When the miracle slows…

September 1, 2011

Dear friends and family,

We are back in a life at once familiar and strange.  We were greeted at the airport by a bevy of beaming faces, which have since multiplied into an astounding river of warmth and welcome.  The joy has been mutual.

Slowly, we are rebuilding the semblance of a new life.  The profusion of boxes from Seattle and the Union Church basement mirror the disorder within, as we merge two seemingly disparate existences.  Each day reveals the extent to which we are both changed and still the same.  Boxes contain the shrapnel of a former life, many of the contents strange to me.  There is an odd sense of dislocation to this unpacking of things not seen since our lives turned.  God is calling us to make it new.  Nothing is the same.  We live in a new city, among new people, in unfamiliar streets.  I drive clutching a map.

I had not expected it to be so difficult, especially amidst the true joy of reunion.  And I am, after all, the champion of all movers.  Seven homes and two countries in nine years.  Thirty homes and seven countries in forty years.  Every few years my feet itch.

I have not written because I have been ashamed to say it: the details have done me in.  How is it possible that the inconsequential – the television cable, the appropriately voltage-d appliances, the acquisition of cell phones and uniforms, the paperwork, the visa applications, the birth certificates, the curtain measurements, the bookshelves, the filing, the local bank accounts, the memberships, the interviews of helpers and drivers, the random lost and missing pieces – how is it possible that these silly statistics, these sheer configurations of circumstances and arrangements of objects would do me in?!

There is unending misery not too far from my doorstep.  Even in my own life I have negotiated far rougher terrain.  So much more, the insult to my pride and the wounding of my heart that such Sisyphean activity be my undoing.  While I am well-versed in the complications of two-thirds world living, somehow this time the challenges loom more mountainous and steadfast in their purpose to disarm me of my fortitude.  I am exhausted by it.  While hardship reliably pushes me deep into God, these mountains of minutiae have often obscured Him from view.  In the past three weeks I have found myself more frequently on my knees, more commonly tearful, more significantly irritable and more generally graceless than perhaps I can ever remember.

Steve, in turn, quietly struggles with his new body.  He too must swim hard to stay afloat of the mess, but with far fewer reserves.  He watches me work with anguish.  Months of laying aside therapy in service to transition mean that we have no real measurement for progress.  Honestly, we do not see it.  Each day brings some new form of frustration.  Today the masterpiece: Steve was turned down for medical insurance.  What we thought was a mere formality of paperwork turned out to be another road block, another exercise in patience, in faith.

I have heard many stories recently from Christians who have been called by God into something, and follow with both obedience and anticipation only to encounter unexpected hardship and a puzzling sense of God’s absence.  They endure in a state of confusion and longing for the certainty they once felt.  The same drama has played out in my own life countless times.  A favorite quote from The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis never fails to encourage me in such moments.  Screwtape, a junior devil mentors a still more lowly apprentice and counsels him on how best to tempt a new believer away from the faith.  In one of his letters to Wormwood, he writes:

“He (God) wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our (the Devil’s) cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

Favorable circumstances and warm feeling are not exclusive evidence of God’s goodness.  As a photograph from a hospital ward in Ethiopia reminds me, God is good all the time.  I rest, not always feeling, but always knowing this to be true.  Whether Steve heals more or not.  Whether we obtain insurance or not.  Whether circumstances begin to flow or whether they continue to obstinately thwart.

Church has been a sweet reprieve and a reminder of His overwhelming grace and provision.  To know by our very presence God’s faithfulness in accomplishing the impossible, is to find the food my soul seeks.  Each week we are humbled and amazed by the stories of prayers spoken over us for months, answered now.  It is no mistake that as a church we are studying the book of James.  I have been reminded in the last few weeks to consider trials joy, to persevere and also to remember God’s good character in the midst of hardship.  Yet again the community of faith both upholds and instructs.

Time and again, I find the pathways out of darkness are the twofold disciplines of gratitude and service.  While immersed in the details, I can give thanks.  Once freed from them, I can serve.  In all things, I can hope.

I continue to feel beckoned toward hope.  It is not always easy to hope when the evidence is lacking, when the miracle slows.  But my spirit does not yet let me rest in acceptance.  The limb of faith grows ever more precarious as we teeter beyond what is reasonable.  The spirit, like the body, fatigues as we move beyond the halfway point of the two year recovery period.

Please pray with us for Steve’s continued recovery, for patience in the details and for endurance in this new phase.

