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Life is beautiful

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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

Bob Russel, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY wrote a compassionate and wise response to the Supreme Court decision. Read it here.

I post this on my birthday, giving thanks for my mother who chose life for me. So I offer this prayer:

Father in Heaven,

That Your ways have been written into the human body and soul
there to be read and reverenced, thanks be to You.

Let me be attentive to the truths of these living texts.
Let me learn of the law etched into the whole of creation

that gave birth to the mystery of life
and feeds and renews it day by day.

Let me discern the law of love in my own heart and, in knowing it, obey it.

from Celtic Benedictions by J. Phillip Newell

photo by pixel.com

Sunday grace – taste your life

Years ago, I learned the value of slowing down when I ate. I was watching my weight. Food was limited. I wanted to enjoy every bite.

I am also a sipper of coffee. I don’t gulp it down in the mornings just to absorb the caffein. I like to hold the warmth, savor the first sips, taste the depth of its bold flavor and the richness of the cream.

I’ve been a journaler, a record keeper, a saver of memories for many years. My stack of notebooks fill one shelf and overflow to another. I look through them for reference. I re-read them occasionally to remember. I need to remember my life.

“I wanted to look at the words, savor the experience, feel the joy, and live every moment.  I was so afraid I would forget what had happened to me.” — Nicole Johnson, Fresh Brewed Life

I write, partly, so I won’t forget what happened to me.  At this age it is important to recall what I did yesterday, what I ate, who I spent time with, what words we shared with each other.  I want to remember. And I want to taste and savor this life I’ve been given.

And isn’t that exactly the thing? Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride.  As I hear of another death, and then another, I am reminded again that Life is Short.

How often I’ve zipped through my day, crossing off items on my list, getting the job done, finishing that task so I move to the next one and feel like I accomplished something at day’s end?

But did I taste my life? Did I savor the conversation? Did I notice the blue sky, the bloom of flowers? Did I take in the fresh smell of cut grass? Did Maisie’s antics amuse me or aggravate me? Did I enjoy the process of living today?

Did I truly listen to Sweet William with whom I share my days? Or was I multi-tasking and only processing the gist of what he said, while I was busy with lesser things? Did I seek to understand?

Did I text or call the person who’s been on my mind? Did I send the card I’d been meaning to mail? Did I say “yes” to someone needing to talk? Did I accept the interruption in my day as an invitation from the Father?

Did I spend time with the Living God? Did I pray?

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I’ve gobbled down on-the-run meals when I just needed sustenance. I didn’t enjoy my food. The pleasure of the taste was lost in my hurry.

I’ve lived some days the same way. Survival mode. Get through it. Hope the strength will last until I fall into bed at night.

Savoring life has to be intentional. I have to think about it. I must look for the joy. Sometimes it is a fight to count grace, to actively seek contentment. When I stumble into the pitfalls, I must put on a hard hat, stepping carefully through the rubble, and hope I don’t get hit with a two by four. Even there, I can find something beautiful.

I believe joy is present if I look for it. Maybe I will catch a glimpse through tears. Perhaps I will fall on my knees, face to the ground in surrender to the in-control-God who works good out of devastation and brings beauty from the ashes.  It could be that walking by faith in the thunderstorm, searching for the rainbow, is my modus operandi for today.

It becomes the necessary goal, to taste life, the sweet and the bitter, the salty and the bland. It’s the mixture of all the flavors that gives it zest. This is what teaches me to endure, what helps me learn compassion for others, and what gives me reason for joyful celebration.

Smell the aroma. Anticipate the pleasure. Taste your life. It is full of grace, and it’s amazing.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

The world trembles. Men’s hearts fail them for fear. Uncertainty settles like a thick fog.

My thoughts turn repeatedly to people being thrust from their homes, families fleeing with the bare necessities. I wonder what I would pack in one suitcase in a frantic escape. I have no idea if this is the end, the culmination of time as we know it.

Trouble threatens, envelopes, and strangles. Oh Lord, have mercy!

