In Loving Memory of Mom:The Good Shepherd And The Cardinal Escort

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“What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete, as complete as God’s knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Cor 13:12-13)

In memory of my mom and because October is National Breast Cancer Awarenss, please allow me to encourage you to get your annual mammogram or to remind the women in your life to do so… you are loved!

As my best friend, I’d typically talk to my mom several times a day. No matter what kind of day I was having, I could always count on her positive outlook. “Over here, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I just planted 25 new flowers in my garden” was her daily declaration. At the time, I didn’t have much appreciation for the dawning of a new day nor the interest in listening to the sweet melody of the birds singing. I suppose it takes a realization of how very short our lives are to make us appreciate the simple gifts God gives us on a daily basis

The first time my mom, not a Christ follower, asked me to pray for her it was because she had found a lump in her breast. (After 3 years of skipped mammograms) She had retired one month earlier in perfect health and was looking forward to spending more time with her kids and grandchildren. With visions of new adventures on her mind, she purchased a small camper. We made lots of plans together, but God had other plans. I’ve lost count of the many surgeries and treatments she endured in less than 2 years from the time of her diagnosis before God called her home. But, I can never forget the faithfulness of our Good Shepherd in drawing near to her, comforting her, and delivering her from her fears as she walked in the “shadow of the valley of death.” In the midst of a most difficult season, she cried out to God and He answered-with the assurance of life eternal in Jesus Christ. (Leaving me to wonder… which is of greater concern to God- the temporal or the eternal?…)

I remember when the doctors told my mom she didn’t have much longer to live and there was nothing else they could do, she responded with one request: “O.K., but can you get me ready to go camping with my grandchildren one last time?” While my dad and I sat in stunned silence, the doctor couldn’t hide the look on his face. The poor dear didn’t quite know how to respond. She didn’t make it. I consider myself blessed to have spent a most memorable last day with her. When later that same day I got the call from my dad with the news of her passing, I returned to my parent’s home where, alone, I went to my mom’s room to say my final farewell. Humbly, I knelt down to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for being her “Good Shepherd” and keeping every promise in accordance to Psalms 23-her favorite scripture. My dad was waiting in the hallway with a question when I came out of her room. “You know she’s not in there right? Who were you talking to?” When I told him I wasn’t talking to her but to Jesus, he asked “you don’t really believe in that “Jesus crap,” do you?” Of course I do. 

Thanks in large part to my beloved church family; the celebration of  life service we had for my mom couldn’t have been more divinely perfect. When one of our friends approached me to express her sympathy, she added how beautiful and thoughtful of me it was to add Psalms 23 to my mom’s obituary. I was stunned. I had written the obituary myself and had NOT added Psalms 23 to it. Though I called the newspaper so we could properly thank our benefactor, to this day no one knows how that Psalms came to be there.

I inherited the camper… and the adventure. If you’ve ever been camping with your family (and a 100 lb. dog who thinks he’s a baby), you know there is not much quiet time alone in which to seek God in prayer.  Because prayer is exactly what prepares me for loving the very people I’m crammed into a tiny camper with, I asked God to help me find a new pathway to worship and experience him. God answered that prayer by opening my eyes to his beauty and glory as proclaimed by creation.

Not long ago, we planned a special family camping trip in which to honor my mom’s memory and final request. As if a wink from heaven, this Northern Cardinal stayed by our side the entire time. It was the strangest, most wonderful thing. As if noticing for the first time, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the Bluebonnets were in full bloom. 

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird: “Be still My Soul… God is in Control”

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird
“Be still and know that I am God.”
(Psalms 46:10)

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “A Ruby-throated hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times per second.” Considering it has one of the highest metabolism rates of all the warm-blooded vertebrates in the world, one can only assume that it must require some amount of effort to simply “be still.” Yet, this state of stillness is exactly what I observe in this Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on a branch in my backyard. Even without the metabolism rate of a hummingbird, we all experience seasons in life where it can be challenging to simply “be still”…both physically and spiritually. I experienced such a time of spiritual “restlessness” when I lost all the women in my immediate family- mom, sister, and grandmother- far too close together. Even with or without the hope of Christ, there remains the business of adjusting to life without one’s loved one. My own season of loss only pales in comparison to that of so many others in the world. As I struggle to make sense of the hardships we face in this life, God’s direction comes in the stillness of a hummingbird: “Be still and know that I am God.”(Psalms 46:10)

In light of God’s glory in creation comes illumination of the creator: God doesn’t call us to understand times of trial and suffering, but to trust that he is control in the midst of them. Consider the book of Job where we hear of a man who has experienced immeasurable loss and suffering. After losing his children, home, livestock, servants, and health, Job finds himself in desperate need to understand his predicament. His wife suggests that he curses God for his troubles while his friends offer to help uncover the possible sin that could be causing his suffering. When at last God, seemingly displeased with the feeble attempt of others, speaks into the midst of Job’s suffering, he has a few questions of his own… all pertaining to the divine nature and eternal power of God as revealed by creation. As Job recognizes God’s glory in creation, he finds a place of stillness for his soul in the sovereignty, power, and providential care of his creator. (Job 38-42) Likewise, as we relinquish our desire to understand things too complicated for us to know and instead trust ourselves to the sovereign and providential care of our creator, we can find a place of stillness for our souls not dependent on circumstance.

