We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Three Words to Live By

You've heard the old saying, "It's good to go, and it's good to come home." 

Last week I returned from a road trip of over 1670 miles. I wound my way through the misty mountains of Pennsylvania, passed rows of giant windmills with outstretched arms, and tunneled my way through fields of corn and beans. Family in two mid-western states drew me like a magnet . . . every mile a little closer, every hour an accomplishment. 

My trip was everything I hoped for. 

Barry's siblings, their families, and I all gathered for a long-overdue rendez-vous over lunch. I enjoyed my sister and brother-in-law's warm hospitality where we picked green beans and zucchini from their garden, reminisced over breakfast, and chatted before bed. My youngest daughter and I laughed and talked, visited her workplace and church, and savored the sun at Silver Beach on Lake Michigan. I saw where she rents a room and rides her bike. We walked her trails together. On my last full day, she, my sister, and I picked blueberries in a large dewey patch in the country.

For me, the best parts of any reunion are the conversations. Seems we start out by catching up on the news and seeing whatever is new since last time. Yet, it's the sharing of thoughts and hopes and fears and dreams . . . the sharing of souls . . . that I treasure. 

Sometimes multiple conversations blend together to give us a takeaway that rides the miles home with us, taking root in our hearts and giving us courage to face whatever's next. This time I've come away with three words. Three words to take with me through these next weeks of uncertainty and challenge.

Gratefulness          Faithfulness          Contentment

If you're like me, life's surprise trials  can "throw you for a loop," as my mom used to say. We feel blindsided, panicky even - and find ourselves wondering, "Is this my fault? What could I have done differently to avoid this circumstance? What about the others this will affect? Where is God in all this?" We just want to get back to normal, after all. We want to be healthy, stable, predictable . . . fine. 

But maybe "perpetually fine" is unrealistic. Jesus said, "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 6:33), but He doesn't leave us alone. Can we trust His sovereign yet loving hand? Will we choose to express gratefulness to Him and to the people around us? Will faithfulness characterize our daily walk? Can we learn contentment, regardless? 

These are some of the questions I've been contemplating since coming home. A brochure came in the mail this week with these settling words: "Because God loves us so much, He never allows pain without purpose. He longs for us to run to Him and find shelter, courage, strength, and help in our times of distress. In these moments, we are drawn closer to Him and we begin to understand His working in our lives."

Gratefulness, faithfulness, and contentment. Three words to live by in troubling times.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Blooming Where We're Planted

What's growing in your garden this summer? Are you enjoying perennials like daisies, back-eyed susans, and day-lilies? Did you plant annuals? Impatiens, geraniums, or begonias? Any pots or raised beds sprouting tomatoes, basil, or lettuce?

I love this time of year even if it is hot and humid! Seems we've waited a long time for the warmth of July. As I write, it's raining . . . a blessing to cheer up our brown lawns and thirsty plants.

I'm not a landscaper by any means, yet so far this seems to be a good season. At least I'm enjoying the process. I haven't done anything out of the ordinary . . . just the usual weed-pulling and a little watering here and there. The blooms are opening up right on time, including my late husband's fragrant pink roses. The edibles have given me a special pleasure: rhubarb, raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage . . . all in different stages, all offering their own textures and flavors. After a brisk walk, I putter around my yard every morning. breathing in the freshness (and batting away the gnats).

My gardener friend, Susan, says good soil produces healthy plants and nutrient-dense fruit. That's what I'm after. I weed and water, tend and prune, watch and wait. This week, as I worked, I thought about how God places us in the good soil of His grace. The heat, the storms, the pruning, and the waiting may lead us to doubt His divine green thumb, but the Master Gardener has a plan and a purpose for each one of us. Have you noticed how He pulls the weeds of self-reliance and pride? How He trims the suckers that take away our fruitfulness, all the while whispering words of hope?

The Seeking Heart by Francois Fenelon has touched my heart over the past few weeks. I found it in my husband's books and have been reading one short selection each morning when I come in from the garden. The other day, I underlined these words, "[God] trains you to fulfill His noble plans amidst the petty annoyances and aggravations of life. . . . [He] uses the disappointments, disillusionments, and failures of your life to take your trust away from yourself and help you put your trust in Him. . . . Nothing happens without His consent."

