Hedge of thorns. . . .

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I read a line in an old favorite devotional book the other day. The book is, indeed, old, probably out of print when my dear friend Arlene happened upon a copy. I’ve read and re-read several times since she gifted it to me in the 1990s–noting the years I read it through in the margin of the last page. Here it is:

A classic filled with “old” language that speaks to modern hearts.

That picture doesn’t do it justice, because now several pages are loose and the cover is reinforced with tape. No matter how many times I read it, I often find something “new” within the text. Kind of like when you read the Bible and all of a sudden that passage says something totally appropriate to the season you’re in but you’ve never really seen it that way before.

The phrase that captured my attention the other day is from an anonymous piece in the book. It reads,

My ways are, in a sense, hedged up with thorns and grow darker and darker daily.

Anonymous

You, see, this season of my life feels just that way. I am surrounded by a hedge of prickly thorns that stick me no matter which way I turn. There are just too many problems right now. I feel like I am constantly putting out fires.

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And putting out each fire takes time and energy, stealing my joy and peace and stamina and, sometimes, hope. But, what if I had the balance and fortitude of a little bird that perches, oh so nonchalantly, on that branch of thorns, impervious to the pricks and sticks, enjoying life?

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And, I found that I can navigate the sharp points of the thorny hedge, if I keep my head on straight and my heart on target. This morning I took the time to really pray, to listen to God rather than just listing things that I want or think I need. And today has been easier. The thorns haven’t brought blood (or tears) as they so often do. Because the answer is not found in my strength to fight the thorns, to escape the darkness. The strength must come from God.

I’m reminded of the fairy tale castles cursed by the wicked witch and surrounded by an impenetrable wall of thorns. Impenetrable until the prince comes with his gleaming sword and hacks powerfully through the hedge with magical powers, climbing ever upward until suddenly the shining castle comes into view, made new by the power of true love.

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All I have to do is connect with that power, God’s true love for me. No the hedge does not magically disappear, but the thorns lose their power to hurt, because I am clothed with the reassurance that God cares for my hurt and has a plan for all this to somehow work out.

One day I will see clearly what all this has brought about, how I’ve grown, the things I’ve learned, as I have persevered with God’s unfailing watchcare.

And I will be, once again, free of the hedge of thorns.

Hear my heart. . .

Yesterday I heard a song (while I was driving my grandson’s truck to be serviced—can you believe I would do that?) that really spoke to my heart. Because it reminded me that it’s ok to just be quiet before God. Especially when we’re hurting. And that’s where I was yesterday morning. Trying to go through the motions of “quiet time” that sometimes becomes “busy time.” “Get it done and check it off the list” time. C’mon, you’ve been there once or twice. And I was just hurting and empty and confused.

You see, my mama is ready to die. She tells me she prays everyday that she will be freed from this physical body and its pain. She’s even been angry with God because “He’s not answering my prayers anymore.” And I, in my nurse self, am trying to figure out what to do.

The idea that I should just be quiet so God can hear my heart is Biblical. Because one of my favorite passages in Romans, chapter eight, includes verse 26. It says that the “groanings” of my spirit are made intelligible to God by his Holy Spirit.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 ESV

The song goes on to say that even when we are singing praises to God in worship, no matter how fervently and passionately and sincerely we sing, that we should be asking God to, once again, hear our hearts. Because our mere words can never do justice to Him.

I usually write my prayers. But yesterday morning the written part was of the “help me, help me; thank you, thank you” variety. But, as always, in God’s awesome omnipresence, He was there, listening to my heart. And in His wisdom and mercy, He has provided an answer.

And I will praise Him for that, with my heart instead of my words.

The Great Physician. . .

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Life can be such a whirlwind. Don’t you agree? Mine is, has been, and probably always will be. So I’ve decided to share little snapshots of my life in the hope that some of them resonate with some of you.

My great-grandson was diagnosed a couple of months ago with endocarditis. That is an inflammation/infection (itis), inside (endo), the heart (card), roughly translated. Known to have a defect (hole) between the lower chambers of his heart (ventricular septal defect or VSD), he developed a month-long “fever of unknown origin,” meaning no one knew the cause.

But his brilliant and loving and gently assertive mother, my granddaughter, her mother’s intuition prevailing, persisted in getting medical evaluation after medical evaluation until the infection was found. (I think she has a lot of me in her.)

The vegetation (clump of bacteria) seen on the echocardiogram (ultrasound picture of the heart) was very large. We thought it would not completely clear until surgical repair of the VSD was done. A PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line was placed in his right arm, and he underwent six weeks of IV antibiotics with four of those weeks in the home. Again, the devotion and mildly OCD tendencies of his Mom, contributed to the success of the process. I do not think a little OCD is bad, by the way, since I rely on it regularly.

This past week a repeat ultrasound was done. The vegetation is gone! And I must thank the medical and nursing staff of Arkansas Children’s Hospital for their expertise in this rare and unusual situation. I must also thank Sully’s parents for their devoted care. I thank the multitude of prayer warriors across many states who prayed for his healing.

But, most of all, I thank God, our Creator and the Great Physician, who designed our lungs and touched this little boy with healing. The prayers of that multitude were answered. The antibiotics chipped away at the mass. Fragments traveled to the lungs where they were safely filtered away. And our boy is healed and ready to gain strength in preparation for surgical repair of the VSD.

Praise God! He is in control, even when we fret and fear. And he is good, all the time!

When have you seen God’s hand in your life?

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’…