Deane's Blog

When You Need a Hand to Hold

Deane WattersComment
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After playing at the small neighborhood playground for an hour or so, it’s time to head home. We four adults, grandson, Oliver, and little black curly haired dog, Moby, make our way up the street. It’s late afternoon and the sun is low behind the cozy houses along the way. As we approach the street we need to cross, Oliver’s dad reminds the two-year-old that it is time to hold his hand. Oliver, always thinking, looks at his dad with a smile and immediately grabs his own hand. Greg quietly laughs and tells his little guy that holding his own hand doesn’t work in this situation; he needs to hold his daddy’s hand.

I smile at the innocence that enables this little guy to think that holding his own hand will keep him safe.

Thinking about it later though, I realize that holding one’s own hand is a practice that really could save someone from being hit by something dangerous and bring safety to an unperceived threat.

For example, one time I went shopping with a friend to a jewelry store, to help him pick out a ring for his girlfriend. It was a surprise, of course, because he was going to have the ring in hand when he proposed to her. Later in the day, when we were all together, I accidentally mentioned that we had been in a jewelry store! Oh my goodness, I was appalled that I had let this little bit of information slip. For the rest of the day I was incredibly embarrassed and angry with myself. Shame quickly came and camped out on my shoulder insisting that I agree about how inadequate and incompetent I was. Oh yes, “stupid” slipped in also.

What I really needed in that situation, instead of a royal ranting and relentless lecture, was the wisdom to hold my own hand. Even though this was not a major issue, I became a war zone to my own soul, rejection spewing sour and putrid.

Grace is what I needed for the 20 something girl who was me. One who was incredibly shy, who spoke before thinking it through. I needed grace for a silly slip of the tongue. A deep breath and a clear thought would have told me it was OK…that I was OK. My friend quickly offered the forgiveness I sought but I didn’t even think to apologize to myself for my angry and accusing thoughts.

Susannah Conway writes in, This I Know, “When you know you can rely on yourself, no matter what, you can do anything. Go anywhere. Make magic happen in your life, because you have an ally in your corner who’ll always cheer you on. who will believe in you and mop your brow before you head back out for round two.”

Through books like Conway’s and through healing work and scripture, I realized that

  • If God is for me, I will not be against me.

  • If God is for me then I will be for me too.

  • If God so loved me, then I will so love me too.

  • Who am I to call inadequate who God has declared a part of his handiwork? (Ephesians 2:10)

    Realizing this truth was a deep revelation and a gentle light to my soul, as I slowly gave myself permission to love the me that God created and loves. Sure, I make mistakes, but I recognize the need to jump quicker to be kind to myself.

  • This love for myself is NOT because I am so great… far from it. It is because God is so good.

Have you ever thought to hold your own hand? To say to yourself, “I am going to be on your side, quick to be patient with you, understanding and kind.”

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The beautiful thing is, like Oliver, I have a Father who stands with me. He is ever- present, His hand on my back, ever-ready to guide me “across the street.” This Advocate, who loves me perfectly and who has much more power and authority, stands with me to tell shame to skedaddle. And it has to leave, because who can stand against One so full of such a powerful love?

Like Oliver, I need to know that I can stand by my own side, because I am always in the shadow of my Father’s protection. Every day I pray that Oliver will be wise as he grows to know that, like his daddy, his Heavenly Father is with him, offering him a hand of grace, forgiveness and love. I pray that for myself as well.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

A Handful of Pearls

Deane Watters4 Comments

We had just finished an extraordinary afternoon with men, women, and children of the church deep in the African bush. God’s Word had been shouted out and they had received it with joy, clapping and laughing. In the midst of all the dancing and eating, thank you’s were said and gifts were generously given. The day was ending and we were starting our long, three and a half hour, drive back to town.

As we drove off, I thought about how these people had suffered. Surviving a terrifying cyclone four months earlier, their losses were still numerous. Their homes had been destroyed, their belongings were scattered and most everything had been lost. Life was hard here in the bush. We had offered them the hope of God’s love, some food for their hungry stomachs and blankets to warm them through the cold nights.

As we drove away, the people we had just ministered to were standing on the side of the path waving and thanking us. My husband spontaneously opened his window and tossed out a triple strand necklace of shiny white pearls into the unknowing crowd. (see note below) One pair of dark hands reached up, out of the stifling musky afternoon air, and caught the unexpected gift.

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Paying attention landed one woman an unanticipated treasure!

In the middle of her extremely difficult life, a precious item came her way and she reached up and grabbed it.

I thought of my mother, in the midst of harsh circumstances also, as she heard about the saving kindness of Christ. In desperation, her eyes were opened and she reached up and grabbed a handful of grace that started a legacy of forgiveness in the lives of her children, her husband, and many others, even to this day. Paying attention secured for her this incredible treasure!

