Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Fresh Start

The quiet ticking of my clock reminds me to finish up my work for this year. It’s about over. A new one starts in a few hours. Finish Up! Get re-organized to start again. Forget what you didn’t get accomplished and start again. Hurry! Put away the decorations and get the dates in your new calendar. 2010 is here! We start with fresh expectations. We resolve to do things differently, or to stop doing some things. We make promises. We commit anew. We have 365 new days ahead of us.

The last reading for the year in a devotional book makes it pretty simple. Psalm 62:5 says “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation.” And the gift of Christmas in 2009 was and is Jesus, God’s Son. Scripture said during Advent, “Thou shall call His name Jesus for he shall save His people from their sins.” What sins? We’re basically good people, but who has not experienced fear, doubt, impatience, a critical spirit, boredom, depression, laziness, insecurity, insensitivity, and all the rest. You name some.

Scripture says that Jesus came so that we might experience a joyful, abundant, and productive life. He walks beside of us and wants to help us through this year. And He is able and ready to start. He just asks us to return to Him, to wait on Him, to place our expectation in Him. How freeing is that? The world will never satisfy our heart’s inner longings. We can run, work, shop, exercise, and eat until we are exhausted and yet we will never be content or much less have any joy. We will just continue to run away. But Jesus knows us and knows our every need and pursues us. He can meet us where we hurt, where we struggle and can fill every desire and hope. Jesus is enough.

It is why I have chosen “Jesus” as my word for the year. He has become my very close friend. He has walked beside of me through life – celebrating joys and comforting breaking hearts. He has given me his gifts of nature, family, and friends. He has provided an abundant life in the midst of some difficult days. He has met all my needs. I shared this poem in December 2008. It seems to be appropriate each year. I do not know the author – maybe Jesus.
I Am The New Year
I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.
I am your next chance at the art of living.
I am your opportunity to practice
what you have learned about life during the past 12 months.
All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me,
waiting for you to search it out with more determination.
All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve,
is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.
All that you dreamed but did not dare to do,
all the faith that you claimed but did not have –
these slumber lightly,
waiting to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.
I am your opportunity to renew
your allegiance to HIM who said,


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Finding Christmas – An Epiphany

It is December 26th. All is calm and all is bright. I suppose everyone is mostly resting. Some are traveling. Some have not had enough shopping and have returned to the stores to find more of whatever it is they are looking for. But I was drawn to my desk in the quiet and picked up a quote written on a note from a friend:

"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree." (Roy L. Smith)

This morning I am wondering if you found Christmas. Did it meet your expectations? Do you feel full of joy and hope as you participated in your traditions? I was reminded early in the season when we idly watched the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. There was a conversation between Charlie and Lucy that went something like this:

Charlie Brown:”I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed. “

Lucy : “Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.”

And so this morning, the day after Christmas, when the tree all of a sudden looks a little tired, the beautiful wrapping paper is crumpled in the trash, the dog has already destroyed his new toy, and the refrigerator is bulging with too many leftovers, we could suddenly feel depressed. Part of us thinks, “It’s over. Just clean it up and put it all away.”

But is it over? Do we have to “put it away”? If Christmas resides in our hearts, couldn’t it simply continue through the year? Could Christmas be the hope of things to come? Could Christmas Day be a day of new beginnings and fresh starts? I can look at the calendar and find my answer. Our Christian calendar moves now into this time of Epiphany. It means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." The word itself most often means that “ah-ha” moment when we “get it”. Sometimes it is like a lightning bolt – like the shepherds being scared out of their wits with the message of the angels. Other times it slowly comes – like the Magi who traveled for a few years, seeking the star that led them. And because our epitaph has not yet been written, we can all experience epiphany.

I have never given much thought to Epiphany until today, but as I learn and reflect on it, I love the way it continues our Christmas season – the twelve days of Christmas starts today and goes until January 6. Remember the song The Twelve Days of Christmas? It has been debated whether the song is secular or religious. Some say it was developed in the 16th century to help children learn the catechism with the “true love” being God himself and the “me” representing every believer who is part of the Christian faith, and the “days” representing some aspect of the faith to learn. I like that. Others would argue it is purely secular and created just for frivolity.

I love what Dennis Bratcher of the Christian Resource Institute/Voice wrote about Epiphany and his explanation of the 12 days of Christmas.
“Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God's grace, through one more avenue this Christmas. Now, when they hear what they once thought was only a secular "nonsense song," they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway?”
The Twelve Days of Christmas
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)

Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

Three French Hens
The Three Theological Virtues: 1) Faith, 2) Hope, and 3) Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

Five Gold Rings
The first Five Books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch: 1) Genesis, 2) Exodus, 3) Leviticus, 4) Numbers, and 5) Deuteronomy, which gives the history of humanity's sinful failure and God's response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

Six Geese A-laying
The six days of creation that confesses God as Creator and Sustainer of the world (Genesis 1).

Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

Eight Maids A-milking
The eight Beatitudes: 1) Blessed are the poor in spirit, 2) those who mourn, 3) the meek, 4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 5) the merciful, 6) the pure in heart, 7) the peacemakers, 8) those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine Fruit of the Holy Spirit: 1) love, 2) joy, 3) peace, 4) patience, 5) kindness,
6) generosity, 7) faithfulness, 8) gentleness, and 9) self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; 2) Do not make an idol; 3) Do not take God's name in vain; 4) Remember the Sabbath Day; 5) Honor your father and mother; 6) Do not murder; 7) Do not commit adultery; 8) Do not steal; 9) Do not bear false witness; 10) Do not covet. (Exodus 20:1-17)

Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven Faithful Apostles: 1) Simon Peter, 2) Andrew, 3) James, 4) John, 5) Philip, 6) Bartholomew, 7) Matthew, 8) Thomas, 9) James bar Alphaeus, 10) Simon the Zealot, 11) Judas bar James. (Luke 6:14-16). The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.

Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles' Creed: 1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. 4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave]. 5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, 8) the holy catholic Church, 9) the communion of saints, 10) the forgiveness of sins, 11) the resurrection of the body, 12) and life everlasting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pondering The Path of Peace

They say we might have some snow on Christmas Day! And I say “Let it snow!” The magic of quiet snow falling on Christmas morning - oh, just the thought of it takes me back remembering Christmases in Kentucky on my snow-covered hill-top home – the wonder, the beauty, the silence. It can happen anywhere that the heart makes room.
In January of 2008 Atlanta was covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. I couldn’t resist but to take a few pictures in the garden that now looked so fresh and new even in the bleak of our winter of great sadness. St. Francis looked especially peaceful and content with a white cap warming his head. His presence standing strong there in the garden offered me a new appreciation for the man who gave up all of his worldly goods to be an instrument of peace during his life.
After visiting his birthplace and the city for which he is named, I came home and disciplined myself to memorize one of his prayers – maybe the one for which he is most remembered. Let’s see if I can say it for you:
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

What strikes me today is that in the first line, the prayer asks the Lord to make me an instrument of HIS peace. I may not ever find my own peace and that is what we ponder so much, trying to make sense of life and its ups and downs. But I can, in the midst of pondering offer to be used – to be an instrument of God’s peace – the peace that we seldom understand, but that we have been freely given through the one who comes again at Christmas.
Jesus said in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Maybe I should return to Target and purchase what caught my eye - the gray T-shirt with the huge peace symbol on the front to remind me to live as an instrument of peace. I confess that I am not always the peacemaker. I do not always sow love, or pardon, or faith, or hope. Sometimes I am dark and sometimes I am sad and lonely even though my home is filled with abundance. That’s why I have memorized the prayer and it is amazing the times during the day when the words come to remind me “sow hope, sow love, understand, pardon, give”. Peace.

I know that Christ wants to infuse peace into all of us. He said so. His peace. Not the peace of a quiet snowfall. Not the peace of singing Silent Night holding a candle. But the opening of our souls to receive Him in our hearts – to take on his characteristics of love and forgiveness, of gentleness and hope and of purpose. But in this age of “it’s all about me” we find it hard to acknowledge our utter neediness and we simply just don’t need Jesus – or very much of him.

This Christmas, open yourself to receive the peace that Jesus brings –now, from eternity past, and forevermore. And in return, offer yourself as an instrument of that kind of peace. Knowing peace is the gift above all gifts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Gift

Like my winter birds who come to the feeder in a variety of ways, Christmas presents come in a variety of packages.

Yesterday I arrived home to find a beautifully wrapped gift on my kitchen counter. I enjoyed just looking at it - so smartly wrapped waiting to open it with the giver. But reading in bed late last night, it was delivered to me. I was encouraged to go ahead and unwrap it so I could use it during Christmas. And I love the gift and will use it – maybe today!

