Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas letter, a Scraggly Tree and Jesus

Whoosh. Christmas is sledding our way like a wind gust bringing in a storm. Except Christmas is good.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18 New Living Translation

Mmmm, Christmastime. I enjoy writing and sending a Christmas letter - trying to assure it’s a good balance of honest and upbeat, happy for activities and accomplishments, but not prideful. I like having the Christmas letter reason to stay in touch with far flung family and friends. At Christmas, I shop at more stores and for more people at once than I ever would choose to in such a short time frame. And repeatedly, I experience this as my busiest time of year for my bread-and-butter (and gravy, too) freelance writing client. Still, I enjoy this time of year. Whoosh.

One of our two family Christmas trees, we call Grandma Betty’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree. A few years before her death, my mother-in-law scaled down her Christmas decorating. She started using this, um, scraggly, not fully-filled-out-with-branches, three-foot tree, adorned it with her gold garland and some bright shiny bulbs - and some other ornaments I can’t recollect. She called it good. And it was. And is.

The little tree shows off its sweetness in our front window, perched on the dress-up clothes chest. Even with my yearnings for all things pretty, I love this tree. It makes me smile. My mother-in-law knew what she could handle as joints bothered her more each year, and she dealt with bigger health issues. She also knew the true meaning of Christmas.

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:10-13 NLT

Maybe this little tree ought to remind me how Jesus humbled Himself to step down here to Earth as an infant, fully God, fully man. It actually does each year.

I love our seven-foot tree, too. It came with the lights woven into it. Pretty handy. The white lights make the icicles, the old-fashioned pink ornaments, the royal blue, silver and gold bulbs, the nativity ornaments, the little sequined high-heel and our children’s  school-made ornaments glisten in the darkened family room with the fireplace roaring. A white doily angel stands wings still sort-of spread, on top of the tree, a precious-after-20-years wedding gift.

I love Christmas music, too. O Come All Ye Faithful. What Child is This? The Little Drummer Boy. Silver Bells. O Holy Night. White Christmas. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Christmas in Iowa. (Look it up, if you haven’t heard of it.) Yes, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Red Baron, too.

I love giving gifts. I love seeing our children receive. I anticipate with joy serving in our church nursery at worship on Dec. 23. I am thrilled that my husband and I will serve communion on Christmas Eve. I love spending time with my siblings, nieces and nephews, and parents. I look forward to hosting Christmas with my side of the family this year. Also, yes, I love receiving gifts.

More than all of that, the love of Jesus, takes my breath away. His love brings me to grateful, joyful tears. The true meaning of Christmas means my eternity is secure, because I accepted his gift of new life with the One who paid my immeasurable indebtedness in sin. Because after living a productive life of loving, teaching, rebuking, performing miracles and more, Jesus was beaten and willingly died an excruciating death — yet three days later. Three days later came His resurrection.

Seems a long way from the humble accommodations a desperate innkeeper could provide, a long way from a birth in a stable in Bethlehem. Seems a long way from a host of angels announcing to humble shepherds the birth of the Messiah. Seems a long way from when Baby Jesus was presented at the temple. Seems a long way from wise men visiting little Jesus. Seems a long way from Egypt, where Mary and Joseph fled with Him when God warned them to protect Him from Herod’s plan to kill Baby Jesus.

“That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Matthew 2:14-15 NLT

The resurrection seems a long way from the true meaning of Christmas. But it isn’t. It’s all part of God’s great plan. A plan of love, grace, mercy and sacrifice.

As much as it cost God the Father, the God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in physical and emotional pain, it’s a gift I gladly accepted in faith when I was a child. A gift I remain grateful for today, through difficulties and in times of ease.

Is Jesus Christ a gift you will open for the first time this Christmas? Is He a gift you already opened and have, but need to fully savor in a regular relationship, seeking Him continually?

The confidence of my eternal destination is a gift, a great gift from God. Knowing Heaven is what lies ahead for me, not because I am worthy or wonderful, but because I worship a God of love, grace, mercy and compassion, gives me great hope.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. 1 John 5:1a

I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13

I want you to know you have eternal life. Please open the gift of Jesus this Christmas.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Save a Life, Love like Christ

I love Christmas. I love that our God gave us the real meaning of it – the birth of our Savior. A baby boy.  My Savior.

When I try to imagine “how wide, how long, how deep his love is,” as it is said in Ephesians 3:18 that God’s people should understand, I just can’t. I think, and furrow my brows. My eyes dart as I try to picture it. I take a breath and sigh, because the idea that God Himself would come to this Earth, humbly, and live out life as a human. That's too much. And then He chose to die, for me.