As I sit with the Scriptures, I recall a much younger version of myself, many years ago, when Lamentations 3:22 and 23 became important and real to me.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Great is Thy Faithfulness. It is a favorite song. The ancient words have taken on modern melodies, while its truth is proclaimed by trusting voices, mine included. I remember how my Father was faithful to me. I call to mind, like Jeremiah, and I have hope.

While the world totters in wars and rumors of wars, people closer to me, friends and family, fight their own battles. I have mine. The enemy laser focuses his array of ammunition, not only on nations but on individuals, their minds and bodies. He uses his arsenal of pain, depression, and heartache. Is there dialog in Heaven, reminiscent of Job, about how far he is allowed to go with his unrelenting oppression?

I pray for people on the other side of the globe. I ask for God’s mercy, for His care over them. I pray for peace, knowing true peace is only found in the Prince of Peace. I pray for those near to me whose struggles I know more intimately. Those who endure long, who wait for a light in their tunnel, who hope for an answer, who pray without ceasing.

“In the world you shall have tribulation; . . . ” John 16:33

I don’t understand God’s ways. I often ask Him questions, and He is patient with me. Silent but patient. I wish I understood. But I don’t, because I am finite, and my capacity to comprehend is miniscule. I occupy a small place in history. It is temporary, my candle burning shorter. How can I expect to grasp the greater scheme, the blueprint of all eternity, the foundational plan?

. . . “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I take a breath, inhale the very Words of life, gasping as one pulled from drowning. These Words, exhaled into existence by the Eternal, were given so I could know the fullness of grace in the Beloved.

Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

I’m so glad the story of a desperate father seeking help for his diseased son was recorded in the gospel of Mark. In his honesty he replies to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man pleads with Jesus, “If you can . . . .” Did Jesus chuckle at that? I wonder.

I do know Jesus can. I believe it with all of my being. How and when and in what way He will move toward His greater purpose, those things remain unclear to me. The mystery of Living God who answers to no man or woman, who lives in unapproachable light, whose full glory has not been seen by mortals, He alone knows His ways and His whys.

Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith and confidence in Me?” Mark 4:40

Fear is a weapon used against the children of God. Fear is tormenting and grabs my focus from the One who saves with His mighty arm. Fear asks too many questions: “What will happen next? How will I cope? Is this the end? Why me?” If I’m living in fear, I am not abiding in Christ.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

Abide, dwell, remain in the love of Christ. Take shelter in the secret place, under the watchful care of the Father who knows the hairs of my head, counts my tears, watches over my coming and going now and forevermore, and loves me with an everlasting love. Where else could I go but to Him?

I listen for His voice in the stillness of the morning while the birds wake and sing their sleepy refrains. I listen as I read His words written and preserved for me. I listen to songs of praise in the wearisome days of walking earth’s road. I listen. I sing along.

 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” John14:1

As usual, I have no simple answers for the world’s unrest, for rising gas and food prices, for one friend’s family problems and another’s ongoing health struggles. Many of my inner conversations end with “I just don’t know.” What I do know is that God is faithful, just as Jeremiah confessed. I make the same confession. I’ve experienced it during my seven decades. I know His peace that passes understanding, even while I weep. I know His love that is beyond comprehending. I’ve been in His care since before I took my first breath.

The world with all of its pleasures and troubles will one day fade. The place we call home now will be made new and better, more beautifully perfect that I can dream of. My anticipation rises for something beyond my imagining. Until then, I will trust Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their presence resides in this lowly, aging temple. There is nothing else to compare and no place else to go and no one who has the power to save.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Sunday grace.

A season of wintering

I’ve been asking myself the same question in these cold winter days: “Lord, what do you want to do in me?”

I’m not hearing any trumpet sounds or voices from the sky. I don’t know the answer to the question I ask. More often, I pause to wonder at the Living God’s plan and how He may be working through a situation I’d rather avoid. At least it gives me a change of perspective, and I need a new focus.

The three months since Thanksgiving 2021 were a semi-quarantine. Sweet William and I endured covid, then the death of my cousin, then a fractured ankle that kept me in an orthopedic boot for weeks. Activities were limited, and I resigned myself to be a homebody until I could move about freely. It’s been a season of wintering.