But earlier in the day I received another gift – a very different kind of gift. I listened to brilliant people discuss degenerative neurological diseases and the progress being made toward finding cures for many of them. I observed research labs and technicians and analysts busy reading graphs and plotting charts. I sat in a small circle of participants and watched a teaching doctor put on gloves and take a human brain out of a plastic bucket and show us how an autopsy is performed for research. Most of the terminology I did not understand, but I was fascinated by the “hands on” explanation of the process, but chose not to put on gloves and touch the brain myself. Having a daughter who died from a brain disease, I found myself at first intrigued by the science of it all, but began to feel emotionally overwhelmed by the destruction of my child’s brain, surprised that gray matter in a white plastic bucket could bring on such emotion. I felt the doctor looking at me intently, like she was explaining everything just for me, gently and with compassion. I tried to focus on her words and visuals. I fought my emotions and studied her charts for distraction. After the meeting, I was stunned when the doctor came up to me, introduced herself, and told me that she had performed Megan’s autopsy. It took a few minutes for the words to register. I hope I thanked her.

That was over a year ago and I have always detested those hours when Megan’s body left our home. I suppose I felt she would just be one on the list at the hospital. That once she was gone, the necessary procedures would be routine and indifferent. And even though I knew Megan’s soul was not there, there was part of me that wanted to be beside of her to witness those final necessary steps, however painful it would be. Of course, I know there are some things we cannot do. There are some things that others do better. What I discovered today was that someone with love and compassion – maybe a mother herself- attended to my child, taking what she could for the benefit of research and discovery with full knowledge that this life was taken much too soon. She knew of Megan’s disease and was expecting her upon death. She cared, made herself available, and then she told me.
What a gift.

This Christmas, God is like this doctor. He knows all of our diseases, struggles, and hurts. This Christmas God cares. This Christmas God makes himself available through Jesus coming to earth. This Christmas God says to us all “I love you and will be expecting you upon your death”. Will you open the gift that Christmas offers?


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Four Blessings

It’s the week of Thanksgiving and I am compiling my thankful list. I am thankful my family is coming to Atlanta! I am thankful I can get out my mother’s china and set a beautiful table for lots of people I love. I am thankful there are little children who will be running around, pulling the dog’s tail, playing with my children’s outgrown toys. I am thankful we have a comfortable home in which to welcome everyone and plenty of food to share. I am thankful for my friends, my health, and my family’s health, the beauty of the world, my country and my heritage. Most of have much for which to be thankful. If we included our troubles the list would be endless.

But I haven’t heard too many people give thanks for their troubles. I know we will give thanks around our table without mentioning our bouts with sickness, death, surgeries, moves, job uncertainty, and hopefully politics! We want to gather together and give thanks for the good. We quietly try to fix the bad ourselves if we can. We close our hearts and remove ourselves. Sometimes we try to find meaning in our suffering by doing things for other people. But sometimes we hurt so badly we can’t. And we might wonder if God even knows our troubles – we wonder if He is paying attention or if He could have possibly forgotten us.

As soon as I post this, I will polish silver and chop celery, but my mind will be focused on another family who waits for the hour they must say good-bye to their child - this week of Thanksgiving. I know that pain. I know that devastation and emptiness that draws you down to brokenness and despair. So it seems rather pedantic to me this year to simply run through the “thankful” list without spending a little time on the one to whom we give thanks - God himself. I am reminded of the verse in Job where he questions “Do we thank God in only the good times? Should we not thank Him in the bad times?” I think he said something like “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
How do we do that when our hearts are breaking?

I am not so far along in my grief that I don’t still feel the sting of loss like others who are now walking this road. It all comes back too real. But in my own effort to “find meaning in the suffering” I ran across a book that provided some encouragement. Mack Stokes, author of Talking With God says “When amid suffering and grief, we open our souls to him in prayer, we receive at least four blessings of importance.”

As I study that quote, I see there is a condition for those blessings – opening our souls to him in prayer. Let’s assume that we all know how to open our souls to God. Here are the blessings. I am glad to know that he said “at least four”. Maybe there are hundreds.

1. Despite our problems, when we open our souls to him in prayer, we become profoundly aware of God’s presence. He says that the weaker and more inadequate we are, the stronger God’s presence becomes and then we know that God will never leave us for forsake us.

2. Despite our suffering, when we open our souls to him in prayer, we become profoundly aware of the vastness of God’s far-reaching capabilities; it is one thing to know he goes with us through life and death, but another to experience the mysterious far-reaching ranges of his love.

3. Despite our pain and uncertainties, when we open our souls to him in prayer, we discover and new appreciation for others and the role they play in being used by the Holy Spirit to comfort and hold us. In turn, we learn how to love others.

4. Despite our loss, when we open our souls to him in prayer, God opens up a new vision for us where we can move. It might not be right away – it might take some time, but God makes us aware of others and gives us opportunities to heal and grow. He gives us new possibilities.

“When we open our souls to him in prayer” amazing things happen. I am thankful for these four blessings:

God will never leave me

God’s love for me is vast, mysterious, and far-reaching

God holds my hands through the use of others who are obedient to Him

God has a plan for me and provides new possibilities for His glory

If you think about just these four blessings a while – open your soul to him in prayer - they will leave you breathless and wondering like the words by Mercy Me:

“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Joining Hands for a Common Purpose

Today is Veteran’s Day and I am thinking about my dad who served in the military for 29 years and loved President Eisenhower. On October 8th,1954 President Eisenhower issued the first Veteran’s Day Proclamation which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose”. And so today, almost fifty years later there will be parades, memorials, and speeches around our country, joining hands in the common purpose and remembering and giving consideration to this worthy cause.

Tomorrow is another special day you might not know about. November 12th is International CJD Awareness Day. I am sure that it won’t make the nightly news. Most people don’t even know that a disease exists with such a name as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. I certainly didn’t until someone I loved was diagnosed with it. Then it became real to me. And when we learned there was no treatment or cure, it led me to discover just how many rare and unknown diseases exist. In fact, over 1000 are listed on the website of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (and in case you are interested in that cause you can mark your calendar to observe Rare Disease Day on February 28, 2010).

There is no shortage of causes in our world – just look on Facebook. With millions of people using this internet tool to network, there is a way to post your cause on the site or join an already existing one. You can write about it, recruit members, solicit and make donations all with just a click. Amazing. Anyone can do it. Even me and I have invited my Facebook friends to join my cause – finding a cure for CJD. It just takes the initiative to figure out the process and something to be passionate about - passionate enough to be moved into action.

Often people “walk” for a cause or they run a marathon. Some people organize a golf tournament or ball. Many of us are simply recruited to be financial participants in these causes, but somewhere at the core of every cause there is a person who probably experienced great pain or suffering and they took the initiative to turn their pain into something that would help others – joining those hands for a common purpose.

My garden club is a perfect example of that. When CJD claimed the life of Megan, they took their sorrow and sold daffodil bulbs (the springtime symbol of hope) throughout the neighborhood. They have decided to sell the bulbs again this year and the bulbs have gone quickly. More hope. If this effort continues, birthed in love and carried out in faithfulness to a cause, hope will bloom on every street in Atlanta in the years to come. As one member said, “One day when we are all in “the home” the buses will pick us up to drive to Brookhaven and view the dancing daffodils we planted so long ago”. I want to be on that bus. I want to look back and remember what I did to offer hope to my community.

Ah…there’s the point I want to make. What is each of us doing to make a difference in our world? What cause have we aligned with? There’s a song that says “What the world needs now is love, sweet love – it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…” So start small with your love if you are uncertain. Write a note to someone. Sign up to volunteer. Visit an elderly neighbor. Experiment with those random acts of kindness. Love then grows and can take on causes. It can be planting daffodils, offering financial support for finding a cure for CJD, or simply flying the American flag on Veterans Day. However it looks, it looks less and less at self and out to others and beyond. Jesus called it “feeding sheep”.

Monday, November 2, 2009

If I Could Turn Back Time

Fall Back…’s the way I can remember which way to set my clocks. I am not crazy about Daylight Savings Time. I don’t like the darkness that creeps into my late afternoon. But I do like the sun peeking through the trees earlier in the morning. And I especially like the surge of power I feel in turning back time – even if for just one hour - 60 minutes of precious, reclaimed time. Time for using or snoozing - which I generally have done in the past. But this year I reset the clock the following morning and reclaimed my hour while awake for catching up on some much needed reading – and quiet thinking. I confess – I even skipped church, having my own version at my window altar where my tears could flow freely as I praised and searched and found rest for my soul alone with God.

