Saturday, June 6, 2009

Faith in a God who is Faithful

Faith is an important word at any time, but it needs to be clarified. Faith in what? Or better yet, faith in whom? In a world where we can't have faith that our jobs will be there in 10 years, where families who have pledged to be faithful to each other break apart at an alarming rate (even in the church), it becomes apparent that the things of this world truly cannot be where we put our faith in.

The above picture is of a Christmas ornament I made for Lois about 5 years ago. It survived the fire (as charcoal!) along with the 9 others I made her because they were in one of our M&M Christmas tins. It survived the fire (with damages) because it was protected. Our family has survived (and even at moments thrived) the fire because of the gift of faith in an amazingly faithful God. God has been our protection, holding our family, our marriage, and our home together. We are not without our damages, but we want to proclaim to the world that the house has been burnt, but the home is not destroyed, because of a mighty Savior who has chosen to show mercy to us. In moments of doubt and discouragement over the last few months, God has time and again shown himself to be kind, gentle, and faithful to the Dueck 6.

Family is truly a gift, and are thankful for supportive parents, siblings, and extended family who continue to pray for us and help as they can. Lois' mom came for Easter, and we all got dressed up to go to church. Our boys were blessed with about half a dozen suits from one boy in town who went to a lot of weddings over the years! I got some new clothes from my folks shopping in Phoenix, and I continue to ask Lois and Lorianne when they pull out some really nice clothes "Where did you get that outfit?" and the answer usually is "I have no idea!"

The kids received a lot of gifts after the fire, including these handmade sweaters from our only neighbour on George Rd (it was their house we were heading to the night of the fire). They all also received homemade blankets from people we had never met (both for summer and winter!), and lots and lots of toys. When we went "Garage Sale"ing in Winnipeg in May, there was a few times where we shared with people why we were buying so much stuff. Most were shocked that we had lost everything, and just loaded up the kids with all sorts of free stuff! They thought that was great, and have enjoyed the chances to buy things after hearing their parents say for years "You don't need anything." Lorianne was in Winnipeg this past weekend, and she ran into a friend from Princess Margaret School, who at her birthday party had asked friends to bring money for her. So Lorianne received $82 that her former school friends had collected for her - wow! God's grace through others.

Our kids have had lots of adventures in the past few months which have been kind of overshadowed by our house situation. Caleb and Lorianne were involved in the Donald Young School Suessical Musical back in February, and preformed 6 times to over 700 people. Caleb was the lead role of Horton the Elephant, a kind caring, and responsible soul who saves the tiny planet of the Who's. He was very suited for the role (he is kind, caring and very responsible), and did a fabulous job, singing over a dozen songs, including multiple solos. Lorianne was a dancing Bird Girl, and was her energetic and loud self, having a blast with her friends. I enjoyed being a "prop guy," meeting new people and serving behind the scenes.

Exciting news around here for our children has also been the arrival of our first ever kitten, Pebbles. One of Lorianne's cats had 4 kittens, but only one survived (which was a blessing, since we only wanted one!). We have learned lots and had lots of fun watching him grow up. We had to move our cats back to the property because they were being a nuisance in town (that was how Seashell ended up pregnant), but it gives us a good excuse to head out there often to hang out at the old place. Pebbles is actually Stephen's cat, and so he has a pet back. Joseph is thinking he might get a goat instead of a guinea pig, but Lois says she gets her chickens first! Both will have to wait till next year though, since we have enough going on this summer!

It seems that in all we do, the fire is not far from our thoughts or day-to-day reality. Lorianne was involved in a speech competition at school and she titled her speech "Facing your Fears" and shared about her life after the fire. The speech was truly moving, and I am humbled that God has gifted our girl with the ability to speak so well, and from the heart. She won for DYS, and went on to represent the school at the district championships in Fort Frances. If you want a refresher on what the fire was like for our family, and want to hear how Lorianne has wrestled with fears through the help of God and others, I encourage you to click on the link below and listen. It is about 4 1/2 minutes long. (We recorded her at home)

What Lois and I have been up to:
Two weeks ago, Lois and I celebrated our 16th anniversary, and I can honestly say I love my wife more today than I ever have. Truly God has protected our marriage in these last few months, and we thank those of you who have been praying for us. Dealing with thousands of dollars and making hundreds of decisions isn't something we are used to, but we still manage to smile most days as we plug along. Here are some of the things we have been up to:

We now own two vans that look almost identical. We had the old one parked with the seats out (its reverse still barely works) for a month but re-insurred it to take to Wpg as our "truck" for the Whyte Ridge Garage sale weekend in May (we did bring it back almost full!). We will keep it going until we are moved in in fall, and then see what happens.

