Monday, May 11, 2015

Growing a New Heart

While I know many people who are in the midst of grief, I continue to be amazed and encouraged by the healing that takes place through the passage of weeks, months, years. And while we often grow weary of days without the one we love, we surprise ourselves with the energy and even sometimes the enthusiasm to move forward. We never forget and we will always be trying to grow a new heart in many ways, but life has a way of drawing us forward—gradually. Sometimes we have to retreat and rest, especially around birthdays and special anniversaries, but we learn to expect the movement, even welcome it in the movement of our days.

Just how do we grow a new heart? In the movie Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks tries to begin again by moving with his young son to Seattle after the death of his wife. But he can’t sleep. His grief moved with him.  People will often sell their home, remarry too soon, or sell their business, thinking that their heart will recover if they change their scenery. But what happens is the broken heart is buried and the busy-ness of new and different simply “mask” the pain. Eventually, the pain has to be acknowledged for true healing and “heart-growing” to take place.

GriefShare, an excellent video and workbook seminar, recommends waiting a full year before any changes are made in one’s lifestyle after the death of a loved one. A full year gives time for one to experience the grief process, discovering that as time goes by, thinking is clearer and decisions can be made that are more rational and realistic.

Growing a new heart takes time and patience. And on those days when you feel the steady beating, you can give thanks and praise to God for giving you life and breath. Breathe today and feel God’s presence.

“Breath on me, Breath of God, Fill me with life anew,

That I may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.”

(Robert Jackson)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Returning To The Garden

A friend reminded me that it was time to garden. She was looking forward to it because then, she said, I would start to write again. Her comment made me wonder if there is a growing season for writers, and if it returns like the seasons of the year.  
Last week, I went to the garden center to be inspired even though it is much too early to plant, but the seeds were there in the bright little packets tempting me.. The perfect blooms on the envelopes cried out, “Buy me!” Plant me!” I promise to bloom and grow.” And so I did. I bought Morning Glories, Moonflowers, Green Zinnias, and Hollyhocks.  They came home with me, promising to fill my scrawny, too-shady beds with lush plants in just a few months. All I have to do is to start the tiny seeds indoors in one of those makeshift “greenhouse nurseries” that promise me I can nurture seeds to sproutlings who will develop and grow into 70 healthy infant plants. I wonder if it is all true.

Just like I wonder if I will return to writing on the regular weekly (or daily) schedule I once had. Oh, there are these bursts of inspiration and if I quiet myself I can make it happen. A gardener has to work diligently for the plants to grow from seed. It will take time to get those tiny seventy cups filled with soil, the seeds dropped in, identified, watered, watched. Eventually I will need to move them outside to let the sprouts “harden” and get used to the natural elements. I will move them to get just enough sun, but not too much sun. And I will have to pluck out the weaklings. I will have to wait and wonder if there will be any success. Oh, what have I done! I said I was finished with gardening – too little sun, too much clay in the soil, too little effort. And now I find myself returning to hope again.

Writing is not so different. I have to be inspired. A comment by a friend, an observation in nature, words written by other “real” writers can offer seeds for thought. And yes, many words must be plucked out because they are weak or poorly arranged. The right punctuation, like the right fertilizer or amount of sunshine, is critical for words to take on meaning.  But the idea must begin with strong roots in a fertile and well-tended mind, where there is space to grow and develop into a garden of words that makes sense to the writer and changes the reader.

This returning season of spring bulges with emerging growth. A turning, if you will, from the cold bleakness of winter into buds and blooms and resurrection. Every morning the birds are a little louder, a little earlier, calling us to the warmer, longer days. Little by little we witness a new, unfolding season of growth.

The question becomes, “Will we emerge? Will we grow and develop? Will we bloom?”

Joel 2:12-14 offers encouraging words. “Yet even now," declares the LORD, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments." Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Demonstration of Grace



I cannot begin to write like Charles Spurgeon but I love to read his work ( He was England’s best-known preacher for most of the second half of the nineteenth century, drawing audiences of more than 10,000 people. His writing is voluminous, to say the least. It transports me to a rich place in reading, with word pictures and descriptions of a time we long for. And yet it is timeless. And rich.