Fall back …it’s also the way my emotions seem to move. Fall back into a flood of nostalgia and heartbreak over loss. Fall back into memories that bring great longings of the heart. Like the words of Cher’s song “My world was shattered, I was torn apart; Like someone took a knife and drove it deep in my heart”. I want to – no, I do not want to do this, but something pulls me to fall back into what might have been, fall back into the whys of life’s twists and turns, fall back to a future that looks different, and fall back to rethink, redo, and try to get to the day that I can once again possibly spring forward. Many are right there with me in their own personal kind of fall backs of life. It affects us differently, but I see in all of us a clamoring to fight the fall and get going again. It is what brings me back - that sense of purpose and hope.

Last week I wrote about suffering being transformed into honey that feeds others. But before that transformation can occur, there is a time of facing the empty, hollow spaces left by our loss. Maybe it is the same thing as my fall back. Maybe it is healing. Sister Glen of the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado says it this way,
“First we have to go to these hollow places in ourselves. Often we have to take the trip in stages – five minutes, fifteen, thirty…until we lose the fear that the emptiness will destroy us. Inhabiting our hollows makes room for us to grow, to make friends with ourselves in a new way, making way to discover God in unexpected places.”

Maybe this is what grief and loss and struggle is all about – visiting the hollow places in our hearts little by little, trusting that God’s spirit can blow through the emptiness, carry away the darkness, sending those little bees that begin to make honey for others who might be hurting. Like turning the clock back and then forward, there seems to be a cycle to this process. I suppose it is okay to fall back and visit the hollow places – I forgive myself. I just can’t stay there. Today as I walked I found myself gathering colorful leaves and decorating a birthday cake for someone I love. There is no turning back of time, but there is always something to move us forward - even if we fall back now and then. I think a little chocolate cake will help.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Honey Coats

Yesterday I worked in my garden most of the day planning ahead for the predicted rain that arrived this morning. I replanted the window boxes, put bone meal on the daffodil beds, pulled out the begonias and cut back perennials. I tell myself that if I would devote one hour each day, the garden would greatly benefit. My mind would benefit as well. It seems as I pull and prune and plant, my attitude and thoughts get sorted and pruned as well for another new season of growth.

Like the rain that was predicted, colder temperatures can’t be far behind. Most of us don’t think too much about the coat we will need – we’ll simply go to the closet and grab one of our choices – fleece today, wool tomorrow. But some people do not have a choice– they might not have the money to buy even one coat. I am thankful I had the privilege of delivering a car full of small coats to an elementary school recently. The principal was thrilled, saying there was much need and each coat would soon find proud, new owners. As I drove away from the school, I gratefully remembered my friends who organized the annual coat drive “Megan’s Closet” in memory of my daughter Megan. The coat drive is held the first of October and in the last two years has collected over 400 little coats along with hats, scarves and mittens for school children in Atlanta and other parts of the world.

My friend knew Megan. She had invited her to visit her classroom to observe her teaching and gather experienced ideas for taking back to her new classroom. She remembered Megan’s joy and enthusiasm for the children. She remembered her love of teaching. She remembered and she did something with those memories that would help someone else. She planned for winter with a child in mind. Oh, it took some work on her part. She wrote the parents. She gathered and sorted the coats. She arranged for delivery. And now, she knows that a group of children will be warmer this winter because of an idea born from sorrow – the honey that transforms into joy in the shape of little coats and gloves for cold days.

I see that transformation again and again and marvel at the continuous mystery of it. Touched by the generosity and thoughtfulness of the coat drive, I joined the effort and wrote my first children’s story Coats for Winter. It’s about three children who visit their grandparents and gather coats for their school. It teaches compassion and generosity and working together. It is the first in a series (I hope) based on my own childhood on a rural farm in Kentucky. More honey.

And now as I write and watch the pouring rain outside my window, I remember yesterday – so sunny, so beautiful, so perfect for planting, fertilizing, and pruning –all planning ahead for this very soggy day. I am so thankful I heeded the forecast and working my hour this morning in the garden, finished the things necessary before the weather changed. And the weather always changes. Every day is not sunny and bright. Unlike the song on Sesame Street, the sunny days don’t keep the clouds away. But we can prepare for the cold days of winter. We can gather coats like my friend. We can plan ahead. We can work hard. We can prune our thought process. We can even pull out and replant unhealthy thoughts with new, stronger ones. We can gather and give. We can find meaning and purpose in our daily efforts at life – no matter what the forecast.

I am not thinking about the coat I will need to put on in just a few minutes. I am thinking instead about lots of little coats being pulled on and zipped up at the end of a school day – all colors and sizes, warm and dry for winter. And I am grateful for the honey. I am thinking of the Psalmist who said, “If my people would listen, if they would walk in my paths, I would satisfy them with honey from the rock”(Psalm 81:14,17)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why I Keep The Donkey

I could not help but hear the musical twittering of birds that overpowered the steady rainfall. I looked out and saw several birds on the ground and some flying overhead – Sparrow-sized, slate gray with a white abdomen, showing white along the sides of their tail feathers in flight. I grabbed the binoculars and bird book and by process of elimination decided they might be Dark-Eyed Juncos. They winter here in Georgia, migrating from Canada, and were probably enjoying their good fortune of discovering a newly sewn grass-seed breakfast.

Birds move from place to place and make new homes wherever they land, building and preparing and nesting until their job is complete and the season ends. Then they move on for the next season. They fly with no baggage, put nothing in storage. They stop along the way and take advantage of whatever is available. They always have enough.

But me. I have a tendency to keep things in storage. So in preparation for some house improvements, I was forced to go through and make a grand sweep of cabinets and closets, freeing our home from accumulated clutter. Why do I need to keep The March of the Tiny Soldiers, my very first recital piece (I can still play it by memory)? Why have I held on to every school yearbook for my family through the years – don’t we just need the one from our Senior Year where our picture is always better than the others? Why have I continued to stack up empty containers in even larger containers – when will I use them? When will I use three cake carriers? I hardly ever bake one cake. And why have I always guarded the quirky Donkey Planter that rests safely in the back of a cabinet on a top shelf?

It’s this silly little glass donkey pulling a cart that can hold a small plant. I pulled it out of my mother’s cabinet (she too had put it away) when we cleaned out her belongings many years ago. My sisters laughed at my sentimental attraction to it, but there was no way I would let that donkey go to the donation center. I vaguely remember it at the kitchen sink with a philodendron in it when I was a child. Mother would water it after doing the dishes and we would laugh about giving the donkey a drink of water. She seemed to love it and I loved her, so whatever she loved, I loved. It became part of who we were.

My mother moved around a lot. Like migratory birds, she went with my father whenever he was transferred in the military. She learned to make a house a home in many different places. She would fall in love with a location and then just as quickly be uprooted to a new place to start over. She would leave furniture and draperies behind. But the donkey seemed to always make the cut, traveling from home to home and finally resting in a cabinet. Maybe Mother got more fashionable and decided he should retire. Maybe the reason he was put away was she got tired of explaining her fondness for the donkey to those who never felt such an attachment. Nonetheless, she held on to him – and protected him.

As I have gone from room to room, moving back in to freshly painted rooms, I discover I have my own assortment of “donkeys” that no one else would understand my attraction to them - the inexpensive poster bought on a special trip, the bottle angel that overlooks my kitchen, the bowl and basket made by young, creative hands; the primitive, pre-school, clay nativity that takes center stage every Christmas. And it becomes easier to toss those things that have not found a place in my heart, but only take up space, creating distraction from what is most loved.

Sitting at a traffic light I glanced at the sign in front of the little church. It said, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things” (Teresa of Avila) That was it. Love. The reason I keep the donkey planter is because of love. Love of a childhood that was special. Love of a mother who wisely found meaning in simple things. Love overcomes the hard times and moves with us wherever we go. Love in the shape of a donkey can make us laugh. Love can be stored safely in our hearts forever. No cabinets or boxes needed, love is carried with us through our day, filling us with hearts that can sing. Why should he stay hidden away? I think I'll offer him a drink.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Phototropism - Lessons from Sunflowers

Sunflowers make me feel good. Their oversized faces seem to dare laugingly and say, "Oh, go ahead - smile with me!"
The sunflower (photo compliments of follows the light during it's blooming season - something called phototropism. From morning till night, that big, happy face turns with the daily walk of the sun, soaking up its nourishment, staying in the path of its rays. No wonder it has so many uses - oil for cooking, fodder for livestock, snacks for my golf bag, seeds for my cardinals, and bouquets for my table.

Maybe sunflowers are so productive because they stay in close contact with their source of nourishment, never turning their back on the sun - the source that provides the energy to be changed into so many useful products. Plants do not have a choice in how they respond to light. They simply grow toward the light. Their genetic makeup responds in accordance to their purpose in creation. A year ago I wrote about the changing colors of the leaves in the fall. We watched them and admired them, never pausing to think too much about the process, realizing that the leaves changing colors, or the sunflowers turning to the light, are in total obedience to their creator. They just do what they were intended to do.

