Monday, December 13, 2010

Making Fruitcake

Yesterday was the perfect Christmas Sunday. After attending early morning church we joined our daughter and watched the snow flurry outside the restaurant windows. Feeling festive, we returned home to build a fire, watch football, and ... make fruitcake. I know - go ahead and laugh. Everyone loves to share their fruitcake jokes. People make fun of us brave souls who proclaim that fruitcake holds a fond place in our heart each Christmas. We don't mind.
My mother made a dark fruitcake and steamed it in a pressure cooker. She then wrapped and stored them in a cool place until time for giving or serving. Delicious. I never quite figured out the use of a pressure cooker, so I have moved on from that recipe. But my Aunt Bea has been making a lighter version of fruitcake that has become popular with my family. It's full of cherries and fresh pecans and has a light lemon texture. I gave it to our minister one year and he liked it so much he recommended that the congregation be more open-minded about fruitcake....among many other things that we close our minds and hearts to in this life.
Making Fruitcake is labor intensive, especially the final part where you combine all of the ingredients. Sometimes I talk myself out of the effort. But this year I was pleased and a little taken aback when my husband said, "I want to help you make the fruitcake." I knew there was no getting out of it. And so as I creamed the butter and sugar, Mike chopped. When it came time to fold the egg whites into the fruit mixture - it was nice to have my man in the kitchen! I held the bowl and he folded the whites and fruit to a beautiful mixture. We had just enough for two loaf pans and two mini-loaves.
When the cakes were done, I popped those mini-fruitcakes right out of the pans to cool. Perfection. I popped one of the large ones out to cool. Perfection again - and proud. But the third fruitcake did not want to release. We put it back in the oven for a few minutes, and trying again, the fruitcake split down the middle and fell out of the pan in three pieces. Now, I have had that happen before and if you are quick enough, you can stick a fruitcake back together and no one ever knows - hehe! But yesterday I was not so lucky. I just happened to be standing beside of the sink, and as the cake erupted from the pan, one-third of it fell to its death and drowned in a sink of soapy water. No fixing! All those beautiful cherries and fresh pecans down the drain!
I have heard of people throwing out their fruitcake disasters and starting over - working until they have perfected the process. I was just about to do the same when my assistant watching the disaster, stepped up, burst out laughing, grabbed the remains and said, "Not to worry, we will still enjoy what we have left."
At the moment of crises in a kitchen, laughter is good medicine. You've worked hard, bought expensive ingredients and followed the recipe. You did everything right and you are disappointed when things fall apart. Sometimes, there is no fixing it. Sometimes, you simply have to be content and enjoy what you have salvaged from the disaster.
This Christmas, are you enjoying what you have? Is there laughter and a spirit of love in your home? Is there an aroma of fresh generosity and a spirit of hope? Making a fruitcake is one way to find out.
Aunt Bea's Fruitcake
Divide: 6 eggs, beating the whites until stiff and set aside
Cream: 1 lb. butter
2 cups sugar
6 egg yolks from above, added one at a time
Combine: 1 lb. raisins
1 cup candied pineaple
1 1/2 cups red cherries
1 1/2 cups green cherries
1 cup coconut
1 lb. pecans
4 cups four (1/2 cup of this mixed with fruit)
Add: fruit and flour to creamed mixture
Add: 1 2-oz. bottle lemon extract
1 tsp. grated fresh lemon rind
Fold: egg whites into fruit mixture
Bake: 1 large tube pan - 3 hours at 275 degrees.
2 loaf pans - 2 hours 30 minutes at 275.
(if using loaf pans, you will have enough for two mini-loaves which will bake in
just under hour - when top is light brown and tester comes out clean)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December Deception

Two days ago, I worked at the computer, fine tuning talks I will deliver during December and January. All day long I looked out at the rain and the wind blowing against my window. All day long I felt cold and shivery. But it is okay because it is December. Christmas is around the corner. A little snow mixed in with the rain would be just fine with me. Tis the season, right? But when I opened the door I was shocked to feel the warm air. It's wasn't cold outside. It was warm - like spring. In fact, I looked around in the garden and saw daffodils sticking their heads out of the ground. What is going on? Will winter ever really arrive? Have I missed out on my very favorite season?
This morning, looking outside from my same view, the sun is peeking through the trees and it looks warm. But I am not deceived! I have opened the door, stepped outside and it is bitterly cold. The ferns have crispy frozen fingers and the birds are quick to gather their breakfast and take cover.
Oftentimes things aren't always as they seem. We sit in our climate controlled homes and look through a window, thinking we can tell what is going on outside. We don't bother to go out and read the thermometer or spend some time in the elements. We just think we know the temperature because it just simply looks cold from our perspective. We are quick to judge. We shudder and turn away. And we stay behind our glassed-in walls.
Don't we do that to each other in our relationships? We observe from a distance and assume that this or that is the case. We form our own opinions and we keep the glass between us so we don't have to take action. We say, "OH, I am not going around her - or him. She's in a bad mood or he's irritable or she's not even nice. I can tell by the look on her face." And before we even give the person a chance - step into their world - we walk away from what could be an enjoyable encounter - all because we thought our own thoughts were correct. No matter that the person was thinking seriously about a project. No matter that the person was a million miles from the present and needed time to reenter and put on her "happy" face, her approachable face.
This Christmas, don't be deceived. The longing that each of us feel in our hearts is a longing for relationship. The Christmas encounters we engage in can be meaningful or Scrooge-like. It is our choice. We can quickly make up our mind that others are indifferent and really don't have time for us, so we beat them to the punch by deciding for ourselves how it will be - protecting our own egos. And most times we are wrong. We become the losers. We close ourselves away behind the glass walls and focus on ourselves, our fears, our insecurities. We have lost out on what we long for - a relationship. When relationship is nurtured, it can change our perspective; it can become an hour of great conversation, an afternoon together, a trusting friendship, and
Love comes at Christmas. It is what Jesus teaches us. Someone said the other day that the song most requested by adults is "Jesus Loves Me, This I know." And we think it is a song for only children. Love comes as a baby - fragile, new, needing care and attention. Love reaches out. Love grows up and takes on responsibilities. Love demostrates the ultimate, taking on pain and suffering. Love dies and rises to new life so that we might love and live too - forever. Love says, "Joy to the World, The Lord is Come!" And Heaven and Nature sing. No deception. No false assumptions. No glass walls. Just love.

