Five years

Like a mountain stream, the days move on–sometimes trickling and sometimes gushing, but always flowing. How is it five years since we said goodbye to Marissa?

They say that grief is love with no place to go, and it is exactly that. A full heart with no release. Like always carrying a brimming cup of water and knowing you can never put it down.

God has taught me how to carry it, and it spills out less frequently now. It is filled with many things–doubt and tears and sorrow. But He has faithfully added His mercies. Acceptance and peace and hope. Joy in knowing Him and His ways.

Grace upon grace. And an understanding.

I am meant to bear this cup. It is mine. I am equipped to carry it. This is my story, written for me. This is my work, my purpose, a way to glorify God.

I can imagine a scene where Marissa gives her cup to Jesus–all bitter pain and sorrow at once removed and its contents only good. She is not sorry that she has carried it. She is grateful for His sweetening of every drop.

On this day when we remember her leaving, the sorrow presses in. I look at pictures and recall her journey. I miss her spunk and her laughter and all her ways. I miss knowing her and having her near.

I let the mourning rise.

It doesn’t surprise or disappoint God that we still grieve. He meant for us to love her deeply, and He meant for her going to change us.

And I know she would tell me to keep walking and trusting and hoping.

That every drop added to my cup is purposeful and kind.

I know she would tell me to carry it with joy.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

A known way

The cold has returned. Our December was so balmy that trees blossomed pink in confusion. So it seems hard to believe the truth of January.

But here it is. A beginning of new days. Blank pages of unwritten stories and songs that have never been sung.

Just like everyone, I set new goals, practice new habits. I suppose it helps to feel some control over all the unknown. “This is what I can change. This is what I can do.”

Even so, the year stretches out before me like an uncharted sea. Some now-secret stories will bring me joy, I know. There will be tender beauty and many good gifts from my Father’s hand. But what if the churning darkness also contains a violent, unexpected storm? What if my ship is disabled? What if I am taken to an unwanted, difficult place?

How can I not be afraid?

I want to open my heart to all the paths appointed for me.

I’ve been reading through Job. Through all his dark suffering, He cannot see God. He knows, he remembers, but he doesn’t see.

Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. Job 23:8-9

And ours is a faith walk as well. We cannot see the path ahead, so we must acknowledge the Path-maker. We must press on to know who He is. The dark places are the best places to grab His hand, to pull in close to His heart.

To believe all His words. To trust in His faithfulness.

But He knows the way I take. Job 23:10

Every step is known.

And isn’t that the best and most comforting truth? Doesn’t that give us courage and hope and joy in believing? Aren’t we the blessed ones to know the One who knows?

One of my favorite verses is at the end of Job.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Job 42:5

God is working through those heartbreaking losses. God is present, always. And God is opening Job’s eyes to see Him. To know Him.

As we begin this brand new, uncharted year, we can rest in the One who knows all its days, all its ways.

And our prayer? More hearing, yes. More trusting, yes. More faithfulness, yes.

Oh, but give us the seeing.

Give us the knowing.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled down, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

The mind of a person plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Psalm 25:10

Remembering Christmas

Christmas.

As I wrap presents and make cookies and listen to carols, I remember.

I remember my childhood. Snowfall and twinkling lights and surprises. The anticipation on Christmas Eve and the magic of feeling loved. Saying my little poem at the church Christmas program. Learning about the Babe in the manger and wondering. Ribbon candy and cookies and oranges. Family. My Daddy’s laughter. And always my mother quietly working behind the scenes to make things warm and delightful. How I miss her gentle serving and selfless giving. How I miss my father’s joy.

I remember when my children were young. Ah, the imperfect chaos of life with littles. And somehow it was now up to me to make the magic. I was both grateful and overwhelmed with all of it. Babies and toddlers and then bodies growing tall. Noise and excitement, treats and traditions. Joy in serving my small crowd of humans, learning how to give and love. And a growing understanding of Christmas and the Christ child and the richness of that best gift given long ago. An opening of my heart to the rest He offers. Rest from inability and doubt and heaviness. From frantic doing. From sin and all of its reaching.

