Today was an ordinary Tuesday in just about every way. I used my yellow umbrella to get from the door to the car. I had my performance evaluation at work. I came home and made soup, then finished the reading for this week’s assignment in my master’s program.
But it is not an ordinary Tuesday because it is the sixth anniversary of the worst Tuesday of my life: the one on which my mother died. And I can no longer talk to her about any of the ordinary events of my day.
Yet, today I felt a different kind of joy in several small, caring gestures—the ones I received, and the ones I gave. They triggered a deep thanksgiving and awareness of how richly I am blessed, not only of the gift I had in my mother, but of the gifts I have in those who are with me still.
The gift of the father who, along with my mother, made me who I am today—in some way, both of them will always be present in me. The gift of sisters who are forever the only ones who know what it’s like to lose my mother as Mom. The gift of a long-time friend who never forgets to remember with me the significance of this day. And the amazing gift of a husband who reached for my hand across the breakfast table this morning and prayed for me as I faced this day.
These are just a few of the good and perfect gifts from the Father of Lights—the one who never changes or flickers in His love when my circumstances shift. He is the one who gives the gift of ordinary Tuesdays, when all is well and normal, and He is the one who comforts, heals, and surrounds me on those Tuesdays that hurt the most.
My grandfather is known for many things–the summer days fishing on the ocean, the cars he fixed, the funny songs he sang to his grandkids, the poems he’d recite to anyone who’d listen, and the sayings he quipped throughout his life: “The early morning has gold in its mouth,” and “I have more years behind me than I have in front of me.”
Tonight, my sweet, kind grandfather has only hours in front of him. Right now he sleeps an unconscious sleep, his body carrying out the process of dying. It requires neither food nor drink, only rest. Only the effort of taking in oxygen and distributing it as best it can.
It is a natural process, one the body is designed and destined to follow. We are powerless over it, none of us immune to it.
But it is painful to watch a loved one go through it. It feels wrong, disturbing. Its reality crashes into the ordinariness of life, reminding us that we are fragile, delicate, formed from dust. What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings, that you should care for them? the psalmist asks God (Psalm 8:4).
Yet, He does. He cares, He sees, He loves. He loves the ones grieving, and He loves the one He is preparing to gently carry home. Even now, His life breathes into my grandfather’s spirit. He has safely preserved it to last beyond this day, this life.
Because the truth is, my grandfather has more years in front of him than he has behind him. He has eternity. Forever. His body is shutting down because his spirit is preparing to encounter Life itself. He is about to experience unspeakable joy—a place and a state incomprehensible for those of us left behind as Jesus’ disciples were, gazing into the heavens in wonder. We can’t imagine what awaits us. But soon, my grandfather will know. He will awake to a dawn with the purest and brightest of gold in its mouth.
All of heaven, including my mother, will welcome him home—will welcome her father home.
I look out over a rain-rinsed evening from my third story library window, a cup of hot tea sitting on the windowsill. The air is calm and quiet; a few streaks of clouds are pale pink. I can hear the song of a few crickets as I watch the heavy white blooms of my crepe myrtle tree bob in the slight breeze.
The weekend is closing; another week is about to begin.
Sunday nights are a time of transition, from rest to routine. It occurs to me that life is full of transitions; mini ones like this one, recurring weekly; larger ones like the transition from summer vacation back to school that many are experiencing now.
Our lives, it seems, are about change. We learn to release past emotions, plans, circumstances, relationships. We yearn to embrace new fulfillment, friendships, opportunities, successes.
Someone at church today reminded me of this beautiful stanza set in the heart of Lamentations:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
Whatever tomorrow may bring for me, or for you, the blessing of each mercy-wrapped evening is the promise of continuing love and new mercy in the morning. So very great is Your faithfulness, O Lord.
This weekend, I’ve been thinking that if I feel anything in light of this great, wild world springing with frothy cherry blossoms and deep green grass, it should be humility.
I’m humbled that God created such beauty for us, that He thought we were worth it. And that we are worth His love and intervention in our lives. And, mostly, I’m humbled, deeply, in the face of the cross.
