Saturday, December 24, 2016

Lesson from a snowman

  Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse...The sun has not yet come up on this Christmas eve morning. As I finish my advent devotions I glance over at a Hallmark snowman figurine glowing on the stand. It was my mom's and she loved it so! I always had to replace the batteries once a season because it was forever on!
  It's the second Christmas without her here. And with that a new dimension of emotions. A new level of melancholy hovers over me at not having our family together.
 To say that I am use to it isn't quite true. Even though I have had over 30 years of practice with being a military family, what you once thought you had a handle on tends to slip through your fingers as you age & see grandchildren growing up from afar (also in a military family)
  My snowman is filled with a clear liquid that swirls shiny glitter, at first very slowly then it gains momentum til it's one massive solid sparkle. It's hard to even focus on a single piece of glitter. All the while it's also changing color.
 It occurred to me that that is what our lives are like. Well at least mine has been. Times when things seem almost slow enough that I can clearly see each little detail (the good and the not so good) and then times when there's so much 'stuff' going on (long work hours, grief, sickness, sadness etc) you long for the days when it was simpler.
 I had an unexpected surprise as I set the snowman on display in the corner. As the glitter swirled in turmoil what was cast on the wall above it was a mini aurora borealis!!
  The colors changed with a peaceful fluidity and while you could still see in it some movements reflected from the agitated figure below it was softened & muted and not nearly as bright & harsh as it had seemed while I focused only on the man of snow.
 It brought to mind what I need to keep my eyes on. That when I feel backed into a corner, hang onto my faith & just keep looking up and watch how God can take my jumbled chaotic life and filter it making it something unexpectedly beautiful. All the while calming me and giving me an inner peace. I only need to have the eyes & heart to see the aurora.  It's a choice I must make.
   
 

Friday, May 27, 2016

An Angel in the cemetery

I'm not sure how many people pray while they're driving to visit a cemetery but I did today. The last time I was there the grass hadn't been cut in awhile; I hated the thought of having to use my utility scissors to remedy that. I prayed I would have the physical strength to get this done in a timely manner so I'd still have time to get home to mow our own yard to help out my husband. 
   After 5 years of hand issues I knew, at best, it would be a physical challenge for me to fix my mom's grave with flowers the way I envisioned it. But I really wanted to surprise my dad with having it done for the next day. My friend makes this gardening thing look so easy, so I thought what I lacked in strength and skill I'd make up in determination. 
   I was relieved as I pulled into the driveway to find it had been mowed.  'Thank you God! One thing out of the way!'  I had my car packed with everything I thought I'd need. Buckets of dirt, flowers, water, black cloth & some tools I don't know the names of.  I set to work as I prepped the area.  The beautiful morning sunshine fueled my energy to accomplish my task.  From the car radio I heard the Danny Gokey song, "Tell your heart to beat again" and it felt like an approving hug from God that it was going to work out ok. Just a couple weeks ago my youngest granddaughter had sung that for me to encourage me through the month of May.
   I found out very quickly just how hard the ground was when the edger tool I had, along with my less than stellar arm strength, barely broke through the blades of grass let alone the dirt! So using it as I'm sure it wasn't intended, I sawed at the dry hard ground with the corner of it. I was quite proud at my ingenuity until I went to place the plastic edging border into it & I couldn't get it to go in. I struggled with it for what seemed like a long time. I'm not sure if the heat I felt rising in me was from the sun beating down or my frustration with every minute that ticked by.
  About this time I saw a truck towing lawn mowers driving through. I motioned to the two burly men to stop. I asked them if either of them had any experience with placing this edging material and could they please give me any tips to accomplish this feat.  They proceeded to tell me it required a lot of digging with a shovel. I told them I didn't have a shovel but I had done the best I could with the edger tool to make the V shape in the ground they spoke of. As they inched away from me they responded with the ever-so helpful (dripping with sarcasm) reiteration that it would take a lot of digging with a shovel. And real or imagined, as they pulled away I think I heard them snickering.
  I plopped down on the ground in the midst of my mess there, by this time tears flowing. I didn't want to leave it looking the way it did. I so wanted to surprise my dad. Dear God, why couldn't I do this simple thing? I didn't want to quit either but I recognized in reality the job was going to require more strength than just my meager determination. So I decided to do the best I could which meant forgoing the thought of being able to use the plastic border to hold the good dirt in the place I wanted to plant.
  The 1 1/2 hours passed quickly as I struggled to use the breeze as a helper for getting the black weed barrier cloth laid down. I attempted to hold the cloth down by sticking it indents I'd previously made. But just as soon as I'd get one side stuck in, that same breeze blew up the other side...wash, repeat. haha  I did finally get it to stay by just dumping a bunch of my good dirt on it. I was hot, frustrated and hurting by this point.
  That's when a slow moving car came driving through. It stopped with the man & his wife asking if the owners of the cemeteary had quit taking care of it; in reference to all the piles of dead grass laying around. I told them this was actually better than a couple weeks ago but that since my mom had only passed last year I didn't have any real history of knowledge with its care. They told me they come from Beaver County once a year on the Memorial Day weekend.
  We had a nice little chat and one thing led to another as they noticed my tools sitting there etc...I asked if they were gardeners & added that I wasn't.  The husband asked to see what I had done so I moved aside & moved my tools etc. so he could.  Then I saw the wife look over at him using hand gestures that I also recognized as I've done the same to my husband. He then called out the window, "can I give you a hand?  I have all my tools with me!"
  They were so very kind. I'm sure it took restraint not to laugh at my poor attempt that was before him. He even tried his best not to hurt my feelings as he delicately asked if I'd ever planted anything in a cemetery before. haha ( I had legitimate & convincing reasons for the placement where I did that might be out of the norm)   I know he didn't want to make me feel more inadequate than I already did.  
  The planting I had done on the black cloth DID make it easier for him to just slide the whole thing off intact though! haha  He pulled out his industrial edger, his shovel & this claw thing that twisted & broke up the ground like nobody's business.  He was accomplishing in minutes what I couldn't do in hours! And he was doing it with such ease!
 Oddly enough when he saw the last name on the tombstone he asked if I had a relative named Rich. I said no, but I had a brother named Rick. He asked if he was a trucker with a particular company? I said yes! He knew my brother!! And here he was up from Pittsburgh on his once a year trek in a little country cemetery outside a little podunk town, helping this trucker friend's sister!!  WHAT are the chances?! 

