Thanksgiving. The very word reminds me how much I already have in a culture that constantly seeks to convince us that we need more. In the spirit of true gratitude, please allow me to share some of the tangible and intangible things I’m most thankful for today.
May I never fail to express gratitude for these gifts:
A bed to sleep in and blankets to keep me warm
Running water from my multiple faucets
Electricity that brings light and warmth
A home to return to each night
The family I was born into and the one I married into
Friends God has graciously placed in my life
The ability to be in contact with people all over the world via a device that fits in my pocket
Wheels to take me where I need to go
The beauty of creation all around me
Food in my cupboard and a refrigerator to keep it fresh
State of the art healthcare
Agencies that protect, serve and respond to our needs
Access to news, literature and art
Freedom to respectfully disagree
A sound mind
Feet to walk on
Eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to work with
A place to freely worship with other like minded believers
More love, kindness and mercy than I will ever deserve
And, should I be so bold as to ask for more, let it be for this:
To be used by God for His purposes
More time with those I love
Shared meals around my table
Experiences that linger long
Words that feed my soul
Laughter that warms my heart
Eyes to see the needs around me
Ears to hear the cries of those in need
Arms to embrace the hurting
Moments of wonder
Conversations that nourish
Opportunities to bless from my bounty
Wisdom to be a vessel of hope and healing
A heart to hold it all
I am thankful for your eyes reading this today and for all the good gifts He has given us. My prayer for you is that you, too would “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1
The table was littered with crumpled napkins and dessert plates bearing the remains of a homemade strawberry dessert. Our bellies were full and we’d settled into some some real talk–the kind that happens when long after your done eating you sit around the table with those you hold dear and who trust you with the burdens weighing on their hearts.
One of my oldest and dearest friends sat across the table still grieving the loss of his father. As we reminisced I mentioned how much I loved a particular photograph of the two of them. In it, they were captured at a big box store in a town far away engaged in some very childish behavior. They were clearly having great fun evidenced by their beaming faces. Both were laughing. The reflected joy was palpable.
“I loved to make my Daddy laugh,” he said, wistfully, “but, now there’s so much anger.” I saw pure sadness in his lowered eyes. Some hard things had transpired leaving he and his family to suffer sorrow, betrayal, disappointment and an ongoing battle against bitterness that would have been understandable had they succumbed. They hadn’t, but these were hard times indeed.
“He did the best he could.” I responded, hoping to ease his pain.
His response was soft yet swift, “Oh, but, he didn’t.” There was no sign of satisfaction in his eyes over this proclamation. Only sorrow mixed with regret. This conversation took place well over a year ago and I confess it still rumbles around my mind and in my heart.
I don’t know that I will ever mindlessly use that phrase again. Even now if I overhear it somewhere, I hear his response in my head: “Oh, but he didn’t.” We are so quick to say “they did the best they could.” But, was my friend right or was I? Did they do their best? Or, in fact, is that just a trite response when we have no other explanation to soothe ourselves? Is it a myth we use for self-comfort when others have disappointed us with their actions or lack of them?
Do any of us consistently give our best, even to those people and things we love most? Likely not. For a myriad of reasons, we fall short. We fail to be the mothers, fathers, spouses, children, friends, etc that we’d like to think we are or want to be. Because, my friends, wanting doesn’t make it so. If we aren’t intentional about what we do, we too will fail.
I can’t become a master chef by watching the Food Network and wishing I could emulate their skills. Nor can I just post photos of beautiful dishes on Instagram under the moniker “InstaChef.” No. I need to go to the market, purchase the required ingredients, follow the recipe step by step and even then, I may not get the desired result. So, I’ll to try again until I’m satisfied. What may happen down the road is that I grow over confident and fail to read the recipe carefully. I may (because I can be careless) omit a crucial ingredient or use too much of another. I won’t have intended to fail, I just took my eyes off the recipe.
“So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. ” Galations 6:9 Holman Christian Standard Bible.
