Category Archives: My Journey

Some thoughts on my journey through cancer and into the deeper walk with my Father.

My 4 Fathers


How many fathers have you had? Were they good ones? I’ve had 3 dads in my life +1 – all of whom brought something special into my life that have contributed to who I am and what I am becoming.

My birth dad’s name was James Robert Devers. He was one of 10 children and fathered a family of 7 children, of which I am smack dab in the middle, #4 child (1 sister – the eldest, and 5 brothers). Dad was a handsome, strong, viral, 6’ 2” tall man, with sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He and my mom married when he was 22 and she was 16.

Though we lived on our own land, financially we would have been considered a lower income family; living without such amenities as indoor plumbing, a furnace, or electricity. We heated with wood and coal and lighted our home with kerosene lamps.

My dad was raised on a farm in north-eastern Virginia – you won’t find many farms in that area now because it’s mostly a bedroom community for Washington DC.  He did not graduate from high school – having quit school to work on his dad’s farm after the eighth grade. At age 17 he went to work for the railroad, doing manual labor on the “yards”, where train cars came in for repairs.

James Devers was a man of integrity – if he gave his word, he kept it. He was a hard worker, an outdoorsman. My dad taught us by his life to not be lazy. He was self-sufficient and industrious.

As he continued to work for the railroad, Dad also did odd jobs for friends, extended family and neighbors. Plus he had a large garden in the summer to help feed his family. Any garden overage was taken to the farmers’ market or given away. He was a very outgoing man, friendly to strangers – there were not many people in our town that he did not know. Dad felt that to have friends, you had to be friendly. He was optimistic, confident, and generous, especially to his girls. He was also proud and prejudiced.

He came from a stock of people who accepted bad news as a part of life. When he was diagnosed with cancer at age 64, he accepted death as inevitable – which didn’t quite gel with his optimistic nature. He lived for only two more years.

Cancer brought him to faith in Christ – as he said to me from his hospital bed – “I know who I have to trust for heaven, and it’s not me.”  And the person who led him to Christ was one that, due to Dad’s racial prejudices, would not have been allowed into his inner personal space a few years before. But God’s love does that – it takes down barriers and redefines us and our long-held beliefs.

At the time my dad became ill, I was single, living in NJ and attending a church there. My pastor and his wife had no children of their own and “adopted” me. I remember when my dad was diagnosed they said to me, “You will always have a home with us.”

So, when my birth dad passed away, I had another dad. His name was Phil and he was basically a “city boy”. He was raised as an only child in a middle income family. Phil was very different from my father, though about the same age. He was college and seminary educated, not of many words, and had a deep faith that had sustained him since youth. He was thoughtful and a good listener. He had a good sense of humor, but was not loud like my father. He also was a man of his word and chose his words carefully. He was a careful planner, financial saver, and wise investor. He was a “suit and tie man”, where my birth dad was a work pants, work boots guy, except for occasions like weddings. Phil wasn’t expressive with his affection, but he, along with my adopted mom, parented me as a young adult – shared their lives, even vacations with me and later with my husband.

My third dad was my father-in-law, Dave Alves. I think when he died I cried more than my husband did. He was upper-middle class, college-educated, and had served in the US Navy. He had risen from immigrant Portuguese status to a management position with an insurance firm. Dad Alves was a fun person. He filled a room when he entered. He was the entertainer at family parties. Outgoing, stubborn, but never quite sure of himself. He was warm and accepting and interested in kids – my husband’s childhood friends loved being around his dad.

I also loved Dad Alves because he and his wife, Betty, had adopted my husband, David, from an orphanage when he was about age 4 or 5 years old. They took a chance on a kid who had been in 10 or so foster homes in the first couple years after being removed from his birth parents by the state of Massachusetts. Dave and Betty did a good job with him.

Dad  Alves not only accepted me, but was proud of my vocal abilities and encouraged David and me in our Christian concert ministry – though not a follower of Christ at the time. He came to a commitment to Christ on his hospital bed after a heart attack. He died several months later.

All three of my “dads” contributed to what I have been and am becoming, by loving me, encouraging me in my particular ministry pursuits, validating my abilities, and modeling character traits such as:  generosity, kindness, friendliness, integrity, hard work, honesty, truthfulness, and courage to face what comes your way. They also taught me the need for listening to others, taking time for fun, and applying yourself to your goals.

But my 4th dad is the best of all – and that’s my Heavenly Father. Though I’m sure He was active in my life long before I recognized Him as “Father”, He proves over and over how very precious I am as a daughter of His. He has provided me with tools not only for this life, but for the life beyond this one. Unlike my other dads, He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me, to give me wisdom for each situation, to answer my prayers, to heal me, to save me from disaster, to be with me in trouble, to cause “all things to work for good” in my life.