I have a friend who is enduring excruciating pain in the midst of a shattered relationship, yet, as she prays, she finds, “God is certainly moving in me,” because she believes “God changes lives and softens hearts and makes all things new.” Pearls, every one of them. Unexpected. Given in the midst of desperate sadness.

Even in Jesus’s time on earth, precious truths were offered and taken, without knowing the outstanding consequences.

Like in John 4 where one day a Samaritan woman came to draw water from Jacob’s well. She was standing there doing her ordinary task on an ordinary day. But this day proved to be anything but ordinary. As she reached down to draw that common-ordinary water, a man, Jesus, asked her if she would give him a drink and then offered her a drink of living water.

A handful of pearls. Would she recognize it and catch them? Or would they fly and land in the dirt?

She did look up, saw that something beautiful was being offered and eagerly replied, “Sir, give me this water!”

Treasure, right there at Jacob’s well.

This morning while penning thoughts in a journal, my heart ached for dear ones in need of a handful of precious treasure, something good, anything to redeem the piercing pain. There’s the one struggling with intense sadness, and the one who’s daughter is fighting for her life. Grief overwhelms another and her thoughts are full of wondering about God as she allows the sorrow to do its work. A loving mother prays for her sons who have rejected their faith and the God who loves them. Struggling to feel loved and known by her husband and her God, another friend tires of the questions. A friend rejects a friend. A worker hates her job; another quits because the place is so toxic.

Darkness. Sadness. Fear. Anger

These feel like poison, terrifying and ugly, not pearls on a string, beautiful and adorning.

But John 1:5 says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Out of the darkness the Light of the world dropped from the Hand of The Giver. The answer to our darkness came to earth and those with eyes to see reach up and receive the strands of grace, wondering at such an unexpected gift. How is it that I am one to receive?

Ann Voskamp writes, “Who knows why God allows heartbreak, but the answer must be important enough because God allows His heart to break too.”

And look at what happened!

God’s heartbreak led to the salvation of mankind! Out of that darkness the Light came screaming through the dimensions and into our lives. Grace. The Treasure, given.

What is breaking your heart today? Does the way appear to be dark, the path unclear, the agony unbearable?

I wonder if, perhaps, an unforeseen deeper goodness or truth might be flying your way.

Let’s wait for it, keeping alert. Sometimes we just have to lift our hand and grasp the pearls spontaneously thrown and hold the treasure close to our hearts in thankfulness for the grace so beautifully and unexpectedly given.

I can just imagine that dear African woman waking in her grass hut each morning. Is she putting on her white shiny strands of pearls while feeling amazed at the gift and at how beautiful they make her feel?

Perhaps undeserved, unexpected, unsolicited grace adorns, in the same way, those who have eyes to see and hands to grasp these truths close to their hearts.

(Note: Brian did not usually drive around Africa with pearls in his pocket. That day he had used a necklace, donated by a friend here in the USA, to illustrate a talk he shared with the men about the kingdom of God. He had also used them earlier in our trip in sermon he preached at Savane, another bush church.)

To be Seen, Known, and Loved

Deane Watters6 Comments

What do people who have lost everything need to hear?

That’s the question I was pondering back in June while preparing for our trip to Mozambique. What might they be feeling now, four months after the cyclone? What part of God’s message needs to be spoken into their hearts at this point? And how are they feeling about God anyway?

I wondered how I would feel if the roof had been blown off our house; if all our possessions had blown away or been ruined by the many inches of drenching rain and intense winds. What might I think about God as I looked back at the devastation everywhere in my community? How might I process the trauma of loss and what reassurance would I need?

I prepared a few talks, using a variety of scriptures, but once we got into the country and observed the damage, looked into eyes, clasped a few hands, and heard stories, I felt led in a direction I had not anticipated. I had many opportunities to stand in front of women who sat on mats, on the floor or on the ground, and speak to them.

I felt that God gave me words to share throughout our two weeks stay, but my words came most confidently on our last full day in Mozambique.

Sitting in a Chappa (small bus), outside the Dondo church, we waited for our pick-ups to be filled with bags of rice, blankets, bottles of oil, and donated clothes. Not a lot appeared to be happening at this early hour so when a semi-truck with a full load pulled up across the street, our eyes naturally watched as it awkwardly turned around and parked. We noted especially the two live goats tied to the very top of the tarp-covered load. We watched as the drivers pulled the bleating, traumatized animals from their high perches using ropes, down into a waiting wheelbarrow, filled with other goods to be delivered. Wondering if they would live through the day, our attention turned to other things. Already dusty, the street was filling with motorcycles, walkers, and the occasional vehicle; everyone was going somewhere.

