Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)
“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.”
“I’d love if you shared the poem on your blog! Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked it. I’ve only ever written rhyming poetry, but I started trying free verse because I like playing around with the rhythm…I actually didn’t think much of it when I wrote it months ago, but coming back to it last week, I though you might enjoy reading it.”
“…how Christ changes a broken heart through redemption…that is exactly what the poem is meant to portray.”
Spectacular fall colors, warm apple desserts, and spiced-aroma candles. What’s not to love? Whether my grandsons and I drink hot cider and eat donuts on my screened porch, or I enjoy my personal time under a warm blanket reading a good book, surrounded by the sights and smells of fall, I’m in a happy place.
As the leaves began to change and I was greeted by a raining day, my mind turned to baking pumpkin bread. With my weekly shopping list in hand I went to one supermarket only to find the shelf that housed pumpkin was bear. I waited until the next week and the same was true in two different supermarkets. Sure that I had missed the usual baking displays, I approached a store clerk to ask. He told me I’m not alone in that request. Shoppers had purchased the canned pumpkin earlier –at the start of COVID-19, along with the rush on paper products. Stores are waiting for the crop to be picked, processed, and shipped. Another unprecedented experience in 2020.
No pumpkin. Strange. What if we won’t have pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving? It’s first world problem I know, but I asked myself that question. We’ve asked and continue to ask many “what if” questions-more serious than pumpkin pie. We are entering another season that looks different. Our cozy, colorful, and warm autumn picture may have a chilly and cloudy cast.
What if there’s no opportunity to be with family due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel? Family gatherings look different. Unless I want to quarantine in NY for 14 days and be tested before and after I travel, I can’t fly to see family in NY. My family may have pumpkin pie without me.
What if grief, already exaggerated in this season, is met with fewer face to face contacts and hugs? The grief support group I facilitate has been cancelled twice because our church closed due to COVID-19. At a time when grievers especially need face to face support even at a 6-foot distance, we meet by text and phone. Pumpkin pie is not served.
What if the usual Christmas concerts, holiday parties, and children’s programs are canceled this season?
What if there’s no pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving?
The prophet Habakkuk in the OT answers that “what if” question when he says,
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, (and no pumpkin pie, or travel, or events, or…),yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3:17-19 NIV
And the apostle Paul adds to that when he says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4: 11-12 NIV
So what if?
What if I renewed my focus during the closing weeks of 2020?
What if I monitored my thinking?
What if I intentionally used positive words in my self-talk?
What if I followed Habakkuk and the apostle Paul’s reminders?
Then… We can live in contentment because we can draw on God’s promises to stay the course, live in His strength, and remember Peter’s words in 2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.
What if? What are your strategies to answer that question with “then”?
Santa Ana winds have arrived. They are whipping my trees around, especially my comparatively young and slim Jacaranda. I always worry that its smaller, long branches will break off. But they simply bend and twist and rise up in the wind…. getting stronger as they are battered.
There’s a lesson or two here for me. When hardships and trials come my way, I’m to soften my rigid stance and bend.
When adversaries pummel me from every side, I’m to yield to the blows (and perhaps offer the other “cheek”) and count it a joy.
These don’t understand that buffeting makes me stronger and even cleans out those old dead leaves and twigs of pride and selfishness, allowing me to breathe.
So thank You God, for sending the winds of adversity! I spread my feet and lift my arms and head. Clean me well!
FAITH NEWS SERVICE – Steve Swartz is an American who left the comforts and familiarity of small-town Ohio to answer the call of God into missionary work. Ending up halfway around the world, Steve and his wife, Bev, landed in Alice Springs, which is about as remote as you can get in Australia’s rugged outback.
His new book, Broken Pot, is a brilliant recount of their remarkable lives.