I don’t have to travel to visit Him, but I can have an audience with Him any time of the day or night. He listens to my yearnings, my pleadings, my supplications, my confessions, my complaints, my discouragements, my questions, my theorizing and my expressions of gratitude. His presence fills the room, especially the room inside me, more than either of my other dads. He points out my faults and weaknesses only to show me a better way and to lead me to learn to trust Him completely with my life.

Thank you, God for my three earthly fathers, and for being the ultimate Father for whatever “orphans” are out there, who want to be in a loving family with a loving Dad.

©2011, Marcy Alves

 

Mom by Birth, by Choice, by Design


love you momHow do you define “mother”? “Bing” dictionary defines “mother” as a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the egg which in union with a sperm grew into a child;  a female parent.”

I find those definitions to be inadequate. Because being a real mother has more to do with caring nurture, not an accidental relationship. Most women I know are moms by birth, by choice, or by God’s unique design; they are either “momming” their own children, motherless kids, pets, friends, elderly parents, or other needy people (my husband would jokingly add “even their husbands”).

I have had two special “moms” in my life, one by birth and the other by God-created circumstance.

My birth mom gave me life, as well as birthing 6 other children – 3 prior to me and 3 after.  She took care of me until I was old enough to take care of myself – which to me was when I was about age 6 and thought I didn’t need anyone to take care of me or tell me what to – until I got hungry or was afraid of the dark or got sick. My mom taught me to read by reading books with me, cut out paper dolls with me, made sure I attended school, and saw that I was fed and dressed for the weather. She listened to me when I needed to talk, corrected me when I tried to put the blame on others, defended me from my 2 older brothers until I was old enough to fight back, and was always available as a stay-at-home-mom  – which gave me a great degree of security. She died while I was in college. You can read more about her in a previous blog post,

Shortly after I graduated from college, the Lord gave me another “mom”. She is still Mom to me. She was my pastor’s wife, a totally different person from my birth mom. She was a “birthless” mom, in the sense of physically bearing children. But she heart-adopted several young women, of which I am one.  I was very involved in her life of ministry. She mentored me and encouraged me in my endeavors to serve the Lord. She involved me in the ministry of the church by taking into account my abilities, gifts and passions and channeling them. She made me a part of her retreats, special events, etc. by allowing me to use my musical gifts. She even launched me into teaching seminars on her retreats, even though I was untested and she knew that there were areas of disagreement on a few theological issues.

My second mom and her husband also involved me in their personal lives, invited me to share their vacations at the ocean and at their cottage on a lake in the Pocono Mountains. After I married, my husband, David was also included as one of the family. My second mom was Dorothy Worth, better known as “Dot”. “Mom Dot” took an interest in my romantic life and often gave me her counsel on different boyfriends or tried to steer me toward those she was more favorable toward. She took me on shopping trips and taught me by her lifestyle how to do hospitality in the home.

Whereas my birth mom was a home-body, shy and a bit reclusive, countrified, unsure of herself in many areas, my second mom was confident, out-going and full of energy.

My birth mom was a “good woman”, open to God, but not knowledgeable about the Bible or spiritual things. I had the privilege of leading her to the Lord Jesus during my first year of college.  My adopted mom was a radio Bible teacher, who spent time in the word and in prayer. She gave me guidance and helped to round out my spiritual development. Later in her life, following a serious stroke, she was confined to a wheelchair, and lived in a total life-care facility in Lancaster, PA. Even there she played a big part in my life – encouraging and praying for me. She also played a mean game of Scrabble, challenging me whenever I visited her. She also keept up with the Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. Mom Dot passed away on December 21, 2016 at the age of 92. I really miss tlking with her on the phone and reading to her from her Facebook page as her eyesight faded more and more.

Both moms – by birth and by God’s direction are very special to me. They both had a profound effect on my life. They were both caring nurturers, each in her own way.

I have not birthed a child. My daughters are “born” out of a heart relationship with me and my husband. They are heart adoptions. We recently moved in with our special daughter, Tmmy, and her husband, Lew. The others live a distance away, but there is still a heart-connection. Whether by birth or God’s design, mothering can be very fulfilling.

A friend of ours was unable to bear children, so she and her husband adopted 7 children of mixed racial and national backgrounds. She is a super mom who home-schools her kids, teaches them about God’s creation through outdoor schooling, shows them self-reliance by involving them in gardening and raising chickens, and loves them into the kingdom of God.

Another “childless” friend of ours is a free-lance “social worker”.  She does not work for  an agency, but through her church and social contacts is always “mothering” people who need encouragement, help, caring nurture – no matter their age.  Another friend who is single, invests herself in the lives of troubled youth. She has a “mom” heart.

