Something New

This morning I was struck by the privilege we have to watch a new day” dawning simply because God ordained it. He gives it to us for our personal enjoyment and to highlight His presence. He has great things in store for us each day beyond what we’ve already planned. This may be an “aha” moment, or an experience that brings spiritual growth. It could be victory over a situation that has bothered us for some time. He knows what each new day needs to contain for us, His children.

Then there’s each “new year”. When it arrives I always feel as though I’m picking up a new book to read. It fosters a spirit of anticipation. Through God’s Word we know that this year will be full of unexpected plans and dreams created for us by God before the foundation of the world. Do you wonder what things will unfold in your life in 2018? What things are you trusting God to bring about for you?

As we turn our calendars to February, we may find reminders of “new opportunities” ahead. Perhaps you will step into arenas you haven’t experienced before. This may cause some apprehension. When I am about to encounter new things and would rather hold on to what’s familiar, this favorite promise helps me align my perspective with God’s heart:

“Do not call to mind the former things.
Or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.”
Isaiah 43:18-19

 

 

Living Legacy

I’ve suffered another loss. Unexpected. Not ready. Are we ever ready?

Thomas was 81. Many of us witnessed his physical changes during the last decade of life. Yet, his heart for impacting people for Christ never wavered. So the news of his stroke caught us off guard.

My friendship with Thomas and his wife Molly began almost 50 years ago. We served God together in a Christian organization, and I never envisioned I would have the privilege of being Thomas’ executive assistant for 27 years.

Time had passed so quickly. Now it was standing still.

Thomas laid in his hospital bed for 14 days, unable to speak yet able to hear. Most of those days his three children surrounded around his bedside. During that time God reminded them of their father’s comment, “Why do people say all those nice things about someone after they’re gone? Why don’t they tell them while they’re still living?”

That birthed an idea. “Why don’t we invite people to say what they want Dad to know now?”

Emails poured in and they took turns reading each one to Thomas. They held the cell phone to his ear so he could hear a call or a voicemail left at a designated number.  Once in a while he’d mumble a weak response; other times a tear would flow down his cheek as he listened to words of endearment. Some who lived nearby visited in person.

This “living memorial” went on for days.

I sent an email because I didn’t trust my emotions to hold up while I expressed my love, admiration, and appreciation for all he poured into my life that shaped who I am today. When he lingered, I asked God for strength to call so he would hear my voice before his journey to heaven. I especially wanted him to know I’d keep on serving God for the rest of my life.

A couple days later he was gone. Immediately transported into the presence of God because he had embraced God and begun a personal relationship with Him.

I wondered, “What will my life be like without seeing Thomas, hearing his contagious laughter, or receiving his words of love, friendship, advice, and encouragement?”

Brokenhearted, I turned my question to God. God helped me see that Thomas had finished the work He had given him to do. He’d left a legacy that had helped countless people know how to have eternal life and serve God wholeheartedly.

Now it’s my turn to continually build the legacy I believe God wants me to leave behind by helping others know God and live for Him.

The way I spend each day is important. I never know when it may be my last.

 

Unexpected Embrace

Colorful gift bags graced our table as the four of us hovered together in our booth ready to banter and tease and catch up. We were four ballroom dancers, one of us the instructor. We were well acquainted on the dance floor but we counted on these occasional gatherings, be it a birthday celebration or a “just because” meal, to talk long enough for true feelings and struggles to surface.

Daily life chitchat eventually gave way to sharing of family stories, personal experiences, disappointments, and joys. Some conversation brought laughter, some called for simply listening as there were no easy answers. By the time the main course evaporated from our plates, we felt like we knew one another and our families better.

At the appointed time, the waiter brought small plates, unveiled a sweet birthday cake hand chosen by JoAnne and lit a few candles while they sang happy birthday to me. Our individual portions melted in our mouths.

