Everybody Loves Ersel

Ersel only 1Nov. 24, 2013

Psalm 23:6

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Familiar with the TV show, “Everybody Loves Raymond?” Rick’s sisters have said that Rick is like Raymond and I am like Debra. (Although I hope I do not yell as much as Debra.) During a sermon series on marriage, I shared this in church. Afterwards, a member commented that if Rick is Raymond and I am Debra, then Rick’s Mom, Ersel, must be Marie! Ersel heard this conversation. She quickly turned around and said, “I am not!” A couple weeks later at our house, she admitted that she could Marie but she didn’t live across the street from us.

While Ersel didn’t live across the street from us, she had many good things that reminded me of Marie Baron. The perfectly coiffed hair. A perfectly accessorized and tasteful outfit. A deep love and concern for her family. As she slipped away from this life and to her eternal home this afternoon, I thought about how everyone in the hospital room loved Ersel, as well as many others who were not present.

I have no awful mother-in-law stories. I have the exact opposite. I have lots of instances and ways Ersel supported, encouraged and loved me. From the time I became her pastor, she was always supportive of my ministry, even as I was learning to be a pastor. She was appreciative when I would host a family gathering or arrange something. She was long on compliments and short on criticism. A few months after Rick and I were married, she thanked me for finally getting Rick to dress, in her words, “decently!”

In a birthday card, she once wrote that I was more like a daughter than a daughter-in-law. She did not have to write this. She told me that she did because she wanted to.

For the last several months, I had the great pleasure of living with Ersel several days a week. In essence, I didn’t move across the street but into her house. While this must have been hard for her, she never made me feel uncomfortable. We developed a mutual respect for each other and our roles.  I had the great pleasure of taking her to appointments, helping her with therapy and trying to find gluten-free recipes that didn’t taste like dry cardboard. Even when a dessert did, she never complained.

This afternoon, our family gathered around her bed, laid hands on her and prayed. Then, Pastor Carol led us in the 23rd Psalm. For the last two days, Ersel’s ability to communicate with us had been limited. As we shared together the words of this psalm, she mouthed most of them. What a precious Christian role model she was to me and the rest of our family until the very end. This is a woman whose goodness and mercy will follow her beyond this life as she dwells in the house of the Lord for eternity.

Lord God, thank you for allowing me to know this great servant of yours, Ersel. I celebrate her life as you welcome her into your kingdom. May the love she has demonstrated to so many people be a significant reminder of why relationships are so important within your kingdom.  Amen.

Blessings –


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Thanks-living with a Blessings Board

Nov. 19, 2013

Philippians 4:4, 6

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

In a week, we’ll be stuffing ourselves with turkey, potatoes, dressing (my personal favorite) and too many pieces of pie. All part of the great American tradition we call Thanksgiving. The concept of Thanksgiving is wonderful: a day to focus on the many blessings we have rather than what we do not have. A day to count the ways our glasses are more half-full than half-empty.

As Christians, I believe that as important as Thanksgiving is, we should really celebrate thankfulness EVERY day. Our focus should not just be one of thanks-giving but one of thanks-living.

What’s the difference? Appreciating every single day, no matter what is happening in our life. Excited that another day lies before us. Overwhelmed with the love from our Heavenly Father more so than the countless distractions that draw away from God in our daily lives.

To help make thanks-living a part of our lives, Rick and I talked about creating a “Blessings Board” last weekend. It’s not very complicated. Take a piece of foam board. Every day, each person writes on a sticky note something they feel blessed by and sticks it to the board. It becomes a visual reminder of the ways we are blessed every day.

Rick has taken this exercise seriously. Before I had the foam board, Rick started writing sticky notes and placing them around his parent’s house. There is one on the refrigerator, one on the mirror in the bedroom where we sleep. On Monday night, there was one attached to my pillow. I know … gold stars for this one.

Today, I finally got the piece of foam board. I’m looking forward to making this a family activity. It’s a board I pray gets filled over and over as we contemplate thanks-living.

Even if you are feeling stretched, beat-up, discouraged or overwhelmed, I pray that we can all find one little blessing in our lives daily. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that they were to rejoice always. In fact, this was so important to him, he repeated it. When life is tough, it’s hard to rejoice, but that is Paul’s challenge to us. Rejoice for a special smile, a well-timed hug or a beautiful sunrise or sunset. A hot meal, a meaningful phone call or a warm shower. Clean clothes. Consider how a “Blessings Board” might be a fun project your family can try in these days approaching Thanksgiving to help us all shift away from one day of thanks-giving and on a life of thanks-living.

Lord, you know the specific things happening in my life right now. You also know what things pull me away from you or drag me down. Help me embody a deep desire to live life focused on thanks-living, no matter what is happening in my life. Thank you for hearing our daily requests. Amen.

Blessings –


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The Great Round-Up

thNov. 17, 2013

Mark 1:15

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

Across the road from my in-law’s house is a pasture the Vielhuber’s have used for years. This summer, Rick’s son Darran had 18 head of cattle in the pasture. While it is a great pasture, catching cattle in the pasture is another story. Earlier this fall, Darran wanted to catch one of the bulls to breed a heifer in the barnyard. It was easier to turn the heifer into the pasture than catch a bull.

