As the month of September meanders to its end, I glance backward to what lies behind me.
Those days have been hard, dry and cracked open with suffering. And how do we go on from here?
Three times in my seventy years I count the most sorrowful of seasons. All involved death, real and symbolic. As if something were being ripped from my grasp, my heart was left crushed, my soul whimpering.
I spent time wandering the wilderness of my own confusion, my questions were without answers as I watered my path with weeping.
Looking backward with the perspective of time and wisdom, I see lessons I was meant to learn. Though I felt alone, I perceive that God’s presence surrounded me. My tears were noticed, my groaning was heard, and the Father of all comfort drew nearer to me in my brokenness.
I bear the scars still. The wounds have healed but their evidence remains, a reminder that no one gets a reprieve from suffering in this fractured world.
As I walk beside others in their wilderness journey, I identify with their pain, remembering the aloneness and the desperation. I feel their longing for relief from the angst of this affliction. We enter into the fellowship of human suffering.
With thanksgiving, I recall the bright and beautiful days, the gentle meanders through green meadows, the soft breezes on my face, the sweet communion of friends in joyful song.
But it is in the dark, thunderous storms that my heart is tendered by my tribulation. Those were the times I ran to the gentle and strong Shepherd while wolves surrounded and I trembled in the unknown. His comfort and protection were what I needed.
While questions without answers raged in my mind and I couldn’t see farther than the next step, He who is the Way opened the door to Himself, and I ran to His arms.
While I learned to trust Jesus at my mother’s knee and from my father’s example, it was in the dark night of my soul that I comprehended a dimension of God I could not have known any other way.
If I could have chosen, I may have taken the gentle way, the easy path, but that would not have been the best for me. I would not learn endurance. I would not know peace in the storm. I would not experience a comforting Presence in my pain. I would not have empathy for my fellow sojourners. I would not see hope in a hopeless situation. I would not stand in awe of the brilliant stars in the blackness of night.
It’s been quiet on the blog for over a month. I’m not sure why I haven’t written any posts. I could offer several insights but none of them really resonate. Suffice it to say, I took a little break, because there were no words.
Contemplation seems my path in this present season. And I’m quite glad I am able to think and ponder. At my age, the ability to reason and understand is not to be taken lightly.
In the nearly two months of blogging quietude, Sweet William and I have not sat idle. We celebrated recitals, graduations and birthdays. We traveled far and came home again. We watched the seasons change from spring to summer, counting the raindrops and measuring the height of the weeds growing in the gardens.
We had the opportunity to witness one current and one former piano students’ accomplishments, finishing high school and college. I spent many hours at the piano bench and around the table with the two of them, talking, laughing, crying, and praying. It is an extraordinary privilege to be part of their lives as they have matured into young adults.
Sweet William and I drove the many miles and long hours to celebrate our second granddaughter’s graduation. It was worth every minute of time and effort to be there as people gathered on party day. I was comforted to witness the support system of friends surrounding my family in this city, answers to prayers. And our granddaughter was glowing.
Mother’s and Father’s days came and went, and we endured. With neither chick nor child close by, nor living parents to honor, it becomes challenging to observe those days with gladness. I tend to seclude and surrender to my introversion, practicing self-care and allowing my emotions to be present instead of pretending something I don’t feel. It’s the way I cope. When the day is over, I move on, recognizing it is one day in the year, that my life is full of valued relationships, that I am loved by my family, and that life goes on.
Early this month, I sent a card to a friend whose birthday is one month before mine. It’s a reminder that the day of my birth is 30 days away. Birthdays have not been bothersome except when I turned twenty, leaving my teens behind. That was hard.
However, I am giving this birthday, my seventh decade, considerable thought, evaluating my health and my mental state, wondering about my work and the retirement years where Sweet William and I find ourselves.
Recently I pulled my 2009 journal from its upstairs shelf and read what life was like ten years ago. There were joys and sorrows mingled then as now. I understood the year as one who looks at the past. Events that occurred then had profound influence on what would come later.
The coming decade I enter presents me with quandaries that are different than ten years ago. When I entered my 60s, the aches and pains were less; my hair was darker; my figure was not as lumpy; my eyeglasses were not so strong.
Along with twenty or so piano students, I still worked part-time away from home at a job that challenged me and gave me a creative outlet. I loved the people with whom I worked.
My aunt, dad and step-mother were still living, though their growing frailty was apparent, requiring more attention and help.
