Sunday, May 13, 2018

For My Mom on Mother's Day

Today it is my privilege to honor a very amazing lady, one who has demonstrated selfless love to me this past year more than any other year in my life.

Having grown up in a home with her five sisters, she was raised by a revolving supply of housekeepers and an emotionally absent father, a tiny victim of a very messy divorce that left her without her mother since she was three. I never really stopped to think about the many years Mother’s Day must have brought her so much pain. To watch her friends celebrate their moms, not even being able to call or write to hers must have brought an ache I can not comprehend. I never realized the inner strength it took to raise her own children so well without the memories of a loving, doting mother in her own life.

Yet she selflessly loved my two brothers, sister, and me.

This past November, after faithfully taking care of my dad during his more than ten year battle with the illness that would take him from her, watching him struggle to breath for so long, she said good-bye to her husband and best friend of 60 years.

I watched as she almost ran to him any time he had a need. How she journaled every medicine and set alarms so she wouldn’t forget his next dose. How she played Rummy with him day after day, month after month, until the rules didn’t make sense to him anymore. How they held hands, laughed at their own inside jokes, and told each other how much they loved each other. How she put her life on hold year after year, and did so with joy.

And then when the day came that he didn’t wake up anymore, after he had breathed his final breath, her first reaction wasn’t sadness, or loneliness, or anger. It was relief that her best friend and soulmate wasn’t suffering anymore. She was so happy for him that it had gone so well, and he no longer struggled to breathe. She knew he was celebrating in Heaven with his Savior, and with family and friends who had left this world before him.

We all waited for her to retreat into her home and flounder and search for ways to fill her time and find new purpose. But that never happened. The first few days were spent getting rid of every medicine, oxygen cord, anything that reminded her of my Dad’s illness. “He doesn’t need any of this anymore,” she frankly said. Of course she was right, but really?

The next plan was to finish all of the thank you notes to everyone who played a part in the funeral, to those who helped provide food, and to anyone who made the effort to attend.

So, did she spend the next days, weeks, months, sitting back and mourning? No, she’s too busy serving others. She has looked up old friends, especially those who have lost husbands due to death or divorce. She helps out at the community food pantry four mornings a week, and volunteers two afternoons at a nursing home. And this past winter, when she got home in the evenings, she crocheted mittens for the children who visited the pantry. Oh, and her church needed volunteers help serve at the church spaghetti supper, so she added that to her list as well. I can’t get ahold of her at all on Mondays; that’s the day she does all three.

While we were wondering what she would do when my Dad was gone, she was praying. She was getting her next marching orders. She knows something I’m just beginning to grasp. Her selfless love has given her a perspective on the brevity of this life and the endless joy of eternity with her Lord and Savior whom she so faithfully loves and serves. Her good-bye to my Dad wasn’t really “Good-bye.” It was, “see you soon.”

Mom, you have loved your children so well. You have faithfully stood by your man for better and worse, in sickness and in health. You are still loving anyone you come in contact with, with a Love so much bigger than yourself. I am in awe of you, Mom.

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day. You deserve the honor of your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the many others you love and serve so well.

Friday, May 12, 2017

When Mother's Day Hurts

I believe there is a certain amount of pain and regret associated with Mother’s Day for most of us. Our very existence proves a mother was involved.  And every single one of those mothers, steeped in imperfection, at times had the potential to affect hurt, anger, and resentment in us.

As women, that mixed bag of experience or lack thereof, is the tool bag we take with us as we navigate the waters of our own lives.  We are faced with a conundrum. Somewhere out there is this unwritten standard of motherhood perfection  And our glaring imperfections, and those of our mothers and grandmothers stand in stark contrast to that elusive model-- a constant nagging reminder of what we should be and aren’t.

My mother was born the fourth of six daughters to a German father and a Czech immigrant mother named Stella almost eight decades ago.  When she was only three her parents divorced, leaving the girls, the youngest still an infant, to be raised by a physically and emotionally absent father and a string of hired housekeepers.

It’s not that her mom didn’t want to raise her six daughters--she was never given the opportunity.  Forbidden to even visit her girls she suffered a complete emotional breakdown and spent her remaining years in a nursing home.  

