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April ending 2018

Spring has finally sprung at my old Kentucky home. The trees have filled out and I no longer have a clear view through the little woods. One day last week, I saw two young deer wandering through. Maisie barked, of course, and the young buck began to stomp his feet at her. It was humorous to see them face-off each other. Never mind that a chain link fence divides their territory.

If I was going to talk about the weather it would be that in April we experienced a little of everything: sunshine and warm days, rain, sleet, snow, that kept me in my corduroy coat and a scarf. I saw Facebook pictures of men dressed in winter wear cutting their grass as snowflakes fell. Even this morning there was frost. After finally moving the plants from the garage to the outdoors this weekend, I had to cover them to prevent frostbite. It’s been a bit crazy.

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With all the growth going on, the yard calls to me. I’ve worked a few days doing the clean up required after winter. I dig, hoe, gather, pull, clip, and hope the fruit of my labor is rewarded. I know my body sure aches at end of day.

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We had some girls visit during the week of spring break, and the house rang with chatter, laughter, singing, and musical instruments. We craft and we eat and we sit at the table and enjoy the fellowship of the young who help us feel a little more alive.

We got to spend some time with our Mississippi relatives who came for a few days visit. Sweet William’s nieces, with their families, are real southerners, their accents delightful. We don’t get to see them often enough.

We celebrated the 16th birthday of our youngest grandchild in the way we can. I packed a birthday box to mail with surprises I hoped would please him. This year I sent vintage ties. Yes, the boy likes to wear a tie and has practiced different knots. Two of them had belonged to his great-grandfather and one was worn by his dad in high school. When we talked to him on the phone, our grandson was thrilled. And I told myself this is why I save things.

Family means so much, it is heritage and memory, our past and our future. We can neglect a lot of things in this life, but family should never be one of them.

Sweet William and I visited our first official yard sale of the year, and now I see them popping up everywhere. I’ve already had a talk with myself about stopping too often and buying things I don’t need. After my semi-annual garage clean-out last weekend and the things I threw away or put in the give-away box, I need to be more discriminating.

One of the books I finished in April was Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. Its theme is simplicity, family and faith. I can testify that a simple life is better We can complicate it with too much stuff, too many commitments and too much doing rather than being. Having been there and done that, I don’t intend to buy the T-shirt from that yard sale. The message of the book was a good reminder.

I’ve been reading memoirs lately and how-to-write-memoir books, as if I think I might. But the ones I’ve read recently are about people with very disturbed lives. I’m sure there are other reasons to write about one’s life then to tell how horrible it was. My life has not been that disturbing, so I probably won’t be writing my memoir.

I don’t often recommend movies, but we watched one worth mentioning this month. (And let me say we’ve “kissed a lot of frogs” in the form of movies which is why I prefer to borrow from my library. If I don’t want to finish it, it’s no big deal, and if Sweet William falls asleep during, that’s OK too.). Same Kind of Different as Me is taken from true events and contains an uplifting  message.

After a day digging in the dirt today (my fingernails are proof), the sun is beginning to set, and I hear the birds from my rocker by the window. They sing at end of day as well as at its beginning. These musical creatures have a rhythm to their simple lives. Nests in bushes are tended by hovering parents gathering worms, with the robin being the fussy one, until the young are old enough to be on their own.

There are four goslings on the lake across the road, their parents swimming before and behind them in single file. One goose sat for weeks through all kinds of weather, faithfully tending her eggs. I watched her, admiring her tenacity. Then last week she was off the nest and gone, the eggs broken and scattered by some critter, I assume. It made me sad as I stood and looked at the remains, and I wonder if she grieved the loss of her young the way we do.

Loss has been part of this month, us visiting the funeral home too often this entire year. Is it the stage of life we are in, where those we know are aging? I’m not sure. It never gets easier no matter how many times we stand at a casket, hoping our presence offers some little comfort.

April has spoken of life, newness, and Easter resurrection. And though we have bundled up against the cold, we expected the sun to shine warm.  We find hope in this place, in this time, casting off the bleak bareness of winter to enjoy rebirth.

And this is life. Birth. Living. Death. It comes full circle whether we plan and prepare or if we just skip along unconscious and unaware of how precious each day is.

While the days grow longer, the warmth of the sun boosts my mood and gives me energy. I read in John 1 how Jesus came as the Light giving Life to all who would receive Him.

Life. Light. It is what I crave. I choose it gladly.

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Sunday grace

This morning I wept.

Over the death of my friend’s husband, her blog recording their three-year journey from devastating diagnosis to final farewell. Though they had prepared for this day, how can a heart get ready for this?