  He told me to make sure I pass it on someday when I see someone in need. I told him that is how I already try to live my life. He mentioned that what goes around comes back around. I told him that's how I felt too and why I felt they showed up when they did. I told him I had prayed for strength & help and God sent it to me in the form of an earthly angel named Dan along with his helpmate Gloria.

It was the best day I've had in a long time.

 2 Corinthians 12:10 "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."


   





Saturday, February 6, 2016

The instruction book said what?

 They say it takes a month to start a new habit or to break an old one. So for a month as soon as I woke in the morning rather than going to my default activity, (getting on the computer~specifically facebook) I went to our sun room for some quiet God time. What better time for me to be still & ready to listen then before it got light out! Before even the birds started chirping let alone the rest of the world. And it felt good, accomplished if you will, that I still had some control over something and that was how to spend my time.  I really wanted to be open to the new ways of resolving or living through my grief.
  As I got into week three of my personal prayer study things really started to take shape. Every day I felt encouraged & I anticipated what would be revealed to me.
 Scriptures that I long knew took on deeper meanings for me. For instance Hebrews 14:15 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name”
   Continually lends itself to consider the all encompassing of words like everything & anything that were in the scripture the day before (Philippians 4:5-7)  And sacrifice tells me it may not always be easy to give that praise yet that’s what we are told to do.
  It occurs to me, in the simplest of terms, that we are commanded to always be watchful for the positive! Some silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud on which to be able to praise God! I’m thinking we sure don’t do this enough in our day to day!
  While reading Psalm 62 it hit me. Another command, “Trust in him at all times, pour out your heart. God is a refuge for us”. Then things snowballed from there...A sermon at church talking about trust while reading 1 John...A memorial service specifically pointing out anxiety/worry & the need to fight it with trust!
 At one point I didn’t see the difference between my word of focus in last year’s BELIEVE (and I always added 'live like you mean it') and trust. I actually have a stamp that I’ve been using with the words Hope, Believe & Trust. I remember thinking to myself that these words were synonymous & redundant. But now I am seeing & understanding that TRUST refines my belief..it is richer & deeper & more clarifying of what I believe!    