Growing up I spent many summer days at the beach, body surfing for hours with my cousins and siblings. Often, I would come out of the water to discover my carefully placed towel “missing.” Upon further examination, I was surprised to view exactly where I had left it. I had been oblivious to the fact that the current had subtly caused me to drift a significant distance from where I had entered the water. Unbeknownst to me I had veered off course without noticing that I had lost sight of my home base. We are strongly warned in the book of Hebrews that if we don’t pay attention, we are in great danger of just drifting away. When we do, we will inevitably fail to give our best.
I hadn’t intended to lose sight of that towel, but, neither had I kept my eye on it. I was distracted by the sun and the waves and my company. When that happened, I effortlessly drifted. When we get distracted by the cares of life, we can easily move away from doing our best for ourselves and those we love. My friend was right. His Daddy, though he most certainly loved his boy dearly, also failed him in some pretty significant ways. He could have done better. He didn’t always do his best. I think he drifted from the shore and lost his bearings for a time. The result for my friend has been some high hurdles to jump over. You and I all have, or will have, similar mountains to climb in our own lives. But our good God is gracious to heal our wounds, day by day, as we lay them before Him.
So, what about that “unfinished business?” What about those for whom it’s too late? Too late to give their best, too late to give us their time, their affection, their encouragement, their unconditional love and faithfulness, their provision for our needs. What about that? How are we to come to terms with our disappointment, anger, sorrow and regret, knowing there will be no reconciliation here on earth?
We can still love and forgive those who’ve failed us in their weakness. We can hate how they hurt us, overlooked us, put others ahead of us or responded from paranoia. Also, when they acted foolishly, selfishly, thoughtlessly or in anger. We don’t need to pretend things were other than they were. We can’t rewrite history. We can’t change what was or wasn’t done, but, for our own healing we can choose to release what we wanted and acknowledge what we actually had. In doing so, we can grow in grace and in mercy, with eyes wide open, to cross over the bridge of forgiveness to the solid ground of peace with God and with man. This is no way negates the wrongs done to us or the heartache we feel, but frees us to repent of our own sin of unforgiveness and to receive the peace that passes all understanding and the healing of our broken hearts.
How can I be so certain of this? Simply because, I’m a sinner, too. I’ve had to release others from the weight of my own unforgiveness, knowing that while I may not make the same mistakes they did, I will surely make my own and so will you. We may, in fact, sin by overcompensating where we were failed. If we were never told “I love you” we may well say it too casually. If we were punished harshly we may err on the side of permissiveness. If we were not adequately provided for we may be prideful in meeting the needs of those we love in a manner far beyond what is reasonable and healthy. Because, we, too, are still being transformed. For that, God allows us a lifetime. As we submit ourselves to His care and leading, He will lead us home where all our tears will be forever dried. In our own lives we can choose to be vigilant, to fix our eyes on Jesus in the earnest hope that others will recall that we did indeed do our best.
It’s a worthy goal.
Sidebar: Even healed wounds hurt from time to time, so, don’t lose hope when yours do. Press forward and through. In the meantime, may I suggest you look into God’s Word for comfort and guidance? Here are some verses to get you started on the road to forgiveness and healing. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. Col. 3:13-15a NLT
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and agner, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. Eph. 4:31-32 NLT
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 7:18 NIV
And whenever you stand praying, you must forgive anything you are holding against anyone else, and your Father will forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25 Phillips
Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
It’s safe to say that no one was more shocked than I that Friday morning in 1972 when my name was announced. The panel of judges had chosen me as the first prize winner for news writing at the 19th Annual Press Day at El Camino College. Sitting in the darkened auditorium awaiting the results, I had zero hope or expectation of being recognized. In all honesty, I had strongly considered not even showing up that day as nearly 400 student journalists from 17 South Bay high schools convened to compete. It was truly a last minute decision to jump into my ’65 Mustang and head to the competition. What the heck. All my friends were going, so, why not?
I remember hearing speakers, attending the informational session and being told to write a news story about it. I was as nonchalant about the contest as a seventeen year old girl could be, still pondering whether to even bother to write the assigned article or not, with no thought of a win. I was already there, and the time was going to pass anyway, so why not just write and get my participation badge?
