Deb’s Books Blast/Deb’s Ministry Blog

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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

Again, you’ll receive occasional emails. You may unsubscribe at any time. Your privacy will be respected. Your name and address will not be given to anyone else for any other purpose.

Instant winner!

Being a subscriber to Deb’s Book Blast automatically qualifies you to be in the draw to win the Kindle version of Looking into You by Chris Fabry. I’ll announce the winner at the end of this Book Blast.

Our international trip during Covid

 Recently my husband and I left Invercargill, New Zealand, where we live and minister, to go to the States for his mother’s memorial service. All of his mom’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren attended the service. It was not only the celebration of the spiritual heritage she left behind, but also a great family reunion. During those four weeks in the States I was also able to visit all my siblings. It was great to see family who had come from all across the States for these two reunions and God did extra things for us during that time.

God helped us overcome many obstacles to make this travel possible. New Zealand, a country of about 5 million people who live on land about the same size as Colorado, has exercised strict Covid restrictions with the pandemic since the beginning. These restrictions have been very effective. Since March 2020, we’ve only had about four thousand confirmed and probable cases of Covid. Most of these came from a recent spike in numbers. Most New Zealanders live on two islands, which also helps keep Covid under control. But these results are partly due to very strict border control. As a result, at this time travel is expensive and complicated. God helped us get through many challenging obstacles to allow us to travel during Covid. Here are some of the obstacles:

  • We couldn’t bring a pastoral couple to fill in for us outside New Zealand borders.
  • We had to find a flight from the US back to NZ that linked to a MIQ voucher. (A reserved spot in special facilities to remain isolated in for two weeks.) This obstacle is huge all by itself.
  • Though Covid jabs weren’t mandatory, we felt we needed them for travel and the schedule for them in our town was filled up until after we needed to leave.
  • Covid added thousands of dollars of expenses to our trip.
  • When we got out of MIQ there were no flights to Invercargill for eight days.

One by one God helped us past these obstacles. We are so thankful.

During managed isolation we were only allowed out of our rooms for a bit of exercise several times a day. The rest of the time we were in our motel room. Meals were dropped in front of our door three times daily. Some found this isolation very trying, but Art and I enjoyed our time together. We had plenty of time to read. I read Looking into You during our travels or isolation. I also spent much of these two weeks working on my book, Short Poppies, which I hope to publish by the end of the year.

How are you doing?

During our recent visit, it seemed like many Americans had largely forgotten about Covid and were living pretty much as normal. Others, of course, have lost jobs or loved ones. Some churches have special struggles. Covid means people around us may be scared, angry, confused, worried, or resentful. As friends and neighbors experience pandemic fatigue, we can be the kind faces (even if masked) and cheery voices that make their day a bit brighter.

Here is a meme to remind us of this. Feel free to copy it and post it in the social network you like to use. I’ve posted two versions which can be used in a portrait or landscape orientation. Or you can pin it to a Pinterest Board.

A Song about God’s goodness during dark days

You may have heard of Ron and Shelly Hamilton. Ron has written hundreds of songs and hymns and cantatas. Shelly wrote the music for many of these songs. They are probably the foremost couple in composing, performing and publishing conservative Christian songs.

As a boy, Jonathan, their son, was the voice of Pee Wee Pirate on the Patch the Pirate audio tapes. During college a medication for acne triggered a clinical depression Jonathan never came out of. He was an outspoken Christian and wrote beautiful music, but on Mother’s Day in 2013 he took his life. During the dark days following his death, his family commissioned a songwriter to write lyrics to a tune Jonathan had written. It is a powerful testimony of God’s goodness in difficult times. I’m hoping this song, “You Are Always Good,” will encourage you as it has me.

Now for the free drawing.

I have randomly picked several winners from my subscribers list to receive the Kindle version of Looking into You by Chris Fabry.

And the winner could be … you! This time I’ve picked several winners from my list, but none of them were able to get back to me. As a result, I will chose the first person to get back to me as the winner of this drawing. The second to get back to me will be the winner of the next drawing. All you have to do is send these words to this address: artdebbrammer@gmail.com. The words are: I have read your Book Blast and want to go into the drawing for a free book. The winners will be announced as soon as they reply.

My review of Looking into You:

Paige Redwine is haunted by a choice she made when she was only seventeen. Now a well-respected English teacher, she finds the baby she gave up for adoption is a student in one of her classes. She must choose between keeping silent about the past or revealing herself to her daughter and risking her reputation as a teacher. Fabry gives a personal and intimate look into the lives of the birth mom and her daughter and the choices they must make. Though several things seemed a bit unrealistic I did enjoy this book for the personal look it gave into giving up a baby to adoption. I don’t give 5 stars to many books, but I did for this one.

