Life Happens

“Bow the knee;
trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.
Bow the knee;
lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don’t understand
the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King,
bow the knee.”

You know how it is when you get a song stuck in your head? A constant refrain in perpetual repeat mode playing on the I-Pod of your brain? It’s sometimes VERY annoying, like when it’s the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” or “The Brady Bunch”. But this week, for me, it’s been Chris Machen and Mike Harland’s creation, quoted above.

Early on I attributed it to the fact that we sang it in worship service last Sunday and to the reality that it is, quite simply, a beautiful song with a powerful message. As the week progressed, and it stayed and Stayed and STAYED, repeating over and over as I worked, cooked, showered, did laundry, and tried to read, I felt I needed to consider its presence a little more deeply.

For most of the past year, the answer for me has gone beyond what I can see. And, for much of my life, I have not understood the purpose of His plan. But, I know He’s got one–a special and good one for each of us–writers, nurses, wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, friends (and the male counterparts of each of those terms–don’t mean to leave you out, guys). And, Monday morning quarterbacking, I have been able to detect His hand at work in the events of my life. We want to see the future. We want to know everything’s going to turn out just fine. But the seeing and the knowing is not for us to do. It is, after all, His plan. Our role is to believe, lift our eyes toward heaven, bow the knee, and live the plan. I think those lyrics, so beautifully captured in the melody of the song, reminded me of that, and I needed that reminder.

This is not a discourse on how bad my life is, because it isn’t. As a very good friend often reminds, “Life happens’. A middle-aged, apparently strong and healthy family member is stricken unexpectedly by respiratory failure. Another family member struggles with a seemingly unending bout of depression, which I am helpless to “fix”. There are hurdles to overcome and valleys to traverse, as I wait for the verdict from a literary agent who is considering my first novel. But the reality that I am SO blessed with steady and gratifying work, loving family and friends, a comfortable home, and a faith that never lets me down far outweighs the fleeting struggles of this life.

I think I needed that song last week, and I most likely will in weeks to come. To be honest, my knees are pretty arthritic. The bowing’s not too hard, but the getting up is. However, I surely can bow the head, heart, and spirit, and “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him;” (Psalm 37:7a, NIV).

Blessings to all of you this week!

Book Review: The first phone call from heaven

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Mitch Albom delights once again with the first phone call from heaven, a beautifully written and engrossing tale of a small town in Michigan, where eight “chosen” ones receive phone calls from departed loved ones. The Friday calls reiterate the truth that there is life beyond death, that “the end is not the end”.

As a believer with firm faith in a beautiful life everlasting, a place called heaven, and the concept that our loved ones are never really absent from our lives, the title intrigued me. Granted, the idea that my dad might ring on my smart phone to remind me of his continued existence, refresh my memories of him, strengthen my faith, or remind me of my very real hope for a better world beyond this life was a little farfetched. However, I found this novel to be something more than pleasant “escape” reading.

Mr. Albom masterfully reveals a glimpse of how the living are changed by the loss of a dear one and how a tangible sign from those who have died is often longed for. The fact that death often robs us of the opportunity for true closure, leaving words of love, apology, and explanation unspoken, threads its way through the novel. He explores the impact that today’s ever-present news media can have on people and towns who become the latest headline. Throughout the book, one finds intriguing historical tidbits outlining Alexander Graham Bell’s discovery and inviting consideration of how his invention has indelibly changed our lives. One soon finds oneself appalled at the twisted perspectives of the pilgrims who descend upon this quiet little town in search of a link to the hereafter. Questions are raised regarding the fundamental beliefs that drive various characters and how those beliefs are changed as events transpire.

The novel is a page-turner of a mystery, a poignant love story, a recounting of wrongs committed and lives changed and restitution made. It was a roller coaster of a read–superficial interest followed by assessment of lifelong beliefs, consideration of today’s love affair with instant communications, an aching need to see evil conquered by good, an irresistible force thrusting me toward the conclusion. I recommend it highly.