I can conjure up an image of Mary giving birth in a cave stable, where the birth of Jesus is believed to happen. I can see Him working hard as a carpenter.  I think I can see Him laying hands and healing. But His love for me, when I really try to understand it, I don’t understand. Yet I know it’s true, faithful. And I am so grateful.

His love, I cannot grasp, even though it holds me together.

When I rest in prayer and ponder it, I love it.

So, shouldn’t I do something to spread that love? Weren’t we given the Great Commission. But how?

Here’s one way. Use the connections the ministry Compassion International offers. Yes, Compassion, the global child sponsorship organization.

As we skate toward Dec. 25, wrapping paper scraps littering carpets, and Christmas music playing around us, I would like to offer you an idea.

Before you decide on your gift for that person who is blessed to have so-called everything, would you also please buy a gift for someone who has almost nothing?

Compassion International offers a gift catalog. Shopping online is easy and convenient. Yes, we can shop online even for someone who lives 7,000 miles away on a continent and in a country where you cannot even picture the lifestyle or culture.

In a country plagued with malaria mosquito nets save lives.
Maybe you want to give money for a cow that could be used for milk to sustain a family, and generate income.
Want to help with beauty, mechanic, or bakery career training?
A soccer ball?
Other choices?

Here’s the link again:

It brings tears to my eyes that I long for a home with more space, while Compassion lists toilet stalls, water and water filters – as Christmas gifts. But oh, how Christ-like to give something like that. I pray blessings on those who do. How kind. What a good way to let that indescribable love help with critical needs.

Consider what moves your heart. Here’s what I chose and why: With each of our children, I’ve watched as doctors or medics tended to them in truly life-threatening situations.

I want to protect a child. Actually, God’s way better at that than I am. And I want God to use me to shelter a mother from at least one thing she has to fear. I am blessed to be a blessing. So, I chose to pay for a vaccine.

What will you choose? Please, please help today. And thanks! Way to love!

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude Journey

     Plenty. My life demonstrates one filled with abundant blessings. My Pepsi One can overflows. And I'm not talking about my tendency to spill.

     On Thanksgiving, I want to direct my gratitude upward, beyond the textbook stories of harmony and peacemaking between the Native American tribes and the pilgrims, beyond the beginning of a nation that has generally blessed me, but hurt others. I want to direct my gratitude above the human-created ideals. To the Maker of the Universe, the Lord of my life.
     In his sovereignty, God could have made me the same person from the start, and placed me in an entirely different situation. But He didn't. He put me in this life, rich with friends and necessities covered, and in a safe neighborhood. He gave me a husband that worships Him, and us three healthy, precious children. He is the God of grace beyond comprehension.
     In her book, Radical Gratitude, Ellen Vaughn, explores countless stories about people who remain thankful, or find thankfulness again, through and after sudden family deaths, captivity, persecution, rape – and everyday life.
As a great friend of ours has said, a thankful heart gives a greater sensitivity to beauties both divine and mundane. He often finds himself sitting still in the moment and looking at what's around him, processing it all with different gradations of appreciation, but using the same word throughout: “Oh, Lord! I love my family. I love my house. I love the sky. I love this cup of coffee. I love You! Thank You!”
That's not only gratitude, and love, and worship. It's called joy. Radical Gratitude, pg. 205
     Granted, it's not always easy. But I believe to start the habit, I can record thankful thoughts in a gratitude journal, and when complacency, tragedy and difficulty enter, perhaps I can find thankfulness anyway. I do keep a gratitude journal, irregularly, and it is a good practice.
     Vaughn relays a truth, though, that Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, emphasized to her. Gratitude is not at all a spiritual discipline, it is, in fact, the response of a believer to the Spirit's work. In turn, Vaughn says, if grace is the gift of God (which it is), so too is the gratitude that grace creates. I want both. Please, in Jesus' Name, Lord, give me an overflowing of both.
     In my life, I've experienced loss of friends and family. Disappointment about goals and prayers God has answered, “No,” or “Not yet.” Frustration with myself and others. Anger about injustice. Wounds. Grief. (And I confess to dishing out these, too.)
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:16-18

     Lord, That's a tall order. I can't do that without You doing it in me. Please, please help. I know if you give me a heart of gratitude, you'll also be giving me a heart full of joy. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Helene's Thanksgiving '10 Gratitude List, Abbreviated
A phone call this week from a friend who I had not spoken with for about 10 years. For younger church friends who let me cuddle their babies, and get my fix. My women's and couples' small group friends. Children's ministry at my church. Sisters. Family. Great tunes that bring back fun memories of high school. Pepsi One. Chai. Laughter. . . .