With love, perseverance and hope,


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  • Sherry

    We love you and you are in our prayers.  We can especially relate to the resettling in remembering all the road blocks we encountered when moving to Nigeria.  We knew that’s where we were called to be, but so often were ready to leave on the next plane.  We pray for grace, patience, healing, rest, and well- being.
    Russ & Sherry

  • Sonyatrejo

    Michelle- this was heaven sent in my inbox this morning. You have no idea how much this means and inspires and comforts me. I love you. You are on my prayers.

  • Shirley

    Michelle, I envision you and your family as I visited your home in Manila approximately two years ago, while visiting with my daughter, Jana R.  I have continued to read your blog regularly.  Each time I am inspired and uplifted; you are a wonderful witness to Christ.  I do pray for you, Steve and your precious children, and am certain Union Church is a real blessing.  I also share your blog with my Ladies bible study group – your sharing of the numerous obstacles and rewards is teaching and blessing each of us; thank you so much.  You will be establishing  a routine and all things will smooth out soon.  You remain in my prayers.  Hugs and love, Shirley Singleton

  • Bstalter

    Dear Michelle,
    Thank you so much for sharing so honestly. Your transparency will help others to admit personal weakness.
    Exhaustion makes everything seem bigger and more ominous.  Prayers for setting strict meal and sleep times.
    scheduling your body helps.  Healing occurs while you are sleeping.  It is vital.
    Give yourself time to adapt and readjust .. different time zone.  takes at least 21 days.. and often Melatonin
    and extra vit C and super B vitamins and drinking lots of water.
    Cast your cares on Him.. for He cares for you.
    Read Philippians and choose joy on the rest of your journey. Do not expect so much of yourself.
    Only God can meet your expectations. He has a plan… wait on Him as it gently unfolds.
    tempting to ask what now?  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Take life in day tight compartments as a gift of 24 hours of life and breath. Live in NOW. Do not borrow sorrow from tomorrow
    or have regrets from yesterday.  Savor the moments and Draw near to the Lord. He will carry you.
    He is trustworthy and dependable.. and knows what is best for you.. and will bring Him glory.
    He does not need your help ! Let go…and chip away at your mountains. We are in total disarray from
    elements in two houses that seem like a hurricane but not. All we can do is like Elizabeth Eliotts mother told her. Do Ye The Next Thing… We call ourselves the fire department and do the most pressing things
    first and refusing to see the amount left to do.  When we moved and everything was different.
    I had my 5 year old sit in the front seat and hold a map. I drove to one point and had her hold her finger
    on the place where we were currently.  Maybe God wants each of us to put our finger on the map
    while we hunt for the next location. to keep us grounded and from getting lost.
    I love Hebrews.. blessed are they who do not see… but believe.. that is true faith. Hugs and prayers
    Bonnie Stalter .. Dayton, OH

    • Alf

      i agree — 1 Peter 5:7

  • Ron

    Michelle & Steve – know that I remain in yearning prayer for you both as you transition.  While part of my heart just wishes I had “one more day with you  here in Seattle,” I also know you are where you have been called, and will be met, by God as you serve.  My heart aches for the continued suffering and trials, and yearns for you to dicover yet another “new normal.”  For Steve’s regaining of capacity to continue.  For your routines to become more familiar and less disruptive.  For the details to be behind you.  I will pray for some kind of sense of acceleration to this.  And I will pray your feet don’t itch any time soon, but when they do, that they itch for the love and salty scent of the Puget Sound.
    So much love and gusts of hope and encouragement,

  • Roger and Jerri Oliver

    Dear Michelle and Steve,

    Our prayers are always with you and specifically right now.  A move is, at the same time, exciting and challenging.  Your special challenges seem daunting to all of us.  Yet, it is never more  important to  practice those  routines that encourage healing and get the physical rest that repairs mental and physical exhaustion than right now.
    The two of you demand much of yourselves, much more than others expect of you.  Please, give your cares to God, and rejoice in your family and the love of our mighty Lord that supports you. You both are testaments of God’s love and care and have forever influenced many in the journey of crisis and challenge you have traveled. 

    I am reminded of a thought process taught by Stephen Covey: First Things First:
     What is Urgent and Important?
    What is important, but not urgent?
    What would be nice, but can wait?
    This deliberate thought process has been very helpful to me at points in my life that seemed out of control.  It brought direction and peace of mind so that I could rest.  With God’s help and my own renewed energy, the outcome was a more creative and productive me, which brought about miraculous solutions to problems that my exhausted and worried self could not have envisioned.  