The call to work as a Bible translator took Steve to the middle of Australia, where he worked translating the Bible for the Warlpiri Aboriginal people of Central Australia as a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
However, that is just half the story. This missionary has achieved all he has whilst battling daily with bipolar disorder. “I was misdiagnosed from 1980 to about 2017 as suffering from ‘mere’ depression,” Steve told me. “For many of those years and even after my actual suicide attempt in 1986, I was not placed on a regimen of anti-depressants, but rather, I had to rely on various psychological ‘talking and cognitive’ therapies and the exercise of the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, meditation, prayer and interpersonal interactions with other to try to maintain some level of sanity, often without much success.
“From 2000 until 2017 and for various periods, I was taking anti-depressants on an on-again-off-again basis. As time went on, and as I began experiencing periods of extreme manic, though often highly-productive, energy followed by more-extended periods of deep depression, it finally became clinically apparent to my doctors that my mental condition was more-correctly diagnosed as Bipolar Type 2 disorder, which is now treated pharmaceuticaly in a fashion quite different to depression.”
Being asked to sum up his bipolar disorder, Steve used one word: unpredictability. “It was bad enough with me being depressed for months or even years at a time,” Steve told me. “We could make adjustments and accommodations to survive these times, but neither Bev nor I could predict when, in a blink of an eye and without warning, rhyme or reason, my mind would switch from Black Dog to hyper-speed.
“I could be crazily productive during these times or at other times just a gibbering maniac, bubbling over like Mt Etna, erupting with all sorts of wild and wonderful projects. I would feel unbelievably wonderful and marvelous, but more often than not, from Bev’s perspective, I would simply be angry, rude and insufferable.
“Two of these high periods, one in 2007 and another in 2019, resulted in two 30-day periods where, each time, I penned some 60,000 words, which now have turned into this 129,000-word memoir. I didn’t start out 13 years ago to write this memoir – it wrote itself. Was it the bipolar mania, the Holy Spirit or both? I cannot tell the difference.”
With mental health challenges yet to manifest themselves, Steve moved to the other side of the world in obediently following God’s calling. For many of us, we take reading the Bible for granted. In fact, if you read the stats, Bible reading amongst Christians is way down. Yet Steve and his wife gave up their comfortable, American lifestyle to make this possible for a small Australian indigenous tribe – just so they would have access to God’s Word.
“In retrospect, it is fair to say that I did not handle the transition (to Australia’s outback) very well at all,” Steve said. “If I had, then I would not have had much of a memoir to write about. There was, of course, the initial transition from the USA to Australia, two very different countries and cultures, despite common English origins and a ‘shared’ language. Cultural-linguistic-historical presuppositions are so different, often in ways initially not apparent.
“For example, Americans (at least conservative ones such as myself) are much more patriotic than Aussies. Aussies, in general, are much more patriotic nowadays than they were forty years ago. At that stage, if the Australian National Anthem was played at a sporting event, many Aussies would not stand and fewer would sing along. Bev and I thought this very strange and not a little rude. Aussies had, and to a lesser extent still have, more of a cultural cringe, tug-the-forelock, embarrassed attitude towards the Brits than do Americans. We found something of an underlying hostility at times to us for simply being American – how could everyone in the world not love the Yanks? We understand this better now.”
For Steve and Bev, there were the climatic differences they also had to deal with. Ohio and Michigan have four distinct seasons, including ice and snow) in Midwest America. They moved into a two-season, hot, monsoonal climate of stifling proportions.
Then there was the transition into yet another culture. After their first six months in Darwin, the couple moved to Lajamanu in April 1978 to live among the Warlpiri people at Lajamanu in the Northern Territory, a very remote and isolated Aboriginal community. When they arrived in Lajamanu, there were no phones, only a public radiotelephone at the council office. There was only one, poorly-stocked store where everything was expensive. Mail came in by plane twice a week, and there was no TV or up-to-date newspapers or magazines.