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wise Encouragement about Prayer

As a writer, I know well how much it matters to use the right word in the right place, in the right context. Precision matters. In terms of our spirituality, which is inseparable from our identity and what we do and say, the same holds true.

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:10 NIV

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18 NIV

Some of my most formative spiritual times started in a little white church building on a gravel road atop of one of the many rolling hills of southwest Iowa. More importantly, the formation in Christ happened because of the people, the true church, and the information and support I gained from them.

In a remote village in Guatemala, I want my Compassion International sponsor son, Jorge`, to receive the wise guidance and words he needs from adults, as well.

I want Jorge` and other kids also living in poverty to receive guidance like I did.

My high school Sunday School teacher, Eloise, asked in class once when I was a sophomore what we prayed about. From where I sat, I could see light streaming in a north window about two feet off the floor of the church stage. The dark-wood upright piano stood beside the window, and just a couple of yards from where we sat, the lighter-wood pulpit. I was honest. I said, “Tests. School”

I thought it was a pretty obvious answer, but it came out of my mouth more quietly, more hesitantly, than my outgoing, often too-loud personality usually generated words. My prayer-topic confession proved a little hard for me to admit. I earned generally good grades and took the challenging classes, but I was not an academic natural to the degree of this girl, not an all-star brain like this peer and friend in my Sunday School class.

The girl laughed (not meanly), and said, “You would.” I figured she meant I was the type to pray about a lot of things. True enough. I probably seemed a little odd, in her eyes, but likable enough. She meant no harm.

But our Sunday School teacher, I think, saw that this could be a pivotal moment. A moment that could lead each of us to limit, or broaden our view about prayer and its power, and our value as individuals.

Eloise assured me that praying for success in school was one fine prayer topic, of many. The conversation must have taken less than a minute. Eloise’s voice never rose. She was gentle, and truthful. She looked me in the eye, smiling. Eloise’s words were wise and important. Influential.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Philippians 4:6 NLT

Indeed her words' influence continues. Why else would I remember them 20-some years later? Her encouragement became part of my understanding that I can pray about anything. I want someone around my teenage Jorge` in Guatemala, assuring him of truths like that.

Compassion International provides that opportunity through child sponsorship. I know Jorge` experiences that in person, because I received a letter from his pastor, one he penned to sponsors of children in his church. The concern for his church family came through clearly, as he described single-parent homes, poverty, health issues and more. This pastor supports his community, and Compassion International backs him up. And I try to encourage Jorge` across the continent. You can get in on the action, the fun, in Jesus' name. You can help another child like Jorge`.

Please consider sponsoring a child. What a wonderful way to bring deep meaning to our upcoming Thanksgiving. What a wonderful way to celebrate Christ at Christmas. What a wonderful way to start the New Year. I will pray that you do.

Go to the web site right now, please.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet Praise Singalong

Precious, sweet times.

Despite car issues with our teenager’s ’84 VW Rabbit, Tuesday turned out moving, and sweet. My group of girls worked hard in Awana, our inspiring children’s ministries director gave the lesson during our large group teaching time, and then God took such a nice evening serving Him, and ended it on a high note.

In the dark drive home from Awana Tuesday night, with the kids piled in my red Rondo,my eyes peeled for deer in the autumn darkness and my radio tuned to Life 107.1, we sang a few great songs on the way home.

My son, nine, was sitting right behind me, and he knew the lyrics to Chris Tomlin’s, “Our God.”

We sang -
“Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…"

And we sounded good together. God was at work on that, let me tell you. I could throw off any praise band if I hopped in as guest vocalist.

Look at this inspiring video of Tomlin’s song:

As we neared home we sang, Hillsong’s version of “Mighty to Save.”

“So take me as you find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again…
He can Move the Mountains,
My God is mighty to save,
Mighty to save."

Check out this “Mighty to Save” video, too:

What joy we shared driving home, praising God together. The girls’ pretty, teen voices, blending with David’s and mine, sounding nice, sending up sincere praise.

