A quilt story . . .

Handstitched quilt with Noah’s Ark theme. . .

I need to give a little back story for this piece. Probably almost 25 years ago I took part in Christian retreats called Emmaus Walks. The Arkansas group that sponsors these retreats is called the Noah’s of Ark (Arkansas) Emmaus group. These three-day, intensive times of study and worship are meant to, and succeed at, introducing the believer to a closer walk with the Lord and opening one’s eyes to His presence, much as the disciples were surprised to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

I became very attached to Ark imagery. Fourteen years ago my husband, Arlin, found this quilt at a craft show and brought it to me. Because of the detail and the hand stitching, I put it away, not wanting to “wear it out” with daily use. It has always been there, waiting for the time God intended to bring it out of its protective case in my closet and into my life.

In December of 2018 I thought of the quilt. And I felt it was time to bring it out and enjoy it. So my husband retrieved it from the closet shelf and I unzipped its protective case and folded it on the end of our bed. Every time I straightened the bed I would admire the hand-cut blocks and the tiny stitches and wonder about its creator.

Then came the moment. As I folded it one day, I noticed a signature on a back corner. It took my breath away.

Just a name and a date. . .

You may think that finding a dated signature is not such a momentous occasion. But it was. Because I knew a Donna Gordon. You see, Donna Sue Gordon of Bald Knob, Arkansas, was a beloved patient in the cardiology practice where I work. She had passed from this life on November 2, 2018, after a long and difficult illness. It was clear that I needed to speak with her daughters about my “find.” Could this quilt be one of hers?

Carolyn and Jennifer assured me that this is, indeed, one of their mother’s quilts. They said hearing from me was as though their mom was saying hello from heaven. They said that she loved me (and Dr. Blue and all of the “Blue Team”). I know that we were blessed to know and serve her during her illness, because she never failed to brighten out days with her sweet smile and gentle voice and patient suffering. Yes, nurses and doctors do grow to love some patients because of the many times we visit and the valleys we travel through with them. And I loved Ms. Donna.

Donna Sue Gordon, 4/23/1943-11/02/2018. . .

All this may not seem very important to many of you. But it’s important to me. It tells me that our lives are woven together in so many invisible ways. It tells me that individual’s spirits can speak to one another in special ways and that special bonds are woven that we may never fully understand. I am blessed to know about this one.

To me, this is like a “God-thing”, that in His wisdom this quilt came into my possession even before I knew Ms. Donna. And she made a Noah’s Ark quilt just for me, yet not knowing that it was for me. And the whole thing just makes me smile and be grateful for special people and special symbols and perfect timing.

I am reminded that God is good, all the time, and, all the time, God is good. May you be blessed by those coincidences that are really God-things. They are all around us.

P.S. I have (of course) received permission from Carolyn and Jennifer to do this piece and to feature their mother’s picture. 🙂

Hope for 2019. . .

View of “Lake Donnie” here on Persimmon Ridge, our home……

The new year is almost here. It’s really a bit unsettling, you know, to view the series of celebrations from across the globe as midnight 2018 strikes and 2019 is born. Even the time zones here in the U.S. result in a wavelike stream of “newness” as the midnight hour comes and goes in the blink of an eye, the passing of a breath, a flash of awareness. So much emphasis is placed on the strike of a clock, drop of a ball or the click of a digital display. We are schooled to believe that there should be some tangible act to mark the transition from old to new.

We are showered with best and worst lists of pop culture and politics, music and sports. Weather statistics from 2018 are organized and analyzed and presented to us in charts and graphs. We are encouraged to make all kinds of positive life changes, since we must need to take better care of ourselves in some way. And thus are born New Year’s parties and kisses and toasts and resolutions. Yet what really changes? The calendar on the wall, the display on electronic devices, a legal holiday from work and life goes on as it did before.

Please don’t misunderstand. I believe the traditions of reflection on the past and anticipation of a new set of 365 days, unmarred by tragedy or life stress, are valuable. We long to make tangible the intangible. We long for new beginnings. We long for renewed hope. I remember a passage from Isaiah:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?…”

Isaiah 43:18-19b (NIV)

I have sermon notes in the margin of my Bible. The speaker suggested that remembering successes leads to pride and remembering failures leads to guilt, both pride and guilt being bad things. Perhaps that was a good message for Isaiah’s audience. I’m not sure it speaks to me tonight.

