The warmth of His love

There is finally a chill in the air.

It seemed as if summer would just carry on, friendly and warm. Even as I pulled the fall decorations out of the attic and filled my house with yellows and oranges and reds, the grass was still green, the afternoons hot.

In some ways it was a gift to wait. The slowing is often a treasure, because time can soften the sharp edges of grief.

But now the mornings are dark and cool. The days are shorter. And it’s time to make friends with the cold again. Time to make friends with the dark.

“Don’t doubt in the dark what you once believed in the light.”

That, friends, is our faith walk. We must believe in the warmth when we are cold. We must believe in the light when it is dark. It is not faith if we can always understand. It is not faith if we always know the way.

It is not faith if we are always warm.

God sometimes calls us deeper in or higher up. Where the air stays cold and thin and the view is filled with foggy mist. He calls us where we wouldn’t choose to go. Where we cannot find the way, and we cannot see His face. We are chilled and lonely and frightened.

But we are not alone.

Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus. It follows us. It surrounds us. It covers us. Even in the coldest place, its warmth protects us and fills us. Its light is enough to brighten the darkest cave. It is a rescuing, pursuing love.

It brings a settling, an aligning, a comforting.

His love always finds me. It helps me wait.

It is deeper than the deepest place.

It blankets me, and I am warmed.

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. Psalm 112:4

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

 

Forever 26

For Rissa

So this is the first birthday we cannot buy gifts for you, cannot celebrate another year with you, cannot spoil you with chocolate or run to the mountains with you. This is the first year we remember you instead of make memories with you.

There are so many things I want to tell you, and you are so far away.

I know how much you love fall. (Are there seasons in heaven? Do you love it still? Can you smell pumpkin and cinnamon and a warm fire burning?) I’ve been slow to pull out the autumn decorations, slow to move into this season with all of its memories.

We’re going to spend your birthday doing things you loved. We’ll go to your school and read to your children. Visit the beautiful bench and tree placed there in your honor. Go to the mountains and pick some apples. Take a few family pictures, and I’m sure we will smile.

But there will be tears behind the smiles. We will be remembering you.

In the evening, we will all walk around the block together as you loved to do. We will sit around the fire pit. We’ve been avoiding that, so it will be the first time since you’ve been gone.

We will share stories of you. We will talk about your spark, your spunk, your smile. We will laugh, and we will cry. We are putting all the stories in a memory book so we will always remember.

And we will. We will always remember.

Because your story matters, Beanie. God wrote it and you lived it well. You responded joyfully to your trial. You took what God gave you, and you ran with it. Even in the middle of sickness, sorrow, and pain, you gave Him glory. You trusted Him. You loved Him.

And that makes it one of the good stories, the kind you read over and over again.

I remember every medical test, every doctor’s visit, every treatment. I remember all the pain and bad news. I remember some very dark places, some very raw fear.

And I want to say thank you for being a faithful warrior. Thank you for walking in truth through every dark valley. It was an honor to walk with you, Rissa. It was an honor to fight beside you.

It is an honor to be your mom.

I doubt you read blogs in heaven–man’s musings are of no account there. But I hope you still know how much we love you. I hope you know we are doing ok. That God is faithfully leading us along. That we think constantly about heaven–its realities and its joys.

That we love our Savior more. That we are trudging through our own valleys with steadfast hearts. That we are still in the battle, still reaching forward, still walking by faith.

And rejoicing that your faith is now sight.

I am praising the God who formed you and measured all your days. The One who loved you and gave His Son to ransom you. The One who gave you breath and life, the One who carried you and holds you still.

Today should be a day of celebration, so I am reaching back for all of the happy memories. All of the good things, all of the pleasures of knowing you. On your birthday, I am remembering the gift of you, the joy of you. I am remembering my curly-headed sunshine.

I am remembering all of your moments.

I am remembering you.

I love you, Rissa. Happy birthday.

 

Walking by starlight

There is a moment that comes every day. It often goes unnoticed as we rush about in our frantic doing, but it calls us silently with its color song, simple and sacred. We hardly hear it–the day melting into night. Sometimes there is the lightest shade of pink and sometimes an almost garish beauty. It’s the moment when light falls away to dark.

And suddenly we are walking by starlight.

This sparkly wonder doesn’t mask night’s blackness; in fact, its unique glory shines best in the darkest dark.

Two years ago on this day Marissa was given a positive diagnosis of breast cancer. It felt very much like being thrust into an unlit night. Confused and frightened, we stumbled on the unexpected path. Perhaps there were clouds, because I don’t remember the stars shining.

