How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! Psalm 133:1
Arriving home late afternoon yesterday, my body felt drained from a long day, but my heart had been filled.
Sweet William and I attended the visitation and funeral of a long-time friend. Our lives intertwined with his family when we were teens, and while we’ve not frequented the same circles regularly, the friendship remained precious. He and his wife married the same year as us. Their first born arrived the same year as ours. She is an only child, like me. We were intermingled by in-laws, church community, and a long history of loving Jesus.
His service was beautiful, touching, bringing tears to my eyes as three ministers spoke of his life, his joy, and his faith. I hummed the old songs along with the soloists.
As anticipated, there were people from the home church where I basically grew up. I was only about 13 years old when I was first asked to play the organ for services, my knees literally knocking at times, the anxiety of wanting to play perfectly without really knowing what I was doing. Several people at the visitation reminded me I had played for their weddings five decades past. I smiled, remembering what a novice I was and what confidence they put in me for their momentous day.
I saw many of the church family who grew up with me. It was there we matured into young adults, married and had babies. The year our son was born, it seemed there was a baby shower every three months. I reminisced about the spirit-filled services, the powerful sermons, the youth choir that grew into an adult choir because no one wanted to leave. I remember the difficult musical arrangements that forced me to practice and become a better musician. The hours of music Sweet William and I played to prepare and serve added to good years and good memories.
These are the people who saw me, knew when I messed up, heard the words that should have been inside thoughts, and they still love me.
We are the older generation now, the ones with grey/balding/dyed heads, wrinkled and sometimes a bit wobbly, talking about our surgeries and the pills we take each morning to get us moving. We have pictures of grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren on our cell phones. We have buried parents and siblings. We have known joy and grief.
This is the church, the body of Christ, the family of God. It is imperfect and flawed because the people in it are imperfect and flawed, sinners who were saved by grace and are still learning to walk as faithful pilgims. We have lived and experienced life. We made mistakes, fell down and got up again, often with the aid of a fellow sojourner. We’ve grown wiser and deeper in our faith because we have seen God in the living and the dying, in the pain and in the celebration, in answered prayers and those we still wait and hope for. We know in Whom we believe as we wait for our imperfection to be made perfect one heavenly day by the grace of God.
It seems the church is suffering from bad PR these days. No doubt, people have suffered at the hands of individual church people. That does not make the Church of Jesus Christ a sham or fake. It is made up of broken people, redeemed by the blood of Christ, walking by faith and limping our way Home.
As I rested on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I began to clean up old text messages on my phone. The process stalled as I read texts from the ending of 2021, when Sweet William and I had covid, when my cousin died in December, when I fractured my ankle on Christmas Day. Contained in those typed missives were comforting words, promised prayers, and love that came through the key strokes. It was the church ministering to us and we were strengthened by their devotion and concern.
Countless times the church has come to our aid, bringing food, helping with household tasks, visiting and praying, even cleaning refrigerators and an overgrown yard. The church I know is going about the Father’s work, being the hands and feet of Jesus to such as I, again and again.
The church will one day bury me, as it did our friend yesterday, transferring his church membership to Heaven. They will bring food and their presence, sing the songs and speak the Word. They will offer comfort to family left to grieve and remember. They will be at my ending like they were at my earliest childhood.
In His closing remarks to His disciples, Jesus prayed that they might be one as He and the Father are one. It is a lofty goal among all of us who are so different and opinionated and sometimes even a little contrary. But the love Jesus gives, the love that fills us and binds us together, will make the prayer a little more of a reality.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.— Psalm 139:16
In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding Roe v. Wade, my thoughts return to the year 1973
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It was summer, and I’ve never been so hot in my life. I was full with child and due to deliver in July. Weekly visits with my OB/GYN were mostly reassuring, but her concern that I might not be able to deliver this first pregnancy naturally weighed heavily on my mind.
On the 18th of the month, her concerns were confirmed as she hastily scheduled a C-section, while Sweet William willingly signed permission, overwhelming concern for both mother and child, sex still unknown. Because it was 1973.
In a surgical suite instead of a birthing room, surrounded by masked medical professionals, I heard the first lusty cries and saw the beautiful round head of my baby boy. He was perfect, and I was in love with this fair-haired child. But then I’d been loving him from his beginning inside of me.
