Pictures

For Rissa on her birthday

I was just looking through all our apple-picking pictures over the years. I remember how you were the one to insist on all the photos, how you would gather the groups and make sure all the various combinations were taken.

Those pictures represent some of our happiest memories–all of us running away to the mountains together. Feeding the sheep and eating hot doughnuts and drinking apple cider.

I think of the kindness of our Father when I see them. I look at you, your joyful face. I touch each picture with gratefulness.

We have our last family picture hanging on the wall, taken in January of 2017. I love it because we are all together, but I can see the strain behind our eyes. You had just gotten home from the hospital where we had received the worst kind of news. You had oxygen waiting in the car, and we wheeled you to the field in the wheelchair. The unspoken pressure was there to capture the last family portrait. All of the siblings took a picture alone with you. We laughed (as we do) and did the best we could.

When I see that picture, I see your face full of grace. Your hair is short and your face is puffy from the steroids. You have endured more than many 80-year-olds. You are tired and sad and maybe a little confused. But you are standing straight, and I see your unwavering heart in your face.

I love your heart, Beanie.

Today is your birthday, and we’ll do our best to celebrate the things you love. We’ll take new flowers to the cemetery. We’ll look at old photos.

And even though the pictures only reflect a snippet of your life, a fragment of your time here, they are precious.

They help us remember all the days of you, all the ways of you. How blessed we are to be your people, your family.

I think about heaven and how little we really know about it. God only gives us glimpses of its beauty. It doesn’t always feel like enough, and we are left wondering and longing and reaching.

But that’s how pictures are. Just snapshots of the whole.

Your smile does not reflect the whole of you, the fullness of your story. And my small assurances of heaven cannot reflect the majesty and power and glory in your present, unseen picture.

But I cherish the pictures, those I can hold and those I can’t. The glimpses of past joy and the promises of the future. I’m grateful for all the pieces.

And by faith, I believe in the whole. The glorious expanse of what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Unknown and unseen, but as real as your smile. As real and as eternal as you.

Today I am touching all the pictures with faith.

I am touching them with full assurance.

I am touching them with gratefulness.

Happy birthday, Rissa. I love you forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yielding

Not long ago there was a hurricane that shattered beautiful places, and people were changed forever by its force. Yet here there was only the softest breeze.

And that’s how the storms come. Mostly they are distant. Most days we are only reading the headlines, mere spectators. Only a few storms are personal, touching us and those we love. Shaping our landscape. Feeling very much like destruction.

Then we soften and yield, or we stiffen and break.

This summer I walked through some days where I felt unsettled. Restless and agitated. Was it weariness? Lingering sadness? Or were memories of the past and fear of the future turning my heart into a stony ground?

I felt surrounded by a thousand pressures and a noisy soul.

Was I resisting God somehow?

And this word kept coming to me: Yield.

Yield the past with its prolonged sadness. Yield the present pressures and weights. Yield the future unknowns.

Yield to the story God has written.

Grief is a life-long pressure, but it is sacred and quiet. It is between God and me.

But the daily struggles, the burdens that float around in my head, do not feel sacred at all. How can car repairs and medical decisions and too much to do compare with watching my daughter die?

Yet all of the mundane frustrations are also between God and me.

Yield has two verb forms. The first means to give up, collapse. Its synonyms are give way, crumple, break. Throw in the towel. It is the yield of defeat. But the other meaning is to grant or allow. It is a bending. A surrender. An assent.

It is a whispering of yes.

A life centered around Christ requires this every-day yielding. Choosing to believe God, to trust in God, to live with a view of eternity.

Especially when I don’t understand.

To invest in the things that are not seen. To let go of the things that are.

It’s a continual bending. Consenting to God and His purpose. Complying.

Saying yes to trouble. To flat tires and unexpected bills and cavities. Yes to all of the heavier battles, the physical and spiritual and emotional struggles of this broken world. Yes to all the unknowns of the future. For me and my children and all of my people. Yes even to grief or suffering. A continual opening of heart and hand.

Yes to all my moments.

Lifting them up in the name of Jesus to God who is over all and through all and in all.

Believing with child-like faith in His good purpose and promises. Resting in all His truth.

Walking humbly. Softening and yielding so I do not stiffen and break.