Weeks of confinement made me ponder my life, my schedule (or non-schedule), my time. I wondered what the lesson was. What was God trying to teach me in all of this?

As soon as the boot on my foot came off, I set about to resume activities, to fill my days with piano students, church, friends and family. Dental and doctor visits took another portion of days. It was time to catch up. When I looked at my bullet journal, I wondered why I’d packed so much into a week. Where is the blank space, the margin, the illusive “free day” I want and need?

As an introvert, I require blocks of solitude. I get up early each day to sit quietly, with coffee and the Scriptures in hand. My brain fires slowly in the morning. In the pre-dawn stillness, I read and write to process. Some days my processing has looked a little too much like a pity party. I don’t like that, but apparently, I’m working through my random, swirling thoughts, trying to make sense of them.

Lately, I’ve felt the strain of a full calendar. I noticed stress building. A week of appointments, necessary commitments, present and future responsibilities, and I feel my gut tightening. I blow out a heavy breath occasionally. My thoughts drift as I wander the house trying to do the next thing.

A friend texted recently, asked how I was doing with my cousin Candi’s death. As I typed my response, putting words to the state of my heart, I realized I’m not doing so good. I’ve thrown myself into activity, trying to resume a normal life after months of upheaval. Life has changed dramatically, and I’m trying to adjust. It leaves me with a pain I can’t simply ignore.

We cannot get away from the stress of an earthly existence. Life is hard, and I am of the opinion it is meant to be. The Sovereign God has not given us an easy-peasy life without conquests and challenges, hardships and adversity. We suffer pain, sorrow, and grief. We struggle to build a life, to achieve a goal, and to finish the work. I don’t believe He means it to damage or crush us. I trust His intention and promise to walk with me, to strengthen me on the journey, to build endurance into me, and to teach me compassion and understanding. I believe He means to be my One unshakable source of stability while the ground beneath me trembles. On days that are anything but easy, I learn to run to Him.

In the last three months, my body was sick and in recovery for longer than I wanted. My heart was/is broken by the death of one so dear, and I’m still walking that road. The fractured bone put limitations on me, making me think about this season of life, the aging process and how my body is changing with each passing year.

I think just asking the question, “Lord, what do you want to do in me?” is a prayer of sorts, a surrender to what He wants to do with my one wonderful life. Too often I’ve come kicking and screaming to His plan when it drastically changed my own. I’m a slow learner sometimes when it comes to submitting to His will.

Yet, in the deepest part of my heart, His will is exactly what I desire. I don’t want to go my own blind way, stumbling and fumbling along. I want His guiding hand, the gentle Shepherd’s leadership. I need the still waters, the restoring of my soul. I need to be made to lie down in green pastures when the captivity of activity drives me to distraction.

The Lord Jesus knows the way when I don’t see the next step. He calls me to rest when I’m too weary to think straight. He holds me together when the seams of my life begin to fray. He reminds me that the weight of the world rests on His shoulders, not on mine. He provides daily bread to sustain me. He gives sleep every night while He keeps watch.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair . . . “
— 2 Corinthians 4:8

This season of wintering will pass, and spring will come again. The world will continue as God ordained it until He comes to make all things new. Until then hard days, challenges, troubles, and tears will be part of this life. The Lord Jesus came to earth as a man to share my humanity and to experience life as I know it. He lived with the hope of a coming victory. Thus, I can live with the same victory, the hope of a promise fulfilled and a glorious future.

On a warm day this week, I walked with Maisie and looked for signs of life in the garden. I found tiny beginnings of peonies shared from a good friend last fall. The birds are singing louder in the little woods these days, as if they know something. I saw a couple of robins, and the purple and white crocuses are blooming beside the front porch. New life emerges as the season begins to change. Nature whispers to me, “Our God is in control.”

I read the Psalms at the beginning of this year. They become words to pray. The ancient letters speak for me and speak to me. They are a balm to my weariness. I need their voice of lament and understanding and hope and praise. They point me to the One and only who holds the world and all creation and will complete the purpose He has planned.

He is the same One who holds me, and He will do what is best in me, through me and for me.