When Covid’s Not Over Yet

A year ago I wrote a blog about the Unprecedented Opportunities that we have during the Covid-19 pandemic. I listed 6 Christian qualities that model Christ-like living and give us a special way to shine our light into a dark world troubled by Covid. If you missed that blog, you can read it here.

A year ago, most of us probably thought, a year later, the Covid problem would be largely under control. That life would be normal again. Sometimes in some places it may seem like normal, but the Delta variant is reviving the virus in new ways. Some places around the world are struggling more now than ever before. Now pandemic fatigue sets in and we’re sick of it all. Sometimes it affects our ministry.

So how are you doing? Are you managing the extra layer of stress Covid-19 adds to life in general? Are you weary of the divisive issues Covid brings to church, school, and friendships in general? Is the gloomy news about the Delta variant dominating your life?

My husband and I recently traveled from New Zealand to the USA to observe a memorial service for his mother who died in May. It was a special time to celebrate the heritage she left us by serving God faithfully for many decades.  We were also able to spend time with much of our extended family. But Covid did set many obstacles in our path and add that extra layer of stress to our travels.

Covid made every aspect of travel more challenging, but God brought us through these obstacles.

  • Finding someone from within New Zealand who could fill in for our ministry when replacements from other countries weren’t allowed in
  • Getting airline tickets that matched managed isolation vouchers
  • Getting both Covid vaccinations before we left
  • Paying for extra expenses incurred because of Covid
  • Booking a flight home to Invercargill after 2 weeks of managed isolation during a level 4 lockdown

We left an island country the size of Colorado that had experienced many months with zero community transmission. From there we went to the States where states of similar size presented about 500 new cases a day. Believe it or not, living in a country with very little Covid produces a special kind of challenge. From the beginning of Covid, New Zealand sealed off its borders and was able to catch incoming cases before they spread to the community. While we were in managed isolation for 14 days after our trip, however, Covid entered the community and spiked with, at some points, over 80 new cases a day. Suddenly Auckland was in level 4 lock down, and the rest of New Zealand was in level 3.

As I landed in New Zealand I had to reset my body clock from Central Daylight Time to New Zealand Standard Time. And my body calendar from hot summer to cool winter.  And my almost-normal New Zealand life to very restricted New Zealand life. Now we’ve entered level 2 and can have church again, with less than 50 people, face masks recommended, and 2-meter social distancing.

Sigh.

Covid isn’t over yet. In fact with the Delta variant, it’s breathing new life … or death … depending on how you look at it.

Last year I talked about Unprecedented Opportunities Covid brings us in ministry. Now I want to talk about how to handle the complexities of pandemic fatigue. Since God has allowed Covid into our communities, how can we manage the issues it brings to our ministry?

Prepare to deal with Covid’s extra layer of stress.

You’ve all heard about the two shoe salesmen who heard about a country where people didn’t wear shoes. The pessimist says, “I don’t want to go there. If people don’t wear shoes, no one would buy any.” The optimist says, “I must go to that country. No one has shoes so the market’s wide open!”

 Ministry during Covid is kind of like that. As New Zealanders say, “I’m so over Covid!” I’ve worn my mask, and social distanced, and scanned my QR code (something they’ve evidently not done in the States.) I’ve even had that nasty Covid swab stuck up my nose.

So if God has called you to a ministry in a country in which people are “so over” Covid, what can you do? Like the optimist you can say, “Wow. Everyone is discouraged, stressed, and impatient. What a great place to spread encouragement!”

My last trip to the supermarket was one of those days. It rained, hailed, blew. I had to figure out how to adjust my mask for a more comfortablefit. I had to wait in a short line to get in, and then do the “distance dance,” trying to get my cart without getting too close to anyone. I was trying to figure out how to work the QR code we’d just downloaded on my cell phone. When it didn’t work, I had to fill out a card for contact tracing. I sanitized my hands, pushed my cart into the store, and then realized I’d forgotten my bags. (In New Zealand you have to bring your own bags to the store or pay for theirs.)

You’ve been there before. We all have. I try to remind myself that everyone around me is facing similar struggles. For some of them, Covid has cost them their business. They’ve worried about sick family members or not been able to attend a funeral of a loved one. I’ve only been inconvenienced by it.

How can we encourage others during a stressful shopping trip or everyday life?

  • When wearing a mask, make eye contact with people and smile with our eyes.
  • Be extra patient with workers when it takes extra time and effort to do their jobs.
  • Speak a few cheery words even when we don’t have to say anything.