Before winter, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight destined for Central America. I can only wonder how it instinctively knows that there is anything better to make such an arduous journey worthwhile. We can’t fully understand hummingbirds anymore than we can understand human trials and suffering this side of heaven. But like the hummingbird that instinctively knows there’s something better on the other side of the ocean; God calls us, mortal though we are, to trust that he is control. In union with Jesus Christ, we can rest assured that the best is yet to come.

Inspired by the Nature of God
(Seeds of Devotion: Psalms 46:10; Job 1:13-2:10;Job 38-42;Psalms 131;1Peter 4:19;Acts 2:26;Rom 1:20)

Seagulls: Mine, Mine, Mine vs. His Will

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Seagulls
“May your kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as in heaven.”
(Matt 6:10)

“Mine, Mine, Mine…” whenever I am in the company of seagulls, I can’t help but remember this funny scene from the hit movie, “Finding Nemo:” For one perilous moment the fish, at risk of being washed ashore, find themselves surrounded by eager Seagulls simultaneously declaring: “Mine, mine, mine!” Seagulls are notorious for their insatiable appetites! I’ve witnessed them fighting each other over mere crumbs. One particular day as I was entertained by their crazy antics, it occurred to me that perhaps we aren’t so different. In that, I mean that it is in our nature to want what we want how/when we want it. In today’s culture, it seems almost normal to put our needs and desires over and above God’s…. and those around us. When I reflect upon my own relationships with family and friends (with God’s help), it doesn’t take long for me to recognize that every argument I’ve ever had has been a direct result of my own selfish desires and unwillingness to submit my own will to God’s. During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught his disciples to pray “May YOUR Kingdom come; May YOUR will be done on earth as in heaven.”(Matt 6:10) In this we have an amazing invitation to exchange our flesh cries of “mine, mine, mine” for divine glimpses of “His, His, His” will for our lives.

Because Jesus’ disciples had witnessed firsthand the healing, freedom, transformation, restoration, and powerful impact that took place as people experienced a brush with “heaven on earth,” they must have had these glimpses of “heaven on earth” in mind when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. God is still in the business of healing broken hearts, restoring relationships, and transforming lives. But, he waits for us to get to the business of offering our own plans and agenda for a complete renewing of our minds.(see Rom 12:2) As Jesus warned “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41) God is more than willing and well able to manifest his will in/through us, but only to the degree that we are willing to abandon our flesh cries of “mine, mine, mine” at the foot of the cross to make room for His.

Seagulls will continue to clamor over the crumbs offered to them… they can’t help it. As for us, please allow me to close with this beautiful prayer from St. 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, 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 pardoning-that we are pardoned,
It is in dying-that we are born to Eternal Life.”

My Personal Testimony

My Personal Testimony

As I recall, I was a teenager the first time I visited a church. I remember looking at what I considered “all the shiny, happy people” and feeling like I didn’t belong. This was no fault of the church, but my own feelings of shame, guilt, and remorse over a lifetime of bad choices. The friend who invited me gave me my first bible, “The Good News Bible,” which I still have today. It collected dust for many years.

My life changed dramatically when I met my husband, a praying man, and his family. I’ll never forget the first time he took me home to meet his mom. My mother-in-love came out the front door to meet me with a huge embrace and surprising declaration (at least to me): “Honey, I’ve been praying for you!!” At the time, I figured having her pray on my behalf couldn’t hurt because I knew a Holy God wasn’t going to listen to prayers from the likes of me, wretch that I am. She called me almost daily to talk. And every conversation I ever had with her would eventually lead back to God. She would tell me the most astounding stories about how God loves, heals, provides, and forgives. I didn’t believe her, but I listened to be kind. (Do you see the irony here?!:))

When her time came to depart from this earth, I was taken aback by the huge void in my heart. Her unconditional love, grace, power hugs, and prayers had become such a comfort in my life. Selfishly, I wondered: who is going to pray for me now?!!

Her service was beautiful. People from all over lined up to share what an impact this sweet woman had made in their lives with her love and simple kindness. Even in death, she looked like an angel to me… kind of ethereal. The presiding pastor spoke about how much time we spend in our lives planning/worrying about things that don’t really matter. In regards to vacations, we exert an extraordinary amount of time and energy planning exactly where we will go, what we will pack, who we will see, and which attractions we will visit. Then he asked: “But how many people spend even close to that much time considering their eternal futures?” This woman, my mother-in-love had. Even as I thought it, the pastor declared in his booming voice: “This woman had her reservation to heaven. His name is Jesus Christ.”

