I feel like I’m writing a lot about thankfulness in these updates. Maybe it’s because if I don’t count the blessings, all the Covid-related negativity will take over. Whatever the reason, I’m looking back at the last month and feeling grateful.
At the turn of the new year, a lot of us were quite happy to be done with 2020, and with good reason. But so far 2021 is not shaping up to be much better. The future remains quite uncertain and it is not a feeling we particularly enjoy. We are used to the freedom of being able to hop on a plane and travel anywhere in the world. Now, we are being told not to cross the street to visit our own family. And when will it end? Who knows.
Last week Annemarie and I read about the new travel restrictions put in place by the Canadian government. For now, they are in place until the end of April, but if they continue into the summer it might affect our plans for furlough. We are hoping to return to Canada for a couple months and are looking forward to seeing family. All those hopes and expectations were once again tossed about and dangled over the side of a cliff. When will our parents see our ten-month old whom they have not met? When will we be able to meet our newest nieces just recently born? When will our family be able to come visit us in Mexico so we can share our lives with them?
We don’t know.
The emotion and sadness of it all punched us in the gut the other night. We sat down at the table and read Psalm 103 together. With his ancient poetry, King David reminded us to “praise the LORD” and “forget not all his benefits”. The benefits of the LORD are innumerous: forgiveness, healing, redemption, love, compassion, satisfaction, renewal, justice, revelation, graciousness, an everlasting kingdom, etc. God is on our side and we lack nothing of what is truly essential to live as God has created us to live. God knows that we are dust, and that our lives waver in the wind like thin blades of grass – and he promises that He is a solid rock on which we can stand, and his faithfulness never wavers for a moment.
The words of Psalm 103 are life-giving. They put wind under our wings so we can keep going. Through these words God says to us: “I see your tears, and it’s ok. Trust in my love and compassion for you, and then praise me with all your being so that truth courses through your veins and takes over every thought and action” Our God is awesome and every sacrifice and suffering in this life is worth it. There is nothing that compares to the love that our God and Father has for us.
The words of Psalm 103 came back to me a couple days ago when we heard the news that Annemarie’s Opa Oosteroff had passed away suddenly. We were hiking in the hills surrounding Queretaro with some friends of ours when we received the call from Annemarie’s dad. As we walked among the cactus and felt the hot Mexican sun, we felt the distance from our family.
Forget not all his benefits.
As we ate lunch with our friends they asked about Annemarie’s Opa. We talked about his steady, firm faith which he passed on to his many children and grandchildren. We talked about his eagerness to study God’s word and understand theology. We talked about our confidence that Opa is in heaven because the Lord loves him with the same intense and everlasting love that is described by David in Psalm 103.
Praise the Lord O my soul.
Later that day, as I flipped through the pictures I took of the hike, I stopped at a picture of an oak tree. I thought of Isaiah’s words from long ago:
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.Isaiah 61:3
I think of Opa Oosterhoff as an “oak of righteousness”, and I’d describe my late Opa Bredenhof in the same manner. Their faith was as thick and unmoving as an oak and it seemed like nothing in life could come along and uproot them. They stood as testaments of God’s splendor – “This is what a man of God looks like!”
As Isaiah says in the same chapter: “Their descendants will be known among the nations.” So it is. Here we are, one among many, seeking to make Christ known among the nations. And as we do so, there are and will be challenges. But let us not allow the hard things to steal our gaze away from the never-stopping, always-present love of God. Let us not forget the benefits of loving and being loved by the Lord Almighty.
Praise the LORD O my soul.