And, lastly, I must give notice to Mr. Albom’s last paragraph in the Acknowledgements. I think it speaks volumes about his gift of writing and consistent recognition as a best-selling author:

“Finally–and firstly–anything created by my heart or hand is from God, by God, through God, and with God.”

Well said, Mr. Albom.

The Snowflake

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Dear Phil,

Well, here I am after two days without electricity and, therefore, internet access, acknowledging that I was out of line. After all, I did almost double-dog-dare you on the ice storm and power outage stuff. Guess you showed me! However, we really need to clear up the groundhog in charge of the weather thing. I know this celebrity business and national attention must be a real high for you. After all, you are “just” a groundhog, albeit a fine specimen. But, you and I both know that the legend surrounding you seeing your shadow and foretelling six more weeks of winter is just man’s futile attempt to feel in control of future events by predicting the weather.

And, I have to say I’m really sorry for whining about my little inconveniences. So the power was out for a couple of days? We have a generator. Maybe I couldn’t do laundry and run the dishwasher and cook big meals for my family (which I really like to do when I’m home). But I was warm, had hot water for a shower, hot coffee to wake me up, and lights to read by. I don’t have to have propane to warm my home. My heart aches for the thousands of Americans who are still struggling with dangerous driving conditions and prolonged power outages, propane shortages and skyrocketing prices, and just plain old freezing cold temperatures. So, hey guys, my prayers are with you.

And, I am compelled to acknowledge the true Creator of all things, including the weather. I never really forgot Him, but was impressed anew by the reality of the wonder of His creation when I viewed the photograph shared by a friend this week.

A single snowflake caught fresh fallen on a tree trunk enthralled me with its detail. We humans try to copy nature’s beauty–fragile glittering snowflake ornaments on a Christmas tree, lacy patterns stenciled on a window, papery renditions cut by a child–but we can never match God’s detail. Ours are too symmetrical, too simple, too uniform, one-dimensional. I am reminded of the omnipresence and omniscience of God. He, we are taught, knows every sparrow, every hair on our heads. To be honest, I really don’t think He should bother remembering how many brown, highlighted, lowlighted, or gray hairs I have. I rather think that Scripture is an analogy to impress upon us the reality that God knows every detail of our being intimately, seeing the spiritual heart of each person, seeking a relationship with us, and feeling our pain when we hurt. Whether the hurt is mere disappointment or overwhelming grief or terminal illness, dark depression or the hopelessness of suicidal ideation or the helplessness of addiction, the tragedy of flood or windstorm or winter storm, He shares it with us, and we can look to Him for comfort and hope. After all, He has said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

So, Phil, enjoy the limelight but remember who made you (and me) and who is really in control. A snowflake has reminded me.

Sincerely,

kp

Letter to Phil

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Dear Punxatawney Phil,

What is your problem? Above you see the view out my windows yesterday. Those aren’t diamonds hanging from those trees. And it’s even worse today. This whole seeing your shadow and six more weeks of winter thing is really getting old. I’ve been wondering. Why are you so scared of your shadow? Maybe you’re afraid Peter Pan will come and steal it and whisk you away to Never-Never Land? Well, come on, Peter, because then maybe we could get over this whole groundhog in charge of the weather scenario.

Maybe that’s it. A power thing. You like being the center of attention. After all, every February 2nd it is all about you. The world centers on your little hole and the vagaries of sunshine or no sunshine. It appears to me that even without the sun, all the cameras and lights would probably scare you back into the hole, timid soul that you are. Which brings us back to the whole courage thing. And being scared of a shadow. I can attest to the fact that Arkansas groundhogs are of a stronger mettle. I saw one cross the road last month on a sunny day!

And then one has to wonder about the twelve guys in top hats. Top hats? I Googled you, you know. Their positions read like something out of a fairy tale–Rainmaker, Iceman, Thunder Conductor, Big Chill, Sky Painter? They sound a bit grandiose and delusional. You need to be careful who you keep company with, you know. Especially with your timid personality.

