The Spin Cycle

My dryer is in pieces in my laundry room.  Blech.

The part is on order, and one of my sweet friends will be putting it in for me, but…we are going on Day 11 of no dryer.

Don’t try to come to my bedroom right now.  I would definitely tackle you if you headed up the stairs.  My bedroom looks like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies.

I could wait until the dryer is fixed to wash, but that may mean that we have to climb over clothes to get to the beds.

There has been a great side-effect of this time without a dryer, though.

As I handle each piece of our clothing to hang it individually, I have been aware of God’s provision and blessing to us.

My guys tend to pick t-shirts as souvenirs when we take a trip.  I have had a lovely trip down memory lane, reflecting on all the fun places we have been, all the joy in being together.

We have been truly blessed over the years with the number of hand-me-downs we have.  Clothes in our own family have lasted well to be passed down from boy to boy, but also dear family and friends have passed down many things to us.  Looking at a load of clothes, the number I have actually had to purchase is relatively small…often just socks and underwear.  Huge blessing!

And…we have plenty of clothes to wear.  There are widows around the world, around our nation, who are struggling to put a meal on the table for their families, much less purchase the necessary clothing, and yet…here I am with clothes to spare.  Blessing again!

I would not have noticed all of these blessings, had I not been put in the slightly uncomfortable position of hanging up my clothes to dry.  This light and momentary trouble has brought me closer to God.  Praise Him for that!

In this fast-paced world where we are over-taxed, over-committed, and over-tired, don’t we sometimes need just a few minutes to relax and reflect on our blessings?

I sure am glad over these past couple weeks that I have had a few moments to reflect on mine!

But…I will be glad to have my dryer back.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. – Psalm 34:8

Sunrise and Sunset

There is nothing like watching the sun rise or set over the ocean.

I have lived a large portion of my life on one coast or the other…but primarily on the East Coast.  So, I probably have seen more sunrises on the water than sunsets, at least in my adult life, since I have been walking with God.

One of my favorite sunrises was shared with two friends when we were on a singles’ retreat weekend on a Delaware beach many years ago.  We got up early and headed out to the shore, huddling together in the cool morning air.  As the sun broke through the blackness, we sang hymns to our Lord and enjoyed the beauty of His creation.

In my moments of stress, I often go back to the stillness of that morning beach, singing to my Lord.  A day began, full of promise.  Joy was in the air.

But I have learned there is joy to be found in the sunset as well.

My parents moved to Naples, Florida a few years ago.  Gulf side.  Sunsets.

At first it was a bit of an odd concept for me, after years of solitary sunrises full of quiet promise.

Sunset in Naples is an event.  People come and set up chairs just before it occurs, cameras posed, to capture the beauty of display.  There is stillness, but it is a shared stillness as all present pause to look in wonder at the beauty before us.

The end of something lovely; the icing on the cake.

What a picture for our lives!  Joy in all the moments.

I love that we have a God who wants an intimate, personal relationship with me…one who will meet me in the sunrise, full of promise that He’s got it, that He loves me, that we will always walk this walk together.  Just the two of us, in quiet solitude.

I love, too, that we have a God who loves us in the sunsets, with others around for our journey, when the times are hard and the day needs to pause in order to be with Him and see Him.  The human family to help transmit the love of God to me here on earth, to sharpen as iron my walk with Him, to share the joy and beauty of the days of my life.

I need both…the sunrises and the sunsets…the times with God alone and with God in groups of  brothers and sisters in Christ.

And I praise Him that He gives me just what I need!

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Philippians 4:19-20

Follow-Through Faith

M-o-o-o-o-m, where’s my _________?

In a houseful of boys, this is a cry that is heard far to often.  Some days I am certain that a uterus must be a homing device.  They don’t have them; they can’t find anything.

And it is often quite frustrating.

Oh, if they legitimately look for something, I don’t get so hot under the collar; but if they take a cursory look at best and then start screaming for me to find something that they should know where it is, not I, I tend to get a little…peeved.

Any of you relate?

Then yesterday I read a verse that made me wonder if I do the same thing at times…with God.

It was one of those verses that I have probably read 100 times, and one that has always been kind of ancillary details to me…but something in it stood out to me this time.  How cool that the active Word of God can do that!

Genesis 15:11:  The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.

To set the scene for this verse, God has just promised Abram a son.  He makes a covenant with him, but God, who created all, has Abram go and get the birds for the sacrifice, and then has Abram keep away the vultures while He prepares to burn the sacrifice Himself.

Abram had to do his part!  The God of the universe certainly could have told the birds of prey to take a hike and let Abram sit and watch the show.  But instead He had him take part.

And God blessed him…then in words and later by the birth of the promised son.