Yes, there were definitely clouds for awhile.

And looking back, I could choose to look only at the blackness. I could remember only the dark and the fear, and I could be swept away in the force of despair.

I could remember only the falling.

But I remember the stars. I remember that there was enough light for every step. I remember the color and the beauty and the rescuing. I remember peace beyond comprehension.

I remember God. I remember His felt presence. I remember an awareness of His power and keeping grace. I remember being lifted when weary.

I remember singing in the night.

I choose to remember the starlight.

He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name. Amos 5:8

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

 

  

 

Called to sadness

There has been the smallest whisper of autumn in the air this week. And I am trying to move forward with a grateful heart.

I am trying not to be afraid of fall. Marissa’s birthday. The anniversary of her diagnosis. Holidays and family trips, chemo and radiation–the memories swirl around inside my head.

And the longing for more of them feels like a stone in my heart.

The weariness of grief just weighs heavier some days. It slows me to a sluggish pace, as if I can’t quite get to where I need to go. My brain is dull and tired and filled with shadows.

No amount of gratefulness can wake me up.

I am reminded that grief does not really end. You never get to the other side of it. Rather, it is woven together with all of the threads of your life to make you the person you are, the person God intends you to be.

I feel a sense of pressure to move on, to leave heartache behind me. And yet God has given me this sorrow. He knows it is part of my story and part of my heart. He knows that I will walk with this sadness inside of me for all my days. He knows that I will never stop missing her.

He has called me to this sadness.

And so I trust Him with it. I trust that this sorrow is my best path to bring Him glory. I trust that He will show me how to keep it close yet bear it well. I trust that I will know Him better because of it.

And I move my feet slowly. I carry God’s words in my mind and my heart. I plan birthday parties and drive to soccer practices and manage my home. I pray for people who are hurting, those who are in pain and facing their own sadness.

I hold close my daughter who has suddenly become afraid of the dark.

I smile at the sunrise and laugh at my husband’s jokes. I remember God’s morning words, and the joy is there inside of me. It lives beside the sadness, and I guess in some ways they are becoming friends. They are both a part of my story.

Yes, I am called to this sadness. But it is not my only calling.

I am also called to light and to salvation. To faith and a steadfast hope. To soul rest and forgiveness and covenant love. To a strength that is not my own. To an eternity without tears or sorrow with the Creator of my world and days.

Called by grace and to grace. To a song of deep lament mingled with choruses of joy.

And to a Savior who blends all of my callings into a symphony of praise.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. Habakkuk 3:17-19

Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. For you are the glory of their strength. Psalm 89:15-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path of totality

We witnessed a total solar eclipse this week.

It was stunning. Glorious. Beautifully sobering. God displayed in His creation–its order and majesty and power all pointing to Him.

Don’t you feel the pull of His glory?

Eclipse darkness is so different than normal darkness. There is an almost eerie quality to the air and light. I can imagine the fear in days long ago when there was little knowledge of the wonders and workings of the universe.

I can imagine a fear of not knowing what the darkness meant.

The eclipse surprised me. Surprised me by its quiet power. But startled me most of all by the light that escaped during totality. Fully dark for just a second, and then a burst of white light surrounding the moon.

The light that could not be held back.

I expected the darkness. I expected the blocking of the sun. But I did not expect the cold, dark moon to be surrounded by such glorious light.

I was startled by the light in the darkness.

This picture that remains in my mind is so dear to me. I will hold it to my heart forever.

There is no darkness that can obliterate God’s light. Even when your journey takes you down a path of unusual night, where the light is dim and frightening and fading, you can look up and be amazed at the glory of God.

He is always there. He never leaves you. In the most unnatural darkness, He provides a panoramic view of His beauty. Sometimes subtle, sometimes startling.

But always enough.

Enough to light the path ahead. Enough to assure you of His presence. Enough to disperse fear and gloom. Enough to instill hope.

The darkness is the perfect stage to display His glorious light.

He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing. He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not split open under them. He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it his cloud. He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke. By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? Job 26:7-14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If not, then it’s paradise

This post was originally published over a year ago after we learned of Marissa’s recurrence. This past week a 24 year old young woman I was praying for was welcomed into God’s presence without much warning. We weep but hang on to hope in our sorrow.

I know two mamas who said good-bye to their babies not so small this week. Said good-bye before they were ready and before they knew how.

It can shatter the heart.