Okay, so I’ve vented. Now just let me say that, since I was scheduled off work and didn’t have to make the hazardous trip to the hospital yesterday or today, snow (or ice) days can be enjoyable. They provide unexpected free time to read blogs and write letters to celebrities like you. Time to drink tea and read a book. Time to make cookies for my grandson. So, maybe I should also say thank you. But just remember, if the power lines go down and there’s no electricity, I am holding you (and all those strange guys in top hats) responsible.

So, have a good six week nap, Phil. I’m off to make tea.

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Buddy

Buddy came to us as a “replacement” dog. My daughter’s beloved black lab, aged and infirm, had been put down just as Cindy was in the throes of severe depression. We were introduced to a three-year-old miniature schnauzer as we were anticipating her return from her third (or fourth?) hospitalization, and planned to have the new pup waiting for her when she arrived home. The vet who connected us with the dog cautioned, “Now, he doesn’t like men. But he’ll be great with Cindy and her son.” And he was. The poor thing’s registered name was Pluto, which was highly inappropriate, and promptly changed to Buddy. (Our four-year-old grandson was quite fond of Walt Disney’s Air Bud movies.) Disney’s Pluto is big; Buddy was a smallish dog. Pluto’s ears are floppy. Not Buddy’s! As a matter of fact, his ears rather dwarfed the rest of his compact body. They had not been clipped when he was a puppy, as is the fashion with dogs of his breed, and he had perpetually erect antennae connecting him to all sound. And, besides, the name Buddy just seemed to epitomize the role of canine pal we expected him to undertake.

We found that Buddy, indeed, was not fond of men. He regularly serenaded my husband with incessant barking whenever he entered the house. Through ten years of cohabiting they never resolved the issue of who was the alpha male. Buddy charmed us with his ability to sit upright for long sessions of begging. It seemed that his bobbed tail and healthy, broad behind provided a solid foundation for his balancing act. He developed a pattern of begging–spin around once, assume the upright begging posture, and bark sharply. It would have been nice to think that his barks were a canine expression of please, but I suspect the more accurate translation would have been, “Look at me! Treat time!” I am the softie at the dinner table, and mealtimes found him by my chair, watchfully waiting for the inadvertent or purposefully dropped morsel, and, if the bite was not forthcoming, he was not above a hushed grumbling growl, just to remind me he was there. He seemed to possess an understanding of numbers up to four. He might be soundly asleep on his bed far away from the kitchen, but invariably knew when meat was being thawed and dinner preparations started. He was particularly fond of doggy steak tartare (ground beef), and expected a minimum of four small bite size portions before retreating to a location out of kitchen traffic to observe the cook at work.

We first noticed a decline in his vision. Then his hearing became less acute. However, his sense of smell never faltered! He began to lose weight, and we found several tumors under his skin and under his jaw. He seemed to lose interest in his food, and could no longer see well enough to catch a tossed treat midair. His gait became slower as his joints stiffened. As his respirations became more rapid and labored, we became painfully aware that Buddy would not survive into his fourteenth year. He never whined and never whimpered. He lost control of his bodily functions, and one could see the confusion in his eyes after he soiled the floor. My daughter said, “He looks so sad, Mom.” And, he did. The big brown eyes which once sparkled with life and enthusiasm for living became tired and weary. The vet said he had some form of cancer, probably a lymphoma, and was developing heart failure and that the end was near. He was, after all, thirteen years old, a ripe old age for a schnauzer.

And so, Friday, January 31st, 2014, we said goodbye. A dear friend who is a veterinary doctor came to our home and, as we caressed the frail shadow of our beloved pet, gently eased his suffering and released him to whatever ever after life exists for our animal friends. I choose to trust that all truly good dogs do go to some sort of heaven, and Buddy, was, indeed, a very good dog.

Perhaps some of you have lost a beloved pet. If so, you understand the bond of companionship that links you together and the heartache of separation. I’d love to hear your story.

Buddy--all ears and heart
Buddy–all ears and heart