A fresh welcoming of Him as Lord.

And now? No phone calls from my mama asking if I have all the presents wrapped. None of my daddy’s story-telling or exuberant joy. No trips to the snowy north to spend Christmas with them. No one to love me like a mama loves her children.

And part of my heart is missing. Marissa. All the Christmas memories of her a swirl of joy and pain. How I wish I could hold her and laugh with her. Share coffee and talk deep. Watch her sleep. Give her one last surprise. Tell her how much she is loved.

So now I remember with tears.

And yet I know. I know the Dayspring and the Sunrise. I have been brought out of such deep darkness to a gentle, eternal light. He has shined on me through all the dark places. The cold, impossibly hard paths. The valley full of death’s shadows, full of death itself.

And though my grief has changed me and stays with me and will always be part of who I am, I rejoice. That God became flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth. That He came to rescue us from sin and all its miseries. That because He came, death is ultimately defeated.

And so I sing the old carols with joy. I remember my blessings, the abundance of all I’ve been given.

I am filled with hope in believing.

Christmas! A Savior is born!

My heart will always remember.

O Savior, Child of Mary,
Who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory,
Who dost our weakness know;

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens ev’ry load.

From “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

For the beauty of each hour

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.

Lord of all to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.

Folliat Sandford Pierpoint

We sang this song recently, and I wondered at the truth of that one phrase–the beauty of each hour. Is that poetry or truth? Words or experience?

And even as I turned inward and remembered many dark hours, God whispered yes to me. Yes to beauty in even the blackest night.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.

Rich with so many to love. And that love in all the hard places to help us move on and move forward. All those gifts of human hearts that are knit with ours. And the richness of gentle thoughts. How I love the way God’s words settle over our frantic and worried thinking to soothe us. Inform and convince us. Calm and quiet us.

For the church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.

God’s work moving on here and in faraway places. Beautiful feet carrying the gospel of Christ. Our blessed privilege to give and pray and hold the ropes. To be part of the kingdom of God.

For Thyself, best Gift Divine.
To our race so freely given,
For that great, great love of Thine,
Peace on earth and joy in Heaven.

And God Himself giving Himself. A wonder! That greatest love pouring out on us grace. Grace that changes our course and changes us. A miracle! He works peace in us. Peace with God and peace in this tumultuous world.

The joy of heaven for those who believe. A sustaining hope through all the days, all the hard and all the sad. A new day coming for those who love him back, who surrender their hearts to Him.

Yes. Beauty in each hour.

I have known it, and I see it still.

For Rissabean on her birthday

Here we are in October again. Another trip around the sun for us. Pumpkins and apples and shorter days and reminders all around of that fall six years ago when you were diagnosed with cancer just a week before your 25th birthday. Autumn is this confused feeling–chilly mornings and turning leaves and warm memories of our October girl mixed up with sorrow and shock and a sharp turn in the road.

Like a tangled basket of yarn with your strands in all of it.

How blessed we are to know the Weaver who takes the tangled mess and skillfully creates His intended masterpiece. To know that every good gift and every adversity is from His hand. That He holds you as firmly today as the day you stepped into His presence. That He carries us through all of our days with faithfulness.

The days are still warm with only a touch of cool at night. But it’s dark in the morning and much sooner at night, and the air is filled with change.

Remember when you were a teenager and I wanted to paint the living room? But it was overwhelming to me–the pulling down of all that wallpaper in preparation. And you understood. So you woke up one morning and just started scraping it off. And of course we all joined in and scraped for days. We moved furniture and repaired walls and painted.

It brought a fresh coziness to our little home.

I was so thankful that you were there pushing me to do something hard.

And I miss that determined optimism. I miss your encouragement, your enthusiasm for life. I miss your cheerfulness and confidence.

I miss the strands of your life being tangled up with mine.

On the 31st anniversary of your birth, I cherish all the memory of you. I wish I remembered more, took more pictures, wrote more of your story.

That must be the saddest part of grief–no more pictures, no more memories, no more birthdays. No more of you in this life.

