Before the household awakens, I awake. It is a special time of day for me, to sit quietly while it is yet dark, to contemplate my God and my life, and await first light of the new day. I love first light.
It’s a few days before Thanksgiving Day, so I start my annual list of blessings. It is my very own tradition, one I keep while many of my beloved traditions have fallen away like autumn leaves.
I number gifts. Nothing is too small or insignificant. Some are manna in the wilderness. Some are as brilliant and beautiful as spring flowers. Others are like a star in the night sky, a beacon pointing the way through a dark and sorrowful season. But they are gifts, all of them, from a loving God who uses all things to work out good, bringing life from death and beauty from ashes.
I look around this old house; it holds memories a plenty. I am grateful for the dear ones who have graced us with their presence, who have shared themselves with us. My people are treasures, young, older, and in-between, unique like snowflakes, and I marvel at their warmth and tenderness, that they want to come, to be with us.
I count the ordinary – strong, hot coffee; comforty bed with warm blankets; indoor plumbing; food enough; squirrels that play in our little woods; good neighbors; sunny days and rain to water the earth.
I count the extraordinary – my prayer partner who still prays with me every week, us enduring more than a decade; playing in the band at church with those young enough to be my children and grandchildren; sharing music with piano students and hearing their joyful sounds; money to pay for unexpected and unplanned home repairs; God’s Spirit communicating with my spirit in ways that challenge me to change for the better and then giving grace to do it.
I ponder experiences that broke me open as I cried buckets of tears, running to the throne of grace for help in my time of need. Change and healing do come, the balm of Gilead, and compassion and empathy make their abode in me with a better understanding of my brothers and sisters.
I am astounded by God’s love, displayed through Jesus, how it moves me to surrender to His way of loving others. That kind of love transforms me.
Over the next few days I will add to my Joy List. As I consider what to record, I will look at the world with eyes of gratefulness and a heart of thanksgiving. I will see grace and beauty, faith and kindness, and I will know each comes from God whose essence is love.
Showers of blessings, like so many falling leaves, are all around.
“ . . . whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and He shines forever without change or shadow.” — James 1:17 Living Bible
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.
Each ending is a new beginning. I’m learning it evermore.
October felt strained, and I’ve been occupied, mind and body, with a flurry of matters. Reviewing my calendar page, I reflect as I examine it.
Journal pages record the stress of an expensive house project, days that were rushed as I went where I was needed and called, and our family’s effort at learning a new normal after death dealt a hard blow. It’s been emotional and turbulent, a difficult month.
While temperatures turned toward a fall climate, I made some small progress in the gardens that were neglected most of the summer. The tasks overwhelm. My body ached after a few hours, and I paid for it with restless nights.
I needed margin, and margins were thin. I felt the old tension of overcommitment, me running at a rabbit’s run. These days I prefer a slower tempo. An overly-full schedule does not equal the abundant life Jesus offered.
In spite of this, I was more diligent to write in my gratitude journal. Perhaps it is loss that makes us thankful for grace. I found myself looking for beauty in the midst of busy. I focused on the gift of relationships. I basked in the Presence of Jesus at a pause in my day.
As October ends with cold rain and winds that whisper winter’s chill, I am purposely evaluating my November. Each month gives me a chance to start fresh.
We enter the holiday rush, the press of activities, the pull to fill calendars to overflowing. Holy days meant for giving thanks for harvest and rejoicing over the long-expected Messiah have turned us toward excess, stress, and burdened hearts.
I want something different for the last of 2019.
Psalm 90:12 in essence offers a prayer: Teach us to reflect on the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom.
Brevity of life I know about. Growing in wisdom is what I long for.
As the day dawns tomorrow, I will begin it with the Lord’s promise, a whispered petition, and a meditation for my heart.
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. — Psalm 32:8 NLT
Reading Exodus 33 once again, I am struck by the audacity of Moses’ request of God Almighty:
“Show me Your glory.”
Oh God, we need Your presence more than Your good gifts.
We work for the stuff of this earthly life, houses, cars, trinkets, bank accounts, travel. We seek education, careers, and climb ladders to who knows where, hoping for a taste of fulfillment, to find happiness, to experience contentment.
We look for fun in the funniest of places, wanting something long-lasting, expecting it to satisfy, while it floats to the ground like dry leaves.
We spend our strength on things short-lived and temporal, that which passes away, leaving us searching for the next thing.
And all the time it is You, Lord, that we need. More than comfort, more than healing, more than gifts, more than answers. We. Need. You.
Give us hungry hearts. Give us ears to hear You and eyes to see You in our everyday moments. Show us how needy we are for Your Presence, Your Voice, Your Holiness.