My family lived next door then, and I was involved with their lives. I saw them weekly, sometimes daily, and enjoyed watching the grandchildren grow. In the old journal I wrote how I felt called to invest in those dear children, filling them with the assurance of my love, so that it would be a reservoir to draw from. I didn’t know then that in two years the family would pack up a big yellow truck and move west permanently. I hope I filled them full enough.
An old clipping I saved starts with “Grab Your Purple Hat!” as it describes how a woman sees herself through the years. Age 70 says this: “She looks at herself and sees wisdom, laughter, ability. She goes out and enjoys life.”
I believe there are still things for me to accomplished, meaningful work, projects to complete, art to create and music to play. I know there are people for me love and point to Jesus. I have questions to ask and I want to be the person who leans in and listens well.
I expect sorrows because that is the stuff of life. But I also anticipate joy, celebration and miracles.
The Bible is a familiar companion for my journey. The years of reading and study brought insight, confidence, and hope. The promises I hold close are more precious than ever.
Thankfully, life has taught me wisdom, a reward of growing older. I adapt more easily to things I might have taken too seriously years ago. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and am continually entertained.
God has been good these many years. I have no reason to doubt His faithfulness in my future. His plan is working its way in me. Sometimes it’s difficult, painful even, and goes against my grain. But I’m realizing His way is best. He knows more than I ever will. He does all things well.
The future is now. I can face it because I know the One who guided my past, who holds my present, and who will be there in the days to come.
April is perhaps my favorite month of the year. It offers a beauty not easily compared. Shades of green, abundance of color, redbud trees, Bradford pear and azaleas glowing at the front of the house. Rabbits hop and birds sing and build nests. New life flourishes, and it is my time of year.
There was heartache this month. Friends suffer, and we hurt too, not in the same way, not to the depth of their grief, but we feel a measure of pain.
Prayers Sweet William and I prayed were answered, but not how we wanted. I struggle to understand and find myself saying, “I don’t understand Your ways,” to the God who’s providence is certain, who’s sovereignty is sure.
At those times, once again, I make a choice to believe that He is good, that He is strong, and that He is kind. I choose to trust through tears, bending my knee in surrender, letting go of my desire to make sense of how life happens to us all.
I read Scripture and know there is truth in the ancient words. They point me in the right direction, even when I cannot see the end of the journey or fathom what God is about.
Obviously it is the month of yard work. The hum of lawn mowers pairs with the smell of newly sheared grass. After days of kneeling then struggling to get up, pulling weeds, and generally hard work, the front yard is presentable, almost charming. Let’s don’t even talk about the back yard. It waits for another day.
A friend and I went to the movies to see Unplanned. I thought it was well done and presented a side of the abortion industry we don’t see on nightly news. Let me brag a little by saying our son worked on Unplanned, and I’m a proud momma. Seeing his name on the credits at the end is thrilling. Just sayin’.
It’s been so Springy around here. Along with flower kaleidoscopes and the greening of the little woods, bird nests abounded. A dove built in the clematis outside the bedroom window, and I spied a robin’s young in a metal structure in the front garden. On walks I watched geese sit through rain, heat and cold, and a neighbor said a wood duck nest was hidden in his wood pile.
This month I saw the baby goslings hatch, from a distance of course. Of all the years of geese at the lake across the road, this was the first time I witnessed new babies bob and sway, learning to stand for the first time. I called for my little neighbor, four-years old, to come see, because this needed to be experienced with a child.
The same day we saw the mother wood duck hurry across the field toward the little woods with seven or eight little ones following behind. Springtide was delightful.
I read two books written by people whose lifestyles are very different than mine. I wanted to understand. Too many times, I’ve made judgments based on what I think I know instead of learning about the experiences of others.
As I study the life of Jesus, I see how He loved people right where they were, knowing all of the paths that brought them to that place. His compassion reached out with an understanding heart, a crystal-clear awareness of their hurts and how He could offer healing. He tenderly offered a better way.
I want to love like that.
I enjoyed time with my people, both young and older. I spent a day each week with women in Bible study who challenged me. We bonded afresh. They probably don’t know how much joy they bring to my heart.
I fixed quiche for a young woman my granddaughter’s age and heard her perspective on growing into adulthood. I was refreshed by another who is young enough to be my daughter. Among the things we share are music, teaching, quilting, and theology. Over brunch and coffee, we didn’t lack for conversation and laughter. We occupied the table until the lunch crowd began to gather.
I am a rich woman and Queen of Quite-a-Lot as a result of these extravagant relationships.
Sweet William and I are coming upon our one-year anniversary of having smart phones. I hesitated getting one because I didn’t want it to become an appendage, a thing I have constantly at my fingertips.