I wanted what Nana had; I wanted my reservation to heaven too. Not long after the service, I got down on my knees in the quiet of my room to pray. I brought all my doubts, guilt, shame, and laid them before God. I told God that I wanted to know him… really know him, like my mother-in-love. But, I had no clue where to start or how to pray. As I was baring my heart, I felt a scripture come to mind. I reached for my bible, wiped away the dust, and looked it up:

“But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. And Your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.”
(Matt 6:6)

Of interest were the next few verses (Matt 6:9-13) where Jesus teaches his disciples how/what to pray. As for me, He had me at “close the door and pray.”

By His amazing grace, I am happy to report that I’ve been part of a beautiful church family (Methodist) for many years. Far from perfect, we find great joy in sharing our brokenness while seeking the wholeness of Christ. The only “shiny, happy people” that I see are the ones whom I know have found a joy unspeakable that no person or circumstance can ever snatch away. In union with Christ, I now consider it a great privilege and joy to pray for others! The results are God’s business.

 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; “
(Rev 12:11)

The “Too Comfortable” Cocoon… and the caterpillar that almost missed out on new life as a butterfly

The “Too Comfortable” Cocoon
…. and the caterpillar that almost missed out on new life as a butterfly

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There once was a caterpillar wrapped tight in his cocoon. God announced to the caterpillar that it was time to come out, but the caterpillar objected: “No, please, it’s much too soon!!”

The caterpillar grew comfortable with his life hidden in the confines of the cocoon. He feared that life outside was too uncertain. He wasn’t brave enough to venture into the unknown; the world could be so cruel. No, he thought, life is safer here…alone… inside of my cocoon. God gently whispered to the caterpillar once more, “Come out caterpillar, I want you to be free.” But the caterpillar stubbornly refused “No, please, I don’t want anyone to see the real me!”

After some time had passed, the caterpillar began to wonder if there was more to life than living hidden inside of a cocoon, but he felt frozen… stuck in this life he had chosen. The comfort of the cocoon was all he had ever known and truth be told, he was too scared to try anything new!

So the caterpillar continued the life he had become accustomed to, but the process began to get painful indeed. His body was feeling cramped, he longed to stretch out, and he was running out of room in which to grow. Although he was no longer so sure about what he needed, he clung tightly to the life he knew, and refused to let go.

During the course of the caterpillar’s struggle, a revelation came to him not a moment too soon: This life inside of my cocoon is really no life at all. Of all my fears, I’m most afraid to simply be me!

When once again he heard God’s call, the caterpillar put up no fight, no fight at all. “Here I am,” he said simply, “please show me the way.” At once, the cocoon broke away. And there, for all to enjoy, was a one-of-a-kind, beautiful butterfly emerging into the radiant light of day!

He felt alive… and tingled with new sensation! Behold, God had turned him into a new creation!

IMG_4100“When anyone is joined to Christ, he is a new being; the old has gone, the new has come.”

(2 Cor 5:17)

Inspired by the Nature of God

Indigo Bunting: Faith and God’s Abundance

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Indigo Bunting
“No one can please God without faith, for whoever comes to God must have faith that God exists and rewards those who seek him.”

(Heb. 11:6)

Bursting with life and color, this Indigo Bunting transformed the dead leaves of my yard into a stage for God’s glory… reflecting the condition of my heart. With every God-given call or task comes the temptation to dismiss it due to our lack of abilities, current circumstance, or foolish pride. I’m convinced that one of the greatest obstacles to following God’s call is our own deceitful heart. One morning as I struggled with such inner feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, I humbly offered it to God in prayer asking for a reminder of HIS love, presence, and promise. And should our Creator be willing, I asked that His reminder come in the form of His created, specifically a Bunting. I knew I was asking a lot, certainly more than I deserve. But, I also knew that “nothing is too difficult for God” and He takes pleasure in “rewarding those who seek him.”(Jer. 32:26; Heb. 11:6 paraphrased) Although I embraced the day with faith and expectancy, no words can describe the unspeakable joy and humble awe of spotting this Indigo Bunting in my own backyard!

As I marveled over this one time visitor, I felt God teaching me a most extraordinary lesson. God doesn’t call us because of who we are or the abilities we have to offer. God calls us because of who he is and the life abundant he has planned for us in Jesus Christ. I could almost relate to Simon Peter when he was called to follow Jesus during his earthly ministry. After a long night of fishing with no results, Simon Peter is instructed by Jesus to push his boat out further in the deep water and let down his nets. Almost reluctantly (it seems), Simon Peter does as Jesus asks only to find himself with a boat so full of fish that he requires additional help to keep the boat from sinking! Upon recognizing the abundance Jesus has to offer, Simon Peter falls to his knees before him and cries, “Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:4-11 paraphrased) God can and does use these moments when we are most keenly aware of our own poverty of spirit to awaken our souls to the infinite riches he has for us in Christ.

As if in answer to an invisible call, I watched as the Indigo Bunting departed from the comfort of my backyard in pursuit of the great unknown. Likewise, we are left with a choice in how to respond to God’s call. We can remain in the current circumstance/condition in which we find ourselves… or we can choose to leave behind what we think we know and move forward in faith that “God exists and rewards those who seek him.” (Heb 11:6)

Inspired by the nature of God