From the first, people said he was cut from the mold of his father. Except for his blond hair and blue eyes – Sweet William was the tall, dark and handsome type – the resemblance was striking. This son was the image of his father.
It didn’t take long until we wanted to add to our family. I’d been an only child, and while it was a wonderful life, partly because I had the cousins almost always next door as an integral part of my growing up, I wanted siblings for our son.
In 1976, I was pregnant and we were excited again, making plans for this second baby. But our plans were interrupted one night in June when pains began that were all too familiar. After a call from my doctor, we went to the hospital where I was put in a room, all alone, to wait for the inevitable. I was about 22 weeks along, and as the pains of childbirth bore down, the pain in my heart hurt more.
At the end of the miscarriage, I asked the attending nurse if I could see my baby. He fit in the palm of her hand, so tiny and so perfectly formed. I noticed his fingers and toes. And I saw that he too looked like his father. I could see the resemblence in the small features of this one born out of time, not nurtured long enough in the womb to sustain life on his own. Not in 1976.
I think of this child often. I wonder what he would have been like, his personality, his talents, his hair and eye color. I wonder how it would have been to have two boys running the halls of the house, sharing the bunk beds, playing and building, imagining and testing their limits, keeping each other’s secrets and standing up for one another. I like to think they would have been close, even with the sibling rivalry that comes with the territory.
Every time I hear of a woman miscarrying, my memory is fresh. I cry with her because I know what it is like to have life and love growing within, and I know what it feels like when that life is cut short.
But the connection of love goes on even when the child is not there to hold.
The abortion issue touches me because life is precious from its very beginning. In the 21st century, tests reveal pregnancy so quickly. I had to wait weeks to know for sure. Ultra sounds show a beating heart, arms and legs growing, a thumb in the mouth, creative beauty I never could have imagined in the ’70s. Couples have reveal parties of blue or pink to announce the sex of their baby months before birth because now they know. Technology gives real pictures of life in the womb. Life in the womb. We see it with our eyes. We know it. We cannot deny it.
It was 1973 when Roe v. Wade gave women the right to end the life of their unborn children. Did they understand the scope of the decisions they made? Did they know they would think of that life, cut short, for the rest of their days? Did they think about the tears they would cry at the sight of another’s baby or calculate the age of their child as the years go by? Did they have any idea the impact their decision would make on themselves and others? Do they wonder who that child might have been if only he/she had been given a chance to live? Do they wish they had made a different decision?
I ere if I think my actions only affect me, that it should not concern anyone else. Have we not learned that no man or woman is an island unto themselves? My decisions will impact generations. As a stone cast into the lake ripples outward, my choices and actions have consequences on humanity. Dare we compare our actions toward the most vulnerable to the butterfly effect? It bears examination.
The breath of God resides in a human soul, and who are we to decide when that happens? It is our right and responsibility to care about life, to nurture it, to do all within our power to protect and provide. We are made in the image of our Creator and yet we are dust, fragile and vulnerable with the power to create and also to destroy.
Life has potential, if given a chance to be born, to bloom and grow. Entrusted with this marvelous gift, let us not waste it, cast it aside, or consider it less than the marvelous wonder it is. Life is worth the cost.
I feel a call to stand for truth and to show compassion at the same time. There are questions to this issue. How do we care for the women who find themselves in difficult, what may seem impossible circumstances? How can we serve children, families, and individuals? How can we love the least of these, the ones Jesus saw and stopped to hear their stories. How can we offer hope and healing?
We are called to walk as Jesus walked, to pay attention, to listen and see. We are called to love. We are called to do something.
I remember the day she was born. I was seven years old, sitting on a bed in an upstairs room of my Gramps Lockard’s house, with my cousin Vicki who was five. Someone brought a phone to our ears and we heard Vicki’s mother say, “It’s a girl” from her hospital room somewhere in Louisville. Vicki and I were excited to have another girl in our close-knit family. Her brother Danny, at nine years old, would be the only boy in our band of four.
Somehow, we kids got to help pick the baby’s name, Candi Hope. What kind of parents do that? We were a different family people told us. We only realized it years later. Our mothers were sisters and our fathers brothers, making us double first cousins. As a child, it was hard to understand or explain, but the bond I had with these cousins was strong. Being an only child, they were my substitute siblings, my pals and playmates, my confidantes and comrades. For most of our growing up years, our houses were next door to each other. We kept a path busy between us. We grew up together, went to church together, took family vacations together, spent our holidays together. We became adults, and we built our own houses on the family road.
