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……”

Words of hope. . .

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My middle son was the victim of suicide on August 26, 2015. He was 41 years old. A bright, intelligent, creative, and talented young person, he had made some dangerous choices as an adult, choices that ultimately cost him his life. In her great wisdom, his beloved daughter shared this text with us the day after we laid him to rest:

This is going to be long but thought I should share with everyone. I’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web with Lorelai when we have time to read at night. It’s been a few days since we’ve had time for a chapter obviously but last night I sat down to read to her. Wouldn’t you know it was the chapter where Charlotte dies and I feel like the following quote was mean to be read by us after all of this:

“A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days. . .”         (from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, 1952)

It is hard to comprehend the torment that a mind must feel to result in ending one’s life so violently. I know that my son struggled with addiction and feelings of unworthiness. The man that ended his life was not the charming, outgoing, loving, sensitive son that I once knew. Somehow I feel that God looked down on this tormented soul and said, “Oh, son, in my great mercy and love I am going to allow you to make your way home to me so you can at last rest in peace once again.”

My prayer is that no other parent should feel this pain. My hope is that once again, for all of our family, we will enjoy “this lovely world, these precious days”, remembering the remarkable person who has gone on to a better home.

A new perspective. . . . .

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A few blogs ago my writing was full of angst as I talked about feeling like I was, figuratively, at the “end of my rope”. I wrote about a good friend’s advice that one should just “tie and knot and hang on” when finding oneself in that predicament. However, as I read from my favorite devotional Daily Strength for Daily Needs (compiled by Mary Tileston with original copyright 1997), I came across a sentence that changed my perspective.

Let us fall into the hand of the Lord. Amen.

Suddenly I could imagine letting go of that knot and drifting into the strong yet gentle hand of God as I fell. Is that not where we all need to be? Letting go of the need to control current events. Letting go of the worry about what might go wrong in the future. Letting go of the perceived need to be all things to all people. Letting go of the desire for the unattainable–perfection in this life.

And, instead of holding on for dear life as that rope burns our hands and our sweaty palms begin to slip, just trusting that our Lord and Savior is there to catch us as we fall, and letting go. He is, after all, our Savior.

The psalmist wrote about God’s hand:

Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. Psalm 31:5

and

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God. My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Psalm 31:14-16

And Peter spoke in the New Testament about “letting go and letting God”, when he wrote:

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

For several years I had this message posted on my refrigerator:

Good morning. This is God. I will be handling all your problems today. I will not need your help. Have a nice day.

I think I need to post it there again, to remind me that the rope of my life with all its difficulties and dilemmas and perceived disasters is poised right over God’s hand. I may just need to let go of that knot and rest in God’s strong, gentle, loving, open hand.

Thank you, Lord, for this reminder. I pray that it may speak to another’s heart. Amen.

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What’s in a flag?

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not a racist, white supremacist zealot who believes the confederate flag should be widely flown over state capitals in the south. I am a woman who grew up in the 60’s, a woman with vivid memories of what segregation was and the suffering of those who struggled to end that tragic era in American history. I cry when I watch the movie The Help. I celebrate when I “Remember the Titans”. I have a painful memory of my dad, in his ignorance, telling Mother that he was reluctant for me to ride to school with “those boys” in the 1950s in Indiana (a state so much more progressive than his home in the south). I didn’t understand that he was talking about the color of their skin.

But, a flag is just a piece of cloth, a part of this country’s history. It has no power to think, to plot, to obtain a weapon, or to pull a trigger. Destroying every confederate flag, every likeness of one, will do nothing to end the violence that marks our culture The confederacy existed. The Civil War happened. Changing school mascots and fight songs (Fort Smith’s the Rebels and “Dixie”) will not heal the wounds caused by bombs and bullets and words.  Changing the name of a street named “Confederate Boulevard” will not cause one extremist, one terrorist, one mentally deranged, one hate-filled and evil individual to forget their desire to injure innocent people. Destroying all reminders of that tragic chapter in America’s history puts us at risk of forgetting the reality–that American blood was shed on this soil because of man’s desire to control and use others for monetary gain, because of political forces desiring more power for the states and less for the federal government, and because of the ill-conceived and non-Biblical notion that all men are NOT created equal and that the color of one’s skin or the home of one’s ancestors is a formula to measure that individual’s worth.

Maybe we do need to see this flag occasionally, to remind us of just how bad things were. To remind us of the horrors of an America disunited. To inspire us to be more tolerant, more loving, more kind, and more prayerful. History exists so that we can learn from our mistakes. Have we really learned the lessons of the Civil War? The flag is not the problem. People are the problem. Evil exists in this world. Sin exists. Human nature is not perfect. We need more than just our humanity to keep us in line. We need God.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

Our land needs to be healed. Not just to be healed of those who cause mass murders and terrorist attacks, although, of course,  we all desire that those events should cease to exist. But to be healed of thinking that we can handle it all by ourselves. Our American tendency to a belief that independent individualism is the answer to all things is inherently flawed. This country was founded by men of faith. Our money reads “In God We Trust”. I’m afraid that we are trying to blame these tragic events on flags and guns and other inanimate objects that have no power to think or act on their own. It is human nature, which is by definition sinful nature and subject to evil influence, that attacks our land and the peoples of this world. Let us remember in whom we trust and remember his promise as quoted above. Let us each search our hearts for any errant ways and ask God to heal this land, beginning with “me”.

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Medicare and me. . . .