The writing below reminds me of a friend whose faith is strong, even though her body is weak and failing. She reflects grace, trusting with the “assurance her Lord will either deliver her quickly or He will sustain her through the trial for as long He desires to test her.”

Sustainment or deliverance? Of course, as humans we want deliverance – always in this life. But to be sustained is to be kept in God’s presence—held— drawing on “the power of divine grace” which He so freely gives. It is why we marvel at the suffering one who maintains a joy-filled spirit. And why we come away from their presence marveling at the mystery of this divine grace given.

Divine grace is a gift given to us in our time of great need.

From the pen of Charles Spurgeon:

If we who are God's saints never experienced poverty or other trials, we would not have nearly the understanding of the comforts of His divine grace. When we come across a person who is homeless, who has nowhere to lay his head, yet who says, "I will still trust in the Lord"; when we see someone in abject poverty, who exists on nothing but bread and water but still glories in Jesus; when we see a bereaved widow overwhelmed with difficulties but whose faith in Christ remains strong; what great honor it reflects on the gospel!

God's grace is demonstrated and strengthened through poverty and other trials experienced by believers. True saints endure every burden of discouragement, believing "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Rom. 8:28). They have faith that out of what may appear to be evil circumstances, a real blessing will ultimately arise. And they have the assurance their Lord will either deliver them quickly or He will sustain them through the trial for as long He desires to test them.

This kind of patience and perseverance proves the power of divine grace. It is like seeing a lighthouse that has been built far out in the sea. On a calm night I cannot tell if the lighthouse can withstand pounding waves, but once a storm begins to rage around it I will know if the structure will continue to stand. And so it is with the Spirit's work; if it were not for the many times of experiencing the storms of life I would never know for sure if His work was true and strong. If powerful winds never blew upon it, I would not know how firm and secure is the Spirit's work. The most masterful works of God are those people who remain steadfast and unmovable even in the midst of severe difficulties.

A person who truly desires to glorify God must come to terms with the fact he will face many trials. No one can distinguish himself before the Lord unless he endures many conflicts. So if your journey through life follows a much-tested path, rejoice because your life will better exhibit the all-sufficient grace of God.

As to the idea the Lord may fail you-never even dream of it! Hate the thought. God who has been sufficient to this point should be trusted to the end.

My grace is sufficient for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9


Friday, January 30, 2015

Thoughts on Bodey...or All Dogs Go To Heaven

I keep listening for Bodey. I knew I would miss him terribly. What I didn’t know was how much I depended on him. I relied on him to greet me. I trusted him to protect me. I followed him outside and benefited from sunshine and fresh air. I sought his approval with eye contact. I wanted his love.

He was like my shadow. Always there, standing beside me, keeping the kitchen floor crumb-free – sort of. Circling the coffee table while watching the news, sleeping under the bed with only his head out, always watching from the dining room window or the top of the steps, and when he just couldn’t keep up, finally sprawling on the corner of the rug, watching. Always watching.

When my son posted on Facebook the news that Bodey had died, there were 341 “likes” within minutes. He wrote, “Bodey lived an amazing life of lazy afternoons on the porch, burying bones next to St. Francis in the garden, and avoiding hardwood floors at all costs, preferring  Persian rugs. He was a footstool for my mom in the mornings and a source of amusement and laughter for my dad. We will miss you like crazy, old man.”

Friends write with endearing memories of Bodey, draw pictures with angel wings, and reflect on their own pets. Cookies and flowers come to my doorstep.  It seems pets are a universal connection with all of us. And why am I not surprised? We love to be loved and pets love us unconditionally. No conditions, no unreasonable expectations, always ready, always happy. Mostly content.

I would like to think I might see Bodey again one day. His legs strong and his eyes bright again.