When I look back on that day, nearly half a century earlier, I view the experience through different lenses. I now see that day as confirmation that I am, indeed, a writer- that I was born with an ability and a desire to write. This, not because I worked so hard at it, or because I studied long or honed my craft– not because I was the best prepared, but, because God gifted me with something that He wanted me to use for His glory. When I least expected to be recognized, He singled me out and shined a light on the gift He gave.
Though there was a time when I had aspirations to write on a grander scale, I am happy now to share my little stories here with you, whoever and wherever you may be. I will continue write to share with you the meaningful moments and lessons He blesses me with, as I endeavor to fully live this beautiful, difficult, joyful, challenging and precious life He has called me to. Gifts are meant to be shared, so, I will write in response to the One who gives and Who consistently reminds me to pass it on. The act of processing life through these humble words is my response to the Giver of all good gifts. It matters not whether only one person or a million reads them. He made me a writer and, so, I must write.
I am well aware that blogs like this are a dime a dozen and that there is a plethora of writers far more eloquent than I. I am a little fish in a big pond. My aim is not for wealth or fame or a certain number of followers. In fact, the older I get, the more I crave a quiet life. Still, in the rhythms of my quiet, everyday life, I see the simplest moments as stories waiting to be told.
What gifts might you be hoarding that He intended you to give away? No matter where you are in life, it’s not to late to begin. Take a step of faith. Give it away.
Yep, Mrs. Gill has influenced how my day starts. A simple prayer her former mother-in-law once shared with her has become one I now begin my day with. It goes like this:
“Lead me today to the ones I need, and to those who need me. And let something I do today have eternal significance. “
Contrary to what you may have imagined, retirement does not mean the end of work. Though one is no longer accountable to corporate dictates or quotas to attain, we are still responsible to our Creator and to those authorities He has put in place over us. So, there are still assignments to be completed for our good, the good of others and for His glory.
No, we no longer need to rise early to get to work on time and yes, we can take a nap in the afternoon if we choose to. We are free to choose how we spend our time, but we choose to be available to what God calls us to. And, it is good. As I have shared in the past, I no longer work for money, only for love. Not in order to gain love, but, in response to the love that’s been given to me.
As a believer in Jesus, I don’t need to earn His approval. He gave it freely the second I responded to His invitation to save me. Loving and serving others is how I respond to His gift- when it’s easy and when it’s hard, because He already did the hardest thing for me.
Our daily marching orders may not be as regimented as they once were, but I still want to live lives of purpose. So– I pray:
“Lead me today to those I need…”
Biblical teaching from the pulpit focused on truth and insights that motivate me to put to use what I learn from our ongoing teaching of the Word of God, verse by verse. I need the knowledge shared and the challenge to live it out.
My weekly Bible study where Godly women share wisdom I aspire to. I need their discernment and wisdom. I need the example of these women to propel me to respond well in my own life. I need the women at my table who share from their hearts. Their vulnerability and steadfast faith encourages me tear down the walls I often construct to keep others out.
My weekly beach walk with friends. I need them so that I will stay committed to moving my body and enriching my spirit with the company of women who, by their example, cause me to not grow weary in doing right, but to persevere in faith through the ups and downs of life.
My friends who I need to pray for me when I ask and when I don’t.
A long phone conversation with a far-away kindred spirit because I need to be encouraged and uplifted, too.
A visit with a young couple and their sweet little one, who are planting a new church in a largely unchurched area of our state. I need to support them in prayer and with my wallet. And I need to see how God is blessing the investment of time and love I made many years ago. I need to be reminded that love invested yields love paid forward.
“…And to those who need me…”
Because, good golly Miss Molly, it’s not just about what I need. So, our Lord graciously answers this prayer and leads me to these who need me, in a wide variety of ways with a varied cast of characters:
I get to take a dear friend to her chemo appointment and then spend the afternoon with her. I get to cheer her on as she bulks up on as many calories and liquids as her frame will contain and we catch up with each other, uninterrupted by other distractions.
I get to spend an afternoon cuddling, feeding and juggling precious twin baby girls while visiting with their mama.