Not a bad Tuesday considering Monday started with two of the kids getting in a physical fight involving helmet-throwing, dog-hogging and leg-twisting while Mom was indisposed. Just keeping it real. Praise God.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sycamore Poem

This poem makes me smile remembering outside play times around the sycamore tree, my teenage way of thinking and high school creative writing class with Mrs. Hicks. The assignment for this poem must have required extensive use of personification. Please keep in mind, I was 17 when I wrote this. (Imagine sheepish smile on my face.)


That strong, friendly sycamore tree,
With branches reaching skyward —
Guarding our home by night and day.
Nuts filling the air with a fresh scent,
Autumn leaves carpeting the lawn in
         A golden jubilee.

Climbing on the the tree’s lap as a little girl,
Sharing with it my childish wisdom,
The tree listened well — and didn’t laugh.
At times when tears were near,
         The tree wiped them away —
And held his arms out to swing from.
That tree’s treasures are
         Its safe silence and astounding smile.

My sycamore tree; remembrance piece —
Of childhood days when life was terribly simple,
                  Yet challenging,
                  To a child.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Missed Sycamore Shots

Sometimes my photo expeditions just fail.

On Saturday at my parents’ farm, I  walked out in front of the house to capture some views of the little pond, about 100 yards from the house. 

The tall grasses rustled, and my stomach did that tightening thing where I might think supper didn’t agree with me, while my heart lub-dubs like it wants a pacemaker. Really, it’s just fear.        

Too riled to get any closer to the tall grass and lurking cougar, bobcat or nothing except the wind, I snapped a shot of the pond with a power pole’s guy wires in the foreground. Lovely. 

Deciding to capture a photo of the beloved sycamore tree in the back yard, I traipsed closer to the house, and its safety.

In my fear and shakiness, I snapped closeups of leaves, crisping at the edges with the telltale signs of autumn. They span the width of both my hands. Nice shot? No, blurry. 

I shot between the overhanging branches, through the sort of splotched yellow and tan-gray of sycamore bark, beyond the aging and now grassy livestock lots, to the outlying, low-lying bottom fields. What a scene. But, not to be idyllically captured.

Disappointed, on the drive home, I thought about if I turned an oh, well moment into a bit of unnecessary sadness. My favorite tree. I wanted to capture it. Yet, I know I’ve missed other shots, and I can laugh at myself over this.

But. My mom gave me my old Creative Writing class Critter Sitters folder from high school that day. In my office Sunday, I thumbed through the pages, and was delighted to find much precious work from my senior year.

And a sweet surprise, not a coincidence, a God-orchestrated discovery.

In my legible, but not artistic, cursive, I found a poem about the sycamore tree. What a smile that brought to my face, and my heart.

A two-fold gift, from my generous, kind God. In addition to the poem itself, I received confirmation and understanding of why missing that shot brought me a touch of sadness. My attachment to and appreciation of that tree truly is woven into my history.

Not very many kids of the 70s and before who sang the ‘Zaccheus was a wee little man song,’ actually played under a sycamore tree. Not all of them pretended he was in their trees in their backyards, and Jesus was right there calling Zaccheus down to invite himself over for a little din-din. But I did, often.

God gave me a gift in finding that poem  — immature and unpolished as it is.

God is in what may seem like little things, minor happenstances. And that’s good for us.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

                   (Poem posted in a separate blog entry.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Let it Soak In

I set the wooden slats from our garden bench on a thick piece of cardboard on our garage floor. Dark wood peeked through the soft yellow paint, beckoning another coat for protection from the baking sun, pelting rain and lingering snow.

I started painting the bench last fall, brushing on that first soft yellow coat. Then one snow turned into another here in Iowa, with a cold, white quilt putting a summery garden bench in the back of my mind.

Then comes 2010. One rainfall merged into another through the spring and much of the summer, and I had set the slats – about the width of my palm – against the north wall of our garage, partly tucked between the upright freezer and my husband’s workbench. Distraction, plus procrastination, and here it is the next October, and I’m finally finishing the project.

Hebrews 10:23
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

This week, I poured the yellow paint into a paper bowl, took the narrow, black-bristled brush and began in long strokes across the slats. Sometimes, I glopped too much paint on my brush, and I could hear the wood yelling, “Air! I need to breathe!” OK, I didn’t really hear that. However, personification ranks as one of my favorite writing tools.

But the project did speak to me. Actually, God used the painting project to speak to me. He faithfully touches me with truth often, so this came as no surprise to me.

But I am thankful.

