Friday, December 31, 2010

We are All in the Same Boat

I began this New Year's Eve morning by reading a wonderful note from my cousin. Looking ahead to the coming year, Janey shared a few lines from the inspirational writing of Sue Monk Kidd. As I looked up the quote and read the entire piece by Kidd, I found her words convicting and compelling as I contemplate the coming new year.
On a bitter night in January, I sit on a train that rumbles away from the airport in Atlanta ... I'm supposed to be flying home to South Carolina, but minutes before my departure, the entire airport closed because of an impending ice storm ...

It's a long ride ... Soon there are only three of us. A middle-aged woman sits across from me. I look at her for the first time and notice that she's crying. As she wipes tears with the back of her hand, her gaze lingers on my face ... She's asking for my attention.

... I feel sad for her, but what can I do? She's carrying her own troubles and I can't fix them ... I look away from her, retreating into the murmur of the train. Quietly, uncomfortably unavailable.

... The second night she comes powerfully into my dreams. She sits across from me, this time in a rowboat. Her tears gush over the tiny precipice of her eyelids like waterfalls. The boat is filling up with this sad water, and I realize that if I don't do something, we're going to sink. Both of us ...
The dream cracks my heart, and I wake with solemn wonder, reunited with an old truth:

People with profound human needs and suffering do not, as I have half-imagined and half-wished, travel in a boat separate than mine. In ways I have scarcely appreciated, we are all in the same boat, and I can't be unavailable to their suffering without jeopardizing my own soul. We will sink together or we will float together.
Excerpted from Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd, Guideposts Books, 2006

Similarly, Jesus spoke of the opportunity to share in the sufferings of others in Luke 10:30-34 ~
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he say him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 
I am moved by the words Martin Luther King, Jr., in response to Jesus' Parable of the Good Samaritan ~
The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But ... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
Convicting. There have been times when I did not stop when those around me were asking for my attention; times when I may have stopped and merely watched as they strained at the oars. There have been times when I could have, no should haveclimbed in the boat to bail water or simple sit still to balance the boat against the storms of life. I admit, it is so much easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep. But that is the essence of living in community.

Compelling. My prayer and hope for the new year is that I would be willing to be fully present in the lives of those around me; to recognize that we are all in the same boat, and I can't be unavailable to their suffering without jeopardizing my own soul. We will sink together or we will float together.

May these thoughts be more than New Year's Eve sentiment, but truly motivate me to redeem the future that lies ahead in the coming year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

At the Crossroads

The Prophet Jeremiah wrote ~

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is,
and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.

What simple steps to discover rest for my soul. And yet, Jeremiah ends the passage with these sad words ~

But they said, "We will not walk in it."

How often I find myself at the crossroads. I hear the words of those who have traveled these paths before me, directing my steps toward the good way.  Yet, something inside of me chooses to not walk in it.

I have found as I travel through life, the choices I make now ~ in the present ~ is how I redeem the future.

In the words of Jeremiah, my prayer for myself and for you, my friend, is that even as Thanksgiving ushers in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we will give ourselves the gift taking time in the present to redeem the future. As we stand at the crossroads, may we humbly ask for insight from those who have gone this way before, choose the good way, and walk in it.

And may we find rest for our souls.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Scott

Dear Scott,

Today is your birthday. I remember the day you came into this world on November 23, 1979.  I could never have imagined then that the day would come when I no longer had the joy of your presence in my life.

You would be thirty-one years old today, Scott. I wonder how you would look as a man. What would you be doing with your life? Who would have won your heart and be your wife? How many children would you have? Oh, how much I long to have you still be present in my life.

I remember a few weeks before you died, you came home from babysitting Ciera and Matthew Fry.  You sat down on the couch, put your hands behind your head, and with such an air of confidence, declared, I can't wait to be a Dad!

You loved to spend time with children ~ to play with them, share your faith with them, and teach them things you knew how to do. I remember another night about that same time when you babysat so Dayn and Kati could go out. Garon could not get to sleep that night. You told me you just sat next to him on his bed, rubbed his curly-haired head, and sang Alleluia, because  that is what helped you go to sleep when you were his age. You would have been a great Dad, Scott!

You have been gone from us for almost fifteen long years. So many years to wait to see you again, and yet, so much time to cherish the memories of your short sixteen years of life. Memories are where the proof of life is stored.  I treasure my storehouse of Scott-memories. I thank God that you left so much proof of your relationship with Jesus Christ that we wait with an assurance and a hope that there will be a blessed reunion, we will see you again.

Your are loved and missed by not only Dad, Amy and I.  You are missed by Jeff.  The song he wrote ~ The Brother I've Yet to Meet ~ shares his desire to have known you and have you be a part of his life now.  Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack miss you ~ we share our memories of you with them, and they love to hear and tell Scott stories.

Kaitlyn asked me yesterday, How old is Uncle Scott going to be tomorrow? I loved that she asked me in the present tense because although you are not physically part of our lives, you are forever part of our lives as we have transformed our relationship with you from one of presence to one of memory.  Kaitlyn knows with confidence that although your life on earth has ended, you are more alive today than ever in His presence.

Perhaps the words of the song by Mercy Me captures the content of my heart today ~ If home is where my heart is, than I'm out of place ... I've never been more homesick than now.

Happy Birthday, Scott.

Love,

Mom

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Birthday Blooms

Last November, for Scott's thirtieth birthday, we added a new plant to Scott's Memorial Garden in our backyard. When we went to the local nursery to make our selection, one of the things we wanted to be certain of was the hardiness of the plant.  Would it withstand the drop in temperatures as fall and winter settle into our valley?  We chose a Camellia Sasanqua with semi-double white flowers and ever-so-slight pink edges. It made a lovely addition in the corner of the garden.

It is November again. Scott's birthday is just a few days away. And fall has finally arrived over night with a wonderful gift of rain. I walked out into the garden this morning to see how the various plants had survived the downpour.