 Don’t allow Covid to dominate your life.

We need to have some idea of what’s going on with Covid, but some of us need to know the details more than others. Don’t let the news dominate your life or weigh you down. Here are some ways to keep that from happening:

  • If Covid news upsets you, don’t listen to it.
  • If you listen to it, don’t dwell on it all day.
  • Allow extra time and energy to deal with the extra level of stress Covid brings.
  • Make the necessary changes you need to make, but don’t let it dominate other areas of your life.
  • Choose music, books or movies that edify. Pass over ones that depress you.
  • Don’t let your viewpoint affect your disposition.

Don’t let Covid’s divisive issues divide your church.

 Covid is a real threat vs Covid is a giant hoax. Mask vs no mask. Vaxxers vs anti-vaxxers. These issues are polarizing people today. Even Christians. Even churches. And that saddens me. Of course, my opinions make perfect sense to me. Except for eating and drinking, on my recent trip back to New Zealand, I wore a mask for 30 hours straight. And it didn’t hurt me. I could ask, “Even if people don’t see Covid as a serious threat, would it hurt them to wear a mask to make others more safe?” But some would even resent me for asking that question.

Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. People have their reasons and I have mine. But I don’t have to make it an issue.  I can respect the feelings of others even if they differ from mine. I can scroll past Facebook posts that might upset me or hurt a friendship. I can simply listen to a conversation and not share my opinion. I’ve been in ministry for 43 years now and I’ve learned one thing: I don’t have to weigh in on every issue.

Though our viewpoints may seem important to us, let’s not let it divide our churches. These are not moral issues and shouldn’t become church issues.

As people in ministry, we don’t try to control every conversation we take part in, but that doesn’t tie our hands. What can we do when someone brings up a Covid issue that is moving in a negative direction to the point of discouraging others and maybe even causing division?

  • Acknowledge that Covid has brought real hardship to some people.
  • Recognize that these are sensitive issues with good people on both sides.
  • Before the conversation becomes demoralizing, nudge the conversation in a more positive direction or even change the subject.

Can I do that? Just change the subject because I don’t want to talk about it? Isn’t that rude? I wondered that a few years ago, but I’m changing my viewpoint. Maybe you’ve been in a conversation that goes on and on past the time that everyone has expressed his or her sentiments and are beginning to repeat them. Maybe you’ve even had this exact conversation before and it never turns out well. Once in a while I just step into the conversation and change the subject, gracefully or not. I find that people generally don’t mind, even if they know what I’m doing, and some appreciate it.

As people in ministry, we can lead the church even in casual conversation. We can set the tone and help the church to be a positive place. People have problems and we need to come alongside to listen and encourage. Church meetings, however, should be a place of blessing, not constant complaint and discouragement. The pastor can preach an uplifting sermon, but any of us can work behind the scenes to encourage each other individually.

We are the church. We’re supposed the help each other and make our meetings a healthy place for our church family to meet, fellowship, and feel encouraged. Even during Covid. Especially during Covid.

 Listen to the inspiring song, “We Are Your Church.”

Get the free printable download of the song,We Are Your Church.

Instant winner!

Being a subscriber to Deb’s Book Blast automatically qualifies you to be in the draw to win the Kindle version of A Million Miles from Home by Mike Delloso. This relationship novel is the last 5 star book I’ve read. I’ll announce the winner at the end of this Book Blast.

This month my husband, Art, and I celebrate our anniversary. We married at age 22. Do the math and you find we married at 22, 44 years of marriage makes us 66 years old. Don’t know where we’ll be when we’re 88, but I wouldn’t mind being in heaven by then.

Secret to Happy Marriage

Our lives are so much richer for our marriage. Lots of people talk about secrets for a happy marriage. A cornerstone for our marriage is our faith in Christ and seeking to please him. Compatible ministry goals certainly help that. But the more I think about our marriage and peek into other marriages, I believe two things make marriage happy. Are you ready for this big secret? Here it is: kindness and consideration. I have a kind husband who considers my wants and needs and that makes me want to be kind and considerate right back. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it works for us.

Of course, marrying the right person is a great start. Wondering what that means? Here are 15 questions a Christian girl should ask before she says, “Yes, I will marry you.”

A Bit of Art/Marriage Humor

I learned to appreciate art and art humor as I wrote my Art Spotlight Mysteries. I love the patterns in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity.” Here’s some art/marriage humor based on that piece.

