Friday, June 22, 2018

On the other side of that

A dear friend is emerging from a long and rocky place in her life, a tough road where things appeared unnecessarily hard, opportunities unraveled before her, details didn't work out as expected, and most of the time, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, many of us could do but pray.

And we did.  This patchwork group of praying women, not knowing the outcome, not even knowing the next step.  But we prayed.  We prayed a lot.  And God would remind me from time to time, "The prayer of the righteous has great power in its effect." (James 5. 16) 

Even in what appears impossible..."there is a gut deep, intuitive refusal to accept the odds or to calculate too closely either the limits of the possible or the sneakiness of grace...[Prayer opens] the one who prays to broader dimensions of reality than he or she may have entertained before.  Once that happens, there can never again be quite an end of it.  Some part of us is taken captive or set free, and that shift changes the world a little...what might be changed in the world beyond us, what might be gracefully released in it by our prayers."  (Guerrillas of Grace:  Prayers for the Battle, Ted Loder)

Would life always be so hard for her? 

But this group women kept praying -- praying for others, praying for each other -- knowing that each one of us had seen too much to question God in this. Even in this. It was not that God would not answer, but how.

God was working mightily.  We just couldn't yet see His handiwork in the midst of it, each mysterious stitch, each confusing turn in the road, even in what appeared as dead ends or deepest disappointments.  And even then, "God engineers the circumstances." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

And suddenly, she emerged on the other side of that canyon, all those "misaligned" details converged -- the way only God can -- turning a desert place into pools of water, a long drought into a grove of enormous deeply rooted trees, God's faithfulness visibly before each one of us.

"...when you least expect it,
you see a crack open
and a different city appears."

          Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

God always answers, not in our timing, nor in our ways, but always in the unexpected revealing of His Presence and power.  It is not that God "shows up," but He is already here.  We are just catching up to Him, not the other way around.

As I ran through the forest a couple of days ago, overcome by God's beauty and the working of His mighty ways in this woman's life, I thought to myself:  "And if you knew the outcome, would you have worried as much?"

And immediately, God whispered to me:  "And if you did know, would you have prayed as much?"

Prayer is not the least I can do.
It is absolutely the most vital of all.

First response,
            not last resort.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What I have

My widowed grandmother came to live with my family before I was born.  Indeed, she had already been widowed for twelve tough years, working incredibly hard as a single mom to literally keep bread on the table. 

Those visible needs stirred up not despair, but immense currents of creativity in her.  I can remember many times as a young girl my grandmother taking what little she found in the fridge and a few cans from the pantry and serving a wonderful meal to unexpected --and unsuspecting --guests.

With her, it was never "I don't have enough,"  or "I can't afford that," but "what else can I do with that? How can I make it work?"  whether the fine art of creating casseroles or re-purposing worn out and outgrown clothing.  She did not just recognize need, but opportunity.  She knew how to respond to it, because she had already navigated a lot deeper turbulent waters than what was before her.

She was not paralyzed by what she did not have, but stirred to life by what she did.

When she came to live with us, she had virtually nothing monetarily to live on, she struggled daily with the deep physical pain of rheumatoid arthritis, but oh, what a blessing she brought to each of us.  What I remember most about her were her gifts of time and kindness.  As busy as she was, no matter how busy she was, even in the middle of some task, she set things aside to listen and respond.  She did not have money to lavish on the four kids in our family, but she had time -- she made time -- and always boatloads of kind and loving words.  She was available, not because she had nothing better to do, but because she knew the deep and enduring significance of being ready and present.

It has been so many incredible decades ago, but I can still hear her voice responding to me, "Well, darling, sometimes you just have to trust the LORD about that."  And over the years, how many times that truth has come almost audibly to the surface of my thoughts in times of need.  I witnessed the faithfulness of God lived out in her quiet selfless life.

Whereas all other childhood things and toys have been discarded or fallen apart, her gift of time and loving words continue to resonate in my life.   Her life was largely invisible to the outside world, but she invested generously in the relationships around her, no matter who it was.

Even confined to the house, she had a box of cards to send out an encouragement when she heard about someone struggling.  I think about how much she would have taken advantage of texting sunshine to others at a moment's notice. 

"I cannot do everything, but I can do something," says author Steven Garber in his book Visions of Vocation.

And indeed, she did.  On so many levels.  In word and deed and countless prayers.

What is on my radar today,
who has God placed on my heart,
       what can I do?

But Peter said,
"I have no silver and gold,
but I give you what I have;
in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,

                                   Acts 3. 6

The unexpected and proximate
     is sometimes the most profound.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Driver picks the tunes

While driving with our large family, there was often disagreement about what music to play:   the radio station, the CD, even the genre.  To break the logjam, my husband always commented, "Driver picks the tunes."

And as I found, quite literally in the car, in our home, in our relationships with impossible people, I have a responsibility as a mom to set the tone.  I can't expect stellar behaviors in others when I am the one with what we used to call a "bad-itude."