Through the generosity of a logger friend from church, we have a place to sleep on the property - a bush shack! It sleeps four and our "truck" sleeps two, so we can all camp out in relative comfort. Right now the shack is sitting on our old house concrete pad, but when the building starts in a few weeks, we will move back into the bush, so that we can be away from the noise. The plan is to camp out there as much as we can this summer, so we can still get the benefits of the bush that we so love.

Lois was thankful to be able to hold the last of our kids Sunday School Class parties at the end of May. There were about 20 of us who went for a hike on our property to Humble Hill, which is about 1/2 mile from our driveway. It was a beautiful day, and we showed off God's creation, and had a competition to see who could get the most ticks - the winner had 13! The church continues to be a place of learning and growing. God used the book of Habakkuk to preach to me as I preached it to the church. The closing words of the book point to the truth that joy in the God of our salvation is possible, no matter how rough our finances our, how hard the relationships are, or how many decisions need to be made. Habakkuk lists all possibilities of financial ruin for his people, yet he still clings to his faithful God (very different than his response in Chp 1. Check it out for yourself.)

3:17Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

How are the feet?

We still get asked about our feet periodically, and I respond by saying the kids are fine, and I am jogging again. In fact this past Saturday, my feet ran faster than they ever have before as I was running in the Willie Walleye 5k race in Baudette, Minnesota. Me and the boys took the 45 minute drive early Saturday morning, and they had a great time cheering me on and taking pictures. I told them my fastest time to date was 25:34, and that if I beat 25:00 we would all get slushees (sadly, there are no 7/11's around to by a slurpee!). Well, to their surprise and mine I actually ran the race in 24:34, which meant that we all got a drink and I also received a medal for being third place in my age bracket (middle age guys -30-39). It was a lot of fun, and I am thankful to be able to do something to keep myself in shape.

So what about the New House?

Well as I mentioned in an email, God wowed both the insurance adjuster and us back in April by having all four bids for our house come in with less than 6% difference. He said that was the closest bids he has seen in years! We will receive $265,000 to replace our house, which is amazing (but as we are discovering, very easy to spend!). We have chosen a local contractor named Gerald Wieringa who attends the local Christian Reformed church (actually most of the carpenters in town go the CRC- we have the loggers at CBC, they have the carpenters!), and he has been very helpful in helping us decide what kind of house we should build, and if we can afford what we want. Preliminary drawings were done up by a friend, and have been sent to the architect. While right now the house site looks like this:
(You can see the location of our new house in comparison to the concrete pad which was where the old house used to sit on)

When it is done it should look something like this.

While we are incredibly thankful to God that we will be able to build such an amazing house (we always liked the idea of a wrap around porch!), it has never been a dream of ours to build a house, and the amount of work involved has been trying at times. Lois and I have asked for advice from many people in this whole process, and it is amazing the different opinions you get when you ask how to build a house! We have looked at magazines, catalogues, and I have spent hours at Tompkins Hardware picking out windows and planning window sizes. We are learning patience (the plans were delayed by about 3 weeks, which I believe is God's way of saying "Just take it easy, this is going to be a long process - why don't you relax and trust in me right from the beginning), and look forward to seeing concrete poured, walls come up, and all the rest that comes with new house construction. And in regards to actually receiving $ to rebuild the house, God has again supplied, and we already have $190,000 in the bank waiting to be spent. As we have heard so many horror stories in regards to insurance, that in itself is a testimony to how God has worked on our behalf.