I get to give my daughter the afternoon off and take my darling grand girls to the library, the park and for Slurpees, all the while listening to them, praying for them and laughing with them. I get to remind them that I am for them and God is for them.
I get to prepare dinner for our weekly time with our “adopted” daughter. We get to feed her a good meal and encourage her as she begins a new semester in her nursing education.
At our monthly “SWAP Day” I get to share with my Bible Study friends from my excess as I seek to minimize my possessions and share my bounty with them.
I get to accompany my husband to a physician appointment and to take notes for follow-up.
I get to support my dear cousin as she has recently acted on one of the hardest decisions of her life. I get to remind her that even when it’s hard, it is still right and good, and that “joy comes in the morning.” And, I get to continue to pray for her as she walks through this valley.
I get to welcome a houseful of family and give them a place to celebrate the Labor Day weekend. I get to shop for, prepare and clean up after numerous meals, wipe up lots of spills, dodge kids running through our normally quiet home and enjoy the beautiful picture of beloved faces around our massive table. I get to see every seat filled. I get to serve those who work hard in their own lives everyday. And– in my weariness when everyone left, I get to experience fullness of heart.
I get to meet with a young woman struggling in a difficult marriage. I get to encourage her to persevere, to seek God’s wisdom in His word and to be in community with those who will support and encourage her.
“And, let something I do today have eternal significance.”
What does that mean? Englishman C.T. Studd, a cricketer, evangelist and later missionary to China, India and Africa said it best in his poem, “Only One Life “
Only one life
‘Twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ
I am challenged by this. Convicted by it. Shaken to the core by it. I confess to spending too many hours on too many things that have zero eternal significance. I could fill volumes with the time I have spent on that which will burn. God forgive me. And so, I will pray daily:
“Let something I do today have eternal significance.”
(And might I be so bold as to change it up a bit?)
Let many more thingsI do today have eternal significance.
It’s Labor Day weekend and your local barista is already offering all things pumpkin spice. I have lamented multiple times, this week alone, that Summer has flown by faster than a whistling 4th of July rocket. I often express surprise at how the seasons sneak up on us, but the truth is, they are predictable, unlike some other segments of our lives. As the curtain on another Summer draws to a close, I am reminded that one of the few things we can absolutely count on is change.
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under Heaven…
Be it the weather, our health, relationships or the seasons themselves, we can be certain that life will frequently be in flux. There will always be new mountains to climb and inner strength will be necessary. Our ability to find our “sea legs” will determine how we will ride out the subtle changes and larger storms of this life.
A time to be born, And a time to die…
Pressing through the grief, disappointments and irritations that are common to all takes not mere tenacity and resolve but a faith that propels such endurance. Releasing those we love to death stings. Disappointment makes our hearts heavy. The ability to press through the changing and challenging seasons only heightens our instinct to cherish the sweeter moments.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance...
Three weeks after the death of my beloved father, my first grandchild was born. As I navigate through my own seasons, I have learned to embrace the reality that sorrow and joy often collide on the streets of life. They are in fact, the most intimate of friends. We won’t engage one without eventually engaging the other. This is a hard certainty. Change will come and we must change with it. As we ourselves are changed, we have the opportunity to bring change to the world we inhabit. I have recognized my only hope (and I believe, yours) is to cling to what is unchanging.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
In the shifting seasons, sands, circumstances, moral codes, political climates and relationship issues we all encounter, I have found Jesus to be the single source that will never fail. Wherever I am, He is there. Whatever my sin, He forgives. However gravely I am wounded, He will comfort. However late I call, He will answer. However undeserving I am, His grace is greater. However deep the pit I’m in, His hand will reach down to draw me out. Not because of any good thing I have done, but because of His grace and mercy to me despite my many shortcomings and failures.
I have found Him faithful. Through every season for more than half a century. There is:
No sin He can’t forgive
No circumstance too messy
No addiction He can’t break
No pain He can’t comfort
No brokenness He can’t restore
No lie He can’t speak truth too
No foolishness He can’t redeem
No weakness He can’t bring strength to
No chaos He can’t bring peace to.