What tune have I chosen?  What demeanor am I playing?  How am I responding to what is swirling around me?  Have I listened to what I just said?

It may not be everyone else who is out of sorts, out of tune, not with the program.
But me.

We moved a lot as a family.  We are currently living in our eleventh location since we were married 38 years ago.  Particularly with moving school-age children, I realized that my attitude and outlook had a tremendous impact on our daughters.  These moves were hard -- and I acknowledged those feelings -- but I also knew that I could blend in a sweet attitude into it.  New friends, a new room, a new neighborhood -- all things that could be daunting were also a fresh opportunity.  I could let my own fears and "bad-itude" flavor the move, or I could a different spin on it.

Whether a new destination
        or an unexpected direction,
   every day, God leads us to a different place.
I don't want my own selfishness
      -- ok, call it sin --
to take me down a wrong path.
Words are non-returnable.
And kindness is never random.

All these memories and feelings swept over me as I read this verse this morning (which I also posted on my blog

I hold back my feet
    from every evil way,
in order to keep Your Word.

                            Psalm 119. 101

In thought,
  in word,
  in deed,
    and particularly in attitude.
Beware the two red warning flags:
    when I justify how I am acting,
    and when others are the problem.

God's Word changes my heart.
And through Him,
   He grants me the power to compose
     a fresh tone, a new tune,
                   and a very different tempo.
     Even in this.
The literal translation of
                "Don't go there,"
  means exactly that.

Do I realize the impact of my heart on so many others around me?

Can I practice grace today
        in my very own impossible situation?

God gives me a different song of His faithfulness.
     Is that the one I choose to sing into this day?

Bringing hope and compassion and grace.
A fresh tone,
a new tune,
and a very different tempo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Six times I have tried

Every day for the past month since Bill's accident, my heart has been overloaded with thoughts and scripture and blog postings that never made it to the computer screen.

Even this morning, six times I have tried to write, and six times I have reversed my direction with the backspace button.  I cleaned the pantry.  (Who organizes their pantry?  A reluctant writer, of course). I mopped the kitchen floor.  I even read a review of a book just published about procrastination.  The one glaring difference between me and the author is that he actually sat down and wrote something.

Life has been very different here in the past four weeks, patterns rearranged, life turned upside down, my energies focused on taking care of Bill and his recuperation from what is still not explainable but for God's intervention..  We are grateful to God for his life.  He is recovering.  And it will take time.

The first two weeks home from the hospital, he was sleeping in spurts up to sixteen hours a day.  He loved visits from friends, but often had to lay down for hours afterward to rest his brain.  It was quiet here.  It was dark.  But even when I was unloading the dishwasher, he would have to go into another room because of the continual noise in his head, so constant that he was able to identify the sound as a high E.

It is hard for a cyclist who is used to riding 40-60 miles a day, a man engaged in a number of ministries and organizations, an active grandpa, to sit quietly in a chair, unable to do anything more than keep his eyes closed. No screens.  No reading. At first, not even music.  He sat on the deck one sunny day, eyes closed and with sunglasses on.  An airplane passed over.  The noise set off fireworks in his head.

But every day he moves a little closer to better.  Two good days were almost always followed by a tough one or two.  The headaches continued, the pain in his jaw woke him in the night.  Because of his jaw surgery, his nourishment is still limited to soup and smoothies for at least another two weeks.  Outings consisted of doctor appointments, which were followups for each impacted body part.  The first weekday we were home, I was put on hold for an hour and 15 minutes just to confirm an already existing appointment.

"So with Bill home, what are you doing all day?"  a friend asked.  "Has it interrupted your life at all?"  I couldn't answer that for a minute or two.  Thinking, praying, thanking God for life and for protection from what might have been, making appointments, driving to appointments, coming up with new soup recipes, inventing Nutella smoothies, filling in the gaps of all the things that Bill takes care of.  I ceased writing.  My brain was moving too fast.  I ceased reading books, other than reading to Bill.  I just couldn't settle on a book.  Someone cheerfully suggested a Netflix account for when Bill goes to bed early.  I smiled and said thank you very much for the idea, not revealing that when he went to bed, I dropped exhausted beside him.  I haven't slept through the night for years, but I have dozed deep every night since he came home.  Even when getting up at night multiple times a night to administer his meds,  I would get up and then fall right back to sleep, previously unknown in my galaxy.

I can tell that he is improving, because he has become so restless.  That is a good sign.  He now kicks me out of the house to go to a meeting, Bible study, for a walk, or to help with the grandkids.  Physical therapy begins tomorrow.  Cognitive therapy scheduled for next week.  And then, more surgeries on his mouth.

Today, he said, "Go write."  I almost forgot how.  Six times I started and tried and erased and then the words came.

