Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remembering Our Loved Ones

The month of May is difficult for many, including my family and I. Over the years, we've endured several losses during this month. I find it ironic, too, that May is the first full month of spring; the earth is awakening with fresh new life, while memories of painful goodbyes crowd my thoughts. It seems appropriate that the month would culminate in a national holiday of remembrance. Memorial Day helps bring closure to weeks of reflecting on those who have gone on before us.

Witnessing the dead, dormant, earth being transformed with new, colorful life reminds me that the dead in Christ have new life in heaven with Jesus. What appears to be gone, actually is not. A Christian’s demise may seem like “the end of the story”, but in fact, it is the beginning of glory. Death is not final; we are temporarily separated from them, not eternally separated.

After a Christian loved one passes, it can be comforting to envision the analogy of what is happening here on earth, to heaven, and what might be going on there, simultaneously. For instance, while we are mourning their passing, they are celebrating their homecoming. Wile we are meeting with the funeral director, they could be escorted into the King’s presence. While we are selecting their casket, they could be inspecting their glorified mansion. While we are being comforted with soft organ music, they, along with a host of angels, are probably harmonizing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” in a worship service to outdo all worship services. While our faces are red from tears, their face is glowing with joy. And, while we are receiving guests who have come to pay their final respects, they could be introduced to generations of saints who have gone on before them.

Yet, until we are called home to join them, there will always be a part of us that will miss them, and long to be with them. If our loss is fresh, waves of grief can threaten to consume us. In time, however, our precious memories of our loved ones will bring us much comfort.

The God of promise wants us to remember that in the midst of those waves of grief, He is with us. We are not alone. If we hold fast to the Lord’s promises – eternal life with Him, and eternal life with our loved ones – it will give us the hope and encouragement we need to keep going on…until He calls us home, too.

As I delight in my purple irises and reflect on their struggle to get to this beautiful, alive state, I can’t help but smile at their transformation. And this Memorial Day, as you reflect on those who have so bravely given their life for your freedom here on earth, reflect, too, on the hope that you have in the One who appeared to be dormant for three days, but burst forth in new, eternal life for you and I. Jesus paid it all to keep us from an eternity of separation from God. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we (and our loved ones) could have freedom in Him, and abundant life in Him … now, and forevermore.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39).

Forever His,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Mother’s Daughter

With the recent celebration of Mother’s Day, I was reminded of a piece I wrote about motherhood that was published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul Empty Nesters book a few years ago. I would like to share an edited version of the story to hopefully bless and encourage other mothers, too.

My mother was in her mid 60’s. She was still a lot of fun to be with, she was still hard-working, and she was still a beautiful woman inside and out, but she had this habit that made me uncomfortable… she worried.

Throughout the years of raising my own children, whenever a mishap occurred I would sometimes call Mom. But the past few years I have fought the urge so as not to burden her.

My mother used to be carefree and happy-go-lucky. She used to deal with the endless mishaps of raising us five kids with take-it-in-stride abandon. I am the middle child and decades ago, one by one, we each left the nest to begin building nests of our own. I don’t recall mom worrying much as we packed up and moved out. It seemed to me that she was actually relieved because we noticed that following each departure, Mom immediately re-decorated the room that had just been vacated.

One day, after recently dropping off our son at college for the first time, I asked my mom, “How did you do it?”

The pain of “cutting the cord” was so raw that I wasn’t even able to say my son’s name without getting a lump in my throat. And our daughter was sixteen; we knew we’d have to do this again. My mother, however, had to let go five times.

“How did you ever get through letting go of five kids?” I asked, dabbing at my eyes.

My mother smiled reflectively, nodding her head slightly.

She’s smiling?

“Well,” Mom momentarily paused, “There was such constant commotion for so many years, that I guess I reached a point where I became anxious to get my own life back.”

“But you made it look so easy,” I added.

“Oh no, it was never easy. It’s just that there was always so much to do; I worried as I worked. As a mother yourself, you know you start worrying from the moment you find out you are pregnant – it never stops.”

It never stops? Why did I think this job had an end to it?

For years I daydreamed about what I would do after my children moved out. I had mistakenly assumed I would go back to being my carefree self again.

And that’s when it dawned on me. It wasn’t my mother who had been the lighthearted one—it was me. Mom had always been worried about us, I had just been so busy spreading my own wings and making my own nest that I never stopped to think about the adjustments she had to make with each of us leaving.