Monday, November 8, 2010

On Being Sedulous

I filled the bird feeders today. Not surprisingly, my feathered friends have not yet discovered them, but I know they will return. I take the feeders down in the summer and insist that they sedulously pursue their own food, reminding them that they are, in fact, birds - not garden guests showing up for tasty tapas throughout the day. They must work for their livelihood through the summer, I tell them. And when the temperature drops enough to build the first fire in the fireplace, I surprise them with their fresh, winter course of seeds. Then I watch and wait for their return. I find myself looking out the window, hoping to catch the first glimpse of those who have been great friends in the past, expecting their return and looking forward to their company again.
Yesterday was a great example of that. My church remembered all those people who have gone on to Heaven this past year. Their names were read aloud and a candle was lit in their memory. We sang For All The Saints and remembered those who had lived a Godly life, proclaimed their faith and lived it daily. I shared a moment of friendship with a couple whose young son was on the list this year and I thought back two years when my own child's name was called out. Every year, there will be a list. Every year people will leave us - some young, some old, some tragically, some mercifully. Every year we will stand in remembrance and work our way to the final verse of that hymn that proclaims a glorious day when all the saints shall rise and together we will all see the King of Glory. I fully expect this one day.
In celebration of All Saint's Day, I was honored to be invited to sign copies of When God Comes Near. As the people came with books in their hands, my heart silently prayed for the one who would soon be reading my story. As I talked to each person briefly, I learned that some were going to be mailed to parents, some were going to friends or children, some were for personal healing and hope. Each person trusted that the words written in When God Comes Near will encourage and lighten someone's heavy load. I pray for that to happen with every book that sells.
And more and more I wonder how it is we can carry those heavy loads. I think it must have something to do with bird watching! Did not Job say "Just ask the birds of the air and they will teach you"? I know I will see them at the feeder soon. But in the meantime, I must make preparations. I must wash that feeder, hang it securely, and fill it up with desirable food. I, like the birds, must be sedulous in the feeding of my own soul with reminders of God's love for me and others. I must be diligent through the ease of sunny days so that when the winter winds come, I will have the skills in place to survive. And God is a faithful "soul feeder" with an endless supply of love. I can always find Him ready and willing to feed me - winter, spring, summer, or fall. But why does God do that? We move through these seasons of nature and life and maybe even at times wonder "Moving to what? Moving where? And what am I doing to get wherever it is I am going? And does it even matter?" Why does God sustain me? Isn't it for that "day when all the saints shall rise and together we will all see the King of Glory?" And I thought it was all about me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Smoky Mountain Season

The drive from Kentucky to Georgia offers several routes. One is mostly interstate, cities, trucks and traffic. One is a scenic four-lane highway through rolling countryside. And if you are not in a hurry, one is through the majestic Smoky Mountains, touristy, and worth the congestion. That is the route we took returning to Atlanta. We counted as two of the 9,000,000 people who visit the park every year who: picnic beside the rolling, chilly streams; hike on trails padded by pine needles and flanked by woodland ferns; and gaze at smoky vistas that take your breath away. No wonder it is one of the most visited parks in the country.
In 1900, nearly 70 percent of the current park had been devastated by the logging industry. Seeing that a beautiful part of our country was about to be destroyed, great efforts were made by individuals to buy and preserve the land and in 1920, the government started making efforts to buy up the land. In 1934 Congress established the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and now almost 100 years later, the park encompasses over 500,000 acres of land - always in transition, always under the watchful eye of forest rangers and environmentalists, and always returning with new growth, new splendor, new life.
We stopped only long enough to get a sandwich for our picnic before heading into the park to find a roadside stop. Everyone else had the same idea, so we backed our car in, put down the tailgate and sat, munching on our lunch, admiring the view. I offered to take a picture for the people next to us. They were locals and I asked them about the huge volume of dead evergreen trees in the forest. They explained that a little bug had infested the Firs and Balsams and was destroying the forest. They said they would probably all be gone in the next 10 years. I wanted to cry.
As we drove out of the Smokies, I cherished those tall remaining trees, standing majestic among their fallen neighbors. I could not help but wonder what was being done to save them. I have learned that since the discovery in 1963 of the trouble maker insect - the balsam woolly adelgid - studies are ongoing to monitor and preserve the forest. Researchers are discovering that some of the firs are resisting the trouble-maker and saplings are re-appearing. Lush ferns are replenishing barren soil where the trees formerly prevented light. New life is appearing.
I remembered an earlier trip to Wyoming after some devastating forest fires and one scene comes back vividly. The forest beside of us was burned black. But if you looked closely, you could see a moose with her calf among the tree trunks. They were feeding on lush green growth at the base. Around them were vibrant wild flowers. New life and growth was bursting forth.
Our lives are very much like a forest. In a perfect world, we would have just the right amount of rain and sunshine and something like a balsam wooly adelgid would not exist. We would co-exist with others in a friendly environment where we complemented and nurtured those around us. Nothing would fight against us or seek to destroy. Our lives would be lush and productive. We would all live like The Three Bears in the forest, happily ever after.
Oh, how I wish it were so. Oh, how I wish there were remedies for deadly insects, deadly diseases, forest fires, and disasters of every kind. Today's falling leaves remind me that it is all for just a season. New growth will occur. One day disease and death will be no longer. We must wait. And while we wait, we can live in the hope of it happening. This is just a season.
My friend gave me a pie plate that quotes Ecclesiastes, " To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." She lives daily with Multiple Sclerosis, waiting in the hope of a disease-free world. I wait with her. This is just a season.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Homecoming

