Iris Richard

When All Stands Still

By Iris Richard

When a pandemic enters our lives, when all around us morphs into a state of uncertainty and chaos, it is natural to succumb to fear, anxiety, and worry. Even though all of us are affected in one way or another, some suffer more severe situations, face isolation, loneliness, financial difficulties, sickness, and even death. Such circumstances are hard to cope with, and a cloud of negative emotions—such as despair, hopelessness, and fear of the future—can settle like a dark cloak over us.

      Questions batter our minds. How long will it be before we are released from this uncertainty? What will tomorrow bring? How will we survive? News headlines engender fear and worry of infection and losing loved ones can augment the feeling of helplessness. The threat of losing our jobs can be all too real, and we can find ourselves in the midst of turmoil that threatens to overcome us. We’re all human, so it makes sense that our hearts hurt and our faith wavers when observing the impact that COVID-19 is bringing in its wake.

      We ask ourselves what we can do in response to the alarming circumstances that unfold around us, how we can react when trying to stay positive just isn’t enough.

Keep praying

“Prayer is the Christian’s greatest weapon.”—Billy Graham

      As believers, we look up. We seek God through prayer and trust in His sovereignty. Scripture tells us that prayer is one of our most powerful resources. When you are at a loss for words, or when you feel like you’re beating down God’s door with the same prayer day after day, ask God’s Holy Spirit to help you. The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit is an intercessor for us and cries out to God on our behalf.[1]

Immerse yourself in God’s Word

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear.” “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: The righteous man runs into it and is safe.”—Psalm 46:1–2, Proverbs 18:10

      When you feel as if your very soul hurts from news reports of disaster, spread of disease, and death, you can find a place of refuge in God’s Word.

The gift of hope

“Trusting God’s faithfulness can dispel our fearfulness.”—Leslie Koh

      God will not only fulfill His promises in His time, but He will also sustain us. This was the same hope that God’s people had as they waited for Him to complete His plan, to deliver them from their enemies, wipe away their tears, and remove their disgrace.[2] In the meantime, God gave His people refuge and shelter as they waited. He comforted them in their ordeals, gave them strength to endure, and gave them assurance that He was there with them. This is the promise we have of His protection, comfort, strength, and shelter throughout our lives.

Guard your heart

“Grief can kill a person emotionally and physically. If not counteracted with God’s strength and power, our personal weakness may debilitate us.”—Billy Graham

      Even though it’s important to stay informed about the latest developments, especially in time of crisis, nevertheless information overload and repeated scenes of graphic images from tragic events on TV or social media can have a negative influence. It’s important to recognize that this input can leave lasting impressions that affect us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Care for others

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”—Galatians 6:2

      You can support others who experience loss or who may be going through a personal crisis by lending a helping hand—make that phone call, write that email, help shop for someone who is unable to, be a listening ear. Look around for ways to be a blessing. Even a smile, a friendly comment, a small deed of kindness, or showing some form of camaraderie can go a long way toward cheering a lonely soul.

Share of what you have

“Your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want.”—2 Corinthians 8:14

      When everyone rushes to buy supplies and stock up on needed items, one can refrain from grabbing the last needed item off a shelf in the supermarket and letting the next guy have it. While sharing with others might be the last on a list of to-dos during a crisis, it’s often through an act of unselfish giving or sharing that we find ourselves blessed in some way, as is brought out so well in this well-known prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.


[1] See Romans 8:26.

[2] Isaiah 25:1.

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Five-Minute Favor

Willie and the Five-Minute Favor By Iris Richard

We were just finishing up the distribution of fifty ten-kilo care packages to poor people—most of them widowed or disabled—in a hall at the edge of one of the largest slums in East Africa.

               Happy to have completed the project, I turned to leave when my colleague held up the last package, saying, “Before we close, let us quickly deliver this one to Willie up the hill. He isn’t able to walk down here.”

               I was tired, sweaty, and my back ached. “Up the hill” sounded easy, but after the rain, the path into the slum was muddy and we had to climb over rocks and garbage to reach his hut.

               I was about to postpone this task for another time when I remembered my new resolution of “five-minute favors,” which was inspired by something I read online:

Want to make the world a better place? … Enter the five-minute favor concept that is no more complicated than its name alludes: Take five minutes out of your day to do something that’ll benefit another person. … It doesn’t cost you much, but it can make a big difference in somebody’s life.

