Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Boomerang Blessing

A few days ago I got a call from a friend asking me to join her for a few hours one day as a volunteer in a local school for developmentally disabled children and adults.  The plan was to provide a spa day for the girls and young women there.  There would be multiple stations where the girls could move from one to the other for manicures, hand and foot massages, etc.  While we worked with each of the girls it would be a great opportunity to chat with each one, get to know them, and to just generally love on them and make them feel special.

As it happened I was available on the day in question and was happy to participate.  I looked forward to the experience of going to a school that I had never visited before, though I had heard of the work there many times.  I will confess that sometimes, as I anticipate volunteering, my mind will begin to convince me of what a noble work it is that I am doing.  And before long, rather than seeking to serve and bless others, my mindset becomes one of piously helping those who are less fortunate than me.

During my time there at the school, I had a few minutes to chat with one of the young ladies.  I believe she told me her name was Carol.  She was quick to tell me that she would have a birthday next month, and when I asked she told me she would be thirty-three.  She then went on to explain to me that she had been born three months early and that she was so small that she was able to fit in the palm of a person’s hand.  I couldn’t resist asking her which hospital she was born in and she told me Ochsner.

Now these details may not seem important to you, but my oldest daughter will also be having a birthday, at the end of this month, and she will also be thirty-three years old.  And, like Carol, my oldest daughter was born at Ochsner, more than three months premature, and fit in the palm of her father’s hand.  In fact, Carol and Christy were born just eleven days apart and would have both been in the neonatal intensive care unit together.

Can you just imagine how God put this meeting together?  In the middle of my sanctimonious piety about volunteering, God allowed me the sweetest of blessings – meeting Carol.  He reminded me of His goodness and of how great my Christy’s journey has been.  He reminded me that the night before Christy was born the doctors gave her just a 20% chance of survival.  They then told us that if she did survive she would live her life in an institution, deaf and blind, never able to communicate with us or do the things that other children did.  As I met and talked to Carol I couldn’t help but note that amidst her sweet disposition and friendly manner, she lived with great physical and developmental challenges every day of her life; while my daughter defied the odds to earn multiple college degrees, pursue her profession and live independently as a wife and mother.

My first inward response was, of course, one of thankfulness and amazement that I had the opportunity to meet this remarkable young woman.  But as I drove home later in the day, there was another realization that hit me.  If you know me or have followed this blog, you know that over the last four years I have wondered why we did not have a different outcome during Michael’s illness.  Why could he not recover and thrive after his transplant like so many others?  Why did he even receive a transplant if his life would only be lengthened by a few weeks?

Today, I began to remember that I have been on the other side of that coin.  I have been the one who received the most positive outcome from a difficult situation, while others did not.  I have been the one to walk out and leave the hard days behind me, while others dealt with difficult challenges day after day, year after year.  And in that situation, never once did I ask God, “Why?”  Never once did I think about all the others who dealt with the disappointment of broken dreams and the heartache of “if only”.   And here God led me to another layer of gratitude – the gratitude that no matter where I am, and no matter what the outer circumstances look like in my life, my God is always there with me, growing me into His likeness.  I may not see His hand at the time and I don’t expect to ever understand His ways, but I know that, whether I get the result I seek or not, my God will cause all things to work together for my good so that I may become conformed to the image of His Son.

God, may I not look to the visible and temporal results on this earth, but may I trust You to use whatever means necessary to make me more like Christlike.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.                              2 Corinthians 4:17-18

 

The Conflict in Israel

I have seen the television news reports of the Israel/Arab conflicts for as long as I can remember – bombs and terrorists, screams and crying mothers.

I have been driven through a Palestinian refugee camp where whole generations know only this way of living.

I have seen the walls and the barbed wire that separate two groups of people.

I have watched the soldiers pace at the border and carefully check the papers of each one who crosses.

I have read the names of those who have been killed by each side.

I have stared at the graffiti on the wall that shows my country’s flag on the planes that drop the bombs.

I have been looked at scornfully by men as I walked through the streets because I was a woman in the company of men.

I have been avoided by women because I was a woman without her head covered in public.

I have been told that each side is wrong, that each side is the aggressor, that each side should leave the land.

I have heard parents tell the story of their grief because their child has been killed by someone from the other side.

I have been chastised in languages I don’t understand because I am obviously American.

I have been viewed in a certain light because of the way I dress / speak / look.

I have had women who did not speak my language and did not dress like me, smile at me and offer to share their picnic lunch with me, making sure that I was told by the interpreter that it was homemade, not store bought.