Finally loaded, we started down the highway following the pickup ahead of us, its bed filled with bags of rice and 5 gangly teenagers eager for a day’s adventure. Turning off the highway, we came to a bumpy, dusty, road which necessitated a severe slowing down of our Chappa. Driving through villages that became increasingly primitive, we kept our phones close, cameras ever ready. There was a man walking his bicycle in the slippery thick sand with a load of charcoal, wrapped and ready to sell at the market. Women gathered at the river, washing clothes with babies wrapped on their backs. Villagers stared as we drove by, the teenagers loud singing attracting much attention, as well as the pale color of our skin.

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Turning one last time onto what looked to be a walking path, we heard the singing. Lifting our eyes we found a big crowd of people standing under a wide spread tree singing loudly. Driving through the crowd as they sang and clapped us in, we parked under a tree behind the small primitive church. As we stepped out of our vehicles, we were pulled into the dancing and clapping as the welcome continued. The throng moved along, now piling into the small church each hoping to find a place among the rows of rough log benches. Our team walked in, as though we were in a movie from another more ancient day. Brian turned to me. “Can you believe this?’ he asked. I just shook my head. The sound swelled as more people entered as the dust, smoke, and African sweat mingled into an experience of pure wonder.

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After introductions, the people were divided up. Sue took the children to a tent across the way. Amy and the teenagers gathered in the shade of the big tree out front. Brian, along with all the men, went out the back door and found their place among the parked vehicles in the shade settling on the grass. The women stayed inside with Kathy and me and our two translators. Some were widows, some were moms with babies.

It was now my turn to bring a message to these women, deep in the African bush. What had I learned about my Mozambican sisters in the two weeks we had been ministering in this country? What did these women need to hear? What would be a message that spoke to their hearts that would make a difference in their lives in the coming days?

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I started with greetings from the church in America, especially our church, Maranatha. Many of our people, along with family and friends, had given generously so this bush church (and many others) could receive the gifts we were bringing.

With Bible in hand, I started to recount the story of Abram and Sarai from the book of Genesis:

Out of His great love for His people, God had promised Abram descendants - as many as the stars in the sky! God had spoken and Abram and Sarai were amazed and full of hope. But as the years went by, Sarai never got pregnant! Eventually, impatient for God’s promise to be fulfilled, Sarai suggested that Abram take her servant, Hagar, get her pregnant, and thereby hurrying everything along. When Hagar did indeed get pregnant, she made fun of Sarai which angered and hurt Sarai so much that she began to mistreat Hagar. It was so upsetting that Hagar fled.

There she was, this pregnant servant girl, alone and afraid, when the angel of the LORD found her sitting near a spring in the desert. They talked. He asked her what was going on and she poured out her dilemma to Him. He listened and then told her to go back to Sarai and submit to her. He informed her that she was going to have a son and his name would be Ishmael and he would be a wild man, living in hostility toward all his brothers.

Before heading back to Sarai, Hagar answered Him. “You are the God who sees me, for I have now seen the One who sees me.” And she named God, El Roi, the God who sees.

At that point in my little talk, I lifted my Bible and proclaimed that our God never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! “So if our God saw Hagar all alone in that desert, He is same God that sees you right here in this church today! He is the God who sees and He looks on each one of you with love, kindness, and understanding. Not only does He see you, He knows you and He loves you!” (At this point the women burst out clapping and laughing, with joy- filled smiles on their faces.)

This was the message they needed to hear. This was the comfort their hearts were longing for.

God sees you. God knows you. God loves you.

It is written in Isaiah 66:13, that God assured His people, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” I told them to look at the many mothers sitting with babies right there with us, and to remember how much they held and comforted their own children when they were distressed. That is a picture of God’s intense, fierce, mother - love for them, and for us. Again they burst out with shouts of joy, receiving this message fully.

I realized something at that point. Just as God had come to Hagar on that lonely day, so He was coming to these people here today in the form of us - this lowly team of five. We were His messengers in the flesh, His hands and His feet.

I asked each of them to put a hand up to their hearts and repeat. “God loves me. God loves me. God loves me.”

With beaming and beautiful smiles, in unison, each repeated loudly, “God loves me. God loves me. God loves me,” followed by more cheering, clapping, and joyful noise.

I’ve never been a part of anything quite like it. God spoke the words these women needed to hear and He used my voice. I was amazed that He let me bring that message to them. I kept my own hand on my heart feeling the truth of these words within my own soul.

After praying, I asked if they had any questions for me and one woman stood. She thanked me for coming and for bringing God’s words to them. She said she had been faltering in her faith. After the cyclone, things had been so difficult that she didn’t know if she believed anymore. But because of this word here, today, her faith was renewed and she joyfully welcomed belief back into her heart.