There in the corner of the garden was Scott's birthday bush ~ covered with blooms, and many buds waiting to open! Little did I realize that this hardy plant was going to bloom each November (as I am really just a poser when it comes to gardening).




What a wonderful surprise to know that every year on Scott's birthday we will have a display of flowers to say how very much Scott is loved and missed by us all. What a beautiful image as the chill of winter settles in that we have a blessed hope of a glorious reunion.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Victim of God's Design

I have a friend who lives in Democratic Republic of Congo. Luc is a fine young man who was my translator when I taught at his seminary in Kinshasa a few years ago. He has tried on numerous occasions to acquire a visa to come visit my family in America.  But Luc's application has been repeatedly denied.  In the face of this rejection, I love his perspective . . . 

I am a prisoner in my own country ~ 
a victim of God's design.
But oh, what a lovely victimizer,
who has never allowed me 
to walk the streets naked
or go to bed without at least a pinch of a loaf.

With Thanksgiving only days away, many in my country will take time to express their gratitude for the many good things that fill their lives.

And, if they are like my own family, they will sit down to a Thanksgiving feast, with culinary delights prepared to perfection; to consume a couple of day's worth of calories in one sitting.  Incredibly, they will save room for the array of desserts to be enjoyed later in the evening.

But this Thanksgiving, Luc's words seem to echo in my head. I am convicted of my own indifference at times toward those less fortunate. I am challenged to check my assumptions ~ what things in my life I take for granted as rights, when they are, in reality, privileges.

Luc's words bring an renewed awareness this season of how often I forget that I too, am a victim of God's design ~ that He is the one who provides this life filled with so very many comforts and conveniences.  He made me who I am and allowed me to be born in this nation of plenty. This Thanksgiving, I want a heart focused on His design. I want to be fully aware that I am nothing without Him.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November


Yellow, brown, and red
The colors change
A chill in the air 

Fall is
When I most miss you

From When I Most Miss You by Nicol Smith

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When All is Said and Done


It's been almost fifteen years since I first heard the song by that title.  Darin Peterson, one of Scott's teachers at Immanuel High School, recorded the song by Geoff Moore on a collection of songs he compiled to comfort us in our loss.  The song speaks to what really matters in life; what will be remembered ~ when all is said and done.

About five years ago I participated in a two-year program on leadership being offered at my church.  The final assignment was to write a Personal Mandate ~ a capstone for our twenty-four months of training.   In writing my Personal Mandate, I had to ask  some serious questions. How will I choose to live? Why will I live the life I am living?  What will be my legacy ~ how will I be remembered?

Quite honestly, I moaned and complained about this project.  It totally stretched me to break down my life into a statement of purpose, articulate my core beliefs and create the strategies to achieve a desired legacy.  I remember that for me, the best way to accomplish the task, was to start at the end and work backwards.  So I began with the question in that Geoff Moore song ~ what will be said about my time here on earth, when all is said and done?

I have to admit, in the end, I loved writing my Personal Mandate.  I find it to be a solid rock on which I balance in my life, and determine how to invest my time and energies in those things that conform to my God-given purpose for living.

That brings me to this week.  Through the wonders of technology, I was able to be present for the funeral of Todd MacDonnell, a former pastor from our church.  Although his memorial service was held in the small community of Pierz, Minnesota, I was able to participate in the service from our local church sanctuary via a Skype connection.

Todd was just 48 years old.  Eleven short weeks ago he went to the eye doctor for a sudden change in his vision.  As glasses did not help, and other symptoms surfaced, Todd was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  There he was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. No known cause. No known treatment. No known cure.  Todd's health declined dramatically, and he went to be with the Lord in less than 3 months.

At his memorial service, speaker after speaker stood to read some of the thousands of notes and letters which were sent to Todd during his brief battle with CJD.  Again and again, each writer spoke of how Todd had been instrumental in helping them become who they are today.  Each commented on the consistent and faithful way Todd lived out his faith ~ never wavering, even with his impending death.

As I listened to the tributes ~ Todd's legacy ~ I remembered the words of that song once again ~
When the music fades into the past,
When the days of life are through,
What will be remembered of where I've come?
When all is said and done?

Will they say I loved my family?

That I was a faithful friend?
That I lived to tell of God's own son?
When all is said and done.

Of how I long to see the hour,

When I would hear that trumpet sound.
So I could rise and see my Savior's face,
And see him smile,
And say 'Well done.'

You can forget my name

And the songs I've sung,
Every rhyme and every tune.
But remember the truth of Jesus' love,
When all is said and done

When all is said and done.
And so this morning, I am thanking my friend, Todd MacDonnell, that in life and in death, he continues to urge us on to greater things, for eternity's sake. With my Personal Mandate in front of me, I am once again focusing on the importance of leaving a godly legacy ~ when all is said and done.

It is never too late to redeem the future and leave a legacy that will continue to speak, when you have nothing left to say.


NOTE: For information on how to write a Personal Mandate, please leave a comment with your contact information, and I will share the process with you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Irresistible Invitation

I am often amazed at how much news coverage there is when a state dinner takes place at the White House.  The limos. The tuxedos and gowns. The pomp and circumstance.

Everyone seems to want the details ~ from the design of the place settings to the details of the menu; who's in and who's out.

Now we even have White House party crashers who somehow get in under the radar to see for themselves what is going on, even though they never received an invitation!

Truthfully, I really do not find the thought of attending a state dinner very exciting ~ not that I would ever expect to be invited. Seriously ... How many pieces of silverware does one person need to enjoy a meal? How much does a dress need to cost to be acceptable? Everything about the event seems to revolve around outward appearances.

I am reminded of an invitation of a different sort.  One where there are no expectations. No need to put on airs ~ just come as you are.  In fact, the invitation states for those who accept, to put away all pretense, forget about outward appearance, and become real.


Incredible!  

Irresistible!

Nourishment for your body and soul, absolutely free!

This invitation truly embodies the spirit of this blog.  For I am firmly convinced that it is possible to redeem the future, transform those things that seek to destroy me, and find a healing place for my heart and soul. This invitation offers me a place to come just as I am ~ with all my baggage, sorrows, disappointments and fears.