I’ve had these same women pose with me for a picture with my camera, and then ask for a picture with me using their camera.

I have begun to question the simple answers that I always assumed were correct since I have been confronted with individuals rather than just ideologies.

I have seen so many examples and consequences of the conflict in this land.  And yet I think the biggest conflict in Israel right now is the conflict within my own heart.  The struggle to see beyond the foreign clothing and to hear beyond the foreign languages.  The struggle to not immediately judge those around me because they are different from me.  The struggle to hold back tears when I think of how easily my mind and heart revert to assumptions and stereotypes.  The struggle to love others who are different.  The struggle to understand why I struggle, since God has not only loved me unconditionally but has put His power within me to do the same to all those around me.

I think the greatest conflict in Israel today may be the conflict within my own heart – a conflict that only the love and grace of God can resolve.  If it’s this way in my heart, could it be this way in the hearts of others?  And if God can solve the conflict within me, perhaps that is the conflict that will end all the other conflicts I have seen.

 

 

This Is The Day

I have probably only had dreams of Michael two or three times in the last 3 1/2 years.  But I’ve had dreams for the last two nights with him.  Monday night it was just me and him together.  Last night it was just his voice on the phone – like I was at the office and he was telling me where to find something for him.

Oh how I miss him. I am so lonely so much of the time.  I don’t want to be crying so much lately.

My God gives comfort to the sorrowful.  I want to look to Him and Him only for my comfort.  (Not food or laziness or relationships or shopping or money or tv.)

This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.  Today is worth rejoicing simply because God has given me this day.  It is a gift from Him to me, so I will rejoice, be grateful and appreciative, and I will not let it be wasted in sorrow or tears or pity.

There will never be another February 28, 2018.  God, do not let me waste it or take it for granted.  Do not let me squander it by living in the past or worrying about the future.  Help me to learn to live in the present.  It is not something that I know naturally how to do.  But I know that You can show me how.  Guide me.  Help me to hear Your voice.  Strengthen me to follow Your prompting and to do Your will.  Give me the desire and the strength to put aside the things that are not Your plan for me, even though a part of me still wants to hang on to them.

Show me how to divide my day between quite times of reflection where I encounter You, and times of productive busy-ness that will keep me doing Your will and not allowing the devil to have any foothold or influence in my life.

I love You God.  And I submit my life and particularly this day to You, to have Your way.  While I still struggle with my own desires and silly daydreams, I know that You alone love me with a love that seeks the very best for me.  Thank you for loving me this way.  Help me to trust you more with each hour today.

Goodbye, Hello

This time of the year I always enjoy those television shows where we watch the year in review, recapping all the news and celebrity happenings from the last twelve months.  Even as a kid I remember watching them.  So often as I watch I think, “Did that just happen this year?”  It’s amazing how much we can cram into 365 days.  Looking back 2017 seems to have flown by.  And yet, looking forward, 2018 seems to stretch out vastly ahead of me.

This is also the time that many of us take a minute to reflect on our lives, the blessings and the challenges.  Hopefully we can find it easy to be grateful and appreciate all the good things in our lives.  But we also spend some time looking at places for improvement and progress toward personal goals.

I am no different in this regard, although over the years my New Year resolutions have evolved.  Most often they are no longer tied to quantifiable measurements like pounds or dollars, but include more abstract objectives.  So, with that in mind, tomorrow at midnight I hope to say goodbye to some of the less desirable parts of 2017 and hello to a new improved version of me and the world around me.   Below are a few of the things on my list.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

  • Goodbye to an obsession with the number on the scale every morning.  Hello to a lifestyle of staying healthy and active.
  • Goodbye to judging others.  Hello to loving better.
  • Goodbye to treating others as less than.  Hello to respectfully reaching down and over and out to help others.
  • Goodbye to wasting time that can never be recovered.  Hello to appreciating the 1,440 minutes of each day, knowing that they are a gift from God.
  • Goodbye to daydreams that never develop beyond fantasy.  Hello to action.
  • Goodbye to tears of regret and sadness.  Hello to tears of enormous joy and overwhelming laughter.
  • Goodbye to petty jealousies and insecurities that weigh me down.  Hello to cheering for those around me knowing that their successes do not create my failures.
  • Goodbye to hanging on to the past when it’s not healthy.  Hello to shedding the weight of guilt and shame.
  • Goodbye to loneliness and boredom.  Hello to moving beyond my comfort zone.
  • Goodbye to the prison of perfectionism.  Hello to the freedom of being who God allows me to be.
  • Goodbye to being shy about celebrating life.  Hello to embracing emotions and taking chances.
  • Goodbye to allowing this world to define who I am or how I should spend my time and energy.  Hello to taking my direction from God.
  • Goodbye to pity parties for one.  Hello to banquets of gratitude.
  • Goodbye to laziness.  Hello to resting in the spirit of God.
  • Goodbye to comparisons.  Hello to individuality.
  • Goodbye to fear of the known and the unknown, the future and uncertainty.  Hello to trusting God more.