When my aunt brought Candi came home from the hospital, I thought she was my baby. I wanted to take care of her, and when she was old enough to sit on my hip, I took every opportunity to keep her close. She was adorable, round-faced and happy, eye lashes that would rival a movie star’s fake ones.
As the baby of the family, Candi bore the title well. She was outgoing and fun, almost always smiling, her laughter coming easy. She made friends quickly and kept them for a lifetime. She was popular at school, a cheerleader, member of the choir and debate teams. She peppered her mother with questions and was told she should become a lawyer because she could relentlessly argue her point.
She had style early on. I sewed clothes for her when she was growing up, and she picked patterns with specifics. She asked me to make her wedding dress because she found two dresses and wanted their features combined. I labored long and prayed to get it just right for her. On the night I finished the dress, I cried from relief. And she looked beautiful on her wedding day.
Sweet William and I gave up our apartment to her and her new husband, Flavius. We moved in with my parents until our under-construction house was livable. I thought on that recently, wondering why I would do that. The only answer could be that she was like my baby sister, and I was willing if I could make her happy.
She was a fashion icon, with a special storage place, build by her Flay, for all her shoes. So many shoes. Her outfits coordinated from the dangling earrings to the bows on her stilettos. Her best feature, when she dressed for success, was her smile, the kind that makes every picture taken of her a keeper.
As adults, we worked together in church, on children’s programs, youth drama groups, Christmas and Easter musicals and plays. We were both planners and into the details. For a couple of amateurs, we coordinated some major productions and high-fived every time it was over.
She loved to sing and became a soloist as a teenager in our church youth choir. The song I remember best is My Tribute. “To God be the glory, for the things He has done.” A song she learned in children’s church became her theme and motto: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” She turned to this truth many times when life didn’t make sense, when sorrow threatened to overwhelm, when God’s ways were hard to accept.
As a young wife and mother, she gathered children around her, teaching them the Word through song and joining her husband in directing children’s church. Many of those children grew to be adults and became her friends.
She welcomed her son’s friends with open heart and open home, providing loads of snacks and a place to spread out and be kids. I remember one video recording made at her house when one of the boys said, “Do not try this in your own home.” Candi and Flavius were gracious with the antics of teenagers, while looking out for their safety and not missing a chance to point them to Jesus.
Candi’s house was party central for family and friends. Any excuse for a gathering was joy to her, never happier than when surrounded by a crowd. She loved it when people filled her home, she and Flavius working side by side to prepare food and make sure everyone had a place at the table. It didn’t matter the mess that was made or the clean-up required later, her door was open.
She became a mother-in-law and welcomed a daughter into her arms. When she became a grandmother, she delighted in having Mamaw day once a week, cherishing special time with her grandboys. She invited their cousins to her house, the third generation of our interconnected families, where they swam in the pool, jumped on the trampoline, created videos, explored the bank to the river, and enjoyed being children under her watchful eye.
She trusted Christ as a child and lived her faith. She testified to her friends who were atheist and non-believers, asking questions, listening and respectfully presenting her argument for Jesus being the only way. After her beloved husband died, she dug into Scripture and studied Heaven, wondering what Flay was doing there, wanting to know the intricacies of the Home the Father has prepared for us. She led our family Bible study for a year, digging into the Word, wanting to know what it truly says, and presenting it to us while giving us room to discuss and think deeply.
In the year leading up to her husband’s death, she and I spent more time together. We were the only ones left on what had been our family lane. I walked to her house many days for what we called “porch chats.” Sitting on her front porch in the early morning, we talked. Mostly I listened as she processed Flavius’ declining health and then his death. Sometimes tears came, and it was OK. We wondered at the ways of God, the hard places of life, what it looks like to trust Him in the dark. In the two years after Flay’s death, our topics spread to politics, theology, business, family, Bible interpretation, the mysteries of life. Nothing was off limits. Mostly we concluded that we just didn’t know all the answers.
