"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Friday, December 22, 2017

It's Okay to Wish Me a Merry Christmas

The recent death of my brother has put many people with whom I come in contact in a bind. They don’t know what to say during this time of grief that has been placed in what should be known as Christmas joy. Some shuffle their feet. Some look to the ground. Some avoid looking me in the eye. And others, well, they just avoid it all together and say nothing at all. I so appreciate their sensitivity to our family’s situation, our loss, but let me just put you at rest: it’s okay to wish me a merry Christmas.

Thomas was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma in October of 2014. The worst of the worst. But even then, we were not without hope. After all, isn’t hope what you hang on to in dire situations? It was for us. Surgeries pursued. The family was introduced to a new normal that at times even looked like the old normal. Thomas continued practicing dentistry. Leading worship in church. Taking vacations with his family and even running in 5K’s. We held tightly to hope. Hope that Thomas would be completely healed and live to walk his 2 daughter’s down the aisle. Our hope gained fresh ground as MRI’s kept coming back as “stable.” Yes, hope. Until two and half years later when we received the news: “There has been some progression.” And finally the doctor’s pronouncement, “We have exhausted all avenues of treatment.”

What does one do with that? 

Well, you hope. 

What followed was 3 months of rapid decline. Thomas lost his ability to process information or convert what his eyes were seeing. Visiting Angels were called in. Then Hospice. He went from walking, to a wheelchair and then to a bed. And in each stage, he remained so gentle. So kind. So Thomas. And through it all, he remained faithful to the hope he had found in Jesus so long, long ago. His one longing was to glorify His God through it all. And that's exactly what he did.

Hope remained alive in us as well. As the family was gathered around Thomas' bed in those last hours and minutes, we sang everything from “Jesus Loves Me” to “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” to “Because He Lives.” Yes, hope. We spoke words of blessings. Prayed prayers. Read Scripture. Moments before he took his last gentle breath, his wife Bristol quietly asked the children, “What is our only comfort in life and death?” And together they recited the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. It was a very sacred and holy moment as they declared together over their father:

“That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”

And thus is the legacy Thomas leaves. To his wife. To his 5 children. To all who knew him. A legacy of hope because his faith was fully in Christ Jesus.

I have said so many times that this has been our greatest sadness to date, but we have never been nor are we now without hope. So, it’s okay to wish me a merry Christmas, for Christmas is when God made good on His promise to send that Savior, Jesus Christ, into the world to be our salvation, our restoration, our deliverance, and ultimately, our hope. 

So to you and yours, merry Christmas and bright hope for tomorrow.

Just an ordinary moment…

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Great Allower

I read the account in John's gospel last week concerning Jesus' healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, a pool of mercy, near the Sheep Gate -- aptly named because that's where the sacrificial animals were brought into the Temple. It appears that the man was not the only one at the pool that day, but rather just one of what could have been a hundred or more persons. Each hopeless. Each helpless. Each in need of healing. Which begs the question: Why? Why this man? Why not the one next to him? Why not the whole lot of them? It's a legitimate question. With no legitimate answer. After all, weren't they ALL waiting for the waters to stir? Isn't that why each one was there?

In what appeared to be a moment of clarity that same day, my brother mumbled, "Life. I don't understand. It's not supposed to be this way."

"You're right, Thomas," I said as I leaned over his body and stroked his graying beard as he lay there in bed. "It's not supposed to be this way. And I don't have an answer for you. His ways are mystery to me. Like you, I don't understand. Yet I resolve myself to trust even when I cannot see or do not comprehend."

We are quick to acknowledge God as Loving, Faithful, True, Compassionate, Mighty, Holy, Forgiving -- just the beginning of an endless list of attributes. Yet, among the many things God is, we rarely acknowledge Him, much less worship Him, as the Great Allower. In fact, it just might be the most difficult to name. Truly, it's humanity's biggest complaint with God. Yet didn't Jesus Himself say, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to Me?" (Matthew 20:15)

Does that mean I understand this suffering? No. It remains mystery to me. But I'm still going to trust the One who allows it.

Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NAS)

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Fair Metaphor

It’s no secret to those that know me and my husband — as well as my brothers and their families — we are fair junkies. I’m not sure what prompted us to such; after all, we didn’t grown up going to such expositions or festivals. In fact, I only went to one fair in my childhood. I was in 6th grade, loved riding the double ferris wheel, and threw up the entire night afterwards. So my attraction to such is really unwarranted. 