This invitation beckons me to that healing place of transformation described in Psalm 85, where ~

“Mercy and Truth have met each other: 
Justice and Peace have kissed.”

The invitations have been sent.  The question remains ~ am I willing to accept this Irresistible Invitation?  To look at my life through the lens of TRUTH  and receive His MERCY?  To accept His JUSTICE which ushers in PEACE? He invites me to come to this healing place, to attend His banquet, to allow Him to bring restoration and transformation.

It really is an irresistible invitation!

Footnote: The original copy of this invitation is in Old Testament writings, believed to be written sometime around the Babylonian captivity, near 580 BC. The invitation is no less irresistible today.

Come, all you who are thirsty,come to the waters;
and you who have no money,come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God,the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor."
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:1-11

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Apple Hill

Early in our marriage, we made our home near Sacramento. It was a great place to live. The cities surrounding the capital still have a rural feel to them.  It is such a beautiful area ~ did you know that Sacramento claims more trees per capita than any other city?

Remembering our years spent in northern California always brings a smile to my face.  Our children were born in a small local hospital.  We made friendships that remain part of our lives today.  We learned many lessons about faith and life that strengthened our marriage. And, every October we went to Apple Hill.

Apple Hill is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the small El Dorado County community of Camino.  The original sixteen apple orchards that made up Apple Hill have grown through the years to include 55 ranches, wineries, a micro-brewery, spa and vineyards.  The various orchards offer many ways for visitors to experience the fruit of their labor ~ fresh-pressed cider, apple donuts made-to-order, apple pies, apple milk shakes, caramel apples, and the list goes on!  You can even grab a bucket and pick your own apples!

It has been almost 30 years since we moved from northern California to make our home here in the central valley.  Many years have passed since we loaded up our two small children to spend a day in the orchards. 

Last year we took a road trip back to Apple Hill with our daughter Amy and our grandchildren.  Amy was only three years old the last time she was there! How fun to see it for the first time again through the eyes of Kaitlyn, Kyle and Jack, and taste anew the delicious treats! 

Well, it is October again.

We are finalizing our plans to travel north again to reconnect with friends and spend a weekend at Apple Hill with the whole family!  The trees will put on a grand display of fall foliage and the scent of apples will permeate the air.  Aside from the vibrant colors and edible delights that are part of Apple Hill, for me, it is a privilege to retrace my steps, to remember how things used to be, and to focus on God's faithfulness over the years of my life. 

You see, there were times in those early years of our marriage when we went to Apple Hill because it was free ~ money was very scarce.  Those who walked with us then know the many ways God provided for our every need ~ money slipped anonymously into an envelope, bags of groceries delivered on our porch, and even the time the doorbell rang and we found a Christmas tree leaning against the door jam.  We may have had little in those days but we were truly blessed.

Apple Hill is a place where we were a family of four.  Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that someday Scott would not be part of this life.  But even in losing a child, God has graciously cleared a path and caused our feet to not stumble. The sights and smells of Apple Hill remind me of who I am ~ the mother of Amy and Scott.

The orchards of Apple Hill are a reminder for me of the different seasons of life.  Some seasons bring forth fruit; some seem cold and harsh.  Some provide a time of refreshing; thankfully, some usher in the promise of renewal. So I look forward to once again immersing myself in Apple Hill.  To see and feel God's faithfulness.  To remember and renew my hope in Him.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bulbs

Something caught my eye last week as I hurried through the garden center at the hardware store.  (The afternoon temperatures where I live seem to challenge the fact that the first day of fall is just around the corner.)  I was surprised to see the bags of bulbs on display.  As I rushed past them, I found my thoughts drifting to another time.

I vividly remember the cold February morning when two friends knocked on my front door.  It was about a week after Scott's memorial service. There they stood ~ gardening tools in one hand and bags of bulbs in the other. They simply announced that they had come to plant bulbs for spring flowers.

There was something so symbolic in their work that day.  I watched through the living room window as they dug down through the cold dirt. Carefully they placed each bulb in a warm bed of earth just below winter's chill.  And there the bulbs completed their winter rest ~ protected from the last blast of cold air, warmed by the ground which entombed them.

It was not many weeks before I noticed the first push of tiny plants through the dirt in the garden.  Then the thin stalks began to grow and buds appeared.  Sure enough ~ as winter became spring ~ so the buds on the stalks opened to reveal the beautiful display that had been tucked away in each bulb.

As I reflect on the bulbs planted in my garden that winter in 1996, I am amazed how the experience often parallels my own life's journey. Each of those bulbs is really a dwelling place ~ formed to protect the beautiful plant from winter’s chill, just waiting to be roused by the warmth of spring. The bulb also contains nutrients to ensure the plants' survival during its winter nap. Many plants that grow from bulbs are perennials. Although each will die back to the ground during a dormant period, they are protected from the harsh realities of winter, as they wait for the promise of spring to bloom, year after year, at their appointed time.

And so it seems with my life ~ the seasons come and go. I know there will be winters to endure, times to nurture and renew my soul. And at an appointed time, the warmth of spring will bring forth the beauty of redemption and restoration.

Deep inside every man there is a private sanctum
where dwells the mysterious essence of his being.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Good Grief

Today I share my blog once again with Jessica ~ one of my traveling buddies.
My traveling buddies are friends and family who find themselves on a similar path . . . a journey with no up-grades, many road closures and a heavy burden of grief. We are members of what I call, The Bereaved Mothers Club. Membership is weighty: placing a precious child in the arms of God.
Jessica, and her husband Travis, lost Kade, their sweet two-month-old son to SIDS in the fall of 2007. Kade's birth and death dates are coming soon. Jessica knows she is entering a season of grief. She shares with honesty about how moving toward her pain has brought healing along her journey.

It's Good for Me ~ by Jessica

We went to the dairy together last night to take a ride on the new mule. (No, not an actual mule; it's a cross between a golf cart and four wheeler.) The girls rode in front with Travis, and Brody and I rode in the back. It was a fun little outing and the cool evening breeze was refreshing.

