Seeing the big picture……

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See the pretty little girl? Pretty and precocious. See the vertical wrinkle in the carpet and the horizontal shadow from a window? She just told her Mama to “see the T”. She is looking at the bigger picture. From her vantage point it appears obvious that there is an (upside down) T. I can see it. Can you?

I wish I could have her perspective on life. To see the big picture of God’s plan for my life. It might help me understand some of the challenges and trials and grief that He has allowed in my life. I want to be like Joseph, who survived being cast away by his brothers, sold into slavery, rising to power only to be wrongfully accused and thrown into jail, and, finally, achieving a position of power that allowed him to save his people from starvation. And, all the while, he did not grow bitter. He could, at least retrospectively, see God’s hand at work.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7 NIV)

I doubt that I would have been as patient, gracious, or trusting as Joseph. Nowhere is it recorded that he whined, complained, despaired, or turned away from God. Nor did he lash out in anger or seek revenge. Somehow, through patient obedience, he was able to see the “big picture”, the overarching purpose of all that had befallen him. I fear that I might have reacted differently.

Then there is the wonderful story of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl in captivity, chosen to be the queen of Persia. She was obedient in keeping her family background and nationality secret, following the advice of her adopted father, Mordecai.Learning of an evil plot to kill her people, she feared to approach Xerxes to ask for protection and mercy. Who wouldn’t, knowing that, unless he deemed it acceptable for one to appear unannounced and extended his golden scepter in reprieve, the intruder (even though queen) would be put to death? She reminded Mordecai of this danger as he directed her to seek rescue for her people.  But he had another perspective for her consideration.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 12-14 NIV)

Mordecai reminded Esther of her position in the big picture of that time and that place and the responsibility that accompanied it. Do you ever wonder where you fit in the “big picture” of things? I do. We generally think of children and grandchildren and so forth as a type of legacy. I lost a child to suicide. How does that subtract from my legacy? What am I to do with my role as a “survivor of suicide”? My mind struggles to make some sense of it, to detect some purpose that I can now fulfill because of it. I try to comfort others that I meet who have lost children. I reach out to those who have experienced the special grief of suicide. I speak openly and write about it. But is there more that I am supposed to do with my grief?

And, I try to “tie a knot and hang on”.

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The thing is, I’m beginning to recognize that the rope is God. It is Him that I cling to, sometimes with firm grasp and sometimes hanging on by a thread. He is my strength, my hope, my salvation. He sees the big picture, while I see only snapshots. His vision is clear; mine is cloudy. So, I try to make the knot ever bigger and more substantial through Bible reading and prayer, so that it’s easier to hang on to. But, when the rope swings in the winds of life, my emotions swing right along with it.

As a very wise woman has said to me, “It’s those ‘sneak attacks’ of grief that get us.” One moment I’m laughing at a coworkers story and the next my eyes fill with unbidden tears, as I realize that my Daniel won’t be around to write my eulogy. (He was a writer, like me.)  And, what in my life will be worthy to eulogize? Am I somehow lessened by his loss? Or am I strengthened through surviving it? Am I making a difference every day? Am I living life to the fullest by staying in the moment? So many questions.

But, I keep my eyes peeled for glimpses of the “big picture”. And, I cling with every fiber of my being to that rope of faith. And, I will, somehow, keep on keeping on.

Only by God’s grace.

Welcome 2017…….

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

I’ve been trying for days to write a blog post. I wrote a really negative one at the end of 2016, listing all the things I was “sick and tired” of. After a good bit of soul searching, I have come to realize that the thing I was most “sick and tired” of was my attitude. Many friends had experienced unexpected loss, and those tragedies once again reminded me of the grief of losing Daniel.  But now a clean slate of new days, new weeks, new months, all under the control of a loving God, who will not leave me to face the bad things that life brings alone, stretches before me. So, I am attending the Survivors of Suicide group this evening, and this is my prayer as a new year begins.

Father God,

You know my tears, my fears, my regrets, and my future. You know the grief of a Son’s death. My understanding of your sacrifice is so much more personal now. Yet, how can I compare my loss to yours? Please forgive me. Help me forget the pain of “former things”, while remembering the love. Strengthen me to avoid dwelling on the past. Lead me to let YOU do the new thing in the year before me.

