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

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hand of Blessing

Each night when my husband gets in from work, he makes his way to the backyard and lets our two dogs in: Gabe -- a beagle lab mix, and Rusti -- a red healer, and they are as different in personality as they are in color. In fact, we often joke that their personalities mimic mine and my husband's. Rusti is full energy -- and obnoxious. Gabe, being older, is very laid back and quite calm.

This evening while resting on the couch during Monday Night Football, Rusti came up to me and placed both paws squarely on my stomach and began licking me profusely. It's a habit of which I've not been able to break her. I proceeded to scratch her belly for awhile before making her get down. Moments later, Gabe approached, but instead of jumping up on me with both paws, he gently nudged his muzzle up under my hand until it was resting firmly upon his head. Patiently he waited for me to begin to stroke. And I did.

I really appreciate Rusti's enthusiasm and her willingness to be energetic in her "kisses" and "love" toward me, but sometimes it can be a little much and I just push her away. However, Gabe's gentle nudging and "pressing in" wins me about every time. I can't help but lovingly pet that black sheen.

So it got me to thinking: is my enthusiasm ever a little much for God? Does He ever grow weary of my affection? Surely not. I don't think He ever tires of either. But I wonder if sometimes He just wants to say, "Child, would you please just nuzzle in close and place yourself under my hand so that I might respond in love?"

Each day I pray that God would place His hand of blessing on my children's heads. Tomorrow morning, I plan to press in close myself, imagining that strong, protective hand -- and wait.

Maybe I can learn a thing or two from a dog after all.

Just an ordinary moment...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Something You'll Never Forget"

I first became acquainted with Lisa while standing in line at our Thursday night dinner at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church some 15 years ago. I liked her immediately. She was cute, had a great smile, was energetic -- and she loved talking about family. Ended up we had children the same age and who were in school together. Mary Beth and Robert were in 3rd grade, and Ginny and Marynan were in kindergarten at the time. And her oldest, Matt, was a couple of years older than my Charles. As for her husband, Gary, I learned he was a test pilot for Gulfstream; and a retired Navy pilot. I asked her how she dealt with such a "job" of taking off and landing on aircraft carriers, and her response stuck with me: "I imagine him going to work each day and sitting behind a desk."

Time passed and mine and Lisa's relationship grew just as did our children's. They went to summer camps together, they "hung out" at the Freemans on the river, they swam, played basketball, they sang in the children's choir, did youth, and more recently, spent 10 days on a mission trip in Costa Rica together. And in the meantime, Matt fulfilled his life-long desire and dream and left for the Naval Academy. In time, he earned his wings, piloted a C130, and settled into a life of serving his country in the United States Marine Corps.

Surely, on more than one occasion, Lisa must have imagined her son sitting behind a desk. But on Friday morning, August 7, 2009, Lisa and Gary got the visit that every parent fears and prays will never happen. Men in uniform showed up. Captain Matthew C. Freeman had been defending our country on a ground mission in the mountains of Afghanistan and, while gallantly leading his team under enemy fire, suffered a mortal wound at the hands of more than 80 insurgents.

Even as I write those words, I feel I must pause again and give reverence to such a heavy cost to this precious family...

When I told my dad that I would be attending the funeral service, he said, "That's something you'll never forget." And he was right. Riding through this bedroom community of Richmond Hill, one could feel the emotion that was hanging on every flag and expressed through every billboard. It was no doubt a community in deep grief for one of its own. The receiving line at the visitation stretched over three hours in length as friends and colleagues paid their respects. Even those who had no connection with the family or Matt waited their turn just because they "wanted to express gratitude for Matt's service and their condolensces to the family." It was an outpouring of community love and care.

Because we knew we had only seen a small portion of that outpouring the night before, Marynan, Todd, and I got to the church for the 11:00 service almost two hours in advance. By 10:00, the sanctuary was filled and guests were being directed to the overflow rooms. Our wait provided opportunity to reflect and watch. Soldier after soldier entered, many approaching the flag-draped casket and placing some small token of remembrance on its cover. At one point, an elderly man, bent with age, walked the aisle, and when directly in front of the casket, straightened himself to a state of attention, saluted, spoke a few quiet words, gave another salute, and then turned crisply on his heals to walk back to his seat. What a moment to remember.

Matt's bride of 3 weeks, weighted on her father's arm, led the family in the processional. The funeral service itself was perfectly tuned to Matt's personality. Pastors spoke of Matt's faith, a former teach spoke of his antics, and his uncle spoke of his love for his family. We sang Lord of the Dance, the Navy Hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save, and a song of resurrection: He Lives. The RHUMC did a beautiful job with In Christ Alone; and then, of course, at the end of the service was the soul stirring sound of the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.

As the flag-draped casket left the sanctuary flanked by pall bearers wearing air force, navy, sailor and marine attire, not one person was left untouched by the magnitude of the moment. Outside were not only 100 flag holding Patriot Guard Riders standing at attention and warding off any who might dare come as war protesters, but also numbers of people had gotten out of their vehicles to pay their respects, many giving their children a visual of the cost of their freedom. The pall bearers saluted one last time and the hearse and family drove away as the sky opened up and the tear-shaped rain drops began to fall.

It was indeed a service filled with faith and hope which only echoed Lisa's very painful words to me on that fateful Friday afternoon: "Matt's resting in the arms of God now." And indeed he is. He had placed his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ at an early age. How appropriate that his bronze start citation would read in part: "He fought with bravery and determination while demonstrating unwavering courage in the face of the enemy." By putting on the full armor of God, Matt lived out in the flesh what was true of his spirit. And whereas he could say with Paul, "To live is Christ," he was just as able to say with confidence and now with reality, "To die is gain."