You see, I am a studier. I love to flop open my Bible across the oak grain of our fingernail-polish-marked, century-old kitchen table, and look down into the study notes, see if I agree with the interpretation and envision the cultural insights, read the cross-reference verses to see the continuity in His Word, and generally dawdle in learning and re-learning priceless truths. This makes me so utterly aware of His love for me and mine, of His perfection and His breadth.

Genesis 5:21-24
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

I can easily spend hours loitering in the Bible – but the laundry, appointments, errands and vacuuming call to me, too. 

So, as I stroked paint on slat after slat of the seat and back of our bench, I noticed a little paint soaks in. Too much stays on top, pooling and really, being wasted.
Paint will peel off far too easily when it’s spread on too thickly. Likewise, mere head knowledge of God and His word offers less than He planned when He commanded us (me) to keep His words on our hearts (my heart).

His word on my heart? That’s a project I want to prioritize, not set aside. With a gentle heart attitude, not bound by be-a-better-Christian rules, but seeing the words of God’s heart through His love. Because He’s with me always.

Like with the paint, I don’t want to just spread study – or service or anything else – on so thickly that they do not soak into the wood, into my heart.

Romans 5:5
and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.

I long to live, and do live, with Him continually, aware that there will be stumbles on my part. I love and need my relationship with my God – Father, Son and Spirit – to spread out, over and into my life and my identity. More and more. To His glory.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Work Trip's Blessings

Visiting a dairy farm with brown Swiss milk cows - and this cute sample of their youngstock - made a special treat for me. Photo by Helene Bergren

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

What a week. A whirlwind of recording video interviews, shooting harvest, livestock and dairy farm photos, and learning new software.

From Monday through Wednesday, I traveled on a video production trip through bluffy northeast Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

The travels gave me the chance to meet some bright young dairy farmers and their families, pet cute calves, visit vibrant small towns, and the bonus experience of web software training in Minneapolis, Minn.

Our travels took my boss-client and I in a large circle from Ames, Iowa, through Minnesota into La Crosse, Wis., up through Eau Claire, Wis., into Minneapolis, and back down to Ames. Phew.

Previous video trips’ schedules have jammed even more into each day. This time around, we were eating supper between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. each night, pretty much, and found our stopping-point towns and were checked into our Super 8s (Plush, I know.) by 10 p.m. Not bad at all.

Two things I appreciate about this week – in addition to the chance to see the adorable calves and come home to my family.

1. God gave me a way to learn
2. He showed me how much I need to protect and prioritize special time with Him if I plan to have any

Back in the 90s, my love of learning, in part, drew me into this journalistic career. The fun part about my educational addiction is, I do not require some new fantastic skill. Little facts gratify me, too.

Such as . . .

·      Every rural road in Wisconsin is paved. So they cover the cost with a higher gas tax

·      Decorah, Iowa, offers a vibrant downtown, with coffee shops, well-preserved Main-Street style architecture, college-town events, a variety of retail stores and friendly people

·      When you eat at restaurants in Italy, often just being seated tallies up to a $2 cover charge just to take a load off

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
            Their ears are open for knowledge.
Proverbs 18:15 NLT

I’m not sure I fall into any particularly intelligent category. Pretty easy to see that based on my bullet list, I know.

However, gaining new insight this week showed me again what a variety of people God made, what great expertise people have in fields far different than mine, how big this world is, and when I think about it, how even bigger God is. That’s all good news.

Packing in Time with Him

When I travel, I in no way want to put God up on a shelf. In the midst of the driving and viewing scenery, I enjoy looking out and praising God for His handiwork, and seeking Him in how to handle an interview or conversation.

Of course, while driving, I could ask to listen to a praise music station or crack open my Bible in the car, and I have done that before. But who wants to be showy? I want this time to be a special, private meeting between just God and me.

So, this week showed me – again - how great a blessing God gave me when he opened the door for me to stay home with my children 12 years ago. A big benefit of that time has been my ability to lollygag around with Him in the Word, prayer journaling and the like. 

What a renewed respect I gained for my brothers and sisters in Christ who work full-time, parent, exercise and still protect time with Him.

So, on this outing, I missed a day of taking a bigger chunk of time to be with Him, though, I chatted with Him now and then. And starting a day in prayer — no better way exists to preface my day.

In part, when I think about an eventual return to full-time work, it will be natural for me to just set an alarm or stay up later to delve into prayer and Bible study time. True enough. But I also know, I will want and need to work hard to keep it a priority, with a heart of love for Him, not fear or self-condemnation.