Among the very few memories Mom had of Stella was the day Mom came home from first grade and saw a strange woman in her living room who refused to leave. “That’s your mother,” she was told. There was arguing, and a housekeeper proclaiming that the visitor did not have to leave until she was able to have dinner with her girls. Mom vaguely remembers being questioned at the age of three, prompted earlier to recite the phrase, “I want to live with my father.”  The other memory was when she and her sisters as teenagers arranged a secret excursion to visit Stella in the nursing home. Knowing they were breaking all of the established rules, they snuck out and drove to the facility, secretly hoping beyond all hope that the reunion would be full of hugs, tears, and words spoken they had longed to hear for almost fifteen years. Stella, bereft of all emotion, politely answered their questions as she would have any other stranger’s. The emotional breakdown was apparently complete.  

My mom was able to reconnect with her mother’s family a few years ago at Stella's funeral. Given documents of her family history, wedding photos, and naturalization documents, the sisters were able to connect a few dots of the history so long hidden from them. Mom and her sisters found comfort in the fact that a photo of the six daughters, now grown with families of their own, taken together at a reunion at a nearby restaurant  had been displayed proudly by Stella’s bed her last few years on earth.

She had remembered.

Although she hadn’t been able to express it to her daughters on the day of their visit, her connection to them remained underneath the huge wall of a scarred and fractured spirit. She really had loved them.

We often hurt those we love most.  Our capacity to love is proportional only to our capacity to be hurt. With love comes risk.   

I remember a summer day ten years ago, pacing up and down my driveway, choking back sobs as tears streamed down my face.  Three of my oldest children were overseas on several month-long missions trips, two in Africa and one in Macedonia,  Overwhelmed with the emotions of the moment, I thought about how privileged I was to have had the opportunity to love so deeply that missing them caused that much pain. I was blessed to be able to hurt that much.

Today, having packed lunches, pouring milk into cereal bowls, and saying goodbyes as my youngest venture off to school, I face the challenges of owning a business and balancing all of my spinning plates.  And I think of those I know and love that are struggling during this time of year.

Sons and daughters who never knew their mothers.
Those whose mothers are no longer here.
Those whose mothers hurt them and scarred them deeply.
Those who long to be mothers and aren’t.
Those who are neck deep in the weight of motherhood and feel choked by their own imperfections.
Those who live each day with glaringly empty houses, whose children have moved out of their homes and lives.
Those who abandoned their own children.
Those who sit in hospital rooms and nursing homes beside mothers and sisters and daughters whose days are numbered.

The broken.
The hurting.
The overwhelmed.
The forgotten.
The abandoned.
The guilt-laden.
The abused.
The lonely.

Amidst the heartache of a broken world there is still a flicker of redemptive light.  It’s the light of a new day and all of its possibilities. There is redemption. There is the possibility of forgiveness. There is the hope of healing.  And there is a Love that covers over a multitude of sins.

For those of you who dread this time of year, I pray that you are able to leave the weight of the past at the threshold of yesterday, and embrace the light of today and all of its possibilities. I pray that somehow you are able to...  

Focus on the blessing of being able to love deeply enough to be hurt.
Focus on the healing that is possible, the “I’m sorry’s” and “I forgive you’s” that are yet to come..
Focus on loving those who are near to you now.
And focus on lightening the load of someone who is neck deep in motherhood, who doesn’t have a mom nearby to help her.

You can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the broken and lonely.  And in the giving and letting go, you can find healing and joy.

This is my prayer for you this Mother’s Day. And even though for many of you, the pain of this particular Mother’s day leaves you beaten down and hurting, I pray that the Mother’s Days to come will hold much joy.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Finding Purpose in the Unknown

Memories are sneaky, aren't they?

This morning the thought hit me that it has been a year since our family's lives took a huge turn.  I was packing up our home, preparing to move to a place half a mile away that would become temporary home to our family for two months. It was generously offered to us, an answered prayer to meet a short term need.  We had put an offer on a three bedroom ranch almost two hours south of where we lived, but  could not qualify for the new mortgage until we closed on one we now owned.  I had spent weeks sorting through clothes and household items, discarding the unnecessary and packing away the essentials.  Photos and videos, books and decorations--all evidence of a life overflowing with love and purpose were packed away in brown boxes and stacked in the corner of our front room.

Our journey was one from security to limbo.  From a place of history, friends and family to the unknown.  What do you do with the huge assortment of emotions that threaten to overtake you at any moment while holding what is most treasured-- physical evidence of the memories that were yours, and packing it all away, not knowing when you could unpack it again?  

Our house had sold in a little over a week, to the first couple who had looked at it.  The sprawling four bedroom plus den, three bath, 2700 square foot home with a pool on an acre of land overlooking fields in three directions would become home to a young doctor, his wife and two year old son.  The negotiations were complete.  We had settled on less than we had hoped for, but in the end it was fair.