No hate He can’t conquer with His love.
Through all the seasons of life, this extraordinary Jesus invites common people like you and I to enter into relationship with Him. Imagine! Your Creator, singling you out to walk and talk and live with Him now and throughout eternity. And, it has nothing to do with being good enough, because none of us are worthy to sit in His presence. Still, He invites us to enter into an intimate, personal, life giving relationship with Him.
Throughout every season of life, He stands at the door of your heart and knocks. Will you open that door?
There’s a subtle lie that haunts most of us a good deal of the time. We look at others and assume they’ve got it going on, but the truth is that underneath even the most polished exterior lies insecurity, struggle, heartache and yes, sin.
“…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Driving to a meeting last week I was musing about the fact that I know a lot of people think I have myself “together”. I was quickly reminded of the truth, which is that I am lazy and disorganized and prone to wander. I’m a great starter and less great finisher. What has made the difference in my life is that I’ve recognized my need to be dependent on those around me who remind me to persevere.
Holding it together depends on the Body I belong to and the One who created it. No one part of this body is autonomous. A finger, a leg, a nose, an ear, a foot; they all are useless on their own. Left to our own devices we are pretty useless. We all need to be part of an active body. The individual parts produce nothing, but the parts working together in harmony bring productivity both individually and collectively. It’s why I attend services regularly and am disheartened by those who eschew it saying it’s not necessary to do so. God says it is.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
I’m thankful to acknowledge my need of those God has placed in my spheres of influence. I’ve learned to intentionally seek out people I admire and want to be like, and then sometimes God brings those I never would have sought out on my own. Through each of them, I am encouraged to press on and press in– by those who will confront me when I’m out of order. I rely on them to nudge me when I’m lazy– to get up and move! When I’m weary– I count on them to remind me to keep moving, when I’m discouraged–to press on and when I’m resting on my laurels– to continue on to the next level. When I isolate, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m doing okay–that I’ve done enough. Hence, I need to surround myself with those who spur me on to good works, who by their example remind me to press on to what is good and useful and productive.
Without those God has knit me together with, I confess, I’d be tempted to spend my discretionary hours binge watching Brit-Box far too often. So, believe me when I tell you I am ever mindful of and thankful for my community. I’m not lying. I need you. I say it all the time, but, we need each other. Isolation is always our foe. Kick it out the door. Find your people.
Those were the first words I read upon awakening this past Friday.
“May he rest in peace and rise in glory”
I hail from a large extended family and some I know better than others. Ben, not so well. But, his father, my cousin, is like a brother to me, having lived in our home for a substantial period of time when I was growing up. He gave me my first Beatles album. (Rubber Soul) He let me drive his pink corvette one day. He has an infectious smile and laugh. I have a million memories of and with him. Like each of us, he has strengths and weaknesses. Like me, He loves Jesus. I have dearly loved him as long as I can remember. Although he is miles away, I am grieving with him today and will be in the days to come. There is a hard road ahead.
Ben was his youngest. His one and only son, from a mother I have yet to meet. He was the child who most resembled him, from where I stand. He was the husband of a kind and beautiful wife who loved him and a sweet daughter he claimed. He had siblings who also grieve. Shockingly, his exit from this life on earth has been splashed across television screens which omit his name, for now. A devastating end to a sometime tumultuous life. But then, whose isn’t?
In the wee hours of the morning while riding his motor cycle on a deserted street in a town I once called home, Ben was struck by a car. His broken body slammed to the pavement and abandoned. A helmet lay on the ground near a single white shoe. A lone witness called for help as the driver of the car fled the scene, no doubt fueled by sheer panic and fear.
Emergency crews arrived to transport him to a local hospital, where a kind young woman tried to reach my sister, several states away, via Facebook. Having found Ben’s ID, she searched for his name there and and saw my sister as a friend and attempted to reach her in the hours before dawn. The kindness of strangers.
In a sterile emergency room, surrounded by the good people who worked hard to save him, Ben breathed his last breath. And now, we, his extended family grieve, praying that he crossed over to glory.