"You know who I work for" -The miracle settlement of our Contents

Of the three major things you have to do after a total loss house fire -list the entire contents of your house, redesign your old house to get an accurate amount for rebuild value, plan and design a new house - the one that has actually taken the most time so far has been listing our contents. After a few months of working with Barb from e-adjuster in Winnipeg, Lois and I by God's grace and with our minds still intact, completed a list of over 2500 items that were printed out in two booklets totaling 230 pages (You really can tell a lot about a person from what they own - we listed over 1200 books, and only about 30 DVDs!) Supposedly we listed twice as much as most people, which is mostly due to God bringing things to mind, and the fact that we had just moved twice and recently had handled much of the stuff as we set up house (even though were not yet finished unpacking all things).

Once we completed our list of items Barb and her amazing computer program put a replacement value to everything we last, as well as a depreciated value of the item based on age and the type of items. The replacement value is the amount of money they would give us if we actually went and replaced things, while the cash out payment would be made at the ACV (actual cash value) depreciated amount, which is on average 42% less. The big "fight" with insurance companies is always trying to get more than the ACV in a settlement process without having to provide receipts for everything, which is what you are required to do if you want to receive the RV and not the ACV.

Lois and I knew that we did not have the time or energy to replace all of our stuff and to match up every item on every bill with a numbered item on our contents list. Also it would have been almost physically impossible to spend $150,000 in the next couple of months, which is what we would have had to do to get our full RV. So we prayerfully looked at the list of items, and wrote a letter explaining our situation, and then asked for an extra $31,000 on top of the ACV that they were required to give us. I presented this request to our insurance adjuster Keith in Fort Francis, and he looked at it and said "I don't think it will work. You might get $6 -8,000 more, but that is it. They will let me know and we can talk." He submitted our request to AVIVA in Toronto, and said wait a month for the response. That was at the beginning of May.

On May 26, 2009 I went to Fort Francis to pick up the two cheques (house rebuild + contents), and was mentally gearing myself up for some serious negotiating. People were praying for me, and Lois and I had decided that even in the end we would take whatever they offered, because we were too tired to fight it. I got to my meeting, after visiting for a bit, Keith handed me the two cheques. To my amazement the contents' cheque was exactly (to the penny) of the ACV plus the extra we had asked for. I was stunned. "You mean they accepted my offer without any comments?" I asked. "Yes," Keith replied "and 99% of the time that does not happen." "Well," I said "you know who I work for!" To which he responded "Yes I do, and I guess He gets the credit."

How do we respond? God again, as with the house replacement value, has demonstrated his sovereign hand over the things of man. He has chosen to reveal his power, even though my faith had not believed it possible (at least not to such an overwhelming extent). God has glorified himself before many people, and we have benefited from his grace. Our bank account has more money in it than it ever has before, and we can throw away the hundreds of receipts we have been saving (yeah!) for months, because we don't have to spend hours trying to match them up. We are free to buy what we want when we want, and to use God's money to equip his people and extend his kingdom however he leads us. We are humbled, and thankful, and rejoice.

Lois has been reminded recently of a verse in Zechariah 4:6 "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts". That has been so true in our case. God and his Spirit have worked on our behalf. We have not had the might or the power to accomplish things. We have done what we could (He provided the strength for this too) and have committed it to His care. Time and again God has blessed us beyond what we deserve, and we know it is because He desires to glorify Himself to the watching world in our lives, and because He delights in answering the prayers of his people. We have had many opportunities to share about His goodness, and what it means to trust God in times of suffering, and we know there will be more to experience and more to share in the weeks and months ahead. The Adventure with God really never ends. Let's continue on the Adventure together - Go with God, He is good always and life is never boring as you follow His lead!!!!

Please pray for the following adventures this summer:
-Celebrating Conrad's parents 40th anniversary at cabins with the whole family in July
-Building a house and making decisions (The "plan" is to have the house finished by mid October)
-Lois and Lorianne helping with the local DVBS program in the preschool area. Lois is the Preschool Director and wanting to mentor Lorianne and other youth in using their gifts to serve God. This is all new territory. We will need God's wisdom and strength. "When I am weak, he is strong" "God in me the hope of glory"
-Using time, money, and energy wisely and in a way that honors God and keeps our home balanced.

Thanks so much for joining us on our journey!