               Giving it some thought, I figured that besides spreading happiness, being generous also comes with the benefit of improving happy feelings. Some even say that it has ties to longevity. After all, in giving lies the well-known truth: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

               Back to Willie. Well, we did climb that hill, and upon entering his tiny hut, I knew that the effort had been worthwhile. There he was, sitting on a rickety bed, the only piece of furniture he had left after his belongings had been washed away by a recent flash flood, when the dirty river that leads through the slum burst its banks. He was rescued and brought up the hill to a tiny room.

               We learned that Willie had been a caddy at a local golf club, and while walking to work he had been hit by a car. The accident cost him his leg. Evidently, the vehicle wasn’t roadworthy and had faulty brakes. The driver had fled, but when caught later, it turned out that he wasn’t insured, nor could he compensate Willie for the accident.

               Due to his disability, Willie lost his job and hasn’t been able to pay the rent and fears eviction. In order to survive, he wishes to start a small roadside business in front of his hut, selling cleaning supplies to folks from his community or passersby, but he lacks the means.

               Willie received our care package with a big smile. “God has sent you!” he said, and a tear ran down his cheek.

               This favor took us a bit more than five minutes, but it made a huge difference in this man’s life, as it not only met an immediate need, it also opened up an opportunity for Willie. As a result of this visit, we were able to contact other people who were interested in helping him, and three months of rent has been raised and monthly food packages are being delivered to his doorstep.

               “I found new hope and purpose because of you,” Willie said, when donated items for his little roadside business were delivered by well-wishers!

Adam Grant, of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, practices a refreshingly nice approach to life and success, one that you might not typically associate with a business-school professor. His work focuses on how being a “giver”—that is, offering help to your colleagues—will ultimately bring you more success and respect than being a “taker.” He even wrote an entire book on the subject. In his research on high-performing salespeople, for example, he’s found that they tend to score “unusually high … on the desire to benefit others.”

               Generosity in the workplace is a very nice idea, but one hang-up many people have about this philosophy is—just who has the time for that? Enter the “five-minute favor,” a term Grant coined to make his point that not every act of giving must be especially time-consuming.

               One can never tell what great things a five-minute favor can set into motion in the course of a normal day, the workplace, or just as we go along our way.

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From Humble Beginning

From Humble Beginning

Countless stories and parables are being told of ‘small beginnings’ that lead to greater ends and this is how my own small-beginnings-story began.

It was a comment from a stranger that got me thinking about a change of direction for the Social work with poor communities we were involved in at the time.  The place where we had been working hadn’t yielded much lasting fruit and the outcome of our labour hadn’t at all, been what we hoped.  Our efforts seemed wasted and work had become increasingly frustrating.

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Dear Bill

An imaginary letter to anyone who might face a rough spot in life or is in need of a ‘pick-me-up … perhpaps it could be written for you? …

Bill and I are old friends. When we met up for coffee recently, he told me about his struggles. His wife had developed a chronic condition which left her bedridden and Bill struggling with her care. Meanwhile, he was overwhelmed by the demands at his workplace and fears of losing his job. This led to a crisis of faith. I had found myself battling with similar emotions not long ago. We prayed together, but later I felt I had more to share, and this is the letter I wrote.

Dear Bill,

            It was nice meeting with you, even though it saddens me to hear of your setbacks and hardships. Recently I went through a rough spot in my life. Perhaps what brought me through could help you as well.

            When I lost sight of God, finding a place of quiet—like early in the morning, when only the birds were up and chirping, or in the quiet of night when all external commotion has ceased—led me to realize that I had to become quiet, shutting down my mental processes, to be able to hear from God clearly again.

            Talking with a trusted friend about my heartaches helped me process the difficult situations. I learned not to be afraid of tears.

            Reading a variety of spiritually feeding materials did wonders, as I found passages that turned my key. As I kept searching for hope, it did eventually spring forth.

            Finding even small reasons for praise kept the nagging voices of negativity and misery at bay and helped me to keep open the door to regaining my faith.

            Since then, I made some commitments:

            Whenever I find myself too worn out to pray, I pray anyway—trusting that God will hear my plea.[[See Job 22:27.]]

