Tag Archives: farm

True Religion

The home that I’m staying in tonight is located in rural Iowa. It belongs to my aunt and uncle and I’m here with my parents for a family reunion. It’s one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever had the privilege of staying in. It’s an old farmhouse surrounded by barns and out buildings. Some of those buildings house a few animals – a couple goats, a few ducks, some chickens, dogs and cats. Once it was a working farm with cows and pigs and crops, but my aunt and uncle have retired from farming.  

It’s hard for me to describe this home adequately. On the outside it looks regular enough. You enter through a side door into a mud room with a wooden coat hanger and a place for muddy boots. Next is a dining room with a large, well-worn table and brown carpet. The kitchen, a long and narrow room with a few cabinets and some storage, is behind the dining room. The living room has large windows that overlook the beautiful countryside and give my aunt and uncle the ability to watch deer and other wild life as they wander through.  

The bedroom I’m staying in tonight is what got me to thinking of the beauty of this home. The bedroom has a linoleum floor, two small beds with colorful, tropical fish themed comforters, and matching curtains. It has an old bureau with a mirror, a lamp clipped to the top of the mirror, and another lamp near the door. There are some hooks hanging from the wall that serve as a closet of sorts. The wall is blonde paneling and above the bed I’m sleeping in is a large wooden cross with praying hands in the center of it.  

I brushed my teeth tonight before bed in the tiniest bathroom I’ve ever been in outside of an airplane. It is maybe two inches wider than me on either side and the light is on a pull chain. The electrical outlets won’t allow me to plug anything in because they aren’t three-pronged outlets.  

The beauty of this old farmhouse struck me when I walked in the door tonight. Seated at the kitchen table was a young boy, perhaps twelve years old. He wore leg braces and didn’t stand to greet me. When we were introduced, he spoke with difficulty. My uncle was playing a card game with him. For the first thirty minutes I was here, I was able to observe my aunt and uncle interacting with the boy. They understood what he was saying, they treated him with dignity, and they laughed and joked with him. Soon it was time for my uncle to take the boy home.  

The bedroom I’m sleeping in tonight was prepared with children in mind. Today the child that my aunt and uncle were caring for went home at the end of the day, but there have been countless children who have not been able to go home because their homes were not safe places. You see, my aunt and uncle have spent countless years of their lives as foster parents. To the best of my knowledge, they began 28 years ago by taking in a little blue-eyed, blonde girl who’d been neglected by her mother. They fell in love with her and adopted her. Today I know her simply as my cousin Devon.  

Trent and Devon - all grown up

 

Devon was the first in a long line of children for whom my aunt and uncle provided a home. She is the only one they adopted, but they continued to provide a home for needy children for many years. I’m sure putting a linoleum floor in a bedroom frequented by displaced children was the wisest thing to do. I can just imagine carpet with gum stuck to it and holes from the adventurous things children do.  

They were given the most difficult cases over the years because they were able to achieve such tremendous results. I don’t know many details of the children who stayed here and what was accomplished because my aunt and uncle don’t talk about it much. It’s just something they have done.  

My aunt and uncle are well into their sixties now and I don’t think they take in foster children any longer. These days they are licensed to work with special needs children. They provide care for children whose families need assistance. That is why my uncle was playing Skip Bo with the young boy I met today. His family needs help and they are providing it.  

  

There’s a wall full of children’s pictures here. It tells the story of the children who have lived under this roof. The beauty of this home is in the love that resides here. The beauty of this home is in the way two people have chosen to give of themselves to help others. The beauty in this home is in the legacy they are leaving their grandchildren. Their oldest grandchild is now in college majoring in social work. They have made such an impact on me that I look forward to the day I can follow in their footsteps and bring hurting children into my home to help them, to show them love, to teach them responsibility, and to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.  

My aunt and uncle seem to understand the command of Christ to care for the fatherless better than nearly anyone I know. I know that it has not been easy for them. Their hearts have broken many times. I have no doubt there have been times of great frustration and personal sacrifice. Yet they have continued to help. This is true religion. This is true beauty. I live near one of the wealthiest areas in the nation and am regularly in mini-mansions that are decorated with all the latest things. They are gorgeous and tasteful. They smell wonderful and have soft music playing in the background. But in an old farmhouse in rural Iowa, I have discovered true beauty. It is the beauty of a life well-spent. It is the beauty of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  

Robert and Linda admiring their newest grandson

 

Thank you, Uncle Robert and Aunt Linda, for being the real thing. I am honored to call you family.  