It is not that we are getting back to normal, or even a new definition of that word.  But we are seizing God's faithfulness placed ahead of us, grateful for one day at a time.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The God who is here

It was a sunny mild afternoon last week, on February 13, when I received the phone call that I was always afraid I would get. My husband Bill was out cycling, enjoying the warm mid-February weather. I was home, reading, writing, and posting a blog about Valentine's Day.  He was expected back home within a half hour or so, when my cell phone rang.  Caller ID showed that it was Bill's phone.  I answered, anticipating that he had a flat and needed me to pick him up. That has happened before.  But in his three decades of cycling, this had not.

Life changes radically in a millisecond. 

It was not Bill on the other end of the line, but an Emergency Medical Technician who said that Bill had been hit by a truck, and that they were transporting him to a local hospital.  "Meet us at the ER,"  the first responder directed me.

I pulled on a pair of jeans and headed to the hospital, not knowing anything more about what had happened and what to expect.  I felt strangely calm, heading not just to an emergency room, but into what was unknown and unexpected.  I had no idea what was ahead in the next few minutes, but there was a calmness around me, a palpable embracing as I navigated through traffic.  It was far beyond what could be identified as a feeling, nor an emotion, but a presence -- not just the God who is there, but the God who is here.  I didn't even know what to think, what to pray, or what was unfolding before me.  But God's faithfulness filled in all the gaps.

Bits of scripture floated to the surface of my thoughts, not in words memorized decades ago, but as  profound truth, deep and sure.

Even though I walk through the valley of death,
I fear no evil,
for You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff,
        they comfort me.

                      Psalm 23. 4

When I was almost to the hospital, the EMT called again to say that they were taking Bill instead to Vanderbilt, because of trauma.  Reality began to set in.  The traffic seemed to flow even slower.  I called our daughter Kat who is a doctor, unsure what she could do with a house full of preschoolers and toddlers.  Little did I know, but our son-in-law was home to take their four year old to a karate lesson.  He took the whole clan with him to the lesson, including the twin babies in a stroller.  Kat was on her way to meet me in the ER to help. 

And as I drove the last couple of miles, I heard an ambulance coming up behind me, the heavy traffic pulling over to the curb to let it through, the lights flashing, the siren calling out its warning, the noise resounding even as the emergency vehicle pulled out of sight.  Bill is in there, I realized.  O LORD, have mercy.

Bill lay on a gurney in triage, prone, quiet, covered with a white cotton blanket, his hands splattered in blood. He was alive.  He recognized me.  He mumbled questions, "Where am I?  Why am I here?  What happened?"  We answered him.  Two minutes later, he would ask the same questions again.  That repeated for about an hour, over and over again.  Our other daughter Hannah who lives nearby arrived at the ER full of grace and compassion and comfort spilling over.  Late that evening, she and her boyfriend Eric drove back to our house to retrieve clothes for Bill and things that I would need if I had to stay the night in the hospital.

As the hours passed in the ER, Kat helped me navigate through so many unknowns.  In addition to Bill's fractured wrist, two broken ribs, a jaw broken in two places, a small laceration to his liver, ripped ear, and deep puncture wound to his knee, there was brain trauma in the form of a serious concussion. 

He has no recollection from the time he left on his ride about 2.30 to when they moved him onto a bed in the trauma unit at 10.30 that night.  I hope that he never remembers it.  From what we heard from others, an oncoming pickup truck turned left immediately in front of him.  Bill's head went through the truck's windshield.  A divinely appointed ER doctor and an attorney were running the same road, a short bit behind Bill, witnessed the accident and utilized their emergency expertise to care for him until the ambulance could get there.

After learning from others what had unfolded, Kat remarked that the laws of physics cannot explain why he was not even more seriously injured.  Indeed, we were told the ER doctor at the scene didn't think Bill was going to make it.  He was totally unresponsive for more than two minutes.

We are grateful to God for sparing his life.

After four days in the trauma unit, Bill is home recuperating.  He is in pain.  He is resting and staying quiet, no screens, no noise, pretty much keeping his eyes closed.  It's going to be a long road.  His workout now is moving the fifteen feet between the bed and a cushioned chair in the living room. Today he even ventured out on the porch. Although he is tired, he looks forward to visits from so many faithful friends and cycling buddies. He is on a diet basically of soup and smoothies for at least another four weeks, because of  jaw surgery.  His body is healing.  His brain is slowly recovering. But as a friend texted me, he gets to recover.  For that we are still astonished.

Sometimes we live in mystery for that which runs deeper and in infinite God-appointed layers, world without end.   But we are not alone.

Fear not, for I am with you,
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you,
I will help you,
I will strengthen you
     with My victorious right hand.

                          Isaiah 41. 10

Very early the morning of the accident, I prayed, not knowing what was ahead that day.  The very last thing I wrote down in my prayer journal was:
              Fill us, O LORD, with Your grace,
              strength and wisdom for the tasks ahead today,
              and Your purposes seamlessly woven.

I had no idea how much I would need that.

Many thanks for those who have been praying
and continue to pray to the LORD
who is healer, redeemer,
                            and the God who is here.