Rejoicing that He is worthy of every yes.

What God Ordains is Always Good 

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed in ev’ry need
knows well how He will shield me;
to Him, then, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good: 
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm
though many storms may gather.
Now I may know both joy and woe;
some day I shall see clearly
that He has loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good: 
though I the cup am drinking
which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God gives relief,
my heart with comfort filling
and all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good: 
this truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, for with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
so to my God I yield me.

Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)

One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big love

Thirty-eight years ago, when I was young and not very wise at all, I somehow did the wisest thing–I married the man that I share my life with today. And even though I did make that promise soberly, at the time I never imagined I would need the promise. I thought holding on would be the easiest thing.

It‘s a different kind of loving than I had thought it would be, a little more stretching than I was planning on. Not a perfect love. More ballad than fairy tale. But he makes it easy. Funny and clever, gentle and kind, a full-of-grace every-day reminder of God’s love.  

So much water has gone under our bridge, children and chaos and noise. Storms and obstacles and churning rapids. Trouble and sorrow and loss.

But there has been joy. So many good days filled with soft trickling and tender light. 

Through it all I have been blessed with this big love. A place where my heart is safe, where I am home.

God has been holding on to us, to our promise. God has been teaching us how to love.

I have been thinking about 1 Corinthians 13. Love never fails. God is certainly not saying that we never fail, that we can love perfectly. Part of the magic of old love is the understanding that someone knows all of our weak places and so many of our secrets and still cherishes the best parts of us.

It is the actions of love that never fail.

That kind of love looks like patience. It looks like kindness. It isn’t filled with envy, boasting, or arrogance. It doesn’t seek its own.

(And isn’t that the hardest part? Seeking someone else’s good and not your own?)

It isn’t irritable. It isn’t full of resentment. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing.

That kind of love bears all things. Believes all things. Hopes all things. Endures all things.

It never ends.

That kind of love is more than flowers or candy or candlelight dinners.

More than laughter or passion or romance.

It’s big love–love that stretches and pulls and fills all the spaces.

That kind of love is from God.

 

 

The God who sees

I had almost forgotten the heavy warmth of a newborn baby asleep in my arms. It is good to remember.

I don’t keep scrapbooks, and I am not a good photographer. So many details of my life are forgotten, blending into the whole. It makes me sad sometimes.

Yet I am the product of all my memories, all of my experiences.  The details gather and take shape, coming together like words on a page, telling a story.

They do matter.

Marissa’s story has touched you in some way, and many of your stories have touched me, invisible threads binding us together in ways we don’t understand.

We are not alone.

A sovereign hand moves and surrounds and binds together.

During my evening walks I pass behind a row of houses. In December the Christmas tree lights were shining through the back window of one house, twinkling festively. They were still shining at the end of January, long after everyone else had packed their lights away. Then the blinds were closed tight.

But sometimes I would notice a flickering of white light. One night last week, the blinds were left open and the tree sparkled into the summer night.

I’ve seen an older man out mowing the grass. Does he live alone? Does he sit in the evening staring at the tree and enjoying thoughts of happier times? Or maybe he has a wife who sits there all day long, lost in her memories.

I don’t know his story, but it has intersected with mine. Now I look for the lights every time I walk by.  I have prayed for this man I have never met.

And I am comforted to know El Roi, the God who sees.

He sees behind the closed blinds of every story.

He sees you. Your fear, your insecurity, your pain. He sees every part of your suffering.

Your weakness and your struggle. All your disappointment.

He knows your empty places.

Your hopes. Desires. Each fragile dream held tightly.

You are seen.

Every detail is known.

You are not alone.

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths. Proverbs 5:21

For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. 2 Chronicles 16:9

So she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace for the breathing

I drove to the cemetery last week and sat awhile, the silence and faded flowers an odd comfort. The mountains in the distance remind me of places far away. Places I am going and places I have been. Memories settle around me like flower petals, velvety and smooth.

Such longing.

But with it, a promised peace.

My twin sons graduated from high school this week, and it has stirred up all sorts of emotion. Really? When did that happen? When did my little babies turn into strong young men? When did they pass me in height and strength?

When did they stop holding my hand when we crossed the street?