There are a lot of things that I think you want me to do with my life. Nursing has been one of them. Thank you for the connection I feel with patients and colleagues. Thank you for the feeling that my work makes a difference in lives. Thank you that I have been blessed with the ability to provide for my family (I see so many who have not.)

It has been my belief that writing is also a course you want me to pursue. You seem to be reminding me of that through reminders of “Is the next book finished?” or “likes” on a blog post. Yet, in spite of these messages,  I have wallowed in grief and despondence and depression, and I have failed to invest the time and energy that I should in the work of writing. Forgive me. And help me to do better. Grant thoughts and words that can speak to others, that can encourage or inspire, that can tell a good story while honoring your name. Strengthen my will to persevere in the work, for it is work. Banish procrastination. Focus my mind. May everything that I do be to your honor and glory.

And, Lord, help me always to remember that you have a plan for all my days in this life. Help me to recognize and be faithful to your guidance. At my passing, may it be said that I lived well, loved well, and made a difference in your kingdom and this world.

I pray these things in your beloved Son’s name,

Amen

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14 NIV

May each of you readers have a blessed 2017, filled with the knowledge that God’s love for you is a reality.

A Christmas Gift for You. . .

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I was blessed with a special Christmas gift this year–a gift worth “re-gifting” to all my friends. It fit me just fine on December 23. For the earlier part of that week leading up to Christmas had been particularly dark and painful. My perspective changed on the day that I discovered a special reminder in a lovely devotional book titled Jesus Always by Sarah Young (published by Thomas Nelson, 2016).

The truths I was reminded of that day are not new. However, the  reminder came at a particularly crucial time for me. I was about to drown in grief and sad memories and worry when the reminder of several Biblical truths and imperatives became my life jacket, returning me to the shore of thanksgiving, peace, and joy that should always be our Christmas reality.

Reminder #1: Wait for the Lord.

Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

This is the hardest thing for me to do–to just wait on God’s timing. How I long to “fix” things when I see lives torn apart by addiction and the loss of conscience that it brings! How I tend to withdraw into a place of darkness when my grief is overwhelming! How I try to rush the Lord into answers, all the while knowing that His ways are better than my feeble solutions!

Reminder #2: Seek His face.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Psalm 27:8

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

What a miraculous rest is found in Jesus! He can heal the grief of the loss of a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend. He can lift life’s burdens from our shoulders. Have you ever felt those burdens as a physical weight on your shoulders? I have, all too often. Leaving that grief, that worry, that brokenness at Jesus’ feet and resting in the knowledge that His ways are greater than any solutions I might attempt is a lesson that I have to “re-learn” almost daily. After all, He is able to do more that I can ask or imagine……

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. Ephesians 3:20

Reminder #3: Hold on to hope.

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Self assessment: How long has it been since I have felt my spirit soar? Am I running the race of faith without weariness? Is my daily walk strengthened by a morning visit with the Lord, centering my mind on Him in prayer? Am I “rejoicing always, praying continually, and giving thanks in all circumstances“? (2 Thessalonians 5:16-18a) Give thanks in all circumstances? Even the absence of a loved one on a birthday or Christmas? In spite of the pain of seeing someone waste a life in the throes of addiction? Even while watching a loved one suffer a terminal illness? Even when a young adult is stretching wings and pushing boundaries and worry about imagined accidents or bad choices overwhelms?

Right now, this morning, this moment, all the Biblical truths mentioned above are fresh in my mind. I am waiting on the Lord. I have sought his face. I  am filled with hope.  I have a spirit of thanksgiving, the peace that passes human understanding, and a desire to share that joy. So, here I am, praying that these words will encourage or comfort or lift up someone who is where I was on December 23. I know I’ll most likely be back there one of these days, when these promises are not so fresh in my memory. I pray that on that day, you will remind me.

Wishing a blessed New Year to each of you………

 

Words set free…….

Roy, Dale, and Happy Trails………….

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I want a gentler, kinder, more beautiful, spiritual world. I am tired of feeling heartbroken and horrified by the up front and personal view into wars and terrorist attacks and natural disasters that I see on the nightly news. I am overwhelmed by the ugliness of the presidential campaign. When did it become ok for a presidential candidate to use profanity at rallies and debates? I am appalled at the disrespect and hatred of law enforcement that is played out almost daily in demonstrations, riots, and the outright murder of innocent officers, like those simply doing their job in Iowa this past week. The extent of the depths of downright evil that mankind can descend into is beyond my comprehension.