But for the Christian, the story goes on.

And on your birthday, we remember the beginning of your story. We remember the immeasurable ways you blessed us. We remember light and joy and laughter. We remember the things you loved: sunflowers and vintage clothes and children. Books and coffee and people. God and His word.

We remember your courage. We remember your faith.

We are remembering all of you.

Happy birthday, Rissa.

The bruised reed

We know so little of God.

I slog through the Old Testament searching for Him in all of the details of His law, even though He seems fierce and unapproachable there. He seems very far away. But if I am His follower, I must see Him as He is, not as I want Him to be. I must seek to learn all of Him and not just the parts that make me feel comfortable and loved. He is so much bigger than that–His thoughts and plans so much higher than the little I know of them.

He is all in all, and I am just a vapor. A breath and a heartbeat and a story.

Some of the greatest stories are found in the Old Testament, right in the middle of all the hard-to-undestand. From the beginning, He reveals Himself in the stories.

That is where we learn of His gentle heart. Where we observe His perfect providences. Where we grow confident in His overwhelming power and are surprised again and again by His steadfast love.

Every line speaks His name.

My daughter gave me a beautiful flowering plant to hang on my front porch, and its cheerful red encouraged me. But one morning when I pulled it down to water it, I noticed a nest filled with eggs and a mother bird flying nervously around me. So I left it and slowly it withered. Later we watched through the window as the mama fed and cared for her babies.

I’m sure others wondered why we left the dead plant hanging.

Eventually the birds grew enough to fly off, and I set the plant out back to be thrown away. But my husband saw it and patiently pulled away all of the dead leaves and flowers. He added some fresh, good soil. He watered it and set in in the sun.

And in just a few days it was green and vibrant and beginning to flower again.

I felt the hope of it deep in my soul.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; Isaiah 42:3-4

God whispers life into the bruised and battered reed. He trims the faintest, flickering light. He doesn’t toss His children aside or grown faint with the growing of them.

He tenderly removes the deadness and gives just what is needed.

How I love His heart!

How I cherish the reviving of His people.

And if you are crushed today? Bruised and broken? Smoldering and sputtering? Lifeless and dull?

The Almighty God is a tender Gardener. He knows all the ways to help you grow green again.

He is the Creator, and you are His workmanship.

He holds your story.

He makes all things beautiful in His time.

For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Psalm 69:33

All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 3:16b-17

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

Spring

This has been a lovely, breezy spring. Cooler than usual with a soft wind that reminds me of my childhood. One of my favorite memories is playing outside on a windy day, filled all the way up with hope and happiness. Remember the uncomplicated joy of just being? Awake and alive and open to all life could offer?

And now I am awakened to much more. Hard paths and sorrows. Tears and burdens. But so many blessings and a heart still filled with joy. A rich tapestry of memories and days.

No suffering can erase God’s kindness–He draws me close through all of it.

Mother’s Day was last week, and it was sweet. So much to be grateful for. Surrounded by love. Yet three years since my mom has gone home to glory. And my Marissa–the short days of mothering her a blur on the pages.

I weep at the layers of suffering around me–some so deep that only God can touch them. The refining fire so hot that I can only watch and pray.

It’s a groaning world, isn’t it?

I feel the longing every day. The yearning in my own struggling, fragile heart.

The heavy burden of sorrow I’m praying others through, death and its darkness sitting very close. An enemy, though not a victor.

Still, your whole world can change in a moment.

The groaning echoes on and on.

But I know its cause and I’m grateful for its cure.

The changeless One. Jesus.

His love and His redemptive work.

His gifts–our eternal treasures. A future filled with light for those who follow Him.

And grace in this world. A portion for pain, a portion for valleys, a portion for sorrows.

A portion for dying, and for those left behind, a portion for walking on.

Meted out for each battle, enough and more than enough.

Comforting and soothing and filling us up.

Like a gentle breeze on a spring day.

Grace on top of grace.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:49-50

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. Nahum 1:7

Waiting

It is finished.

Christ did what He came to do.