The witness at the scene of the accident shared information allowing the police to identify a suspect early on. He was urged to surrender and tell his story. His car was found, windshield shattered and other damage to the front. But he was in the wind.Truth be told, there was no where to run. Adding more sorrow to an already tragic situation, he was found dead, from what is assumed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. My mind shouts “senseless-tragic-why?” But- I am not God, hence I cannot comprehend the whys. But, what I do believe, is that God will somehow use it all for His purposes and our good as this sad story continues to unfold.
There is more “collateral damage” than is known to us. Both of the dead were 41 year old- young men who were sons and fathers, loved by those who suffer in sorrow today and who will grieve for many days to come. No doubt many will ask the perennial question, “why?” 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that we have a ruthless enemy, described as “a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”He is always anxious to tear us away from everything that is good, every gift God freely offers us. By all we can see, it would that the enemy and his lies seem to have won this battle.
Here’s what I know for sure:
In God’s economy, nothing is wasted or lost. His Word says that when we submit ourselves to Him, we can move forward from any situation, confident that He will work every situation, every loss, every tragedy and every triumph for our good. Romans 8:28 assures us He uses all things- the good, the bad and the ugly, for our good and His glory.
God knew both of these men’s hearts and He was there with both of them in their final moments. While I do know Ben heard the Gospel and acknowledged the emptiness of a God shaped space in his heart, I cannot speak for the other victim in this tragedy. But, God. God knew and knows. By His grace, up until the final moments of life, He hears the cry of a sinner surrendering to him and responds with forgiveness and mercy, just as He did to the thief on the cross beside him, when he said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”(Luke 23:43)
As we grieve we all have a choice; either to grieve as those who have no hope, (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) or to grieve in expectation of being reunited with those we have loved here on earth, changing a hard good bye to a confident, “I’ll see you in Heaven.” After his infant son died, David said in 2 Samuel 12:23 that “some day I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.”
When we suffer such great loss, (and we all will) we must never forget that He still has work for us to do. We must war against allowing our sorrow to consume us. When it’s time for us to be reunited with those who have gone before us, He will then bring us Home. too. Until then, we can either be paralyzed by grief or we can use it for His good, by serving as He calls us, waking every morning with the mindset of a soldier reporting for duty, asking for marching orders. This is our great challenge and the proof of our faith. This faith trusts in Him more than in the emotions that might derail us from his plans and purposes for our individual and collective lives. It’s us saying, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in Christ who lives in me.”(Galatians 2:20)
A mere three days into what might aptly be described as a nightmare, I have seen God’s hand at work in so many ways…in the kindness of strangers…in the emergency workers at the scene of the accident…in the witness who acted so quickly to call for help and to share information with the authorities… in the media professionals who withheld Ben’s name so as not to be the first to notify loved ones of his death…in the many who have reached out to both grieving families and– in the visit between a father and a son so recent that it had the finger prints of God all over it.
It is no coincidence that come July, this extended family of Ben and of mine, will once again gather together for a long ago scheduled reunion. We will celebrate an imperfect, unpredictable family that reaches far and wide across our country and the love and legacy we share. Unbeknownst to us until now, we will also grieve and celebrate Ben. Some of us will come to know him better in death than we knew him in life as we share stories and remembrances from those who knew him and loved him best. It is going to be a glorious time of remembrance, sprinkled with some grief, but not without joy.
And I, for one, can’t wait.
The joy of the Lord is our strength. If you are grieving, and in need of comfort and encouragement, please won’t you open your Bible (or your device) to the following encouraging Words from the God of all comfort. It is my experience that
| JESUS NEVER FAILS. |
Please Read This and let me know how I can pray for you today:
Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak to a gathering of women at my church in 7 days and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve) Except for that nagging little voice in my head telling me there was still something I needed to add. Never the less, I had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed. No problem.
I arrived home that Thursday evening to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so we went to bed praying he’d be better by morning. When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case. His pain had intensified. I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in. His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.
We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan. Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered. And we waited. For hours and hours.
