Thursday, June 28, 2012

In Red Letters

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. 
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
Matthew 6:34  (KJV)

I never cease to be amazed at the wisdom of Jesus Christ.
After all, He is wisdom.
He is all-wise....all-knowing.
Every word in the Holy Bible is powerful, full of meaning, and eternal.
My intention is not to lessen the value of any word contained in it.
But, somehow the words in red letters...those precious words audibly spoken by God Himself...
while He was here...in the flesh...walking among men....have the most profound effect.

Zachary and I were talking last night.
His young mind is full of questions.
Many of them I cannot answer.
As we talked and pondered things we do not understand,
I said, "Zach, I am learning more and more that the answers to life....
all of the answers...
can be found in the first four books of the New Testament.
If you read Jesus' words, you will find the answer....to every question."

"Really, Mama?"

"Absolutely, Zach."

Life has taught me this.
Living a Christian life...walking with Him....regularly making His Word my refuge...
has absolutely taught me that no matter what I face, what I am going through, what I need to know...
the mystery will absolutely be unraveled, and the dilemma will inevitably be solved...
in the words of Jesus Christ.  
If I search diligently...and long enough.
The answers are there....in red letters.
Without a shadow of a doubt.

The red letters, in my Bible, at reference point Matthew 7:7, read this way,
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

The answer to every challenge, no matter how perplexing, can be found in His words....
if we ask, seek, and knock.

We stopped at a bookstore tonight to get an iced coffee at the coffee shop inside.
As we walked towards the door to leave,
something really caught my eye.
Something valuable.
Something precious.
Priced at only $5.98.
It made me stop in my tracks to take a closer look.


It was a journal.
The fact that it was a journal wasn't anything special.
But the words on the front....
 struck a chord deep inside of me.
Made me stop in my tracks.
I gently picked it up.
"The Sayings of Jesus", it said,
and there was a sketch of what Jesus might have looked like on the front cover.

"Let me buy that for you", Kevin softly said.

He is so thoughtful.
So kind.
So considerate.
He is such a dear man.
The best earthly friend I've ever known.
How wonderful it is to be married to your very best friend in the world.
How I praise God for my husband.

I consented.

As I waited for him and Zachary to finish up looking at something that had caught their eye,
I flipped through the pages of the journal.
At the top or bottom of each page,
there is a quote spoken from the mouth of Jesus Christ.
All of them are in red letters in my Bible.
Sayings....words....from the One Who IS the Word.
From the One Who is God.
Who became flesh and dwelt among men...to build a bridge....between God...and man.
Who was human....like you....and me.
Yet completely divine.


My eyes fell on the bottom of page 3.
"Blessed are they that mourn:  for they shall be comforted."
Matthew 5:4

How blessed and comforted I am!
Right in the midst of my deep grief.

Kevin took the journal from my hands and went to pay for it,
along with a treat for Zach.

We left the store, carrying the bag.
I thought of what was in it.
How valuable it is....that we have written words....spoken by Him....
to refer to....for wisdom in our times of perplexity in this life.
What a steal for $5.98!
How many who pass by the $5.98 table really realize what a treasure this is??
Do they just pass it off as unimportant?

These discount journals contain the words of life.
The answers to every problem known to mankind.
The wellspring of wisdom contained on these pages is invaluable.



For $5.98, we could buy the solution to every complex, complicated dilemma of our times.
If we were to follow and obey His advice, we would find world peace....an end to war.
Every point of brokenness in our society, would be repaired.
There would be no child abuse.
No broken homes.
No failed marriages.
No domestic violence.
No robberies.
No crime.

The amazing thing about His words is that they are always relevant.
To the times.
To the situation.

They never grow stale or irrelevant.

There are 150 blank pages in my new journal.
To add some sayings of my own.
Inspired by sayings of His....on each page.

I never pick up His Word that I do not find fresh inspiration.
To write.
To contemplate.
To absorb.
I do not ever find myself with writer's block if I am reading His Words enough.
As long as I am steadily saturating my soul, my mind...with His Words,
inspiration to write continually flows.