And it would be so hopeless without Jesus. Without His promises which slowly seep back in to heal the shattered pieces. Without the knowledge of redemption and peace and eternity with God. Without His nail-scarred hands pulling us in and holding us close.

Jesus is our only hope in the sadness.

He makes real the truth we did not know before this sadness. He’s a friend and He’s a conqueror and He speaks peace. He binds our wounds and He heals our hearts and He carries us. He reminds us of a forever-after with no sorrow and no pain. With no sickness and no separation and no fear.

I always want to be open, always honest about the sadness. I want to be able to talk about hard things. I want to show my children that God is real and He meets us in our real. He meets us in our hard.

He has met with us this year.

On a Sunday just after Marissa’s biopsy, we went to church and I felt truth wash over me. Afterwards, we had a sweet talk with our pastor. He gently encouraged our fearful hearts. He reminded us of God’s providence and sovereignty. He told Marissa he expected her to be here for many years. But if not? If God was doing something unusual and painful and hard?

If not, then it’s paradise.

Marissa is not afraid of dying. She doesn’t want to, but she is not afraid. She knows God as her Savior and she is settled in His hands. We trudge on and we wade through and we expect God to answer our prayers for healing. We know He is able. We know what our hearts seek, what they desire.

But if not, then we unclench our fists and open our hands fully to God. If not, then we remind ourselves of the painful glory of the cross. If not, then we rejoice through tears.

Because if not, then it’s a safe passage for her through the swollen waters of the Jordan. If not, then it’s streets of gold and eternal harps and angel choirs. If not, then it’s the forever healing in the presence of God, her King.

If not, then it’s paradise.

The journey home

For Jennifer, and all of us in the middle of the story

We did some traveling this past week, and we drove through Durham and right past the exit for Duke where Marissa spent so many days. Where we fought and some would say lost. So much happened there, and I feel such a tumble of emotion–and not just for the physical battle.

No, the battle was much more than that.

Floods of memory rush in with a growing thickness in the throat. A sigh for all the ways the battle changed us. And a heaviness. For Marissa, the horrific fight but then a full transformation into glory. For us left behind, some growth. Some faith. A new realization of God.

But many scars. Fear. And a struggle moving forward some days.

I suppose this is how soldiers feel after a great battle. Where do we go from here?

A friend has finished her cancer treatment and is searching for a new normal. She knows Marissa and knows the end of that story and wonders about her own.

And wonders how to trust God with all the stories.

Because all the stories are different. All the stories are His. Short or long, peaceful or battle-filled, joyful or laced with sorrow, they are His. He writes them. He fills each line.

Some are filled with excitement and wonder. Some are funny and light-hearted. Some are settled and beautiful. Some have one great battle and then peace. And some, endless conflict.

What is there to do but trust the Author? To remember His skill and His purpose and His love. To keep moving through the pages with faith. To be patient. To wait expectantly for Him to resolve, renew, and restore. To believe that He will direct each step and give strength for each new fight.

To stop looking at the words on the page and to trust in the proven One.

To believe in His plan, His beauty, His grace. To settle our hearts in truth.

To believe that it ends well.

That our journey ends with the warmth and joy of home.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces. Isaiah 25:8

 

Flourishing

My husband and I went away for a few days last weekend to celebrate our upcoming anniversary. It was quiet–we picked blackberries, puttered around in antique shops, and walked in the rain.

Thirty-six years ago we made a solemn promise, and it’s been both better than we dreamed and harder than we imagined. So many joy-filled moments and now this great sorrow.

The steady joy of tested love is like a favorite sweater–the weight and warmth always nearby to take the chill away. Thick and comfortable. Familiar and cherished. I do not take this love for granted.

We talk about Marissa often. I think he shares his heart more than most men. Maybe grief has been a good teacher. We remind each other of God’s faithfulness, repeat words of hope. We remind each other to keep walking this pilgrim path, this thorny path that has been chosen for us to walk together.

We miss her so much, but we remember where she is. We remind ourselves of truth.

I’m thankful for the deep roots that steady us.

The crape myrtles are starting to blossom here. Our neighborhood is lined with their color.

I’ve always loved the idea of a tree that is most beautiful when the weather is hot and so inhospitable. All of the other trees bloom in the coolness of spring with ideal temperatures and a host of flowering encouragement. But this one waits. This one bursts with color in the middle of summer.