The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective. As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none. The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder- known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day. It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding. His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal, indicating a serious infection was raging. Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed. As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg floor and prepared to be taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent. The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved. It was a short term fix. In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and intravenous hydration. Three days later, his white count finally began to descend.
Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside. In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms. I learned that there are gifts to be found. I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms. Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins. The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.
By Sunday, the word was out. Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing. Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea. My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus. The significance of that was not lost on me.
So. Much. Kindness.
So. Many. Blessings.
The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those in their path with their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all – nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long. Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one. It was like it was a job requirement. Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…
God bless the volunteers…
“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.” Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.
Over the next week, my days were spent spoon feeding my patient bland, pureed food, assisting with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down, calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery, meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners. Friends and family came bearing chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital. Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates. Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family. We were so covered and felt so loved.
Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days. It was a blessing to have time and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in. Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed. His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young. Though she no longer lives in the area, she had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our God is in the details of our lives. She shared with me that my nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our God so personal and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.
Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.
Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well. It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others. But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort . The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance. Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up. When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or, a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were. They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself. More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself. They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul. These are the priceless gifts of community.
When I made the decision to retire, I was surprised at the number of people who expressed to me their belief that I would be bored when I didn’t have a job to go to everyday. My response was the same, 100% of the time:
“…only boring people get bored.”
But– maybe also people who don’t plan for what’s ahead. If you are currently contemplating retirement, now is the time to begin building for that future. If you have already retired and feel like you’re floundering, it’s not too late to begin.
In a culture where often the first thing we are asked by a stranger after initial introductions is “what do you do?” is it any wonder that so many of us are largely defined by our work? I learned early on to view my work as a means to support my life vs my life supporting my work. For me that meant that while I worked hard to give my best effort, I also endeavored to maintain a life outside my job. It was often challenging to manage that goal.
I have a friend who had a very successful career in a field she loved. She retired after some health issues made it difficult to continue, but has since failed to thrive and is largely housebound. She is an example of one who was so involved in her successful career that she failed to build a life outside of it.
If you are approaching retirement, here are 10 suggestions to consider :
gather with others
Build scheduled activities into your schedule now so that you have a reason to get up and get out when you’re no longer going to work. I’ve attended a Monthly Bible Study with a small group of women for the last 20+ years. In addition I’ve long attended weekly services at my church. Once I ceased working, I added in classes at the gym three times a week and began walking one morning a week with a group of women friends. These routine activities keep me active and involved in lives outside my own and give me something to look forward to nearly every day.
Kill two birds with one stone. Exercise your body while staying in touch with friends. Instead of meeting for lunch or coffee, meet at a park and go for a walk, giving you time to catch up while keeping your body strong and agile.
Don’t restrict friendships to others your own age. If all your friends are your age or older, eventually if you are fortunate enough to have long life, you will face losing many who are dear to you. Hence, there is a great benefit to having friends of various ages. I have found many young women who are desirous of being in relationship with an older woman who shares their values and can be a source of wisdom that comes with age. Multigenerational activities are enriching and expand our horizons. Spend time with grandchildren while they’re young so you’ll have strong relationships when they age.
Don’t be afraid of technology/social media. While it’s true that social media can be misused, but it can also be a blessing. Facebook and Instagram have been a means for me to stay in touch with friends all over the world. Today I was able to converse in real time with my friend who recently relocated to Luxenbourg. I group text with a several small groups of friends regularly. And, my granddaughters introduced me to Marco Polo, an application that allows us to send video messages. I’ve been using it for months and recently some of my 30 something friends have discovered it. This Senior was ahead of the curve!
Exercise hospitality at whatever level works for you. You may not feel like hosting a dinner party but who can’t manage a pitcher of iced tea and a bunch of grapes? Invite friends over for a movie night or a potluck holiday gathering.
Find a place to volunteer where you can use your gifts for the benefit of others. We all need a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives. I spend one day a week with my grandchildren, freeing my daughter to have some time to herself. I spend another afternoon volunteering at my church, supporting women’s ministries and events. Wherever your interests lie, find a place to exercise them on a regular basis.