“Bev and I came as linguist-translators, as opposed to other job categories within Wycliffe such as literacy workers, school teachers, builders, administrators, pilots, radio techs, computer texts, academic scholars, and so on,” Steve continued. “Our assignment was to work with the Warlpiri people, a group we knew nothing about before our arrival in Darwin in late 1977.
“In the early 90s, I became an international translation consultant, which gave me the opportunity with work with many other translators here in Australia, the Solomon Islands and even Hawaii to ensure quality control of their translation into many different languages.”
Steve’s mental health frailties have been a part of his entire time living in Australia. Suicidal depression was a regular challenge and even now, while those deep emotional (and dangerous) troughs are more of a rarity, it’s one day at a time to maintain an even keel. Many Christians, despite their love for their Creator, also face similar challenges.
A major part of the motivation in writing Broken Pot is to share his experiences with bipolar disorder and to encourage fellow Christians and non-Christians alike. Steve wants it known that God can still use someone amid depression and/or bipolar, even when complete healing is not forthcoming. “Continuing to be depressed or bipolar does not necessarily indicate that God has rejected you or that you have a lack of faith for full healing,” Steve continued. “He can still use ‘damaged goods’ to achieve His purposes. It can be argued that He chooses people of certain personality types to engage in certain ministries. For example, I do not have a naturally pastoral or gentle personality, which would lend itself more to a pastor’s heart for his flock, but I do possess a natural determination and hard-headedness, which means that having set my mind and heart on a goal, I persist through hell and high water to achieve that goal.”
“Sometimes the process is not easy, such as is the case with my dear wife Bev, who has suffered much being married to me, witnessing my struggles, worrying, praying for me, and trying to ‘hold me together’. I owe her a debt that I will never pay off in full.
“I am not the same as I was when we first came to Australia, and that is a very good thing. I was 25 and Bev was 23. I was, without overstating the case too much, a self-assured, arrogant young man, used to academic achievement, sure that I would make quick work of learning Warlpiri and completing a translation. Nothing proved as easy as I had naively expected once we arrived in Lajamanu. These early difficulties led quickly to feelings of failure and ineptitude, which then spiraled quickly into depression and eventual suicide attempts.
“My recovery from the 1986 suicide attempt took over two years in the United States—it was a protracted and difficult time. Bev and I returned to active service in 1989, based here in Alice Springs. During the 90s, I struggled amid ongoing mental health struggles to bring the Warlpiri translation (full New Testament and 12% of the Old) to completion and publication in 2001 followed by our retirement from Wycliffe in 2003.” In Broken Pot, this powerful memoir informs, educates, entertains and challenges readers to not give up on what God has started. Moreover, it is sincerely hoped that fellow-sufferers of the Black Dog and other forms of mental illness will come to realize that God has not abandoned them, that He can still use cracked pots to accomplish His purposes and that there is help for them even in the darkness.”
I can imagine that Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of the 1800s, was thinking of his own conversion as he wrote this devotional. It was a snowy January day in 1850. The young lad had been raised by a loving father who preached the Gospel rightly. His mother had given him loving instruction at her knee since Charles was a babe. Charles was sent to live with his Grandfather for a period, and his grandfather was also a preacher, with many coming to conversion under him. His grandfather also had inherited a fabulous library as preacher, and Charles read theological books voraciously. As a teen Charles himself attended a Congregational church…
It feels like God is definitely putting us to the test these days, doesn’t it?! At least it does to me- politically, economically, spiritually…even physically. I feel surrounded!
We want to do the right thing as a citizen of the USA but ultimately we want to do the right thing even more by our Lord & Savior as citizens of heaven.
The first Presidential election in which I ever voted, was in 1980 as an unsaved 19 year old. I was scared of Reagan, disillusioned with Carter (the Iran hostage situation etc.) so I voted for Independent John Anderson. I’ve always liked third party or outsiders-from-Washington, and these days even more so as the two main parties over the decades have gotten less stark in what they stand for.