I suppose when you have lost a child you no longer take youth for granted. Ten years ago Marissa stood on that same platform with shining face and hopeful heart. What are my boys thinking as they venture on into life? Sorrow is no stranger to them. They carry fewer assumptions than most teenagers but hopefully a firm assurance of truth and eternity, of God. I pray they will offer their lives to Him with open hands and faith-filled hearts, welcoming the sunshine without worrying about how quickly the storms can come.

I pray they will not be afraid.

Last May we gathered around my mother’s deathbed. This will be the first Mother’s Day that I have no one to thank and no one to call. No flowers to send.

The first year I am mother without being child.

All the years a breath.

And it is the breathing that hurts sometimes.

On the final trip I took to visit my mother last year, I sat next to a woman who never stopped talking about herself, never asked me one question. She announced that Mother’s Day was her favorite day, recounting all the activities, all the traditions that her family kept to celebrate her.

But I know that I can’t be the only mom to shrink back a little from the accolades. To feel a little worn with all the giving, all the stretching. To know the heaviness of struggle and faltering.

I know that I am not the only mom to need a bit of grace.

For the every-day-giving-up-self kind of loving. For doing all the hard things. For the disappointments, the good-byes. For living every moment of this story written for me.

Grace. I need grace for the breathing.

And He pours it out on me, a perfect grace.

It is enough for every shadowed crevice. It cleanses and heals me, covers me. Awakens all of my hushed, imperfect praise.

Delivers me.

It draws me to the only One who has ever loved completely and perfectly.

From His fullness, He gives it freely, grace upon grace.

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. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:14,16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday morning

I hadn’t realized spring was here until we drove away from it.

A couple of weeks ago we headed north for a retreat and gradually left it behind. Blooming flowers and fields of green giving way to barren browns and grays. The temperature was about the same, but the color just faded away.

A reminder of seasons and change. We are never more than a few paces from winter, are we? It’s good to know that spring always comes around again.

Sometimes waiting is the most active kind of faith.

After 5 weeks in the hospital, my grandson is home and doing well. Still many unknowns, but the terror has subsided. The gray has lifted.

But I am holding some close in prayer who are a long walk from spring. Color is just a memory. And the heaviness of waiting is bearing down.

Down in the valley. Valley so low.

I’ve been reading about the passion week, and today is Good Friday. I’m thinking about the followers of Jesus who were there, feeling forsaken and despondent and so disappointed.

Faith so small. Blackness descending. Color all but gone.

And they can hardly remember what they are waiting for.

Death, a menacing companion. Grave, looming so large.

They can’t comprehend that Sunday is coming.

When we drove back down the mountain roads to home, we were surprised by the gradual returning of color. We had been gone only a few days, but we had somehow forgotten how lush and green it all was. We had somehow forgotten spring.

And it reminds me.

It reminds me to be active in faith through the bleakness of winter.

It reminds me of a rolled-back stone and an empty grave. A merciful God and a risen Savior. A future where every darkness and every part of dying is swallowed up in victory.

It reminds me of Sunday morning.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? John 11:25-26

He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 25:8

Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 1 Corinthians 6:14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following on

Two years ago today we said good-bye to our sweet Rissa.

Since January I have been reliving that last battle, remembering and crying and praying. Though each memory brings fresh pain, she is in every part of my living. I could not forget her beauty, her laughter, her love, her courage, her faith.

But today we remember her good-bye.

My oldest daughter was due with her first child this week. We wondered if maybe God would bring her little son on March 6, the anniversary of Marissa’s home-going. We thought it might bring a happy remembrance to this week of sober reflection. Instead, her pregnancy has been filled with difficulty–cord anomalies, excess amniotic fluid, preterm labor at 22 weeks, complete bed rest, a c-section on March 3 because of labor that failed to progress, and a life-threatening birth defect detected just a few hours after the baby’s birth. Ambulance rides and NICU and medical tests for possible related issues. Invasive surgery at 2 days old, intubation, and lots of uncertainty. A world of unknowns.

This is not what we thought God was doing. This is not what we thought He would do.

There was some middle-of-the-night faith struggle. Some wrestling.

But mostly I have felt peace and the nearness of God. My faith stretching. This beautiful, tiny boy is ours. And my daughter and son-in-law have been gifted with a radiant grace. I weep to think of it.