We always love being at the dairy as a family and I know it means a lot to Travis that we are enjoying it. He especially loves it that Macey can carry on an actual conversation about the dairy. Tonight Travis told Macey that a calf had been born and it was a girl. To which she replied, "Oh, it was a girl? Don't you mean a heifer?" Travis darted a surprised and proud look in her direction and put up his hand to offer her a high five. It was a proud moment for both of them.

As we made our way around the dairy, we came to the maternity barn to see the calves that had been born just hours earlier. In the first pen lay two heifer calves. Their mama was leaning over their lifeless bodies, lovingly licking their bodies clean. My mind started racing as Travis explained that they were stillborn.

Why did you just leave them there? I asked. I felt annoyed and a little angry. I felt protective for the mama cow, and didn't want her to have to stand there unable to revive her babies. I didn't understand why Travis didn't hurry and take the calves out to keep the mama from knowing that they hadn't survived. My eyes began to burn.

It's good for her, he explained in a compassionate tone.

I began to feel emotional as I tried to understand. How could that possibly be good for her? It's just plain mean. But as I thought about it more, the Lord began to remind me of some precious truths that he's revealed to me.

Kade’s season is upon us, and my heart and mind are in full processing mode. I have had a busy few months; working through my feelings and grief has been put on the back burner. They are always there but just a little tucked away. I have moments of my own, usually in the late evenings during Brody's last feeding. My mind often wanders to what life would be like if Kade were here and how although our home is full of life and busy little bodies, it can somehow manage to feel a little lonely and not quite noisy enough. My days are full and I sometimes feel unable to handle it all. But how I wish I had a 3 year old little boy running around adding to the chaos. I miss him so much I ache inside.

After our ride at the dairy, I couldn't stop thinking about those words. It's good for her. My mind went to all of my sweet friends, near and far, who have had to give a child back to the Lord. Some I know well and some I may not meet until glory. I thought of their experiences and how the Lord has made the process good for them.

I thought of my own experience ~ finding Kade's lifeless body; the car ride to the emergency room; the look on all of the doctors and nurses as they left the room after being unable to save Kade; the coroner driving away with his body; the loved ones who came to love and serve us; planning a funeral; picking out a casket and burial plot, and many other memories that have become fuzzy with time. That process was horrific. I remember feeling like I was in the middle of one of those nightmares where no matter how hard you try you can't wake yourself up. I've been living this nightmare for three years now, and I've learned that although the process is often brutal, it is vital.

Those days that I spent preparing to bury Kade played a huge part in my healing. I took time to celebrate his life, to honor the Lord and acknowledge that although His plans were proving to be far different than my own, I was going to follow Him. I took the time to care for Kade on this earth in any way I could. I picked out burial clothes, decorations for his service, flowers for his casket, and my mom and I even cleaned the room at the funeral home where his viewing would be. I was intentional about feeling it all, facing my heartache head on so that I could begin healing in a healthy way. I didn't want to ignore anything only to uncover it years later after it had festered and become rotten bitterness in my heart. All of that was good for me.

That mama cow was spending time with her babies ~ smelling them, licking them, and in her own way loving them, and in those things, finding healing. She was getting a chance to care for her babies even after they were no longer living. This process would make it possible for her to live a full life, give birth to more calves and produce quality milk. She would be able to serve her purpose on this earth more fully by going through the process. Isn't it incredible that the Lord created that process for animals too? Amazing.

As I near this season for the third time, I am amazed at how the Lord has been so faithful. I can hardly believe that Kade would be 3 . . . 3! Crazy. I feel like this is the first time that I am actually looking forward to the process. I don't feel afraid of it or unsure of how to handle it. I'm not wondering if I'll survive or be unable to function. Allowing myself to go through the process has given me the chance to fulfill God's purposes for my life. I have not been hindered by my grief, rather I have allowed the Lord to use my grief to comfort others with the comfort I have received. Although each year has been different, I have learned to be confident in the Lord's perfect plan for the process and that celebrating my precious son is joyful, painful, emotional, healing and, it's good for me.

To read more of Jessica's journey, you may visit her blog, Seeking His Face.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What a Difference an * Made!


It was at my high school graduation when I realized that I had believed a lie about myself for many years. When June comes each year, I am reminded how words can destroy or transform the way people view themselves and the future.

I distinctly remember the night of my graduation from Lakewood High School. We were all so done with school by the time that night finally arrived. We marched into the stadium to our high school band playing their best rendition of Pomp and Circumstance.

I remember I walked next to Narcy Hogan.  Narcy was the smartest person I knew. She had a gold tassel on her cap as well as a gold stole and cords draped around her neck, showing the world her academic success. I was proud to call Narcy my friend. We had been friends since our days together at Herbert Hoover Junior High. And now we were experiencing the last event of our high school days together.

We took our seats in the metal chairs set up in rows on the football field. I opened the program we were handed as we walked in. I looked through the order of events, the special guests and when the choir was to sing. Then I began to read the names of the graduates.

When I came to my name, I noticed something unusual. There it was, followed an asterisk.
Bonnie Jean Goodrell*

I leaned over and asked the smartest person I knew ~ Why is there an asterisk by my name?

I'm so glad Narcy was not only smart, but also thoughtful and kind.

She excitedly replied, It means you graduated with honors!

With honors?

Really? So many thoughts ran through my mind during that graduation ceremony. I remember standing on the risers with my choir to sing No Man is an Island and You'll Never Walk Alone. I know I walked across the platform to receive my diploma. But in all honesty, I was not really there ~ at that time; at the place. In my mind, I was no longer sitting on the football field of Lakewood High School.

As soon as Narcy spoke those words, It means you graduated with honors! ~ I was transported back to Oliver Wendall Holmes Elementary School. I was running my hand across the tiny desks. I was playing on the playground with the slide and swings and monkey bars. I was sitting inside the classrooms looking out the windows. All of those things flashed through my mind. And then, as if someone placed a record on the turntable, and slowed the rpm's way down, I heard the voices of my elementary teachers. They seemed to be repeating the same thing, again and again, in that slow-motion kind of voice that just stays with you ~

Bonnie has so much potential, if only . . .
Bonnie could be such a good student if she would . . .
If only Bonnie would . . .