Sunday grace – This was Candi

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’s second from the left, with no front teeth.

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.

Sunday grace.

Christmas grace

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.

I call to mind the prayer of Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

All that is left is to praise Him.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and was and is to come–the Almighty.”

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.

Behold, He makes all things new.

Sunday grace

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.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace – thoughts on my birthday

At the change of the calendar month, thoughts turned to my birthday and an assessment of my life. Last year, 2020, Sweet William and I were in quarantine due to the Covid 19 virus that virtually shut down the world. This year, he is still recovering from a major surgery in December. It is a long road of rehab and physical therapy that continues weekly. In essence, we are somewhat confined, though in a different way. The question becomes how to celebrate and acknowledge another year where we are right now.

It can be easy to slip into the downward spiral of dwelling on suffering, naming them one by one, leading to a dark hole of loneliness and depression. I’ve been there. All who live to the seventh decade and beyond have experieced both gain and loss. I had my share.

I recall summer birthday parties when I was young. It was hot and there were lawn sprinklers, swimming pools, ice cream and watermelon. Never mind that the juices ran down my arm. It would wash off in the pool water. When our son was born in July, I recreated some of those fun times in the outdoors with his cousins and friends. I thought a summer birthday was the best.

As the day approached, I was tempted to feel sorry for myself, and I cried a little. But I confessed to a friend that I was determined to count my blessings and not my hardships on this day.

Birthday week was busy, and when Friday came Sweet William knew I needed some quite, some down time. After a breakfast of pancakes with strawberries and pure maple syrup – because it’s my birthday! – I went to the deck with my Bible, journal and pens, a birthday book from a friend and a fresh cup of coffee. It is never too hot for coffee.

I read Psalm 139 slowly, a birthday practice, its poetry reassuring me I am known and loved, that I can never, no never, go away from the Father’s presence.

Texts pinged my phone throughout the day, family and friends sending their birthday wishes. Our son called and sang to me, his baritone voice music to this mother’s ears. Cards came in the mail. Sweet William prayed for me, saying I was the best thing that ever happened to him, next to Jesus.

In the evening, a friend in another city called to chat like she has on so many birthdays, and my cousin came with a present and ate birthday cake with us.

I listened to Cythinia Clawson sing You Were There, composed by Dan Burgess, inspired by Psalm 139. It brings me to tears. The passing of another year is worth marking and remembering in order to gain wisdom for the future.

At this age I know the years still left are less than what I have lived. I often wonder what I will leave behind, not the house and furniture and stuff, but what I deposited into another heart. Did I give enough time? Did I really listen? Were my words encouraging? In my brokeness did Jesus shine through? Did I love well? I hope so.

“Love never ages, even when we do. So I tell myself if you want to hold on to your youth, hold on to love.”
— Edward Ginnon

There will be days dark and light, times of joy and sorrow, beauty to enjoy and rocks in my shoes. I will laugh and I will cry. But there is no reason to fear. There will be grace for the journey. Always there is grace enough.

Time will tell my path on this earth. I will keep pressing on, keep moving forward toward the hope of life everlasting when a last struggling breath here only means my next will be a breath of heavenly air and the face of my savior.

I will rejoice in the goodness of God. I will remember His faithfulness to me. When it gets hard, I will remind myself He is there.

God the Father has allowed me to be here. May I live fully and gain a heart of wisdom. And let me love.

I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” — Psalm 13:5, 6

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace – thoughts on motherhood

There is a family of geese sheltering in the safety of the lake and its surroundings across the road. I’ve watched them wander since hatching on a frosty April day, seven little goslings waddling along with their parents. Each time I spy them, I count. They are vulnerable to predators, large snapping turtles, hawks or coyotes.

The two parents are watchful as they meander into our yard. Father goose stands tall with his neck stretched high, on the lookout for danger while mother goose and her goslings nibble in the grass.

This week I saw them and I counted again. There are only six. And I wonder if a goose has enough sense to grieve her loss and how she deals with it.

