Christmas Lived Out

Emmanuel. God with us.  God incarnate.  The God of creation came down to earth as an infant, born a king in the most humble of circumstances, making it possible for both princes and  paupers to be at home with Him.  

Two thousand years later, His book, the Holy Bible arguably remains the world’s  all time best-seller.  Recent estimates tell us that more than 5 billion copies have been printed in hundreds of languages.  While our society has grown more secular and less spiritual, He is not deterred or discouraged.  Jesus still rules and reigns and whether intentional or not, the world still celebrates His coming each December.  

Though it may now be called Winter Break instead of Christmas vacation,  His coming is still marked with every Christmas tree sold, every intentional act of kindness, every gift exchanged, every carol sung, every meal shared, every dollar dropped into a red kettle,  every cookie baked, every family gathered, every recital performed, every card sent, and every “Merry Christmas!” spoken.  His mark in indelible. 

He came to die. But, by His life and through His word, He taught us how to live, and  to do so in ways that often confound our neighbors and friends.  He taught us: 

  • To walk humbly when the world tells us to aim for the top
  •  To give not just from our wealth but sacrificially
  • To put the needs and desires of others ahead of our own
  • To forgive 490 times if necessary, and then, perhaps some more
  •  To seek the pleasure of God vs the praise of men.  
  • To obey His word despite a world that finds it vastly out of date
  • To be inclusive when we long for the intimacy of familiarity
  • To be content, not merely in our circumstances but in Him
  • To build community for ourselves and to be it for others
  • To value knowing Him above every worldly measure of success
  • To be generous toward God, giving Him the  best of all we have and are
  • To share the love of Christ with our lives and our words
  • To fear God more and men less
  • To be merciful when we long for justice
  • To pray for those who seek to do us harm
  • To entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly
  • To recognize the enemy but to know that lion has no teeth
  • To put our hope in things eternal 

All  this so that we could know and be known by Emmanuel,  and be called His own.  

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In his book WAITING HERE FOR YOU, Louie Giglio says, “Christmas led to the Cross, and on both days Jesus accomplished what no one else could.”

 What He accomplished was full payment for our failures, our sins, our just punishment for our sinful inclinations and behaviors.  Not because we earned it, but because He loves us with an everlasting love.   He  came as a sweet little infant boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes,  with impossibly soft skin and  a perfect tiny mouth–no doubt a mother’s dream.  But His destiny was to live and then to die.  For us.  So that we could be transformed to His image and to live eternally with Him free from the bondage of sin and shame.  We cannot earn it, we don’t deserve it, but He came, the perfect gift from Heaven.  

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We have only to receive from His bounty.  Christmas is past, but His gift remains.  Today is the day of salvation.  Take hold of  the hand that reaches out to you with a gift tailor made for you. 

Keep Christmas in your heart. Every day.  It is the source of imperishable hope. 

In Praise of Thanksgiving

Tomorrow most of us will gather together with friends and family, to reflect on the blessings we share and the gifts we’ve been given.  A big bird will no doubt light on our tables and disappear in a matter of minutes as we celebrate the season and those in our presence.  Hopefully both our plates and our hearts will be full.  Maybe those around your table will reflect on their many blessings.  (I love that part)

In recent years, many have embraced the tradition of identifying a “word of the year,” a word to be mindful of in the year ahead.  I, for one, have never been able to settle on anything other than “Gratitude.”  It has, for many years, been the word that I hope most reflects the life I live. Hence, I am officially claiming it as my LIFE word.  

Because,  there is much to be grateful for.  In the midst of the sorrows and trials of this life, it would be easy to succumb to despair.  I feel ya. The news of the day wears me right out.  There’s too much cancer and depression and terrorism and abuse and pain all aoround us. 

But, happiness, I believe, is largely dependent on our ability to give thanks for the good, in spite of the bad.  

Many years ago, the week after Christmas and before New Years, the husband and I had a little spat that morphed into a pity party with a guest list of one.   While he watched a football game downstairs,  I made the decision to wash windows in our upstairs bedrooms.  The recent rains and winds had left them clouded with grime and I deemed it a good day to remedy the situation with a bottle of windex and a roll of paper towels.   

I worked non-stop for an hour or so and was pleased as punch with the outcome until my husband responded that he would have greatly preferred that I had begun taking down our dead and drying fire hazard of a  Christmas tree in the  living room instead of dousing upstairs windows. You know, the ones no one but the two of us would likely  see.    Gracious and understanding wife that I was/am,  I accelerated from humble servant to prideful shrew  in nothing flat.  