The cross is the center of everything, and Jesus was the one on the cross. In the wake of such death and horror was life. That’s why He’s at the center. In His wake is life, resurrection, restoration: spring. Blossoming branches. Hope. Grace. Beauty.
As the world awakens with spring around you, allow its beauty to awaken you to the grandeur of being died for. Of being so passionately loved by the mighty God that He would sacrifice Himself for it. And rejoice that the glory of spring we experience so freely is but a taste of what He’s preparing for us in the life to come.
It is a wintry Saturday morning, and I’m growing increasingly congested. I don’t feel like doing much except for making breakfast and sitting with my husband.
After scrambled eggs and toast, I drag a box of tissues over to the couch where we open our Bibles. And mid a nose-blowing, sluggish Saturday morning, the Holy Spirit speaks. Envy, Proverbs says, is rottenness to the bones.
Hmm. I grab the new Oxford English Dictionary that has recently arrived in the mail from Barnes and Noble. Envy, it says, is a discontented longing aroused by someone else’s possessions or qualities.
The Holy Spirit begins to remind me of moments I’ve felt discontent with myself, my circumstances, and my so-called lot in life. He links those times with those in which I’ve noted someone’s appearance, ministry, or situation and envied it.
Oh Lord, forgive me.
And I see something else: envy blocks faith. It resists resilience. How can I take an offensive, optimistic stance of faith toward my life, my calling, and my goals when I’m focusing on everything I seem to lack?
Envy is really looking at my life through the box of someone else’s. And faith doesn’t put boxes and boundaries around God. Faith is, in fact, part of the boundary line King David said had fallen to him in pleasant places—part of the portion given by a God who maintained his lot in life (see Psalm 16:5-6).
And that God only does things exceedingly abundantly beyond all the boundaries of my own imagination.
Today is heavy with cold and ice and clouds.
I’m propped up in bed, where I’ve spent most of the day due to whatever nasty ailment that’s going around, and I look out the window. The ice-encrusted seed pods on the Crepe Myrtle tree pull the branches downward, as if in sadness.
The imagery of sadness comes easy; it was this day, five years ago, that my mother left us. I had determined to make this a day of celebration in remembering her life, and I am forever blessed that she is my mother. It is hard, however, to not remember the day of her death. My sister has memorialized that day beautifully, with a reminder of her life that pervades our lives even now.
There was snow on the ground when we laid her to rest, she writes. After the flowers were placed on her coffin, we watched as she was lowered down into the frozen earth. Like the snow blanketing the ground, our hearts were covered with a wintery cold.
Five years later there is snow on her cold grave. Our lives here on earth have continued. Seasons have come and gone. Life events have brought many changes. As we try to keep warm in the blustery gusts of winter, we hold on to the hope of spring, for it always arrives, year after year, no matter how cold the winter. In the same way we try to keep warm in her absence with the memories of her life, which comfort us like hot cups of tea, cozy blankets and fireside warmth, until the promise of being reunited in the presence of God’s glory is fulfilled. And the spring always comes.
As I gaze at the tree outside, I see a tiny bird fluttering with life among its branches. I think of the new pink bud on my dormant cactus plant. I think of the healing and hope God has brought to my heart throughout the seasons of the last five years. And I think of the single tulip in my Valentine’s Day bouquet downstairs, remembering that I sent tulips to Mom in the middle of winter, two weeks before she died.
And maybe they reminded her, like my sister said, that spring always comes.
I sit in a business meeting downtown, listening to a presentation on change management. Along with other participants, I take a brief resiliency test, and my score surprises me.
Apparently, I’m more resilient than I thought. Or than I often feel.
Since that day, I haven’t been able to get the idea of resilience out of my mind. It’s even made its way into my Bible reading, connecting with stories and characteristics of faith. And although it’s already the end of January and my New Year’s resolutions haven’t yet made their ways into written goals, I know how I want to live in 2015.
I want to be vigilant. Diligent. Resilient.
These are strong words, hard words, action words. Resilience means to spring back, rebound, recover readily. Looking back over my life, I see the many things from which I’ve recovered: deep disappointment, emotional hurt, relational conflicts, grief, and depression. Looking forward to the coming year, I see opportunities for vigilance and diligence to produce yet more resiliency.