Those are the words I heard year after year from my teachers. Those are the comments I read on the back of my report card when my mother brought it home from parent conferences. And sadly, those are the things I grew to believe about myself. Because that is what I was told.

But something changed that evening in 1970 as I sat in the metal chairs placed neatly in rows on the football field of Lakewood High School. One small * asterisk made all the difference in how I viewed myself, my potential, my future.

You know what? I drove back to Lakewood High School the next morning. I walked up to the window of our small student store on campus. And for $1.00, I bought my gold tassel. I never had the chance to wear it ~ to let others know I had potential. But I wanted it for myself. To remind me that words can hurt or heal.  Words can destroy or transform a child's view of how they see themselves. Comments made in frustration, even if meant as motivation, crush a child's spirit.

It brings tears to my eyes every time I retell this story.  To think that I did not believe in the grades I received in my high school classes that qualified me to graduate with honors. I believed the words that played on a tape in my head. I had believed a lie. Words spoken about me years before that I allowed to rob me of future joys.

Yes, it's June and time for graduation.  It is both a time of excitement ~ to think about what is to come, and a time of reflection ~ to remember the many experiences that have taken place to bring each student to this place and time. I wonder what words these graduates will hear as they reflect upon this journey?

I pray they hear words that transform and redeem their futures!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sharp Contrast

Sometimes, life is harsh ~ and I admit ~ it is difficult to see a redeeming path through suffering.

Quite honestly, I have found that redeeming the future requires a conscious effort to look for beauty amid the sharp contrast of pain; to look for a glimpse of hope in the middle of despair.

As Tony worked in the yard this morning, he noticed some new blooms.  He called for me to come and see "something beautiful, absolutely beautiful."

There in our small cactus garden was beauty ~ in sharp contrast.  It would be so easy to miss these tiny flowers, unless your eyes were trained to look for beauty, even in the unexpected places.

Oh that we may train our eyes to see a redeeming path, in sharp contrast, to the pain and suffering that comes our way.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Healing Place

It’s Mother’s Day, and it has been an emotional day. Grief is an unpredictable companion along life's journey.

We had a lovely day together as a family. The guys and the grandchildren fixed a scrumptious dinner for us, and we finished off the day with fresh strawberry shortcake.  But even as I celebrated with my daughter, Amy and her sweet family, I found myself thinking about how many should be sitting around our family's table. I wondered what this day would be like if Scott had not died. Especially today, I found myself longing to feel his hug one.more.time.

Yet, with this burden of grief, my heart finds comfort tonight in the imagery of Psalm 85:10.  There the psalmist speaks of a healing place where “Mercy and Truth have met each other: Justice and Peace have kissed.”

Each element ~ truth, justice, mercy, and peace ~ brings perspective and potential for experiencing peace with loss.

For those who grieve, Truth is about what to remember and how to remember. Truth casts her eyes toward the past, remembers the way it was before the loss, and underscores the value of treasuring my relationship with Scott. Justice is about what can be done now to restore wholeness in my life and renew the relationship that has been forever changed by death. Justice looks at the present and recognizes the full weight of grief. I am so thankful the psalmist did not stop with Truth and Justice, but included Mercy and Peace.

For Mercy and Peace look to the future and help me consider ~
How can I live without Scott in my life?
How can I transform my relationship with Scott from one of presence to one of memory?
Yes, Mercy and Peace gaze toward the future and what life can and will be like as a result of this loss.

I love the way John Paul Lederach writes about this imagery in his book, The Journey Toward Reconciliation ~
For Truth without Mercy is blinding and raw; Mercy without Truth is a cover-up and superficial. Justice without Peace falls easily into cycles of bitterness and revenge; Peace without Justice is short-lived and benefits only the privileged or the victors.
As another Mother's Day comes to a close, I recognize that along my journey of grief some days will be harder than others. Some days will scream for Truth and Justice. I am also aware that there is a healing place where the reality of my loss is embraced by Mercy and transformed by Peace.

And for that, I am ever so grateful.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Walking In My Comfort Zone

I'm stepping out of my comfort zone.

I just signed up to participate in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. The goal of the 36-hour walk is to bring awareness and raise funds for cancer research.  (I am glad it is a relay of 36-hours.  I will be walking with Tony in the 6-7 a.m. slot.) 

It will be inspiring to walk along side cancer survivors and their family members.  I am proud to raise dollars that will fund research that may someday put an end to pain and suffering caused by this dreadful disease.

And yet, I am entering a different kind of comfort zone.  Matthew 5:4 promises that those who mourn, shall be comforted.  You see, my reason for participating in this relay walk is actually quite personal.  I'm walking to make a deposit in a bank of a different kind.  A deposit in the memory bank of family and friends who mourn the loss of a loved one from the ravages of cancer.

I am walking in the memory of my niece, Heather Smalley Stevens.  She fought a long and heroic battle with pancreatic cancer, which took her life in June of 2006.

As I have posted before, memories are such a gift for those who grieve.  Remembering the time shared and the life lived helps link us to those who have passed away.  Norman Cousins said it best ~

Memories are where the proof of life is stored.

If you would like to contribute to this cause, to support my efforts or to donate in the name of someone dear to you, please click here to go to my personal page.  You can choose an amount to donate and enter the name of someone you wish to honor.

I'll let you know in a future post how much we raised together and how I survived, out of my comfort zone.
 

{this moment} . . .Spring

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

God's Redemption Center


Okay, I'll admit it ~ I hate to recycle STUFF! Rinsing out bottles and cans, sorting paper and junk mail seems somewhat futile.

I understand all the reasons we recycle ~ and I'm all for saving natural resource and energy, and promoting clean air and water. The internet is filled with helpful sites, like Earth911.com or Replanet.com. Cities, large and small, have recycling bins for households to do their part. Parking lots have drive-up recycling centers that accept just about anything . . . non-living.