These words encourage me to see things from a higher perspective. Just as I often peer over the fence to check on my garden, so God has His eye on us, no matter where we find ourselves growing. Let's not shrivel up in doubt, discontentment, and self-pity. With confidence in His careful tending, let's bloom where He plants us.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Perspective in the Pandemic

The words jumped off the page! 

At any other time, I probably would've skimmed right over them, but during the Covid-19 culture they became the very essence of hope.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. Careful to follow the protocols handed down by governors and health advisors alike, I found myself with a scratchy throat and a hoarse voice. I lined up my usual beat-the-bug potions on the counter, fully expecting to be fine after a day or two. Just to be sure I took my temperature. Days turned into weeks with symptoms coming and going (none of which were on the C-19 list, I might add). Finally, I made an appointment, which turned into several more. I think we're finally almost to the end of this road.

All that to say this: Between the ever-darkening newscasts and my own fear of somehow infecting my 84-year-old dad, I felt anxious . . . really anxious . . . and even guilty. What was wrong with me? Why didn't God intervene? I couldn't bear it if I gave something to my father. And what if this was something serious? 

My usual take-what-comes manner flew right out the window, and fear and frustration began to take root in my heart. And that's when I read these words:
"And no inhabitant will say, 'I am sick';
the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity" (Isaiah 33:24).
Can you imagine a day when not one person will say "I am sick"? Isaiah wrote about judgment and captivity to a nation who forsook God's ways, but he also penned poetry about God's promise to bring about the messianic kingdom, a kingdom the redeemed will one day enjoy.

Even in the the midst of a worldwide pandemic, herein lies our hope. Sickness will be banished. Sin will be forgiven. And the LORD will be our judge, lawgiver, and king. He will save us (33:22).
"Say to those who have an anxious heart,
Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God . . ." (35:4).

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Season of Remembering

Could we ever have imagined the realities of the past couple of months? Like it or not, we've learned a whole new vocabulary. We've limited our travels, our work, and our shopping. We've also reached out to others in new ways, using our compassionate and creative energy to cross the barriers to lend support and help.  

For me, it's been a season of recovery . . . and remembering. Last time (April 5th), I wrote about the 17th anniversary of our family's car crash. In addition, as I sat in my recliner with ice on my new hip, I read through some of my late husband's journals. Some pages brought tears to my eyes. Others made me laugh, but every paragraph reminded me of the grace of God in spite of our humanness.

This is also the month to remember my mom (May 1936-August 2013), my parents'  wedding anniversary (63 years today), and the five-year anniversary of Barry's passing (5-15-2015). Made me wonder what I've been doing the past five years! Writing a couple of books, seeing Elisabeth through college, keeping up with my grandsons and their five-star moms (and dads), simplifying, maintaining my home, nurturing relationships . . . and learning, learning, learning all the way. I'm so grateful for God's tried-and-true promises.

I completed a project this past week that brought back multiple memories. I made Elisabeth a quilt (i.e. picnic blanket) from a stack of her saved T-shirts. I cut the shirts apart and squared up each block, then ironed fusible interfacing onto the backs and squared them up once more. The stack of squares and rectangles boasted logos and slogans from elementary school, high school, college, places of employment, our church, a 5K run, and her favorite vacation spot. What stories they told!  

As I stitched, I remembered praying her through many of those chapters, usually coupled with motherly concern and a sense of pride as I cheered her on. The process reminded me of the promise in Philippians 1:6 . . . the promise that we can be confident that He who began a good work will continue . . . developing and perfecting and bringing it to full completion (AMPC). 

I'm learning that when we remember God's intimate involvement in our lives, we can better place our faith in Him when we peer into the fog of an uncertain future . . .  humanly speaking, a future with no guarantees. We can make decisions based on what is and Who is rather than on the fear of the what-ifs

I invite you to brew a cup a tea, and take some time to remember. How has God blessed you? In what ways has He given you grace in the past? What promises from His Word will you claim? Let's make this season of remembering a time to also ask God to give us the courage to move forward into the "new normal" of tomorrow.

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
Psalm 102:2

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Remembering the Miracles

Do you remember what you were doing seventeen years ago today?

April 5, 2003 will forever be embedded into my heart - and the hearts of my family. It started out so normal, yet in a matter of minutes our lives changed forever.