In here wonderful book on Heaven, Joni Eareckson Tada talks about pets.“If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would be just like Him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character….exorbitant, excessive, extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsey—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous…Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness and joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing his love on his children. (Holiness in Hidden Places, 133)

And Randy Alcorn, in the 40th chapter of his book Heaven, writes, “ If we regard pets as God-created companions entrusted to our care, it is only right that we should experience grief at their loss. Who made these endearing qualities in animals? God. Who made us to be touched by them? God…We need not be embarrassed either to grieve their loss or to want to see them again. If we believe God is their creator, that he loves us and them, then he intends to restore his creatures…“

If you think about it, animals are mentioned throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve shared a garden with them and were given dominion over them. And the serpent even talked. Noah was given charge of protecting and caring for the animals when God destroyed the earth. The dove became a messenger to safety.  God spoke with Job about his wonderful giant land and sea creatures behemoth and leviathan (Job 40-41). And when Jesus was born, the sheep were some of the first witnesses to God Incarnate.  The Bible speaks of Balaam’s talking donkey and eagles calling with loud voices. Doesn’t Revelation 5:13 say that “every creature” in the universe is said to sing and give praise to God? I listen to birds sing every day and owls send messages through the night. And we all are fascinated that dolphins and whales have a sophisticated communication system. There is order to our world for sure. We can read about it, read what others say about it, and see it with our very eyes every day.

Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” I guess that means ALL creatures of our God and King.

Praise Him! Allelujah!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Looking for the Light

I am ready for the gray days to move on. Even the birds aren’t chirping much, save for the large hawk screeching above the trees outside my window. His one-syllable screech seems to call, “Sun, Sun!” And yet, the sun does not appear. Hidden by the continuous mist and cloud cover, the light refuses to break forth. Just a ray, I plead, just a ray of light would lift my spirits, raise my energy level, and put a song in my spirit. But for today, the clouds will continue to reign. I must look for the light.

Epiphany is the season after Advent in the Christian year. It is a time of thinking and reading and pondering light, God’s light. The Light of the World, Jesus. Light overcoming darkness. Light to guide Wise Men, Light to direct my path. Light to brighten my day. The Light of the World came to a people in darkness. John 1:5 talks about that in present tense, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

And we still don’t understand it. We read and reread, study, and ponder. The mystery of God’s Light, Jesus Christ, remains a great mystery of simple trust and hope. That is why we must read and study God’s Word. There is a verse before the famous “Great is thy faithfulness” verse in Lamentations 3 that says, “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” We must call to mind God’s great love for us. Every morning, whether we are in the light or in the clouds. He is there. The Light of the world is shining on us. We can “call it to mind” by giving thanks and praise for all the good in our lives. The breakfast we took for granted. The healthy children who skipped out the door. The faithful employees who support us. The temperature controlled house in which we live. When "we call to mind" , we learn to trust with our questions.

When we “call to mind” those gifts, the verse goes on to say, “ therefore I have hope.” Hope for things we do not understand. Hope for the future. When we praise and give thanks, our hearts lift, a light pours in, and we are filled with hope. Our faith is strengthened and we are restored. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Sure and certain is confidence in our faith. No matter what.

And faith will see us through the clouds of doubt, fear, sorrow, pain.

And faith will guide, direct, comfort and heal.

Isaiah says to lift our eyes and see.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Not Celebrating?

Did you think I had not written  the Christmas Missive because the season is too painful?
Did you think I had run out of things to say - especially at Christmas?
Did you think I was not celebrating this year?

Actually, quite the opposite is true. I am celebrating. I am baking and shopping and worshiping and singing and playing Christmas carols on the piano. I am opening doors to guests for Christmas. I am planning meals and activities and fluffing the bedrooms and stocking the pantry. I am listing three blessings a day because I promised I would, but in actuality I have many more. I am writing words of encouragement and filling mailboxes with small surprises. I am lighting candles and I am loving my husband and my 16-year old dog and listening to the chirp of my red cardinals.