But there's so much more to this story.  My husband had been planning on stepping down from his lead pastor position in a church he had led for 16 years.  We had realized for over a year that we were to be given new marching orders, that our time pastoring an amazing group of people in a small town in central Florida had come to an end.

Because we loved our church, we knew we couldn't announce too soon that their pastor was leaving.  If word got out without the proper puzzle pieces being in place, we felt it could damage the very thing we had poured our lives into. The people of our church were too precious, too valuable to risk hurting, even though it would have been much easier.  And even though it is done often in our denomination, we couldn't bear the thought of saying good-bye to them without presenting the pastor who would lead them next.  Everything we did in relation to our ministry change, the purchasing of a new home, packing up the one we lived in, and moving a half a mile down the road to our temporary home had to be done on the "down low."

Our kids were sworn to secrecy. We were taking them from the familiar to some of the most unfamiliar territory they had ever experienced in their lives. Knowing they were going to be leaving all of their friends, and yet not being able to share that information proved to be too much for them. Slowly a few choice friends were let in on our family secret, and in the end it was okay.

Oh, and did I mention that our precious daughter was graduating high school and would not be moving south with our family? Graduation, senior pictures, party, packing.  If all of the leaving wasn't enough, we had to pack up our daughter and help her move north.

I can hardly type these words without tears streaming down my face.

From the known to the unknown.
From security to insecurity.
From history, memories, and friendships to a clean slate.

If you have walked this road, you will agree that it's really, really hard.

And if it were all random, without a plan, without a trust in the One who was leading us, it would have made absolutely no sense.
But we trusted in the plan and purpose of the One who made us and used us, and was leading us, even though we could not see beyond the next few steps. Even though we may not have done it all right.

But, isn't that what a life of faith is?

Scripture says that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

We couldn't see beyond our sadness, beyond what we were leaving, because the future wasn't clear, And even though the ripping, the tearing of the old wineskins was so very painful, it would allow us to receive the new ones.  

There was purpose in our unknown.

If we did not leave, the new pastor could not come.
If we did not move forward, we would fall behind.
If we did not obey, we could not say we loved and followed Him.
If we did not say goodbye, we could not embrace the new.

I would love to say that a year later, all that we have left has been given back to us, multiplied over again.  We are still in the building process.  There is still much of our path that is foggy and unclear. But as we take a new step each day, our Heavenly Father's plan is leading us in the direction He had in mind for us all along.  And maybe a year from now, maybe more, we will again look back on the road behind us, now clear, and think, "Of course. That was the right path all along. There really was a purpose to all of the uncertainty along the way."

Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Managing Risk

I wonder how much of my life has been spent pursuing safety. I have recently come to the conclusion that not only is safety not to be our goal,  it can actually become disobedience.

Jesus promised that if we truly followed Him we would be treated as He was. He called those who put their hands to the plow and looked back unfit. Told us we needed to be willing to leave family, friends, homes to pursue Him.  Promised a life of rejection, difficulty, obstacles.  But He also promised a life of joy.

One of my favorite  Bible stories is one in which a rich man entrusts three of his servants with his money--talents, each according to their ability. To one he gave five, another, two, and the third, one talent.   After a long journey he returned and asked each one what he had done with the money.  The first had invested the five and  gained five more.  The second had also doubled his investment.  The master commended both of them, calling them faithful servants.  The third told his master, "I was afraid. So I buried your coin in the ground.  Here it is." Because he had seen his master as cruel and harsh, his goal became self preservation.

Interestingly enough, the master did not have compassion on the fearful servant. He didn't give him a big hug.

 It wasn't even somewhat okay.

Instead, he called him wicked and lazy, gave his coin to the first servant who already had ten, and called for the lazy servant to be punished. Quite an unexpected turn in the story.

The obvious parallel is that we have been given our lives as temporary gifts and expected to invest them into the Kingdom and other people.  We are not given the assignment of self preservation.  Our goal is not to spend our lives on ourselves.  We will be judged by the return on His investment.

So what does that look like for me, practically? Unlike believers living in persecuted nations, I may never be asked to give my life for His Kingdom.  I may never face starvation or torture because of my faith. But  it may mean I suffer ridicule in this politically charged country. I may have to swim against the tide of popular opinion. May have to at times risk offending others when truth needs to be expressed. I may be asked to give when it isn't convenient, put other's needs before my own.  Forfeit comfort to help another.