And more patience, as the book of James says. Patience, when it has completed its work, leads to completion, or maturity.
The goals I’ve mentally identified will definitely require diligence. When I feel like quitting, they will require vigilance. And when I encounter obstacles, challenges, and disappointments along the way, they will require resilience.
Above all, they will require faith. As I’ve pondered resilience these last few weeks, God has reminded me how key faith is and ways I’ve failed to be vigilant in it. Now it is this idea of faith proved by action—resilient action—that I can’t get out of my mind.
Lord, let me live this year in great and greater faith, evidenced by the diligent faithfulness of a committed heart. Amen.
We didn’t see much of the sun in December, but on one splendid morning walk, I took in the cold air and prisms of sunlight on frosted grass.
Scriptures immediately rushed over me: His mercies are new every morning. The Father of Lights does not change like shifting shadows. He makes all things new.
But the most prominent verse tugging at my spirit was this one: Weeping may endure for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Rejoicing, the kind that comes when sunlight breaks through a dreary month-long cloud cover. The kind that comes with the relief of healing. The kind that rushes like a river of long-awaited fulfillment, or that quietly fills a comforted soul.
Whatever weather dawns this New Year’s morning, I pray you will know the joy of our merciful, changeless God that comes with it.
Twas the night before Christmas, and I had a revelation.
I was in the guest room wrapping the gifts I had shipped north or stuffed into my extra suitcase, everything spread out before me on the bed. A cup of tea and my stepmom’s just-baked spice cookies stood on the night stand. My Pandora Christmas playlist filled the room with classics by Andy Williams and Bing Crosby.
Suddenly a flash of memory took me back to wrapping gifts in the same room four years earlier. It was the first Christmas without my mother. The house was literally cold and dark, every space empty with her absence. I wrapped gifts mechanically, my heart filled with sorrow, Sarah Mclachlan’s melancholy Wintersong album reflecting my mood with its beautiful and haunting melodies about the holidays, and loss.
But now, the house was literally warm and bright. It smelled like holiday baking, just as it used to when Mom was alive. Blooms burst from the two Christmas cactuses my stepmom kept in the room, one of them on my mother’s old desk. Behind this year’s happier choice of music I could hear the lilting tones of my husband’s voice as he chatted with my dad and stepmom downstairs.
This was a redemptive moment, a gift so profound, and so characteristic of my redeeming Savior, that tears came to my eyes.
I will always miss my mom. No one can replace her, and tears come just as quickly when I think of her. But Christmas day brought more redemptive moments and lovely memories with family—the first Christmas we spent together since I got married. Once again, God had touched specific places and contexts of loss and brokenness with His redemptive love and grace, and I am quietly grateful.
I awoke this morning to bad news in a voicemail message: The fiancé of a widow who was to be married today died suddenly last night.
How do you digest news like that? And in light of God’s sovereignty, how do you explain it?
December is supposed to be a month of joyful Christmas celebration. But there are many, including this dear lady, whose tears are not of joy. The media tells us of countless others weeping with sorrow this Christmas season: mothers whose sons were killed by police. Parents whose children were shot by angry gunmen. Loved ones of hostages murdered by terrorists. Families of people who died in a plane crash or a landslide. I could go on and on, but you’ve seen the news. And you know the coworker, the church member, the neighbor, the relative.
You know your own heart’s sorrow.
Yet into a dark winter night like this one the angels sang a song of hope, the new star blazed with its message of light. Into a cold and smelly stable, next to animals, a newborn cried for the first time.
His cry calls to the world’s sorrow-filled hearts. As a grown man, He cried at the tomb of a friend. He cried overlooking a city whose people rejected Him as Savior. And on the cross, He cried a sinner’s eternal agony as one forsaken by a holy, perfect God, even though He Himself never sinned.
Jesus took all that pain for us. He came for times such as these, to do what only He can do: restore relationship with our Father God, heal our broken hearts, and provide hope that endures through life’s deepest pain. In dark Decembers, when joy and happiness seem far from view, reaching out to Jesus for help, for sustenance, and for life, is the only answer.
And it is the best way—the only way—for each of us to truly experience the peace on earth that the angels promised that first Christmas night.