Yesterday, a workman in my home was struggling to fix a broken floor sander. As it became evening he continued to work on repairing it, telling me that he simply prayed all through the day, waiting for God to guide and help him. I told him that I had been trying to do the same thing. A few minutes later his help showed up and replaced the broken machine. He smiled at me and said, "See, prayer works." I thought how much his example is like the sunflower. He was smiling even though his machine was broken. He kept at his job. Oh, he continued to work to fix it and call for help, but in the meantime he prayed. And in the praying while he worked, I imagined it to be a little like looking for God's light, following his promises, trusting in His faithfulness, resting in His assurances.

I wish my obedience was as simple as the sunflower - smooth and effortless,the turning of my face to God's light each day. Somedays are easier than others. God's light, once it has shown brightly, draws me back and each time is a little easier - because that is where I can find fulfillment and see purpose in my life. That is where I can accept the sorrowful times and celebrate on the sunflower days. It is where I find meaning and hope. It is where I feel energized and complete. It is where I meet with God himself and it is heaven on earth - much like the sunflower, saying "smile with me".

And so next week, I will step out in obedience and offer a seminar entitled "When God Comes Near - Waiting in the Miracle of His Presence". It will be held Sunday, October 11th, in the Hospitality Suite of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta from 5-7p.m. To register, call 404-240-8228. I will talk about God's Love, God's Provision, and God's Purpose as I share my story of faith during a time when even sunflowers could not make me smile. But that time is past and I am trying to be useful as I move forward. If you are in the Atlanta area, it would be an honor to have you join me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where Do Butterflies Go When It Rains?

For seven days it has rained without stopping. But the morning started out dry and I looked out my window to see blooms waking up everywhere. I pulled on my boots and waded through my drenched garden, uncovering some garlic chives trying desperately to bloom underneath the goldenrod. To both of our surprise, out fluttered a yellow butterfly (Clouded Sulpher). I suppose I woke him up and it made me wonder “Where do butterflies go when it rains?” Since this morning, the sun has finally broken through the clouds and butterflies are everywhere – Black Swallowtails, Tiger Swallowtails, and oh, there’s a Gulf Fritillary – the small orange spotted ones – and more of the yellow Clouded Sulphers.

For a butterfly whose lifespan is short, seven days of rain takes away about half of their lifetime as they take shelter and hide under larger leaves or any protective garden material until the rains subside. And if the rain is pounding as it has been in Atlanta this summer, sometimes their wings get torn and they die an untimely death. I am relieved to see that the butterflies are alive and well after seven days. In fact, I am envious of their playful nature, hanging lazily upside down, flying free in the dry, warm air, putting on a show for me sitting here at my desk.

Where do we go when it rains? Usually, we just plod through with an umbrella or a jacket. But the rains in Atlanta have pelted our homes and gardens, creeped into our basements, swept away bridges and toppled trees and in doing so taken our power. Then what do we do? We get to work, call repairmen and we wait. We gather our candles and flashlights and for a little while it is quaint and inviting – the quiet that is - but we soon become impatient for life to resume some sense of normalcy.

In giving a short devotional at a meeting, I really wanted to begin by saying, “Into every life a little rain must fall” trying to make a joke about our continuous rain, but I knew that it would be interpreted in a way where people would feel sorry for me and that might make us all cry. So I chose something safer to say. But I find lessons in those butterflies. Oh, how we want to live life to the fullest. Oh, how we want to “hang upside down” and fly through life with only sunshine. Maybe we tolerate a shower or two, but certainly none of us welcome the rains that destroy and displace.

One thing is for sure, we cannot predict the weather. Oh, Dr. Feelgood thinks he can. He watches weather patterns like he watches stock charts and can tell you two weeks out what you might expect “in your part of the country” as Al Roker would say. We cannot predict the rainfall for our lives, nor would any of us want to know the forecast. But we can plan for rainy days, do everything we can to protect and provide, and then armed we can seek shelter from the storm. How? Well, sometimes we hide like the butterflies – hopefully not under rocks or leaves, but behind masks of self-preservation and a simple will to survive. But healthier ways are to seek shelter with our family and friends. We find comfort in being with our church family. We find strength in personal study of scriptures like “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” Isaiah 43:2.
It’s been dark and gloomy for a solid week. I’ve hidden myself a little. But the sun is out. The butterflies are tapping on my window. I think I might go outside.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From Paris to Rome and A Few Stops In Between

It was an ambitious itinerary, planned with enthusiasm and love – sort of a pilgrimage to remember Megan at this first anniversary. We would fly to Paris and drive to Rome, seeing as much as we could see. And now we have returned from that journey, weary from the 10 hour flight and a lost but found bag, but filled with new perspectives on the world in which we live. It was a trip of a lifetime.

In Paris we arrived an hour ahead of schedule and decided to take the train into the city. We immediately got ourselves separated at the train station, giving us an opportunity to test our phones which fortunately worked. There is nothing better than stepping off a train in a foreign city and seeing two people you know and love right there waiting for you. Our rooms were ready and we regrouped for an evening at the Louvre. We smiled back at the Mona Lisa and studied the Winged Victory from every angle of light. Later, we walked all the way to the Arch Triomphe, admiring the view of the city from the top. Saturday was bright and chilly as we walked across Pont Neuf to visit La Sainte-Chapelle and light candles in Notre Dame and then meander through the streets of St. Germain du Prix, enjoying coffee and way too many croissants. We spent the afternoon visiting the Eifel Tower – a favorite picture of mine is the photo Owen took of himself with the tower rising out of his head - and the Musee D’Orsay, returning to the charming Left Bank for dinner and to watch the full moon come up over the river Seine.
Midday on Sunday we picked up our reserved rental car (well, it wasn’t quite that easy) and headed three hours south to Burgundy. Our hotel, Hotel du Clos was charming and we visited the Chateau Pommard winery, had a fabulous tour of the largest private vineyard in Burgundy. Had we stayed a few days we possibly could have helped with the harvest as the vines were heavy with lush, sweet grapes. We tasted grapes of 500 year old vines which we were told distinguish the best of the pinot noir grape and sent a few bottles home for special occasions.

Monday, we left the rolling vineyards and headed to the Alps. It was the Mont Blanc we were in search of, rising above the fun energetic town of Chamonix. Our hotel was in the middle of town at the base of the high-speed lift that would take us to the"Aiguille du Midi" which translates "needle of midday" and is called this as the sun sits directly over the peak at noon when viewed from the town. We could look out and up – way up – and see it. Better yet, we could walk ten-minutes to the lift and be transported to 14,000 feet of spectacular vistas of snow-capped Alps.

What goes up must come down and Tuesday seemed to be the day of tunnels, coming out of the Alps and into the Piedmont region of Italy. We saw beautiful castles when we weren’t underground, and the road through Genoa was fast-paced to say the least. We enjoyed seeing the Mediterranean Sea at a distance, but by the afternoon had woven our way to the town of Monterossa, arriving at the Cinque Terre, the charming collection of five villages by the sea. While the driving and navigating was probably great sport for the guys in the front, I can speak for the girls in the back that too many curves spoil the view. Now, we purposely did not make a reservation and discovered that it was a church festival day with every room booked. As luck would have it, we asked a second time and finally found one room with four beds in a hostel-like setting. Quite fine, except for the train that shook our beds every hour. At dinner over anchovy pizzas, we met three young American women who became our new friends. One was related to a classmate of Megan’s – it is a small world. The next morning we took the train to the last village and worked our way back, stopping and experiencing the uniqueness of each little village.

There were just as many curves leaving Cinque Terre, but finally we were on our way to Florence, or so we thought. They say all roads lead to Rome, but that doesn’t hold true for Florence. We seemed to get further south faster than we intended, ending up in Siena which was way too crowded, but offered us the tremendous basilica – one of Mike’s favorites. He can tell you many of the floor’s mosaic stories. From there we meandered on to the beautiful Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano – the medieval town of fourteen towers (there were 60). We stayed at a hotel inside the walled town and as the tourists left, we blended in with the locals, enjoying a dinner on the piazza with a violin concert to entertain us, weighing the pros and cons of backtracking to Florence.

Still debating, we decided Florence would just have to wait for another time. How many duomos can one visit anyway? We stayed in Assisi Thursday night and Friday morning wisely hired a friendly and knowledgeable guide who showed us the town and cathedrals in two hours. She told the story of St. Francis in a most enjoyable and understandable way. What a surprise to visit the tremendous Basilicas of St. Francesco and St. Claire in beautiful Umbria (pronounced OOM bria).