Goodbye to 2017.  Hello to 2018.

 

 

 

 

Peace on Earth

When I was 19 I began teaching two-year olds in Sunday school.  A few years later I taught older children.  In the years that would pass I taught ladies, young married couples, teenagers and seniors. Each year we would inevitably celebrate Christmas and Easter, generally reading the same passages of scripture each time.  It would be very easy to become complacent in studying, so years ago I determined that each year I would search out one new thing to learn about these Christian milestones.  This year is no different.

Last week a dear friend gave me a copy of his latest book – a look at the birth of Christ.  As I read his writings, I came across a part of the story that has always baffled me — when the angel announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds in the fields that night.  Then a multitude of heavenly hosts praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Peace on earth.  Or maybe I should say “peace on earth?”  I just don’t see it and I’ve never understood it.  When the angels proclaimed the message, there wasn’t peace on earth.  Historically there have been very few times when there wasn’t at least one war being fought somewhere on the earth.  The message came about 2,000 years ago, but the prophecy doesn’t seem to be coming true.  Any television news broadcast will tell you about the latest fighting between groups or countries.  Greed, hatred and even religion seem to constantly divide us from those around us.  If you look closer to home, we see daily conflict and senseless violence in our own city.  Are we ever going to see the peace on earth that the angels sang of?

In Matthew, Jesus Himself even tells us we will have tribulation in this world.  Yet He goes on to say that He has overcome the world and that in Him we might have peace.  The peace He refers to is an inner peace that comes from a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is a peace that He gives to those who believe in Him; a peace that happens within individuals, not necessarily between countries or people groups or even family members.  So how does my inner peace relate to peace on earth?

My “aha moment” this year came as I realized that the peace on earth is my inner peace while on the earth.  Though I have tribulations.  Though the violence and hatred scream from every headline.  Though man seems to continue to destroy those around him in his never ending self-promotion.  I don’t have to wait for peace on some future day when I spend eternity in heaven.  I have peace now.  I have peace here – on earth.  No wonder the heavenly host sang out!  Finally, we can experience peace while still on this earth.

Glory to God in the highest.  Peace (within me, while I’m) on Earth. Good will toward men.

May you, this Christmas like never before, experience your own peace on earth.

Merry Christmas!

 

If you would like to read more: Backstage at the Manger by Dr. Nelson Price

Having the Talk

Years ago, when my children were young, “having the talk” usually referred to a conversation about the birds and the bees or the facts of life.  When they were in college, “having the talk” usually referred to a conversation with a boyfriend/girlfriend to define where their relationship was going.  But at this stage of life “having the talk” has a different meaning.

In the last few years I’ve talked to so many couples where one or both are going through a health crisis.  Everybody reacts differently —  some cry, some go silent, some get angry.  But I’ve learned, through my own experience and that of others, that there are certain things we can do that will ultimately make things easier.  One of these things is to have the talk.

“Having the talk” means sitting down together to discuss all those things you don’t want to discuss.  This is the hard part of the talk —

— What if someone dies or is incapacitated?  Does the other one know what to do?

— Have you executed a power of attorney and a living will for while you are alive?  Do you have a will for after you’ve died?  (By the way, if it’s been several years since you’ve done this, revisit it.  Time changes people and circumstances, so make sure it still says what you want it to say.)

— Where are all the important papers — wills, deeds, bank accounts, etc.?

— Do you know how to pay the bills?  Most often one of the partners has been responsible for managing the finances, but the other partner also needs to know how to do it.

— Is there a business involved?  If so, what’s the plan if a key person can’t continue to work?

— Are there children, especially young children still at home?

— What about burial arrangements and plans?

“Having the talk” means sitting down together to say all the things you’ve been meaning to say, but haven’t found the time.  This is the tender part of the talk —

— Tell them how much you love them.

— Tell them how much they mean to you and how much they’ve added to your life.

— Forgive for all those petty shortcomings that we let slip into our daily routines.

— Tell them about your faith in God.  It will be a comfort and will bind you together.

— Pray together.

— Tell them it’s ok for them to go on living if you should be the first to go.