I mentally envision it being something like the old-fashioned Homecoming that I would attend with my family in Kentucky. The date would be set and everyone was invited who had moved away. It would be a day to return to rekindle special friendships, share a meal, sing some songs, and remember those who had gone on to Heaven. Children would be more grown-up. Newly weds would have babies. Some would look older. Some never changed. My father especially loved the fact that the best dishes from every home would arrive for the noonday meal. One year was special - my parent's church celebrated their 100-year anniversary. My mother made herself a long, turn-of-the-century dress with a hat to match. She labored over pictures and displays with other women of the church so that all who returned to celebrate could look at their lives with a fresh glimpse of the past. They would be glad that they had attended.
This Sunday, I will return to the church in Atlanta where Mike and our family attended for 20+ years. It is not "Homecoming" at the church - I guess those have gone out of style. There won't be picture albums or my mother's lemon meringue pies ( I wish!), but it will be a homecoming for me. I will walk into the beautiful sanctuary where my three children were baptized. I will admire the beautiful crystal chandelier and the serene white of the entire sacred place. I will see people I know and love. It will be like home. And I will share with those who attend the beautiful story of Megan, our oldest daughter who is one who has already "gone home."
I find it so appropriate to be invited to return to the church that taught her so well. Through Sunday School and mission trips, youth group and worship, Megan fell in love with Jesus at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church. Who could not fall in love as Miss Connie, an elderly, beloved Sunday School teacher would greet every child on Sunday by taking their hand and holding each finger spell out L-O-V-E- love? Who could keep from loving the antics of those crazy youth group directors? And who could not feel loved by the many who came alongside my child to encourage her to grow in God's love?
It is out of gratitude for all that was done for my children and our family that I return to speak this Sunday. Oh, it might be a little emotional for me to walk through the doors again - remember all the special times we shared as a family of five. Maybe it will be a closeness I feel - of knowing that those who have gone home are waiting for us to come to them. I don't know, but I would like to invite you to be there with us as we launch the book, When God Comes Near.
Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church
2715 Peachtree Road in Buckhead at the corner of Peachtree and Wesley
4:30 p.m. in the Sanctuary
This event is open to the community, so please come and invite a friend to join you!
When God Comes Near will be available for purchase ($16 per copy). Marcia will speak, read excerpts from her book, and answer audience questions in the Second-Ponce Sanctuary starting at 4:30 p.m., followed by a book signing and reception in the Fellowship Hall.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The book arrived last week. I can hold it. I can turn the pages. I can look on Amazon and see it advertised. It is all very solemn. I look at my name on the cover and wonder about the author. I admire the beautiful jacket cover. No, the figure is not Megan or me. The path is not Megan's Path. But it is symbolic of a path we all must walk one day - a path that is long and just wide enough for one, maybe two.
When God Comes Near - Waiting in the Miracle of His Presence is the name that took hold and stayed the course of the writing. It is a name put together from thoughts of friends, ideas from books, and personal reflections of the journey. It is what we did - we waited and waited on God. He came near, stayed with us, said "no" to our pleading for Megan's miracle of healing, gently loving us through her untimely death. That "no" is not easily accepted. That "no" is still painful. That "no" has to be dealt with every day in our minds and hearts.
Had I stayed with the "no" of God's answer, there would be no When God Comes Near because I would never have seen the life He offered me as he allowed Megan to come to Him. I guess now I can say God intended for me to write about it. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I could have stayed with my grief, consoling myself, angry, miserable, and unable to see any of the light that was always shining through my pain. That would have been me saying "no" to God. Had I stayed with the "no" there could be no transformation of suffering into honey. There could be no movement through grief, experiencing the stages, stumbling, moving, backsliding, crawling on through.
As I write in the Acknowledgements, it takes more than one person to write a book. I could put so many names above mine. As I look back, every time I was about to give up on the project, someone would come forward, take it out of my hands, offer their contribution, and hand it back to me, pulling me up from the "sea of despair." I now look at the finished product and marvel at what great people surround me! I am the luckiest woman in the world. I am grateful and blessed.
And now, you can purchase this book that you lived. Although, many of you have read my journal entries, I think as you read the 12 chapters, you will read an important story told from start to finish. It takes on new dimension in story form. It is for sale on Amazon for $19.99. You can order it from me for $16.00 plus tax and shipping. The easiest way to do that is to email me at and we will do business. I won't be working until next Tuesday, so give me a few days to process orders. Just be sure to provide the name of the person who will be receiving it. The book is also for sale at the Dogwood Shop at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Signed copies are available for $19.99 and a percentage of that sale will go to outreach ministries.
My website ( designer read the book and said, "You took me to your darkest places and brought me through victoriously."
I never wanted to go to those dark places. That we could be brought through victoriously is a miracle. I am living proof
I hope you will read it and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tribute To Megan