You have to understand that I grew up in a much simpler time. The good guys in the white hats always won. No blood was seen in a Roy Rogers movie. A cowboy could complete an entire fist fight without losing his hat. Remember the theme song? It was a wish, a blessing in song, for the hearers to have happy times.

I can’t quote it, but I do remember singing along with Roy and Dale at the end of each movie or TV segment,”Happy trails to you, till we meet again”. And it was a positive happy song, too simplistic for today’s times–no rap, no amplified instruments. It didn’t even rhyme perfectly. But it made us Roy Rogers fans feel good. There was even a set of rules of behavior for being a member of the “Roy Rogers Riders Club”. They were simple guidelines to living a moral, compassionate, law-abiding life and taking responsibility for your own choices. A couple even reminded one of the Ten Commandments.

And what about the more subtle and less violent cultural changes that confront us daily? Roy and Dale were known for adopting children and wholesome family life with grace said at every meal and open acknowledgement of their Christian faith. Celebrities of our day are celebrated for their romantic relationships (that is VERY plural), divorces, money, power, and how shocking their speech, behavior, or dress can be. By the way, how many prime time shows of our day even acknowledge any kind of belief in a higher power? My husband and I relish watching Blue Bloods, and a big reason is the prerequisite family dinner scene, grace before the meal included. Did you know that there was an alternate Christian verse for use in the Happy Trails song? Roy and Dale were openly Christian. How many of today’s celebrities celebrate their faith for the world to see?

You know, just as I know with all my being that God is not dead, I sense that Satan (or whatever you choose to call the source of evil) is alive and thriving. And this earth and its people are the battleground. The forces of evil are striving to destroy faith and civility and everything good, while God is reaching out with loving arms, longing to save mankind from destruction. I picture him looking down at this world, shaking his head sadly as he observes the state we are in.

My mind knows that I can’t go back to the culture of my youth, but that doesn’t mean that my heart can’t long to. The world has changed, but I don’t have to. I can refuse to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a harsh, cruel, ugly, faithless existence. I can choose to make my little corner a better place. Because I have a relationship with a loving God who walks with me day by day. He heals my hurts and strengthens my resolve and forgives me when I fail.

I can choose to make my little corner a gentler, kinder, more beautiful, and faith-filled place. Anyone care to join me?

 

 

Words set free. . .

True north. . . .

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In the past I have found it a challenge to stay on course with the writing. There are so many things that distract me. People that I love, situations that I worry about, housework to be done, a love of cooking, my fulltime job–I could go on.

These are the same things that distract me from a really disciplined prayer life. Sometimes my prayers are interrupted by random thoughts. Sometimes I just can’t seem to focus. That’s why I often write my prayers in a journal. Writing keeps my prayers on course. (My kids are going to be overwhelmed with the old steamer trunk full of my prayer journals when I pass on!)

I think of Steffie’s comments when Daniel was circling the drain in his depression and addiction. “He’s just so lost, Mom,” she said all too often. We all tried to pull him back on course, with prayers and, when he would listen,  words, but he had lost sight of his true north. The true north that I am talking about is not a constellation or a point on a compass. It is keeping one’s heart and mind focused on Jesus Christ. “Abide in me,” Jesus said. How faithfully am I abiding in Christ? How faithfully are you? I know that failing to abide in the Lord is the path to ruin. I know that losing sight of our spiritual North Star is a dangerous thing, leaving us open to negative thoughts and bad decisions and Satan’s attacks.

Since I recommitted my life as a writer to Jesus’ cause, the words have come easier, more freely, and more purposefully. So far, the magnetic pull of my true north remains strong.  Each and every time I press the keys of this keyboard and watch the words appear on the screen, my heart is full of hope that someone out there needs those words, those thoughts, in order to experience a refill of hope, peace, comfort, and strength to persevere in the walk of faith.

Please know that each time I press “publish” for a post, I am wondering if it’s good enough, real enough, true enough to touch someone’s heart. Thank you for letting me share my journey with you.

Words set free…..

