A text on a Sunday morning, read between band practice and the beginning of service, sets my head to spinning. Someone is in the hospital. It’s serious.
Sweet William and I go as soon as we can. We see the grave faces of the family, observe the mechanics of the ICU room, and gaze upon the stillness of our friend.
There is nothing we can do but offer love and prayer and our presence.
By the next morning, I hear of his passing. Another death in so few months. And I am broken open by a broken world where death comes without warning and life feels too short. I wonder how I am to live with the reality that all of us face the same end?
What is life about here on an earth that groans with its own longing as if in the pains of childbirth? I groan with it, eagerly waiting for the perfection of all things when tears will be wiped away forever.
I experience what is common to all. Birth. Death. And in between are a multitude of experiences, joyous as well as heart-rending. What is the purpose?
While living is radiant, joyous, abounding in good things, gifts from a benevolent God, there is the harsh reality of suffering and we are left wondering. In our hearts we know it isn’t supposed to be this way. We feel the call to the flawless Eden when God made everything and called it good, very good.
So we exist in the in-between of Eden and Heaven, with eternity set in our hearts drawing us to a higher and better place, where beauty exceeds our imaginations, where music is more splendid than we’ve ever heard, where suffering no longer exists and love permeates everything with an eternal light.
We wait for that glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait for all things to be fulfilled as God has ordained. The plan is beyond me. I cannot fathom in my finite mind what He is doing. But I know without a doubt He is working all things according to His excellent plan, and I rejoice and find comfort that I am part of His plan.
Until I understand more, I am told to trust. Believe. See His glory. Even when it is shrouded by a cloud of darkness and I tremble to approach. God dwells in light but He is also in our darkest nights. He never leaves us in our heartbroken estate. He is with us even then.
Yes, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, again and again, I know my Good Shepherd will be with me. I do not need to be afraid.
I look upward to the heavens, watch the clouds begin to mist away as blue sky appears. Even the blackest of night gives way to dawn’s radiance.
The morning will come. And it will be magnificently triumphant.
As the month of September meanders to its end, I glance backward to what lies behind me.
Those days have been hard, dry and cracked open with suffering. And how do we go on from here?
Three times in my seventy years I count the most sorrowful of seasons. All involved death, real and symbolic. As if something were being ripped from my grasp, my heart was left crushed, my soul whimpering.
I spent time wandering the wilderness of my own confusion, my questions were without answers as I watered my path with weeping.
Looking backward with the perspective of time and wisdom, I see lessons I was meant to learn. Though I felt alone, I perceive that God’s presence surrounded me. My tears were noticed, my groaning was heard, and the Father of all comfort drew nearer to me in my brokenness.
I bear the scars still. The wounds have healed but their evidence remains, a reminder that no one gets a reprieve from suffering in this fractured world.
As I walk beside others in their wilderness journey, I identify with their pain, remembering the aloneness and the desperation. I feel their longing for relief from the angst of this affliction. We enter into the fellowship of human suffering.
With thanksgiving, I recall the bright and beautiful days, the gentle meanders through green meadows, the soft breezes on my face, the sweet communion of friends in joyful song.
But it is in the dark, thunderous storms that my heart is tendered by my tribulation. Those were the times I ran to the gentle and strong Shepherd while wolves surrounded and I trembled in the unknown. His comfort and protection were what I needed.
While questions without answers raged in my mind and I couldn’t see farther than the next step, He who is the Way opened the door to Himself, and I ran to His arms.
While I learned to trust Jesus at my mother’s knee and from my father’s example, it was in the dark night of my soul that I comprehended a dimension of God I could not have known any other way.
If I could have chosen, I may have taken the gentle way, the easy path, but that would not have been the best for me. I would not learn endurance. I would not know peace in the storm. I would not experience a comforting Presence in my pain. I would not have empathy for my fellow sojourners. I would not see hope in a hopeless situation. I would not stand in awe of the brilliant stars in the blackness of night.