On Tuesday, she died too soon for me and our family, and I cannot imagine what the days ahead will be like without her. She was full of fun and laughter and lived life well, even in her widowhood. Her grief did not keep her from participating in the living world around her, in loving and being with people. I cannot imagine another Thanksgiving, Hot Brown Friday, or Christmas morning breakfast. I cannot imagine still being here on this lane and her not being at her house when I walk there. I cannot imagine not ever getting her text again asking, “Do you have time for a chat?” I look at her beautiful home and can’t imagine not ever gathering there with family, with friends, her lighting up the atmosphere with her welcome and smile. I looked at her jewelry collection and can’t imagine not seeing her fashion glam when she dressed up. I cannot imagine not seeing her on the stage of church, leading in worship with the team. I can’t imagine not hearing her voice again sing praises to God.
It’s December and Christmas is near. It will be different this year. I just can’t muster the strength for the holiday flurry. I’ve managed a few decorations for the house, the small fiber optic tree that Sweet WIlliam loves so much, a nativity set and some angels. Somehow I find comfort in the Christmas songs on the radio and I sing along. “Joy to the world the Lord has come” holds me together when I feel like I’m coming apart at the seams. I know there is Truth in the message of Christ’s birth when there are no answers to life’s hard questions. He is Immanuel, the with us God, who gives us the gift of His presence in our deepest despair.
I believe Candi knew something we didn’t. When she got sick, she seemed to settle the life and death issue quickly, while the rest of us wrestled with it and prayed for healing and relief. Just a few days before she died, she texted me her funeral requests, songs she wanted, verses of Scripture that were important to her, especially Psalm 139:18.
. . . all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.
She was at peace with God being in charge of her death, the way He appointed her birth and guided her life. I was amazed at her quiet confidence in the One who saved her and the One she followed in simple faith all her years.
We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. People loved her, cherished her as a friend and mentor. She probably didn’t realize the impact she had on so many. It is the way of a child of God who simply serves and loves and lives to the praise of His glory.
She knows what Heaven is like now. It is wonderful, beyond description. All light, no darkness or pain or tears or separation. Better than any travel destination. Yes. The mortal has been replaced with immortality, and life has never been as real, as wonderful and fair.
She called me “Cuz,” and that cousin relationship will always be our bond. But she was like my baby sister. Until we meet again in our Heavenly home, I’ll miss her always. Yet I grieve with the hope of another Time and another Place. Life without end. Seeing Jesus my Savior. Rejoicing with family and friends who will welcome me. Never separated again. Joy evermore. A continual Christmas celebration. All will be glory and praise to the One who made it possible.
I turned the calendar to December and thought to myself, “I’m not sure Christmas is coming this year.”
As the season of lights and trees, buying frenzies and parties unending approaches, my heart is heavy as one of our own lies in a hospital bed. Daily reports are up and down, back and forth. We rejoice in good news and then are cast to the ground in despair when the doctor gives his latest prognosis. It is a roller coaster of emotions and I can’t get my breath.
I cry and speak all the words I know to pray until I have nothing else to say. The Father knows what we need before we ask. Still, He invites me to come into His very presence and make my requests known. I have done that as much as I know how. I don’t know what else to do.
We pray. Friends and family pray with us. They help us carry this burden that is too weighty for us to bear alone. It is so far reaching I could not even count the miles as word spreads to pray for our dear one. I am amazed as the body of Christ comes together as one to agree in our petitions, for strength, for healing, for wholeness. It is as if we are really one, like Jesus prayed we would be.
I believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. I read that Jesus told His disciples to pray and not give up. I remember the story of a man with leprosy who came and knelt, saying “LORD, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus said, “I am willing.”
I want to see this mountain cast into the sea. I want this storm quieted by Jesus own words of “peace, be still.” I want Him to say to me, to all who are praying for a miraculous healing, “I am willing.”
That is what I want.
He holds life and death in His hands. He breathes and we live. He determines our birth and our life’s ending. He rules the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdoms of our hearts. He is God and there is no other. He will do what He will do according to His own purpose and plan. There is nothing to do but bow the knee to the King of kings.
While it may seem the world goes its merry way to celebrate with the excesses we human’s lean toward, I ponder what Christmas is: the Holy One who made Himself small enough to come and be like us, to be with us, to suffer along side us, to be in us. He came in the muck and mire of humanity, took on our feeble flesh and pointed us to Salvation. Because He is Salvation, the One and only who can save us from ourselves. This is the reason we celebrate.