Dense fog engulfed us as we strained to see past the front end of our car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The unexpected, eerie haze on a fair day spiked my pulse and revved up my every nerve. … I turned to check on five-year-old Elisabeth in the back seat. In that instant, a crushing blow from behind convulsed us back and forth like rag dolls. … Sickening terror seized me as the life-shattering impact snuffed out hope . . .
Fire. Explosions. Screams. Scraping metal. These were the terrifying sounds that pierced the murky mist around us. Only one thought beat like a drum in my mind: We have to get out of the cr. Out of the car. Out . . . *

This past week I found the box of cards so many caring friends sent our way in the weeks and months following the twenty-three care pile-up. Hundreds of cards. I opened every one, compelled to savor each loving, encouraging message once again. 

Here's one that captured my attention:
April 11, 2003
How can words express what only the heart can speak? Know that you are constantly on our hearts and in our prayers during these difficult days.
"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; …  Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show his favor again? Has God forgotten to be merciful?
"Then I thought, 'I will remember the deeds of the Lord, yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds . . .'" (Psalm 77).
Today is a day for remembering the miracles! Humanly speaking, we should never have survived. Only God could've protected my spinal cord, preventing paralysis. Only God could've brought Barry back from a coma that lasted for weeks. Only God sustained us through our long and arduous recovery and the new normal we often found overwhelming.

We're all facing many unknowns. In a matter of weeks, life as we knew it has changed in ways we could never have imagined. The future looks foggy and obscure. Economic and physical recovery seem unlikely. Fear lurks around every corner.

The author of Psalm 77 faced similar feelings so many centuries ago. In his despair, he chose to remember the miracles, to meditate on all God's mighty deeds. It made all the difference.

I invite you to read or reread our story told in Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story. Within its pages, you'll find story after story of God's goodness, and you'll share my journey of learning to trust God in the midst of uncertainty. I've also written a Bible study that will draw you into the Scriptures to dig deeper into the themes of trust. I pray it will be a blessing to you and bring you hope in these trying times.

And on this Palm Sunday, how about taking some time with your family to remember the miracles in your own story!? 

*Page 7, Penned Without Ink.
**Resources available on Amazon.com. Click HERE and HERE for more information.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Three Cheers for the "Cane Gang"

Sometimes our experiences bring us face to face with our misconceptions.

Here's one example. When you see a man or woman with a cane or walker, what's the first thought that pops into your mind? Do you pity them? Do you begrudge their slow pace? Do you wonder why it's worth their effort to venture out?

I've always had a certain amount of compassion for our senior brothers and sisters and those with disabilities. Maybe the 2003 car crash that broke my neck, causing me to use a walker for a while, contributed to this mindset. But the last few weeks have heightened my awareness and challenged my thinking.

I was blessed to have a hip replacement three weeks ago. I'm doing well, having hurdled a few bumps in the road and being the recipient of many kindnesses along the way. (Thank you to those who prayed, sent cards, brought meals, and helped in a hundred other ways! I couldn't have managed without you.) Even so, being a member of the "cane gang" is not for the faint of heart.

My brother-in-law first coined the family phrase when my great aunts and uncles gathered at my parents' home for Christmas in the 1980s, bringing their canes with them (which doubled as crooks for little-boy shepherds during the annual Christmas play!).

I'm learning that using a cane is not as easy as it looks . . . walking, climbing and descending stairs, getting in and out of bed, taking a shower, navigating the car. Using a walker can be cumbersome. Then there's the grabber, the sock-aid, the long-handled shoe-horn, the nightlights, and the grab bars, to name a few. 

I'm also learning that every one of those aids brings more independence and more freedom. 

My neighbor inspires me. He doesn't see himself as "confined to a wheelchair." Instead, his chair has allowed him to "take a walk," hold a meaningful job, live independently, and contribute to our community in significant ways. 

In a few weeks, I hope to pack up my walker and put away my cane. Yet, I will have more appreciation for those who require the use of aids. Let's not pity them or become impatient, but cheer them on. They have had to come face to face with the disappointment and loss of youth and agility and are finding ways to preserve their independence and keep their stabilizing routines. A smile, a respectful greeting, a listening ear, and perhaps a helping hand will go a long way toward helping them see their value in a hurried culture that seldom has time.

Three cheers for the Cane Gang!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Finding Faithfulness

I settled myself into a chair at the end of the second row, among about fifty other seniors who gathered on a dreary Wednesday afternoon. I didn't expect to begin the new year here. Life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns.

It all began the day I took my Christmas decorations down and marched them up to the attic. I don't know how many times I climbed the stairs. Apparently, too many. I've learned to manage one bad hip joint, but when the "good" side began to buckle over the next week, I found myself in a pickle, clinging to the furniture to get around..  