“Gail, open your presents!” Sharon’s card had a dance couple painted on the front with an inside inscription of “Dance the night away!” How well it represented our shared joy of dancing. Billy, our instructor who crafts his teaching to suit our wide diversity of learning styles, handed me a gift bag that proclaimed “It’s time to Happy Dance!” The rustic wooden box inside the bag bore this inscription on the top: “You are a true blessing.” I smiled across the table, grateful that God had somehow used my friendship, our conversations, and my lifestyle to bless him.

JoAnne then announced, “This present just screamed ‘Gail’ to me.”  Curious, I pulled away the gift wrapping and lifted the lid of a tiny box. From a dainty silver chain hung a miniature heart, cross and angel wing. The cardboard underneath the necklace said in large bold lettering “BELIEVE.” The accompanying words added to the message. “Believe in miracles. Say a short prayer, and remember that miracles do come true.”

I gasped. Turning to look at JoAnne I told her something she didn’t know. “Each year I ask God to give me a word for that year. Do you know the word He gave me for this year?” She shook her head. “Believe!!”

“No way, really?!” A smile lit up her face.

“Now you know why God told you to buy that gift for me!”

She nodded in amazement. It was a connection with God she least expected. From our past personal conversations and those voiced to the whole group, I am certain she knows about God. From time to time she mentions what she has prayed and asked God for. But she hasn’t expressed interest in having a personal relationship with God and Jesus like she knows I have. She appreciates my faith but doesn’t seem to want to embrace it for herself.

God didn’t wait. He embraced her Himself by sharing a secret. When He led her to the present that was perfectly designed for me, He said, “This is the gift I want you to buy for Gail.”Silver necklace 2 from JoAnne

Once JoAnne realized the significance, she experienced God in a way she hadn’t before. It also created a deeper connection for us as friends. I believe she will never forget that encounter with God. And every time I wear my unique silver necklace I will be reminded of the seed that God planted in JoAnne’s heart in 2016. Because God loves JoAnne so much, He will continue nurturing that seed until it blooms in His appointed time.

Were it not for God

Today is Resurrection Sunday! Lord Jesus, You didn’t stay in the empty tomb. When Your Father touched your still and broken body and breathed life into it, that gesture of love, compassion and mercy symbolized what happens when we respond to Him. When we open our hearts to Him, He breathes life into our dead spirit and we become alive! We are resurrected. Our sin no longer holds us in bondage. We are free because You paid the price that purchased our salvation, the forgiveness of our sin.

Were it not for Your love, we would be spiritually dead. Were it not for Your sacrifice, we would be without hope of the promise of living with You forever. Were it not for your resurrection, we would never see our loved ones and friends again.

Father God, today I pray especially for my friends who recently have lost a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, or a friend. Fill their empty hearts with hope and peace.

When I lost my mother unexpectedly, I wondered how I would survive without her. I felt alone and uncertain. When the next Easter arrived I sat in church with sadness draped over my hurting heart. Noticing my tears, a caring friend leaned over and said, “But, Gail, today is the day of resurrection. You don’t need to be sad. You will see your mother again.”

That particular day, now more than 20 years ago, I didn’t wipe my tears and experience peace. My heart was too weak to embrace the truth of the resurrection. Yet since that time, the promise of resurrection and the great reunion in heaven has made all the difference.

His death had to come first, but joy comes in the morning when we visit the tomb and discover He is not there. He is alive…and so are we.

“He is not here, for He has risen….”
Matthew 28:6

 

 

 

True Thanksgiving

During a Thanksgiving gathering, our speaker presented a thought-provoking insight based on the story of 10 lepers whom Jesus healed.

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria  and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’

“When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.

“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”  Luke 17:11-19 (NIV) 

Our “messenger” pointed out three things in this passage. The men had a need. Jesus’ attentiveness to that need created gratitude in their hearts. Yet only one healed man expressed thanksgiving to Jesus. We learned that gratitude is a feeling while thanksgiving is an action.