No wonder He referred to Himself as the Bread of Life!
His words continually feed, nurture, and nourish the hungry soul.

I love to feast on them....digest them....hide them in my heart.

I have found the answers....to my soul's questions....in His Word.

In His heart.

In red letters.


Monday, June 25, 2012

A Time To Laugh


"A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..."
Ecclesiastes 3:4 (KJV)

Today, Zachary and I laughed and laughed.

After many weeks of tears...flowing like a river.....it was our time.....to laugh.

Okay.....at the expense of it seeming that our sense of humor is greatly warped,
I will explain why.

I was walking in the yard, I stepped into a hole that our dogs had dug,
and you guessed it.
Down I went!

On my way down, I grabbed for a lawn chair.
Resting on the chair, were several of Zachary's action figures,
a tin that he keeps them in,
the phone,
and my glasses.

As you can very well imagine,
when I grabbed the chair,
it went down, too,
and everything on it went flying through the air,
glasses and all.

At first, I heard Zachary praying.
It scared him.
"Oh, dear Lord, have mercy.
Lord, help her."

When he got closer to where I was, I looked at him...
from my sprawling position on the ground, I might add....
and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.

We have laughed about it many times since.
As we were relaying the story to his Daddy, we had to laugh again.
It was just downright funny.

It feels good to laugh.
To smile.
To experience the emotion of happiness.

Even more so, when you haven't done that in a while.

And even though, at the end of the laughter, our hearts still ache,
we are finding more and more opportunities to laugh.
And we are seizing those chances...with all our might.

Solomon understood this emotion when he spoke these words recorded in Proverbs 14:13 (KJV),

"Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness."
(Emphasis mine.)

I'm glad the initial shock of grief is over.
Though I still find myself back at square one.....in that stage now and then,
God is helping me.
When I find myself there these days, I recover a bit more quickly ...
than I did in the beginning.

We can all find reasons to smile.

And even though God took someone so precious and dear to Zachary's heart and all of our hearts,
there are many reasons left to rejoice.

Zachary and Mom used to have a time together.
Laughing.
Rejoicing.
Acting silly.
They had a funny little game they would play when they thought no one was listening.
They would communicate with a dialect very hard to understand!
It was their own little made-up language.

We miss her so much, it hurts....deep inside.
Sometimes, the emotional pain washes over us like an overwhelming flood.
I can go from laughing hysterically to crying with the same intensity in a matter of seconds.

The smallest things remind me of her.
Just about everything reminds me of her.
I cannot believe she is gone.

I take so much comfort in the words of our dear Savior....all of His words speak such peace to me.
I love and honor Him so much.
I especially love to read where He spoke a special blessing on those who cry.

"Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh." (Emphasis mine.)
Luke 6:21 (KJV)

The Psalmist said it this way,
"...weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
Psalm 30:5 (KJV)

It is amazing how the mind works.
We can be so consumed with our grief, that even when something funny happens,
we feel a sense of guilt for laughing.
Like we are being disrespectful to the one who has passed away.

I'm thankful God is moving us along....through the stages.
Through this season of grief.
A kind lady told me the other day,
"You'll never get over this...but you will get through it."

I heard another man say that the feelings that come from losing a loved one
are similar to the feelings of an amputee.
You feel like a part of you is cut off.
But, even though a part of you is missing,
you continue to live and go on.

You will never be the same, but you do go on.

Proverbs 17:22 (KJV) says,
"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."

We all reach places of brokenness.
Brokenness of spirit.
How good that God doesn't leave us there!
He allows things to happen that make us laugh.
That make our hearts feel merry.
That are so funny, we have no choice....but to succumb to the hilarity and just let go....
with a hearty laugh.

Like Zach and I did today.
It was so hilarious.
Zach later said,
"I wish I had that on video!"

How grateful I am that he doesn't!

I think I'll be content to just have the memory.
It will make us laugh each time we remember.
And though I am a bit sore, I'm glad I fell.

It made my heart merry.
The medicine surely did its job.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Winds of Change

"...the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
James 1:17 (KJV)

I love old barns....


old tractors....


old buildings....


and old gas pumps.