    There is a solution to the medical insurance…look at how you are categorized as ex-Pats in relation to Steve’s disability insurance….you probably have already, but there surely is a solution.   Perhaps someone reading this beautiful letter of yours has experience in this type of situation.  God will bring the answer to you.

    Much LOVE,
    Roger and Jerri Oliver 

  • Fred

    Sysiphus is a very apt metaphor – I can totally identify. Perspective changes when you have dealt with such life threatening and life altering circumstances. I remember someone gave us a book “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff (and its all small stuff)” At first it made sense. But then the same realities of a cross country move, assuming pastoral duties, getting driver’s licenses, etc – all just seemed like we were pushing boulders uphill for no real meaningful reason…and then have to do it all over again. You have been so heavy on my heart as you reenter this world. I am glad you have been so warmly welcomed. May God give you strength in the inner person as well as in the physical realities. I continue to pray for Steve’s ongoing recovery. And now, specifically, I will pray that the insurance issue gets resolved quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction. Let me know if there is anything I can do at this end to help. We love you. Blessings and Peace.

  • Wayne Kenney

    Michelle (& Steve),
    Your paragraph #7, about obedience to God’s calling being followed with painful disappointment, resonates deeply with me.  Mine has been a series of clear, undeniable callings with too many of them ending in disappointment, loss, and God’s perplexing silence.  I don’t agree with C.S. Lewis or any other who attributes the pain of living in a broken world to being of God’s intention to “teach” us something.  Would you break your child’s arm to teach how to deal with limitations!?  Simply, we live in a broken worlds and experience the impact of other peoples’ brokenness.  Hence the deepest need for authentic grace in people close to us — deep and authentic enough to hear our cry and not try to shame or fix us; deep and mature enough to empathize without feeling that we’re asking them to solve.  May you all find the consistent voice of God through the friends of the heart to puts around you.  Silence is dark, indeed! Wayne K     1 sept 11

  • Barry

    We continue to hold you in our prayers, remembering it is rarely the boulder in the path that keeps you from the mountain’s summit, but the pebble in your shoe. The devil is indeed in the details.
    We pray always for you, that uour love for one another, and God’s love for you eill not only heal you but keep you focused and balanced.
    Blessings, Barry, Christ U M C, Kettering

  • Christine Sine

    Michelle – my prayers are certainly with you this morning.  Transitions are never easy and it sounds as though you have entered a very challenging season – a wilderness experience if ever I heard of one… but then that is when we grow the most.

  • Sarah Campbell

    Dear Michelle,
    Exhaustion makes it all so much more overwhelming, and you have climbed and are climbing a steep path. I pray for more moments of restoring sabbath, loving community, strength and endurance for you, Steve and the boys. Sarah Campbell, UPC

  • Susan Sanders

    Michelle, you and Steve are two of the most incredible people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and you will find your way forward. There is no doubt in my mind.

  • Georgia Perez

    Michelle, you never fail to post something that speaks into the lives and faith journey of others. Though my struggles are slight in comparrison to what you and your family have gone through, I was finding myself at my breaking point today, and your words refreshed me. The excerpt from The Screwtape Letters was an encouragement to remain faithful, even in the moments when the hand of God seems absent;  if for no other reason than to thwart the adversary in their attempts to make us forget that God says He will never leave us nor forsake us. So in truth, though God may occassionally remove the training wheels from our lives (His hand, so to speak), He has never actually removed Himself from our presence. God bless you today and may God give you strength and encouragement every moment.

  • Amandaswilley

    Even at your lowest, you lift up others.  You put our struggles in a right perspective.  You give us HOPE.  I will pray for you just  as you have asked, and that God will pour out HIS strength and love on you in abundance.   May He also continue to shine forth from you and Steve to touch a needy people.
    Blessings upon blessings.

  • Deb Meske Thompson

    Hey there, sweetie!  Sounds like you need a long break and a good cry. 

    In my experience, taking on mountains of minutiae is more daunting than facing larger, more significant challenges.  It’s nearly impossible to feel that gratifying sense of heroic accomplishment at the end of a day (or a week, or a month) of wading through endless lists of mundane details.  With this kind of work, the humility of servant-hood sinks to a new low.  Try not to add the heavy weight of shame. You are expecting too much of yourself.  Try to be gentle with yourself.  Breathe. 

