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

Sunrise

Sunrise is my favorite time of day.

No matter the circumstances in my life or the condition of my heart, the coming up of that sun brings with it a lifting of spirit. A glimpse of hope.

The colors can be stunning, but mostly it begins with just the softest pink rising above the trees.

To see dark sky slowly filling with light is a kind of joy, quiet and profound.

Night has ended and a new day begun.

Christmas is here again with all of its sparkle. When we walk in the evening, we see candles and colored lights shining in neighbors’ homes. We pass elaborate outdoor light displays when we drive around town. We come home to tree lights and firelight.

Why are we drawn to lights at Christmas?

Our Dayspring, our Sunrise, has visited us. He came as the prophets foretold. He emerged as the softest light in a world of utter darkness.

Not a sudden blazing radiance, but a faint glow of hope for us in our misery.

A fulfilling of gospel promise.

The beginning of salvation for those who believe.

The most glorious news in the most unexpected place.

A stable, a young virgin mother, birth of a baby boy.

The gentlest promise of redemption to come.

Reaching me through ages past.

Lifting me from my darkness, illuminating my path. Gracing every sorrow, leading me to a purpose beyond this short life.

Undeserved hope of redemption. Mercy.

And a joy like the filling of a night sky with light.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and leap like calves from the stall. Malachi 4:2

Praise

We have a praise service at our church before Thanksgiving–a blessed time of reflection. It is always a joy to hear grateful voices raised to God.

But it is the suffering ones whose praise rings loudest.

The grieving, the lonely, the ill. The disappointed and sorrowing. Those who have come through a severe storm or deep, dark waters.

That praise is a lovely song, a sweet aroma. That praise is a gift and a light.

A buoy for weary pilgrims to hold.

How can we doubt God’s work when we see His grace displayed so lavishly in failing humans? What a wonder is the Spirit’s real and individual dealing in the minds and hearts of those who suffer!

That kind of praise quenches our doubt with refreshing water. Renews our hope and strengthens our hands.

Ignites the flickering flame when our hearts are growing cold.

I remember the Thanksgiving of 2016. Marissa and I were living in Durham during her radiation treatment. We planned on leaving right after her appointment on Wednesday morning so we could make it home in time for the praise service at church that night. But her doctors planned another appointment, and we didn’t end up getting home until after 9.

We were exhausted–physically and mentally and spiritually. We had been invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner at my nephew’s house, but all we wanted was rest and home. I went to bed without one preparation for the next day. No turkey in the house. No pies. No side dishes chilling in the fridge. No plan but sleep.

But I slept well and woke early. I drove to the nearest grocery store to see if they had fresh turkeys. They did and that somehow spurred me on. I began to walk around the empty store and fill my cart with good things for my family to eat.

I remember that morning with such clarity. I don’t know that I have ever felt God’s presence so strongly as I did in the aisles of that store. As I filled the cart, He was filling my heart. He was renewing my song, reminding me of His faithfulness. He was strengthening me for the days ahead.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving that year. It was Marissa’s last one on this earth, but of course we didn’t know that then. The next few weeks would bring us into the last, terrifying battle.

But early on that Thanksgiving day and in all the days ahead, He provided everything I needed. He saw me in my weakness, and He answered my cry. He was with me in trouble.

He was teaching me right there in the grocery store to trust in Him.

He was drawing me to worship, enabling me to praise.

Bless the LORD, all you works of His, in all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul! Psalm 103:22

For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:5

We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds. Psalm 75:1

Change

Ann is with Jesus.

Like a flickering, fading light she slipped away.

A grace-filled dying.

Her funeral was a treasure of faces and words and songs. A beautiful house of mourning.

A hope-filled sorrowing.

She is buried not far from Marissa. Not far from Nikki and Jean and others we know. A gathering place. And a reminder that we all live out only our appointed days.

On our last day, all that matters is what we have done with Jesus.

It’s funny how a cemetery puts it all in perspective. All the drama of this life softened by just a glimpse of eternity.

The powerful glory of the cross shining steadily into the corners of grief and uncertainty for those who believe.

I am understanding more and more its merciful light.

It has been the gentlest fall, breezy and warm with color filling the trees so slowly. I’m always startled by the beauty of dying leaves.

A favorite tree in my neighborhood has delighted my heart with its vibrancy. But yesterday we had a hard rain and today its leaves are gone, its branches dark and drear.

My eyes will have to adjust, find pleasure in other sights. Adapt to the change, the season, the loss.

But my heart remembers the beauty.

My heart stays quiet, hopeful, resting.

Knowing.

Yes, the knowing settles deep.

God will make it beautiful again.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the bones are formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Ecclesiastes 11:5

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

Thirty

For Rissa on her birthday

You know how summer exits slowly here? Autumn is always a bit of a surprise.

A slight change in the air. A breeze.

Dark and cooler mornings, shorter days.

A scent of earth and dampness.

Thirty years ago you were born three weeks before your due date, as if you did not want to miss any of it.

And you have always loved fall.

Some nights when I am walking while the sky is darkening, I feel you very close to me. Memories flicker all around–joy and sorrow warring in my heart.

The raw ache of missing you is a companion of sorts, unwelcome but familiar. I form a necessary truce so that I can remember all the treasure of you.

Your exuberance, your joy. Your sarcasm and humor. Your beautiful smile. Your love of people, including the little ones. Your zest for adventure. Your gift of helping others. Your kindness and strength.

How grateful I am for you. How I cherish every part of you.

This has been the craziest year–one day when all the pages are turned and the book is closed, we will sit and talk about it. How many times I have longed for your cheerful perspective, your courage and faith.

How I have missed you.

Thirty years–a milestone birthday. Most of your friends will approach it with some soberness, a realization of how quickly time is passing. Perhaps they will renew goals and make some changes, move forward with purpose.

I would love to be celebrating with you–cake and presents and outings. To watch your life unfolding, to sit quietly and listen to your heart.

I would love to know you at thirty.

Instead I am comforted that you took every breath you were meant to take. You are right now fully known and fully loved. You are safe.

So on your birthday I am remembering the beautiful gift of you. The 26 years when I could touch you and talk with you and celebrate you.

And I am moving forward in faith, one step at a time, one day at a time. Opening my heart to the future, whatever it holds.

Falling back on the grace that held you and kept you and keeps you still.

Knowing that because of God and His promises, I will know you again. I will love you forever.

Happy birthday, my little Beanie girl.