  As I read Psalm 37:7,8 “Be still before the Lord & wait patiently for him”,  I wrote in my journal that I was struck that is so closely duplicated Proverbs 3:5,6...BUT I realized in rereading that I really meant Psalm 46:10 that says, ‘Be still & know that I am God” for that is what I have felt for months. I just needed to be still, be patient, surrender it all and just listen to God.
  When I realized my mistake I had to chuckle as I recited the right words from Proverbs. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him and he will make your paths straight’
   I was telling my dad all that I was learning as we went on our morning walk. How, from so many different sources were these common threads.   The need to rest, to surrender our struggles & anxieties, to hold onto the Serenity prayer : (which by the way was a favorite of my mom)

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things
I cannot change,
Courage to change
the things I can,
And wisdom
to know the difference,

 and the need to recognize the value of silence. The physical value of meditative silence-lowering blood pressure, slowing the heart, even facilitating some kinds of healing.  To not be afraid to be still and trust. To savor the refreshment of silence.
  I mentioned that trust, just like prayer, be still, listen, surrender were action verbs NOT just a word of focus as in years past. I even made the comment that I won’t have to worry about finding reminder momentos with trust on it because that would just be too weird. Why would there be any such thing, it would be an odd word I thought for anyone to display.  

  Then we walked into the local pharmacy.  While dad got his prescription filled I perused a very sparcely filled display of charms...After most of the other more popular charms of Hope, Peace, Joy were taken what was the one charm that was left?  You guessed it!!!!


When I got home after buying the trust charm, in my yard were two small downy feathers that have come to represent something very special to our family. (that I have yet to write about but will in time) I had not found a feather since Thanksgiving.   A real feeling of peace came over me and it just felt like some how, some way my mom was telling me ‘yes, this truly is a sign...you can trust all God’s promises you know in your heart because they are indeed true. And trust that it’s ok to rest (mentally, physically, emotionally & spiritually) after the draining and tumultuous four years that we’ve had.’

As I was working on this writing, my ears perked up when I heard the words to a song by Casting Crowns, called Just Be Held.

And when you’re tired of fighting
chained by your control
There’s a freedom in surrender
Lay it down & let it go
Come to me, find your rest
In the arms of the God
who won’t let go.

After hearing that I just needed to take a break from my writing and let the words of the song soak in....I picked up the book I’ve been reading and chuckled when I got to the last line of the first page.



 Shortly thereafter I picked up my stack of junk mail and opened a catalog.
  OK, I might be a slow learner, but I’m getting it!!! 

I have never seen anything like this~have you? Notice the scripture as well. Proverbs 3:5,6

Friday, February 5, 2016

My 'new year' like no other

  Since my mom’s passing in July 2015, I have found myself on unfamiliar ground.  In many ways I have never felt so out of control in my life. As hard as I tried to do the best I could for her and her care, in the end she still died. There was a moment when I said to my husband that when I saw her again someday, I wanted to find out what it was that finally took her.  My husband responded with something that has stuck with me; “she was 84 & people just die”. I realized then that it doesn’t matter ‘what’ caused it, it just happens. And I think I realized then that ultimately I was holding on too tight to a burden that wasn’t mine to carry in the first place..
  Something new has developed & taken shape these past months as well. I have found that even the smallest things like the dog throwing up from eating too much bird seed fills me with anxiety & worry. (what if she doesn’t stop, how do you do the heimlich on a dog, it’s a Friday and the vet is closed...What bad thing is going to happen next!!?) I know, crazy right? And REALLY annoying, I might add!!!  I think it’s because of the past 4 years of late night phone calls from the nursing home, meetings with doctors over medications & care, and other very stressful situations too numerous to detail,  I am constantly trying to prepare myself for something ‘more to come’.  It’s my inner fight or flight mechanism run amuck!  I would like to think perhaps this is just a by-product of my grief & those feelings of out-of-controlness?
  Well, it should come as no surprise that God has been so very faithful in helping me brave this storm I’m in. Shortly after mom passed, I decided to make an appointment with Him each morning to go over his life manual. I’ve been trying to make sense of things, understanding that I needed to give myself some time to figure out my new normal of daily life. I am learning that the same patience, grace & mercy I aspire to give to other people, I need to give that to myself too!
  Not knowing what else to do but knowing I needed to fill a void inside me I decided to take advantage of a lesson I found online about the Names of God. I wasn’t sure if it would help but it certainly couldn’t hurt. I soon found out that during times of storms it is good to be mindful of Who God is and how much he loves us.  As I studied the meaning of His many names I was surprised at the impact it had on me. Yes and the impact it had on my anxiety/worry. Even the words alone give you insights; Provider, The Lord is my Shepherd, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, God with us, Yahweh saves, just to name a few. You are not expected to brave these things alone!

  In that study it stated, How we act reveals what we think about God.....Think about that a minute.

Strong words? Maybe.