Though the outward shell of this body wastes away, because of Jesus it is well with my soul. It is well with my dear one’s soul. She is His child. He loves her more than I do, and He will do all things well.
At my age and well into my seventh decade, I should expect it. But I’m still shaken to the depths at another good friend leaving this world for a one better.
She called me her ‘forever friend’ because of our early attachement to each other. In the basement of our childhood church, we often twirled to see whose skirt was the prettiest and the fullest. It was in this basement where we attended weekly children’s church, and the foundation of our mutual faith was built strong. We sang in a little-girls trio and made pretty good harmony. We were baptized at the same service. Years later we talked about the early years, how we first learned to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Savior.
My heart hurt yesterday after hearing the news of her death. Tears came freely and I gave in to the weeping, remembering Psalm 56:8 tells me my tears are acknowledged by my heavenly Father.
Lying in bed and ready for sleep, memories of our long-time friendship played in my mind. She and I were born the same year, and we both took piano lessons. As young pals, she often came home with me on a Sunday night to spend the days of summer until we returned to church again on Wednesday. She ate tuna fish sandwiches with me because that was my lunch of choice most days. She played with my dogs and rode my horse and entered into my life in a way that etched a permant mark.
As adults and mothers of growing children, we again shared church and life experiences. She and I played music for worship, her on the piano and me on the organ, and we could almost read each other’s expressions across the podium as we flowed with the leading of the Spirit.
Judy was an expert planner of events, whether a choir reunion, a women’s weekend meeting, Christmas tea parties, or our son’s wedding. I helped serve at a couple of the tea parties she hosted at her house where every detail was meticuolous and the house was rearranged to accommodate a crowd. The women who were seated at tables and served delicacies were astonshed at the preparations and felt loved that this was just for them.
She loved children in the way of Jesus who said “Let the little children come.” She talked and listened like they were real people. She catered to their special tastes and had the best treats tucked away in her tall kitchen cabinet. She made my grandchildren feel as special as I tried to. She was a pied piper of sorts, calling them to come and get some of her unique love.
Judy was a gift-giver at heart, the presentations always lavish with an extra amount of effort. Each birthday and Christmas, there was a lovely bag filled with surprises particular to me. Always there was something blue, like a teapot or tiny box, wrapped in tissue paper because she remembered my favorite color.
My friend offered me a safe harbor in 2003 when I was desperately in need. I recall with tears her gentle ways of welcome, the small gifts of kindness, the listening ear and non-judgment of the hard place where I found myself.
When a group of adults took a passel of teenagers to Michigan to do drama ministry, she saved us from a torturous trip home by offering air freshner and a clean t-shirt when one of the kids threw up in the car, spattering Sweet William in the process. It was anything but funny at the time, but we laughed about it years after the fact.
Soon after the death of my mother in February 1983, Judy asked me to teach a lesson on faith to her class. It was an incredulous request, I thought, since I was wrestling with my own faith in the throes of grief, and I was in a bit of a crisis. For some reason I said yes to her. In my Bible I wrote a notation at Hebrews 10:19-23, “my first sermon,” the date 3-18-83.
She asked me again and again through the years to speak, to teach, calling forth a gift in me I did not know I had. While music was my comfort zone of ministry, the Lord used her to lead me into an area of teaching. She was an instrument of His grace, iron sharpening iron.
This morning I think of the hole left in lives of her husband, her children and grandchildren, family and friends. Her influence was deep and wide, loving people in simple and profound ways. At this moment I can only think of her bright smile and laughter, not the way sickness ravaged her body in the closing years of her life.
People say, “She’s in a better place.” And I know it is true. The glories of her Heavenly Home do not compare to the beauties surrounding us on this earth. The Jesus she proclaimed to others as the only way of salvation is the Jesus she now sees face to face, beholding the glory of all His goodness.
I wonder how the heavenly reunion happens when a saint of God enters the eternal portals. Does word spread throughout the Celestial City that she’s coming? Do they get excited with the anticpated reunion, like I look forward to a visit from my dear ones? Do family and friends, the great crowd of witnesses, gather to greet and welcome? I wonder about such things.