I am wise enough to know that there would be no flowering without the roots growing deep. I know storms can uproot–I have seen tall and beautiful trees blown down by strong gusts of wind, some unseen weakness underneath.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psalm 92:12-15

I want to be a flourishing tree, to still bear fruit in old age. I want to be the tree that flowers in summer, the plant that is watered by a desert stream. I want the deepest roots in my marriage, my family, and my heart so that I will be firmly planted. So that I will not fear when the heat comes.

Ultimately, though, the story is not about the flourishing of the tree. Ultimately the story is about the uprightness of God. About His powerful ability to be our rock, our strong tower, our hiding place.

Ultimately, the beauty is from Him.

The beauty is Him.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The praise of yes

Summer has settled in with its muggy mornings and lazier days. This summer does not feel typical, because we are playing catch-up with school and living in the mess of several home projects.

Oh, and grieving. That consumes a bit of energy, a bit of time. We are all navigating the twisting path of it. All trying to get to the other side of it.

The best days begin and end with being outside. I find my soul somehow strengthened by being out-of-doors and seeing God’s creative work. I can imagine the Garden of Eden and how it must have been to walk and talk with God in the cool of the day. I know that I am not in reality closer to Him but my heart perceives more of Him, and I am drawn to think and to pray.

I feel His peace. I see His glory.

Marissa loved being outside, and we walked often. In the last months, I pushed her wheelchair around the block many times a day. In the evenings there were often 6 or 7 of us walking together in the gathering dark. Doing our best to cherish the moment and push fear away. Doing our best to remember God and the goodness of His ways.

Longing for peace and glory.

My husband and I find that walking yields some of our best moments. We talk and we share–the deep things of our hearts spilling out over pavement and alongside neighbors’ gardens. There is plenty of shallow, everyday speech, but it seems to always make its way to deep–the jagged edges giving way each time to the crater hiding just beneath.

I remember the walk after we learned that Marissa’s cancer had spread to her liver, when the hard truth of terminal cancer slowed our steps. I remember my husband telling me we needed to say yes to God. I remember walking faster and trying not to think about what saying yes would mean.

That was a hard and painful yes.

The truth is that saying yes doesn’t change the circumstance. It changes you. It changes your relationship with God. It makes it possible to praise Him in the middle of boring or hard or sad. It makes it possible to praise Him in the middle of unthinkable sorrow.

To praise Him with your yes.

I have had to say yes many times. I know you have, too. I find myself even now saying it when the “no” rises in my heart. When I don’t want to be content with what God has done or what He has given me to do. When this isn’t what I would have chosen for me.

When we say yes we are released from our fear and our heartache. The yes of submission, the yes of sacrifice, the yes of contentment–it reconnects our heart with God’s. It enables us to draw near, to rest, to trust.

Our yes becomes our deepest praise.

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:5

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. Psalm 34:1

 

 

Renovation

A little bit of happy surged in my heart this morning.

I don’t know why my heart has been so heavy the last few days or why the slightest smell or smallest gesture has triggered floods of memory. I don’t know why the memories hurt so much some days.

And then one day it is simply better. A softer light and a lifted burden. Relief and warmth. Grace.

So grateful for grace.

I’m learning to be gentle in my expectation of myself and my family. Just because there is a smile on the face does not mean there is no pain in the heart. And there is no easy way to predict when the sadness will hit. It’s like riding a wave. You are certain another is coming, but will it be a gentle wave that you can ride to shore or a violent, sudden lurching into the cold? No way to tell.

You can hold your mind captive, but the emotions come and go as they will. You just try not to fear the waves.

We started a summer project of replacing our countertops. And somehow that has snowballed into painting our cabinets and tiling the backsplash and removing the bar–so much more mess and trouble and work than I had planned on.

Life sometimes snowballs like that, doesn’t it? You don’t realize what you are getting into until you are right in the middle. You wake up one morning with a simple plan and no idea of how God is going to change your life with an unexpected event or a change of direction. A car accident or a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with someone. All of a sudden, life is much more complicated than you planned on, and you’re not sure the mess or trouble is worth it.

Sometimes you just want your old, green countertop back.

God is doing this new work in me, I know. I am trying not to resist the labor of it. I am trying not to be discouraged in the process. The renovation reveals all sorts of weakness, all sorts of ugliness. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and it is hard to look ahead. Harder still to believe that the finished product will resemble anything good, anything beautiful.

But I do believe in beauty and the God who creates it. I believe that ultimately this messy, hard work of living will reveal the forethought of a master builder who holds the blueprint in His hand.

I do believe when the project is finished, it will be worth it all. It will be beautiful.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, “What are you making?” Isaiah 45:9