We left Assisi, enjoying beautiful Italian countryside all the way into Rome. Returning the rental car to the airport was a bit of a challenge but once we found Hertz, we were whisked to our hotel by a taxi driver who could not only cross three lanes of traffic in a split second, but also talk on two cell phones and point out places of interest to us – all at the same time! I had not appreciated the driving of Dr. Feelgood until this point in the trip.

This is the first year the Vatican Museum has opened on Friday nights and we had reservations for a guided tour. We got more than we paid for. Our guide had to have been an Art History professor and she was as animated as she was informative, leading us through the Vatican Museum which is room after room of sculptor, tapestries, and work of the great Masters, ending in the beautifully restored Sistine Chapel. I think we all left a little dazed and speechless. Raphael will leave you breathless.

Saturday, we saw just some of the many sights of Rome, including the spectacular St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. Blair was impressed that about the same number of people can fit into the square and basilica as can fit into Bryant-Denny Stadium at Alabama. It too seemed to be at sell-out capacity, maybe because the Pope was there. It’s hard to believe that just a tad smaller was the ancient Colisseum we visited on Sunday. It felt strange, visiting on Sunday, knowing that if I had been a Christian then I could have easily been executed here by the crazed emperor Nero. Worship doesn’t always come easy. We meandered through the Forum, wondering at the remains of what was once a thriving civilization. As I viewed what was left, I mentally tried to fit all that I had seen into my little brain which by now felt like a melting gelato. The Roman Empire spanned the time period between about 145 B.C. and 400 A.D. And there we were, looking at what was left of the most extensive and powerful empire in the world – in ruins. And yet, from Paris to Rome, we had witnessed another power - the story of Christ - the one the Roman soldiers put to death - from basilica to basilica, from painting to painting, sculpture to sculpture, all interpreted consistently and maintained beautifully for the world to see and discover. I could not help feeling overwhelmed at God’s plan for mankind – and that I had a small place in all of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Surprised by Possibilities

There is life outside my window. The blue asters have taken over the perennial bed. The goldenrod is blooming and the hostas and crepe myrtles are taking their last bow for the summer. The butterflies lazily float by my window followed by the busy hummingbird that is here and gone in a blink.

It’s like this year – gone in a blink. I thought the year would be a long one and it has in many ways. But now that September 12 is around the corner, there is part of me that does not want to cross the anniversary of my child’s death. There is part of me that does not want to let go of Megan, but to stay in this one-year allowed time of grieving. We had no appetite at Thanksgiving but survived and escaped for Christmas. We entered the New Year with great loss but with hope to survive. We received the gift of five white doves over our heads on Good Friday. We have rested and remembered so much as the summer months have slipped by, providing many thoughts and memories of life and death and the mystery of it all.

There will be some part of me down deep that will always scream “NO!” to the reality of my loss. There will be some part of me that will always want life to be the way it was before 2007. There will be some part of me that cannot let go completely. And based on what I have read and learned, that may not be the healthy way to move forward. I think at some point I am supposed to say good-bye to Megan. I am supposed to close the door and move to some new spot. I am supposed to find new meaning and purpose, discover new possibilities, and love with new tenderness and depth.

This website has been my helpful, working friend now for two years. I have sat with it and wrestled out my thoughts and feelings. It has seen all my deleted words, pointed out confusing phrases and unnecessary adjectives. It has offered solace while I sat and cried and helped me to heal in ways in which I probably am not aware. It has given me a nod of approval when my words pointed away from my self-pity and to a greater source. It has been with me since June of 2007 and to date the two of us have posted 100 entries. It is hard to tell a friend good-bye, but the time has come for me to close this door and move to some new spot to write.

While I wait and work to find a publisher for a book, my website is “under construction” and I am blogging. What a strange word – blogging. Some of you have found me and I hope all of you will go with me. If you are new to blogs (that makes two of us), go to and it will pop up. The name of it is The Olive Branch which you can also Google and some of the articles will show there. If you scroll down to the bottom or look to the side, there is a place to become a follower and maybe find a way to subscribe if you wish (I think all this is correct). Savvy, heh?

Don’t be surprised if you find me in some new places with some new things to write about – I’m off to work on discovering those new possibilities. One thing I have learned through this experience is that God surprises me and I am grateful. I leave you with a beautiful scripture written in Megan’s handwriting. I guess it is fitting that she signs us off:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him”. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:21-15

Friday, August 21, 2009

Believe, Begin, Become…or …. Can You Take The Heat?

This morning I met with another writer who encouraged me along the path of my first title for today’s required writing – Believe, Begin, Become. Inspired to go home and write, my car turned right instead of left and without realizing it, I found myself in the garden center, among the hardy blooms of late summer, the ones who can take the heat – thus my second title that I could not resist. Somewhere between the two there is a relationship. Stay with me.

Let me back up and say I have been thinking so much about change as we approach the one-year anniversary of our daughter’s death. So much has changed for each of us individually and together as a family. We are changed forever and finding our way through that change. I am reminded in 1 Peter 5:6 that says to “Humble yourself, therefore under God’s almighty hand, that He may lift you up in due season.”

I cannot speak for everyone else affected by Megan’s death, but I have identified some of the ways that I have been changed.
I am forever changed in that I now believe the verse in scripture that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I am not afraid of suffering – or whatever I might be called to do. I may like it one bit, and will never understand the “whys”, but I trust in the One who hears my complaint, knowing that he has a plan and a purpose for all things. I am more focused, more serious and more removed. I am a lot less fun to be around. Sorry.

I am forever changed because during Megan’s illness, God somehow – probably through the prayers or so many- provided me with words that comforted me and others. The words chronicled the journey, marked the time, and provided strength. I witnessed personal healing in myself and you as we watched her leave this life. I reread and the words still comfort me, they guide and direct me, and point me forward.

I am forever changed because though the journey was dark, there was always light. There was always something of beauty that would appear –a friend, a bird or a star, maybe a note, maybe the light in Megan’s eyes…there was a presence in our home that was felt and unexplainable, a sense of God close-up and real. I still feel it – and I seek it out on the dark days that will most likely show up now and then.

I am forever changed because in my grief I have been taken more closely to the cross of Christ with the realization that God never asked me to do more than what he did in giving up his own son Jesus on the cross. And on those days that are still dark in mystery, I go to Gethsemane and sit with Jesus, where Jesus pleaded with God, saying, “Could you just take this cup from me. Is there not some other way? Yet, it is not my will, but thy will be done.” I allow myself to be with Him and wonder in my heart “Did you have to take Megan? Couldn’t there have been some other way?” And I sit there and cry and give it up all over again and I am strengthened and restored. I go there often.

The words that were a gift during my crisis continue to come forth and give me strength and hope for something out there, beyond where I can see. I am told it is a book, a story that will help others and encourage them when they walk through a valley. The billboard that caught my eye shouted it out “BELIEVE! BEGIN! BECOME!” I thought how nice it would be if it was that simple. It reminded me of a quote Dr. Feelgood shared with me by Napoleon Hill, one of America’s first motivational authors who wrote “Think and Grow Rich”. Hill said “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

I wonder where I am in that collection of action verbs. After writing weekly for two years, I do believe more and more in myself as a writer. Confidence is a wonderful thing, something that has not come easy for me in life and now at a very high price. Maybe it is my pain that gives me something to say. Time will tell.

Writing is one thing, but beginning the process of publishing is the start of a brand new career – and I am not exactly fresh out of college! I reminded Dr. Feelgood that it is like him deciding to become a plumber after being a stock broker for 30 plus years. But I have begun and that is the first step. And I am encouraged in my effort even though it is slow and laborious and I must discipline myself like never before (it is why I am no longer fun).

Somewhere in the process, I believe we start to become (like the Velveteen Rabbit). For me I have learned much of what I know from creation which brings back me to the random garden center visit. The flowers in my window boxes have bloomed as much as they can and are exhausted from the heat. It is time for a change (believe). I pulled everything out and replaced (begin) with late bloomers that can take the heat – Blue Daze, Gazania, and Marigolds. Oh, they look a little shocked right now, being thrown into a new environment suddenly, but if I nurture them along, they will grow and bloom (become) until the next season of growth.

Maybe I, too, can be a late bloomer.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Today - Don't Miss Today!

August 5, 2009

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

I thought I might wake this morning to an onslaught of tears, nostalgically thinking of Megan on her 28th birthday, missing her presence here and the opportunity to make her something special for her birthday dinner. But the tears have not appeared. Something keeps me thinking of the gift of eternal life she has been given. And something keeps me seeing her laughing. It’s like a mental vision today of all the beauty and love she possessed and shared with so many of us. It’s a birthday gift for sure from her and I plan to enjoy it throughout the day. And tonight we will make her favorite, Shrimp and Grits, and sing Happy Birthday to her in Heaven.