Suddenly this “letting go” thing became clear to me: as I watched my children spread their wings in anticipation of leaving our nest, I, like my mom, wanted them to never forget – my wings were bigger than theirs. My wings would always be able to wrap around them.

While cords have to be cut, heartstrings never do.

Her children arise and call her blessed… (Proverbs 31:28).

From my heart to yours,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Fear of Beginning

It took years, but I finally accepted the call on my life to be a writer. However, what I continued to have trouble with, was how to overcome the anxiety of beginning a new piece. From the first nudge of a story idea I would usually have to fight an almost paralyzing fear of revealing my innermost thoughts on paper. And knowing, too, that those words would be permanent, only added to my apprehension.

In an effort to stall the beginning of a story, I have been known to paint something that didn’t really need painted, wash my car and clean it out, or cook a meal for others. While there is nothing wrong with those projects, there is something wrong with not dedicating time to fulfilling a calling.

Lord, how can I overcome this?

I keep a hard copy of every article and book that I’ve been published in. It used to be that I would scan my accomplishments to boost my insecurity, but even that little trick was not working. Instead of feeling encouraged when I would read my past successes, I felt pressured to produce at the same level. And I felt pressured from a financial standpoint, too, as we had two kids in college.

As the days passed I became more frustrated. One day, in an effort to avoid writing, I decided to clean up my computer files. I skimmed over old files and weeded out those I no longer needed. But when I came upon the writing file titled, “Appreciation”, I gasped. I had forgotten all about it.

Immediately after my first book came out I had received dozens of emails from friends, family, and even total strangers, thanking me and expressing their appreciation of my work. I had completely forgotten that I had merged those emails into one file. As I read through the notes of heartfelt acknowledgments of how my book had encouraged, blessed, and even changed their lives, something wonderful began to happen. A surge of warmth spread through my body as I realized…this is it. This is why I write. It’s not about me and it’s not about the income; rather, it’s all about helping others and pointing them to the Lord.

My focus had been all wrong. I had been concerned about “measuring up” to my past successes, and about the permanence of the words that I was choosing. I completely forgot about the reader— the one who was hurting from the disappointments and mishaps of life; those readers who may have lost a child or a spouse, or who had recently been diagnosed with a deadly disease.

That one little file reminded me that I had been given a gift to help the hurting by pointing them to the Lord, that Higher Power who can comfort them, anytime and anywhere.

Thank you, God, for reminding me that it’s about You, not me.

Not only did my writer’s block of beginnings disappear, but my writing productivity increased, all due to adding one new habit; the most important habit of all. Each morning I ask, “How can I help others through my writing? Show me, Father, how to begin.”

As I roll up my sleeves to begin a new piece, I am thrilled to say that finally, my fear of beginning…has ended.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Writing for Him,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pure and Simple Joy

I live in the country and enjoy early morning walks with our rescued dog, Colby. Some mornings I am so full of joy (especially during a rare, sunny, spring morning in Ohio) that I feel I could burst at the seams. Since I don’t have many neighbors around to hear me, I am comfortable to share my excitement over a new day out loud with the Lord. I also share whatever else is on my heart. Oftentimes, and without a conscious effort on my part, my gratefulness seems to take on a life of its own as it inexplicably evolves into songs of praise and worship. Just this morning I witnessed that transition. While singing, I realized, too, how hard it is to complain or worry. Even though I might begin my walk by sharing with the Lord something that is bothering me, between the beauty of the earth, coupled with my appreciation for all that I have, any negativity, sadness, or depression I might have previously been struggling with dissolves away.

As I exercise my body, endorphins are released which also help to lift those everyday pressures. Early morning walks benefit me physically and spiritually as they change my heart from self-focus to God focus. As I witness the dawning of a new day, it cements into my being that the Father of all creation is doing a fresh, new thing in my life, also. And, being amidst His creation reminds me that He is in control of all things, from the largest planet to the smallest insect.

It astounds me that God enjoys these times together as much as I do. He actually wants to hear my off-key voice sing songs of worship, along with my simple words of thanks for the gift of another day. Amazingly, that is His heart’s desire for us – pure and simple fellowship and thankfulness.

And He wants the same with you. Out of all the different life forms that God created, only man was given the ability to reason; to think and to choose. We have a choice, everyday, whether to turn our heart and mind toward God and choose to live for Him, or we can tune Him out and live for ourself, giving in to our petty wants and desires.

I promise you, if you choose the first you will be blessed, and …you will know pure, simple, joy. There’s no better way to start your day.

"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deut. 30:19)

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