It’s so important to have this conversation with your spouse.  If there’s no spouse, then you probably need to have it with your adult children.  And if you absolutely can’t bring yourself to say the words, then sit down and write it out.  Because if the worst happens, the hard part of the talk will get you through all the technical things you’ll be faced with.  And the tender part of the talk will get you through all the long quiet times you will experience.

You would think that the hard part of the talk would be the hardest to do.  But for some of us, to be completely open, vulnerable and emotional is very difficult.  Do it anyway.  You won’t regret it.

Like Never Before

I can remember that I always enjoyed singing as I grew up.  It was back in the days that we had a time set aside for music during the school day, where we mostly learned patriotic and folk songs.  As a teenager, I spent hours singing along with the record player or radio, using a hairbrush as a microphone (pre-Karaoke days).  I sang for a while in the church youth choir, and I had the opportunity to sing with a group from NORD for some political and holiday events.

As an adult, I sang in the church choir for about 15 years, and was privileged to sing with a ladies ensemble.  There was a great sense of community that formed with the others in these groups.  Now, I don’t kid myself – my voice is average on a good day.  But I can generally match a pitch and sometimes find the harmony.  Thankfully, scripture doesn’t say anything about being on key, just that we should make a joyful noise.  That, I can do.

Recently, as we sang a particular song in church, I was struck by the lyrics – that my soul was to sing.  Now, I think soul singing is a little different from regular vocal singing.  Both should be directed to God in worship, praise and thanksgiving.  But, unlike vocal signing, soul singing has nothing to do with my physical ability to match a pitch or harmonize.  Soul singing goes beyond my physical ability.  It’s something everyone is capable of.  Soul singing is a matter of me submitting myself to God and being able to rejoice, regardless of the circumstances or what He has decreed for my life.  It’s not a matter of physical ability; it’s a matter of surrender and trust when you can’t see what lies ahead.  And it’s a matter of being at peace with the not knowing, even to the point that you can sing in the midst of an uncertain future.

Not only is my soul capable of singing, the lyrics of the song said that my soul would sing like never before.  This is what struck me.  I want my soul to sing like it has never sung before!  I’ve felt my soul sing when I’ve had spiritual highs and victories.  I’ve felt my soul mourn when I’ve been in the valley and felt defeated.  But now I want my soul to sing like never before!  No matter what trouble I’ve seen yesterday or today.  No matter what monsters haunt my thoughts for the future.  My soul can still sing!  And I want my soul to sing like never before to the glory of the one and only true God because He has created me and redeemed me and sustains me.  And most of all simply because He is deserving of all praise.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

O my soul, worship His holy name.

Sing like never before, O my soul.

I’ll worship Your holy name.

 

Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Ps. 103:1

After Three Years

Written on 7/18/17:

I will always love Michael .  I will always miss Michael.  But I don’t want to always mourn Michael.
These were my thoughts as this third anniversary approached.  You would think after three years you would have cried all the tears you would cry.
On the 18th I reread the CaringBridge entry from that day three years ago.   It was the day Michael asked me if we could go to Bravo’s for lunch.  That he would just get out of the bed and we would go to lunch.   When I told him he couldn’t go he was disappointed.  His friends thought he was kidding.  The doctors did too – they even laughed about it.  But he didn’t think it was funny.  And later that day his vitals began to drop.  The entry on the 19th talks about him being stable, but that he wasn’t making progress.  And it was just the day after, on the 20th, that he told me he wanted to stop all the treatment.
So as I look back on the timeline — that he was discouraged on the 18th and decided to stop treatment on the 20th — it makes me wonder.  Did I hurt his feelings by not encouraging him on the 18th?  Could I have someway picked him up emotionally and encouraged him?  Was I just too tired?  Did I not try hard enough?  If I had been more encouraging on that day, would he have fought longer?
Did I not encourage him enough?  Did I not show him that I believed in him enough?  God and Michael both know I would have never done anything to deliberately hurt his feelings.  But was I just too tired and being selfish to not indulge him in some way?
You would think that after three years these ideas would have been settled in my mind.  And I thought they were.
But to read back over these things again brings a new wave of questions.  And with the questions come the tears.  The gentle tears.  And then the continual tears.  And then the sobs of sorrow and regret and “what ifs”.
You would think after three years I wouldn’t react this way.
You would think …
———————–
The entry above was written earlier this week.  The thought that I could have hurt Michael’s feelings on that day still leaves me feeling crushed.  I know he would forgive me.  So I try to not hold onto the possibility.
Somehow I was under the impression that each year would get easier.  But it seems like the third anniversary is harder than the second.
 Check list for the third anniversary:
           New flowers for the cemetery
           Check on each of the kids
           Friends to get through the day
           Lots of Kleenex
           Book trip to Africa for next summer
           Learn that mourning doesn’t have a schedule
I will always love Michael .  I will always miss Michael.  But I don’t want to always mourn Michael.