If you are a “wannabe” mom who has not been able to conceive or carry a child to term or are unmarried and beyond the age of childbirth possibility, ask God to connect you with someone who needs a caring relationship – child or young adult – that you can minister to by loving nurture. Be a mom to someone who has longed to have a mother to encourage, counsel and care for him or her. I can testify from both sides of the picture that being a “mom” by birth, by choice, or by design is a very important and fulfilling role.

 

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

Living in Light of the Resurrection


 

empty tombI woke up on “Good Friday” a few years back, thinking of the day more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was crucified.

I wondered how something so sad, like the death of a righteous man on a cross could be called “good”. It seems that it should be called “sad” or “disappointing” based on the way the disciples of Jesus must have felt on that day.

Can you picture it? The one you had counted on who was going to rescue you from Rome; the hope of the Jewish people who would change the way religion was done, was now hanging on a cross – suffering the same fate as thieves and other law-breakers. How can that be good?

The events of that original Friday would have been justifiably the saddest day in the lives of the disciples if another promised event had not taken place on the Sunday that followed. The victory of the cross over sin and death was climaxed by the resurrection. Without the resurrection it would not have been a victory at all – not then and not now. And the church of Christ would not have survived into the 21st century.

The apostle Paul said several things about resurrection:

I Cor. 15:13-17,32

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

The empty tomb sealed the deal.  Death could not hold Jesus down. And it doesn’t have to hold you down – His resurrection opened the way for us, a door into life – not only in the future, but right here and right now.

In a sense, what happened on Friday of that first “Easter” weekend needs to happen in each of our lives, in order for it’s intended purpose to benefit us.  A personal “crucifixion” has to take place:

Gal. 2:20a – “I am crucified with Christ:” says the apostle Paul.

I hadve to die to myself to come to Christ. Everyone of us who has had a true conversion experience has to come to this conclusion: there is nothing I can do to save myself, to get myself right with God; Jesus did that for me on the cross – He made a way for me to get right with God.

Thank God, Jesus was raised from the dead! And because of His resurrection, I too can share in that resurrected life:

Gal. 2:20:  “ . . . nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)

I don’t have to wait until I die physically to experience a resurrection. When I died to myself at the foot of the cross of Jesus, accepting His sacrifice for my sins and giving up doing it on my own, He raised me up spiritually. I have already been resurrected in Him. Now I am truly alive – and the life I live is His life in me.

The challenge for all of us is to reckon that we are dead to the old ways and now are freed to live in the light of the resurrection – for

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone, the new is here.” 2 Cor. 5:17

That’s what is good about “Good Friday” – it had in view what was to come, and paved the way for us to be able to walk in the light and power of the resurrection, right here, right now.

Are you experiencing resurrection life?

The message of resurrection life is captured in a song from one of my music CD’s. Hope you enjoy it:

We Are the Reason

©2011, Marcy Alves, revised 2015

Thanksgiving: A State of Mind – An Expression of Faith


How do you celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Do you intentionally make the giving of thanks a part of your Thanksgiving observance? Or do you, as many other Americans, simply enjoy the meal with family or friends, oblivious to God’s many blessings in your life? If you are thankful, do you express your thanks outwardly?

Thanksgiving is not just something you do, it is also a state of mind, and an expression of faith that recognizes the benevolent unseen Being who is responsible for all good gifts that come our way.

As a child I felt there was something different between the Thanksgiving meal and other dinners, even though it was not the habit at our house to say a prayer of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day;  in fact there were not many prayers said for any reason at our house. When I became a Christian as a young teenager, I asked if we could say a a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, and my father permitted me to offer a prayer of thanks. My parents were not unthankful, but they didn’t express gratitude in prayer. We were not taught that what we had came from God’s hands, though He got credit for the rain when we needed it for our garden.

Now, as an adult, with my husband and family, and others with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we make it a point to share at least one thing we are thankful for as we sit at the dinner table.

In these days of economic downturn, compounded with a slow recovery from the loss of jobs over the past several years, and the ever-increasing government debt, an attitude of  gratitude does not come easy; it has to be cultivated.

Here are some “gratitude starters” to help you develop a thankful heart:

  • a roof over your head
  • food to eat
  • clothes on your back
  • friends (come on, you must have at least one)
  • family
  • your job (your present job or one that’s coming in the near future because you are trusting God for it)
  • freedom of speech (while we still have it),
  • a free country that, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a place where foreigners are clamoring to get into
  • a sunrise or sunset,
  • trees and flowers,
  • snow, rain and early morning dew
  • the ability to walk unassisted
  • the ability to read
  • the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight
  • art and music
  • hundreds of other things

A Christian’s faith in a loving God is best expressed in the ability to see beyond present circumstances, as bad as they might be, and find things for which to be thankful. There are many blessings that appear to the person with a thankful heart.