I want to remember the good things of this year–new lives added to our family, the times I have caught my breath at the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the satisfaction of teaching children’s Bible classes, the emotion accompanying songs of praise in worship. I want to remember the kind words spoken to me, the unexpected pleasant surprises, the gratification of seeing patients do well after I’ve been involved in their care.

And I want to learn from the year’s failures, from the times a more thoughtful choice might have avoided future distress, from the times I could have expressed my thoughts better in a blog or note or paragraph. I want to be more patient, kind, and, above all, more loving and remembering the times that I failed to show those qualities may help me achieve a needed adjustment of attitude!

I believe both of these exercises can help me hope. I suspect hope is what a lot of the world needs right now. I know I do. I hope for a healthy family and one particular restored relationship. I hope for peace. Many hope for food and clean water and shelter. We all hope for a government that governs for all the people with integrity and in a civil manner. What about hoping for cleaner speech in television and movies because we all really don’t talk like that? We need hope for a world where families don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to escape violence and death and poverty only to be met with a “no admission” sign.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

I guess my faith is not strong enough, because I certainly cannot be sure that some of the things I expressed hope for will come about in this current climate, culture, world. But I do know who true hope and peace and joy reside in–Jesus.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

May your 2019 be filled with peace of mind and heart, the joy of knowing life in Jesus, and the love of family and friends.

I’m needy. Are you?

From “Upper Room Hymns”, compiled by Harry Denman and Grover C. Emmons, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, c. 1942.

This hymn has been on my mind lately. Life has been a bit hard. Sometimes today’s slang use of “needy” implies a self-centric or weak disposition. But aren’t we all needy on some level?

After all, no life is perfect. No matter how successful, wealthy, powerful, or blessed a person may appear to be. We all have our moments of doubt and worry and grief and, sometimes, despair. 

So, the words of that hymn have been on my mind. And I’ve even found myself paraphrasing it in my prayer journal.

“I need thee every second, minute, hour, day, week, month and year. I need thee every heartbeat, breath, movement, thought and tear. Guide me to find the way, your plan, and persevere. Restore to me joy and peace and ever hold me near.”

So, that’s my thought for the day. Wherever you are in your journey, whether on the mountaintop or in the deepest valley, may you feel God’s presence and find His way for your life. 

And, have a blessed Christmas season!

The Parish family tree here on Persimmon Ridge, looking out over “Lake Donnie”…..

Where’s your calm?

I’ve been intrigued by the recent introduction of the “calming comfort blanket” by Sharper Image. I did a little research and found that the beginning price of $99 is for 10 pounds of calming comfort through the weighted blanket. The 25 pound blanket (weight increases in 5 pound increments) is $169. The commercial includes a statement that the weighted blanket “feels like someone holding me.”

I really am more fond of fluffy down comforting and don’t think I would find a weighted blanket appealing, in spite of its scientifically weighted microbeads. But the whole idea that our society needs tangible comforting by an inanimate object kind of troubles me.

I know the world is a scary place. Sometimes I’m as scared an anyone else. Global warming, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes. Devastating floods. Famines, epidemics, war. The threat of nuclear conflicts. A nation more and more divided through battles over immigration, nationalism, and politics. Constant rhetoric that I’m sure our God is not pleased with. It troubles me, too.

And then there are the more personal stressors. Illness, physical and mental. Grief and loss. Addiction. Finances. Worry about retirement income with a questionable future for Social Security as well as the ups and downs of the stock market. Maybe just the heating and air going out in hot Arkansas summer (a recent personal stress.) The cost of prescription drugs.

My boss often says that “stress is the way we know we’re still alive.” He’s right, you know. Because we all have it. The question becomes how we deal with it.

Instead of a “calming comfort blanket” I like to imagine God wrapping his heavenly, strong, comforting, peaceful arms around me. Remember Jesus’ words:

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

Jesus didn’t promise an easy life, but he promised comfort, peace and joy even in our “brief and momentary” troubles if we rest in him.

And Peter wrote:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1Peter 5:7 NIV

It’s one of my favorite verses. And what about the Psalmist’s words?

Be still, and know that I am God;     Psalm 46:10a NIV

Isn’t that the hardest part? To be still. To trust. To yield control to a higher power, all-knowing, loving, gracious, merciful. The One who holds our lives in his hands and knows our beginning and promises eternity with him.