I read one time that the best way to live your life is to envision your own funeral and think about what you would have your family and friends say about you.  How will others be changed because they knew you?  What kind of legacy do you want to leave when you are gone?

The good news is that  we are promised safety as a result of spending our lives pursuing risk.  We don't have to manage risk ourselves--way above our pay grade.  The One who keeps the Earth spinning on its axis and who placed the uncountable stars in the sky promises to have our backs.

When I truly grasp this, my life will take on new meaning and excitement I never imagined possible.

 Sounds like a pretty exciting ride, doesn't it?

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Everyone loves a winner. The prodigy. The outlier.

We sit back and watch them on the screen.  The team from our hometowns wins, therefore somehow we win.  Victory by association.

We eulogize them.  
Stand them ceremoniously on their pedestal.
Admire their stamina, giftedness, fortune.
Satisfied we could never be like them.
At least, that’s my first reaction.  

I like normal.  
Don’t mind being behind the scenes, helping others succeed.
It seems so altruistic, so humble, so Christ-like.
Not thinking more highly of oneself than we ought.

But what if all that is just an excuse to not discipline myself for excellence?
What if it is just the lazy man’s excuse to not pursue a higher calling?
What if it is denying the power that was given to me to go out and change the world?

You can’t hit a target you aren’t aiming at.
You can’t even hit it if you aim and never pull the trigger.
Ready, aim, aim, aim, rest.

And you will never climb a mountain if you never venture near one.

Purify my heart, oh Lord. Refine me.
See if there be any wicked, lazy way in me.
Lead me to a higher calling than I could ever have imagined myself.

Remind me to fan into flame the gift that is already in me.

Your refiner’s fire.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

This Old Couch

Our new living room furniture arrived this week.

We had so innocently strolled into the local Ashley's Home Store two Sundays ago after church to "just check out" a side chair to fit alongside our fireplace.  The beautiful new arrangements called out to us with their color-coordinated crisp new fabrics, weathered wood,  and rustic charm. We were totally caught off-guard. Hadn't seen so many gorgeous pieces together in the same place, maybe ever. All of a sudden, our old, worn, and well-loved furniture couldn't compete.

To be honest, we had seriously kicked around the idea of replacing our eleven year old, well-loved set for months, so along with the Black Friday sale price, it didn't take much to put us over the top.

On Wednesday we carried our old set to the garage. Our daughter and son in law had asked for it years ago, "whenever you decide to get rid of this furniture." So even though several others fought over it online, (sort of) we had to keep our five-year-old promise.

Something strange happens when you decide to change something as innocent as a couch or love seat.  All of a sudden when you least expect it, a bunch of those sneaky memories come tiptoeing out from nowhere and hit you right in the heart.

Whatever were we thinking?

How many stories were made sitting around on that furniture?  How many jokes were told, hugs shared, movies watched, tears cried?  Our old family friend, Snickers, slept on those cushions, piling even more pillows on top for the perfect nap. Dora the dachshund, birthed two litters of puppies (no, not ON the couch) during those years, and we sat on those couches holding puppies together.

How do you put a price tag on the tapestry of memories woven deep into those cushions? No sparkle, shimmer, or color-coordinated rustic charm could ever hold a candle to the priceless value of a Christmas morning gathered together, opening heart-felt gifts bought for each other, sharing inside jokes, throwing wads of wrapping paper at the bag holder (Dad),  purposefully  accidently overshooting their target.

We celebrated Christmases, birthdays, graduations, engagements, grandbabies, new son-in-laws and new sons from China on those couches. We high-fived the most exciting achievements, and mourned the deepest hurts there. Memories that come in like a flood are no respecters of feelings. They don't care about impressing the neighbors, or making picture-perfect Pinterest posts.

So as we sit on the pristine new sofa and loveseat, it feels, well, strange.  Not comfortable.  No indentations, no worn spots. No fingerprints or crumbs.

No memories. No personality, truth be told.

Its like we went house shopping and bought what we thought was the perfect house, not realizing that it was what went on inside that made it a home.

Speaking of houses, in case you haven't noticed, our family likes to change houses about as often as some people change batteries in their smoke detectors.

Part of the reason is because the realtor in me loves houses.  You don't peruse or Zillow daily for too long before your imagination gets the best of you. The other part is because it can be profitable. It's a great way to pay off medical bills, dental bills, and expensive adoptions. Add to this the fact that I love to create by fixing up older homes, or starting from scratch with new ones. When it's done, it's not long before it feels like it's time to move on to another.