I did open her journal just to see what was on her mind in August of 2006 which now seems so long ago. She was thinking a lot about vision for her life and working on personal and financial goals as a young, single woman. She wrote:
“Lord, you have been guiding me in my prayer life as I study about life goals and vision. I don’t know where I will be in one year, but Lord I do know that I want to live confidently in your love – trusting your faithfulness and seeking you every day. God, I don’t know what your plans are for me – just your promises which are always enough. Sarah (in the Bible) waited a very long time. You have not promised me marriage, a family, a home, or even tomorrow but Lord, I trust that you have some plan for me, and God, as I wait daily for that plan to unfold, help me to see that TODAY is part of the great plan you have for me – help me not to miss TODAY!”

I am encouraged by those words to not miss today. It’s easy to stay in the past or mourn the future, but life is for living and there is much to do today. It could be the last day we have. Then again we might have two more years like Megan did. We just don’t know. And we don’t know the impact our lives will have on others as we live out the rest of our todays.

Megan wrote a little later in her journal:
“…thinking a lot about what I want my life to look like 5,10, 50 years from now – listened to part of Andy Stanley’s series on Discovering God’s Will…he said when you have a vision for your life and seek God’s will, the options are fewer and the decisions get much easier and clearer to make.”

I suppose we revisit our visions for our lives as life moves us through many passages. Like our friends who have just held their first grandchild – visions of future and hope for this new life; like our young friends who married this past weekend and we danced the night away in celebration; like a drive across the country to start a new life; like the start of college and first grade; like new jobs and new friends; like the three-year-old who is fighting cancer with good spirits; like planning a pilgrimage of sorts to find healing and hope; like writing almost 100 missives to communicate love and gratitude for today as we all live out our todays. In each example, life becomes simpler, options fewer, and decisions easier. Today is part of God’s great plan for each of us. Don’t miss TODAY!

20A - Zone 4

August 5, 2009
While riding the train to the airport, I noticed him. His head was covered with his sweater and he looked like he had been sleeping there for some time. Unlike me, boarding pass in hand, I doubted he had a plane to catch. Maybe the train was home. I have read about people who will ride all day just to have a safe and cool place to sleep. It gets them through the day. I admit the gentle rocking of the rail line and the steady hum of the motor is soothing – and supporting public transportation, I like to think it is safe.

I keep thinking about the sweater-covered rider. It is a mental picture of me on many days - wanting to shut out the world, board a train with no destination, blocking the light of day. Thank God, I haven’t resorted to train sleeping. But maybe we all do in our own creative and struggling ways. Being homeless doesn't always look like the tired man on the train. Homeless can be all cleaned up with designer clothes on; homeless can be a state of wanderlust, riding trains to nowhere, not caring about the final destination. Homeless can be a state of busy-ness – filling up hours with meaningless activity. Homeless can be a heart that can't feel, cry, or connect. Homeless can be a choice in one’s state of mind. The choices are many –fill in the blank with victim, entitlement, denial, lethargy, pride, ego, and on and on. When you are homeless, you have been convinced by an unworthy source you have no where to go. As Dr. Feelgood reminds our family “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there”.

In trying to save some money, New York is offering one way tickets to homeless people who have a family member in another city who will take them in. They must have their destination confirmed before they will issue the ticket. It sounds like a compassionate plan, doesn’t it? I wonder how it will work when the person actually shows up on their welcome mat with a sweater over his head and a hungry stomach.

As Christians we have that family member, our father in heaven, who has given us a boarding pass to Heaven - because we trust in Him. He welcomes all of us just as we are with all of our baggage. It’s been His plan throughout time.

I am saddened to think some will ride the train of life daily until death and not have a ticket for a better destination when this life stops. Some think they can just stay on the train, ride as long as they can through life, print their own boarding pass with little thought to the train stopping.

And it will stop. As we approached the airport, the conductor announced that all passengers must get off the train at the end of the line. As I gathered my things, I looked through the crowd of people, hoping to get one more glimpse of my inspiration. He had gotten off somewhere along the way – gone from my view, but not my heart and somehow I knew he had his boarding pass. One day he won’t be homeless.

Win- Win

July 24, 2009

I have been at my desk, tending to work, missing nature and my garden. But I open the window and there it all is –order, blue sky, breeze in the air, birds singing, and the sweet smell of the hostas just starting to bloom. I had nothing to do with any of it and I am grateful.

A devotional this morning reminded me that God has gone to great measures to preserve our freedom of choice and that a spirit of thankfulness to Him in all circumstances is a way to know God personally. Job asked the question, “Can I be only grateful to God in the good things in my life?” If God is with us in our darkest moments – and I know He is – then is he not a God that goes before us on our good days? The breeze blowing in on my shoulder is an affirming “yes”.

Somehow when things are running along smoothly, with many good choices around us, we tend to take all the credit. We become confident in our contacts, our degrees, our reputation, our accomplishments, our possessions. We forget to thank God in the good times. We forget to spend time with him. Then when the tough times come, it is even harder to turn to God, much less be grateful that He is still by our side and we become angry and blame him for our misfortunes. Satan must really enjoy this scenario – ignore God when I am strong, blame God when I am weak – it’s a win/win for Satan because we have chosen self as our own little god. What would happen if we trusted and thanked God for our good days, and trusted and thanked God for our bad days? I think God is brilliant in giving us a choice. It’s a win/win for him. No matter what we do or where we live, we have a God who goes before us and as the book said “gone to great measures to preserve our freedom of choice”.

If we seek to develop a spirit of thankfulness, we put someone above ourselves. We step aside and let another guide us. We are humbled for the help or guidance we receive. We trust it and give thanks for it. We live it out. We are reminded that if it wasn’t for God, we would not be this created human being with an ability to choose.

When Job had it out with God, God allowed him to have his say and then fired a series of questions at Job that no one on earth could possibly answer. Questions like: Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you ever given orders for the morning? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or seen the gates of death? By the time God finishes questioning him, Job gives up and says he will be quiet. But God is not quite finished and continues this line of questioning. Finally Job understands his very small place in the world and confesses to God that he spoke of things to wonderful for him to know. Read Job 38-42 and you will be in tears, humbled by your smallness. You will look out your window and feel the breeze and marvel that you even have the privilege to live in the world of this creator.

How could we choose anything but to be thankful? How could we choose anything but to seek His face every day in all that we do, wherever we are, whatever task is before us?
When a special friend was heading off to college, I wrote and reminded her to think often of the verse in Isaiah 30:21 that says, “Whether you turn to the left or the right, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it”. And if we choose to follow God, it is the win/win of all time, all eternity.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Walking on Water

July 15, 2009

While listening to classical piano the other day, I was transported back to 13 years of piano lessons on Tuesday with Mrs. Leming in her antebellum home. For just a second I pretended it was me in one of the many dreaded recitals. Mrs. Leming (who adored me) always said I had great talent if I could just keep my head out of the clouds. I was always second from the last in the recital, meaning I was always second to Becky, the best pianist I have ever known. I am sure Becky went on to greatness – she could have been the one on the radio. What happened to me? Before I could wonder about that too much, my cell phone rescued me. Ironically it was a friend asking me if I would play the piano for a funeral of a man who had left the world with no family and few friends. She assured me I was qualified. I felt so convicted I said yes on the spot.

It was a simple service for the man I will call Bill. Bill’s employer and friend for many years organized a fitting tribute to his faithful employee and friend. He told of his dependability and his strong work ethic and his love of coaching children. But he surprised the audience with sharing something that even he had just discovered. While sorting through his belongings, the employer ran across some poetry that Bill had written. Looking further, he discovered that Bill had sent his poetry off and had paid a music company to put it to music. He played one of the songs for us – it was all about the places where one finds God. It was beautiful and touching. Bill had not written just one, but several lengthy poems that I am sure one day will become a book.

It was like an unopened gift that had been wrapped for too long. It was a present from Bill, opened at his memorial service, telling us about the many places we can discover God. Obviously, Bill had found God and knew him well. And I wondered what might have been for Bill, had he allowed his gift of poetry to be heard while he was living. And then I looked at my own hands and wondered the same thing.

Each of us has gifts and talents that are to be used. It’s called purpose. For a variety of reasons, many of them never get outside of our dreams, but are tucked somewhere in our self-consciousness, afraid to go the distance, afraid to work hard, afraid to commit, afraid to fail, even afraid to succeed. We get busy and distracted with life, wondering what our purpose really is, and allow the daily routine to take us to boredom and stagnation. In reading the book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat, the boat is defined as “whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself. Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy…it is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it keeps you from the high adventure of walking on water, being in God’s perfect will for your life.”