I retreated upstair in a rage, livid and  astounded at his lack of appreciation for my hard work.   (must I remind you that he was lounging in front of his big screen while I toiled?)  Stewing in self-pity,  (I confess I even  shed a tear or two) I stomped around a bit and then sat down at my desk with a legal pad and pen in hand and set about to write the proverbial pros and cons list, except instead of pros and cons, there were two columns: one listing the things that drive me  crazy (and not in a good way) about this man.  The other was to be a list of all the things I appreciated about him.  

You know how this story ends, do you not?  List A was written in bold angry letters and was relatively short.  An hour or so later, List B was long and still unfinished.  As  I put down my pen, I thanked God for this man I had been so angry with, for He had reminded me that this was the same man who had brought so much good to my life.  

Our patient God  used this simple exercise to remind me that my blessings are far greater than are the trials, irritations and frustrations that often blind me to the good gifts He has given me.   While I acknowledge that  many of the roadblocks in life aren’t  this small and inconsequential,  for the most part, they  do all pale in comparison to the bounty I have received and enjoy.   What makes the difference is which list I choose to focus on.  

So, that day was a marker in my life– a day I look back on as a defining moment.  A day when I chose to be grateful for what I have and to focus on the good, vs, bemoaning what is less than ideal and far from perfect. It was the  day I chose to be intentional about where I focus.  At this season of Thanksgiving, I am reminded again, that to be grateful is to be happy.  

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious– the best not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly;  things to praise, not things to curse.  Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.  Do that and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into His most excellent harmonies. ”  -the Apostle, Paul, (Philippians 4:8-9 The Message)

Today we all have a choice to make.  Which list are you focusing on?  I would venture to say that most of us have enough of all the things we need.    Today, I wish you a grateful heart.  

Happiest of Thanksgivings my dear readers.  You are loved!


Never Forget

On this morning 17 years ago, I awoke to my radio alarm announcing that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane.  In my half conscious state, I stumbled out of bed and walked across the hall to my office where I turned on a television in time to see live, the second plane soar into the second tower.

9/11 Tribute Sounds of Silence (Doninic Bukuski)

IMG_4002For me, the world changed forever that day.  An evil I had never known existed became a part of the fabric of my life.  It had existed no doubt from the beginning of time as we know it, but, it entered my world that day and since then, I have walked through life differently.  Not, in fear or in anxiety, but in the realization that evil is all around us in this broken world and that life is fragile.

May we for this one day,  set aside our weapons of disagreement and strife and name calling and honor those who were taken?

2,974 Lives

2603 in the TwinTowers

351 Fire Fighters/EMTs

246 on Planes

125 at the Pentagon

60 Police Officers

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Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

May we take a moment to honor them and their unplanned, unexpected sacrifice and the sacrifice of all who loved them?  Might we put down our disagreements and the political rhetoric long enough to agree that evil was present that day in a way most of us had never personally experienced before?  May we grieve the losses and give honor?  May we take comfort in the fact that such evil cannot consume us when our hope is in the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, that we might forever be free of the sting of sin and death?  And may we be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and the blessing we’ve been given by being citizens of this imperfect country?

Now, take heart.  We do not walk in fear, but in confidence and in victory.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies.  There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.  Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life–body and soul–in His hands.”

~Matthew 10:28, The Message

Don’t be deceived.  There IS an enemy.  The Bible tells us clearly in 1 Peter 5:8 that our enemy the devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour.  He is real.  But, in Christ, we have victory over him.  He roars loudly, but, this lion?  He has no teeth.

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This lion?  He has no teeth.   (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comforts of Community

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.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Right…

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Get one.

Build one.

 

Enter one.

Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Things I Love About Growing Older

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The world around us celebrates all things young, shiny and new.  I am blessed to comprehend  that there are distinct benefits and blessings associated with growing older–  a blessing many aren’t afforded. Some of us long for days gone by.   I,  for one,  would not  trade today for  the sweetest yesterday.  Each day that has passed has brought me to this day, and I am grateful to have travelled  where the road of life has taken me.    As I contemplate the day ahead, I am especially grateful for these gifts:

  1. I get to do what I want, when I want, with whom I want.  My time is my own to use as I wish.  What joy to sleep late or go to bed  late–to spend hours working at something I love or spending time with  someone I love without worrying about an ever present ticking clock.  That said, don’t waste a moment!
  2. Grandchildren.I’m with  the guy who remarked that, if he knew grands were  this wonderful he’d have had them earlier! If you don’t have your own, borrow some.  Little ones help us re-discover the joy of the new while allowing us to share with them perspective and wisdom that come with aging.  The world needs more of this.  _Y9A8246edited
  3. Senior discounts.Free coffee at McDonalds and so much more. There are loads of lists on-line that will point you to deals reserved for the more mature crowd.   I love a bargain and you should, too! Never pay top dollar if you can avoid it. Using our resources wisely is  still smart.  
  4. Retirement. Don’t even get me started. THE BEST. If you aren’t there yet, prepare well.  Relationships are deeper, marriage is better and faith is stronger.  Years of commitment and  sacrifice will pay off.  Trust me on  this. Press on!  
  5. Hours in my garden. My little section of this rainbow has never been prettier.  Time stops there, whether I’m pulling weeds, watering or planting.  I put on my headset, listen to an audio book or just enjoy the sounds of bees buzzing and birds chirping.  So many hidden treasures.
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  7. Knowing enough is enough. Not needing more, but realizing you have more than you need. Looking forward to weeding out what is unnecessary and being content with what’s left. Abundance.
  8. No hurry, no worry.  Whether on the road, waiting in line or completing a task, I am now willing and  able to say, “you go ahead, I’m in no hurry.”  To fall back in traffic and let others zoom past me in their quest to get somewhere quickly is a gift I gladly embrace. The rat race may go on, but,  I’m no longer in the running.
  9. Meals that take more than 20 minutes to prepare.  This is a sweet luxury to one who worked very long days for many years.  To be able to find a new recipe, leisurely prepare it and present it as a gift to my family is pure joy.
  10. The company of good women.  I’ve always had more friends than I deserve, but to be able to actually spend significant chunks of time in their presence is like a tall glass of cold lemonade in the desert.
  11. The end of coloring my hair. Before I turned 60 and at the urging of my husband, I cut my hair within an inch of my scalp and went completely gray.  I’ve never looked back.  With the help of a gifted beautician and a great cut, I’ve never been happier with my hair. (Thank you Julie@TanglesManhattanBeach!)

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    The shoe just didn’t fit! Yay for Grey!

So, that’s what’s on my mind this morning.

No doubt, this list will expand in the days to come, but, for today, allow me to encourage you to resist reminiscing too much about “the good old days.”  Instead, fully  enjoy this moment in time.  It’s a gift.    Don’t miss this beautiful day because you’re straining  to look back.    Instead, open your eyes wide to the present.  It will be past, tomorrow.

Look up and BLOOM.

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Look up and BLOOM!

Blessings of Friendship Through the Seasons of Life

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My earliest friends, aside from my maternal cousins,  were Pam Peluski and Donna Todd in Three Forks, Montana,  followed by Susie Haggerty and Johnny Mike Wilcox when we moved to Butte.  They were the first  friends who have marked my life of  64 years.  I am no longer in touch with those early friends,  but they comprise my earliest memories of friendships  and are forever engraved in my heart.

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I have been blessed with a long line of friends-most certainly more than I deserve.  Some have come for a season and others for a lifetime.   Some have moved far away geographically and others, emotionally, but all of them are together  in my collection of treasured memories.  Each have blessed me in their own unique way.  A few have ended badly- not many, but there is still some regret for less than happy endings along with gratitude for the gifts they brought.

There were many friends in my elementary school years, mostly from our So Cal neighborhood. We spent hours playing Barbies, tether ball on the playground,  roller skating, bike riding and going to the beach when our parents gave in to our craving for the sand and surf.  Through the blessing of Facebook, many of us have been able to re-connect despite most having left the neighborhood we grew up in.  Our childhood was sweet for the most part and we share many  fond memories of growing up in a simpler, more carefree time.

In my  high school years, I made  new friends, some  from far away places-Indiana, New Jersey and Tennessee.  Billy, Deb, Stephen and Evie all opened up new worlds to me.  With Evie I visited New York City for the first time, went to Carnegie Hall and fell in love with the Big Apple.  While Billy and Stephen travelled throughout the country, I travelled vicariously with them and engaged in copious letter writing through the years.  Because of them, I visited Nashville for the first time and also fell in love with Music City.  Although I see them rarely, I still consider both to be dear friends.  Stephen and his wife Prilla will visit us next month, some  26 years since  I last saw them in Nashville and I am beyond excited to see them.   Deb and I have never lived in the same state, but through the years we have managed to meet once or twice a year in places wherever we found a good airfare.   We have shared the joys and sorrows of life together for nearly half a century.  (We are OLD!) She has been a shelter to me through many storms.