But Abram had to get ready for his blessing, do his part in the preparation of it, not just sit and wait for it to happen before him.  Huh.

As I look at some of the challenges I face this year, I need to keep this in mind.  Instead of just doing cursory things to get it done, I need to keep looking for what God wants me to do as part of preparation for the blessing. 

Financial issues?  Have I done my part and been a wise steward, or am I just barely looking around for what is needed and crying to Daddy? 

Finding a man in my life?  Have I prayed enough, determined what I need and want enough?  Have I done all I can emotionally, physically, and spiritually to be in a position to accept that gift should it come to me?  I know He has been honing off pieces of me…have I let Him?

So I guess that would be my new year’s plan…not a resolution, per se, but a plan.  

Do my part to be ready for God to do His.

He will be faithful, that’s a given.  I pray that I will be, as well. 

I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. – Matthew 17:20

Unpacking Christmas

It is the beginning of December and that means the annual frenzy to get the house ready for the season.

Right now, it looks like Christmas threw up.  Not a pretty sight.  Boxes are strewn everywhere.  There is foam and fake pine needles all over the floor, and half-done shopping lists and baking lists cover the counter.  You can barely move without having to shift something else first.  I rush around, doing one thing, until I spy another that needs to be done just as much, and stop and tackle that.  The boys try to be helpful where they can, but they don’t think like me (imagine that).  (Actually, that is a great blessing.)

Currently I am unpacking the boxes of ornaments for the “family” tree.

And in this activity, I get my first Christmas miracle.

This is the tree of memories.  I have the pretty tree in the living room, but this tree holds my heart.

I unpack ornaments that graced my tree as a child:  a knitted stocking Mom made, needlepoint I did, wooden Santas as old as the hills that may have even come from Mom’s tree growing up, my grandmother’s Hallmark carousel ornaments.  I praise God that I grew up in the family that I did, with love and joy all around, and with Christmas memories that still bring me to tears.

I unpack the first Christmas ornaments that my mom so lovingly picked out for me and Keith, and Christmas ornaments that we got for our wedding from the Huffs and the Fontaines.  I praise God for a loving husband.  Even though he went home to Glory early, I would not have traded one moment with him.

I unpack the ornaments made by the boys over the years.  Some are crude and falling apart, but they make me smile.  I praise God for loving children, who love God, and who love me, despite my cranky days.

I unpack ornaments that Shari and Julie helped my boys to make a year after Keith died, the presents they gave me that year.  I praise God for friends who care enough to make my Christmas special.

I unpack a bell from Becky’s wedding, and bluebirds from Courtney’s, favors that have graced my tree since those blessed events.  I think back to the beautiful brides they were and praise God for their marriages and their children.

And then I find it.  It doesn’t look like much, but to me, it is priceless.  Aunt Hilda gave my sister and me each one…can’t even remember when.  It is about 1″ x 1/2″ x 2″…Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a little glass box.  From the time I was little, I just knew looking at this ornament that it was real…He had been here as a baby, and a man, for me.

And that is the greatest miracle of all.

I pray that this moment can stay fresh in my mind through this entire Christmas season.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  – John 3:16

Paving Stones

We have a group of widows (and a few widowers) who meet together a couple times a month for support.

This group has been invaluable in my life for healing…and to create a sense of normalcy.

Right after Keith died, God was gracious enough to give me 5…yes 5…new friends who were widows.  I met these ladies in a variety of ways:  friend of friend, new nurse at the doctor’s office, chance encounters.  Meeting with them was wonderful in those first months of loneliness, pain, confusion, etc., etc., etc.  They had only a few things in common:  the Lord, me, and the 300-lb gorilla of widowhood.

Realizing what a joy this is…and being of a sort of Julie-the-Cruise-Director mentality, I organized them to start meeting together.  Our times are mostly fellowship, but it is fellowship without the awkwardness.  We get each other.

All of us have in our lives dear friends and family who want so badly to help, but are just not sure what to say, how to say it, how to be supportive.  They are not sure how to deal with us on this grief path.  And they have no idea how to lead us.

Sometimes you can almost see their inner turmoil.  Do I laugh at the jokes?  Will there be tears?  What is the proper response both she…and I…should make here?  What if she wants to talk about sex or dating?

It would be funny if it weren’t so painful–for all involved.

Our group is called Travelers on a Different Journey.  We did not choose to be here, but we rest in God to get us through, trust in Him for all things, and lean on each other to guide the way.  The fellowship in the Lord is sweet, the people sweeter.  We have around 25 involved in the ministry.

My sweet friend Theresa, widowed 14 months before me, puts it this way, “I may not be able to pave a smooth road for you, but I can tell you where the potholes are so you can avoid them, or at least slow down.”