So, I am thankful to God for the heads up of how I may need to re-structure my days as my life stages change. And I am thankful He leads me and blesses me in all the time I spend with him, whether it means a one-hour sit-down with him, or sweet snippets throughout the day. Any time praising Him and bringing Him glory matters eternally, and it makes my life better.

“. . . My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
John 10:10 NLT

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wisdom from Above

God's wisdom is above even these gorgeous clouds He made.  Photo by Helene Bergren

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Helene's Psalm

God, I thank you
For your counsel
exceeds my wisdom

I praise you
for sustaining love
for clarity

for the epiphany moment

for the understanding
for the direction

I praise you
for the relief
for taking my burden
for lifting my spirits
for casting away confusion
and hurt

I praise you

for all you impart

I praise you
for peace

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.
In our church, we are in the midst of a series called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, based on a book by the same name (and based on God and His Word, obviously). Our pastor preached out of Psalms, and gave us space to write our own. The above poem/blog post comes from that time. The day before, God had just given me real peace about some directions and focus in terms of career and education for me and in our home. Praise Him continually.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Jorge` Turns 14

Someone in Guatemala counts on my love. And I love him.

His name is Jorge`, and on Tuesday, he turns 14. He is my sponsor son, and across the miles, I wonder, wonder what he is doing during each day. I see in each picture I receive from Compassion International how much he grows each year. I see in the words of his letters, how he's growing mentally.

I hear of soccer and a new backpack he received with last year's Christmas gift. I hear his brother is sick. I hear of weather, and months ago, his fears that H1N1 would strike Guatemala. So here I am a thousand miles away from him, in his mountain village, praying God would protect him.

I see in the pictures he's drawn for me through the years that he's learning about the world around him. When he was younger, I mentioned that I grew up in a town steeped in the history of the railroad, and he drew me an adorable train in colored pencil. I mentioned flowers I tend in my landscaping, and the letter I received from him in August, shows the intricate layers of a rose - like the roses bordering my home. He pays attention, this boy does.

I love him. And I love his letters.

He says, "Please keep praying for me." And thanks me because he knows I do.

It doesn't cost much, sponsoring a child - $38 per month through Compassion International. And when I sponsor Jorge` through Compassion, I know he's receiving something far more important than an education. Far more important even than meals, birthday and Christmas gifts. He receives the good news of Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried and rose again, for Jorge` (for me, for you, for all of us) so we might spend forever in Heaven with our perfect Maker. We just have to reach out in faith.

Jorge` lives a life we in America would still call poverty, even with my help. But He has hope. God's care. And did I mention I love him?

What do you think? Won't you do this? Won't you honor my sponsor son Jorge` on his 14th birthday, Sept. 21, and more importantly Jesus Christ, by going to, and sponsoring a child?

Are you friends with my husband, Rod Bergren, on Facebook? Do you follow him on Twitter? Being a Diet Mountain Dew addict, anytime someone catches him drinking Dew, or mentioning Dew on Facebook or Twitter, he's coughing up a dollar. Won't you do something?

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved. 
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Thank You, Lord, for . . .

Ta-Da! My last post in the series about gratitude. I spent four hours last night making a very cool Adobe Illustrator file with stars and different-colored fonts of this non-exhaustive list of what I am thankful for. But, in none of the file versions I tried does the text show up readable enough in Blogger. Sigh. Maybe I'll make a homemade T-shirt with it or print it and have it framed. Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of my non-technical side, I shall rejoice and be glad in this Friday. Blessings in Christ to you. Read on and see how abundantly blessed I am. It's a mix of the serious and light-hearted, generally in no particular order. I highly recommend this exercise of listing what brings praise and thanks to God into your heart. Enjoy.

Father Son Holy Spirit. Salvation in Jesus! My husband. Jessica. Daphne. David. The Family I grew up in. Baby feet. Baby hands. Baby smiles and giggles. Worship time at The Ridge. Hearing from my home the sound of children playing at recess on the school playground a few blocks away. The gift of life.

Indoor plumbing. Electricity. My faith. Modern medicine. My sponsor son, Jorge`. God as Savior, Healer, Provider, Leader, Counselor, Maker. His presence. My sisters. Plentiful food sources in America. My parents. The wisdom of earlier generations. Rainbows. Snuggling with hubby and children. Jokes my children make up. Artwork my children create.