Oh, I am celebrating.
I am celebrating the wonder of Christmas -
That I can still recall (at 63) the wonder and excitement of childhood memories.
Blue lights on a snowy hill on our farm.
Mother's cookie press cookies that I still cannot master.
Christmas caroling in the snow.
Getting the part of Mary in the second grade.
Rearranging over and over the Nativity - somehow Jesus always stayed in the middle of it all.
Piling in the 1959 Desoto to go Christmas shopping in Cincinnati after the tobacco crop was sold.
Stockings filled to the brim with small treasures.

And I continue to celebrate the wonder -
Believing and trusting more with each year that Jesus is my best gift.
Keeping traditions with friends - the breakfast, the candy cane cookies, the caroling, the pinwheels.
Making time each day to think of someone else, to surprise and enjoy my children.
Rising early to sit before the Advent candles - just to wonder and celebrate before the day begins.

And I don't want the wonder to end.
And so the question becomes: "How do I keep this wonder, this celebration through the year?"
Or maybe for some, "How do I find that kind of wonder?"

It really comes down to the one gift we have all be given.
Which one gift?
Oh, the gift of Jesus, the figure in the manger who remains in the center of all things - and always will. Because when we fully trust that He is the reason for this season, that He came to free us from all the baggage we each have, that He promises to be with us, guide us, comfort us, assure us of our future, that He promises to make all things new - He is the one gift that never breaks, gets returned or used up.

And yet, He is the one gift that so many refuse to open and enjoy.
We must open the gift of Jesus by allowing Him to enter our heart and live there.
And then we can celebrate.
And when life takes a turn and doesn't go the way we think it should, He is there.
For it is often in the darkest moments, the gift really shines forth, like that night long ago.

And so, can you celebrate this year the wonder of it all?
Yes, you can. Just be sure to open the gift of Jesus.

"Not celebrate?
Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Not celebrate?
You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors,
and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others
who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you."
(from Kneeling in Bethlehem by Ann Weems)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Soul Growing... And Other Artistic Endeavors

The sun climbs through the trees, inching its warmth and light through my window and into my soul. Every morning, faithful and constant, steady and warm. I know it means the day is getting on, words to capture and thoughts to compose. I read books about writing and the authors say to write from a stream of consciousness that opens the gates to thoughts and ideas, things unresolved, things to ponder, uncover, and organize. I guess it’s the same with most artists.

Author Kurt Vonnegut said, “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

Have you found what is inside of you? Do you know? It might be visual, like painting. It might be cerebral, like surgical hands. It might be financial with a gift for investing. It could be the design of food or fabrics, buildings or boats. It could be story-telling or script-writing. Where it all comes from is a beautiful mystery in itself. And it grows our soul.

We don’t spend much time considering the source of creativity. But we all have something inside of us that calls us to a creative spirit. Nourishment for soul growth maybe. We were created with gifts and talents, the Bible says. Some of us use them. Some of us waste them. But we all have them – inside. They are there for the uncovering and growing.

And so I have been doing some “uncovering” with a drawing class. Those in the know tell me I must learn to draw before I can paint. And although I cannot wait to start using color on canvas, I understand I need to learn to draw the table in proportion, see the cast shadow of the bottle, and understand the perspective of my subject matter. Sketch and sketch again. Throw away. Start again.

And there is healing  and “soul-growing” in the process. Work at something new.  Walk before I run. Discover that through the effort, I find something inside that comes forth – and yes, sometimes I throw everything away and start over. But one day, I will publish the book, sell the painting, exhibit the piece of sculpture. And then I find myself in an art show.

Diversity Earth is a multi-evening show in which I will be featured as a guest author, along with others who have uncovered some of their own creative talents.  All of us growing souls.

David Laufer, the talented publisher of When God Comes Near once told me, “Write what you know to be true. Focus on that and then allow the reader to decide for themselves what they will do with it.” That is what we do when we go to an art show. We look. We experience. We listen and we decide what we will do with all the creativity that has been poured forth.

Hope you will come and experience some soul growth.
(to order tickets and for more information, click on Diversity Earth above)