Antique items.
Anything old.
Things that were built solid.
Things that have stood the test of time.

The only thing consistent in this life is change.

I guess that is one reason I love old things.
Their consistency....stability....familiarity.
The fact that they have remained...for a long period of time.

As I look at an old barn, I realize that even though it is still standing,
it isn't the same as when first built.
Its beams are sagging from years of faithfully supporting its load.
Its wood, once new and fresh-hewn, is now weathered....
from years of use and stormy winds it has outlasted and endured.

You can see a dent here, a missing roof shingle there, a plank pulled away by a gust of wind.
The winds of change...have blown many times through the years,
and each storm has left its mark, leaving the barn forever modified.

Nothing really ever stays the same....forever.
We will pass this way but once.
We will live this day but one time.
Then we will move on.
To different circumstances, new surroundings, a fresh day.
As long as we live, we are ever changing.

Sometimes, it seems things will stay the same....forever.
That nothing will ever change.
And nothing does....for a while.
We get into a daily routine that becomes our "normal".
The people, situations, scenarios....kind of blend until it is hard to recognize when one day ends and the next one begins....so similar are our seemingly never-ending days.

We get up day after day, and we do the same, exact thing...pretty much.
Nothing "uneventful" happens.

Then all at once, seemingly out of left field, straight from our blind spot...
change comes....unbidden, uninvited, and unannounced.
Life-altering change.
Sometimes it is close to more than we can bear.
Our lives are turned upside down and things become very unfamiliar.

Our routine is completely rearranged....unearthed....upstaged.

All feelings of "normalcy" are eradicated.
In a single moment.
And we come to realize that life as we knew it will never be the same....ever again.
And like the old barns, the winds of change leave their fingerprints behind....
on our hearts, on our minds, and on our lives.

The element of surprise is non-existent with God.
He is never shocked, surprised, or taken aback.
Changes come.
Changes go.
He sees them coming.
Every, single one of them.
He ordains and appoints the changes in our lives.

Nothing touches my life....or your life....that doesn't receive His approving nod first.

Accepting change is not the easiest thing in the world.
Even after we reach the point of acceptance to God's will.

God knows that if we were to stay in our individual comfort zone of sameness for too long,
we would soon find our safe cocoon had transformed into a rut.
A never-ending cycle that provides stability, but no room for growth.
So, now and then, into our carefully-planned arenas of life,
He allows the bottom to fall out.
To propel us forward.
Into new pastures.

We are left reeling from the shock of being forced from our nest of safety.
Out into the unknown...the untested....the unfamiliar.
We kind of stagger and reel, at first....trying to find a firm place to land our foot.
Trying to absorb the fact that our cocoon exists no longer.
That no matter how many tears fall, how much our heart breaks, how deeply we yearn for "normal",
"normal" is now permanently redefined.

Things will not go back to the way they were.

We will never go back to the way we were.

We are forced to accept that in order to keep living life, we are going to have to retrain our minds...
to open them up.....to the idea of....a new normal.

We must adjust.

The winds of change will blow....
into every one of our lives.
No matter how strategically we plan,
how strong and sturdy we build our fortresses of security,
or how much effort we put in to protecting our "normal".

We must accept that there is only so much in this life over which we have any control....at all.

The winds of change will blow upon...and alter....
the carefully-erected strongholds of normal in each one of our lives.
In spite of how carefully we have reinforced their walls against its power.
It will happen.
Change will come.

Change has never been one of my favorite things.
I crave consistency....I long for continuity....in my days.
Don't we all?
The earthly person who has loved me the longest...since the moment of my birth...
is gone.
Without a trace.
Just gone.
Change has come.
Life is altered.
I can fight it.
I can pretend it didn't happen.
I can long for the old normal.
I can become stuck...permanently....in this place of unbelievable shock and resistance.
Or I can accept God's will.
I can acknowledge that His hand allowed the winds to blow.
I can embrace the way life is going to be now.
And I can move forward.
Into our new normal.