The following was sent to me yesterday. It was Megan's birthday and this was written three years ago by an 18-year-old friend of Megan. With her permission, I share with you:

"There is a person who has been a part of my life since I was born. Her name is Megan. Megan is 26 years old and has been my neighbor, my babysitter and my friend all of my life. I have been thinking a lot about Megan lately, despite the hectic pace of my life as I begin my senior year in high school. As I run during Cross Country practice each day, as I make college visits, start college applications, do my homework – whatever I am doing, often, my thoughts are on Megan.

Megan has recently been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Last Spring, while Megan was at our house, she told us that she had been unusually forgetful lately. She had recently been involved in two minor traffic accidents and, as she left our house that day, realized that she had locked her keys in her car. Since I have known Megan, she has always had an amazing work ethic. At that time, she was teaching elementary school full time, working on Saturdays in a book store and was house sitting and babysitting many evenings and weekends. Like her family doctor, we all thought she was doing too much and needed to take a vacation. As her symptoms progressed, Megan was tested for brain tumors, Multiple Sclerosis and other diseases. Everytime we got word that the tests were negative, we breathed a sigh of relief. We did not know that we would look back and wish those tests had been positive because, in most cases, there is some kind of treatment for those conditions. There is no treatment for CJD. The website says it plainly: “The disease in invariably fatal.” The typical time from onset until death is twelve months.

It is hard to face the fact that Megan may not be here on this earth when I graduate next Spring. Or she may be gone when I enter college. I have always thought the word “heartbreaking” is a melodramatic, outdated, useless word. I don’t feel that way anymore.

Sometimes when I think about Megan, I realize how lucky I am to be alive and healthy – something I never thought about before. Especially during this year of my life when my friends and I are all focusing on the next step in our futures, we never consider that the next years could be taken from us. We never stop to think that we won’t graduate, go to college, graduate again and go on. As busy as we all are getting ready for the future, who has time to enjoy a single day, an hour, a moment?

Other times, I think about all of the prayers I have said for Megan, all of the ones I continue to say. I have asked God for Megan’s full and complete recovery. From what I have learned about CJD, “invariably fatal” means that my prayers will not be answered. There is no one I know that deserves to live more than Megan. She is young, kind, intelligent, compassionate. She doesn’t drive fast, drink, take drugs – she teaches little kids in a low income school and asks us and all of her friends for donations of used clothes, books, computers for her students and their families. Why can’t our prayers for her be answered?

My family has spent some time these last months remembering all of the fun we have had with Megan over the years. When my sister and I were little, Megan would get every blanket and sheet out of the linen closet and build forts for us in our basement, despite my mom’s grumbling about the mess. She would create board games for us on poster boards, bake cakes with us, watch movies and play make believe with us. My parents would always call Megan on their way home when Megan was babysitting because Megan never got us to go to sleep when she was with us. My parents wanted a break from putting us to bed when Megan babysat but they never got one because we were having too much fun to go to bed.

As I grew older, Megan would come and stay with me whenever my parents went out of town. We would still bake cakes and watch movies, we would do something creative like paint pottery or bead jewelry. While we were together, we talked. Megan is a great person to get advice from. She really listens and she relates to what I am going through. She is not the person to take things too seriously or too lightly. Through the years, she has shown me that everyone has problems at times and most of them work themselves out if you do your best to be a good person. Megan told my sister and me about the times she embarrassed herself, the times her friends seem to turn against her, the times her sister and brother were annoying her, the times her parents didn’t have a clue about her life. All of those experiences had a very familiar ring to them.

I’m not sure I can identify all of the things I have learned from Megan. I think I will probably be discovering ways she has affected me for the rest of my life. There is no question that the diagnosis of her CJD has changed me. I will pause now and then during this busy year and be grateful that I am alive as I pray again for Megan. Problems that come up this year will be put in a different perspective. I will do my best to be a good person and try to be patient as problems work themselves out or fade in importance. As I continue through life, I will try to be creative and helpful like Megan has been throughout her life. I will try to be an example to a younger person as Megan has been – and will be my whole life – to me.

The last time I saw Megan, she hugged me and gave me a huge smile. She couldn’t remember many words so she didn’t say much, but I showed her pictures from my week at a Young Life camp in Colorado. She smiled and nodded her head and listened to me, as she has all of my life. I hope I showed her how much she means to me. I hope she knows."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Post Office Peace

Yesterday I went to the post office to mail something that would require several steps and a little time. I went mid-morning, thinking maybe the line would not be so bad. There were just six (!) in front of me and it seemed to be moving along. In front of me was an adorable three-year-old and we became fast friends. Her name was Olivia. She asked me my name and when I told her, she then asked why. That stumped me. She found a mailing adhesive strip on the floor and stuck and unstuck it to all the cabinets. Then she made a bracelet out of it. She gave a piece to me and I made a ring. We laughed at each other and before we knew it, she was leaving and it was my turn at the counter.