            When feeling too weary to read God’s Word, I read it anyway—God’s Word is living and powerful.[[See Hebrews 4:12.]]

            When too impatient to find my inner stillness, I seek for it anyway—reminding myself that God mends broken hearts.[[See Psalm 147:3]]

            When my thoughts are downcast and sad, I look up anyway—trusting that the fog will lift, for God promises to reward those who seek Him.[[See Hebrews 11:6.]]

            To end this letter, dear Bill, I wish you all the best and promise to keep your situation in my daily prayers.

Your friend,

Iris

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Rainbow Thoughts

By Iris Richard

          Tall clouds, the color of an angry grey, hovered across the sky, reflecting the mood I had been entertaining all day.

          Like the challenges which have recently mounted around me and the many pending tasks that fill the pages of this week’s agenda, I thought as I gazed at the scenario in front of me.

          It seemed that recently a number of things hadn’t worked out the way I expected.  While I stood on the balcony of my small apartment steeped in these grey thoughts, an arch of colors formed, crossing the entire firmament.  Even though I knew that this beautiful display of color was caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by rain and water droplets in the atmosphere, this awesome rainbow also can symbolize a token of God`s promises and is a reminder of the special covenant the Eternal made between himself and mankind, giving meaning to the phenomena of a rainbow. (Gen 9:13)  

          The colors of the Rainbow can be likened to a Kaleidoscope of God’s love, reminding that there is hope in even the darkest of lives situations.  Each of the hues reflecting a part of God’s care, that some of the examples about the significance of colors describe. The addition of a few Bible passages round off this short color-refection.

RED — is a warm and positive color. It exudes a strong and powerful energy and motivates us to take action.

Isaiah 41:10  Fear not; for I am with you: Be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.

ORANGE– offers emotional strength in difficult times. It helps in recovery from disappointments, despair and grief. The color psychology of orange is optimistic and uplifting.

Psalms 147:3  He heals up the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.

YELLOW– Being the lightest hue of the spectrum, the definition of yellow is uplifting and illuminating, offering hope, happiness, cheerfulness and fun.

Nehemiah 8:10  The joy of the Lord is my strength. Proverbs 11:30  The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.

GREEN– From a meaning of colors perspective, green is also the color of growth, the color of spring, of renewal and rebirth. It renews and restores depleted energy.

Romans 12:2  Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind…

 BLUE– emotional calm and insight of blue, inspiring hope and a generosity of spirit not available from other colors. From a color psychology perspective, blue is reliable and responsible.

Isaiah 40:31 They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

INDIGO– The color reflects great devotion, wisdom and justice along with fairness and impartiality.  It is a defender of people’s rights to the end.

Psalms 32:8  I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go: I will guide you with Mine eye.

VIOLET- With the energy and strength of red and the spirituality and integrity of blue, it carries the meaning of the union of body and soul creating a balance between our physical and our spiritual energies.

Deut. 33:25  As your days, so shall your strength be.

          God being the Giver of all these wonderful qualities and gifts can heal, restore and renew and when next encountering a rainbow, remember what all is wrapped in this wonderful display of His might.

Excerpts taken from Meaning of colors–Google

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Frog First

Start with the Frog!

Written by  Iris Richard

I’m someone who tends to go by inspiration, and I’ve long been bothered by my scattered approach to setting goals, so I was searching for an effective way to make it through my to-do list. It seems so easy to pick out the things I prefer doing or feel inspired to tackle first, but unfortunately, this strategy often leads to procrastination, especially since those “favorites” often aren’t the most important or priority tasks. Since the important stuff doesn’t just disappear, I find myself cramming in order to fit everything in.

Something definitely had to change, and one morning during my daily devotions, I specifically prayed that God would help me get a handle on my poor prioritizing skills.

A few days later when browsing through stalls at a flea market, a thin book caught my eye. The odd title, You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School, peeked out from among a pile of dusty second hand books crammed into a cardboard box. I pulled it out and cracked it open to a quote from Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

The accompanying article explained the basic idea of tackling the most daunting task first, likening those tasks to eating a frog before getting to more appealing to-dos.There were many other useful anecdotes on getting things done, but this picture stuck with me, and I realized it could be the answer to my prayer for a strategy.