I can only imagine the shame these 10 men must have experienced when they approached Jesus and stood at a distance from Him. They’d been ostracized from society, without any love or care. They weren’t sure what would happen. But Jesus saw them and listened to their cries of desperation. On the way to see the priests, as Jesus had instructed, they were cleansed—healed from their dreadful disease.

Surely all 10 of them were grateful for their deliverance. But one returned to praise God in a loud voice so everyone would know that Jesus had indeed taken pity on him and healed him. Then in an act of humility he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.  Jesus responded with a blessing: “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

At the end of our own gathering, we were challenged to consider what things we are grateful for and ask ourselves if we have put our feeling of gratitude into action yet.  I am grateful for my 97-year-old uncle who loves and encourages me as we go through life without many family members we both miss. Tonight I called to thank him personally—my act of true Thanksgiving.

Letting the Wall Fall

Last month we talked about the Strength of Grief. That blog post centered on excerpts from a book I read. One character sought to build courage into the heart of the other one who was trying to recover from a terrifying trauma.

He said, “You survived by hiding . . . but it’s a defense. Grieving is about letting down that shield, not having to keep that defensive wall in place. When you can lower it and not get overwhelmed by the memories, you’ll know your healing is mostly complete . . . and be ready to move on.”

Today let’s talk about that “defensive wall”. It’s easy to construct. We erect it because we can’t bear the flood of emotions. Yet, facing our emotions brings healing.

I pray that the second excerpt below will shed new insight and create a desire in your heart to ask God to break down your wall, if it’s still up. He wants you to experience freedom from the inevitable grief and sadness.  And to dream again.

“I’m hoping, praying, that the wall you’ve had to put in place around yourself and your emotions will come down. That there will be more of you appearing. Wider emotional swings both up and down. More energy. Dreams for your life. Things you want. Desires of the heart. And, yes, a deeper sadness. Grieve. All of it. That’s life, and the more of it you are feeling, the closer you are to being whole again.”

“. . . It will give you the ability to see the world around you as it exists both good and bad. It will be having a life that isn’t being steered by the past, where it doesn’t feel like the past is a daily anchor weighing on your thoughts, or on your impressions of places and people. Healing will be the capacity and the ability to love family and care about friends. It will be about having dreams for yourself and the confidence to work toward them. Healing in part is being able to feel you are free of the past.”

Excerpts from page 278 of Taken.
Used by permission of the author, Dee Henderson.

The Strength of Grief

While reading a fiction book recently, I came across a large portion of dialogue between the two main characters. Their conversation caught me by surprise. The young woman endured a painful, horrible, and long-lasting experience. The words of hope her new friend offered her centered on grief and how to move past it.

Reading those words altered my way of processing grief and assessing my progress. Immediately I desired to share these excerpts with you. The author happily granted permission.

This month’s excerpt centers on the strength of grief. Next month’s quotation talks more about our walls and the freedom we can experience. I pray this will encourage you in your own journey of grief.

“Grief isn’t fragile. It comes along with strength, facing the losses in life, the reality of what you won’t have back, then turning to the future to create what can be built. Grief is part of accepting what was; it’s what takes the sharp edges off your history. It’s emotion and it’s reality. It’s mostly not hiding, letting your mind present what needs processing and dealing with all the implications of those memories.”

“. . . You survived by hiding. It’s still how you cope when events or situations hurt you. I’m glad it’s a strong instinct because it’s getting you through. But it’s a defense. Grieving is about letting down that shield, not having to keep that defensive wall in place. When you can lower it and not get overwhelmed by the memories, you’ll know your healing is mostly complete…and be ready to move on.

“You’ve learned to endure, to live strong in spite of all that’s been thrown at you. That’s powerful and good.  . . . I think you’ve dealt with matters by a sequence that was basically ‘It happened, it was horrible, it’s over, move on’ and your emotions learned to function that way as well. But that was a learned pattern. Freedom is going to shift your emotions to something’s that’s more expansive. You’ll feel things with larger and wider emotional swings again, because now you have the freedom to experience those normal emotions. It’s going to be a good thing.”