If they do, then I picture faces of saints gone before. Judy’s parents and grandparents will be there. Friends she loved here will be among the crowd. My mother and dad might be on the sidelines waiting their turn to joyously embrace another soilder who has come home.
Home. Judy loved her home, making it beautiful and comfortable for all to enter and enjoy, touches of herself showing up in every room. Now she is Home in a way I can only dream about and look forward to when it is my turn to go.
My heart aches in the remembering today, but there is a sweetness present too. The love and encouragement she gave me, the welcome and smile that were as big as her hug and her heart, the way we walked the path of salvation together through many years, how she loved Jesus and wanted others to know Him.
My time of departure from earth’s hold will come one day. The years are mounting up faster than I can grasp, making me conscious of the frailty of life. I hope my story is one that points to Jesus, like Judy’s did.
I know there is something more than this life. Though it offers beauty and joy, it is mixed with the pain of sorrow and loss. There is another place, a place where the living God dwells in glorious unaproachable light, and He invites me to make my citizenship there, to be where He is. He has paid the price for me through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and He bids me come. Come home.
My forever friend will be among the heavenly throng welcoming me when it’s my turn to leave here. And she’ll be smiling with open arms as we share stories of amazing grace.
I am blessed to call you Father, to be welcomed into Your presence, the holy place of Your essence. You called my name and claimed me for your very own child. This is a high privilege and I am loved.
I thank you for the men who influenced my life and showed me what You are like, especially my grandfather and my dear dad. I am grateful for patriarchs of my family and for men in my life who walked in the faith, were strong and gentle, treated me with respect and honor, protected and provided for me, bent low to serve and held me up with their prayers. I am blessed to know your sons.
I pray for the fathers of this generation. How we need them to be steadfast and sure, standing true in the battle for souls, leading with firm resolve and gentle grace. They need guidance from the Holy Spirit and the power of love. Clothe them in Your righteousness and Your holy armor, for the battle is hard. Infuse Your Word into their minds to remind them what is at stake. Speak to them as you did to the warriors of old, “Be strong and very courageous.” Remind them this is Your battle and You are always with them.
I ask that you purify their hearts. Turn them from evil, the deceitfulness of riches, and the cares of life. Give them eyes to see the beauty of a precious child, the tenderness of a woman’s heart, the reward of being a servant to those in their keeping. Remind them that words can wound or words can heal and build up. Help them choose their words wisely.
Abba Father, I ask that they look to You as their only source, that they seek to be more like Jesus every day, that they live to please You above all and be filled continually with the Holy Spirit. May You shine in them and through them as Image Bearers of God the Father.
I ask these things in the name of Your Son and my Savior Jesus.
Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints. — Psalm 116: 15
I awaken to the thought, another sweet friend left this earth and made her way to the eternal home, the place Jesus promised He was preparing for us.
We make many acquaintances during a lifetime. Some deepen into friendships, kindred spirits and companions. There is the rare blessing when friends become family.
We met at church, our children small, and the relationship developed over years of gathering in the house of the Lord. Bonds of love grew as we united in worship, in learning the Bible together, and in experiencing the Holy Spirit in all His mystery. We played music together for hours upon end. No wonder Scripture admonishes us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Friendship blossomed.
Many years ago, I worked with a group of teens, and my friend’s youngest was part of the group. He was a character, funny, unpredictable, a challenge to the structure I was trying to provide. It was like herding cats, and I loved him. He became more than his teachers expected. We wrote letters while he was in the military. He is a strong and capable man today, and I’m proud to know him. He was my friend’s baby boy.
She and I talked about our children, our grandchildren, music lessons, weight watchers, and anything else that came to our minds. She was quiet and reserved in a group, but she laughed easily and opened up with a few close friends. This morning I remember her laughter and the happy expression on her face.
Friends who become family, these are the ones who come for the celebrations, pitch in when there is work to be done and stay until it’s finished. Friends who are family show up when tragedy strikes – the sudden hospitalization and unexpected diagnosis, the house fire that devastates, the illness that lingers long, and the news from across the world of a young life suddenly snuffed out. They come when only silent prayers are prayed, and they remain, their presence a comfort that needs no words.