Escher’s “Relativity”

Escher’s Wife

A Song of Hope

I hope you are weathering the ups and downs of 2021. During these days I like to remember that my hope is not in circumstances, but in Jesus. “My Hope Is Jesus” is a song that reminds me of this truth.

Now for the free drawing.

I have randomly picked a winner from my subscribers list to receive the Kindle version of A Million Miles from Home by Mike Dellosso.

And the winner is … Becky Canfield.

My review of A Million Miles from Home

Ben and Annie grow up together in abusive homes and later marry. They have a daughter and are determined to leave their past behind and build a loving home. But tragedy forces Ben for face his past and work toward forgiveness.

I seldom give 5 stars to books, but Dellosso’s book deserves the high rating for telling this emotional story. The story is told from Ben’s point-of-view and goes back and forth between the past and present, but the author handles this well so that you feel like you are with Ben, feeling what he is feeling. A couple characters seem to have no flaws, but generally his characters are well-rounded and realistic.

A couple of times the author talks about baptism “washing away a person’s sin,” which clashes with my personal viewpoint. But the book is moving and well-written, though fairly sad throughout.

Ministry Marriages, Part Four: Managing Your Finances

 

Picture an orchestra playing a magnificent symphony. All the different instruments make their entrance and play their respective parts. At the end, all come together in a swelling crescendo that moves the emotions and stirs the heart. It leaves you with an unforgettable feeling you can’t explain. You remember that high note that the flute hit perfectly or the rumbling of the bass. You don’t think about the mechanical bits like how many beats there were to a measure or what key the piece was in. Those mechanical bits aren’t even noticeable when the piece is played right, but if one player is playing to a different time or in a different key, the symphony is far from pleasant.

Finances are one of the mundane parts of marriage that no one likes to talk about. When they’re in order, your marriage can move on to more interesting pursuits. When there is dissension or unwise choices in this area, however, the marriage suffers in other ways.

Art and I are so blessed to have come from similar family backgrounds. Both of us were raised in Christian homes by parents who were faithful, fun, and frugal. That gives us similar ideas about finances and how to spend them. Handling finances can be a big problem, however. They lead to the breakup of many marriages. Even ministry marriages struggle with this.

Here again, balance is a key word in dealing with finances. Couples who spend more than they make get in huge financial trouble. But couples who are so frugal that they don’t provide for the needs of their families also have problems.

Living within a Budget

Somehow couples need to agree on how much they can spend and what to spend it on. They need to look ahead and prepare for emergencies that could come up. During certain times in their lives they might need to be extremely frugal. Seminary students with families often have to pinch every penny in order to get by. They may have to do very careful shopping at the grocery store and buy necessities second hand. Hopefully the situation will ease with time.

When you are on a very tight budget with no choice about it, you will have to work hard to stay contented. Everyone around you may seem to have more money than you have, but you must be happy with less. Wanting more than you can have will make your marriage unhappy and may push you to make unwise choices.

Hopefully you will come to a time when, even though you may have to be careful, you will have a little more freedom to make choices. Both husband and wife should have some freedom to use money for things they choose. A husband should be able to trust his wife to spend money freely within the guidelines that have agreed to. Part of being an adult should be having freedom to make financial choices.

Very often God puts a frugal person with someone who spends more freely so that they can balance each other out. If the money just isn’t there, obviously, you can’t spend it, but we can be too frugal as well.

I have seen ministry marriages in which the wife and family lived in unnecessarily harsh conditions, without enough heat in the house or without proper food. Sometimes the family never takes a vacation or goes fun places together. In some cases the wife has to account for every penny she spends and can spend little to no money on things she enjoys.  This puts a strain on the marriage. Many marriages go through hard financial times, but I believe, if at all possible, a wife and family ought to be able to enjoy reasonable comfort and some fun things and activities.

Kids will also be less likely to resent the ministry if they don’t feel poor. Most ministry families have to be careful with their spending and may have less “things” than families around them. But when children grow up and they feel like they never had nice things growing up, that their Christmases and birthdays were pathetic compared to their friends, they may resent that. Giving them a few nice things that they really want and that give them good memories may really help their perception of the ministry. And a wife who feels she can’t give nice things to her kids won’t be happy either.

On the other hand, I know marriages that failed largely due to wives who spent money too fast on things they didn’t really need. If you find yourself shopping for fun and buying more than you need, think about whether or not you can afford to do that or if you need to stop.

Marriages will be stronger if both husband and wife:

  • agree to financial guidelines,
  • live within their budget or guidelines,
  • have freedom to make choices, and
  • work to be content with the standard of living they can afford.

I hope you have found this series on ministry marriages helpful.  If you and your spouse are in ministry, what have you found most difficult?