There are numerous examples in Scripture of the offering of thanks, beginning with our Lord Jesus, who gave thanks to the Father every time He broke bread with the disciples and the throngs of people whom He fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matt. 14:17-21).  In the Gospel of John, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayers:

 “ . . .  Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

The apostle Paul frequently referred to giving thanks: he gave thanks for people (Phil. 1:3), for the faith of converts (Rom. 1:8), for obedience of believers (Rom. 6:17), for spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:18), for victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57), for answered prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), for people who cared for others (2 Cor. 8:15), for the gift of grace provided through Christ (2 Cor. 9:15), for financial support of the ministry (2 Cor. 9:12), for believers (Eph. 1:16), for pleasant memories of people (Phil. 1:3), for joy (1 Thess. 3:9), for strength and being chosen for service for God (1 Tim. 1:12), for everything (Eph. 5:20).

When should we give thanks and for what?

Eph. 5:15-16,19-20 “ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  . . .  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Phil. 4:5b-7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

It’s when we begin to express thanksgiving to God for everything and in the midst of everything, that our faith comes out and takes a bow and the peace of God settles around us like a warm blanket. Darkness is driven away and the glow of the Spirit shines in our inner being. This is true spiritual life – the life that Christ came to give us.

Col. 2:6-7  ”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.”

What more examples do we need of thankful living in the midst of difficult circumstances, than the examples of the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Apostle Paul received death threats and had to be sneaked out of a city for his safety; suffered shipwreck while being transported as a prisoner; was snake-bitten and beaten with a whip on several occasions; went hungry; was imprisoned and finally killed. But in the midst of it all, he gave thanks to God.

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered persecution, criticism, verbal and physical abuse, lies about his character, rejection, misunderstanding (even from his closest followers), beatings, chains, an unfair trial, and death on the cross. But His life was a continual picture of trust in and thanks to His Father.

Why were our Savior and His followers, like Paul, able to endure hardships and constant crisis in their lives and still be at peace and full of joy? I believe it was because of their thankful hearts that came from their constant communion with God, punctuated with prayers of thankfulness, based on what they knew of the heart of our heavenly Father. They lived within the sound of His heartbeat.

May you develop a life of daily thanks to God for His gift of life through Jesus, and His continual provisions for you out of His heart of love. May hearing His heartbeat cause your heart to resonate with gratitude for every blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

©2013, Marcy Alves


Honoring Our Veterans: Appreciating Our History


Have you taken time on in the past few days to think about our nation’s veterans? About their past and present service to protect not only our nation, but many people around the world from tyranny and despotism. Have you thanked a military person for watching your back, standing in the gap for you?

Veterans Day honors all who have served or are currently serving in the various branches of our military – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and National Guard. Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who serve – not only those who have died – have sacrificed and done their duty.

While studying a chapter in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, I did some research on the history of the city of Corinth. It was at one time a very important Greek City. When Greece was taken over by the Romans in 146 BC, the residents of Corinth were killed or deported. About 100 years later Corinth was colonized by Roman “freedmen”.  Later Greece came under the power of the Ottoman Empire and finally became independent again in 1832. Greece and the city of Corinth have survived, but not without a turbulent history.

As I read this brief history of Corinth and of Greece, I wondered how many contemporary Greeks are aware of their country’s history.

Then I wondered: ”How many Americans are aware of the history of the United States of America and its on-going fight for freedom?  First, its fight for independence from Great Britain, culminating in the Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776? How about the war between the North and the South (the Union and the Confederacy), which established the “United States” of America?

What do current generations know of our stand against the spread of Nazism across Europe, to stop Hitler’s dream of dominating the world, including the USA? Or the role of the U. S. in stopping the Japanese from attaining their goal of international rule as the imperial power of the world? Not many of the veterans who fought in those wars are around to remind us that our freedom has not been free.

How many of our uneducated and under-educated youth, who have never taken a U.S. history course, are aware of the historic development of our great nation? How many of the aliens and immigrants (legal and illegal) -many who don’t even speak English – have knowledge of the history of the USA? Yet many of them have exercised the right to vote in our national elections.

As I read the Old Testament books, I am again aware of how repeatedly the prophets in Israel recalled to the people their history; reminding them that God had set them apart for Himself.  And how in the New Testament, Christians are reminded of the history of ancient Judaism, out of which came our Savior, the Lord Jesus.

When we have no sense of our nation’s past, personal values can become irrationally selfish, as in the expectation of entitlements in exchange for support of a political candidate. This was demonstrated in the chants by the college students gathered outside the White House on our last presidential election night – as they shouted such remarks as “Karl Marx! Karl Marx!”, “abortion rights”, “ birth control”, “cell phones”, and “socialism”.