At home, my local  bestie was Cindy.  Her family lived in another town,  a few miles from my home. We were the closest  of friends through high school.  I spent many a weekend in her home, with  the two of us sleeping in her small bedroom at the top of the stairs in a single bed.  I travelled with she and her sisters in their own bus, as they travelled from church to church singing their sweet harmonies as The Hammond Sisters.    We had the best of times.  I remember gathering around their kitchen counter for breakfast and her Dad reading from “Our Daily Bread”.  Her mom was an anchor and always welcomed me with open arms.  She was strong and unyielding in her faith, but warm and loving at the same time.  I felt at home in theirs.   Through a long series of life’s challenges, Cindy and I  lost touch.  She went through some very hard times and ultimately moved away and settled far North of us.  Though there were occasional letters and brief visits through the years we have not been in touch in over three decades.  Though time and geography have come between us, my affection for  her remains strong and I know one day we’ll be reunited, if not on earth, in Heaven.  That will be a day  of  great joy for me.

As an adult, my closest friends have blossomed under the umbrella of my faith.  So many women have grown to be so dear to me.  Karen and Patricia, my Maryland besties who blessed me extravagantly with their hospitality, like mindedness, listening ears, prayers and humor.   Jules, who is a bestie to everyone who knows her and who taught me how to set a beautiful table among other things.   Tracey, who has modeled a life of prayer and who makes me laugh hilariously in the dark hours of the night with  her texts as we both battle insomnia.   Nancy, who  has rescued me from my impulsive actions more than once and whose wry humor makes me laugh out loud.   Paula, who is an example of self-less service, devotion to knowing the Word of God and a sense of  humor that I adore.  Cindy, who believes me to be far better than I really am and encourages me to walk in faith believing God CAN.  Jean, who has taken on the mantle of great-grandma to my littles in the absence of my own mother, and who has been a constant source of encouragement from the day I met her.  My walking group and my Bible study partners who urge me to press on to the good…the list goes on…

They say you can’t choose your family, but you can, your friends.  Some of us are blessed with family we also call friends.   My husband, who has grown to be the dearest of the dear through many trials and heartaches and who is now my  exemplary husband and friend.  My closest cousins,  Shelly, Linda and Dona,  are literally lifelong friends, woven into the fabric of my heart.  Not a week goes by that I’m  not in contact with one and sometimes all of them. My sisters and sisters-in-love, Debi, Dona, Christine, Nancy and Stacie are not “just” my family, but friends in whose presence I am always at home because of the history we share.

Each friendship is unique.  Some are full of laughter and others are full of heartfelt conversation, exhortation and encouragement as we share our lives.   I have always struggled with the question, “who is your best friend?” My friend Betsy once asked me that question and I responded, ” I cannot narrow it down.”  The truth is, I have been blessed with an abundance of good, good friends.  At any given time, they have each been my “best” friend.  When I am in their presence, the  designation of “best” belongs to them.   Each, “for such a time as this.”  I marvel at the goodness of our loving God, to gift my life with the right one at the right time.  Through joy and suffering, through laughter and tears, through successes and failures, this cadre of friends have walked with me through the sunshine and storms of life.  They have inspired me to press on through the heartaches and trials and have rejoiced in the delights of this life.

I cannot choose one.

I choose them all.

If you have one true friend, you are fortunate.  If you have a handful, you are blessed.  If you have more than a handful, you are rich indeed.

Rich, indeed.

#agr8fulheart

 

 

Fighting for Marriage

This last week, the husband and I celebrated 26 years of marriage.  Note, I did not say 26 years of wedded bliss.  Marriage, without question, is the most challenging relationship on earth. The Bible refers to “iron sharpening iron,”  and I find that mental image to be  an apt one. Iron sharpening iron is noisy and hard and seems to be unyielding.  Yet,  as those two forces merge, both are polished to a smoothness they would never achieve on their own.  This is marriage.

I am grieved as I survey the number of marriages crumbling around us.  Not just young ones who are more immature and who struggle through the inevitable challenges of  two lives coming together, but more mature ones who have raised families, served their communities, walked through the fires of life, instructed others  and celebrated decades of marriage, only to watch their own families implode. Not just a marriage, but a life, a family,  a home and a life time of traditions and more.   It is heartbreaking to me.

As a Christian believer, I view marriage as the merging of two souls into one, with Christ at the center.  Ironically, this is a commitment that requires more of us than any of us would fully yield to if we knew the scope of it.  We start out with stars in our eyes, but, over time the clouds cover those stars and it becomes challenging  to persevere.     It is hard work, but it is the good work of sacrificial love and a tenacity that can only be achieved by His grace and His strength.    It is a picture that Christ uses to reflect His own relationship with His church.  We are the bride of Christ and  He,  the bridegroom.  His enemy and ours, seeks to destroy that very reflection.  When we think we are safe, we are probably  at our most vulnerable and must be on our guard.