Rumba panties on little girls. Little girls in black patent shoes. Tractor sounds little boys make when they play farm. The generally loud energy of little boys. Being home with my children for 12 years and counting. Umbrellas. The Bible. My spiritual gifts. Nehemiah’s example. Thunder and lightning. Mozart. Bach. Beethoven. Mancini. Casting Crowns. Newsboys. Rebecca St. James. Lilies of many colors. Milk. Roses. Daffodils. My parents’ farm. Growing up on a farm and in the country. Small group friends. Childhood friends. Electricity and running water. Cousins, dozens, and dozens!

The fruit of the Spirit in my life, and in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Aunties and Uncles. My husband’s fix-it abilities – car, house, computers. Sleepovers as a child, and hosting them for my children today. Strawberries and memories of Grandma’s strawberry patch. Being born on Granddad’s birthday, and Jessica being born on Grandma and Granddad’s wedding anniversary. Daphne coming home from the hospital on her dad’s birthday two days after her birth. David’s birthday so close to one of my sister’s. Enjoying (mostly) the miracle of three full-term pregnancies. Sunrises and sunsets. Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

Experiencing time on the Pacific and the Atlantic. Mission trips to the Navajo Nation and the border of Mexico. God’s pure wisdom. My health. Mercy & Grace. Swingsets. Nieces and nephews. Godly examples to follow in my church and circle of friends. Grandpa Fred. Piano lessons from Aunt Irene, and having her as my great aunt.

Peace that passes understanding. Crest Whitening Strips. That 10th Anniversary trip to Tahiti. Sweet, sweet neighbors. Seeing friends who have moved away. Living in a safe community. Teaching children. AWANA for my kids. Talking about God, and my walk with the Lord with others. College. How God provides for our family through my husband great brain and hard work. The examples of Daniel and Joseph. Learning how God is working in other people’s lives, hearing what exactly He’s up to with others. Bubblegum.

20th Wedding Anniversary family vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Apple pie. Psalms. Making birthday cakes for my children. Talking about Bible passages with my husband. Photography. Writing. That God would work through me as a vessel. That my kids enjoy school. Giving speeches, or teaching, and how God calms me for presentations. Impressionist Art. How God has poured out His grace on me in so many ways. Being a nurturer. Decorating. Working in my landscaping and with flowers. Fun, sweet Aunt Helen.

Smiling at strangers, and getting smiles back. Rocking babies. Reading to children. Colors – Red, Blue, Pink, Yellow, Lavendar, Aqua, Seafoam Green, Sunset Orange, Burgundy, Lime Green. Steak. My mom. My dad. The worship example of Mary of Bethany. That I still have both my parents. Memories of fun times with my in-laws. Having the name of the grandmother I never met for my first name. Sharing my middle name with the grandma I knew and grew up loving so dearly, and knowing I’ll be reunited with her in Heaven.

Prairie Ridge Church. Christian books. Compassion International. Samaritan’s Purse. Gospel for Asia. Thru the Bible. My literacy. Flexible, creative work. Dates with my husband. Peppy cars. Vacations in Chicago. Lollipops. Tootsie Pops. Great authors. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. The Constitution. Godly leadership. Make-Up. Seeing Churchill Downs. The smell of harvest in Iowa. Horses. Kittens. Puppies. Jo-Jo the love dog. Nachos. A good joke or riddle. Medical advances.

Praising God - openly and freely in the U.S. A really good run. Trees. Our safe neighborhood. Chick conversations. A good love story. Funny movies. Getting to see foals and calves born. Piglets. Red or white barns. Caring for others. Towels warm from the dryer. Chocolate milk. Neapolitan ice cream.

Chai. Iowa, beautiful land. Polka dots. Stripes. Other people’s patience with me. The promise of Heaven for all who confess with their mouths Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Geometry Proof of Gratitude?

I took a break from the series I was writing about gratitude as we prepared our kids for the start of a new school year (Thank you, Lord.), and got settled back into some kids’ and ministry schedules. Yay, for routines. Here I am being grateful in the midst of a blog series about gratitude. Must be a God thing. So here goes, the third of four installments about gratitude, this one about how hope, character and gratitude are connected.

As I have reflected on gratitude, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me, and showing me how many attitudes and character qualities intertwine with one another. More even than character, hope and gratitude that I set out to touch on in this blog.

Hope results from character. When God has developed that character and hope in me, I am truly thankful in blessings my human nature would have me – and maybe you- see as minor. That thankfulness, lest I forget, is connected to faith God has built in me, giving me the courage to be generous to others as I live out my belief that my Maker will take care of me and mine.