The Evolution of Children

I don’t know what it’s like in a home with a single child.  All my experience has been with multiple children, both in my upbringing and in my own parenting.  I can remember, as a child, times that I played well with my brother and sisters, and times they got on my nerves.  Years passed and we each grew, started our own families, and made our own careers. You just seem to get busy managing your own life, but squeeze out the obligatory holiday gatherings to catch up with one another (even though you live in the same town).  And then as you grow older, your parents pass away and you realize that your siblings are all that’s left of your original family. That awareness tends to make you draw back together, to appreciate the time together and recognize that you won’t have very many more years like this.

This awareness also makes me look at my own children.  I can remember bringing each of them home and the older ones being excited for that new baby in the house.  Infants and immobile babies are pretty easy to get along with.  As they grew older there were the usual skirmishes over toys and territory — the things parents get to referee on a daily basis.

Because of the age differences in my children, our household was a combination of teens with children, and then college students with teens.  Most of these years seemed to be a combination of barely tolerating each other and being embarrassed by each other.  The boundaries often were blurred by who got what privileges and who wasn’t being treated fairly.  And sometimes it seemed the only times they were cordially existing in the same room was when Michael or I declared an immediate peace treaty for family dinners or vacations.

Before you know it they are grown individuals, making their own decisions on when to come and go, and who they will spend their time with.  They choose to look elsewhere for those close relationships.  Oh, they come home when they’re summoned.  But gatherings can be marked by hurt feelings.  Maybe somebody’s too sensitive.  Maybe somebody else isn’t sensitive enough.  Words are said.  Jabs are taken.  And you wonder if they’ll ever really like each other again.

And then something happens as time passes.  Maybe they, too, realize that one day they will only have each other from their original family.  Maybe they begin to appreciate how quickly the years will pass.  And you learn that they are texting each other, even though mom didn’t start the group text conversation.  You find out that they FaceTime each other and laugh and have meaningful conversations without being prompted.  You see them change their plans and drive hours just to spend time with each other.  You see them cancel other activities so they can be together to eat and laugh and play cards and silly games.  You see them help each other and encourage each other.  You see them pray for one another.

And then you think … maybe they really do like each other after all.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

                      3 John 1:4

And because we often find ourselves all in the same place only about once a year…

IMG_2477

 

This Old House

This old house began as a dream two “kids” had about building a place of their own.  Built on land bought from his family, they sunk every dime they had saved into it and their future.

This old house saw a groom carry his bride over the threshold when they’d been married only two short months.  They didn’t have enough money for furniture or curtains, but didn’t know enough to miss them.

This old house bloomed with the pitter patter of children’s feet as the years passed.  Children who ran and played and sang and danced their way through life.  Children who brought friends home for swimming and slumber parties, for prom dinners and Bible studies.  Children who never let life get dull or boring because there were too many dance lessons, cheer practices, sports events, school projects and church activities to count.

This old house laughed with friends and family on holidays and birthdays and plain old “no special reason” days when it was filled with the smell of wonderful food and the sounds of chatter everywhere.

This old house cried when knees were scraped and bones were broken, when teenage hearts were shattered and plans didn’t go as hoped, and when a baby was lost before it could be held.

This old house celebrated milestones for its occupants and so many others — babies, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, graduations, going-aways and homecomings.

This old house winced when voices were raised and unkind things were said, when patience was lost and bad decisions were made, when anger showed up and disrupted things.

This old house rejoiced when apologies were made and forgiveness ruled the day, when peace returned and there was acceptance that we don’t all do things the same way – and that’s a good thing.

This old house swelled as friends and family came to stay – some for a night, some for a year; some we first met when they walked in the door, but all left precious memories here.

This old house quieted as children grew older and made new lives on their own, leaving the groom and his bride time to savor the wonderful lives they had lived there and the enduring love they shared for each other.

This old house mourned when the couple was no longer a couple, when their life together was cut short by disease and all that was left was the memory of their time together.

This old house is empty now. The emptiness of the rooms makes an echo of the quiet sobs that say yet another good-bye. I know that I will never again sit here in these rooms that contained my entire married life. I know that today ends the chance I have to make memories in this old house.