Observing motherhood in animals teaches me. The collie dog I had when an adolescent carefully tended her pups, concerned if someone picked up one of her babies, only content again when all were nestled close to her. I’ve had a bird’s eye view of a robin from a bedroom window, watching the nest prepared, eggs laid, and fledglings straining their necks for the next meal. A racoon family made their home in the loft of Bill’s shop one year. We watched the tiny racoons follow mama through the cat door one early morning, after a night of learning to hunt.

Motherhood is an experience. I never knew how my heart could fill with love or how it could break. I laughed and cried, prayed and celebrated, worked long hours and stayed up past my bedtime. I made a zillion peanut butter sandwiches and cups of hot cocoa. I helped with homework and projects carried carefully to the classroom. I baked birthday cakes, cookies and made Rice Krispie treats. I cleaned up messes that should have required a haz-mat suit.

I read stories, told tales, played games, picked up toys, washed sticky faces and dirty feet. I tried to impart wisdom and a love for Jesus. I read Bible stories and sang worship songs as we traveled by car. I held on as long as I could to the son, the daughter-in-love and their own children until they waved and were out of sight. My heart still grips tightly to the heart of each one.

Sometimes I was busy with other things when I should have been more attentive. I was short on patience and long with a lecture. I didn’t have the right answers to the questions, and I fumbled to do the right thing. I fell down on the job, and I have regrets.

Mother’s Day reminds me of the glory of being a mother and how I wish I’d done it better.

Age and experience taught wisdom I longed for those many years ago. I see my errors, and wish for a do-over. Grandchildren give us that chance. It’s why we seem to spoil and give in and say ‘yes’ more than ‘no.’ We learned the hard way what really matters with the perspective of looking backward, learning from our mistakes.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

— Isaiah 49:15 ESV

The verse of promise is comforting to me. I cannot imagine ever forgetting the son I nurtured in my womb and loved with everything in me. But even if . . . my Heavenly Father would never forget about me. His love is beyond what I can ever produce or feel or act upon. My love is tiny in comparison. And I’m full of thanksgiving for such an everlasting and unfailing kind of tenderness toward me and those I hold dear.

I wonder if all mothers ponder the same question. Did I mother well? Did I do enough? Did I show them Jesus?

I did not get it right every time. I failed often. Yet I hope the love I gave and the prayers I prayed outweigh the mistakes I made. I hope they know that my love continues, that my prayers follow them, that God knows their names because He hears me speak them so often

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

— Isaiah 40:11 NIV

My young ones are grown now. I am not the one gently leading any longer. Still I cling to this promise that the Good Shepherd is keeping watch, is leading and guiding and seeking their hearts continually. And that is a comforting grace to this mother’s heart

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

Dear Jesus,

I want to be a good soldier in the army of my Lord.

Whether decked in full battle dress on the field or wearing the apron as I wash pots and pans in the mess hall.

Whether bending to listen to my littlest neighbor’s story or bending to help Sweet William put on shoes.

Whether with a full class of Truth seekers or alone in the morning quiet with the Father.

Whether at a filled church house or sitting at the kitchen table live-streaming a Sunday service.

I learned Onward Christian Soldiers as a child, and tears fill my eyes as I pray the prayer, “I want to be a good soldier,” because I am weak, with feeble hands and the knees that give way, struggling to go the distance some days. I don’t want to miss the purpose or what I’m meant to learn in this season. I pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is open to the still small Voice, however hushed it may be.

My morning Bible reading takes me to passages encouraging me to “be strong.” God spoke it to His children, the ones fearful yet willing to put on His armor for battle.

He commanded it to the Israeli nation about to cross the Jordon and to Joshua as he prepared to lead them.

He declared it to David as he was on the verge of becoming king, and He repeated it twice to Daniel upon receiving a future vision to much for him.

So the Father whispers it to me this morning. “Be strong, daughter.”

It isn’t my physical stamina that will sustain me nor any talents or gifts I’ve been given. Only in abiding in my Lord will I find the strength I need for this journey.

Stronger than I think possible. Stronger than my physical ability. Stronger because He is strong in me.

Jesus, I want to be a good soldier.

Sunday grace.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
— Psalm 31:24