There was only one man working at the four-station counter and he could not have been nicer, faster, or more patient. His attention to detail and pleasant demeanor focused on me and seemed to not see the line forming behind me, the feet shifting, eyes rolling, and the body language that was screaming, "Hurry up!" Step by step, we finished. As I turned to leave and saw the 10-12 people waiting, I simply said to them in general, "I am sorry I took so long" and walked out. One man glared angrily at me and shook his head. I later saw him in the grocery and he avoided my line, barging in front of another next to me. There was no way he was going to be delayed twice in one day - by the same woman.

Anger. It spills out in places we don't expect. It transfers to situations that have nothing to do with the source. It even hides and waits to be resurrected. Sometimes it stays buried for years, only to fester and erupt at the wrong time and place. I was reading the verse in Acts that says, "I strive to keep my conscience clear." Thinking on those words, and asking God to show me what I needed to confess, He quickly reminded me that I had my own anger buried down deep in the bottom of my heart over the loss of my daughter - almost two years ago.

I was surprised. Caught off guard a bit. And so in my defense, I reminded God of what I had tried to do for Him through her illness. I had tried to be obedient. I read scripture. I had claimed God's promises. I had shared the story with the world. But as I defended my case, the truth came bubbling up and I began to see the real truth - that down in my heart, I held anger and resentment at God for not healing her. I felt great loss and despair of a frightening nature. I stopped in my tracks and confessed out loud to God, "I see it now. You are right - forgive me."

Then God said to me, "Through your obedience, your wrote truth. You shared what a life of faith looks like when you are blinded by despair. I, alone, kept you from acknowledging your own anger at me because it would have stopped you from writing. It would have sent you running into a cave. You are a such a little human, but I love you. The life Megan lived, she lived for me, not you, and I wanted this story told for my purposes. But you have to get rid of the anger or you will never have peace about it."

Peace is something we all desire, whether standing in a post office line, or the grocery story, or in the deepest part of our heart. We long for it - or at least we want to "just give it a chance" as John Lennon sang. We pray for it. We sing, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." But how do we find it? We ask for clarification from God above. We brace ourselves and ask Him to reveal whatever it is in our conscience that we are afraid to admit. But watch out. When He reveals it, we must obey or we will wrestle with it and our anger will show in all the wrong places.

I want to be like little Olivia - just three years old and content to take what had been thrown on the floor and make something out of it. Peace. She was content to wait in line for something too complicated for her. Peace. She trusted her caregiver. Peace. She looked around and smiled at the world, waiting and trusting as the day unfolded. Peace. Isaiah 11:6 says "A little child shall lead them."

Thank you, Olivia.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book - Soon to be a Reality

I looked out the window to see lots of butterflies - monarchs and swallowtails everywhere, floating in the air and hanging upside down on the flowers. I think they gather in the late afternoon for their daily round-up of nectar - like we meet each other after work for a cup of coffee. In trying to give a name to this gathering of butterflies, I am told it is a "flutter" of butterflies. My first thought was that it is a "festival of friends" or a "choir" or a "company" of dancing butterflies. But flutter works. It means to wave or flap randomly - irregularly. Like the heartbeat of someone newly in love. Jittery, a little nervous, and pretty exciting.
It is not unlike my own feelings today as I take the final steps to make the book that I have written a reality. Hard to believe that three years ago, I began writing little updates to let family and friends share in the painful journey of the illness and death of my daughter. I continued to write after her death in September of 2008. In 2009, I "fluttered" at writing, flapping around irregularly, struggling with "how to write a book." I attended a writer's conference. I spoke with lots of knowledgeable people. I wrote and rewrote and threw away. Then in January of 2010, I committed to finishing the story and publishing it. By the middle of February, I finally felt I had written the story in a way that said it best. I then began to ask for help with the editing process from people I trusted and respected. Little by little, a book began to take shape. With the hand-holding of many people, it is done and ready to go to press with the title:
When God Comes Near
Waiting in the Miracle of His Presence
It is a story about hope. It is a story about faith when life falls apart. It is a story about choosing to believe in a God who was often silent, but always present. It chronicles the experience of receiving an incomprehensible diagnosis and waiting sixteen months for it to destroy the earthly life of beautiful 27-year-old Megan. And as the waiting continued, the writing progressed and wove itself into a thing of remarkable strength that helped me in my disbelief and despair.
As I say on this blog, I always wanted to write a cookbook. Well, this is hardly a cookbook. But my good friend reminded me that it really is in a way. He said it offers a recipe for walking through one of life's greatest hurts. Step by step, the book takes the reader from kicking and screaming in disbelief, to finding acceptance, and on to the discovery that suffering can be transformed into honey for others. Maybe that is what the book is - a small, transforming piece of hope that others can hold in their hand and read, discovering that they, too, can find hope and meaning through the valleys of life.
I continue to find quotes in Megan's papers. B.J. Hoff, the historical fiction author said, "I have learned to measure the ultimate strength of suffering, not by how much hurt it can inflict, but by how much of God's grace it will call forth." I look at the finished book, remembering all of the hurt, and yet, discovering the magnitude of God's grace that has been called forth throughout this time. Now I know that is the reason for writing and publishing the story. I hope you will read it and share God's grace.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In the Cool of the Day