The last few weeks, the feed in the pasture was dwindled. The growing season is over. The cattle need to be moved by the barn for the winter. And the Great Round-Up began.

About 10 days ago, Darran and Rick began. Plan A was to entice the cattle with the feeder wagon they had been eating out of the last couple weeks. The cattle would be led into the barnyard at Rick’s parents and trailered back to our barn. However, this meant crossing a state highway. On the day Rick’s mom was admitted to the hospital, Darran and Rick made their first attempt. The cattle got up to the highway edge … but they would not cross the white line along the road edge. A former church member drove by. She stopped to help them. It didn’t work.

When I got back from the hospital, we tried again. I had my running shoes on, Rick had the yard cart and Darran drove the tractor. Every neighbor drove by. Some came back to help. Others tried to stay out of the way. We got the cattle again to the road, but no one would cross the line. We made one last try. In every herd of cattle, there is one boss cow. She was not going to be rounded up and the others followed.

Time for Plan B. Rick’s Dad suggested using gates to make a corral in the pasture. The cattle would be enticed into the corral with feed. Once in the corral, they would be loaded onto the trailer. Simple, right? Wrong.

In the first attempt, the gates were not secure. The cattle knocked down the gates and got out. Re-enforcement gates were brought in. Slowly, the process worked. Four heifers were loaded. Another four. Darran, Rick, grandson Waylan and Rick’s dad chipped away, loading out a few cattle at a time until all made it into the trailer. Whew. This was a several day process. Some cattle escaped while loading others. A few disagreeable ones really didn’t want to be rounded up. But eventually, the 2013 Great Round-up was over.

I wonder if God every feels part of a Great Round-up. People say they believe in God and want the benefits of being part of God’s family. But when it comes time to be part of God’s kingdom through the church, they escape. They won’t cross certain lines of dedication. Often, there is one boss person who makes being part of a faith community unpleasant and tries to pull people away from the goodness of a faith community. When people get inside the church, some can’t wait to get back out, busting away for seemingly insignificant reasons. Some people are just plain disagreeable; they can’t ever been happy with what is happening within the church.

Thank goodness we have a God that never gives up on the Great Round-up. Thank goodness God keeps going after us time after time, never losing patience or perseverance. God wants us all loaded onto the same trailer, the one destined for eternal life. Why do we find it so hard to want to be part of this Great Round-Up?

Lord God, how patience you are with us. How often we try to run away from you. Thank you for always welcoming us back into your kingdom. Please it on our hearts a deep desire to want to run towards you, repent and believe in your kingdom. Amen.

Blessings –


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Relative Healthy

stethescopeNov. 11, 2013

1 Samuel 25:6

Say to him, “Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!”

We often hear, “Don’t take your health for granted.” It is one of Rick’s favorite sayings these days; probably because he needs hip replacement surgery!

Health is relative. Expecting parents often say they just want a healthy baby. How one parent defines “healthy” may not be the same as another person. Eventually, every baby gets sick, whether it’s a cold, teething or something more serious.

My mother-in-law has been ill for the last number of days. We are optimistic she will get out of the hospital soon and continue healing. She has had significant health issues in the last year, ones not to be taken lightly. I think of the people who live with terminal illnesses daily. Some keep a more positive disposition than others. This leads to another saying, “Attitude is half the battle.” Scientific research says those who keep positive about their illness often do better. I am reminded of the woman I know with MS and how she strives for this.

Sometimes people must get sicker before they get better. My sister Debbie had out-patient surgery today. My nephew Zach is having a complicated back surgery tomorrow. They will need recovery time, with the anticipation that surgery will allow for future better health.

Then there is the annoying sickness: the colds, flus and allergies that drag us down and slow us down. Two friends developed colds in the last couple of days. Both called it annoying. There will be lots of this in the months ahead.

What is health to you? Is it being able to do everything you did 20 years ago? Is it being relatively healthy for your stage of life? Is it keeping at bay significant surgeries or terminal illnesses?

When I lived overseas and was invited to a party, there were often lots of toasting. Almost every toast involved wishes for good health. Their health care was decades behind what was available in the United States at the time. Despite all the wonderful discoveries, there continues to be manageable diseases around the world that are epidemics because resources are not properly always.

We’re hearing a lot about American health care and options right now. It’s hard to know what choice is best. What is best for your family is not always best for the next family. How do we negotiate these choices, balancing care for our families with those who do not have adequate health care? Those who need more coverage than they can afford? Those who will have significant health issues in the future and do not know it yet?

Jesus was the Great Physician. There are many different kinds of healing and different kinds of healthy. Yes, I want to be healthy in this life. But I also want to know that someday, I will receive ultimate healing. To me, this is good health. This is my prayer for all of us.

Lord God, we name in our hearts those who have specific health situations right now. And we pray for the most appropriate healing in their lives, granted by you. Give us courage when our health is not top-notch. Teach us to depend upon you for ultimate healing. May we be uplifted and encouraged that Jesus is the Great Physician. Amen.

Blessings –


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