My heart hurts this morning for the sister/friend missing from my life, for the richness of her loyalty, for the love she showed me. I grieve for her husband who faithfully walked with her and sat beside her bed until the final breath. I ache for her three strong sons, for their wives and for the grandchildren she dearly loved and delighted to talk about.
God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I struggle to understand what He does. I cannot fathom the greatness of His plan that encompasses the whole of creation, of which I am a small part. I experience the goodness of His grace as well as the pain and suffering of a world marred and broken by sin.
I feel the loss this morning, the long days ahead of missing one so dear, the empty place she leaves in the hearts and lives of those she loved and who loved her.
Today we weep. Our Father knows our aching hearts. He sees the tears and does not disregard them. He offers Himself as Comforter. One day He will wipe away tears. Until then, He promises a hope, a future, a Home with Him that will outshine the stars. We wait for it.
Home. That’s where my friend is today. She will be waiting for us.
Sitting in my rocker by the fireplace, window open to the every-changing Kentucky weather, I listen to rain drops and the chirping of birds in the little woods. A few hours in the comfort of home are not taken lightly.
Sweet William and I spent the closing holidays of 2020 in the hospital. Like many, this is a year of remembrance, its strangeness not ceasing even to the final day.
I recognized the seriousness of his health in the months leading up to a sudden doctor’s visit that began a roller coaster of emergency activities and a surgery we didn’t expect. We were on a ride controlled by something other than ourselves and our plans were laid waste.
Christmas presents sit unopened.
It’s interesting how schedules, lists, to do’s and obligations stagnate when life takes a sudden turn and all one can do is take the next step. It was survival mode for days, texting family and friends for prayer, weeping and leaning hard into Jesus. I kiss Sweet William’s cheek and tell him, “You are a warrior.”
Scripture is a promise to hold. Praise music permeates my atmosphere, driving out the darkness and turning my eyes to the One who is strong when I am weak. And I feel so weak, like a child needing to be held in her mother’s arms.
Great is His faithfulness.
In a year where we were distanced from each other, we were comforted from afar by ones we hold dear. Reassuring texts promised prayer and told us we are loved. Sounds of familiar voices, a little laughter and stories were a balm in Gilead. An actual visit in the hospital entrance found me sitting with two who were determined to feed me potato and ham soup that nourished body and soul. Another friend brought two bags of goodies: real tissues, gum, snacks galore, socks, and sanitizer, surprises I needed but didn’t know how to ask.
Hospital staff are kind, behind masks of protection, caring for Sweet William tenderly and competently. The attendant at the cafeteria gave me a cup of coffee yesterday, at first me not understanding when he said, “Just take it.” It was a welcome gift.
And I am awed at the love of God shown us through people. It is His way, His hands extended through His church, which is not a building or a denomination but flesh and blood, in the marketplace and in the corridors of everyday life. The body of Christ is active, living out His commandments to love God and love people. I have seen His glory, shining brightly in the moments of our days.
This morning I write in my joy journal because the gifts are many.
Friends who take care of Maisie while I’m away from home, loving her, feeding her, letting her out as needed, assuring me she is OK. Music to lift my spirit heavenward, reminding me of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness. Caregivers in hospitals who work with diligence, even on holidays and weekends, with a cheerful heart. Sweet William’s doctor, his expertise and skill, his determination to do what was needed. Greeters at the hospital who recognize me and speak kindly. Security guard who walked me to to my car late one night. The newlyweds who brought me a Christmas dinner plate on a frigid night. The ancient recliner in Sweet William’s room where I slept somehow. The little black Honda that gets me where I need to be. The comfort of a good dog. Neighbors who watch over the house while we’re gone. Family who are a treasure to this only child, who took us in to the circle of love many, many years ago. Our dear ones, miles away, brought near by their tenderness and love, and a cell phone with video chat. Ongoing texts from the multitude who promise to pray, who assure us of their love, who are life-giving to us in these hard days. The often written promise, “If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask. We are here for you.” Those who come, show up, do what I don’t even know what to ask for. Learning to love better through the actions of these good people.
It is a new year to remember. I take time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. I have no idea what is to come. What I do know with certainty is my Lord and Savior holds all things in His hands. His is trustworthy and faithful. I have seen it with my own eyes.
I’ve reminded myself of God’s message in the night hours before the frantic days of this last week.“Hope in God.” My good Father prepared the way before me, sent me His Word of invitation. I reach for Him and rest in His promises.