But in the back of my mind I keep hearing that little chorus I learned as a child ~
Jesus never fails,
Jesus never fails,
Heav'n and earth may pass away,
But Jesus never fails.
© 1927 by Arthur Luther
And so, in my mind, it seems that no matter how many bins we fill in our effort to Save the Earth (said in that deep announcer-like voice) ~ someday this planet, as we know it, will pass away. And a New Earth will be created!

But this week as I was reading Isaiah 61, I was impressed with a different recycling program ~ one that truly spoke personally to my heart. Listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah in the first four verses of this chapter ~
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
This is God's recycling program ~ the ULTIMATE Redemption Center ~ where human resources are accepted in any condition ~ to be rescued, restored, renewed from the burdens that seek to destroy them ~ and redeemed into someone with eternal worth.

Can you envision what this means?

God's Redemption Center
Everyone Welcome, Regardless of Condition

Do you know someone poor or brokenhearted; a friend held captive by the prison of their past? Can you think of one who mourns the loss of a precious loved one? Do you know families whose lives seems to be in ruins?

Perhaps you are broken, abused, or faint in spirit. You struggle under a burden of grief. Your life seems to be crumbling around you.

As the Prophet Isaiah, I can say, God has an awesome recycling program. He faithfully continues to restore my brokenness. He is the God of all comfort. The Blessed Controller of all things. The One who brings beauty from ashes. He makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Nothing is wasted in God's economy ~ not our tears, our past, our deepest scars; not the mess we have made of things. He longs to rescue us from ourselves, restore our worth, renew our hope and redeem our future.

Do not lose heart. God does more than recycle.  He transforms us into new creations for His good pleasure.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sunday's Coming

I think it was Tony Campolo who first coined the phrase, It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!

Those five words truly capture the contrasts of this Easter season. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus exalted as he rides through Jerusalem only to find his body buried in a tomb on Holy Saturday.

And in between, Mary watches her son beaten and scorned, nailed to a cross.

Jesus sees his mother's grief from the cross and speaks to her loss ~

“Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. ~ John 19:26, 27

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!

Mary and the others who find the tomb empty and realizes the fulfillment of Scripture and the hope of resurrection.

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming truly resonates with my soul.  As a mother who has laid her son in the arms of God, I have known Friday.  I grieve the loss of a child almost daily in my thoughts of what.could.have.been.

Yes, life in His Kingdom is full of contrasts.

Those who mourn are comforted.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. ~ Matthew 5:4
Those who grieve have hope.
Dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14
Those who die in Christ are truly alive.
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:4
Many of us have known Friday and we long for Sunday.

One of our local pastor's truly captured the heartache of Holy Saturday and the hope of Easter ~
Holy Saturday is really like the world we live in ~ it's the in-between day . . . We believe in the Resurrection and we know it is coming, but we patiently wait as we grieve, knowing His promise will be fulfilled. ~ Pastor Gregory Beaumont
Jesus said ~
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33
This life is full of Fridays but do not lose heart because Sunday's coming!

Painting: Jesus Taken Down From the Cross, Michael O'Brien

Friday, April 2, 2010

Forgiveness from the Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Oh the wondrous cross
Oh the wondrous cross
Bids me come and die and find that I
May truly live

It is late and Good Friday is almost over. I crawled out of bed to make some sense of the scenes and words I heard tonight that just keep playing in my mind. I attended a local production of the Passion of Christ earlier this evening. I know the story of Easter. I can re-tell all of the events of Holy Week.

But tonight, as I stood with believers from all around my town, I was struck once again with the words Jesus spoke from the Cross ~
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I watched tonight as they beat him, whipped him, and spat on him.  The crowds jeered at him as he stumbled under the weight of the cross and the burden of my sin.  The soldiers mocked him on the cross ~ Is this your King? And then he spoke ~
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I began to think of the times in my life when I have been mistreated ~ words spoken to me in anger, stories repeated that were not true, laughter at my expense, exclusion rather than embrace. These hurts and offenses pale in comparison to what He suffered during the last 24 hours of His life.

So how was He able to forgive them for all the suffering and pain? Because it never was about Him.  It was always about us ~ you and me, the soldiers and chief priests, the rulers and the commoners.

Oh that I would learn to die to self. That I would release my need to be right and choose to be reconciled with even my enemies.  May I be the one who speaks the words ~
Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Painting by Master of the Starck Triptych
The Raising of the Cross [center, left, and right panels], c. 1480/1490

Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken, like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.
Praise for the singing, 
Praise for the morning,
Praise for the springing fresh from the word.

Sweet the rain's new fall, 
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
Spring in completeness where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning,
Born of the One light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's re-creation of the new day.

Hymn written by Eleanor Farieon in 1931,
sung to "Bunessan", a traditional Gaelic tune
Photo by my friend, Holly in Flagstaff

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Garden of Gethsemane

Today is Maundy Thursday ~ also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or Thursday of Mysteries. For Christians around the world, Maundy Thursday is the holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It is the day when Christ served His disciples what is commonly known as the Last Supper of Christ. As evening fell, Jesus and His disciples crossed through the Kidron Valley and climbed the Mount of Olives to enter the Garden of Gethsemane.

For most people of faith, Easter Sunday is the most holy of all days in the faith. I am grateful for the Empty Tomb, which brings the promise of resurrection and the blessed hope of reunion with loved ones who have gone before.

Others consider Good Friday as the most significant day of Holy Week. For indeed, it was the Cross which held the final sacrifice, the shed blood of the Lamb, which provides the forgiveness of sins.

But today ~ the Thursday before Easter ~ I find myself contemplating the last night of Jesus' life. Like Him, I am drawn to Gethsemane. Here in this garden on the Mount of Olives, Jesus came to wrestle with the pain and sorrow that was to come to him. Here in this place Jesus came to pour out his fear, to protest what was to be, to plead with the Father to let this cup of death pass from Him. And here, to submit to the Father's will.