Over a different friend whose husband only had weeks from his knowing to barely saying his good-byes. Who tells us how to be equipped for such things?

Over known and worried-about diseases that threaten our peace, the wondering that gives no answers; the tests, therapy, surgeries that may provide some relief but cannot put us back together all new again.

Over things like time and space, differences and disagreements that separate families when family is the place we belong, where we find ourselves and become.

Over a world gone terribly wrong with hatred and anger, where seething erupts against the innocent and helpless.

Over those who cannot or will not believe that there is something better than this, that God sent His one and only Son for relationship, for the sake of love.

And my heart longs for Eden. For the beauty of the earth God had in mind in the beginning. This world does not feel like home, not in the shape it is in.

Then I turn to behold Christ alone, the fullness of God who came to live awhile among us. He showed us the Father, and it was glorious. His beauty out-shined the darkness, breaking the night with a dazzling light. His love was overwhelming, completely pure, unconditional and freely given.

Though broken, the earth still reflects God’s magnificence in mountains and rivers, giant oaks and tiny wildflowers, in birds and bees and babies’ faces. I recognize Him in each kindness and smile, in the tender words and a loving heart.

Though broken, the world will be renovated, renewed, redeemed.

One day the weak will be made strong. The restless will find peace. The sick will be made whole. The broken will be mended. The forgiven will receive a glad welcome. The questions will be answered. The tears will be wiped away. And we will be home.

Sunday grace.

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A Holy weekend

It is the last day of March, time for my March ending post, but the day seems too holy to be casual or frivolous about weather and a slow spring emerging.

Sweet William and I shared a Good Friday service last night with people of our congregation. It was solemn, quiet, thoughtful. We ate the bread and drank the cup, and I left the building with remembrance etched in my mind.

At home as we prepared for bed, I spied the Passover moon out the window, brilliant in a darkening sky. I’ve missed it during the grey days of March, it hiding behind layers of cloud. The moon beckoned me into a season of the holy.

This morning I searched for a hymnal with the song sung a capella at the end of the service. O Sacred Head Now Wounded is mournful, an appropriate ending to last night’s reverent gathering.

Two millennial ago, those who loved Jesus and watched Him die were been grief-striken on the Saturday following. Death in the most cruel and painful form was pressed upon One who’s only crime was doing good on the Sabbath and claiming equality with God.

Did they huddle in homes, no words spoken, for what could be said that would relieve their hearts, broken with the sadness of finality.

We call it Good Friday, not because of any earthly good that transpired but because an eternal good was at work, what would only be apparent in days to come.

There is hope today because of that Good Friday. Death is not the end of life. For those in Christ Jesus, it is only the beginning.

Take time to think of the reality of Jesus death and resurrection. It changed the world. It changed me. It can change you.

If you want to read a post about Good Friday from 2013, you may find it here.

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Remembering February 11

I started looking through the photos this week as I do whenever I think about organizing the boxes of pictures. I get a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing order to a hundred years worth of family images.

When I come to the old black and whites, I linger long. There is one of my maternal grandparents looking young and sassy, and then years later they are with their three young children at the beach. I gaze at faces in sepia, my newly-wed parents, in the flower of their youth, and it’s hard to imagine them that way.

There are pictures of my dad in his army uniform and small portraits of mother that she regularly sent to dad when he was overseas during World War 2. I think how handsome he was, how beautiful she was. I only know those young people by photograph, and I wonder what life was like for them with their dreams and plans still ahead of them.

 

With those faces in the back of my mind, it’s not surprising to me that I walked down another memory lane this morning.

I’ve been reading the Psalms during February, and today I landed in chapter 56. I love the songs of David, Asaph, and the sons of Korah. In deeply troubling times, I have lived in the Psalms, the words reflecting my anxious heart and my dark emotions. Always, the writer points me heavenward, encouraging me to praise the God of mercy who is full of compassion and loving kindness.

This morning, this verse made me pause – Selah – and think:

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.   — Psalm 56:3

The lyrical King James language is so familiar and how I quote the verse to myself. It is the language of the Scriptures I grew up with and learned to love. Since then I have expanded my library to include lots of versions and paraphrases, all with the aim of understanding what God is wanting to say to me.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” I’ve been afraid, more times than I care to admit. One particular year comes to the forefront this morning. It was 1983, the year my mother took to a hospital bed in the living room of her and dad’s home, the one with red carpet on the floor. Mother loved red, and she had her way with this house.

Dad was a builder and over the years of their marriage, he built and sold our house four times that I remember. The red-carpeted-living-room house was to be the final home, and mother was a happy homemaker in it.