Death takes no holidays. It comes when we don’t expect it, though we may be anticipating its knock at the door, listening, yet not wanting to hear.
Another family member left this world on Saturday evening. She is the last of my parents’ generation, married to my mother’s only brother. It seems sudden, though my aunt tabernacled in her body for more than ninety years. Last November she drove to our Thanksgiving dinner, very much the determined, lively woman she always was.
She was a role model for me when I was still swinging my legs underneath the church pews. Though petite in stature, she seemed a giant sitting on the organ bench, playing beautifully, enhancing the worship experience. I was just a budding piano student, never imagining that one day I would take my place on the benches of organs and pianos in churches just like she did.
When my mother was dying, she came to watch through the night with me, in the living room of my parents’ home, while the household slept. We were more or less on level ground then, I also a married woman, both of us mothers of sons. Still I knew I was not her equal in any form or fashion. We shared similar interests and talked through the dark night hours of sewing projects, decorating, and music, waiting for the dawning of the day.
When my mother died, she and I got closer. She knew that kind of loss. We met for lunch sometimes. I stayed the night at her house, located closer to the hospital, when Sweet William had surgery, making it easier for me to come and go. I still remember the beautiful room she offered me.
She made muffins one morning and shared the recipe with me. It became a staple of mine on many a morning brunch or coffee with friends. I tweaked the original, calling it my Slightly-Famous-Somewhat-Healthy-Oatmeal Muffins, but I always remembered from whence it came and the day at her house where I first tasted the goodness.
When I got the news of my aunt’s death, I thought of her entrance to Heaven, the first sighting of her husband, her mother and father, her sister, the ones dearest to her. I thought of her greeting my mother and dad, my aunt and uncle, my grandparents, and saints gone before. And I know she saw Jesus, her Savior and Lord. What must that have been like for her? I can only imagine.
The passing of my aunt means my cousins and I are now the oldest generation of our close-knit family. That weights heavy on me today. Even one of us, my cousin’s husband, died last year, another anticipated but unexpected loss. We have walked a road of grief with one another all year, and I spend too much time in funeral homes.
In my seventh decade now, I feel the effects of living in a broken world, though I count the joys of my life more than the aches and pains. I have experienced much in the time of my sojourn. I look forward to living out the masterpiece of my destiny. Still, life is brief at its longest.
I’m convinced we were meant for more, eternity planted in our hearts by the One who made us and wants to share that eternity with us. I know in the depth of my being that there is something else, something beyond, something so glorious my mind cannot conceive it. I am longing for that place more these days.
As I watch the transformation autumn brings to the world, I sense the seasons of my life. The yard is peppered with fallen leaves, and I want them to hold to the tress a little longer so I can enjoy their changing colors. I hope the warm days stay awhile so the plants outside keep growing. I’d like to see the single tomato on the vine turn red. Yet I know cold and winter will come this year as it always does, sooner than I would like.
I talked with a friend today, expressing my heart, my concerns, my longing to stay strong in body and mind. If I allowed it, I could worry myself into distress. But I have a Father who is in control of all of me and much more. He has claimed me as His own. I have given Him my life to do with as He pleases. My days are His.
I rest in the truth of Psalm 62:11 and 12:
God has spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God. Also to You, O Lord, belong mercy and loving-kindness . . . (Amp.)
God is strong and God is good. That is enough for me.
I never want to wish my life away, but I wanted the week to be over.
Come the morning, and I waken to newness. It is fresh, untainted. Even my journal pages are still neat without the scribbles of changed plans, check offs, and scratch-through tasks I deem unnecessary.
Just for today then . . .
I simply want to know I am loved.
I need to hear I am accepted as I am.
I long to be called, “My child.”
I must believe I am forgiven.
I hunger for the comfort of the Kinsmen Redeemer.
Hurriedly dressing for early band practice at church, I grab my music bag and purse. In the car I turn on the radio and hear love songs on the Christian station I’m tuned to. I take them as a gift, an embrace from my Savior who hears the prayers from such as I.
I am assured . . . that I am lavishly loved, accepted in the Beloved, called to be part of the family, forgiven of all my sins, redeemed with shed blood, and rescued with an outstretched arm.