But tomorrow . . . . . . . a new family will begin their time in

This Old House.

FullSizeRender

Back to the Future

It’s been several months since I last posted on the blog.  But it’s certainly not because I’ve been lazy.  On the second anniversary of Michael’s death I asked God to show me what I should do with myself and I distinctly heard Him say “Live”.  And so that’s what I’ve been doing – going on with life.

In the months before Michael passed away, both my parents also passed away.  As my siblings and I settled their estates I acquired their house — a 3 bedroom, 1 bath ranch style house so typical of all the houses built in their 1957 neighborhood.  Michael and I had discussed on several occasions that, if the property were ever to become available, we would pursue building a new house to accommodate the final empty-nesting years of our lives.  And so this is what I’ve done.

Late last summer I proceeded to tear down the old home, the one that my mom brought me home to from the hospital, the one I spent the first twenty years of my life in.  The idea of tearing it down was one I had come to accept through the previous months as I worked with an architect to develop my ideas for a new home.  I will never forget watching with my brother as the heavy equipment was breaking down the walls.  “Is it kind of sad to you?” I asked.  “It wasn’t until you asked me!” he replied.

Through the last eight months the new house has gone from an idea in my head to a sketch on paper and now finally to a real place to live.  I think I’ve come to appreciate more than ever the work that Michael did as a contractor throughout his life.  The hours of planning, thousands of decisions and frustration of delays and unforeseen problems are only eclipsed by the excitement and satisfaction of living in the finished product.  And it couldn’t have happened without the encouragement and assistance from so many friends.  Friends who tirelessly sit with you through meetings to help navigate red tape.  Painter friends.  Electrician friends.  Decorator friends.  And friends who will drop everything to run over and turn off a blaring alarm system so you don’t have to race across town in the middle of the night.

So now begins a new chapter.  The same address that I was born at becomes my address once again.  The neighborhood I grew up in is my neighborhood once more.  There are neighbors here that still remember me as a child and a teenager.  The neighborhood children I once babysat have long moved away and are now parents themselves.  In fact the house on my left side is one of the original 1957 ranch houses, still occupied by the sweet family that watched me grow up.  While on the other side the lot is empty, the 1957 ranch house demolished in anticipation of a new one being built.

The past on one side, the future on the other.

   And here I am, a part of both.

1957

IMG_1705

 2017

IMG_2281

The Hard Road

This week has been a hard road to travel, filled with hurt and disappointment and faith shakers.  I’ve seen hard days before, to be sure.   And this week just seems to add more upon more with each passing day.

The week began as we learned of fires in Gatlinburg.  We have a precious aunt and uncle there who live in a beautiful mountain home.  When you watch the news about troubles around the country, your interest is peaked when you know someone in that community.  And you always wait and pray that they will be unaffected.  This was not the case.  Our family members were forced to flee their mountain community as the fires threatened.  Overnight they learned that their beautiful home was lost in the fire – a fire deliberately started by arsonists.  Our family members were safe in a local hospital as our uncle awaited surgery.  But the next day we learned that the anticipated surgery held an unanticipated result as he was forced to lose his leg in the procedure.  And my heart aches.

Throughout the week I have waited for news of another surgery. This for my thirty-something niece.  For the last five months she has bravely faced tests, biopsies, and an array of medical chemicals in an effort to ready her for surgery in her battle against breast cancer. SHE IS THIRTY-SOMETHING!  She should be forging her career and developing her relationships, not battling cancer!  And yet this is what her world looks like for now.  And my heart is breaking.

And then we hear more tragic news this week – the shooting death of a young man who was not only a local hero, but a personal friend to my children.  All the facts are not known yet, but it appears that either one of the men involved could have stopped this from happening.  Either of them could have chosen to simply turn their cars down another street to avoid the incident.  But instead things escalated beyond the point of no return.  Nobody should be shot and killed in a dispute over somebody’s driving habits!  Nobody should feel like their life is in danger from the person who stopped next to them at the intersection!  This was stupid, senseless, tragic and avoidable!  And now two lives are ruined, two families are devastated and a whole community is shattered.  And my heart is broken.

When are we going to stop this?  Yes, there are things in life we can’t control, like tough medical conditions and health challenges.  But there are so many things that we do have control over – like our tempers and our actions and the fact that what we do ripples through the community and affects those around us.  And I admit, some days I’m losing my faith.  Not my faith in God – the one and only true God whom I serve and whose essence is love.  But my faith in mankind, in the people living in this world.  When are going to stop only thinking of ourselves and our need to be the biggest, the best, the fastest, the loudest, the winner.  Every time we push our way around to make sure we’re the top of the heap, we ignore all those we’ve trampled over and stomped down to get there.