My mother, who had never been seriously sick, became gravely ill. When there was nothing else to do but make sure she was comfortable, we did all we could to see that she was, surrounding her with our presence. Friends and family filled the house during the early months of 1983, bearing food and fellowship, prayers and support.

My dad made gallons of coffee all throughout the day, standing at the gas stove stirring grounds into almost-boiling water. It was his old-fashioned way of brewing, and I suppose it gave him something to do. Coffee was our drink of comfort and he doled it out generously.

My mother loved to laugh and have fun. She was a warm and welcoming kind of person, inviting people into her life, loving them like they belonged. She was a woman full of faith in her Savior, and she had a voice that could “bring the Spirit down” as we used to say in our church. People loved to hear her sing, and everyone had their favorite song request.

As her life ebbed away, and that strong, vibrant voice became a whisper, she never seemed to waiver in her confidence in the God who was the subject of her songs. The words she sang so often were still true for her.

Sometimes when my faith would falter, and no sunlight I can see
I just lift my eyes to Jesus, and I whisper “Pilot me.”
“Fear thou not for I’ll be with thee.  I will still thy Pilot be.
Never mind the tossing billows.  Take my hand and trust in Me.”

Like those who experience heartbreak, I struggled with questions and doubts, not understanding why all this was happening. Why weren’t my prayers being answered in the way I wanted? I was grappling with my own faith, and fear was a companion.

When mother died on February 11 , dad and I were devastated, as were family members and those who felt like family. We wandered like zombies through many days and weeks, wondering how to live without the person who brought joy, laughter and love to our lives. But time passed as we tried to learn how to exist without her.

One day, I happened upon mother’s wallet. I opened it and saw her driver’s license. Those pictures are never good, but this time it was precious to me. Upon further looking, I found a strip of paper folded inside the wallet. There in mother’s familiar script were the words of Psalm 56:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Then I remembered that she has written that verse on paper and tucked it into the strap of her bra, wearing it like a badge of courage during the days of uncertainty.

She had faced fear too. In her love for us, she tried to be brave, but she had been afraid. It was astonishing to me at first, but I recognized my mother’s humanity in that moment. She had been my rock, unwavering, unfaltering, always there for me with a listening ear and words of wisdom. Looking at her handwriting on a scrape of paper I saw that she was much like me, me with my with questions and struggles and my grasping for faith when it is hard.

What made the moment profound was the understanding that she had taken hold of the only One who could calm her fears, and she learned to trust even in her fear. And here was an answer for me in my own weakness.

My heavenly Father knows I am prone to frailty and fear. He speaks “Fear not” to me and asks me to trust Him when I can’t see what He is doing. His provision of grace through Jesus gives strength when I have none.  He runs to my cry of Abba Father.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of mother’s death. That day long ago is forever etched in my mind. Grief overwhelmed me then, and I didn’t think I could go on. But I was strengthened by grace, the same grace that strengthened my mother as she walked out her calling on this earth, the same grace available to each of God’s children.

I’ve learned a lot in the years since that heart-wrenching day, learned that God is trustworthy in the darkness; that He has a bigger plan than I can comprehend; that He is good and showers us with daily blessings; that He fills the hungry with good things; that He loves the unloveable and watches for the prodigal to come home; that He gives a second chance, again and again and again.

I have found God to be faithful through my years, every single time. And when I am afraid, I can trust in Him.

 

 

 

 

October ending

In the first week of October we took a much-anticipated trip to see our dear ones. I brought my Carpenters CDs so I could sing along.  It makes the miles go faster and keeps me awake.

This is the music of my youth, and I remember what my life was like by the lyrics of each track. “It’s Yesterday Once More” as I recall my life flying by.

Though the distance is long, the faces that come out the door to greet us are the ones we want to see. I never mean to cry, but I do. We spent the time just being together doing simple things: playing games at the kitchen table, visiting a coffee shop and some thrift stores, watching movies, talking and laughing. One evening we went to new/old-fashioned soda fountain where I experienced my first Egg Cream, which by the way, does not have eggs or cream in it.

Maisie was in dog heaven with the family’s two spaniels to romp with. The first day she kept looking at me with a dog-smile as if to say, “Thanks for bringing me here.” Playing is her favorite thing to do.

Our grandson, the youngest of our three grands, prepared pancakes for us our last morning. He patiently stood at the stove frying one large cake at a time until all were fed. Then he fixed one for himself and sat down with us. I commented on his kindness, and he said, “That’s what mom does.”

Two deaths this month hit me hard. I found out about them while we were traveling and away from home. I had wanted to see both of these friends one more time and was planning to be in touch when I returned. We never know when we will look at a face for the last time. It makes every interaction with each person important.