When our wounded and disabled vets, who have fought for the continuation of freedoms for U. S. citizens and others around the world, cannot even find jobs to support their families, I find such immature expectations of entitlements mentioned in the preceeding paragraph, reprehensible.

The expectation to get for free what past generations paid for with their hard-earned money makes me very nervous for the future of our nation. The guarantee of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is not a guarantee for free birth control, free abortions, free cell phones, or even free education.

Without a sense of personal identity with our national history, our young people can easily be manipulated and misdirected by whoever offers to meet their “felt needs”. They don’t yet understand that you don’t get something for nothing.

I can’t help but wonder if there will be young adults willing to join the U. S. military in the near future, or to pursue public service jobs, or to become teachers and doctors (I feel sure there will be those who become lawyers).

Will there be any U. S. military veterans in years to come? Or will we be absorbed by another nation, diabolically guided by another Hitler, Stalin or Marx who promises a loaf of bread and a chicken in every pot, for free? A sharing of everything, by all, for the common good?

For now, we still have an Army, a Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the Coast Guard policing hot spots around the world where individual freedom is swallowed up by top-down mandates; ideologies and cultures in which domination by “the few” dictates to the masses such things as, who will receive an education and who will not (ie. women in strict Islamic cultures), what religion can be followed and which cannot, and which personal opinions can be freely expressed without threat of imprisonment or death.

I pray there will be men and women in the USA whose innate sense of service, out of grateful hearts and concern for preserving personal freedoms, will overcome self-preservtion and give their lives for people who may not understand the preciousness of such a gift.

The freedoms we still enjoy here in the USA have a price tag.

Thank you, veterans of every age, color, rank, sex, and duration of service, for your part in paying the price in the battle to maintain our national freedoms, and to secure those freedoms for others around the world. We salute you.

©2012, Marcy Alves (edited 2015)

Pastor Appreciation: Saying “Thanks”


When is the last time you said, “Thank you” to your pastor or priest? Or have you ever done it? October is “Clergy Appreciation Month”. It’s a time to say, “Thank you for your service,” as we stop to think about the pivotal role of “pastor” in the life and health of the local church body. This is a national awareness month, a time when we honor those men and women whose vocational ministry and spiritual calling is to nourish, instruct, and shepherd the sheep in their appointed area of God’s spiritual pasture.

These are men and women who have been called by God and have responded to that call by committing their lives to training disciples of Jesus and equipping their congregants to do the work of the ministry in their individual areas of gifting.

This is no easy task.

There are many sheep whose inclination is to wander off from the flock and become prey for predators, to be obstinate and un-teachable, to butt and bite the other sheep, to become “cast down” so that they can’t get up without help, or to become sickly from eating the wrong food.

My husband, David (who is a pastor) and I have been watching ABC’s documentary on the tape recordings of First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States. On those forty+ year-old recordings she spoke of the terrible loneliness her husband experienced as he tackled the affairs of State, his sleepless nights, his doubts and fears over decisions he had made, and the tears he shed over the failure and loss of life resulting from such decisions gone bad, such as at the Bay of Pigs.

My heart is drawn to Mrs. Kennedy in her obvious compassion for her husband.  I identify with her sense of the weight of the burdens he bore, and with her desire to ease his distress. Although the responsibilities of the pastor do not compare with the weighty decisions of the President of the USA and their possible consequences of national importance, like the President, that’s where the buck stops if something goes wrong. And though the pastor is not involved in international wars, the spiritual impact of a pastor can have eternal results in the battle for good over evil.

Anyone who has not been a pastor cannot imagine the stresses and energy drain of pastoral ministry and the on-going spiritual warfare that is part of such ministry. Pastoral ministry can be an extremely lonely existence for the pastor, and for his wife and family.

I have watched my husband (my pastor) agonize in prayer over the course our church body should take and when things didn’t work out, to wonder about his ability to hear God. I’ve seen him flounder under undeserved criticism and misunderstsanding, fight against feelings of rejection or failure when families have left for greener pastures, wonder if he’s in the right place and if he should leave the pastoral ministry, puzzle over the lack of comprehension when he’s preached and taught what he believes is the heart of the Father – with sometimes little visible results. I’ve seen his struggle to accept a phone call when he’s already exhausted.

No one in his right mind who knew ahead of time about the temporal and spiritual challenges of pastoral ministry would choose such a vocation. Most of us who have been personally involved for any extended length of time (say, more than a year?) can no longer be casual or callused about the struggles inherent in pastoral ministry.

I have been a pastor’s wife for 20+ years now. Four of those years we were in local church youth/family pastoral ministry while also in part-time itinerant ministry. We also spent about 10 years in strictly itinerant ministry. Neither the years of youth-pastor ministry, nor the years of itinerancy,  during which we ministered to many pastoral couples, prepared us for the role of full-time local pastoral ministry.