 Change can be exciting.  There's reward in starting fresh, conquering a new goal. But there's also a trade-off.  You trade wings for roots.  Every time you transplant your family, you uproot and it takes awhile to re-establish your home.

That is where we find ourselves again this Christmas.  We are sitting on a new sofa, contemplating the old familiar Christmas decorations hung with the new during our first Christmas here.

And our old sofa and loveseat rest innocently in the garage.  It would be so easy to go out and move the furniture back in, just as it would seemingly be so easy to pack up a moving van and move our belongings back to the place we came from this past year. It is so tempting to go back to familiar friends, familiar church, familiar schools--back to the way it was.

" And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ 
(Luke 5:39)

And we can't.  And, more importantly, we shouldn't.  Change has a way of playing tricks on your memories. You forget about the hard, sad, hurtful ones, and remember the great ones.  The rose-colored lens of memory is not an accurate picture of what it is now. A well-respected man once said:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” (Heraclitus)

A not as well-respected Facebook site gave me my un-scientific life-defining personal quote this past week.  I got:  "Don't look back. You're not going that way." --June Rairick

And yet, as bittersweet as memories are, we get to continue to create new ones. More graduations will come. More achievements, more celebrations.  More weddings, grand babies, birthdays and Christmases.

And one day, when we least expect it, we will move home for the last time to our permanent home that has been prepared for us long before we were born. And then there will be no more tears, no more good-byes.  Just endless celebrating with the One and the ones we love.  

And then we will see clearly, face to face.

 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:12-13)

Friday, November 11, 2016

We, The Pawns...

Sorry to break it to you, but we've been played.

Politicians have been played.
The media has been played.
Policemen, college students, celebrities, talk show hosts.
Lawyers, construction workers, soldiers, teachers.
Fathers, mothers, friends, co-workers.
The black-skinned, the fair-skinned, and all shades of brown-skinned.
Those with jobs.
Those who are unemployed.
The old, the young, and all who are in-between.

 Every single one of us has been used as arsenal in a mighty war.

We are the pawns in a mighty big chess game where the stakes are high and the winner takes all.  We have been programmed to view the opposite side in a political game as the enemy.  We have mistaken the agenda of a few elite people as the agenda of all.  We are loyal soldiers fighting for a cause that has been layed out for us.  Our unquestioning loyalty has given us all the skills necessary to be effective soldiers and obliterate the other side effectively with our words and actions.

The emboldened attacks of a few radicals on the opposing team solidifies what we always thought we new about them all.  We are the good guys, wanting ultimate victory for our families, friends, and country.  Which makes "them" the bad guys. The enemy.

The huge secret?  Both sides feel the same way.

A few powerful elites, who are actually pawns themselves,  have used the passion, love of country and family to emblazen our cause and create warriors.

The Bible says that a house divided against itself will fall.  And, sorry to say, that is the ultimate agenda of the true enemy of our souls--for our nation and all of mankind to fall.

We have been brainwashed to forget the high price that has been paid by those who have fought and died to preserve the country we now love.

Can't you see it?  When we fight and attack each other, loot, destroy, and burn what is most cherished among us, there are no winners.  When we mince others with our words for a temporary serotonin rush, what have we gained?  We can fist-bump and high-five each other on our team for the temporary thrill of a battle well-fought, not seeing that we are losing the war.

The only path that leads us out of the hate and corruption that we are so entwined in is the path of love and acceptance.  Neither side needs to experience ultimate defeat for there to be victory.  Both sides must lay down their arms and seek peace for there to be healing.

On this Veterans Day, may we declare that the fighting must end.

How? We can start by focusing on what we have in common.

We all cherish our families.
We are grateful for our friends.
We value people over possessions, light over darkness, faith over fear, beauty over ashes.
We melt at the sound of a baby laughing.
We love the smell of puppies, newly cut grass, freshly ground coffee, rain, and roses.
We desire to make a difference in the lives of those we love most.
We seek for healing over sickness.
We want to be needed.
We strive to be happy.
We long to love and be loved.

When I look at you, may I first see your preciousness, the image of your Creator breathed into you from the very beginning.  May I know that inside the rough, bruised, hardened shell that is your defense is a brilliant, miraculous god-man created to bring glory to the Lord of the universe.

You are not my enemy.  You are not the bad guy.  You are my brother and sister.
May I value your god-given potential more than my being right.
May I cherish your uniqueness and not be intimidated by it.
May I lay down my arms and join arms with you as my friend.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."
-- I Peter 4:8 (NIV)

 And may this day bring forth the change in me that will quickly spread to you and to others.