Is it really so important?  Important enough to take someone’s life and to kill the dreams of a community?  Just to satisfy ourselves?  I’d love to ask those involved in the shooting – “Was it worth it? Whatever the argument was about, was it worth it to destroy two lives over?”  And to the arsonists – “Was it worth it? Was satisfying your need so important that it was worth destroying lives, property and an entire community?”  This has been a week that leaves me shaking my head. I just don’t understand.

When life can be so fragile and fleeting …
When each person and each day is a thing to be loved and cherished…
When every action we take affects the lives of those around us and we become aware that some actions have lifetime consequences …
Shouldn’t we take the chance to breathe deeply and let the anger and selfishness pass, before we do something that can’t be undone?

Goodbye Magnum

Many years ago a precious friend gave Michael the nickname “Magnum”.  I think it was a great description of a big guy with a big personality and a big heart.  So when we found the property that would eventually become our land that Michael loved, there was no better name for it than Magnum Farms.

As we bought these 250 acres, we found much of it criss-crossed by barbed-wire fencing and overgrown tree lines.  Michael had a vision of something different and he set out to clean it up and dress it up.  As the years passed he and his crew dressed it into more of a park, with rolling pasture land and four ponds filled with fish and the occasional alligator.  His long term vision was that there would be about a dozen cottages scattered across the acreage to be used as quiet places of retreat for those in ministry needing a place of respite.  Unfortunately he was not able to see that happen.

Now comes the time to say goodbye to Magnum Farms.  Those close to Michael and I know that this farm was always Michael’s dream.  I am the city girl and he was the country-loving boy. (Think Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert in Green Acres.)  Even though that was the case, and in spite of some of the hard memories I’ve relayed, I loved coming here.  But I loved it because Michael was here.  And if given the chance I’d still be coming up here with him — because wherever he went, I was going too.

If Michael was still alive, we’d still be coming to the farm and I wouldn’t be saying another goodbye.  But he isn’t.  And I am.  This somehow seems like just another in a long list of goodbyes.

So as I leave I know that this place will no longer be Magnum Farms; it will be known by another name.  But a bit of Michael has left an imprint here.  Whether it’s the dozens of peach trees he loved so much, or the blueberry bushes and blackberry vines he planted to please his wife.  Or maybe it’s the care he took to make sure the land was in better condition than when he bought it.  And we can’t forget the incredible farmhouse he built on top of the hill – the big stone fireplace for him, the little fireplace with the punched tin panels for me, the porches to catch the breeze, the windows across three sides of our bedroom so he could see the sun rise.  All these things will stay behind as I move on.

And I guess this is how it is meant to be.  For who among us can really call the land our own.  It is only by God’s grace that we are allowed to tend it for a short time.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,                                                         The world, and those who dwell in it.          Psalm 24:1 

 

 

image

Memories from Magnum

Even though we’ve only owned the farm for about seven years, there’s certainly no shortage of memories here.  As I sit at the kitchen table looking out over the pasture, there are so many things that come to mind. I remember Michael and his crew clearing the underbrush and pulling down the old fences; finding old bones from cows and other assorted animals; stocking the ponds and then fishing in the freezing cold; salvaging enough firewood to fill up the old barn; picking wild blackberries while avoiding snakes; following trails through the state park that is our neighbor and helping the park rangers find campers who’d lost their way and wandered over to our property.

We’ve had so many visitors here and Michael always enjoyed showing them around.  There have been kids and families who came by to feed and visit with the cows and donkeys.  College and seminary presidents who stopped in for lunch and a four wheeler ride.  Girlfriends for slumber parties and fellas for camping trips. Parents and grandchildren to fish the ponds.  And lots of friends here just for porch-sittin’.

There have been dreadful times.  My heart aches as I remember.  Like the time we were just beginning to build the farmhouse.  It was the day after Thanksgiving when Michael fell and hit his knee on the brick ledge.  There was blood everywhere!  The workers picked him up and put him in the back of my car. I’ll never forget holding his leg up in the air trying to stop the bleeding as Andrew raced us to the emergency room miles away.

And then there was the last winter we were here when he fell on some ice and his leg was trapped under the four wheeler.  I still remember the exact spot on the side of the house and running to the gate to let the ambulance in.  I remember the policemen who came and the look on the EMT’s face when he cut his pants leg to see the damage.  And I remember the drive in the police car to the local hospital, followed by the long drive back alone to NOLA that night as I followed the ambulance carrying Michael.