Gethsemane ~ a curious place for Jesus to come the night before his crucifixion. Yet, not surprising, as so much of His teaching was filled with mystery and hidden meaning. In Hebrew, this place is called Gat Shemanim, meaning literally an oil press. Here in the grove of olive trees just outside of Jerusalem was a stone press where the olives were placed on the huge stone. As another large stone was turned, the weight of that stone crushed the fruit and forced the precious oil to drain down into containers below.

Gethsemane ~ a place to be crushed, a place to be transformed ~ is where Jesus came. Some dictionaries offer Gethsemane as a synonym for a place or occasion of great mental or spiritual suffering.
Gethsemane ~ where Jesus allowed his pleadings and protests to be transformed into submission and obedience.

Gethsemane ~ where Jesus climbed into the lap of Abba Father and found His anguish replaced with acceptance.
So often I find myself with Him in the Garden ~ thankful for the Cross and the Empty Tomb ~ but needing to linger a little while in this place, as I seek to be transformed rather than destroyed, by the events of this fallen world.

Oh, may I bring the hurts and the sorrows, the injustices and the inequities of life to this place, and may I leave transformed into an instrument of His peace.


Painting: Christ in Agony by Michael O'Brien

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Aroma of His Glory

There is a sensory memory that I will carry with me throughout my life ~ it is the delicious smell of Mom’s pot roast, simmering with oven-browned potatoes and carrots. The rich aroma filled our senses each Sunday as we arrived home from church!

It is amazing to me that sensory experiences are so strong. Scientists describe it as odor memory, that is, our ability to remember the scent and the memory connected to the scent. In fact, they have found that only two synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala, that part of the brain where we experience emotions. That explains why these aromas from childhood form such a strong connection for me ~ like a time and date stamp ~ they connect me not only to Mom’s delicious cooking but the deeper emotion of family dinners together..

So it comes as no surprise that God would chose the metaphor of aroma when he talks about how we live our lives. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2 that when we live a life of love, our very lives become an offering, a fragrant sacrifice to God.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
This metaphor of aroma is both powerful and personal to me. When our sixteen year old son died, I wrestled with questions of meaning and purpose. Why would a loving God allow this tragedy? What benefit could come from the death of my son? How could this tragedy bring God glory?

I distinctly remember the day I read Paul’s words in II Corinthians 2. Paul writes that our lives can also be an aroma of Christ’s glory to those who seek him.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
I realized that it was not Scott’s death that would bring God glory. It was my response to Scott’s death that had the power to be an aroma of Christ's glory and eternal life.

I firmly believe that Satan intended to gain a victory through Scott’s death; that this loss would destroy our family's hope in the promises of God. Yes, we felt broken and confused. Yes, we struggled to redefine our theology on a daily basis as we sought to understand this tremendous loss through God’s perfect will. But in time, with God’s grace and mercy, we are being transformed not destroyed by this loss.

Perhaps theologian John Piper expresses my thoughts more clearly in his book, God is the Gospel.
The supreme value of the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel is what makes Satan so furious with the gospel. Satan is not mainly interested in causing us misery. He is mainly interested in making Christ look bad. He hates Christ. And he hates the glory of Christ. He will do all he can to keep people from seeing Christ as glorious. The gospel is God’s instrument for liberating people from exulting in self to exulting in Christ. Therefore Satan hates the gospel.
The events of this fallen world are real. Divorce, the death of a loved one, a rebellious child, upside-down mortgages, economic hardships, layoffs . . . the list goes on. These are painful, gut-wrenching situations. Each one has the potential to destroy us. But I believe we have a choice in every situation ~ to be destroyed or transformed. The choice is ours ~ to be an aroma of Christ’s glory to those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  Will we be a fragrance of death and destruction, or a fragrance of life and transformation?

Oh, may the aroma of Christ's glory pour out of me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Clear the Deck First

Each morning I receive a quick read in my Google Reader from Today's Stress Tip ~ some tidbit of wisdom to apply to my busy life.  I don't always agree with the advice, as was the case last week.  But for the most part, I usually come away with something I can use to transform my daily life.

Then there are tips like the one posted this morning, that seem so common sense until I read it over a couple of times, and realize ~ This is so much more that just surface talk.

Before you begin a project, first clear your desk, kitchen counter or work area of the clutter that will surely get in the way. Then take out and organize the implements you'll need to get the job done, leaving yourself ample room to maneuver. That's it. The minute or two it takes to do this will save you a considerable time and aggravation over the course of the project. Clear the deck first.
Pretty much common sense here ~ clean off your work space, make sure you have all the ingredients before you start, and plan your time so you can finish what you begin!  Got it!

But are there areas of life where we tend to not apply this common sense?  As a mediator and conflict coach, my mind takes this tip ~ from the desk, kitchen counter or work area ~ to our relationships.

When it comes to relationships, it seems we tend to clear the deck with a broad stroke ~ quite literally sweeping away problem people in our lives.  The trend we see in our mediation center is to simply dispose of individuals who cause us conflict, avoid people who hurt us, and begin again with a new set of friends, a new spouse, a new family, even a new faith community.

What if we took this common sense tip and applied it to our personal relationships?  How would we live it out?
Before you begin a new relationship, first reconcile the ‘clutter’ in your heart and mind from past relationships that will surely get in the way of making new relationships. Then take out and organize the interpersonal skills you'll need to establish a lasting relationship, leaving yourself ample time to put these skills into practice. That's it. The time it takes to do this will save you considerable hurt and aggravation over the course of the new relationship. Clear the decks first.
I know it is never that simple.

But here is the bottom line: if we don’t deal with the brokenness in our old relationships, we carry it into our new ones.  Many people call it baggage.  I call it our default response to things that confront us ~ our usual reaction to conflict, pain and loss.  It is what we bring into each new relationship, learned from our family of origin and past experiences.