Whew! I’m feeling like I’m in a spiritual geometry class trying to prove that when God works gratitude in my heart, he’s already done several other works in me, and the gratitude can then grow and result in other blessings in my life and relationships. All in seven steps.

1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5, NIV,

Boy, does God ever say what he means better than I say what I mean. Of course, the topics of character and hope are in this passage, but gratitude isn’t specifically mentioned. Still, it speaks of rejoicing, and peace – aren’t those signs of a grateful heart?

I love this next verse, too.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col. 2:6-7 NIV
And see here how faith and thankfulness are connected. I think character is implied where it says “rooted and built up in him.”

So, you’re thinking, ‘Helene, this isn’t spiritual rocket science.'

Nope, you’re right, it’s not.

So then why is it so hard some days to live this? Because, of course, life as a follower of Jesus Christ means more than memorizing Bible verses and checking out the root word meanings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Japanese. Ha. Ha. Had to throw that one in.

Head knowledge about a spiritual topic is much different than practicing it every day when I might be tired, or I might want something different than God does.

Lord, I pray you continually pour out grace and the power of the Holy Spirit on my life, so that I do live a life of character, hope and gratitude.

I can’t prove all these qualities are connected with one convenient Bible verse. I won’t prove it in seven orderly steps. God doesn’t need me to line it all up in a neat geometry proof.

character, hope, gratitude, generosity
peace, joy, love

No scripture connect the dots. No neat mathematical formula. But I see the truth of how He orchestrates these qualities and fruits to work together.

I’m blessed every single day by the reality of how God intertwines what matters most.

Above photo of overflowing Saylorville Lake, central Iowa June 30, 2010 Photo by Helene Bergren 

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pray it Up

I am interrupting the series covering Gratitude at God's leading to talk about the critical importance of and my heart's and mind's bend toward prayer.

"Have you ever noticed that Jesus launched the Christian church, not while someone was preaching, but while people were praying? In the first two chapters of Acts, the disciples were doing nothing but waiting on God. As they were just sitting there...worshiping, communing with God, letting God shape them and cleanse their spirits and do those heart operations that only the Holy Spirit can do...the church was born. The Holy Spirit was poured out."
What does it say about our churches today that God birthed the church in a prayer meeting, and prayer meetings today are almost extinct.
Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
I was listening to Pastor Colin Smith ( ) on Praise 940 AM radio while I drove to Ames to work yesterday. His message also covered prayer. Do you think God is speaking to me? I do.

Pastor Smith pointed out that you can tell what you believe about God by what you pray about. Do you pray for friends' and family members' salvation? Then you acknowledge God's power over that. Do you pray for healings? Then you know God's in control over those situations, etc. Our prayers are a measure of our faith. Understand, these are FANTASTIC topics to cover in prayer. Pastor Smith suggested we broaden our prayer requests to the world!

That spurs me on to pray MORE, BIGGER and with more FERVENCE for Mexico, where I know people who live in a squatter's village along the border there. It spurs me on to pray MORE, BIGGER and more FERVENTLY for Guatemala where my sponsor child lives.

It spurs me on to pray MORE, BIGGER and with more passion for HAITI. A friend and I, sneaking in on a youth group event, wept as we held photos of children whose limbs had been amputated, looked at pictures of tent cities, and listened to a nurse who had returned from serving there after the devastating earthquake.

The call to intercede reminds me of the women who stand in miles-long prostitution lines in Kolkata, India, and helps me remember to pray for them, too, their physical rescue and sure salvation in Jesus Christ (as with my other examples), and for the organization that reaches out to the women Freeset,

It spurs me to pray for our country. That America would honor God. That He would set godly leaders up in our day. That we would protect the unborn, live as models of fairness, give openly, freely pray about everything, wherever we happen to be at the moment, and experience new life in Christ.

It spurs me to pray for holy fire and faith in my own life. God has been nudging me for awhile in this area, to return to prayer practices I took a break from for a season (journaling, ACTS, following personal prayer lists). Mind you, the season of spontaneity has been good in many ways, and refreshing. But I think He's leading me back, that I would walk even more closely with my Him. Could I walk as closely as Enoch? I desire my Lord so very deeply.

And I desire an impassioned prayer life for my church, Prairie Ridge ( So many people there set wonderful examples, not to please people, but responding to the Spirit in prayer. I want us all to live that way. No stone unturned, hearts set toward God, talking to him continually, praising Him always.

Praise God, as He works in all of us and completes what He set out to do.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.