But something about the Georgia National Fair caught me when it opened its doors back in 1989. My youngest child was in a stroller and Ray Stevens was the big draw; and I haven’t missed one since. You can even find me each year with a pencil and clip board walking the aisles of cakes, breads or grits as a culinary judge. 

For those first dozen or so years, my husband and I spent a lot of time over on the midway with our children — watching as they rode those rides that are put up what seems like overnight. And then came the years where they were grown-up enough they didn’t need our supervision and so we enjoyed the walking, the eating, the shows, the livestock and the fireworks. But now we have a grandson and it’s all about those rides again when he comes visiting. And what fun it is! 

I spent the best part of Friday night and the most part of yesterday having just that. Fun. I watched racing pigs chase after Oreos, eyed and learned about venomous snakes, fed carrots to a giraffe, ducked into a teepee, nervously watched a dare devil act, saw a real live Transformer morph into a Robo Car and drive away, watched a magic show, walked through the cow barn, was amazed by Pogo Fred as he slithered his body through a child’s tennis racket all the while jumping on an 8 foot pogo stick, and I ate portions of both a red velvet funnel cake and fried chocolate chip cookie dough, not to mention fried cheese. 

But I must admit the highlight of the entire day was watching two of my adult children ride the bumper cars with my grandson and great-nephew — both 6 years-old. I was completely mesmerized by the joy contained in that electric arena -- not just by those I call mine, but by every person who sat behind a wheel or rode as a passenger. The diversity of people was as great as the fish in the sea, and yet they were all involved in an activity that was bringing them such great unity … and joy. The chasing. The eluding. The bumping. The gut wrenching laughter by all participants. 

And as I stood there watching, I couldn’t help but be filled with the same great joy. When my husband approached, I pointed and said, “This is a picture of heaven.” 

The Greek root of the word metaphor means “to carry across” a meaning — to get from one place to another. Richard Rohr writes in his book The Divine Dance, “The paradox is, all metaphors by necessity walk with a limp.” But it’s the only possible language we have when it comes to speaking about God or trying to describe the kingdom ... or heaven in this case. Bumper cars might be a poor metaphor for heaven, but yesterday, for me, it worked. And in the meantime, I got to taste, and maybe even live, a portion of it from a very mundane, earthy position.

There are still 7 days left for fair going this year. There is still lots to do, see, hear and eat. Horse shows, cinnamon rolls and the world’s largest traveling ferris wheel await. But for now, I’m sitting with the bumper cars and my little window into heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is like...

Just an ordinary moment…

Monday, September 11, 2017

Irma: Brooding Above the Waters

As I sit here writing this, tropical storm Irma is blowing herself through. I’ve situated myself away from my normal writing space as there’s a tall sentinel of a pine standing watch just outside those sunroom windows. But there’s a view here in my music room and I still watch the to and fro of the smaller trees in the front yard and the larger ones in my neighbor’s giving way to the once hurricane force winds. I’m grateful for this seat.

As everyone else here in the southeastern part of the country, I too have been watching the approach of this storm for days now as it has broken all kinds of records. The size alone has given it its place in history. Maybe that is what has intrigued me the most. Its immensity. No doubt, even its advent yesterday as I took in with my eye the layer upon layer of clouds brought such feelings of majesty and awe. But as I have watched it make its way across the waters onto land, there is one word that has lodged itself in me.


So instead of seeing this mass of destruction, I began watching a move of God Himself as I recalled Genesis 1:2 — “God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss” (MSG).


My dictionary reads:

“To sit upon to hatch, as a bird; incubate.”

“To warm, protect, or cover with the wings or body.”

“To cover, loom, or seem to fill the atmosphere or scene.”

Strong’s definitions for this word in Genesis 1:2 is “to brood; by implication, to be relaxed: — flutter, move, shake.” 

Wow, “to be relaxed” is definitely not the image provided by the weather outside my window at this moment or that which has swept across Florida in these overnight hours. But it does fit the brooding definition above.

As I think about that verse in Genesis again, I try to imagine what that first brooding looked like. Did the Spirit indeed take the form of a storm, maybe an Irma or a Harvey, as He swept over the face of the waters — brooding? Did He move methodically, following a directional path? Did the waters become turbulent or respond in peace? However it happened or played out, I imagine it to have been of “historical proportions.” After all, the very next verse reads, “THEN God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” The Great Community joining in the dance of creation. Life. Talk about history being made.

And so these last days, I have been thanking God for the seeming storms in my life. And for the new things He is doing — in me, through me, for me, as well as in, through and for my people. That His Spirit is brooding, incubating, hatching.