Brutal, blood-stained cross.

Merciful Savior–loving all of His wayward sheep enough to offer Himself as a ransom.

But now it is Saturday and His followers are wandering and wondering. Dismayed and confused, filled with sorrowing.

Death and all of its darkness settling down over faith-filled hearts.

What is there to do but try to block out the stark images of His suffering and shame. What is there to do but wait. Try to remember all that He said. Try to recall all the glory of His power.

And why is it so hard to remember when the shadows are deepening?

Hard to remember that Sunday is coming.

They couldn’t feel that resurrection power humming against the stone.

Our waiting is not the same. We celebrate with great joy the rolling away of the rock, the defeat of death. We read the words they could not remember, and we tell the narrative again and again.

Christ is risen.

Oh, how it changes the end of the story!

But here we are in the middle. Waiting. Death and its shadows more real to us some days than truth, more real than the coming glory.

What is there to do but wait and remember all that He said.

What is there to do but recall the glory of His power.

And listen.

Can you hear it even in the darkness? In the waiting? In death’s extending shadows?

The sweet song of His enabling grace.

The quiet humming of His resurrection power.

He is risen, as He said.

It changes everything.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1:3

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Time

Four years ago today.

It seems like both yesterday and 100 years ago.

Time moves me, minute by minute, away from those years of having her. Away from those awful days of losing her.

Time doesn’t erase the memories. I hold them safely inside of me and bring them out when I am thankful or sad or brave enough. I’m not one to remember events in detail but I do remember the truth and beauty of her life.

Marissa is always with me.

My daughter had surgery this week, and even though it was all new and frightening to her, because of pandemic restrictions she was mostly alone. Afterward, she recounted that while waiting for surgery, she imagined that Marissa came and sat with her. Gave her words of encouragement. Comforted and calmed her.

Seemed as real as her breathing in and out.

Imagination or a ministering spirit? I only know that she was beautifully at peace.

And I recognize the Author of peace and His ability to provide it to all His little children in whatever ways are best.

Time is one of those ministers.

God intends us to move on and we do. We couldn’t stand long under those first crashing waves of grief anyway.

We gradually move to calmer waters. Not to the absence of grief but to an easing of soul, to an eternal perspective. We still have our own journey to complete, our own path to walk. When the waves increase, we steady ourselves on the Rock. We shout yes and amen to all of His promises. We keep our eyes on that distant shore.

Because time keeps moving us away from last words, last touch, last sight. Time is fading the photos and the memories. Time keeps taking us to places and experiences without her in them.

Time just moves on relentlessly.

But it has become more friend than enemy. Because as we walk forward, we have the assurance that time is also moving us closer to home. Closer to the finish line. Closer to the place prepared for us.

Time just moves us closer to seeing her again.

Amen. It is so.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:17

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1-7

Night

It is early morning here. Soon the sun will rise and bring with it all the noise of life, but for now it is dark and quiet.

I am sitting with a burden of sadness for some who are sorrowing, others who are fighting fierce battles. Heaviness pushes down, and the challenge to cast it on Jesus seems impossible just now. But the invitation is there, so I press up longingly.

Some days just have more shadow than light.

My grandson is fascinated with the sky, especially the moon. He looks for it each time we go outside, and I’ve been surprised at how often we can see it during the day. In all my years I had not noticed.

White crescent against blue sky.

I’ve only looked for it in the black of night, loving its glow and needing its light.

I guess our darkest nights are places where we can reflect the light of God most wondrously.

I wonder if saints in glory view each past affliction as a beautiful opportunity given to learn of Him and stretch out hands of faith to Him. To display His grace and glory. To exhibit peace that could not be explained or understood.

I imagine they see their earthly trials as glorious gifts to lay at the feet of Jesus.

It’s all part of faith to know His presence when we cannot see His light. To set our face toward eternity with courage and purpose when it feels like we are stumbling blindly.

It’s part of faith to believe in His promise, to follow wherever He leads, to wait patiently in our struggle and fear.

It’s part of faith to shine on in the night.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16