It Hurts to Write These Words…

“Ben died…”

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.

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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?

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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.IMG_1324Truth 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.

But, God… DSC02948

 

Here’s what I know for sure:

  1. 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.
  2.  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)
  3. 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.” 
  4. 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.IMG_0960

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.

 

P.S.

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:

Joshua 1:9

Psalm 28:7

Psalm112:6-7

Nehemiah 8:10

Isaiah 41:10

Exodus 15:2

John 14:27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proactive Aging: A Road Map to Arrive and Thrive

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 :

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gather with others

  1.  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.IMG_4788
  2. 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.fullsizeoutput_add4
  3. 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.
  4. 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!fullsizeoutput_7848
  5. 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.
  6. 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.  
  7. 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. cookie 169
  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. . 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of a Smile

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

SMILE

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.

Just SMILE.

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Falling in Love Again

Growing older often  brings with it,  gifts that can only be  wrapped and delivered with the passage of time.

This post isn’t what you think it is. ¬†And maybe you will think me a little “off” once you hear what it ¬†is. ¬† But, the title of this blog is the one that best describes how I feel about ¬†the events of this past weekend.

Nearly fifty years ago, I met a friend, by way of our mutual friend and then we became friends. ¬†We were both single and for a minute contemplated a romance, but quickly came to our senses. ¬†Not one to let a good friend be lost to a romance that wasn’t meant to be, we ¬†both persevered in our friendship, now for almost half a century.

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My dear old friend and I

He, a quirky guy, ¬†married a beautiful woman with a heart-shaped face and a heart that welcomed me. ‘Bless her. ¬†I married my own ¬†quirky guy (whom I ¬†later ¬†divorced and¬†¬†re-married.) ¬†In between, ¬†Steve and his wife travelled from Tennessee with their first-born and spent time with me and mine. Later, they came to visit us when we lived in the DC area. ¬†When my girl and I returned to California to reunite with my¬† guy, the drive across the ¬†country included a detour to ¬†Nashville specifically designed to spend time with them before continuing West.

That was 26 years ago.  It was the last time we were in the same place together. But, now they were headed West for a wedding and my far away friend  announced via an unexpected email, that he and his beloved would be dining with us on August 4.

YAHTZEE

They arrived at LAX early early Saturday morning, texting me that ¬†their rental car wouldn’t be available until noon. Yikes! ¬† I jumped out of bed and ¬†dashed out of the house, sans make-up and in ¬†the clothes I’d had on the day before. They are ¬†those kind of friends–no need to impress, only to ¬†show up. ¬†So, show up I did.

He was mildly disappointed that I was driving a Ford and not a European sports car but, agreed to get in with a promise of breakfast to come.  We headed to a small community adjacent to LAX where we shared a meal, took some pictures and then drove  along  the coast so they could soak in the sparkle of the early morning Pacific. We  headed North on Vista Del Mar as  beach goers claimed their turf for the day.

Their rental was ready, so I deposited them just off Century Blvd. and they headed East ¬†to one of the Presidential libraries they’d planned to visit. ¬†As for me, ¬† I returned home to prepare for their return for ¬†dinner around our table. When they arrived just after 6, ¬†they met my husband for the first time and everyone was instantly at ease. ¬†If you’d been a fly on the wall, you’d have assumed we were all long time friends in the habit of gathering together often. ¬† We meandered around our kitchen island drinking cold beverages and the years and distance melted away with the summer ¬†heat. ¬†There was no lack of ease ¬†in the room, no extended silences, no aloofness – only the comfort that comes from knowing and being known and believing down deep that ¬†you are welcomed as you are.

We sat at our table and ate too much food. ¬†We ¬†talked for hours, not about superficial things but about the many things that had transpired in our lives since we’d been together last. ¬†There were the expected “catch up” conversations about our children and their lives today, our families and how they’ve evolved. ¬†We came current as we ¬†took in ¬† braised short ribs and strawberry shortbread dessert. There was a lot of laughter, and then some ¬†sorrow too, which morphed into deeper conversations. ¬†We shared joys and sadness because the best lives are ¬†full of both. ¬† ¬†And- because there was no sense of risk involved. ¬†We were safe together.

My husband, still recovering from a recent illness, said goodnight early, ¬†but the three remaining compadres sat up late, sharing more stories , unwilling to let the one night we had together end too soon. They had a full day planned for Sunday and it was unlikely we’d meet again before their departure on a train early Monday morning. ¬†Still, as I stood at the front door ¬†sending ¬†them off to their hotel, ¬†I couldn’t help interjecting (okay, I was kinda pleading) ¬†that “IF” they were up to it after another day at another library on Sunday, we’d be so happy ¬†to meet for another meal at a local ¬†restaurant. (a girl can dream, right?)

I fell asleep with a full heart and a prayer that  it might possible to reunite just one more time.  The next morning we texted and I was thrilled to receive her response, which said in part,

“…Such a precious time last night. I hope we’re up to dinner tonight. ¬†We are planning to unless the day gets too long. ¬†It’s good to be here and to be near you guys. ¬†‘Don’t want to miss the opportunities God has for us…”

My heart swelled with hope.  I prayed for a burst of energy that would bring them back to us.  By 5:30 there was a text that they were headed our way.

BINGO

So there we were, once again, sharing a meal and our lives for another three hours.  And, then,  at the end of a long day,  we said good bye knowing it would be our last for a  long while.

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“Re-united and it feels so good” The husband and I along with our beloved far-away friends, Prilla and Steve

 

It was more than a little heartbreaking for me. ¬†You see, I was reminded anew how very much I love them. ¬†I realized that though 26 years and 2,022 miles had come between us, the closeness I felt for them had never gone away. ¬† Added bonus: ¬†the husband now had come to know and ¬†love them, too. ¬†Although I knew I loved them, it felt ¬†like “falling in love again.” ¬†I was reminded afresh, how very special they are, how like-minded we are, how we share values, ¬†faith and ¬†perspectives on so many important things. ¬†It was a little glimpse of Heaven. ¬†For reals.

WINNING

“I felt my heart strangely warmed.” ¬†¬†-John Wesley ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†First love.

 I had forgotten what it felt like.

But-then, I was reminded.

They arrived back ¬†home just yesterday. ¬†We ¬†now have a group text going and ¬†I vow it’s going to keep going. ¬†They are the next-door neighbors we’ve always longed for. ¬†We’ve rediscovered a long-lost love and it has left my heart bursting with joy.

May it burn strong for all my days. ¬†And, Lord, if it’s not asking too much? ¬† May they be our next door neighbors in Heaven, if not on Earth? Please and thank You.

Amen and Amen.