We blush a bit now at the presumptions of some of our early “Come Away” ministries – four-day weeks of small group outreach to pastors and their spouses. We were encouraged as we watched their tensions lessen and their tired faces reflect some easement of their ministry stress.  But we did not know by personal experience the feelings of defeat and futility that pastors and their spouses often felt over their local church ministries. We now know it firsthand.

Besides the smile of our Heavenly Father that we feel in His presence, the warmth of His love that drains off the stress and exhaustion of pastoral ministry, there is one other thing that keep us going:  the expressions of gratitude from our church family.  There are things that make it all worthwhile: words of appreciation, the “ah-ha” reflected on the face of a congregant who “gets it” as he/she opens like a flower to the work of the Spirit, a simple “Thank you for that message”, or a sincere hug as someone leaves the worship service. And once in a while a card, or a gift, or a dinner invitation. Or we hear the pride in a voice as it says, “I’d like you to meet my pastor,” or, “You ought to visit our church sometime.”

If you are a member of a church, I’d like to challenge you – this month, this week, today – to think of a way to thank your pastor for his commitment and service to the Lord, to you, and to the rest of the church body. And if there is a clergy person from your past who positively affected your life, take a moment to contact him/her and say, “Thank you for caring about me and having an influence on my life. I’m a different person because of your influence.”

If you have a pastor for whom you are thankful, how about jotting down a few sentences and sending them to me. I’d like to include them in a post before the end of October. Also, share this post with others and remind them to thank their pastors.

Thank you!

©2011, Marcy Alves

This post is a re-post of an article from October of 2011. There is a sequel coming this week on ideas to express thanks to your pastor(s), entitled How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor.

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 1


Do you know your pastor’s “appreciation language”? If you don’t, then you may not know how to best express your appreciation in a way which communicates your thanks to him/her.

I’ve been a pastor’s wife for 20+ years and have friends who are pastors’ wives, so I’d like to share from an inside view.

There is probably no one more uncertain about whether or not he is doing a good job than a pastor – except for politicians who often lean on state or national polls for affirmation. (The only time a poll is taken on a pastor’s performance is when a contingency in the congregation wants to relieve him from his post and needs a 2/3 vote to do it.)

Whether you are in a small or large church, your pastor needs your expressions of appreciation. No matter how big or small the church staff, being a pastor is not an easy job.* (see my earlier posts)

In Hebrews 13:17, church members are instructed to make the work of leaders (pastors and elders) a joy.  Here are some ways to say “thanks” and to stimulate joy in your pastor’s service to the body.

  • WORDS

Spoken: The easiest way to express appreciation is with words. It really encourages my husband when our folks let him know that a particular sermon, training session, mentoring time, study group, his handling of a situation, etc., has impacted their thinking and their choice to follow Christ more fully – that his toil has been meaningful to their lives.

Be specific. Let your pastor know which part of his efforts have most affected you. If it’s sermon content, say so. If it’s his personal interest or concern, let him know. If it’s his character, such as compassion or integrity, say so. If his/her lifestyle speaks to you of Jesus, say so.

Written: Think about putting your appreciation in writing. We have been in ministry for the entire 34 years of our marriage. When we were itinerant speakers/singers there were many accolades spoken or written to us on a regular basis, not so in the pastorate. When we receive “thank you” notes or letters that speak appreciation, we are very encouraged by them. We keep them in a file as reminders that there are people who have been positively affected by our ministry.

  • DEEDS

There is an old saying that “actions speak louder than words”. It could be that your pastor’s appreciation language is “acts of service”.

A couple months ago someone ran over our mailbox; we woke up one Sunday morning to find the box smashed flat with the post bent almost to the ground, and tire marks across the grass. We went to our church service, then to another event to which we were committed that afternoon and evening. When we arrived home later that night, we discovered a brand new mailbox and post (cemented in) at the end of our driveway. A couple in our church took it upon themselves to do this kind deed.

There have been people who have worked on our cars, repaired our lawn tractor, plowed our garden, cleaned our house, and taken us out for a meal.

Other good deeds you might consider: babysitting while your pastor and spouse have a night out alone, caring for their pets, watering their plants or picking up their mail while they are on vacation, calling to see if they have any personal prayer needs.

Just as encouraging to us are those times when folks have stepped forward to do deeds for the church body, such as cleaning the church building, mowing the lawn, volunteering in the nursery, or helping someone in the fellowship who has a temporal need – anything that says “we get it”.

  • GIFTS

When you are giving gifts to express your appreciation, spend a little time and thought on what your pastor may enjoy. Is he/she a sports fan, an avid reader, a collector of some particular thing; does he have a hobby or special interest?