But listen, when you and I continue down the road of anxiousness, we communicate to our hearts and to the world that our God isn’t big enough, trustworthy enough, or wise enough to provide for us in His way and in His time. Alternatively, when we rest in the Lord and turn to Him in thanksgiving and prayer, we preach to ourselves - and to every around us- that our trust is rightly secured in the grace, sovereignty, and goodness of a God who sees and provides.


And how do we accomplish this?   Philippians 4:6-7  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer & supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

If this all sounds easier said than done, then believe me I’m right there with ya!! If I could just flip a switch and never have another anxious or worrisome thought, I’d do it.  If you notice though this is a command to not be anxious-pray about everything!! In the fine print it doesn’t have a disclaimer of 'except if you think it’s too small or unless you don’t need ME because you can handle it on your own”   But we are never left to our own devices having to figure things out all alone.  He gives us the tools all we have to do is pick them up & learn how to use them!  We are human though so we won’t always get it right and sometimes we will forget these lessons.

For me reminders & encouragements have come in the form of ‘words of focus’ which are chronicled in previous years.  Since I’m working at figuring out this new normal it comes as little surprise to me that the 'words' would take on a bit of a different form this year as well....hmmm...until next time...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

There are no words in 2016

  While there are numerous things from the past year that deserve to be written about I think they will wait for another time.
  Instead let's address a burning question (said with a bit of sarcasm) I have encountered from people numerous times in past months, especially with the new year beginning...

 DO YOU HAVE A NEW YEARLY WORD? 




  To begin, on New Year's eve I opened my blessings jar to find 68 slips of paper with something good written on them. On some there were actually 2 or 3 things ie. a gift from a friend, a beautiful sunset, a good day with my mom, a prayer answered just to name a few. Last year I had 57 snippets of paper so considering the year we had I think 68 is pretty exceptional!

  A couple things written in Jan. 2015 were fine words to live by, so I did just that.
  *Endless are the blessings of those who believe.
  *Believe in faith even when God is silent.

It's funny that as I write those, it occurred to me that a while back I thought (in anticipation) perhaps FAITH may be my new 'word' for the upcoming year yet it didn't continue to be brought to my attention. hmmmm, that gave me pause at the time. Perhaps it still will? I don't know. I continued to pray that if it were God's will to please give me clear direction on it. I also mentioned to him that I would be fine just holding onto 'believe' as it seemed to be the culmination of all my other words and was so very thought provoking & powerful.


While doing my dishes the next night, I looked at my little tree holding my 'word' ornaments. Joy, Peace, Hope (with a side of Serenity) and Believe. It then hit me...FOUR years! 2012 was when the yearly word started. My mom had her strokes & entered the nursing home in the second half of 2011. And  prior to that as rereading my blog reminded me, God was seemingly preparing me for a new level in our relationship. A deeper more personal relationship. He was steering me to be still and to quiet the white noise around me so that I could hear His voice! Preparing me to be watchful. I was also reminded of a comment at the close of 2014 & into 2015 that perhaps the 'yearly word' would run its course, if perhaps it wouldn't be as useful in the future. But then that year I did very loudly get another word being BELIEVE. There certainly was no denying that one!

 Now in retrospect it would seem as though this spiritual journey with the use of a yearly word of focus was to prepare me, guide me, comfort me along this whole journey with my mom. What do you think? In the four years of her being in the nursing home my four words of focus have given us such comfort, joy, peace, hope & strength during some very dark & difficult times.  They've certainly helped me become aware of my shortcomings and for my need for a Savior. And in the meantime brought me to see people differently knowing & understanding so much better how badly they needed Him too!
  I am very grateful for the focus the words gave me and the scriptures I was led to that became mantras for me & my family. Most recently 'He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge' Psalm 91:4  Little did we know just how profound an effect that would have on us, and the comfort it would bring.
  It does sadden me a bit that I haven't been given a word for this year but I'm really feeling that the past 4 years were a special gift from God.  In more ways than one.(***see below)  Actually an extra special gift.   If I were to perhaps continue to 'receive' a word, it would somehow diminish its worth and would take away from the profound effect it's had on me & possibly even the people around me. 
  Now that's not to say that I can't choose a word of focus if I wanted. But for now I think I just want to be still...and to do so while being ever watchful with a willing heart and my eyes & ears open.


(****It is nothing short of a miracle that mom survived 3 strokes & a heart attack on that day that changed our lives. And yet we then had her 4 more years!!  And little did I know until after her death that before she married my dad, her mother told him as if warning him, "well we don't know how long we'll have her'~ which was in reference to her having rheumatic fever as a child. And yet she lived to be 84 and they were married just shy of 67 years!)