Author Madeleine L’Engle once said,

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover.  And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface.  A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again–till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged.”

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Those “silver fins” just below the surface…

Sometimes it feels as if we really are drowning. But,  we can emerge from those dark waters. If only we could remember this, when we are tempted to yield to despair and throw up our hands surrendering to dark waters.

Divorce, like suicide is most often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  I speak from experience.  You  see, the husband and I originally married some 40 years ago and divorced a few short years later.  Fortunately, we were blessed to be  reunited 26 years ago, older, wiser and with a firm commitment to enduring all things as we renewed our vows.   We did not expect  an easy road and it has not been one.  That said, it has been a road that has shaped us and has yielded the most beautiful fruit we could have imagined.

Our culture no longer honors marriage in the way it did in years past.  People talk about “starter” marriages as if we are each entitled and even destined  to make  one trial run before getting it right.  Promises are no longer kept.   Many among us eschew marriage all together, viewing it as an unnecessary  and outdated institution.  Even in the church, marriages are crumbling at an alarming rate.  As I think about my own community, I have visibility of  three marriages on the brink…couples who have been married decades, who have served faithfully, been immersed in ministry and who have instructed others in the faith. One has ended in divorce, another is awaiting a  final decree and the last couple are physically separated.   The reasons are many, I know.  Addiction, infidelity, anger, defeat, frustration and  weariness all come in to play.  And finally, one day, there is just no will to keep fighting for  survival or we can’t bring ourselves to forgive what feels unforgivable.   It just seems easier to give in and give up.  We fall out of love instead of growing through it.  Hence,  we are all the losers.

Let me interject here that I don’t believe divorce to be the unforgivable sin– not by any means.  I know there are situations that are untenable, particularly those involving physical abuse, mental illness and chronic unfaithfulness.  While I have seen marriages brought back from the brink of despair, I understand that  there are times when divorce is the last and final option. I also believe such cases should be  rare.   God hates divorce.  But He loves His children and forgives our failures.  His grace is sufficient when divorce is the only remaining option and we’ve made the most of every opportunity to reconcile.   But, far too many marriages fail without having made every effort to save them.  Those efforts may take time, effort, counsel, prayer and determination to stay the course until every roadblock has been cleared. And–it’s hard.

Even so,  there is hope even when it seems most hopeless.  I speak not as a Pollyanna, but  as one who endured years of seemingly hopeless circumstances.   If we are not actively fighting for our marriages, we will likely one day be tempted to surrender to divorce.  Sometimes we  need to set our emotions completely aside for a period of time and just commit to standing firm as we keep the promises we made at the altar. We have to guard our marriages, even when we think we are  most secure. We need to  encourage those on the brink to press on, to press in and to press through, while praying for our own marriages and those around us.   We are all one step away from a life-changing fall if we do not.  We are told in 1 Peter 5:8-10:

“Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 

Note that we are not told we will have unending bliss at all times.  We are told that throughout the world, our brothers and sisters are also suffering.  Life is hard.  Marriage requires tenacity.  Suffering is a part of the human condition and our marriages are not exempt.  We need to know that hard times not only will come, but they may go on for far longer than we expect or believe ourselves capable of enduring.   Psalm 30:5 reminds us that,

“…weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

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sometimes you just need to dial 911

The nights may be long, but, if we will just hold on, the fever will break, and we can rise again to joy in the morning.  Note that I said hard times will come.  Even when it appears that all hope is gone, we cannot give in to defeat.  We need to seek help before we are hallucinating from said fever.  So, “dial 911” if you will– seek counsel, pray hard and remember what you’ve built together. Pray for your spouse to change, but, and perhaps more importantly,  pray that you will be changed.   Be assured that your circumstances are more likely to  change with the passage of time than not.  Hard days may morph into months and even years.  Yes, I realize that’s a hard pill to swallow.  But, hold tight to the vows you made.  Trust the God who knows the beginning and the end.   When you are most weary,  He is most present.  He will make a way where there seems to be no way.  Our job is to fight the good fight, never succumbing to despair, believing that He can heal what appears to be dying.  He is in the resurrection business.  When we see death, He sees another opportunity to bring a marriage back to  life.

Mine is a marriage resurrected.  I thank God for all the times we stood on the brink but chose to keep fighting for our life together. Decades down the road, I rejoice in what He has done, hard times not withstanding.  Trials  will come and they will go, but,  by the grace of God and the prayers of the saints, we can endure and even thrive.  Don’t accept a death sentence.

Rise up.  You are braver and more courageous than you know.

Press in. Press on.  Press through.