The ongoing oppressive heat of September mirrors the fire of tribulation I have felt. A lack of rain and a parched landscape reflects the stress of my soul, and even nature bears its own burden.
I am blindsided by heartbreak in a month I usually happily anticipate. It is the crisp coolness of autumn I crave as relief but a sweltering heat remains. Minds reel in the aftermath of death, me trying to make sense of what is beyond my understanding.
In some ways, life goes on as usual while nothing will ever be the same again. People I love are gone from this world, we have been broken and left to cope, to assimilate what cannot be grasped. A friend, a close family member, both gone from this world within a matter of weeks, will not smile at me, laugh with me, do life together with me, and my existence is changed forever.
I’ve been pondering last words and final moments. I vividly recall the last time I spoke to my friend and the last morning I saw my cousin. We always think we have more time than we do.
Memories can settle like comfort or regret.
I don’t often think about what might be my last words to someone: a quick good-bye to Sweet William as I rush out the door; a phone conversation with my son on his way to a job site; a text to the grandchildren, keeping in touch; the message sent to a friend, for information or connection.
Words can haunt or they can heal.
Words carry weight. They impress and imprint on our hearts in ways we can’t explain. We carry words spoken to us as children into adulthood. They encourage or they tear down. Words are powerful. Yet we throw them around carelessly, caution to the wind, using the same breath to wound as well as to bless.
What I say to people matters. I recall God saying life and death reside in the power of the tongue. It is a small fire that can warm us or it can break its boundaries and burn recklessly.
I preach to myself about the careless use of my voice, how it begins in my heart, thoughts that form sound and roll easily off my tongue.
It is time to examine myself.
I understand that sometimes we must have the difficult conversation. Conflict needs to be resolved. Personalities clash, but words don’t have to be weapons. Jesus never shied away from challenging encounters, but His aim was love. His intention was relationship.
In the days following the death of two dear people, I’ve caught myself in hurried and harried speech. Those words could be the last ones spoken.
I seek encouragement from Scripture: Set a guard before my mouth, O Lord (Psalm 141:3); May my words be those that help other people and build them up (Ephesians 2:29).
Let every word be a gift.
This is a tall order for me. I seek the very Word Himself, the One who speaks and worlds form and miracles appear. When He says, “Let there be,” it is. When He speaks peace, it settles like dew.
I need more than determination, more than turning over another dry leaf. So I pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, my Strength and my Redeemer.
His strength in me, His power doing what I can’t, His Spirit mingling with mine like refreshing rain on my parched, broken heart. He is my hope, my comfort, my life.
April is perhaps my favorite month of the year. It offers a beauty not easily compared. Shades of green, abundance of color, redbud trees, Bradford pear and azaleas glowing at the front of the house. Rabbits hop and birds sing and build nests. New life flourishes, and it is my time of year.
There was heartache this month. Friends suffer, and we hurt too, not in the same way, not to the depth of their grief, but we feel a measure of pain.
Prayers Sweet William and I prayed were answered, but not how we wanted. I struggle to understand and find myself saying, “I don’t understand Your ways,” to the God who’s providence is certain, who’s sovereignty is sure.
At those times, once again, I make a choice to believe that He is good, that He is strong, and that He is kind. I choose to trust through tears, bending my knee in surrender, letting go of my desire to make sense of how life happens to us all.
I read Scripture and know there is truth in the ancient words. They point me in the right direction, even when I cannot see the end of the journey or fathom what God is about.
Obviously it is the month of yard work. The hum of lawn mowers pairs with the smell of newly sheared grass. After days of kneeling then struggling to get up, pulling weeds, and generally hard work, the front yard is presentable, almost charming. Let’s don’t even talk about the back yard. It waits for another day.
A friend and I went to the movies to see Unplanned. I thought it was well done and presented a side of the abortion industry we don’t see on nightly news. Let me brag a little by saying our son worked on Unplanned, and I’m a proud momma. Seeing his name on the credits at the end is thrilling. Just sayin’.