Finally, Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 NIV

Perhaps there are answers to today’s stress other than a comfort calming blanket. Go ahead, try one, if you think it will help. But there is a way of faith that costs nothing, except your heart and soul. Just sayin’…

My story in three acts . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

After a longer absence than I really planned (due to “light and momentary” issues), here goes for Act 2 of my story:

It seems to me that it corresponds in large part to my life as an advanced practice nurse, which started off rather sadly. My dad passed away in September before I completed my master’s degree in December. The passage above gave me comfort at the time of his death, for he was truly ready to go, tired of constant pain. My mom called about 3 a.m. on the day of his death (just a couple of days after Dad had told Daniel that he’d better “hurry up and get married” if he wanted his Papa to be there). He was coughing up blood. When I got there he told me, “There’s just so much a man can do.” My reply was that whatever he needed to do was fine. Six hours later he left this world to enter that unseen one, eternity with his Lord.

Jobs for nurse practitioners in small town Arkansas were not plentiful in 1997. While I was still working in administration and not yet through with my studies, a local cardiologist had asked what I planned to do with my new licensure. At that time I suggested that working as an extender in a busy medical practice appealed to me. However, after graduation I was actively recruited to work as a primary care provider in a clinic in my hometown. I was also interviewed for a position with an (at that point) unidentified physician in a multi-specialty clinic, who turned out to be the above-mentioned cardiologist. There were elements of the hometown clinic that were very appealing, including the financial aspects. But after a lot of soul searching it became apparent that the cardiology practice was where I needed to be. It was a good decision; the local clinic closed just a couple of years after its implementation. I believe that choice was a turning point in my life.

There have been many benefits to the employment choice I made. After more than 21 years in that collaborative practice, I have no regrets. Not only have I grown professionally, I have grown spiritually. Philosophical and theological discussions are not the routine in most work settings but have served as the stimulus to introspection and solidifying my beliefs. The example of true Christianity that he and his family demonstrate has influenced my walk of faith. And I needed that collegial relationship, because times were coming that seemed more than “light and momentary” troubles.

In 2004 our family was faced with the challenge of my daughter’s mental illness. It was a nightmarish year. A friend was instrumental in saving Cindy’s life, convincing her to seek care with her primary care physician. That encounter started us on the journey of a lifetime. Over the next eight months she was in and out of multiple hospitals after multiple suicide attempts. We faced a fragmented, overworked and expensive mental health system. Navigating the system would have been impossible without the support and prayers of friends and work family. I was juggling my work responsibilities with careing for her three-year-old son. I was back to single parenthood (I had not remarried at that time). A Christian friend recommended a depression workshop.  There I met the physician just finishing her psychiatric residency who would become my daughter’s lifeline and who continues to supervise her care today, fourteen years later. I think that was a “divine appointment.”

We have been blessed through Cindy’s strength and desire to be well. We involved our church family as prayer partners in our journey by openly sharing various elements of her illness and treatment. Cindy continues to demonstrate superb adherence to her medical therapy and physician visits, and she has become one of the rocks I lean on through hard times. Because more trauma would follow.

It’s no secret that August 26, 2015, changed my life as a mother. Our son’s death by suicide at the age of 41 years marked a turning point in all our lives. In my nursing career I had often encountered parents who had lost a child. I found myself frequently trying to express compassion by the comment that “that must be the worst kind of loss.” I can now attest, through my own experience, that it is a terrible grief made more terrible if that death occurs by suicide. That event led to my personal passion for increasing awareness, encouraging open conversation, and preventing suicide.

There were also brighter times. In 2005 I married the wonderful man who loves and supports me every day. And an unexpected benefit of my employment was that my physician/boss/friend,  who is also a licensed preacher, performed the ceremony! Living here on “Persimmon Ridge” (the name’s origin is meat for another story) in the home my husband designed and built for us is a priceless gift. His unremitting support and encouragement has allowed me to publish two inspirational novels, and he continues to be my biggest fan and self-appointed publicity agent as I pursue the dream of being known as an author.

However, through the experiences of Cindy’s illness and ongoing recovery and Daniel’s death one thing has remained steadfast–my faith. I believe in a loving God who is in control, who has the overarching plan for my life, who allows nothing beyond my potential to withstand with God’s help, and who offers an unending supply of hope. He has placed people in my life who have supported, encouraged, and inspired me. The troubles often don’t feel “light and momentary” but, rather, heavy and endless. But hindsight reveals the brighter hilltop experiences, those divine appointments, the heavenly discernment, and the benefits of just persevering in the walk of faith whatever the struggle.