Remember that isolation is your enemy. Don’t end up like my friend who believes retiring was the biggest mistake of her life. Ideally you start building a life outside of your work while you’re still in the game. But, if you can’t, make it a priority to do so soon after you leave the workplace.
Rediscover your partner and the things you enjoy doing together. Whether it’s going to the gym together, walking your dogs, hiking, travel or movies, make time for each other and for social activities with other friends.
Rediscover your spiritual side and the faith you may have abandoned. As we near the end of life on earth we are more incline to realize that our spirits need to nurtured and stretched. For me that means reading my Bible in the morning as I enjoy a hot cup of coffee. Ive found God’s Word life giving and able to fill my spiritual tank, enabling me to live with purpose. It means gathering with like minded believers so that we may spur one another on to good work. And, it means feeling prepared for whatever may come.
. Serve others. It may be a neighbor, a friend or someone in your church. Find ways to give of yourself to bless others regularly. Prepare and deliver a meal to a sick friend or a new Mom and her family. If you don’t cook, deliver take out or a gift card to their favorite restaurant. When you make soups prepare a double recipe and freeze half to share with someone later. Offer to babysit your grands overnight and give your adult children a night out sans children. Offer to pick up things at the market for someone who has difficulty getting out. Help with preparations for events you enjoy. The possibilities are endless and as you bless others you, too, will be blessed.
The beauty of retirement is that we have the freedom to choose where and when to spend our time and effort and with whom. It is NOT the time to burrow in for the winter. We are not groundhogs, people.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’re either preparing to or are already thriving as you age.
Here’s to Blooming in Winter! With a little preparation it can be the icing on your cake.
I really love retired life. My days are full and I love the freedom it affords. Even so, in a moment of madness, I accepted a short-term position which landed me back in the workforce for a period of six weeks. Three weeks into it, I’m musing on the value of a smile.
A happy face means a glad heart… -Proverbs 15:13 The Living Bible
Each day of my assignment, I have been given the opportunity to interact with anywhere from 25 to 75 individuals for a portion of my day and theirs. What has repeatedly pierced my heart in these interactions has been the power of a smile and those who seem unable to give and receive them.
I have long been challenged by a desire to present a smile to all I come in contact with. The humble, quiet, smile can break down walls, lighten loads, ease anxiety, cheer the down hearted and comfort the hurting. It can encourage the worried, create a safe space for the scared and elicit a mirrored response. In that moment, all is good and right when someone smiles at you.
A joyful heart is good medicine… -Proverbs 17:22
I find it disturbing when humans, both young and old, walk around with blank, angry or hardened faces. These faces appear unwilling to make eye contact and unable to give or even respond to a smile. They walk around with fences around their hearts that dare anyone to tear them down. I weep, especially, for the young students I have seen these last few weeks, who enter a room face down, stone faced and unable to receive the warmth of a smile, let alone return it. A smile invites others into your life, if only for a moment. It says, “you are welcome here in my world for this time we are together”. It makes you accessible and allows someone to experience a moment of joy.
If you’re happy, notify your face. If you’re not, try to smile anyway. It’s good for your soul.
If you refuse to receive and respond to a smile with one of your own, you are shutting those out who are purveyors of peace and joy. Perhaps fear, isolation or abandonment has caused you to shut others out for fear of being wounded by someone you once opened your heart to. Consider that a smile may well begin to heal what is broken and warm what has grown cold.
Let’s admit right now that it’s not always easy to smile. Sometimes it is a sacrifice to set aside how we’re feeling inside and to go beyond those feelings to give someone else what they might need. But let’s also be real. It’s not that hard to turn up the corners of our mouths even when we may be hurting inside. What does that old song say?
This is some good advice friends. Take heed, because when we smile we not only brighten the person we’re giving it, too, but we are also notifying our own soul that there is still much to be joyful about and to be grateful for. We cheer ourselves when we cheer others.
Take the smile challenge. Make it your business to give more smiles today. Bless someone with a gift that costs you nothing but may be an encouragement to one desperately in need of it.