Not long ago, after an ordination service at our church, I had a picture come to my mind. A picture of each trial coming to us in solemn ceremony. A parcel handed over. A charge given. Prayer and laying on of hands.

Each trial a responsibility. A burden. But also a privilege. A trust.

And I think of my Rissa Bean, accepting her package with joy. Faithfully fulfilling her charge. Walking her path with courage.

Maintaining a real and gritty faith through all of it.

How can I do less?

So I am reaching out for all my packages. I am accepting all of the ways God will use them. I am considering it joy and a privilege to do the work He created for me. The work for which I was created.

I am following on.

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away, too?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:67-68

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

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

March 6, 2017: https://tracinghisgoodness.com/2017/03/09/the-battle-won/

March 6, 2018: https://tracinghisgoodness.com/2018/03/06/one-year-things-unseen/

 

 

Along the path

It is a dark and rainy winter day, and I am looking for something. I am searching in the closet of the girls’ room when I come across a familiar but forgotten thing–Marissa’s purse. It is the last one she carried, and I gasp a little–a buried sadness surfacing.

A bag of almonds, in case she needed a snack. Several kinds of chapstick. A piece of gum. A verse written on a card.

And then a folded paper towel. I open it slowly, and the remembering washes over me. As I see the name and phone number written down, I am back in the emergency room on one of the hardest nights. I am hearing the worst kind of news and trying not to show the shock on my face. I am willing the tears not to fall down my face. The night nurse is scribbling a name and phone number on a paper towel. “Call if you ever need anything.” An acknowledgement of the darkness of the night and the coming sorrows.

And on this mundane day almost two years later, I am suddenly weeping. I am remembering so much of that cancer battle with all of its ugliness. And I am muffling my sobs in a pillow so my children do not hear me.

All at once, there are so many reasons to cry.

Some days it’s a slow walk through grief, stepping over obstacles you thought were thrown away long ago. Who knew the sorrow could suck you in like that, steal your breath in a moment?

That’s just the way it is. The path is long, and the suffering slows us. But it doesn’t mean we are not moving forward. It doesn’t mean there is no light up ahead.

Emotion is not the enemy of faith.

No, emotion can be the friend that drives us to our knees. It can open our eyes to present beauty and increase our longing for future rest. It allows us to curl up close near the breast of the Comforter.

Sadness? What is that compared to the faith pulsing in us? Fear? The fast beating in our chest slows as we consider the sovereignty of God. Suffering? Pain in this small breath of time will be forgotten in the wide expanse of eternity.

What emotion is overwhelming you today? Let it draw you to the One who suffered for you and is touched with every aspect of your suffering.

Let your longing lead you to the One who delivers and saves.

Let it lead you to the cross and to the Savior.

Let your soul be stilled.

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Psalm 23:3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He keeps

Ah, January. You are almost over. It’s a hard month–so easy to fear the emotional memories of that January two years ago when things were getting so bleak.

So I remembered when I could and pushed away when I could not. I dreaded the cold, dark days, but I walked right into them. I have survived (mostly) and thrived (a little.) I continually spoke truth to my soul, and tucked in close under the shelter of the One who made January and me and all of my days.

The north wind blew, but I am safe. Always safe.

I’m learning so much about the keeping power of God. I had always thought that safety was a physical thing, a bodily protection. But it is so much more.

A kept soul. How I love the truth of that. No experience, no fear, not one thing in my past or future can remove me from the promises of a faithful God.

He keeps my soul.

That is the song I sing, through joy and blessing and the pleasure of His presence. Through disappointment and grief and unknown future.

No matter what, I am always safe. He keeps my soul.

The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. Psalm 121:7

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. I Thessalonians 5:22-24

 

 

 

 

 

The hand of God

In December of 1939, Great Britain was at war. Uncertainty and fear were daily companions as air-raid sirens pierced the air. King George IV was England’s reigning monarch, and on Christmas day he quoted from this poem as he comforted his people by acknowledging the true Sovereign and His control over the coming year.

We who know Him as Sovereign and Savior can trust Him as Ruler and Guide.

We can trust Him in all the unknown, in all of the darkness. We can peacefully place our hand in His.

The Gate of the Year by Minnie Louise Haskins

God Knows  

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention. 

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.