady named Lola to gently engage Mom in conversation. After a bit of small talk, Momma asked Lola which room she lived in. Lola pointed to her husband Roy’s room just two doors away and reassuringly patted my mother’s arm and said she was very glad to be Momma’s neighbor.

Thank you, Jesus! Just what Momma needed.

Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski

Six on Saturday: Summer Days are Here (finally!)

We can’t seem to catch a break from rain around these parts in Wisconsin, but I’m up for a little walk through the garden. If you come along with me on tonight’s barefoot garden tour, it’ll be a bit sloshy underfoot. If you want to stay dry and not have to swat at mosquitoes, you can visit other gardens all around the world with just a click. Just pop on over to our Six on Saturday meme host’s site at https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/

On our little tour you’ll see that my daylilies and Asiatic lilies are beginning to bloom, with lots of promising blossoms yet to open on their scapes and peduncles (pictures to come, I’m sure). Clematis has been detained by our wonky wet weather, but the blossoms on all my plants are going strong now. I’m not sure what’s eating them, but bugs are threatening to munch their lovely floweriferousness…but I’m determined to keep after the pesky bugs! Oh, and you’re going to love my Japanese iris…simply gorgeous!

Knowing I wanted to paint some old chairs to serve as garden art, my daughter picked up two chairs discarded by the side of the road and brought them to me. My granddaughters Mia and Noelle, and honorary grandgirl, Natalie, stayed with me a few days last summer, so put them to work painting one of them. I think they did a fantastic job. I placed it in the garden where it can serve as a support for a little bit of my garden phlox.

The artsy chair Mia, Noey and Natalie painted for me last summer
Clematis ‘Sunset’ is a little late in blooming, but it’s well worth the wait.
Japanese Iris ensata ‘Oriental Eyes’ is the most beautiful flower I have in my garden right now.
This new little splash of color growing by my front door is a short Asiatic lily called ‘Matrix Red’. I almost forgot I planted it!
Clematis ‘Prince Charles’ is loaded with buds this year.
Is there any color more serene than green…love the sun’s setting rays illuminating this foliage!

My World in Perspective

We have been busy at the Winquist house working on some home improvement projects lately. It’s been kind of exciting, albeit a little slow and messy. We’re switching two rooms around: the “library” will now be the “gathering room” (a.k.a. dining room). Our former dining room – at first morphed into my mom’s bedroom – is now Wayne’s office. With this switch, we’ve ripped out the dusty-pink carpeting in the soon-to-be gathering room, installed hardwood flooring, and repainted the walls with a nice shade of “cream,” which looks so nice and fresh compared with the greyish shade of blush-pink.

Our front entryway with its outdated tile, chipped or cracked in some places, lies between these two rooms. We’re in the process of ripping out the old tile (pretty much anywhere you see “we” you can insert “Wayne”) and replacing it with a fresher looking tile as a transition between the two rooms with slightly different wood floors. The entryway’s wallpaper had previously been ripped down and walls were painted the same shade of cream as the gathering room.

Wayne lost a little space when he moved his office/library from one room to the other, so he commissioned our friend Gordy to build some corner bookcases for his most frequently referenced books. They are now installed, look amazing and will serve Wayne’s needs very well.

We also had Gordy remove a relatively useless banister which divided the kitchen from the family room. In its place now stands a handsomely crafted combination bookcase and breakfast bar. (Note: You can visit Gordy’s Facebook page here. A local photographer and friend posted amazing photos and a nice article about Gordon Miller Woodworks, LLC here.)

Long story shortened, we’re at the point now where we will have to purchase a countertop for this beautiful new addition. While we’re at it, we are going to tackle a project which has been on my wish-list for 20 years – replace my very dated pink kitchen countertops (one corner is held together with clear packaging tape).

My Pinterest boards certainly are coming in very handy as I gather ideas and make choices related to flooring, tile and countertops for these myriad projects.

Or have they?

I had my heart set on quartz countertops and was delighted when we spent part of our anniversary Wednesday evening hanging out at Home Depot trying to make a final decision on which one we wanted. I had previously narrowed the choices down to two, so it shouldn’t be hard. Armed with oodles of information we obtained from an amazing sales-associate named Jason, we headed home where Wayne plugged the price-point ($80/square foot) and the rough measurements into Home Depot’s countertop estimator app. The total for our project was several thousand dollars higher than I guesstimated, which sent me into sticker shock and second thoughts. Neither one of us felt good about this number, so we decided we should get a few more prices before settling in on this commitment.

The next morning, I sat at the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee and enjoying my traditional slice of peanut-butter ‘n jelly toast. The countertop sample piece lay on the table beside me. I ran my fingers over it, imaging how beautiful it would be on our new breakfast bar and in our kitchen, trying to convince myself that it was a good investment.

My heart didn’t buy it. Something inside of me felt very unsettled for even considering such an outrageous expenditure.

As I finished my breakfast, I picked up the latest issue of “The Voice of the Martyrs” and read through the little 16-page publication. This issue focused on the needs of persecuted believers in the Central African Republic – an area in violent turmoil where the Christians are being brutally attacked and forced to flee from their homes. I found myself praying over the details that I read and praising God for VOM as they respond to this persecution with some of the basics of life.

I pondered each photograph and read each page. I cried when I read and imagined the terror in these words:

“Many of those who fled did not even have time to put on shoes or clothes. As bullets rained down and homes went up in flames, Christian villagers ran for their lives. In one village, the only structures not burned to the ground were two churches with metal roofs. In another village, the attackers went house to house destroying Christians’ homes while leaving Muslims’ homes intact. And in some cases, those unable to flee were thrown into the buildings to be burned alive. To date, roughly 33,000 Christians have been displaced.” (The Voice of the Martyrs, July 2019 issues, page 6)

My heart caught in my throat. Quartz countertops suddenly seemed a frivolous and personally selfish investment. Now, I realize that it is not a sin to have nice things. We endeavor to use our home to bless and minister to others and our newly built breakfast bar will certainly be a help in our quest to be hospitable. But, do I really need quartz countertops? Would a nice laminate countertop serve the purpose just as well?

Turning the page, my eyes beheld a displaced family gratefully receiving basic supplies from one of VOM’s action packs. How many families could we bless and help with even a fraction of what we were thinking of spending on fancy countertops?

I believe God is speaking to my heart…and my heart knows what to do.