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:

March 6, 2018:



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.

Rising light

Every day, I want to write about the morning sky.

The gray slowly turning to color. The fading of the stars. The winter trees a pencil sketch against the rising light.

The sky has its own language, and it reaches me, a display of God’s eternal power and divine nature. (Romans 1:20)

The sky is always changing–a continual transformation. But it is the morning sky that stirs me most. A rhythm of majesty every day. A certainty of triumph no matter how dark the night.

We finally got our Christmas tree up, and I love the cheerful glow of light. During the day, it looks somewhat disheveled, its imperfections evident. But in the evening and early morning, it is a flawless instrument to display the twinkling lights.

In the darkness, it is magical.

A lifetime of happy memories swirls in my heart at Christmas–so many light-filled moments to cherish. Now mixed in there is this leavening, this sobering throb of pain. It is impossible to separate them–gratefulness for the rich blessing that surrounds me, and an awareness of aching loss.

Dark and light both present in my deepest place.

I think of Mary and Joseph and a small baby crying. A darkened stable filled with both wonder and doubt, both joy and fear. The God-child entering a blackened world because of love.

And a star shedding just enough light so the wise men can find their way.

Inside me a light arises, a soft glow of truth. A lifting, an acknowledging, a reckoning. Like candlelight and tree lights and starlight. Soft and gentle and flickering, bright against the darkest night. Enough to help me find my way.

It would not shine so brightly in the daylight.

The darkness is the perfect showcase for the rising light.

To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, 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 1:77-79

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

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

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













A tuning of the heart

“Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.”

The tuning of the heart–it is God’s work, but it is also mine. God works His will in me, and I am either soft and yielding or stubborn and hard.

My heart can be tuned to praise, but it is also true that praising God can tune my heart. It calls out in me the higher good, the nobler song.

It is, perhaps, the ultimate submission to praise God in the midst of personal trial.

There is a clarity in praise that scatters clouds, restores vision, and confirms faith.

On this Thanksgiving week, let your first thought be gratefulness. Let your first prayer be a whisper of praise. No matter what path you are walking now, find thankfulness.

Find God in every moment, in every bit of happy and in every bit of hard.

Praise will tune your heart.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence. Psalm 42:5

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. Psalm 71:14

Muted Color

We finally went to the ocean.

Two years ago, right before Marissa’s scheduled surgery, we had reserved and paid for a house right on the beach. She wanted to see the ocean again. But then a hurricane changed the plan, her surgery was canceled, and she moved on to radiation.

And then a change in all our plans. A change in direction, a change in perspective, a change in reality. A spiral ending in sorrow for us. Healing and joy for her.

Even now it is hard to think that my deepest heartache was her triumphant deliverance.

On the first morning at the beach house, my son and I met, unplanned and silent, in the hallway before dawn. We walked to the water’s edge in the moonlight and waited for the sun to rise. It was windy and warm, and we were witness to a quiet but stunning transformation of sky. The vibrant reds were astonishing, the beauty of the heavens spilling down around us, and we sat immobile–unable to catch it, hold it, grasp it. God’s glory seemed a tangible thing, and He was both very near and very far away.

The next morning we got everyone out of bed early to await the sunrise. We made coffee and set up cameras and waited expectantly on the shore. The sun rose, and it was lovely. But it was not what we were expecting. It was clouded and muted and subtle.

This was not the past, remembered beauty.

The Bible tells us it is good to go into the house of mourning. Deep things happen there–brokenness and the stirring of the soul. Wrestling and longing and a physical kind of hurting. Stretching, a dawning of understanding, and a painful healing. The kind of healing that changes who you are and who you long to be.

God’s glory settling down and seeping into all the dark places.

Once you have stepped in, it is hard to walk out. Sometimes I even wonder if we are meant to leave.

It is good to stay awhile. To let our eyes adjust to the dimmed light, the muting of all the colors. To see clearly gospel hope etched and illumined on every wall. To listen to all the murmuring sounds of the river of peace.

To be held gently by nail-scarred hands.

We look back on past, remembered bright colors, but they are muted–a watercolor version. We struggle with disappointment, but we trudge onward. We are in a darkened hallway, but we are waiting for and walking toward a stunning light, an unknown glory to come.

We are meant to enjoy this life’s beauty and all the good gifts our Father gives us here. But we are not despondent when the colors fade. We are beginning to love the watercolor rendition. We are learning to know the skill and the heart of the Painter.

The mourning house is refining us.

The mourning house is teaching us to long for more.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2



Another birthday

For Rissa

You would be 28 today.

I’m thinking back to the night you were born and the sweet, damp scent of you. I’m remembering your newness and the joy of meeting you and holding you and knowing you.

I remember those first moments of seeing you. The feeling that you had always been a part of my soul, the knowing that you always would be. The lingering weight of love settling over us as we slept at last, a blanket both heavy and warm.

I remember.

I was 28 when you were formed in me. When God knitted you together and wrote your story. I’m glad I didn’t know any of it. I’m happy for those years when life swirled in vibrant color, spinning us around and making us laugh.

I’m grateful for all the memories of you. They float in my heart like shiny rainbow bubbles, and I guard them so they do not pop. There is always this fear of forgetting details.

But you, Beanie, are part of me. I am not afraid of forgetting you.

We finally went to the ocean. Remember how we had to cancel our plan to go before your surgery because of the hurricane?

And last year we just didn’t have the will to go.

We saw dolphins and shrimp boats and seagulls. I watched every sunrise and every sunset, and I remembered. How you loved the sky and the beautiful things. Books and children. Laughter and friends. God.

How you embraced all the living you were given.

We remember. We love you. We miss you so much.

Happy birthday, Rissa.












Don’t quit

The days are getting shorter, the moon glowing on my evening walk and still there in the early morning. It’s been high and bright and beautiful.

A few touches of cool. A return to school and hurry and doing.

So much hurry ahead and my steps feel slow this year.

It all just circles ’round, doesn’t it?

It’s been a summer of good-byes. First my mama, and then four other funerals at my church. I’ve grieved with families on the anniversary of their own good-byes. I’m praying for some who are right now facing such hard, heavy battles.

My neighbor is living his last days. Around the clock visitors and lights on in the wee hours of the morning. He’ll never plant his lovely garden again or laugh at our dog’s antics or offer me a bag of okra. He’ll never wave at me again on my evening walks.

I am filled to the brim with good-bye.

One of the funerals I attended was for a 98-year-old man in our church. A dear man who lived his life honorably, with purpose and good humor. A man who knew his Bible and his God. One of his favorite ways to end a conversation was with the admonition, “Don’t quit.”

And I have been repeating those words.

Don’t quit.

My children are playing soccer again. The work is good for them–the training, the running, the teamwork. But there is one thing I really want them to learn.

Don’t quit.

When you are exhausted, when it feels like you cannot finish, when there is no way to win. When you are discouraged or disheartened. When you lose your desire to finish the task or even take the next step. When you are wronged and nothing seems fair. When you are dismally failing and so disappointed in yourself or in your teammates.

Don’t quit.

And God is kneading my heart, performing CPR on my soul.

He is meeting me here. Right here in this weariness.

He is whispering, “I am with you. I will help you. Don’t quit.”

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12

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.  Hebrews 12:1