Since I’ve had a severe back problem from the age of ten, daily exercise and stretching has been a must to help me function through the day, but over the years, it’s become a chore that I sometimes dread. Getting this routine off my to-dos was definitely going to be my first “frog” of the day.

Identifying this and other “frogs” felt strange in the beginning, but this simple tactic has improved my work habits and helped keep procrastination at bay. Even on days when I don’t have time to write a to-do list, I still remember to search out a “frog” or two that need my attention first.

* * *

The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.—Steven Pressfield (b. 1943)

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My Life’s Heroes

By Iris Richard

   It was 1977, and Karl and I had left Germany the previous year in a camper. Our journey had already taken us through Italy, what was then Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and India. We hoped to make it to Nepal next, buy a mountain farm there, and settle in a peaceful life away from modern society.

   Our budget was tight, and we usually ate at small roadside cafés or bought food from local market stalls, so perhaps it was not surprising that I soon contracted viral hepatitis. By this time, we had reached a lovely bay on Goa’s coastline, but unfortunately there was no medical care nearby, and my health deteriorated quickly. Some curious locals noticed my desperate state, and took to visiting daily to feed me a diet of papaya and fresh coconut milk. Thanks to their help, I recovered and got back on my feet, 10 kilos lighter, but healthy again.

   When we finally made it to Nepal, we eagerly joined a Buddhist monastery for a trial period, but didn’t find what we were looking for. I believed there was something bigger than me, but I was confused. Which God should I to pray to? I often wondered while gazing at the multitude of stars in the Indian sky.

It was Karl’s turn to contract hepatitis next. By that time, we were on our way back to India, and I drove all night to find medical help, while Karl was sprawled in the back of the camper with a high fever. In the early morning, I found a lodge where a group of young European travelers were staying. One of them, David, spoke German, and he helped us find a doctor for Karl and a room to rent.

   David decided to stay a few days with us. “Let me read to you from the book that changed my life,” he said when we met the following day.

   Reading a short passage from God’s Word became a daily routine while we waited for Karl to regain strength. Before David left, he introduced me to his Savior, Jesus, and as a result His Words from the Bible became my guiding light from that day onwards.   

The Goan villagers were poverty-stricken strangers, but I owe my life to their compassion and concern. David was a stranger, but it’s thanks to him that I found God. My circumstances today are a result of the combined kindnesses of those selfless strangers I met in India that autumn.

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Creating Space

By Iris Richard

     I decided “better late than never” and ventured into something new and long overdue: at age 50-plus, I registered for lessons at a local driving school.

     To my horror, during just my second class, I was taken to drive in the chaotic Nairobi traffic. 

     “Try to create space around your vehicle,” was one of the first instructions.

     “Easier said than done when no one else seems to do that,” I mumbled nervously as I attempted to weave my way through rush hour traffic. Despite my efforts, I soon found myself sandwiched between overloaded minibuses blaring out rap music, motorcycles snaking between lanes, and a dump truck carrying heaps of garbage that towered over my compact car.

     “If you can’t have space on all sides, try to have space on two sides—and if not on two, then on at least one, front or back.”

     That even sounded like a lesson that could be applied to life in general when problems tower over me.

     As a mother of seven and a long-time Aid worker in Africa, I have experienced a wide spectrum of situations that included some so stressful that they threatened to test me beyond my limits. Whenever things felt like they were getting too much to bear, though, this promise would pop into my mind: “God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”[1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT]  

Some strategies that have helped me:

  • Create space. To be able to cope with demanding situations, I started taking short breaks throughout the day. These times act as buffers during periods when extra grace and energy are needed.
  • Be honest. I’ve had to learn to be honest with myself and others about my limitations. For example, my three-year-old grandson knows that I have a hard time with noise and respects that, which helps us make the most of our times together.
  • Make time. Our family has always tried to find time to talk things over, as well as to commit difficult issues to God in prayer together.
  • Accept help. Letting others help with stressful situations can be a lifesaver. It’s also a chance to forge deeper bonds through shared victories.
  • Give it a rest. Applying the “sleep on it” principle puts many controversial topics and unsettling issues to rest. It also gives God time to work things out.
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No Challenge Too Great

By Iris Richard

The voices seemed muffled as I slowly woke out of the anesthesia following a medical procedure on my back.