    Unpacking boxes filled with “shrapnel from your former life” is an exhausting on a deeply emotional level, and would be quite enough to deal with if that were the only thing on your plate. 

    Love and blessings,  Deb

  • Heather Ruetschle

    I am praying for you, dear sister-in-law, and for Steve and the boys!!! We send a lot of love to you. Mike and I hope to get there by year end to hug you all. “Abide in me” has brought me great comfort during the times I just couldn’t do it all and was overwhelmed.

  • Heather Ruetschle

    I am praying for you, dear sister-in-law, and for Steve and the boys!!! We send a lot of love to you. Mike and I hope to get there by year end to hug you all. “Abide in me” has brought me great comfort during the times I just couldn’t do it all and was overwhelmed.

  • craig gustafson

    you both are deeply loved and treasured.  I feel deep the pain you are sharing and am with you in this

  • Joannasmith

    Hey, Michelle. I hear you and I feel you. As much as I can. Be kind to yourself. Make sure to (somehow!) look after yourself, as much as you are looking after your beloved ones.
    I will be thinking of you as you navigate your way around your new life (again!).
    lots of love, and a virtual hug!

  • Deborahannegustafson

    It is interesting that this morning I read Matt Do not worry about tomorrow there is enough to deal with within this day. And then I read your blog post. Loving you from here in Taytay.

  • Rebecca Lwin

    Dear Michelle, you have  so much on your plate right now!  Any one of those things would be plenty enough… yet you are dealing with more than can be reasonably expected.  Do take it slowly. Especially in Manila, the little things take much time to be worked out, and it is frustrating at best.  The minutae is no small thing!  Be gentle with yourself, take much-needed breaks every day, find some good chocolate!  I am praying for you and for Steve. You are loved.  Much love, Rebecca

  • Handel

    Dear Michelle,

    I regularly read your blog and expect great stories. It is just this now it feels the load is really getting heavier the closer you are to the finish line. You, Steve and the children are always in our prayers. It must be really hard right now as the devil is all the more exhausting his powers to wear you down so as not to finish the race. Like Paul said I pray that you continue to press on foward to our goal. UCM is very much proud of your family. May you never be tired and weary in your trials. God bless you.

  • wendy

    Michelle-Thank you for taking the time to update us. Wow=so overwhelming but so many people are praying for you guys! You and Steve are so strong-I love what Rebecca wrote-very true. You and your family are always in our prayers! Stay strong-God is good! And thank you again  for taking the time for updating us and you have no reason for shame!

  • Jayoder

    In the garden of Roses there are many Thorns.  So goes God’s Love for us.
    What James tells me is that beauty of God’s Love comes with Trials & Temptations.
    And it is these which solidify our patience & endurance.
    May God Bless You & Steve with the patience to endure these next levels of your Faith “Journey”.

  • Ammiarmas

    Hi Michelle! It took me five years to adjust back to my own country, this country, after only one year in Colorado back in 1996. I was warned by my Filipina friend  who was in California then, that no matter how much prayer, how much preparation, or spiritualizing I would do, that I would not be ready for how difficult my re-entry would be ,nor could I even think of how tough the reverse culture shock would be. I did not believe her, But that is exactly what I experienced. I could not tell all my friends, only a chosen few. I was afraid many would not understand me. So, i will pray for you. May you have the freedom to be yourself in the midst of confusion or uncertainty. May you have a few close friends who will not edit your feelings nor expect you to be strong for them. May you have the grace to decide what is best for you and your family, not what is best for the church or the rest of us.

  • Roger and Helen – UCM

    Welcome to living in the Philippines! Message clear and understood! I am not convinced that the miracle has slowed….. not looking through our eyes. I suspect that the world is trying to dictate the pace of life and is giving false expectations on levels of accomplishment. There are 12 more months of rehab which must be used to the fullist. Guard your time (for the days are evil!) for each other against being overtaken by memories of what things were like before. God now has a completely new plan, and a large part of it is the walking witness to a God that heals; a very powerful witness. The miracle is not slowing – wait on the Lord is still the most difficult of all his commands, and patience requires the same amount of power from God as it took to raise Jesus from the dead!!

  • Opheliatongco

    Dear Michelle,

    I was blessed that my short break brought me to Manila and of course, to UCM at the time when Pastor Steve gave his first sermon after the motorcycle incident.  I was crying the whole time thanking God for his goodness and  for the privilege of watching a walking miracle.