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.
Before the days of ultrasounds and 3D imaging, I was left wondering if I would have a son or a daughter. When I became pregnant, there were no expectations of knowing until I could hear my doctor proclaim at the time of birth, “You have a boy” or “You have a girl.”
I don’t recall a secret desire for either. I just wanted a healthy baby. People told me they predicted a girl, something about the way I carried the growing life nestled under my heart. Some were convinced and gave me dresses at the baby shower given by the ladies of my church.
When I consider the morning sickness that lasted all day long, the girth of my belly, the stretch marks, the pain of labor and eventual C-section, it was all worth it. Seeing that beautiful round head as my doctor announced, “It’s a boy” veiled everything else.
The first time the nurse brought my son to the room and placed him in my arms, his eight pounds felt like the weight of the world. Realization hit me that I was responsible for this child. How could God trust me this much and was it really such a good idea?
I hoped to parent as I had been parented, with patience and kindness, lovingly nurturing my son and teaching him the ways of a world brand new to him. I failed a lot.
I was determined he would not be a shy child like I had been. I didn’t understand introversion, extroversion or personality types. What I knew was how I’d suffered from being painfully withdrawn. So I encouraged him to speak up, say hello, don’t hide behind.
One day while riding an elevator, this small boy of mine was friendlier to strangers than I was, and I knew I had nothing to do with that. This was who he was. His very own personality was blossoming before my eyes. I would discover him rather than make him into someone I thought he should be.
More than anything I wanted him to know Jesus loved him and to learn to love Him back. We went to church a lot. I read Bible stories. We talked about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I tried to point him in the direction of the cross while being woefully imperfect at modeling Christ-like character. I prayed for him.
When it became apparent that he would be our only living child, I packed away the dolls, small china dishes, a little bed and high chair my dad made for me, things saved in case we had a daughter.
We made room for trains and guns, matchbox cars and star wars figures, drum sets and bikes that let him do tricks down our lane as he called, “Watch this, mom” over and over.
I stayed up hours at night with him to help with homework. I walked the halls of the school, confronting teachers and going to bat for him, mustering courage that didn’t come naturally to me. I fought for my son, my inner mama bear emerging if I thought he was being treated unfairly.
He grew into a handsome teenager and girls looked his way. I turned over the keys to my recently acquired, new-to-me blue Nissan Maxima so he could take his date to the prom. He never knew how often I stood at the window watching him drive away from the house, praying for his safety, that he would return home in one piece.
I tucked him into bed as long as he would let me. Sometimes after a tiring day of working a job and working a home, he’d be in the mood to talk, and I knew these were precious moments. I hope I patiently listened despite my weariness. I hope that’s what he remembers more than when I was in a rush, was frustrated or short tempered.
He became and man and chose a wife, and I knew things were going to be different for me. I determined I would love the other woman in his life. I also understood I had been displaced from being the most important one.
Years fly by, as they do. Time, distance, and circumstances have taken us on our own paths. He isn’t close enough to drop by for a cup of coffee like he once did. But when he calls, my world lights up. His laughter is sweet like honey. He probably doesn’t realize how his voice on the other end of of my smart phone is sunshine on what might be an otherwise cloudy day.
As I look back over the years since his birth, I see how his very first tottering baby steps were leading him toward independence. His first day of school, learning to drive, finding a job, going to college, all of that was designed to take my baby boy into adulthood, toward becoming a man able to stand on his own. Had I considered it, I might not have been so anxious for him to learn to walk.
After I sent my boy a picture of the birthday box I mailed on Tuesday, he texted that he had forgotten. My response was, “I remember. I always remember you, your birth, your life.”
I identify with Isaiah 49:15 where God describes his love for Zion like this:
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.
How could I forget how he changed my life forever? How could I forget the child I loved when I only barely knew he existed? How could I forget this one who is always in my thoughts and prayers? I cannot forget.
I find it beautiful that the Creator gave us the privilege of sharing in the creation of life so we could understand on a smaller scale His magnificent, ever-faithful, unconditional love.
It’s my boy’s birthday today, and I thought of him first thing this morning, before I plugged in the peculator, before I washed my face or prepared to read my Bible. I thought of him. I can’t help but think of him. He is part of me in a way too mystifying to understand.
He has children of his own now and we have an understanding between us. His love for them mirrors my love for him. We get it, this inexplicable attachment and devotion, going deep into the heart and soul of us.
I heard this recently, that the heart has secrets no language can ever express. Indeed it does. For I will never be able to describe in words how I feel about this boy of mine.
Let it be enough to say, he is my son and I love him.