When the pain and hurt is not addressed; when the broken relationships are not reconciled, we simply bring all that clutter into new relationships, hoping each one will be better than the last.  Take today’s tip and think about how to clear the deck in our personal lives.  Not with a broad sweep of the arm that pushes all the hurtful people out of our lives, but with a purposeful act to restore relationships that are sure to get in the way as we creating relationships in the future.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love That Does Not Disappoint

Yesterday I read a tip on how to reduce stress in my life.
Don't believe for a minute . . . you'll get the number of servings the recipe says you will . . . you can perform a complex computer task with a single click of the mouse . . . your call is important to them . . . the "push here on red" button will get you across the street any faster . . . you're indispensable to your company . . . your cake will look anything like the one illustrated on the box . . . the battery will last anywhere near what they claim. Get smart. Lower your expectations.
That's right! I can reduce my stress in life if I don't believe the claims, think of myself as dispensable, lower my expectations, and basically, just plan to be disappointed!

Know what? I am not only stressed by that tip-of-the-day, I am disappointed! Lower my expectations? Settle for less?

Don't take me wrong. I know I can’t believe all of the claims I hear.  I agree there are times when I do trust them and find myself stressed. Like when I spend two hours assembling something that clearly states on the box can be assembled in five easy steps.

I began thinking about Valentine's Day in light of this stress-reducing tip. Many people have high expectations of how they will feel loved today. Many have a little jingle playing in their heads ~ every kiss begins with Kay ~ and dream of a small velvet box filled with something that sparkles! Many envision how the events of the day will fall into place to create the ultimate romantic evening. And, I predict, many will be stressed out if their valentines do not live up to their hopes and expectations.

Today my valentine is not feeling so good. In fact, my valentine is asleep on the couch hoping the combination of decongestants, antihistamines and cough suppressants work its mojo to help him feel better.

The sight of my valentine lying there in his sweats could be cause for disappointment. I mean ~ nobody is receiving breakfast in bed this morning and there won't be much hugging and kissing going on. It is just not going to be that kind of day!

When we base our view of love on what the world claims, we are in for disappointment!

I am thankful that there is a love that does not disappoint; not based on circumstances or the actions of others. A love that is as much an act of the will as it is a response of the heart . . . that seeks the highest good of another . . . with claims that are trustworthy and believable. It is a love that transforms circumstances that seeks to disappoint.
Love is patient; love is kind and is not jealous;
Love does not brag and is not arrogant,
Does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own,
Is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I Corinthians 13:4-7
Here is a new tip-for-the-day for Valentine’s Day ~
Don't believe in what the world calls love . . . you will get what you deserve . . . it is all about you . . . love comes in small velvet boxes . . . it is alright if he yells at you ~ at least he comes home at night . . . she better look great . . . if it doesn’t feel right, find someone new . . . Get smart. Raise your expectations.


Decide today to embrace
a love that does not disappoint . . . 
and expect your relationship to be transformed.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

 
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not ~ perhaps you recited these words as you pulled the petals from a flower, one by one, to try to determine whether the one you love will truly returns your love. It always seemed like a childhood game.

But more and more it seems that marriages reflect the sentiment of those words.

On this Valentine's Day Eve, husbands and wives will stand in the aisles of Walgreen's to find a card that expresses the words they meant to say to one another throughout the year. There will be dozens of roses delivered. The sweet smell of chocolate will fill the air. And couples will say I love you in the glow of candlelight.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but on Monday, February 15th, lives will once again be overflowing with the demands of the dailies ~ dirty dishes, unpaid bills, loads of laundry, sick children, upside down mortgages, furlough days, dead batteries ~ you name it! ~ any number of situations that create a climate of crisis for the family. The romance of Valentine's Day will quickly be replaced with the challenging day-to-day responsibilities of life, and a commitment to love one another will once again fall victim to circumstances.

Lack of commitment is not new. It is not unique to this generation of over-stressed, economically-strapped Americans.  Even in the first century, a series of oaths were required to guarantee that one’s commitment would remain true. Jesus enters this system of oaths and offers a solution.

In Matthew 5, His words seem almost too simple to be taken seriously ~

Let what you say be simply Yes or No.

The people of that day would recognize Jesus' use of a cultural idiom. Jesus is basically saying ~

Let your inside Yes match your outside Yes
and your inner No match your outer No.

In essence ~ mean what you say and say what you mean.

Anything less is duplicity, doubleness, sin ~ saying one thing, living another.

Oh that we would choose today to be transformed and live a life of love that is characterized by commitment, not duplicity ~ where the words and tones we use, and the actions we display, would truly communicate an unconditional love. A love lived out everyday ~ not just on Valentine's Day.

A love that says to one another in spite of the dailies . . .

I love you and there is nothing you can do about it!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Where The Rhythm Seems Lost


Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one
but February's the shortest one.
With 28 days most of the time,
until Leap year gives us twenty-nine.

I am not sure when I actually learned this short poem from my mother. I just remember knowing it most of my life. And I have used it in many ways over the years ~ to know the date to write on checks, to plan vacations, to find the 100th Day of School in my classroom, and to help my students learn the number of days in each month.

I remember thinking as a child ~ the first three lines have an arranged pattern of rhythm, a sense of completeness and  predictability of what sounds come next.
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
All the rest of thirty-one.
These three lines were the easiest to memorize.  But the remaining three lines have always stumped me.  The rhythm of the poem seems to change in those last three lines. The words seem crowded.

Little did I know what a word picture this poem was to become for my life.

My February, as with the pulse of this childhood poem, is marked with syncopation rather than a predictable beat. The rhythm of its days has been modified and my focus is drawn to weaker sounds.

They are the sounds of mourning and groaning and loss.

For February, in its short twenty-eight days, marks the sudden death of my son, Scott, as well as the death of both my mother and father.

So, as each February comes around ~ like struggling to make the words of the poem conform to the rhythm of each line ~ I slow down and consider how best to experience the full weight of these losses and redeem the days to come.

I spend time in my storehouse of memories. I grieve what could have been. I give thanks that this one short month is not like the rest of the year. I rejoice in the hope and promise of a blessed reunion with my loved ones.