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My middle son reminded me last week that I’ve not posted on this site since April. Thanks, son. I was aware of that fact. (And I don’t recall you taking very kindly to my reminders of what you should do–but, that’s another subject for another day.) I’ve had a bit of writer’s block, I guess. I’m trying to blame that on a milestone I reached in May. That’s right. I am now legally a “senior” with Medicare rights and benefits. Somehow turning 65 does something to one. I don’t recall many other birthdays impressing me too much. Well, there was year 30–that was a big one–I was no longer a “twenty-something” with all the youthful connotations that inspires. That one depressed me for all of about 3 days. But I was really too busy to worry about birthdays 40, or even 50. Finishing my master’s degree in nursing. Career demands and changes. Family issues. Single parenthood and then grandparenthood.

But, now, ten years happily into my second marriage, I am no longer the lone adult in the family. Yes, my kids have reached chronological adulthood, but do mothers ever really stop worrying about them and their choices? Even two of my grandchildren have reached legal adulthood. I am very proud of both of them. My handsome 14 year old grandson is rapidly becoming an adult, growing physically and spiritually. And I have a great-granddaughter to brag about. I did not dread the turning 65 milestone and do not resent the Medicare business. I actually bragged about it a bit–it gives me a little leverage since I’m older than most of the medical staff I work with! So, what have I been in such a slump about? I’m trying to figure it out.

TEN REASONS I’M NOT BLOGGING ENOUGH:

1. My time away from my paying job seems more priceless every week. I count the days till I’m off and treasure every moment away from the job. And, face it, sometimes writing is just plain work.

2. The view from my front porch, where a breeze is almost always blowing, is irresistible.

3. There is always one more new recipe to try, many of my own imagination. What about a little citrus/dill/butter sauce for that salmon?

4. I am hooked on The Whispers, The Astronaut Wives Club, and Blue Bloods and can hardly wait for Downton Abbey and Cedar Cove to begin their new seasons.

5. I have three unread books on my nightstand.

6. I have twelve (yes, 12!) unread books on my Kindle.

7. I have one-click shopping on Amazon (therefore, #5 and #6 above).

8. Pedicures and visits to the hairdresser have become necessities, not luxuries. Have to camouflage that gray hair and reaching my toenails with a steady hand is a lot harder than it used to be!

9. I love my aging mother and want her to be cared for and happy.

10. My husband is my best friend and just sitting and holding hands with him makes me VERY happy.

So, what do I do with all this information? Beats me! I keep reminding myself that, yes, I do want to be a success as a writer. And, yes, I understand that in this day and time it’s all about “platform” and visibility and followers and presence.  But somehow I found that I need something more to keep me going.

And now I have found that “something”. Almost everyday someone in my world of acquaintances compliments the first book or asks how the second one is coming. Thank you to all who inspire me and remind me to keep plodding along in this venture. And, yes, thank you, son, for noticing my blog absence. I am flattered that you follow my blog presence!

I always come back Jeremiah 29:11, which reads:

 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.

Writing has been a part of my whole life–life as a student, life as a healthcare professional, life as a teacher, life as a manager and administrator in a healthcare system. I grew up writing letters–yes, communicating via postal service! I have a trunk full of prayer journals. Perhaps God knew that I needed 65 years of life experience and numerous faith challenges in order to fulfill his purpose for me at this time in my life. Perhaps my time is coming. Or, perhaps, my time is now.

Please, Lord, show me the path to take, give me the words to write, and strengthen my focus, discipline, and desire. And may it all serve your purpose and plan.

My rope …………

photo             I am obviously NOT an artist. However, the crude little drawing depicts in a very deliberate sense how I’ve been feeling. A good friend of mine often quotes a phrase that describes the survival skill illustrated by the drawing. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.—Franklin D. Roosevelt I really didn’t know the quote could be attributed to anyone famous until I read a motivational piece in a nursing journal recently. It spoke of resilience and flexibility and focus and adaptation as techniques to conquer burnout. Recently those qualities have been lacking in my life. My friend also says that stress is the daily reminder we have that we are still alive. Alive I surely must be. However, I was beginning to doubt my ability to survive. This week I have been reminded of some truths. They have touched my heart and enlightened my mind and strengthened my will to persevere.They have inspired me to not only hang on to that rope, but maybe to start climbing up it to higher ground. Because the ground of giving up the fight and giving in to despair is quicksand that will only suck me down further into a dark prison of defeat. What are the truths?

  • There is more to life than just the struggle here on earth. I have a Savior, Jesus Christ, and a perfect, joyful, eternal home awaits me when this life is over. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1)
  • God has a plan for my life, and He says in Jeremiah 29:11 that it is a “plan to prosper me and not to harm me”, a plan to “give me a hope and a future.” Furthermore, He says in Romans 8:28 that “all things work to the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Yes, I may not enjoy the storms of this life, but I can know that, as long as I “keep the faith”, they are growing me into a better person.
  • Even more encouraging is the truth that, even when I am too distraught, confused, or weak to articulate my hurts and needs, God hears my plea. Romans 8:26 reminds that, when I do not even know what to pray for or what the answer is, “the Spirit himself intercedes for me with groans that words cannot express.” And even Jesus himself prayed for me as recorded in John 17:20 when He says, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (the disciples’ and early church’s) message.”
  • I can do this! Not in my own strength, but in His strength. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) Not in my own strength, but through the blessing of loving friends and family who are constantly lifting us up in prayer as we face the challenges of these days.

My challenge now is to keep these truths fresh in my heart and to never forget the immeasurable goodness of God’s grace, love and mercy. I pray for each of you the same assurance.