Capt. Matthew Freeman, our family salutes you. You will not be forgotten.

Combat Heroes SPC Lowe and Captain Freeman

Funeral service coverage by WASV-TV news

Funeral service coverage by WTOC news

Afghanistan memorial service

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Moment of Reflection

I've been going through some old pictures lately, and whereas it's definitely not the first time I've seen these prints, it is the first time I experienced such a strange feeling. As I was thumbing through the album, it suddenly hit me -- "Hey, that's me. That body, soul, spirit ... personality ... DNA that is in each one of these pictures, is me!" I guess, up until that point, I had not really associated myself with that little girl. And it was the oddest sensation.

But the closer I looked, the more I could see me.

I still love to "preach" to anybody who will listen.

I still love to swing.

I still love to be treated like a lady.
I still have insecurity issues.
I still love Christmas -- and purses.
I still love trying on and finding the perfect shades.

I still love to dance.

I still love celebrating birthdays.
And I most definitely still love playing and worshiping at the piano.
Of course, then these two birds came along ... and that was all she wrote as far as pictures of Chip and me go.
But as I look back as these pictures, and others like them, more than anything, I'm reminded that even as a little girl, Christ was being formed in me. And truthfully, I cannot recall a time when I did not know Jesus nor love Him. And whereas I might not have lived every day to please Him, He has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. But even more than that, Ephesians tells me that long before God laid down earth's foundation, He had me in mind and that He had settled on me as the focus of His love so that I might be made whole and holy. Long ago, He decided to adopt me into His family and make me His child for no other reason than it was His sheer pleasure to do so. Yes, God had His eye on me from the very beginning and had designs on my life for glorious living -- which fits all within His grand purpose and plan.

But this is not just my story. It's yours as well. He has identified you as His own, and you, too, are the apple of His eye. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus and the blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we have all been given full redemption as children of God. And by His grace, He has provided in large measure everything we could possibly need to live a life of purpose and bring Him praise and glory.

Take a moment to look back -- and give thanks.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Place to Breathe

My sinuses have been playing havoc with me for the last month -- as have many to whom I've spoken recently. All the medication has seemed to have little effect, so I loaded up my trusty Explorer and headed for the sands of Tybee Island last week to see if the salt air might do me a bit of good.

After a quick lunch at Papa's Seafood and Barbecue -- which serves the best shrimp salad this side of the Mississippi (not to mention sweet potato fries) -- I headed for the water. My very special friend, Sally, insisted I use her parent's house for my little afternoon retreat. It could have been worse.

Here's a picture from the water.

And here's one from the balcony.
Not a bad place to clear one's head. Or to doze on a hammock -- which I did off and on all afternoon when I wasn't reading and resting on the swing or in the rocker with my feet propped up on the rail.

Song of Solomon 2:10 puts it beautifully: My lover spoke and said to me, "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come away."

Yes, indeed. What a wonderful place to "come away" -- and breathe.

Just an ordinary moment...


Julie is a special breed when it comes to being a friend. The rarest kind. I remember the first time she walked into the fellowship hall for our Thursday night dinner at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church. I liked her immediately. But our relationship really began to flourish as we began meeting at the ballpark to watch our boys play baseball.

Julie and I "did" Sunday School and Bible study together. We enjoyed the same Koinonia group for several years, eating together monthly with our spouses in tow. Julie even taught me how to camp. When we pulled into the campsite that first afternoon, she said, "This is what you do." The girl pulled out two folding chairs and motioned for me to sit. She said, "We watch while the guys do all the work." Ah, yes. Friends for life!
I even experienced my first -- and only -- St. Patrick's Day Parade in Savannah with this dear friend. What a day to remember. We're proof that you can do the day without alcohol -- and enjoy it!
Julie and I have spent days at Universal Studios and nights evacuating hurricanes. We always find each other amid thousands of ladies at women's conferences. And just a few months ago, we found ourselves in Rome, GA during the coldest weather this part of the country has just about ever seen. She has even been a Mama to my middle child -- not only by leaving the light on for him at night, but by doing his laundry for months on end.

Julie is beautiful, gracious, generous, giving, and hospitable. She throws every bride a party and every new mother a shower. She rocks premi babies at hospitals and sits with friends who have lost loved ones. She has led numerous women's Bible studies, and not only is she a present force for her entire family, but she volunteers at youth events hosting 26,000 college age kids. She capsulizes a servant's heart and God uses her mightily on a daily basis.

Just before I left Richmond Hill, Julie showed up at my door one final time. As we were saying goodbye, the last thing she said was, "What am I going to do without you?" Well, dear friend, you've done just fine. In fact, I'd say you are very much esteemed among women and I am so honored to call you my friend.

A few more pictures:
Julie and Timothy (her baby) last week as we dined at Molly McPherson's in Richmond Hill.

John -- you're the man! I'll camp with you and Julie any day!

The kids at Universal Studios 10 years ago.

Julie and her "boys."
Matthew, John, Julie, Jonathon, Timothy

One last note on the boys:

Timothy is an awesome young man who becomes a Georgia Bulldog next Thursday -- leaving Julie and John as distraught empty nesters.

Matthew is finishing up his RN degree in Jacksonville, GA while his wife trains seals for the US government.

And Jonathon works for Shelley and Louie Giglio and tends to run out of gas in their driveway leaving him embarrassingly stranded.