And this group works!

It is never more evident than on a light like last night.

We met for dinner at PF Changs (yum!).  One of the gals brought a friend, Wanda, who was widowed not quite a year ago who had not yet met the group of us.

Well, Wanda fit right in!  We gained a sister, and she gained a group of them.  I know that my journey will be a little sweeter for my association with her, and pray that hers will be as well by association with us.

Life is hard.  Sometimes it is harder.  But God is good and He is there every step of the way, to provide paving stones to smooth our path.

I am so thankful for my pavers!!

I pray you see the pavers He has provided along your journey.

And of course, that you know and trust the ultimate Paving Stone…Jesus Christ! 
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.  The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone; the Lord has done this,and it is marvelous in our eyes. 
— Psalm 118:21-23

Testimony Today

I gave a testimony at our church this morning:

Testimony 11-11-12
            Today, I am grateful for many things.
            First of all, today is Veteran’s Day, a day dedicated to those brave enough, devoted enough, to be willing to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others.  I praise God for the men and women willing to be of service to their country, regardless of the cost.  There are many veterans in this room.  Thank you for your service to this great country of ours.
            Today is also my 17th wedding anniversary.  Two days ago, Friday, was the 5th anniversary of Keith’s graduation to Glory.
            Today, for me, is bittersweet…but mostly sweet.
            It is in this loss that our family has really learned to be grateful.
            I have much to be grateful for in having been married to such a wonderful, Godly husband.  His Christian example has helped to make the boys and me into the people we are today, and his dedication to Christ and Christian principles have allowed us to go on without him…and even to thrive.
            I look around this congregation and see much to be grateful for as well.
            Several of you were there on the day Keith and I married.  You have been with us since the beginning, welcoming each of our boys in succession, watching us grow and change with each passing year.
            I see even more who have been there every step of the way since Keith’s death.
            In these past five years, the boys and I have confidently, consistently, completely felt your support and love.
            Whether it was Mother’s Day or birthday gifts, home and car repairs, or support for the boys as they become men, this congregation has listened to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and helped out my family.
            That’s what community is supposed to be…the church as described in Acts.
            I can never fully express what that means to me…and to them.
            Mostly, though, on this day I am grateful to a God who loves me in spite of my failings with a passion that I learn more of each day.  He holds me in the palm of His hand…and He always will.  He loves me enough to hone the rough edges…and to make glory out of my ashes.  He quite literally floors me with His love.
            I am thankful that in my grief and sorrow, He has not left me but instead has allowed me to grow ever closer to Him, being my Husband in a new and special way.
            I have learned many lessons over the past 5 years.  Some of them have been painful; some of them have been very painful.  But the most important lesson my family and I have learned is that God is always there.  On the good days, on the bad days, in the middle of the night, on the road trips, as the boys grow.  Always.
            And I am grateful.  So, so grateful.

Five Years…Wow!

Five years ago today, my beloved husband journeyed on to Glory.

So much has changed in that time…yet so much has stayed the same.

When Keith died:

  • there were no IPads and the IPhone was brand new
  • we had not had an African American president
  • Osama Bin Laden was still at large
  • Haiti had not been severely damaged by an earthquake and Japan had not suffered a tsunami
  • we had not suffered a good-sized earthquake in Northern Virginia
  • Kosovo had not declared itself an independent country and been recognized as such
  • Facebook, Twitter, and blogs were not commonly used by everyone and did not provide a major vehicle for communication
  • the housing market was slipping but had not crashed

In our own family:

  • I was still taller than all of my children
  • we did not have a dog at all, much less two
  • Jackson and Tanner could not read
  • Alex did not play guitar and had no interest in being in the praise band
  • we were not out for much of anything past 7:30 at night
  • I did not get up at 5:00 to spend precious quiet time with Jesus every morning
  • we did not have company at every holiday, and any time we could think of an occasion to have people over

Yet so many things have stayed the same:

  • I am blessed and  privileged to still be able to homeschool my boys
  • I live in the same home, the dream home Keith so lovingly painted with all 17 paint colors I wanted
  • I have friends who have stuck by me for these five years, taking care of me and the boys, from the moment Keith died until now
  • Our church continues to be a home and a haven, blessing us and allowing us to bless them
  • God is still God – in His heaven, in control, in my corner, in my life…each and every day, and in each and every situation
  • I am His beloved daughter and by His grace I can stand – each and every day

And because of these blessings…because of this God and His love for little old me, I can have survived these five years.

And, by His grace, I will survive many more. 

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.  My mouth will tell of Your righteous deeds, of Your saving acts all day long—though I know not how to relate them all. — Psalm 71:14-15