You might consider tickets to a concert or sporting event (if your pastor is into sports). Once we were given a gift of two nights at a lovely bed and breakfast. We felt so special.

Last October we received a card with money in it from several church members, with the instruction it was not to pay a bill – we had a nice dinner out.

In other years, our Lifegroups (small home groups) have presented gifts on particular Sundays during the month of October, such as beautiful potted plants, wall hangings, gift cards, a gas gift card, etc. (Caution: when giving a decorative gift, consider lifestyle and personal tastes of your pastor and spouse. If they have been in the pastorate for a long time, they may not need something else that needs periodic dusting.)

For female pastors or the pastor’s wife, think “feminine”: a visit to a salon, a pedicure or manicure, a gift certificate to a clothing store or specialty shop like Bath & Body Works, fresh flowers, a lunch with you, etc.

Last but not least by any means: Whether male or female, your pastor’s overall health is essential and foundational to a vibrant life and ministry. Be certain to consider a sabbatical policy for your church. Ask your pastor if he/she prefers print books or owns a Kindle or Nook. Purchase BOTH A Sabbatical Primer for Pastors (CLICK on title) and A Sabbatical Primer for Churches (due in May 2014) at Amazon.com. Give the Pastor’s primer to your pastor(s) and the Church primer to someone in leadership who cares about the pastor or pastoral family and wants to love and honor them.

These are some practical tips for saying “thank you” to your pastor(s). In my next installment, I will share a few other items that don’t cost time or money, but are important in showing heart-felt appreciation for your pastor.

Are there things you have done to say “thank you” to your pastor that you would like to share? Or, if you are a pastor or the spouse of a pastor, how has your church or individual parishioners shown appreciation for your ministry to them?

©2012, Marcy Alves

Pastor Appreciation Month – October


thank you pic 2014

October has been designated for many years as Pastor Appreciation Month. I can verify that a little sincere appreciation goes a long way with these men and women who are serving the body of Christ by following God’s call on their lives. I have written several posts on the need for such a service to your pastors, and on how to best express such appreciation: links to those blog posts are listed below.

Also, I would like to add to my suggestions in those articles for a possible gift for your pastor; it’s a book written by my husband specifically geared to pastors. It is entitled “A Sabbatical Primer for Pastors“, and encourages your pastors to take needed breaks from ministry for personal refreshment and spiritual rejuvenation. It is available in both print and e-book versions. A sequel to that book is also available “A Sabbatical Primer for Churches” – this book will help guide local churches in exactly how to provide such times of spiritual refreshment and nourishment for their pastors and other full-time church workers.

It’s very important to honor those who serve us in their service to the Lord Jesus. I pray a special blessing on those who take the time to encourage their pastors and church leaders.

 

©2014, Marcy Alves

Pastor Appreciation: Saying “Thanks”

Pastor’s Wife: Called or Drafted?

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 1

How to Say “Thank You” to Your Pastor: Part 2

Pastor’s Wife: Called or Drafted

I Love Living in the USA


I love living in the USA; and amidst all the political and ideological clashes we face in this nation, I am still thankful that I live in a country where people are clambering to get in, not out.

While I don’t claim to be a world traveler, I have visited several other countries for both ministry opportunities and pleasure. With each foray beyond the borders of the United States, I have been glad to come back “home”. I realize that some of my discomfort in other countries has sometimes been due to not knowing the local language – having to work through an interpreter – but it’s more than that.

Each culture, even those countries where English is the primary language, has necessitated adjustments for me; for instance using different English words for the same item – a sweater is a “jumper” in Aussie land, for instance.

But there are many other challenges, such as:

  • Differences in monetary units, dollar exchange, and sales taxes that required constant mental calculations as to what a meal, service, or item actually costs
  • Different expectations as to what is polite, or humorous, or taboo
  • Hot weather with no air-conditioning
  • Hard beds – no, make that very hard beds – on one of our trips we slept on a thin mattress on a bed made of cement – it was actually more comfortable sleeping on the floor.
  • Strange food – I once ordered a “regular hamburger” at a MacDonald’s in Australia and it was served with sliced beets on it; also once had tropical fruit pizza (I was expecting cheese and tomato sauce).
  • Dangerous roadways and unusual public conveyances – once on a trip in Haiti I rode with a missionary friend in a “tap-tap” (a truck with bench seats in the back) which wound up the mountain on a major “highway” that offered a scenic view, accompanied by a drop-off ledge with no guard-rails and a very narrow shoulder.
  • A lack of driving laws – or a lack of enforcement; in our travels we often don’t know which – more than once we felt our lives endangered from what we considered reckless driving on roads in much need of repair or safety features.

In any event, whether the differences made a visit to foreign soil either challenging or enjoyable, I have always been glad to get back to the USA.