The sting of what has happened will never go away...completely.
This will never stop hurting....entirely.
Life as we knew it is changed....permanently.

The winds of change have blown.
We have felt the force of their gale.
Life is different in the aftermath.
We are forever transformed.
More weathered than before.

But, like the old barns, we're still standing.

And how comforting it is to know that the One Who controls the wind never changes.

God permitted the winds of change to blow.
He dictated their direction.
He controlled their intensity.

And though He allowed, even appointed it,
He is still the same

He stands sturdy.  Strong.  Immovable.
Unaltered.
The same as always.

There is no shadow of turning in God.
He will not vary.
His faithfulness does not fluctuate.

Speaking of the power of Almighty God, the psalmist wrote this,
"And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind."
Psalm 18:10 (KJV)

He is over all.
He is sovereign.
He is in control.
Of everything....in your life and my life.

 Even the winds of change.

I choose to place my trust in Him....Who never changes.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Another Sad Good-bye

"Bear ye one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."
Galatians 6:2  (KJV)

Six weeks to the day from the day my precious Mother crossed over to be with Jesus,
I got an early morning phone call.
It was my oldest sister, Sharon.
She was crying so hard, I could hardly understand her words.
My heart went out to her....her pain was deep.

"Cheryl, I'm sorry to call you so early.  I didn't mean to wake you up."

"It's okay...you call anytime you need me. 
What's wrong?"

"Shawn found Ashley this morning.....dead on the bathroom floor."

"What??" was all I could answer.

How could this be?

Stunned beyond words, I sat there and listened to my sister as she gave me the details.

Five weeks before, I had hugged Ashley and talked to her...at Mom's funeral.

Now, she is dead??

At 26 years old?

My thoughts went back to when she stayed in our home when Mom had her wreck a few years ago.
Then further back to when she was little.
To a moment I sat in Shawn's living room, brushing her long hair.
She had a sweet, tender heart.

Then my mind went to Shawn, her Dad, my oldest nephew.

How five weeks before, he carried the casket that held my dear Mom.
He had carefully placed it in the hearse, and later on the grid that would lower her body in to the ground.

We are all still reeling from the shock and pain...of losing Mom.

How would he cope....how could he bear this....this loss...of his second-born daughter?

He has already lost one other child....a baby.
Just a few short years ago.

Now, this?

He is a loving, good father.
He gives his all to provide stability and support and love in the lives of his children.

Now, Ashley is gone.

Her three children are left behind, without their mother.

How does one deal with the aftermath?

How does one reconcile a loss such as this?

I could never put into words how bad I feel for Shawn and Sharon and Ashley's mother, Theresa, all of her siblings, her precious little children....and everyone else who is touched by this sadness...this tragedy...this pain.

It seems too soon.
For her to die.
For any of us to feel this.
The wounds have not healed.
They are still gaping open.

One thing that comforts me is that this is one grief my precious Mother does not have to feel.
She doesn't have to hurt and see the fresh tears.
She rests at peace in the arms of Jesus.
She has no knowledge of sadness now.
She will never cry again.

She prayed hard for her family.
Her desire is that each and every one of us meet her in Heaven.

Knowing she is there, makes me want to go there one day....even more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npmN-xU2LGo
("Knowing You'll Be There...Makes It Easy To Go Home)" by the Gaither Vocal Band.)

I don't want to miss it.
And no matter how rough the road, I want to follow Jesus...all the way....home.
And while I'm here, I want to be here...for my family....my friends....my loved ones.
Each one of them mean so much to me.
Even more so, the older I get.

It is hard to understand these kinds of things.
Why a life like Ashley's is snuffed out so early...so young.
Why parents are left mourning the loss of their child.
Why little children have to bear the loss of losing their Mommy....at such a young age.
Why hearts have to break and hurt...this much.

I wish I could take the pain away...from Shawn, Sharon, and all of the others.


I'm glad I know the One Who can.


We all depended on Mom's prayers....so much.
I have found myself wanting to pick up the phone...to call her....to ask her to pray...for all of us.
So many times.
The harsh, stark reality hits me with such force at times...that it seems I cannot bear the pain.
She's no longer here....to bear our burdens to the Throne of Grace...to the One Who loves us all...
so unconditionally.