    I want to assure you that  I pray daily for the continuing recovery of Pastor Steve.  And knowing the challenge that await you in moving back to Manila, I keep you in my daily prayers.

    Michelle, some days can be exhausting, but I know that you know that  the best is still to come  for  someone like you,  beloved  of God.

  • Lindaraz77

    Your names are right above my laptop . . . you all are in my prayers.

  • Earnest & Maidhily Nadeem

    Dear Sister Michelle,

    Be assured of our regular prayers for you all and for our Pastor Steve.
    In the midst of all challenges that you are going trough we pray that may the Lord continue to provide His special strength, and encouragment to you through His presense att all times.

    He is the God of good times and bad times and He is the Lord of all.

    It may seem that His presence is not felt at the most needed time, but the fact remains that He is still there, always Watching over us. I heard once somebosy said, The delay of God is not God’s Denial, and the Denial of God is not Disaster.
    I am reminded of a song, The Anchor Holds, in the midst of the Storm, the Anchor holds. though the ship may be battered, the Anchor Holds

    May the Lord continue to be with you all Amen.
    Earnest & Maidhily Nadeem

  • Dtopliff

    Michelle, you are truly an awesome writer, and as president of a large state writers’ guild, I say that with authority. It will be amazing to see all that God will continue doing with that in future–but expect it. More than that, thanks for the stirring transparent window view into your soul and lives. While rejoicing with you that you’re “home” again, it calls us to more prayer for insurance approval, easier transition for each of you, Steve’s irreversible physical progress, provision in every way, and tender and real spiritual breakthrough that your whole church will live with you. Your writing brings us there and makes us part. Our prayers are as strong and close as if we’re all right there in church with you. Look around–maybe we are. For sure His heavenly messengers are. Sending appreciation and love. Delores Topliff, Minnesota, U.S.A.

  • Susie O’Brian

    We love you guys and uphold you in prayer.  Words notwithstanding, your struggles are felt and absorbed.    Susie and Tim

  • Liz Coon

    You are missed in Seattle!  Even more, now that I read about your struggles and wish I could come to help somehow.  The whole family will continue to pray for all of you.
    Lots of love to you all,

  • Kirstuw

    Dear Michelle & Steve,
    How glad Ralph & I are to have met you a year ago this week, as the King’s School bus dropped your boys off on 175th Street. Elise started 1st grade today, and I thought of you all in your new home/school/life… and I thanked God for the months we had as neighbors. Your presence on the street blessed us, and you remain a part of our life in spirit and via your blog.  A couple months ago you wrote about gratitude in a compelling way, and my mom wanted the name of the book you were referring to, and you gave it to us and she read it (*One Thousand Gifts* by Ann Voskamp) and was so moved by it that she insisted that I read it and I have just finished it… and among the blessings I’m giving thanks for today are you & Steve!

    Kirsten Foot

  • Julie

    Michelle and STeve. I wanted to tell you that today YOUR story spread to 150 eighth graders! :) I start each school year building community, playing games, experiencing my hopes for them in class this yr. Today was the hope that they would persevere. Not fold. I used a couple YouTube videos… Nike ads with music and flare. Yet what stilled the room; what silenced their slightest distraction was your family’s journey. Middle school rarely still; they could not ask enough questions. Over and over your story heals; speaks. I just thought you should know. I think of your family often
    Julie hornung

  • Betsy

    Praying for you in this new stage; that you are inwardly renewed day by day. Praying for the daily physical challenges and Steve’s continued gains, and at the same time, that you are both encouraged by the eternal glory that these challenges build and bring (2 Cor. 4:16 -18).  We all think of your family and miss you guys!

  • Sara whitlock

    Dear Michelle,
    I was at Fairhaven this week for BFS (Heather talked me into it!) and thought of the day I saw you there.  I felt an instant connection to you as perhaps those who have gone through similar trials feel.  I wanted to drag you away and have a cup of coffee with you and get to know this remarkable woman better.  Perhaps on your next visit.
    Thank you for your kind words on by blog.  They mean more than you can possibly imagine.  Or perhaps you actually can imagine.
    I continue to pray for you and Steve as you settle in.  I understand from Heather and Mike that it has not been without its challenges.  Lean hard into Him.  He will carry you.
    Oh, but you know that, don’t  you:)