Oh boy. Rushing over to her with a tight hug, I prayed that God would complete this desire of her heart by truly renewing her faith.

In contrast to those goats being so violently lowered from the semi-truck earlier in the day, these people were gently lowered into green pastures by the soothing and refreshing Word of God. And I was there to see it.

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This was an amazing day for me. Each family received a 22-pound bag of rice along with a blanket, bottle of oil and some donated clothes. A new plastic bowl was given to each person filled with cooked rice and delicious beans. They could sit right down and eat, filling the empty space with the warmth of food and the joy of God having seen, known and loved them in this concrete fill-your-stomach-and-heart kind of way.

There were also some hard truths to be faced on this day that was full of rejoicing and goodness. But that is the way of village life.

We keep these people in our prayers, asking God to continue to show His great love to them, even and especially these, so deep in the African bush.

Cold and Hungry

Deane Watters7 Comments

Note: Last week my husband and I (and three others) returned from 13 days in Mozambique, Africa, on a mission to bring food, blankets, and encouragement to the people still suffering after a devastating cyclone in March. For the next few weeks, I plan to share with you some of my memories from that trip. As you read my reflections, I hope you find them to be interesting and informative. Perhaps God will show you a bit more about how He works through His people in this amazing but complex world.

On March 14, 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique with a deadly fury. The people were warned of the coming storm but many scoffed at the idea until the winds started and the devastation began. Trees swayed and uprooted while tin roofs detached and became massive projectiles as dangerous as the storm itself. People living in mud houses found their walls melting and everything inside violently being whisked away. Every person feared for his/her life. They screamed out prayers, begging for relief. After the first surge, all became quiet so they thought it was over. But soon the next stage began, more intense and deadly than the first. They all thought they were going to die.

We knew about this cyclone. It played a monumental part in our decision to travel there. Leaders told us that the people were still hungry and cold. Their babies still needed blankets. Many were still waiting, living in camps hoping that homes could be built for them. Hunger was still crouching at many doors.

Reaching out, we asked people in our churches, along with family and friends, to help us gather money to buy bags of rice and blankets to be distributed by us, directly into the hands of those in need. We couldn’t feed them all but we could offer a bit of relief to the people of the church and the mission of Children’s Relief International, who is doing dynamic work in that area. People were generous! The thought of these already very poor people still in need after four months, moved many of us to share from our abundance. We raised $16,000 and could only thank God for stirring people to be generous toward those who have so little and have gone through so much.

Early in our visit, our team leader gathered a group of workers (Activistas) to let them tell their personal cyclone stories. These dear people work with Project Life, in the mission with Children’s Relief International. They gather regularly to study the Bible, pray and sing out their praises and then walk into the villages. They visit the homes of the 130 moms with new babies, making sure the babies are thriving, to pray over them, and to get help if it is needed. Over 370 widows with AIDS who live in the villages are also faithfully visited, ministered to, cared for and prayed over by these faithful workers. Prayer permeates this work. And these prayers are always accompanied by energetic dancing, clapping and praising.

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At our little gathering the stories began:

Everyone suffered, they said. No one was safe. All feared for their lives. All cried out.

“Our house was destroyed,” Laurinha told us.

Maria spoke quietly, “No one got through this cyclone with nothing to complain about.”

Manuel gently reflected, “When you are with God you don’t only win. You lose also. Everyone was wondering, “How am I going to survive?” We started singing God is great. He protected our lives. If it wasn’t for Him we’d all be dead. We are thanking God we are still alive.”

Confidently Elisa commented, “Only God takes care of us. There is no one else.” Only her roof was destroyed and she praised God for that.

Adelina whispered, “The Lord is my Shepherd. He takes care of us. I thank God I am alive and I got a new house.”

Joalina emphasized that everything is in God’s hand. “What is impossible for us is possible for God. He protected us.”

Our team was amazed. Each of these godly faithful workers started their stories with some form of “I thank God because…” So much faith. So much love and praise for the God who sees, knows and loves His people.

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After listening to the stories we celebrated God’s goodness with prayer, praise, cookies and bottles of pop! We gave these lovely people crosses made by Bob from our church. Each woman was gifted with a piece of donated jewelry and the men received ties donated by a neighbor of mine. We finished up by personally handing each of them a quilt made by the women at First Lutheran church here in Cedar Rapids.

What an afternoon.

Cyclones hit. Death is feared. Hunger sets in. But God is bigger than all that. He allowed these people an afternoon to voice their stories and receive a few gifts. It didn’t change anything but a bit of joy was felt and a huge amount of praise and thanksgiving resounded.

1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all you do be done in love.

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