It’s been so Springy around here. Along with flower kaleidoscopes and the greening of the little woods, bird nests abounded. A dove built in the clematis outside the bedroom window, and I spied a robin’s young in a metal structure in the front garden. On walks I watched geese sit through rain, heat and cold, and a neighbor said a wood duck nest was hidden in his wood pile.
This month I saw the baby goslings hatch, from a distance of course. Of all the years of geese at the lake across the road, this was the first time I witnessed new babies bob and sway, learning to stand for the first time. I called for my little neighbor, four-years old, to come see, because this needed to be experienced with a child.
The same day we saw the mother wood duck hurry across the field toward the little woods with seven or eight little ones following behind. Springtide was delightful.
I read two books written by people whose lifestyles are very different than mine. I wanted to understand. Too many times, I’ve made judgments based on what I think I know instead of learning about the experiences of others.
As I study the life of Jesus, I see how He loved people right where they were, knowing all of the paths that brought them to that place. His compassion reached out with an understanding heart, a crystal-clear awareness of their hurts and how He could offer healing. He tenderly offered a better way.
I want to love like that.
I enjoyed time with my people, both young and older. I spent a day each week with women in Bible study who challenged me. We bonded afresh. They probably don’t know how much joy they bring to my heart.
I fixed quiche for a young woman my granddaughter’s age and heard her perspective on growing into adulthood. I was refreshed by another who is young enough to be my daughter. Among the things we share are music, teaching, quilting, and theology. Over brunch and coffee, we didn’t lack for conversation and laughter. We occupied the table until the lunch crowd began to gather.
I am a rich woman and Queen of Quite-a-Lot as a result of these extravagant relationships.
Sweet William and I are coming upon our one-year anniversary of having smart phones. I hesitated getting one because I didn’t want it to become an appendage, a thing I have constantly at my fingertips.
That has been challenging, and I’ve caught myself texting while trying to listen to Sweet William at the same time. My focus is divided sometimes. I’ve made good use of GPS and enjoy the convenience of apps, yet I still must guard against letting this piece of digital material direct my moments, let alone my life. Sometimes it feels like a noose around my neck with it’s nagging insistence to pay attention to it instead of people in front of me.
A favorite quote this month by Manisha Thakor: “The internet is both a lifeline and a plastic bag over my head.” Yes, that is it. The internet is convenient, gives me access to the world’s information, answers my questions, shows me the way to my destination, makes shopping simple, lets me communicate quickly, and in many ways makes my life easier.
But, it can become suffocating trying to keep up with all that it offers. I’m not on Twitter or Linkdin, and I’ve decided I can’t do Instagram. I thought I could add it to my online stash, but I found myself thinking how I needed to take a picture of the baby goslings wandering my yard and post an appropriate saying for the world to see instead of simply enjoying their cuteness.
I don’t judge the way others use the internet, social media and the world wide web for jobs and communication, to connect and post beautiful photos. I enjoy looking at other people’s pictures. I keep up with my family through Facebook. I use the web to interact, send messages, and post this blog, hoping someone out there is reading it.
As I read and learn, work and play, I want to live an authentic life, my own and not someone else’s. Every person has gifts, strengths, talents. Sometimes I’ve tried to be like someone else, and it has proven false and unfulfilling. I recognize my skills and aptitudes and where I am most fruitful. I also know my weaknesses, areas where I am less than.
It’s an ongoing quest to live the life I’m called to live. It has taken me years to discover this truth, and I continue to learn.
At the end of March, I said April was the new January. It has been that for me. Stretching and growing, working and loving, resting and refreshing, and choosing to be happy. This is my one wonderful life.
I heard someone say joy and sorrow run together like train tracks. We experience both at the same time. And so it has been this beautiful month of April. The glory of new life bursting forth, the celebration of Resurrection and Christ’s victory over the cross have been reasons to rejoice.
At the same time we have wept with those who weep, grappling with death and what it leaves in its wake. Sadly the grave is still part of this life. Because this is not the end of it all. Heaven is real and one day we will greet those we struggled to let go before we were ready to say good-bye.