With the cold weather sweeping in, I moved outdoor plants inside the house and garage. Some tender perennials would not survive if I didn’t shelter them.  It’s the task that  follows a clean-out of the garage to prepare for them to sit by two windows where they will reach for the sunlight during the winter months.

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Maisie and I walk the lane and I smell fall. It’s hard to define, but I know it when it’s in the air. It’s a mixture of mown grass, musty soil, and wood fires burning. I breathe in long and my senses tell me the changing of seasons. The  leaves are scattered in the yard, the red twig dogwoods look especially red, and berries cluster on branches, food for the birds. Darkness settles early in the evening, and I find myself wanting to snuggle in and drink hot cocoa.

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Unusual for us home bodies, we traveled again at the end of the month to the  state of Mississippi, the place of Sweet William’s birth. The youngest daughter of his deceased brother was being married, and it was important for us to be there. We caravaned with Sweet William’s older brother and his wife.

It was a time of remembering for all of us as we drove familiar roads around town and saw the house where Sweet William’s parents once lived. On another street we passed the home of his favorite aunt and uncle, all now gone from this earth. Life is brief at its best, like grass that is here today, then withers and blows away tomorrow.

We visited and had lunch with his 93-year-old step-mother who still gardens and irons. She is a sweetheart of a woman, and we cherished time with her.

The wedding on Saturday evening was lovely and the bride was beautiful. She and her sister kept saying they were glad we made it. And so were we. It was one of those times when showing up was what really mattered.

Image may contain: car, sky and outdoorPhoto by Louise Wright

This quote came home to me from The Art of Simple: “I show up because I believe in the power of presence. Life is really freaking hard–but we don’t have to do it alone.

The latter trip was perfect for enjoying the glow that is Autumn. I needed a box of 64-count Crayolas to help me describe shades. As we drove through the corridor of trees on Natchez Trace the colors were brilliant. Forest and olive greens, burnt orange and mellow gold, mahogany and bittersweet. It could not have been a better weekend for peak beauty.

Travels done, we arrived at home-sweet-home, unpacked, and washed clothes. I caught up with messages since I’d been off-line and disconnected to internet for three days. It was a bit of relief.

Settled into my regular routine, I discovered another of my good neighbors will be moving soon. It was only a week or so ago when the for sale sign appeared in their yard, and I expressed my  sad feelings about that.

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They sold their house quickly, even before the first open house. I’m happy for them; this is what they wanted and prayed for. But my little world is changing quickly, and I have to adjust. I want what is best for them, the will of the Lord. And so we pray for them and for the new neighbors who will be moving into our quiet community. I hope we can be friends.

With the ending of October we merge into the two busiest months of the year. Holidays and celebrations will abound. If we aren’t careful, we will blink our eyes and it will be next year. If we are not purposeful, we will miss the most important part: time to focus on family, an opportunity to listen with the heart, a chance to look at faces we love and be there, very present, with nothing else on the agenda.

Filling our lives full is a cultural temptation. But it doesn’t mean we will experience the pleasure of it. Perhaps we should think carefully about the activity level and our commitments in the coming months.

A full life and life to the full are two very different things.

http://holleygerth.com/faith-missing-out/

As the holiday season approaches, I don’t want to rush through it. I want to savor the smells, the sights, the sensations. I want to enjoy the people who sit with me at the table and around the Christmas tree. I want to really be there in all of it.

Don’t you?

 

Showing up

It’s was a week. Actually it was a couple of weeks, maybe three. Really, it seems to be this whole year thus far.

The days swiftly roll by, one after the other, and I find myself shocked at the date on the calendar. How can it be nearing the middle of October, and Sweet William’s birthday is upon me, and I don’t know what to get him?

Tempus fugit.

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We traveled to see our dear ones last week, a long hard drive, there and back.  It was our first opportunity this year. Seeing the faces of my son and his family was reward enough. I don’t get to be with them as much as my heart desires. Time spent in their presence is cherished.

The visit with those I hold most precious was filled with laughter, shared experiences that will fill our memory banks in the days to come when we are miles apart. The conversation, the touch, the hug will be held close in my heart.

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I heard of two deaths while we were away, friends with whom I had only recently talked. Gone from this world. And I cried. I wanted to see them both just one more time.

The brevity of life occupies my thoughts the week after our travel. We are only here on earth for a short season, no matter how many years we live. It’s a reminder that interactions with people are always full of purpose, full of meaning. Not to be taken lightly.

As I remember my two friends, I was glad for the times recently when I showed up in their lives. That morning I picked her up from her apartment and we went for coffee and I paid the tab. That day I drove into the hospital to see her and we shared a vanilla milk shake her son brought to the room.