Yes, there is much risk. But there is also much reward. We will never know until we step out in faith, trusting that inner nudging planted in our soul that excites us and makes us feel alive – the peace that goes beyond understanding. I can tell you my piano offering that day was very simple but I felt alive. I was humbled, knowing that there was more in me somewhere, but the risk outweighed the reward and I stayed safely in my boat. But I think it must have been exhilarating for Bill as he listened to his poetry in song for the first time in public. This was his time and I had the privilege of watching him get out of his boat and walk on the water. What an honor. What an inspiration. What a message.

Thanks, Bill.


I have to fight the self-pity that sometimes sits on one shoulder, digging its claws in hard, waiting to grab me and ambush me. Knowing grief will always be with me, the way I fight this facet of it is to stay busy with productive activities– oh, not going to lunch, shopping, or the movie …but writing has become my weapon. It just seems to be the outlet God has provided to see me through and for which I am grateful. I have to believe that he gives each one of us many different ways to fight the bad in life. Even if I have nothing to say, or share it with no one except my hard drive, the words become therapy. Words come from an energy that says, “Fight the self-destruction and self-absorption. Fight the temptation to return to the same unanswerable questions.” As Megan said to us on the day we were bringing her home from the hospital, “It is done”. And so it is done. Now I am left with deciding what I will do with what is done. I make a daily choice. You do too.

The other day I witnessed birds literally fighting for their lives. I remember the scene. My friend and I heard the frantic chirping of several birds while we walked. Peering into the wooded area, there he was – old Self-Pity himself – a huge hawk, hardly noticeable sitting very still on a dead limb (appropriate I thought). He occasionally turned his head, watching intently, for the moment to strike. On both sides of him were robins, taking turns screaming and swooping down in front of him, obviously trying to keep him away from their nest. This went on for several minutes. We did not wait to witness the outcome. Either the hawk gave up and left the steadfast defense of the robins, or he was able to invade and destroy the life they were trying to protect.

It seems to go one way or the other. We don’t always get the choice of the outcome. One thing I do know is I will fight that which wants to destroy me. But like the hawk, it sometimes can be hard to recognize. What about you? Do you allow dead limbs with destruction to stay within your reach? Do you flirt with danger? Do you go around ignoring the dead branches that are diseased and threaten to break and destroy you? Everywhere we look there is destruction in families, relationships, and our world.

Birds instinctively do the right thing – over and over. Why don’t we? I think it is because we have this thing called human nature (self) and the power of reasoning that birds don’t have. We have all these reasons why we are weak and unable to fight back. We become the victim and all of a sudden it is not fair. So we blame others or God and eventually we give up in despair. We have no hope. It is self-destruction at its best. We do it to ourselves and we project it on to others. Often we pretend not to see it and then it creeps in– just like the hawk, barely moving, just waiting for the moment of vulnerability to attack. We ignore the important fact that we have been created in the image of God and that he has a plan for our lives. Not only our lives, but he charged us to look over his creation and to care for it. While I watch and am drawn to it, creation cares for me, teaching and offering sound principles for living – Godly principles. Amazing.

Let’s be robins. Do something to fight that which wants to destroy. I am speaking to myself, of course. Jesus said that in this world we could count on having trouble, but to know that He overcame the world. He also said to come to him when we are weary and tired and he would give us rest. (He did not say that he would take away the trouble and sometimes it can be very tiring). He said to look destruction in the face and that through his power he would ultimately destroy it once and for all. I am counting on those promises and trusting all of them.

The Chinese House of Pizza

Trusting God’s Word When the Menu is Unclear

Traveling a rural highway in South Carolina we drove past the sign. The building was uninspiring with no cars in the gravel parking lot. Dr. Feelgood and I laughed at the images the words created: pizza with bamboo shoots, wontons stuffed with mozzarella, sweet and sour anchovies. Nothing sounded appealing. I imagined it to be some kind of a marketing ploy – get the parents in for Chinese and offer pizza for the kids – a something for everyone kind of place. But I have such conflicted mental taste buds that I cannot appreciate the creativity of the proprietor. This was certainly not what I wanted for lunch. Even Duke’s Barbeque sounded more digestible than hot and sour pizza.

Funny how we have ideas about food combinations and it’s hard to adjust our mental palate. We balk at trying something that offers a new flavor experience. Like the road side vegetable stand that offered so many colors of heirloom tomatoes – beautiful to admire, but I do not want to eat a purple tomato. Tomatoes are red. And I like bacon with eggs, but Blair reminded me that when she studied in Costa Rica the daily breakfast was eggs with black beans and onions which she grew to appreciate.

Sometimes we are forced to look at things in new ways. In June 2007 (two years ago this week) we were looking at illness in frighteningly new ways. We were coming to the realization that Megan was seriously ill. She had been tested for everything imaginable and was diagnosed with the worst of the un-imaginable – Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a terminal disease that is extremely rare and affects mostly older people. Even her doctor tried desperately to make some treatable diagnosis “fit” her symptoms. Nothing made sense. We looked with unbelieving heads and hearts at what had been put before us. It was an awful combination with the bitter taste of death. Stunned with disbelief we brought her home to wait for a miracle.

The words in scripture held me together. I believed God would cure Megan. I trusted his timing as I claimed his promises. I could wait. Others prayed and together we waited, watched, prayed, and pleaded. And somewhere in the waiting the focus shifted from what I wanted to what God wanted. I don’t know where or how that mysteriously occurred. God did it with grace and love while I kicked and screamed. Specific passages such as Psalm 91 gave me the hope that God would for sure; provide his angels to protect Megan, that she would be sheltered from the storm under God’s feathers. I thought that meant she would get well. Then she died and the same verses transformed in meaning. God did raise Megan up on angel’s wings and take the pestilence from her. He allowed her to watch him destroy the disease as he rescued her.
I am disappointed that God did not give Megan a longer life - for me. But learning to align with God’s will has provided a new level of trust. I did receive His will as I gave up. Every night while Megan was waiting for God to rescue her we prayed “Thy will be done”. Did we mean what we said? Did we trust the meaning? If so, there is freedom in this life and scripture helps us to understand. But some days the words can be as perplexing as the Chinese House of Pizza. They might not make sense and trust is the only thing to do – especially when you are hungry.

Maybe we should have at least looked at the menu.

Trail of Tears

May 11, 2009

I t is good to be home and return to routine. On my morning walk, I found myself quickly letting the pent up tears spill, revisiting in my mind much of the last two years, struggling with so much and wondering what to do with all of it. I have been in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains attending a writer’s conference. It was upbeat, informative, challenging and encouraging.

As I met new people, the routine follow-up question was asked, “What do you write?” I experimented with safe answers such as “I write non-fiction –the daily life kind of stuff – gardening, relationships, personal struggle”. Or “I write memoir”. That sounded vague enough to avoid telling my painful story. Or, if I was really feeling honest and safe, I said, “I have written a personal journal about the death of my daughter.” For the most part, I kept the tears in check. I tried to act professional. I even had business cards printed and exchanged them with other writers. It all felt so grown-up – like I knew what I was doing. Maybe I would write a book, but first I had to be able to talk about it without crying. Agents and publishers don’t keep tissues on their desks like grief counselors. It is a true story that I still find hard to believe– a story in which I still do not want to be the narrator.

The drive to Asheville is pretty spectacular. Once you get out of Atlanta, you head north to the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Then as you wind further north, there you are in the midst of misty green. As I returned home through those magnificent mountains with foggy thoughts of my own mountains to climb as a writer, I thought of the Cherokee nation, forced against their will to leave the land they loved and to traverse through famine and hardship to some unknown territory. The journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears" or, as a direct translation from Cherokee, "The Trail Where They Cried” In one of the saddest episodes of our country’s history where over 4000 people died, lives were torn apart, displaced and left to their tears on a trail to uncertainty. (This is me, I thought.) There is a legend that says an Indian chief prayed for comfort for the grieving mothers who were losing their children to death and starvation. Following his prayer, a white rose began to spring up every time a tear fell to the earth and supposedly to this day the Cherokee Rose, my very own Georgia state flower, still blooms along the Trail of Tears - life and beauty rising out of pain and sorrow.

Each of us has our own trail of tears. If you tell me you do not, I will not believe you. All who are in touch with life have been displaced by something– emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually. We have been forced to travel a trail of uncertainty. And the legend rings true - when tears are spilled and prayers are offered, something good happens in the midst of sorrow. I love this folklore image of tears bringing forth a flower on the road of sadness. How can good come from such pain, we continue to ask and ask. One thing I learned at the writers’ conference was that everyone has a story to tell. Some are true and some are imagined. But all good stories should offer some kind of reconciliation to the reader. Name the problem and then offer a solution. Change the reader.