Excerpts from pages 276-277 of Taken.
Used by permission of the author, Dee Henderson.

Keeping Memories Alive

Memories usher us onto different paths at various times. Maxine, a co-worker, told me about the path her memories took her to recently.

“Guess what I did on Mother’s Day?” Beaming, she continued. “After church I went home and played all of my mother’s favorite hymns!”

Before her mother died, she chose four hymns to be sung at her memorial service. That’s where Maxine began, but her time of playing and singing spread throughout the afternoon. The beautiful melodies filled her heart as did the majestic words of praise to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

What moved her the most, though, was the realization that her mother now lived in the truth of all she had sung on earth for more than 80 years. I would not be surprised if Maxine’s mother sang along in heaven as her daughter played those hymns in honor of her mother’s life and the way she loved Maxine and her other children.

What ways have you found to keep the memories of your loved ones alive? Let me know so that I and other viewers can share in your joy.

Holding On

I wonder how this year’s Memorial Day impacted you. Did it bring sweet memories that lifted your spirits? Or were your memories painful because they represented the sorrow of separation from someone you love? Remembering can still be painful when we are having trouble letting go.

An acquaintance of mine still wrestles with the death of his brother who lost his life in Iraq six years ago. He has been unable to reconcile with his loss, even after the passage of years.

A dear friend lost her husband when they were in their 70’s. His absence was almost more than she could bear. Even years later, when we visited together and shared refreshments, she carried an 8 x 10 framed picture of him from room to room as we moved about her home. Her depth of sorrow seemed natural, since they’d known each other since second grade. Yet, I realized that her inability to accept his death and finish her grieving season had kept her in emotional bondage. She remained sorrowful until the day she died almost 20 years later.

God wants us to remember but also to let go. Some people who read my Life through Loss book told me that the following quotes helped shift their perspective, which opened the door for healing. In memory of your loved ones, I share these excerpts from page 161.

Moving toward a new life is scary. You may be afraid if you let go of your sorrow you will forget the person.

Christine Cleary lost her husband to cancer when he was 44. She says, “Death forces you to look back, and acceptance involves slowly turning your body around to look forward. If you begin a new chapter of life, you carry the person you lost along with you.”

Someone else said, “Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that you don’t ‘recover’. Instead, you learn to incorporate their absence and memories into your life and channel your emotional energy toward others. Eventually, it has been said, your grief walks beside you instead of consuming you.”

Holly Prigerson, ‎Director of the Center for Psycho-oncology and Palliative Care Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, explains, “In general, bereaved survivors shouldn’t think of ‘getting over’ a loss, but develop ways to get used to it. Even years after someone dies, pangs of grief may come out of the blue, and feelings of heartache and missing the deceased are rekindled. That’s normal.”

God Knew

Have you ever had something on your shopping list for a long time, but somehow can’t seem to check it off? I have. One particular item: a fern. A neighbor in my condo building moved away recently and left her outside potted fern for the rest of us to enjoy. But it didn’t survive. Ever since then I planned to look for a replacement in the plant section of a home improvement store, but things kept coming up.

Recently I was purchasing groceries at a nearby store, which I frequent often. As I pushed my cart away from the produce section and started walking through the adjacent flower section toward the next designated aisle, I paused.

“Wonder if they have a fern?” In the middle of that crazy thought I spotted one beautiful, fresh fern standing proudly among short flowering plants. I knew God intended it for me. Lifting it up I discovered it was the right size with a low price tag.

Fern DSCN2755-1While paying my bill at the check-out counter, I commented to the cashier, “Isn’t that a beautiful fern? I needed one.” She responded, “I don’t ever remember seeing one here.” I smiled.

God knew my long-time desire to find that special item. Such a small thing in the scheme of life, but He fulfilled my desire—simply because He loves me. And His gift, now perched outside our front door, serves as my daily reminder.