Thinking of what I’ve accomplished in my life, job titles that brought fleeting pride in the moment, the myriad of projects I thought I finished well, I realize it was when I reached out to a fellow human being that was most valuable.

The telephone call made to check on someone. The card written to say “I’m thinking of you.” The coffee date shared for a couple of hours. The quiet listening without trying to fix anything. The tears rolling down our cheeks over shared struggles. The long hard drives to be where they are on a special occasion.  The minutes, hours, days given away.

It is the giving of myself that has counted more than anything. I see it now. Because those who have given themselves to me have marked me and given meaning to my life.

I’ve missed a lot of opportunities to make a difference, to give my support, to be an encouragement, to be a good friend. To show up. I regret the many lost chances for connection.

I attended the funeral today of my 93-year-old friend. It was a glorious celebration of her life. Her family filled the front row. Another row was filled with women who had sat under her teaching at Sunday school years ago.  All those faces reflected the investment she made into their lives, a legacy of her life, her love and her belief in a Savior named Jesus.

She showed up again and again. She showed up in my life.

Time ticks away too quickly. The moments we have today will be gone tomorrow. Will they be wasted on the unimportant or invested in the eternal?

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current.  — Marcus Aurelius

I don’t want to forget what I am learning this week, this art of showing up and giving the gift of myself. Busy-ness will try to side-track this wisdom. Voices pretending to be urgent will reach out to grab for my attention. Distractions will always be there to pull me aside. Hopefully, I will remember that life is uncertain and brief at best. This day is the present I have to offer.

I hope I can be more aware and quick to evaluate the importance of my life in someone else’s life. I only get one chance at this life. Let me live it well.

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Home to stay

Things on my to-do list were moved to another day. There are book reviews I need to write that will wait. I canceled a lunch this week and rescheduled piano lessons.

Some days are like that.

My friend died the first of this week, her battle with a dreaded disease now over. But for those who loved her, it is not over. We are left with a gaping hole in our hearts. Her husband, children and grands are wondering how in the world they will live without her.

I remember that aching feeling when my mother died, me in my early 30s. How could I go on living without her not there to talk with me, to pray for and counsel me, to laugh with me and pour me a cup of coffee at her table?

This week my heart has been raw and my memories tender.

My friend was just a year older than me. She and her husband were married just a few years more than Sweet William and me. She had grandchildren close in age to mine who lived states away, just like me.

Sometimes when a friend grows more dear, I try to remember when the first spark appeared between us. When was it we connected, when we learned we shared interests and had things common in our lives? At what moment does friendship take root and begin to grow?

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It was not so long ago when it happened with her.  Sweet William and I were struggling with health issues and decisions that would be life-altering. I called her to talk because I knew she would understand. She and her husband came to our house, sat at our table, drank our coffee, and shared their experiences. They opened their hearts to us.

And I think that was the moment. That’s when our friendship ignited and began to burn brightly, and it warmed us both.

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You know how it is when someone finds a place in your heart. You want to spend more time with her, to know her better. She and I had those opportunities in a few short years as the Lord gave moments of communion.

In the days of her sickness, we talked honestly about life and death. She was not afraid of dying. She was concerned about her husband and her family left behind, how they would cope. Her heart was wrapped around those dear ones.

She told me she wanted to finish well. And she did. She loved to the end. Her countenance reflected the glory of her Savior. She witnessed to those around her that Jesus is indeed Lord of all.

Her funeral was a testimony of a life well lived, though her years seemed too short for all of us who her knew and loved her.

The Heavenly Father alone appoints our days, and when our work is over, He will call us Home. My friend got to go Home this week. I can only imagine the glories she is enjoying now in the presence of the One who gave His life for her and stretched out His hand to escort her Home.

My friend loved home. Hers reflected her art, her creativity, her nurturing care for those who entered. Today she no longer resides in the temporary earthly dwelling; she is really Home to stay, the place prepared for all eternity.

I miss her already, her bright smile, her twinkling eyes, her kindness, the way she laughed. I can’t imagine living without her.

There are days of great joy during this earthly life, and there are days of heaviness, pain and sorrow.  We all experience both. Hopefully, I remember to be grateful for days full of sunshine and flowers. Equally, I want to grow stronger in my faith, develop endurance when the days are hard, and know even more that all things do indeed work for my good. In all of my days and years I want to reflect the beauty of Jesus, to spread the fragrance of His love, like my friend did.

One day I will see her again when my work here on earth is over. I’ll hear my Savior call my name, and He will escort me to glory.

Then it will be my turn to go Home to stay.

Sunrise by MaRanda Green