We have so much here in the United States to be thankful for: adequate food supplies, cheap gasoline (compared to other advanced nations – though the prices have crept up a lot in the past couple years), clean water, the best health care system anywhere, freedom of religion (so far), freedom of speech (so far – though there are many instances where this right is being challenged by the thought/speech control fanatics), the rule of law without military enforcement, the lowest jobless rate anywhere in the world (even with our present high unemployment rate); a volunteer military; and the most affable, generous people in the world.

There is something about the way Americans care about others who are facing disaster – both natural and man-made – and how they seek to alleviate suffering wherever they find it, that I admire. My fellow citizens are extremely generous and give more of themselves and their substance to others in need than do those from most other countries around the world. Americans are rescuers, often even to their own harm.

I love being able to travel from state to state, town to town, on highways and back-roads and to encounter folks who speak the same language, share the same feelings about living free, follow the same sports teams, root for the underdog, are quick to stop and help a stranded highway traveler with a flat tire, advise you on the best restaurant in town, or suggest the motel with the cleanest rooms.

I love football games, homecomings, 4th of July fireworks, parades with marching bands, summers at the beach, pizza, backyard barbecues, and baseball games.

I love the political process and the freedom to run for an office if you want to help change things in our nation. I love the debates – (however, I do wish that each side would take a minute to listen to the other viewpoint before jumping in with negatives). Though we need to learn to compromise on minor points in order to find common ground on the major ones, still we are free to disagree without fearing reprisal or imprisonment for holding a minority view in government.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I just want to say that I love living in America. I think it is very important to protect the freedoms we have of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

I do not live in a war-torn nation.. I’ve never had my life threatened in any of the places I’ve visited, or feared for my life in any travel situation. I have not faced famine. I’ve not been persecution for my faith. I’ve not been imprisoned for having a “variant faith” or of seeking to win others to Christ. I am so thankful for every freedom we have.

I thank God for those individuals who have given and are now giving their very lives to preserve the freedoms we so often take for granted.

There is a slow erosion of many of the values we have held, which are woven into the fabric of our society – too much pulling on those threads and society as we know it will come unraveled.

So I continually lift our nation in prayer to God. I pray not just for God’s blessing, but also for His mercy and grace to allow us to continue in the religious and personal freedoms we have come to enjoy and often take for granted.

Happy 4th of July to you!!

©2012, Marcy Alves (edited, 2014)

Your Death on the Cross


Who was it that hung on the cross? It was a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, a thief, a fornicator, a greedy person, a hardened criminal, a selfish person, an abuser, an addict, and the list goes on and on. But how can I say this? Am I a blasphemer against our Lord Jesus?

Gal. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” NRSV

Jesus hung on the cross for us, in our place. He died for all kinds of sin, for all kinds of sinners. Think you’re not a sinner? I once thought I wasn’t. Keep reading.

Gal. 5:19-22 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  NRSV

I was a young teenager when God spoke to me about my personal sins by leading a speaker at a youth meeting to use the Scripture quoted above. I had not done really bad things, but I saw myself in the list of sins in the verses above. We were very poor and I had jealousy and envy and sometimes anger about not being able to have things I wanted to have or live in the kind of house where I could comfortably invite friends over. I also had a lot of pride, which is probably why I was ashamed about our house and our poverty.

We were all in big trouble before the crucifixion of Jesus. But thank God:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2: 24

I remember responding to an invitation the night of the youth meeting, to be cleansed from my sin. I told the Lord that I was wrong – I did have sin in my life – and that I was sorry. I asked for His forgiveness and He told me that because of Jesus death on the cross, I was already forgiven.  It felt like a warm blanket of love had been placed round my shoulders that night. I have never doubted from that night that God loves me and that I have access to the God of the universe now through Jesus. I was re-born that night.

According to the Scriptures, all who have been re-born by the Holy Spirit of God were “crucified with Christ” on that cross.

Gal. 2:19-20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

You and I spiritually hung on the cross with Jesus – He felt our sin, our shame, our guilt. He took our punishment, our pain, our wounds into himself.  We have been set free.

Rom. 6:5-6 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, resurrected, we who are born again by His Spirit also participate in that resurrection, both now and in the future when Jesus returns. The power that was unleashed in the resurrection of Christ is available to us to live the life we have been called to live – one of victory over sin in this earthly life and over death itself when the physical body “dies”. All this is through the gift of eternal life that was revealed in the resurrection of Christ and promised to all those who put their faith in Christ.  Halleluiah!

Forget the Easter bunnies and  colored eggs and chocolate candy. Praise the Lord that Jesus conquered death!

Happy Resurrection Day!!

 

©2012, Marcy Alves (edited 4/19/2014)

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