That has been challenging, and I’ve caught myself texting while trying to listen to Sweet William at the same time. My focus is divided sometimes. I’ve made good use of GPS and enjoy the convenience of apps, yet I still must guard against letting this piece of digital material direct my moments, let alone my life. Sometimes it feels like a noose around my neck with it’s nagging insistence to pay attention to it instead of people in front of me.
A favorite quote this month by Manisha Thakor: “The internet is both a lifeline and a plastic bag over my head.” Yes, that is it. The internet is convenient, gives me access to the world’s information, answers my questions, shows me the way to my destination, makes shopping simple, lets me communicate quickly, and in many ways makes my life easier.
But, it can become suffocating trying to keep up with all that it offers. I’m not on Twitter or Linkdin, and I’ve decided I can’t do Instagram. I thought I could add it to my online stash, but I found myself thinking how I needed to take a picture of the baby goslings wandering my yard and post an appropriate saying for the world to see instead of simply enjoying their cuteness.
I don’t judge the way others use the internet, social media and the world wide web for jobs and communication, to connect and post beautiful photos. I enjoy looking at other people’s pictures. I keep up with my family through Facebook. I use the web to interact, send messages, and post this blog, hoping someone out there is reading it.
As I read and learn, work and play, I want to live an authentic life, my own and not someone else’s. Every person has gifts, strengths, talents. Sometimes I’ve tried to be like someone else, and it has proven false and unfulfilling. I recognize my skills and aptitudes and where I am most fruitful. I also know my weaknesses, areas where I am less than.
It’s an ongoing quest to live the life I’m called to live. It has taken me years to discover this truth, and I continue to learn.
At the end of March, I said April was the new January. It has been that for me. Stretching and growing, working and loving, resting and refreshing, and choosing to be happy. This is my one wonderful life.
I heard someone say joy and sorrow run together like train tracks. We experience both at the same time. And so it has been this beautiful month of April. The glory of new life bursting forth, the celebration of Resurrection and Christ’s victory over the cross have been reasons to rejoice.
At the same time we have wept with those who weep, grappling with death and what it leaves in its wake. Sadly the grave is still part of this life. Because this is not the end of it all. Heaven is real and one day we will greet those we struggled to let go before we were ready to say good-bye.
My cell phone jingled with the notification of a text: “Can you play for a funeral on Saturday?”
It is my only day this week with nothing scheduled. I respond, “If you need me.” What a silly response. Of course I’m needed or otherwise I would not have been asked. I say “yes” because this is the gift I can offer.
Just because it’s December with Christmas around the corner, we are not immune to heartache. Death does not take a holiday. More email brings announcements confirming it.
I ache at the thought of families enduring heartbreak at the time of year when so many celebrate with gusto. Children are excited at the prospect of their wish lists showing up under the tree. Holiday parties fill calendars. Family gatherings are planned and anticipated. Preparation for out-of-town relatives is a labor of love as we look forward to being together once again.
If only it were all so merry and bright. We kid ourselves if we think it is.
For some it is not: a couple facing Christmas for the first time without a beloved granddaughter at their family table; a woman whose mother died in December and the anniversary brings poignant memories; a friend who is learning to live in the unknown of a diagnoses that is terminal.
Others deal with their own sicknesses and disabilities. Caregivers carry responsibilities that drain the life from them some days. A husband and wife wonder about a job that may be ending and an uncertain year ahead. Bills stack high on the desk as funds dwindle low. Families are divided for one reason or another. Plans we made for a joyful season implode when the unexpected report crushes them.
Life can be hard even at Christmas time.
The good news is Jesus. Jesus is Christmas. Plain and simple. He is the One and only reason for any kind of celebration.
God’s plan was formed before the foundations of the earth were laid, and He planned for Christ to come for us.
Jesus birth was not haphazard but detailed in every possible way. In the fullness of time, the eternal blueprint began to take shape exactly as the grand Architect designed it.
Jesus came for just such a time as this, to give us unspeakable joy and to share in our inconceivable sadness. His name is Emanuel, God with us. He is the Comforter, the Sustainer and Provider, the Friend of sinners, the Way to the Father, the open Door to forgiveness and freedom, the Wisdom and Power of God.
He is Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.
He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of it all. Period.
Who else offers this kind of relationship, who invites us to cast our burdens upon Himself, who bore our sins – all of our sins – on a cross and rose from the dead to assure us of an eternal home in the Heavens?