James 1:27 (ASV) – Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

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Orie Wenger

My Uncle Orie, my dad’s youngest brother, passed away two weeks ago (June 6, 2009) at age 55.  I happened to be home in South Carolina for a visit.  Uncle Orie had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in February.  He had been sick for a while before that, but they thought it was something else.  My uncle was never a big man, and this type of cancer makes it impossible to digest food, so he got smaller and smaller every time I went home.  It was so hard to see him suffering and in pain.  In spite of my concern for him when I saw him, he had a good attitude even on the last day.  I am so thankful that I was able to pray with him on that Friday evening. 

To describe my uncle to someone who didn’t know him is an interesting task.  Dad and Orie grew up on a farm in Iowa, in a family of six boys and two girls.  They worked hard and moved quickly.  There was no such thing as slow with them.  I don’t like slow much myself, but the way they paced themselves makes me look like a turtle.  Possibly as a result of the constant rush they were in, Orie developed a bit of a stutter.  He always seemed to be in a hurry to get his words out and unable to slow down long enough to let his brain and mouth work together. 

Orie was missing a finger.  I’ve heard the story before but don’t exactly recall it.  I think it had something to do with accidentally shooting oil into his finger (I can’t explain how that might happen…) and not going to the doctor until a bad infection had set in.  Anyway, it was a farming accident and certainly made him unique! 

He grew up Mennonite and was good at making things with his hands – especially with wood.  He liked to drive cars and run anything with a motor.  (By the way, Mennonite is not Amish.  They were simple, but drove cars and had modern appliances.)  When some of my boy cousins reached age 18, he took them to fill out their “conscientious objector” papers with the government so they would never be forced to fight in a war.  (Mennonites are pacifists.)  I don’t know how he stood on war in his later years though.

When I was a kid, he fed me fried calf brains for dinner.  Mom about died.  Not only did I eat them, but I kept telling Mom that it was “the best chicken” I’d ever had.  I’ve never had them since then and have no intention of ever trying them again. 

When Orie lived in Iowa, he built a cabin out in the woods.  Our family went out there often for get-togethers.  There are around 100 of us now if you count all the spouses and children.  Having all those people at his cabin made him really, really happy.  If Orie was anything, it was hospitable.  He had such a gift of mercy and compassion, and he loved to have people in his home.  The house he built in South Carolina is three stories.  On the first floor, there are two apartments – one for Grandma and Grandpa; one for a single mom who needed help.  On the second floor is their main living area – master bedroom, big kitchen, living room, office, and bedroom.  On the third floor are more bedrooms and bathrooms, a large living area with a pool table and big screen TV, and a kitchenette.  If you’re counting, that makes four kitchens, three laundry rooms, and I think six bathrooms.  Why in the world would he build such a house?  He NEEDED it.  That house has been constantly filled with people ever since the day it was built.  That was just who he was.  There were always more cars at Uncle Orie’s house than parking spaces.  I think over the years my brother may have spent more time over there with our cousin who is his age than he did at our own house. 

He cared about my ministry and always asked how things at my church in Nashville were going.  He had faith until the very end that God would heal his body and he would be a testimony to others of miraculous healing.  He was a friend to me when I was struggling to communicate with my dad.  He has been a friend to my brother.  There are many other things I could write about my uncle here, but these are my main memories of him.  It’s hard to imagine the world without him.

On the day before he died, Dad called me and my sister to let us know that he wasn’t doing well.  He said we should go over there and see him.  My sister and I quickly drove over, uncertain about arriving unannounced or what to say, but sure that we wanted to see him one last time.  The man I saw that night was much too thin and suffering, but his heart was turned toward God.  He was so glad to see us.  He called us by name.  Without a conscious thought, my hands reached out to touch him and prayers started out of me.  I wanted so badly for God to take away his pain.  I prayed that he would have comfort, strength, and healing.  I felt so helpless and insignificant in the face of his pain.  And I kissed his hand before I left, trying to get out before the tears I knew were coming spilled out. 

My grandmother, Aunt Bev, and cousins David, Lydia, and Joseph will miss him the most.  They have been by his side through this battle, caring for him and supporting him.  My Aunt Bev is truly a woman of God.  She ministered to Orie all of his life, but in these past months she cut out all distractions and focused on him and their family.  Please pray for them as you read this blog.  Their lives have been shockingly altered by his passing and they need our prayers as they grieve and try to figure out how to go on from here.

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