The cool of a summer morning in my garden beckons me to work, work, work. As the sun comes up and the temperature rises, I move closer and closer to the shade of the porch and on into the cool of my home before the heat of the midday sun. The warming air feels good for a while, but some days the heat becomes unrelenting as the mercury climbs toward 90 degrees and above. And I run inside away from the heat realizing I am letting some things go in my garden. I become a fair weather friend, saying, "Ok, you're on your own now. I'm out of here. I have planted, fertilized, watered, and watched you. I cannot protect you from this heat. I'm sorry and good luck."
I make some notes as to what plants seem to do better in the extreme heat. Plumbago, my favorite blue annual from a more tropical region, is a perfect example of surviving. Maybe I will plant more of those next year in place of the petunias and impatiens who are screaming for relief. Their bright, happy colors have faded. I suppose they are a lot like people - they become somewhat pale and their veins recede further into their body when under stress. Preservation. Survival.
What makes us run when life get uncomfortable? Little things like the stacks of paperwork that needs our attention, or the laundry that needs folding, or the daily discipline of personal skills that need practice. Maybe it is simply writing a letter or calling a friend who needs our attention. We feel overwhelmed, overcommitted, and we run away from the heat of our responsibilities to find a cool place to find relief.
But finding what works to withstand the heat is a better option. Daily inspection of the garden does wonders for helping those struggling plants to survive. A little more water here and there, possibly some pruning or making a note to move something when the season changes will save the garden when the heat is unbearable. It applies to our lives as well. A quick, friendly call made, the paperwork sorted, work tasks and skills sharpened - whatever they may be - make for a meaningful day.
I ran into a friend the other day who is 86. She energetically told me that she took inventory at the end of every day as to what she had accomplished for good. She said she went over it with the Lord and allowed him to look over it as well and make recommendations or suggestions as to how tomorrow could be better. What if every day we began with the end in mind? What if we faced honestly the accountability of every part of our day? Would we be running or pruning? Watering or throwing out what was lost due to our own neglect? And at the end of the day, would we be willing to ask for and seek guidance from our Creator? Scripture says that God looked for Adam and Eve "in the cool of the day". He looks for us as well.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Garden Talk

The constant change in a garden makes me realize the speed at which this life moves. I wish I could put a video camera on the garden to just watch the constant changes that occurs. I wait each spring for the beautiful Siberian Iris to emerge. They pop up, striking in their royal velvet-purple, reigning victoriously over spring in contrast to the new beds of daffodils, and together they are a feast for the eyes for a few days. Then the daffodils fade, the irises lose their color and fade into the background, and all that is left is the green stems that held each perfectly shaped bloom. But the peonies open up and taking shape in another bed are the climbing roses, budding in peach and opening to white. They are like little bouquets climbing up the trellis. Below the lambs ears perk up, as if hearing that much is going on and it is time to wake up. As the roses bloom, the hydrangeas are just waiting in the wings for their turn on stage. It's like a grand concert - one that continues through the season with little intermissions between the array of colors. Watching it is music to my eyes - rest for my soul.

And then there are the vegetables. The sugar snap peas yielded five meals for two - that's not bad considering the row was only about five feet long. Now the beans are coming up behind them, chasing them up the trellis. Squash blossoms are everywhere and I am giving thought to frying some! Tomatoes are blooming and peppers are growing. But the granddaddy of them all is an amazing cucumber plant that threatens to take over the pergola. I love this plant. No matter how I train it to grow, it says, "Great! I like this way too!" The vine and leaves seem to be strong and healthy. And every morning when I come out, it has grown another six inches. Already I have picked two cucumbers and have visions of making pickles for everyone for Christmas. I love the way the tendrils curl and wrap themselves around anything that will support it. Healthy, content, and productive.

What is it about a garden that lures us, teases us, frustrates us, soothes us? The growing season is short. The weather can be unpredictable. Pests are just waiting for the right moment to attack. But when we start to see blooms and fruit, we are thrilled that something is coming from our efforts - however great or small they may be. Returning to my garden after a few days away, I was reminded what a gift the garden has become to me and how much I learn from the lessons offered there. I'm not that talented or knowledgeable, but I love to work and dig and plant. I love to pull up and plant again. I love to cut flowers and pick tomatoes - oh, please, let me pick tomatoes this summer!
There is a verse that says, "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord." Looking at a garden is true expression of that goodness. Watching a bloom open or a vegetable grow is all part of waiting on God, watching Him work, hearing Him speak. Maybe that's it. We don't have much to say in a garden. We mostly listen. As we work, our minds and our hearts study and observe. We mentally take note of what needs to be done. We make changes. We move through and pull the weeds and water the dry spots. We prune the overgrown limbs, allowing for more light to come through. And as we carry out our silent work, God speaks to us. Our own silence allows us to hear better. He tells us how much He loves us and gives us guidance and direction. He shows us a better way and rewards our efforts. I love the way Alan Jackson sings about it:

I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear the Son of God discloses
And He walks with me and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joys we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Walking A Dinosaur

While out of town last week, I went for my usual morning walk. It was a beautiful, cool morning in Kentucky and irises and peonies were blooming along the sidewalk. School buses were making their scheduled stops along my route, slowing everyone down on their drive to work. I was distracted, but energized by the new sights and unfamiliar surroundings.