The circumstances of our lives do not dictate the celebration of Christmas. If we are expecting the picture-perfect magazine layout, where everything and everyone looks great, to be our holiday experience, we will be disappointed every single time.
But if we are looking for a Baby in a manger, a Child who embodies the very presence of Almighty God, we will find Him. He came to be one of us. He invites us to come to the celebration of real life.
There is cause for celebration this December. It is Jesus.
The tinsel and lights may droop. The presents under the tree might be scarce. The family get-together could be somewhat dysfunctional. The cookies might burn in the oven. The hospital corridor may be familiar ground. There may be the sound a funeral song in the distance.
Though my own son and his family are far away, and I face another holiday without them being part of the celebration, kindness has been extended to me in the dearest ways.
I think my love language includes words. I like to speak them and write them, telling people how they have affected my life, to encourage them along their journey, and to express what they mean to me. So when I receive words, they sooth like a healing balm.
The last two days I have been gifted with words. A card, a letter, a digital greeting, and spoken appreciation all conveyed kindness to my grieved spirit. Words reassured me that I am loved.
I needed those words this week.
I also had the privilege of offering my words to a group of women at a Mother’s Day brunch today. It was delightful to share time and conversation with God’s beautiful women.
We ate well. We talked among ourselves. We laughed and I met new friends who share my love of the Savior. We were a sisterhood.
Holidays can be hard on us, filled with expectations and pressure to celebrate in a certain way. Then they can do an about face and suddenly it is a warm quilt taking away the chill of feeling alone.
The pressure, the heat, the aggravation, and the pain are just as much part of life as the pleasure, the sweetness, the shining light, and the jubilee.
Our days are made up of the rough and rugged, the charm and wonder. They run through our lives like dual rails on a track.
There is a time for everything under heaven. Tears and laughter. Joy and sorrow.
God uses all of it to create a life as precious as diamonds.
I had breakfast with a young woman whose mother died almost a year ago. She has faced many “first” holidays and events in the past 11 months. She still has a few to go.
She and I talked about our mothers, their profound influence on us, their lasting legacy that goes beyond the tangle. It was easier for her to talk today than it was months ago when she and I first met on the mutual ground of grief and loss.
We are glad to chat about these women we called “mother.” As we do it keeps the memories alive. And we want to remember this special person and have others remember her also.
We want to tell those yet to be born about the fun things we did with our mothers, about holiday traditions, about lessons we were taught and how they have influenced us.
I see joy returned to this young friend of mine. I wonder if she has fought for it the way I have when life was just plain hard and questions remained unanswered.
In the dark, we reach for the lighted candle of hope. Though its beam is small, it will show the way one tiny step at a time. We endure knowing others have traveled a similar path. And we are comforted by the greatest Someone who walks with us now and forever.
The dark night of the soul does indeed precede a sunrise. Though the night seems long and unending, the light will come. Day will break and the sun will shine again.
Even while we sorrow, we wait with hope. We wait for the new day, for the fresh grace. We wait knowing joy does indeed come in the morning.
Two almost-sisters were blessed with new grandbabies last week. One is a cousin by marriage who has been family a long time The other is a life-long friend who calls me her “forever friend.”
I am so happy for both of them. There is nothing like holding a new baby in your arms, and when that baby is your very own grandchild, well you just have to experience it and you know what I mean.
I was blessed beyond measure to be at the birth of my first grandchild, a girl. Our one and only son and his beautiful wife lived close to us then, and her parents were driving from out of state to be here when she entered the hospital. So it was my great priviledge to be in the birthing room when that tiny little creature breathed her first and squalled like a baby.
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, Because birth itself is simply breathtaking. But when the son of my heart gives life to his own child, that is a mountain’s high peak.
So when I get a Facebook message from that first grandgirl saying, “Dreamt that I arrived at your house after a long trip. I miss your face!!!!!”, I weep. I just can’t help it. Because I. Miss. Her. Face. So.Very. Much!
I know I’m not the only one. I have friends whose grandchildren live across country, and we often share our joys and heartaches at short bursts of togetherness and long stretches of being apart. We understand each other.
I thank God for those twelve wonderful years. I was given time to invest in relationships with three that are still precious and dear to this Grammy’s heart. Those years were a gift, an important and valuable gift that I don’t take for granted.
In my tears, I will remember the hugs, the smiles, the cups of hot cocoa, the snuggles with a thousand Disney movies, the tucking into bed, the reading of books, the telling of stories, the prayers. Ah, the prayers. They never stop. They go wherever the grandchild goes because that is my connection with her and with God.