The Cherokee tribe did not get to the Oklahoma territory overnight. There was no express route dotted with five star hotels and Starbucks, but they had a chief who sought a higher source for help. And following the little signs of life along the way that bloomed encouragement, they stuck with their journey, learned new ways to live, and told their story to their children with memories of life past and hope for the new territory to come. I’ll be looking for those signs of life.

Good Grief!

May 11, 2009

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove!”

A budding artist gave me a set of handmade notecards with this quote written on them along with the stamp of a dove, wings soaring. I looked up the quote in Psalms (55:6). The Psalmist is having such trials that he laments that he would love to escape, fly away, and be at rest. We know it’s merely a rhetorical comment. We don’t have wings and we cannot fly. But wouldn’t it be nice some days to escape from our worldly woes. We run from the daily things that make us crazy. We put off and worry and wonder. We busy ourselves with the unnecessary to keep from doing the important. If only, we say, we could just fly away! It is something Dr. Feelgood and I do often, “fly away” to the golf course to escape, to grieve quietly as we play a round of golf, work on our swing, watch the wildlife, admire the beauty around us, and visit with fellow golfers. It’s good grief – beneficial, the counselor says. It will help us in remembering who we are as individuals and as a family. Several weeks ago, when we witnessed the five white doves flapping their wings over us, I knew then it was a good place for us to heal. It was sort of a sign from Heaven that all will be well, that we can rest, that we will be able to somehow live without a daily live dose of Megan.

And so on Mother’s Day, I was surprised that the day did not bring tears or sadness. Many days do, but Sunday was a good day – no, it was a great day. I somehow felt a shield of protection around me, holding me together, strong and sure-footed. After church, I got to choose what we would do as a family. So I took full advantage of getting my way and decided that what I wanted was for the four of us to go to the escape place together - the golf course. I packed sandwiches and secretly hoped that the four of us would have another visit from the five white doves.

I did not think too much about my golf, but swung away, watching for wildlife, enjoying Blair beside of me, helping me to check my yardage and tell me the pin placement. I think we both learned a lot! And Owen and Mike did what guys do – walk along the rough, dodging snakes while looking for lost balls. Well, it’s important where we play – they retrieve all the ones I lose! But this day was different - I did not lose balls. That steady and strong feeling went with me around the course, making a par here and there, and never having the dreaded blow-up hole that occurs way too frequently. And when we finished the round, I surprised myself and everyone with me with a record low score.

I wrote back in the winter that grief was like snow-skiing. And now I find similarities to golf as well. One day I am strong and confident. One day I am weak and disabled and just want to “fly away” and hide. One day I make very few mistakes. One day I make nothing but mistakes. And I am realistic enough to know I will return to triple digits on the golf course, just like I know the grief-ometer will go sky high some days. But to have a low score for my grief as well as my golf on Mother’s Day? Well, that is definitely some good grief!
I love it that the end of the Psalm reads in verse 22, “Cast all your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” We all have cares, we all want to fly away like the dove, but we have a promise that we will be sustained –no matter what our circumstances, held by the power of Almighty God. The Psalmist, after listing all of his troubles, ends the chapter by saying to God, “But as for me, I trust in you.” It is what gives us rest when we can’t fly away.

Know Who You Are

May 4, 2009

The lessons from bird-watching just keep being offered up outside. Yesterday, at least ten cardinals swooped in front of me on the golf course. This morning as I left the neighborhood to work on a “Megan-inspired project” yet another bright red cardinal gave me his stamp of approval for my day. These are just little signs along the way of grief, giving a bit of encouragement and hope. Maybe it is because these days I get up actively looking for it –looking for ways to make the day brighter, fight the loss, find the good. And consistently and without fail, God provides beauty and humor and lessons through his gifts in Nature in our world.

Larry, Curly, and Moe – the baby robins outside, are growing up and the nest is getting crowded. In the five minutes or so that I watched them today through the window, I see that there are in fact, four, so I will call the new one Extra! They have something that looks like pre-feathers and their bodies are now in more proportion to their beaks. The mother has her work cut out for her. While she teeters on the edge of the nest, nudging one to get up, she is holding another one down with her foot, then she moves around the nest, trying to coordinate and balance her big family. She leaves to get food and the brave one hops up in her place and prances around the rim of the nest, just to fall back on top of the others when he sees her returning. In many ways, they are a lot like puppies – or children. Some are calm, some are busy, some are risk takers, and some are late bloomers.

But tragedy has struck again. My young neighbor found an injured adult Robin between our properties. I wanted to be as upset as he was, but my adultness kept those worries concealed. I diverted his attention to the four baby robins and I assured him that there were two parents and if one was not to return to the nest, then the other one would take the responsibility of getting them airborn. Then I showed him the wren’s nest and we listened to the squeaking of yet a third nest of fledglings in a birdhouse. He went to his home assured (I hope) that all birds were safe. I went inside and cried for the loss.

As my eyes kept wandering outside during dinner, Dr. Feelgood said I was getting a little overboard on the bird thing, but I could not help feeling sad for the bird that I know now did not survive. But the good news is that the other Robin shows little signs of grief, but continues to feed and care for the four in the nest. When he first returned he seemed a little lost and agitated being left alone to carry on the task of parenting. I guess when you are a bird, there is no choice but to instinctively do the right thing. We humans, blessed with higher cognitive abilities have the power of reasoning and are influenced by outside forces that tell us to give up, get depressed, run away, shirk our duty. We are encouraged to turn inward with sympathizers. We are reminded that life is not fair. I heard a friend speak the other day about integrity. He said, “If you know who you are, then you will know what to do”. He said that when we know who we are then we can live the lives for which we have been created. He said we could carry on in the midst of life’s tragedies and uncertainties. I wonder if he is a bird-watcher. Birds obviously know who they are, for they continue, regardless of their circumstances, to live out their lives, doing what they have been created to do – again and again. That’s encouragement.

Good Deeds

April 27, 2009

I am looking out my window at a robin’s nest in a hawthorn tree where all is busy. We have babies! Not one, but three little gray fledglings with huge daffodil-colored beaks. I have named them Larry, Curly, and Moe! As I peer at the nursery through my binoculars from the kitchen, one keeps flopping over, but the other two are strong. I am trying to be a good neighbor and limit my outside gardening to give them space during this crucial time. This time last year I remember a whole nest being destroyed before hatching and I am imagining this could be the same robin, recovered and starting over. She seems to know me. We “talk” and share some serious eye contact.
And I also remember today that it was this time two years ago that our Megan was “taken from her nest” and put on medical leave from her job as a teacher. When the doctor asked her to write her name and address on his tablet, she smiled and took his pen, but was unable to make a mark on the paper. He asked her how she was managing to do her job and she replied, “I have lots of people who help me.” She never returned to the job she loved. She never was able to deliver her notorious little gifts she liked to give her colleagues for all the good deeds that were done to help her at a most difficult time.

Whether it is doing a good deed for a robin by staying out of their way or a friend who is in trouble, good deeds make us feel better about life. But I heard a story the other day that made me give a little more thought to the subject. A man who was making a neighborly effort to clean up an unsightly park was given a court citation for having some mulch delivered to the property. It was a perfect example for the phrase he quoted “no good deed goes unpunished”. You know how that works – you let someone get in front of you at the traffic light, and then the light changes and you are the one who has to wait – again - for it to change. Or, I read about a boat owner suing someone for using his boat without permission to rescue victims in distress during a hurricane. You you’re your own examples, but I thought to myself, “What a discouraging way to live”. Isn’t there more to life than looking for ways to punish others for doing good deeds? I hope so. And I hope I am never accused of punishing a good deed.

I know that even if good is sometimes punished, good will always prevail, just like light always overcomes the darkness – even though some times can get pretty dark. We all know that good deeds are remembered and honored much more than they are punished even though we like to twist our language to create clever comments. Maybe for my purposes today, the phrase could be restated “No good deed is ever forgotten”. And I have lots of those examples. To name a few, I have not forgotten those school colleagues who cared so lovingly for Megan. I have not forgotten the art students who compiled a beautiful keepsake book for our family. I have not forgotten the prayer warriors who met weekly for 15 months. I have not forgotten the thousands of daffodils that were planted in Megan’s memory. I have not forgotten the “Megan’s Closet Coat Drive” that will continue to serve children. I have not forgotten my neighbors who stood close, along with doctors, friends, and pastors. I have not forgotten Megan’s friends who continue to stay close and share their lives with us. I have not forgotten the many letters I still read. I have not forgotten that at her ten year high school reunion, her classmates remembered her. I have not forgotten two strong children and the ever present Dr. Feelgood. I will never forget.

Good deeds are good. Good deeds are remembered. Good deeds inspire us to look at life with fresh eyes, fresh hearts, and fresh understanding. 1 John 3:18 says “Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth”. I’m wondering….have you done your good deed for today? Take a risk on being punished.