I heard the doctor’s gloomy prognosis: “She might not be able to live a normal life and certainly she shouldn’t have any children with a serious back condition like this.”

Another concurred: “She might be confined to a wheelchair from the age of 30 if the scoliosis keeps progressing as rapidly as it has been.”

When I reached home with my mother later that day, I locked myself in my room and sat by the window for hours, staring out at the grey, cloud-laden sky as tears rolled down my cheeks. All I could think of was spending life in a wheelchair.

I was twelve when I was diagnosed with a serious case of scoliosis in three parts of my spine. The diagnosis was followed by countless doctor and hospital visits. The scoliosis rapidly worsened—to slow the progress of the curvature, I began sleeping in a plaster mold and wearing a thick plastic corset during the day.

The song went out of my life, and I became shy and withdrawn, for fear of my crooked spine being noticed. I wore loose-fitting clothes to try to hide the slight hump that had formed on the right side of my back due to the curvature. But despite my despair, an inner voice cajoled me to not give up, and eventually, after months of hard training at physiotherapy, the progress of the scoliosis started to slow down.

With time, my faith in God also increased, and I realized that prayer was augmenting my success in achieving my life’s goals, despite the setbacks this chronic condition kept throwing at me. God sent special people into my life, like a gifted massage therapist who helped me for years with her services and friends who assisted me during the delivery of my seven children. I learned to live positively with this physical challenge and even improve my health. The forecast of being confined to a wheelchair thankfully never materialized, and the scoliosis hasn’t worsened.

Now, almost 50 years later, I am grateful for the obstacles that I learned to overcome. Victories over what seemed like life-threatening defeat were won through prayer.         

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. – Jeremiah 33:3

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The Jug of Oil and The Fuel Tank

One of my favorite Bible stories has also been a guiding light to me since I first started working as a volunteer in foreign lands back in 1978. Over the years since then, it’s served as both a promise I could depend on and a nudge I couldn’t ignore.

This is how the story goes: God had sent a drought to punish Israel for their wickedness, and the brook nearby where the prophet Elijah had been camping had dried up, as had his food supply. God told him to travel to a town called Zarephath where he would meet a widow with a good heart and faith in God who would provide for him while he continued his ministry.

As Elijah approached the city, he met a woman gathering sticks by the town gate and may have felt that this was the one God had told him about. Tired and hungry, he asked her for some water and a piece of bread.

She stared at him in disbelief and explained that she didn’t have any bread left and only enough flour and oil to bake a last loaf for herself and her son. She expected this would be their final meal before starving to death.

Elijah then asked an impossible favor of her: “First, bake a loaf for me and then one for your son and yourself.” Then he assured her that God would bless this sacrificial and unselfish deed: “There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” [1 Kings 17:14 NLT] The widow did as Elijah requested, and sure enough, the Bible records that from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out, and there was sufficient food for her and her family throughout the famine. God kept His promise. [See 1 Kings 17:7–16.]

Reflecting on my many years of service on a shoestring budget, I realize that I have a similar story to tell. It seems like we receive almost daily requests or pleas for help. Sometimes it’s a poor and sick unemployed single mother with a string of children, or a group of destitute elderly people we meet when taking a mission trip to rural areas, or a stranded stranger who has been robbed, or hungry orphans barely surviving in poorly funded institutions, or a neighbor who has run out of some item, and on the list goes.

In Kenya, the choice to give or to withhold presents itself many times a day, even when we are scratching the bottom of the barrel ourselves. With seven children of my own to raise, I often felt like I had a legitimate excuse not to give. But then I’d feel God’s tug on my heart, and I’d feel compelled to reach out to try to meet the need.

To this day, over 35 years into this giving spree, we still have enough. Our pantry is like the widow’s jar of flour that has never been empty, and our jeep’s fuel tank, like her jug of oil, has never run dry yet. The cycle of giving has been rewarded by refilling, then it overflows and we keep giving, only to be filled again with God’s goodness.

Because I have been given much, I too, must give: Because of Thy great bounty, Lord, Each day I live

I shall divide my gifts from Thee With every brother that I see Who has the need of help from me.

-Grace Noll Crowell (1877–1969)

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