Yes, it looks like a storm. But the point remains: I know that His Spirit IS moving. He’s still brooding. He still warms and protects and covers. He continues to fill the atmosphere and birth new things. Sometimes it just looks like a hurricane. The rains come and the winds rage. Things flutter, move and shake. But above it all, there is God who remains steady and sure. And who calls forth light and life.

Be watchful.

Just an ordinary moment….

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Mother's Day to Remember

I almost didn't publish this particular post. To the casual reader, it will be laborious; to the one looking for some deep thought, a waste of time. And while it was written in the early morning from my deck off the sunroom, it didn't arrive via long hours of contemplation or introspection but in the midst of a spring sinus headache. But for me, it is about a day to remember. And that's why I write.

I realize that for some, many even, Mother's Day is not a day to which they can look forward or enjoy. It's often a day that holds great heartache, questions, and regret. And certainly sadness. But Sunday night as I fell into bed, I did so with such a full heart and with such great joy.

What I thought was to be a day of church, lunch and a visit with my own mom turned out to be much more. My daughter surprised me by showing up on my door steps unexpectedly. (Her dad was aware of her arrival -- something they had been planning for days.) At my request, they took me to one of the city's finer restaurants: Maddio's Pizza, where she and I split a freshly made salad and dined on the best gluten-free pizza. When Marynan suggested we "get our nails done," we assured her dad that this was not a girls-only invitation and that he was welcomed to come, but he opted to drop us off at the door and hang out at the mall. Let me just say that any time I get to spend with my baby girl can always be labeled "experience." FUN experience at that. Humor is forever to be found when I'm with her. Even in the hard times. She sees it and she goes for it. Yes, she knows how to laugh -- and so laugh we do. As we sat there chair to chair, we had to intentionally avoid eye contact or else embarrass ourselves due to all the comic activity going on both around us as well as throughout the salon. At one point, I asked the darling conversing Korean girls in front of us, "Are you talking about us?" In horror, mine responded, "No!" To which my startled wide-eyed daughter silently mouthed to me, "Now they will be."

We left the salon and walked to Menchie's where we met my husband and all enjoyed a bowl of frozen yogurt while we sat on the patio in the beautiful May weather. We were able to relive with him the hilarious episodes of the previous events -- this time not having to withhold our laughter.

Shortly after, Marynan and I went to visit my mom who had a pound cake in the oven. Isn't that what mother's do? Fortunate for us, the cake tested done while we were there and we tested it "delicious." We split the first slice, which was almost too hot to handle, and then decided on another. Truly, nothing is better than my mom's pound cake straight out of the oven. Hot pound cake. It's the way she loves us. We cut 3 more slices and brought them home with us for later. 

Soon after arriving back at our house, my cell rang and my 6-year old grandson said, "Hi, G-Nan! Happy Mother's Day!" What a treat to spend a little time with him and his dad talking with both of them on speaker. When I asked him what he and his dad had planned while his mother is completing her master's degree at Asbury Theological Seminary this week, he said, "We've talked about it but haven't settled on anything yet." That made me laugh coming from such a young fellow. But at the present, they were watching "Homeward Bound," the same movie I must have watched a hundred times with his dad when he was little. What joy then. What joy now.

Just minutes later, I was on the phone with my first born; the one who actually made me a mother. He told me that he was sitting in Starbuck's writing a post for his blog, Sacred Brewings -- and had just hit the button to post. No clues were given, but after we got off the phone, I saw where it was entitled, "Mom." It didn't take long for the tears to spill over as I began reading such a beautiful tribute. I'm not sure I've ever received a more special Mother's Day gift. I had to completely redo my makeup before heading out for Mexican.

The day ended with Marynan and me sitting together on the couch, eating toasted pound cake, sipping Rose, and watching last week's episode of Dancing With the Stars. Indeed a perfect end to a perfect day.

Yes, I fell in bed with the thought: "I don't know when I've enjoyed a Mother's Day more."

So why write a blog about it? Because as I was sitting on my deck the next morning thinking about the day's events and recalling just how much I enjoy my children, not just this past Sunday but every time I'm with them, I sensed the Lord say to me: "Don't you see? That's the way I enjoy you." Yes, He loves us, but He also truly ENJOYS us. Not for what we do. Or for how we behave. Or for how we attempt to serve Him. No, He enjoys us simply because we are His children. Yes, His. 

Probably the most famous question asked to young Presbyterian children is this: What is the chief end of man? The answer: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Maybe we also need to be reminded that He enjoys us, too. At least I do. So I just wanted to remember -- and offer you the same opportunity as well.

Just an ordinary moment...