The hardest memory is one I still can’t seem to speak the words to describe.  One afternoon late in the fall Michael went out to check on things and I stayed back at the house.  A few hours went by and it began to get dark and cold.  I tried to call his phone several times but there was never any answer and I couldn’t see any sign of him from the house, even with the binoculars.  I called and called to him from the porch but there was no answer.

Finally I decided to set out in my SUV to find him.  For about an hour I drove across the acreage looking for him, stopping every few minutes, turning off the engine and sounding the horn to see if he would respond.  Again and again there would be nothing but silence.  At last I thought I heard a voice calling in the dark.  I drove a little in that direction and did it again.  Turn off the engine.  Sound the horn.  Yep, I heard him calling.  It took several more tries before I finally could understand him and make my way to where he was.  He had been feeding the animals and fallen in the pasture.  His cell phone had been left in the four wheeler.  I finally had to call our policeman friend to come help me get him back home to the house.  Even as I write this my throat closes up when I think about how scared I was when I couldn’t find him.   When we finally got home I wanted to scream I was so angry, but I couldn’t speak I was so scared.  But he needed me to take care of him.  So that’s what I did.

There are so many good memories too.  Lots of quiet nights; just the two of us; old married folks content to just be in the same room together; knowing that we loved each other without condition or regret.

One of the best memories here for Michael and for our family was our only Thanksgiving spent here.  The house had only been finished a few months and our families were gracious enough to travel the hundred miles to share Thanksgiving here.  The twenty-five or so of us had a great day.  There was food as far as you could see.  Lots of laughter and silliness and family pictures.  We both enjoyed having all of our siblings here.  After lunch it was time for skeet shooting over the pond, four wheeler rides, sitting by the fire and rocking on the porch.  It was a grand day.  And as it turned out it was the last Thanksgiving for my mom and dad, and for Michael too.

My heart aches as I sit here in this place.  It will always be filled with Michael — his hard work, his enjoyment and his unfinished plans for the future.

IMG_0548

 

The Second

Today marks the second anniversary of Michael’s passing from this life to his eternal life.  Today is the end of two years — 24 months, 731 days, 17,544 hours — since we’ve seen him smile, heard his heart beat, gazed into those beautiful baby blue eyes that he was so proud of.  And it’s been a day filled with many remembrances and emotions.

I know my children have each remembered their dad and marked this anniversary in their own way and in their own place, as we now live in four different cities hundreds of miles apart.  For me, of course, I remembered him today, but then not one of the last 731 days has passed that I haven’t thought of him — of what he would say about this world and the state of things around us, of what he has missed in milestones, of what he would be doing at the farm and around the country as our kids make their own lives.

As these two years have passed I have learned so much.  I have learned to live life and endure grief in my own unique way and timing.  I’ve learned that grief is like a fingerprint, in that it has many universal characteristics and yet no two experiences are identical.  I’ve learned that while the early days and weeks were sometimes paralyzing, the demands of this life push you to do what needs to be done; and eventually, with the grace of God, you are strong enough again to not only respond to life, but to initiate  an active role for yourself again.  A role that looks different than before, but still reveals the heart of who you are and who God intends for you to become.

I’ve learned that many of the cliches that I so vehemently ranted against in the early weeks after Michael’s death are actually based in truth.  And I’m sorry if my rants hurt feelings of those around me.  I just think I wasn’t ready to hear or accept many of them.  Thankfully God has carried me through the roughest days, quieted so many unanswerable questions in my mind and softened the aches of my heart.

I’ve learned that family and friends are irreplaceable (actually I already knew this),  and that without them I would not have been able to move through these last months.  I know no other person on earth that has been as blessed as I to have people support and encourage me day after day.  I continue to receive calls, cards and emails from folks who knew Michael and want to reach out to tell me of their admiration, respect and love for him.  And I am always left feeling so proud to be able to call him mine.

So this week, to mark this second anniversary, I have spent the days with wonderful friends, enjoying great meals and conversations filled with remembering and laughter.  I have not spent the day at the cemetery or crying tears.  There are of course days when his absence is especially felt and the tears still make their occasional appearance.  But today I have spent most of my time and energy sitting on the floor, reading books, singing songs, and swinging.  Because I can think of no better way to remember Michael’s past life than to spend time with the future of our family – our beautiful grandson.

May your lives be blessed with the grace of God, the love of family and friends, and the prospect of rich days ahead.  Thanks for reading along.

image