The hope of Israel comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, humbly yet with the air of royalty. This man is different, unlike others before. He holds crowds sway with His words of authority. He speaks and dead men live again, the lame walk and the blind see.
He confounds the wise with His stories and calls out the motives of the powerful. He walks on water and calms the wind like a restless child.
He keeps company with an unlikely and rowdy bunch, parties with publicans and tax collectors, and has intimate conversations with outcasts.
As he rides into the city amid proclamations of Messiah, knowing that their honor will be short lived, He sees the heart of the matter. He perceives the thoughts and intentions of those giving Him praise now.
While the parade proceeds, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of year-old sheep are being chosen and affirmed Passover lambs. One lamb for each family, it is marked for death in just a few days. As households gather for their annual celebration meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread, they will tell the story of their deliverance from Egypt and hope for another Deliverer.
Do the people fully comprehend that here He comes, riding on a donkey? This One was proclaimed Lamb of God by John at the river Jordan. He is the One Abraham prophesied, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” On this Sunday, designated now as Palm Sunday, He is marked for death in just a few days. Crowds will gather at the foot of the cross as His blood pours out for whosoever will.
He is Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He has come to set us free.
I gladly admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
That does not negate the fact that Christmas is designated as the date for the birth of Jesus, and Easter is the day I celebrate His resurrection. But those holidays have morphed into something different, something other than the sacredness of the original. Thanksgiving, however, still calls us to give thanks, to gather with our family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of a God who gives good gifts.
As the day approaches, I ponder how we will celebrate this year. Our menu remains relatively the same, each of us cooking our special recipes, but there will be differences in us. Because families change.
When I was young I celebrated with my parents and extended family. Me being an only child and my mother and aunt being sisters/best friends, the family units combined to make one big happy one. As my cousins and I became adults and added spouses and children to the mix, place settings were added and the house got a little louder.
I recall the first emotional change for me. It was the year of my mother’s death. Thanksgiving approached and I could not wrap my mind around doing it without her. She had been a vital part of the day, cooking with my aunt, her voice and laughter ringing in the kitchen where steam rose from the stove and aromas led us to ask, “Is it time to eat?”
I asked Sweet William to take me away that year. I could not act like everything was the same, because it wasn’t.
Through the decades, members of our family have been added and subtracted. More often our circle grew, but sometimes it diminished due to death, divorce, travel or a move.
An open invitation policy meant we might have new neighbors, a pastor’s family, or friends needing a place of welcome. It was interesting to see who was at our Thanksgiving table.
This year, once again, I long for my dear ones in a distant state. I miss my dad, gone from us five years now, and remember how his birthday often fell on Thanksgiving day. I miss others who have not been at our table for many years. We have adjusted to their absence. But we don’t forget their faces, their laughter, and the richness they brought to our lives.
Friends come to mind who face the struggle of a loved one gone this year. My heart hurts with them. The first year is the hardest people say. But grief is not on a timetable. We must give place to the heartache, allow the tears to come and vent the sorrow. We need to be patient with ourselves as we work our way through the loss. Because joy will come in the morning.
Thanksgiving will always be my best family holiday. There will be hugs and laughter, deep discussions and funny stories, memories and questions. After dinner, the older men will meander to the couch to watch football and maybe take a nap. The women will browse Black Friday ads, whether we intend to go out or not. We’ll talk, circling around one subject and then another, never missing a beat. The young parents will discuss politics, careers, home, and children. The kids will be on an adventure of fun.
We will look around and be glad for those near. We will give thanks for those who have come and gone, remembering how they impacted our lives. We will wish for days when the entire family will be together once more.
We will remember God’s faithfulness through all the years of our lives. And we will give thanks to the One who blessed us with all of this.
October is two days gone and I’m already behind. It’s like being on a speeding locomotive, the months of this year moving so quickly. Before I twirl around a couple of times I will have whizzed through Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it will be next year. Stop! Slow down, please.