On my return, I approached a mini-van pulled alongside the sidewalk. I slowed my pace and watched a mom helping her child get out of the car. He looked to be about four - maybe he was going to his sitter for the day. His hair was tussled and he was still wearing his bright yellow pajamas covered with big smiley faces. He reminded me of my son when he was four and how he loved wearing his Bert and Ernie jammies. This little guy was happily struggling with something that he was trying to get out of the car. As I got closer, he had what seemed to be a rope in his hands and I watched him pull and tug to get his possession onto the sidewalk. Finally his mom reached in and with a little help, out came his very own, large dinosaur-on-wheels. Evidently, the rope was the dinosaur's leash. As this little guy walked into the house, pulling his pet behind him, he would constantly turn back to make sure his dinosaur was obediently following. In they rolled, happily attached to each other for the day.

It was one of those scenes where your mind snaps a picture and you can't let it go. A painter friend recently told me it is called "artist eyes." Whatever it is, it dances around in your mind and you return home to paint it - or write about it. And as you mentally return to look at your mind's picture, you begin to think about what you have observed and then you mix it with what you know and it transforms into something meaningful to you - maybe even useful.

I pulled out the encyclopedia just to review dinosaurs and believe this particular pet was a Tyrannosaurus rex - you know, like Barney. The only one I can always remember is the Stegosaurus because he has the large "flower petals" down his back. To me, the others are not so distinct from each other - just big and a little scary and thankfully now extinct. But even though they lived about 150 million years ago, they still fascinate us. I love the photograph of my children standing in front of a dinosaur skeleton at the Smithsonian Institute, wide-eyed and truly impressed by the size of these prehistoric creatures.

This mental snapshot makes me smile every time I revisit the scene - a mommy and a happy child with a toy on a beautiful morning - that is basically what I saw. But I don't really know if he was a happy child - he just looked happy in those bright, smiley face pajamas. Maybe his parents were divorced and he was lonely and confused, clinging desperately to something he could control - his pet dinosaur. But the snapshot also sobers me. The thought of pulling a dinosaur on a leash offers another picture of pulling a heavy and cumbersome load. Some loads are small and we can mask them by wearing our bright happy faces. Some burdens are big and they are harder to handle, but we insist on tethering them to us, dragging them around. Oh, sure, they get in the way. Oftentimes they become the "elephant in the room" that no one knows exactly how to handle - even ourselves. So we pull it behind us, look over our shoulder to make sure it is with us. We have trouble getting around because of it. And it prevents us from moving forward in life. We cannot let it go.

Face it. Dinosaurs are extinct. Finished. They no longer have any power or presence in our world today. We don't have to face the return of Jurassic Park. We can rest fully at night, trusting that no dinosaur will step on our house and crush us while we sleep. But those personal dinosaurs are another matter. Our mind convinces us they exist and we must carry them around. What troubles you? Financial stress? A broken relationship? A career change? Loss of a loved one? Illness? Fear? A sordid past? Running out of smiley faced pajamas to wear? Is the leash of your dinosaur getting wrapped around your ankles and dragging you down? Or maybe you think you have conquered all your dinosaurs and pride - the scariest of all - has stepped in and made you your own god.

Unleash it. Let it go and start today to be the person God created you to be. Take the initiative to start with a fresh approach, looking ahead and not back. Be honest with yourself about who you really are in God's eyes. It is hard work. It is freedom.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Repair The World

The morning rain and the wake-up call of the birds compete for recognition. The garden is a drenched puddle, but the air feels clean and fresh and the plants have all had a wonderful bath, removing the dusty pollen that has covered everything. But the hard rain in my garden has been nothing compared to the devastation around the country. Roads are washed out, homes have floated away, and now the repair must begin. People will come together and begin again to pick up and sort and salvage . They will unite with hope and work to make it better - to resume life in the safety of their homes and communities.
A few weeks ago - when the weather was beautiful - I toured Charleston, South Carolina with my garden club. Founded in 1670, it is a city that was in place long before our country came into being. The city has survived earthquakes, floods, and fires and war. It has rebuilt and renewed itself time and time again. Oh, some buildings have a quirky tilt and streets are bumpy inlaid with cobblestones, but the city is lush and beautifully charming with an abundance of sub-tropical gardens that make you want to look and linger. Our tour guide told us the history, proud of the fact that the city worked hard to repair itself after every disaster. There was a rich desire to preserve the past, write down history, create beauty, and salvage material for future use. Ship’s ballast became the cobbled streets. Historic buildings were reclaimed after being abandoned - restoring them and reviving them to functionality for a modern world. Many restaurants have their own history, set up in what once was a carriage house or a factory. Many homes have become museums or libraries for the public to tour and enjoy and learn. “New” is a frowned upon word in Charleston.
Before heading out on one of our guided walks, a few of us were discussing the idea of taking home new thoughts from our time together. We found we were gaining new appreciation and insight from each other, learning from each other on this field trip. A new friend to the group offered a phrase that seemed to fit beautifully into the history of Charleston and to our group as a club. In her faith, the Hebrew term “Tikkun Olam” is often used. It means “repair the world .” We were surprised that our visit to a historical city was so much about repair. Over and over, Charleston repaired. Over and over, monumental tasks were accomplished to make the city what it is today. It wasn’t easy. But the citizens never gave up and now thousands visit this beautiful coastal town each year to remember, reflect, and rejuvenate.
And we challenged ourselves to return home and with a idea of our own as to how we could repair our world. Tikkun Olam - it reminded me of a verse in Scripture from Isaiah 58.
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations. You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls; Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
Throughout Bible history, God’s people repaired, rebuilt, and restored. Not only walls and cities, but relationships as well. It is a lesson not only for a garden club, seeking to find ways to repair and restore the beautiful earth we have been given, but it is a daily lesson for each one of us. What can I repair today? What can I restore today? How can I rebuild today?
Into my mind came the memory of the horses pulling our carriages as we toured Charleston. They wore blinders. Blinders shield the horses from seeing too much around them, and point them toward their intended goal. Blinders help to keep the horses focused on their task at hand - moving forward without distraction. Blinders help the horses focus on the important - not the many, good possibilities. All the carriage driver has to do is to tap the horse’s back with the reins and the horse is reminded to keep going - keep moving in one direction until the reins of the driver give directions to turn or to stop.
It seems there is much repair to do this morning. Whether it’s an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or washed out roads in Tennessee, a strained relationship, or a faith that is in need of restoration. We are all part of God’s world, and it is our job to restore and repair. Tikkun Olam. We have work to do. Hebrews says to “Fix our eyes on Jesus.” Don’t look around at others. Repair your own broken walls. Put your own blinders on and watch for His tap you on your back, guiding you in the direction He has in mind for you today.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love is Blind