In the eye of the storm…………

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We know a lot about storms where I live. Judsonia, Arkansas was “blown away”, as we locals describe it, on March 21, 1952. I was not quite 2 years old at the time and living in Indiana, so I obviously have no personal recollection of the tornado. However, the family I married into lived through and lost their eldest son in the process. They are all indelibly marked by this event.

Judsonia is a town of underground storm shelters and “safe rooms”. I recently was blessed to hear Ryan Stevenson’s rendition of the Christian praise song, “Eye of the Storm”. It made me think about how life is a passage of “weathering” various storms. What storm have you been through? What storm are you going through? Are you surviving? Is the storm defeating you? What is the answer to weathering the storm victoriously? The answer to a “life storm” cannot be found in a storm shelter or safe room or retreat from life. Stevenson sings it to us in the lyrics of the above mentioned recording. I highly recommend it.

I began to think about the various storms I have survived. Divorce. Miscarriage. Loss of a son to suicide. Completing nursing degrees (Bachelor’s and Master’s) while supporting and caring for children as a single parent. Career choices and challenges and confrontations. Financial issues. Physical ailments. Depression. Caring for elderly parents. Estrangement from siblings, some resolved and some not. A child suffering from alcohol addiction and mental illness (she is surviving, thank God). Sharing the pain of the patients I help care for as they are confronted with life-changing health events and, for some, the ultimate passage, death. Experiencing the ups and downs of life in a church family made up of believers who still have human qualities–no, congregational life is not always united and sublime. I have worried about these all of things, and, often, tried to “fix” things within my own capabilities, generally unsucessfully.

Because I do not have all the answers. God does. And, in my humanity, I forget to yield to his solutions, thinking arrogantly that I could do it better? Really?

What storms are you facing? Depression? Anxiety? Addiction (in all its forms–alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, nicotine)? Maybe it’s an eating disorder–obesity, bulemia, anorexia. Perhaps you have been tormented by thoughts of suicide.

Perhaps you and your family have been challenged by war–a family member serving in the military as we speak. Or perhaps one lost to you forever in war’s vicious violence. Or perhaps one disfigured, maimed, angry, traumatized, suicidal because of the horrors witnessed.

Maybe your family is dysfunctional. Maybe you have been the victim of abuse. Maybe you are raising grandchildren or great-grandchildren because their parents cannot parent. Maybe you are a victim of domestic violence.

You might be just overwhelmed by the multiplicity of stressors you are experiencing daily. For some, like me, that might mean relegating your creativity and dreams and self-expression to some deep, dark place, (your “storm shelter”) where they have waited, dusty and neglected, longing to be once more brought into the light.

Perhaps burned-out describes your work performance. Perhaps cynical describes your outlook. Perhaps for you the glass is always half-empty, never half-full, and you do realize it falls on you to wash that darn glass. Perhaps you have let the fire of your faith burn down to cold ashes and do not know how to rekindle it.

Step 1: Listen to Stevenson’s song. It has a really nice beat, folks! It will lift your spirits and refresh your soul.

Step 2: Get out the Good Book (you, know, the Holy Bible) and take a look. Some of my faves: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7     And Jesus’s words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1      So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41: 10    “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:14     And, finally, Psalm 46:10a: “Be still and know that I am God.”     (All from NIV) The Bible is a treasure chest full of guidance, peace, comfort, encouragement, courage.

Step 3: Open the window of your heart to let God’s peace come in. Open your ears to hear His whisper of hope and encouragement. Open your voice in thanksgiving and praise. And open your very self to a life of faithful perseverance, not in your strength, but in His. Open your mind to the thought that you can fulfill God’s calling and plan for your life, even through the storms.

That’s what I’ve chosen to do, by setting my words free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Dan……

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Dear Daniel,

Today would have been your 42nd birthday if your life had not ended so tragically. We miss you. Last evening we had a sort of pre-birthday party for you. Your wife, parents, siblings, aunt, uncles, nephew, and cousins were here, along with a few special friends–Todd and Benny and Jeff. Kerri sent her good wishes, as did Linda and Laura.

Remember the sky lantern you sent up for Robby after his death? We did the same for you. There were eleven of them, all white. One got stuck in a tree–Steffie thought you would find that funny. It harmlessly burned itself out. There was the slightest north wind, and we watched them as they (finally) went out of sight. Then we gathered in the house to share memories. They were good ones. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Dan……”