Kentucky weather is interesting if nothing else. I had to grab my corduroy coat, complete with scarf, hat, and gloves for my morning walk in October. Maisie wore her purple “Woof” sweater. It was way too soon for both of us.
The few days that were warm enough for me to sit on the deck with a cup of coffee were especially enjoyable, maybe because they were rare. Isn’t it like us to finally appreciate what we’ve had a-plenty but now long for? We become satiated and lose the enjoyment of the abundance we possess.
Having dismissed the yard work for the season, I did plant a couple of tiny trees in my cousin’s yard. It’s what I can do for her and her husband after a summer of dealing with illness and recovery. I’m praying those little saplings dig their roots deep into the earth and flourish next spring. New life speaks the language of hope.
Sometimes in our enthusiasm, we want to do great things for God, large and far-reaching. With the wisdom only living gives, I perceive it is in doing the simple and ordinary that we descern the pleasure of God. “Do what is in front of you.” “Do what you can with the gifts you have.” “Do the small things well with love.” Yes, that is the guidance presented to me.
I got to visit my younger friend in an adjoining county. Going alone this time, I was quite confident with my trusty Gypsy (GPS) telling me where to turn. Even at her directions, I passed the drive to my friend’s house, which happens every single time. The trees and telephone poles all look the same along that stretch of highway.
Arriving at her house, she showed me her latest project. She’s always got one in progress. Her home is comfortable and beautifully decorated. We ate and chatted about family, faith and things familiar to us until it was time for me to go. I’m so thankful she reached out to me a couple of years ago, just a message on Facebook that lead to a connection and friendship. God does amazing things when we are open to His leading and then open our hearts.
The book most impacting me this month was Hiding in the Light , autobiography by Rifqa Bary. Her story was in the news in 2009, a Muslim teenager who found Jesus as her Savior, with the resulting conflict in her family. It was a gripping story, a glimpse into a different faith and a young woman’s courage, and a striking contrast of God’s grace. Highly recommended.
Sweet William and I played old hymns at a dinner for the widows at church. It was an elegant and detailed event to bless the women and show them love and support. The songs stirred up memories for all of us, I think.
It was satisfying to be at the keyboard and guitar once again. There were years Sweet William and I joined the band every single Sunday, playing loud, playing long, worshiping God with the gifts He gave us. We reminisce about those good years of serving, how our hearts were tuned in to the worship, how the Lord showed up in our praise and blessed as the Spirit moved among us.
There’s one song I’ve been remembering and singing. My favorite version of “Ain’t No Grave” is by Russ Taff. His excitement is contagious, and I want to celebrate with him. I notice that when I talk of my age I’m speaking in decades now. My years are adding up swiftly, and I’m trying to come to grips with its brevity.
My body feels the affect of living long in a broken world. I move slower. I am concerned about balance and the risk of falling. I pray to stay strong and for my knees to last. I do things I hope will keep my mind sharp. I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned through books and experience.
If Jesus tarries coming for His bride, one day my life here will be over and I will go by way of the grave. There’s no fear or concern in that. I’ve rested my hope in a risen Savior who defeated death and handed that victory to me. It will be glory. And there “ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down!”
Bible study has been a major part of the last two months. The women who gathered at our table each week, have no idea how they bless me. We are hungry to know God, stretching our faith to Believe Him. I’m coming out of this study richer for the fellowship as we journeyed together. We bond as we open God’s Word and share our hearts with each other.
The month of October has been busier than usual. I’m still trying to figure out why, hoping to plan a quieter, less stressed November. I think it is possible, even in a culture that presses me to believe enough is not really enough.
Time has limits, the same as my body, my finances, my resources, my years. Autumn reminds me to slow, to observe, to turn loose, to draw upon the blessedness of my existence and believe my Creator has it all in His hands. Contentment continues to call me with an alluring voice. “Come, be filled with joy in the abundance of God’s bountiful gifts.”