There it is, another brief part of my story. My Act 2 is not yet finished but close enough to the ending for me to reflect on where I’ve been as I try to anticipate the next act. I trust in one truth:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9 NIV

I’ve seen the Lord’s hand in the design of my life. Have you?

My story in three acts

What if we viewed life as a three-act play with God as the author, producer, and director?

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 119: 13-16

I read the most interesting thing today. It compared God’s plan for our lives to a story. And, being the story-teller that I am, I was intrigued. Imagine, God in his infinite wisdom and love, designing the story of our lives! AND, since I just returned from a writer’s conference where all the discussion was about story structure versus “organic” writing where the story just “writes itself”, well, you can imagine how my mind is reeling with the implications of that!! Seriously, I kind of get it. My Act 1 went kind of like this:

Having always felt that there was a higher power who was “in charge” of my life, it was easy to see an unseen force at work in the course of my life. Brought up in the “Bible belt”, the daughter of parents who struggled financially but loved me greatly, and somehow always wanting to be at the top of my class, I had extraordinary opportunities–(which I didn’t take full advantage of). One event that impacted my life greatly was my father’s heart attack when I was 16. In 1966 Searcy, Arkansas, there was no specialized cardiology care. I often wonder how he survived until much later in life when he had bypass surgery.

Early in life I recognized the need for a Savior, and at age 11 “walked the aisle” and was baptized. Later, as a 16-year-old, I became convicted that I hadn’t fully made the commitment required of me, and was, once again, baptized into the small Baptist church our family attended. But in no way did my faith start maturing until I had experienced a lot more of life.

You see, I dropped out of fully-scholarship-funded college to marry and have two kids (boys). The miraculous provision of an extraordinary deal on tuition at a fine Christian university a few years later allowed me to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing (in the second nursing class to graduate from that institution). It became evident that nursing was, indeed, my calling. And divorce and single-parenting (by that time two boys and a toddler daughter) was certainly easier because I was a professional with a college degree and a reasonable income.

There were some really challenging times, though. Middle son broke his leg through the growth plate on a forbidden three-wheeler ride. He was recognized for his scholarship in sixth grade but by his high school days was selling term papers to his classmates–his fee varied according to the grade they desired (I only discovered this years later.) He broke his arm jumping from a folding chair to dunk the basketball. He didn’t finish high school–completed his GED–and presented me with my first grandchild (who is, by the way, one of God’s best gifts to my life). Older son did not neglect to cause me some worry. There was a gunshot wound (not life-threatening)–hearing that news from an ER physician as I returned home from other son’s basketball game was an experience, to say the least. I remarked to a friend that God was preparing me for something, and that, if this was prep school, I didn’t want to go to college.

Nursing became my life. Maybe too much so. Maybe it robbed my children of some of my attention. Nonetheless, I loved being at the bedside. It was what I think of as the “glory” years of nursing. There was no “nursing” a computer or struggling to meet Medicare guidelines. The registered nurse was “in charge” and knowledgeable about all the patients on the unit. Knowing that I made a difference that prolonged someone’s life, that I could start that IV when nobody else could, that I caught the clinical clue that helped the physician make a diagnosis, meant the world to me. I advanced to middle management and then taught in a junior college nursing program for a year. Returning to the hospital where I had “grown up” as a nurse, I became the nurse administrator. Oh, there were no vice president titles for nursing back then. I was a simple DON (director of nursing), but with the same responsibilities as a VP.

Those were some painful times. The me-too movement was not alive and well, and I ended up navigating a somewhat awkward work environment which became downright hostile. I didn’t like firing people. I wanted to be back at the bedside and burned the candle at both ends in order to have some clinical time. I discovered that I was not called to be an administrator, I was called to be a nurse.

Good things happened, too. A spiritual retreat called an “Emmaus Walk” reinforced my faith. I began to teach Sunday School and sing in the choir at church. The Bible and Christian studies and keeping a journal, which often contained written prayers, became more of a habit. I wonder what my kids will think of, do with, all those books after I’m gone? Some really good pastors came and went at my church, and a couple made a huge impact on my life.

You wonder why I reveal so much of my past? Because throughout every valley, every crisis, every challenge, I knew God was real. I may have questioned and argued and pleaded and resisted, but I was certain that I was in good hands. At this point in my life, I find my self looking back and evaluating where I came from and the paths I’ve traveled. It’s only natural to wonder what comes next. But Act 2 remains to be told, and Act 3 is waiting to be lived.

It’s time for intermission. But I wonder, what is the Act 1 of your story?

 

Ambushed. . .

ambush2

Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.