I told my husband how very nice he looked as he left for work. He laughed, kissed me good-bye, and said modestly, “love is blind.” Jokingly, I put on my glasses, scrutinized him again, and said, “No, you really look sharp.” Then I reflected on how I looked – frumpy robe, glasses, hair awry, and gathering the trash for the Monday pick-up. I wondered if maybe his comment was for his own encouragement as he looked at me so early in the morning. I hoped the statement was true – and gave thanks.

When we love someone, blindness can be a good thing. There are many things we simply do not see. And there is much we ignore. It’s because when we love someone, we try to find the good, we see the potential, and we forgive the imperfections. And furthermore, we are vividly reminded of own imperfections and it becomes much easier to forgive another. We see the faults and yet, we choose to believe that they are doing the best they can. We are blinded by love. It’s a beautiful thing.

Isn’t that somewhat like God? But never kid yourself. God’s love is not blind. He has perfect vision – nothing misses his sight. He loves us, sees us through and through, knows everything, and yet He loves us more than we know. He knows we will disappoint. He knows we will falter in our efforts. He knows we will be unkind and uncaring. He knows we will not be a good steward of our time and resources. And knowing all of that, He still forgives us and tells us to forgive others.

More importantly and amazingly, He still loves us. His love is “blind” to our inadequacies and our miserable failures because His love sees us as He created us, not as we have allowed the world to twist us into thinking we might be unlovable. Plus, God never gives up on our efforts. He keeps nudging us along, showing us the way, drawing us close to Him.

Easter is the perfect reminder. There is evidence of Resurrection everywhere. We are being shown, nudged and drawn again to Him. The world is coming out new and fresh. Why can’t we do the same thing? My pastor said last week that with every finish there is a new beginning. With every day we can begin again and start over. Does it get weary? Sometimes. Is it frustrating? Yes. Will I ever get it? Eventually.

Keep your eyes on Him.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Highs and Lows

I am recovering from highs and lows. In just one week, I have joined others in prayers for a friend having a liver transplant; two friends with prostate issues; a young man and young woman both diagnosed with dreaded diseases; a friend’s mother in her last days; and of course my own lingering grief issues. But I have also celebrated with friends getting married, shopped with a special bride-to-be, lunched with a dear mother-to-be, joined my church family in serving the community, shot a pretty decent first round of golf for the season, and rejoiced at the daffodils blooms and lettuces and peas bursting into growth with the warming temperatures. Winter is past. New life is coming.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and the message was one of celebration and sorrow. The procession and music was all praise and worship. The sanctuary was beautifully adorned with palm branches. Thinking I would sit in church and find restoration after a rocky week only led me further to the paradox of the cross. I left with the full knowledge of this Holy Week and the steps that would lead to death on a cross. Jesus set the example. We must go there too – to the cross, that is. In our faith, we are instructed to put everything – all of our celebration and all of our sorrow – at the foot of the cross, giving it all to the One who set the example. Embracing the cross is easier when we are not carrying around all of our pride, sorrow, and shame. It is just hard to let it go. We cling desperately to our things, our dreams, and our expectations.

Two years ago, I wrote, “If we look closely, we all find ourselves somewhere between celebration and sorrow, light and dark, life and death. The big moments of life – birth, death, marriage, anniversaries, achievements – tragedies – all seem to mark the years, but the day-to-day is where our faith steps in and decides if we will face each day with celebration or sorrow.”

The day after Palm Sunday, Jesus began to face His sorrows. It was anything but celebratory. The turning of the water into wine at the wedding was just a memory. Things were now serious and His ministry was about to be completed. He charged forward – resolutely, rebuking the people in the temple, correcting His mounting accusers, never turning away from the growing momentum of impending sorrow. That was the message from the Palm Sunday sermon – we must keep the faith as we walk the difficult roads. We must get to know Jesus and live the way He lived – in the good times and the bad, as we celebrate or as we face death – He shows us the way for all of life and wants to be our best friend. We can face the difficult times when our eyes are “fixed”on Jesus. Why is it then that we just don’t want to know Him very well? Why is it that we don’t spend too much time with Him?

The good news is that sorrow for the believer in Christ always leads to celebration. Death does not have a victory. In fact, death itself will be destroyed. Imagine that! God’s ability to restore life is beyond understanding. I just have to trust it and wait for it. It’s like spring in the garden. I have to wait for the new buds and the sprouting of seeds. I watch closely every day. New life. I love it.