A few days of taking it easy helped, yet at times I still found myself grabbing whatever chair or counter happened to be nearby. After eight years of avoiding the orthopedic office, I made an appointment, hoping a little PT would do the trick. "Bone on bone, severe arthritis, cysts," they said. I couldn't argue with the x-ray.

After much prayer, consulting with "my people," and gathering up courage, I signed on the dotted line. Wednesday's required joint replacement class taught us what to expect, physical therapy tips, and risks. I limped to my car praying,"Oh, Lord, how can I be faithful in this circumstance, this challenge?" 

How can you be faithful in your situation? 

Ironically, last month (before I had any inkling of surgery) I blogged: "Over and over, God has given me every reason to trust Him. These evidences of His power and involvement in my life help me remember and practice the truth the next time my stomach knots up and I find myself dreading instead of trusting."

I just finished reading Kings and Chronicles and have been so impressed with God's supernatural power demonstrated in overthrowing armies, changing the minds of kings, and protecting those devoted to Him. His sovereignty down to the smallest detail throughout these chapters and His faithful hand in my own circumstances have brought me comfort. No matter what lies before us, He's got the whole world in His hand! 

And really, it's not about you or me anyway. Paul, a prisoner in Rome, wrote these words: "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel . . ." (Philippians 1:12-14). Not only did all the guards hear about Christ, but the believers gained confidence to speak God's Word without fear. 

Wherever God directs our days, we have the opportunity to reflect His light to those around us (Matthew 5:16). Because of what happened to our family in a 2003 car crash, many have read Penned Without Ink, the story of God's trustworthiness and grace in the face of trauma. Because of what happened in Barry's passing, others have gleaned strength from his legacy. 

In 2017, Joni Eareckson Tada celebrated the 50th anniversary of the diving accident that left her a quadraplegic. Because of what happened on that fateful day, Joni & Friends was born, an organization that not only gives support to those with disabilities all over the world but shares the hope of Christ. Because of what happened through years of pain and suffering, Joni's many books offer a unique depth and thoughtful encouragement. 

Battles, prison, trauma, and pain aren't experiences we would choose. Yet, like Joni, I want to walk my journey well to the glory of God. Reading the Old Testament stories along with Paul's prison experience put my surgery in perspective. Can you and I link arms with these heroes of faith and say, "What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel."? 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

2020: Are you Dreading or Trusting?

What are you looking forward to in 2020?
A long-planned vacation? A family reunion or wedding? A conference or get-away weekend? A new season signifying a new beginning? I have a few things I'm anticipating. Visits with my children and my growing grandkids always top the list. Then, there’s planting a variety of vegetables and flowers in the yard, attending a writers’ conference, and even spending a few quiet evenings with friends or with a good book. 

On the other hand, what are you dreading?

I'll be honest with you. At times, I find myself dreading quite a list of things. Things like managing a challenging relationship or tackling necessary paperwork or learning to navigate new technology. My conscientious side fears hurting those I love or making a mistake when it seems I'm feeling my way in the dark. And I don't look forward to facing health issues and growing older--alone. 

I'm learning that dread and trust are at opposite ends of the spectrum. If I'm dreading, even in the ordinary things, can I truly be trusting the God who promises to walk beside me as my refuge and strength through both the big and little challenges?

We’re not alone in this tug-of-war between dread and trust. Way back in the days when the Hebrew people finally camped on the brink of the Promised Land, Moses spoke these words, "Dread not, neither be afraid . . . The Lord your God Who goes before you, He will fight for you . . . Yet in spite of this word [the people] did not believe (trust, rely on, and remain steadfast to) the Lord [their] God" (Deuteronomy 1:29-30, 32 AMPC). As a consequence of their unbelief, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years instead of enjoying the blessings God had planned for them.

Lately, I've been challenged by the apostle John's reminder to "practice the truth" (1 John 1:6). The truth that God invites us to come to the throne of grace to ask for wisdom. The truth that He will never leave us or forsake us. The truth that He has a purposeful plan for our lives and will guide us every step of the way.

Throughout the past months, over and over, God has given me every reason to trust Him. These evidences of His power and involvement in my life serve as monuments to help me remember and practice the truth the next time my stomach knots up and I find myself dreading instead of trusting.

“Dread not. Neither be afraid.” Words of grace to live by every single day.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3