As hard as it is to acknowledge....to admit...to accept....Mom is gone.

She can carry our burdens no more.

I guess it is up to us now.

To carry the torch....that Mom carried for so many years.
To bear the burdens....that she bore...for those she loved....and we love.
To lay them at the feet of Jesus....Who has all power....
to heal every pain and untangle every one of life's problems.

God help me to be faithful...to carry on.

Good-bye, Ashley.


It seems that life's evening sun has set for you....way....too....soon.


Who would have imagined, as you and I stood near Mom's casket, just five weeks before...
 that you would be gone so soon?

It is unbelievable.
Inconceivable.

I hope you rest in peace.

"Heavenly Father, I ask You to wrap Your great arms of love around every member of my precious family.  Heal the hurt.  Bind the broken hearts.  Mend the wounds.  Make them whole again.  Apply Your sweet comfort to every one of their lives.  Relieve their questions with a tender whisper of Your continued love.  Make them to know that You will never leave them...and that You always do what is best.
In Jesus' Name, Amen."









Sunday, June 17, 2012

Facing the Challenges

"Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30  (KJV)

I have learned throughout life that if there is a dark, looming challenge in my path....
creating an obstacle...it it just best for me to go ahead and face it head on.
The longer I put it off, the bigger it seems to grow, and the more anxiety-ridden I become.
From experience, I've learned that it is best to go ahead and make that confrontation.
Face that giant.
Deal with it.
Conquer it.
Then move forward.

Going to church may not sound like an intimidating thing to do.
Driving the distance to get there may seem a very easy and simple task.
Pulling in to the parking lot....where we've parked so many times....may seem a ridiculous thing to get worked up about.
Getting out of the car, walking up the sidewalk, reaching the steps, putting one foot in front of the other, and actually walking through the front door....probably would not....could not.....be defined as a challenge for the average person.

Thinking about these things has held me terrified....for weeks.
Just the thought of them made me feel ill....and anxious....and filled with dread.

By God's grace, I was able to overcome the fear of my own reaction and attend church....
in another building....removed from where Mom worshiped God with us.
I am so glad I did.
Being in the atmosphere, feeling the love of God, having my soul nurtured and nourished, 
was a wonderful blessing.

But, to walk in to.....the chapel...that precious haven....that endeared spot....that we shared with her....without her this time....seemed way too much.
It has loomed over me like a dark, foreboding, intimidating cloud...since the day she died.

That chapel has brought comfort to us....so many times.
I still remember our first time going there....all of us....heavy-laden, burdened, battered, spiritually bruised.
We found a safe place inside its walls.
A place of love....and appreciation....and acceptance.
She felt that.
She loved being there.
She wanted to go as often as she could.
Some Sundays it was beyond difficult for her, but each time she pressed to go, 
she was never disappointed.
She was always happy there.

I kept putting off....going.
The fear of the emotional meltdown that I knew would ensue...
overwhelmed and terrified me...to the point....of avoiding it altogether.

The challenge seemed insurmountable...unattainable.

But, then I remembered the promise in His Word.
The statement Paul made.
The verse I have adopted so many times when faced with something I knew I could never do...
on my own.

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." 

All things.
Didn't that include and encompass this?
Even this?

I found the grace, the courage, from someplace deep, and I said I would try to go.
We went.
The whole way there, I thought of her.
How usually she was sitting there in the car with us.
Talking, laughing, sometimes singing....with us.
Enjoying our time together.

We drew near....and the chapel....that sacred spot that has become so dear to our hearts....
came into view.
My pulse quickened.
I knew it was coming....the dreaded meltdown.

Sure enough, it started, as we parked the car, without pulling close to the sidewalk....for her.
Usually, Zach's little friend would come out and take her walker out of the trunk and help her inside....
while we parked the car.

Not so this time.

We parked, and we took those steps....up the familiar sidewalk.
I paused as I neared the open door.
I knew the reality....of her absence....would overwhelm me....in a few seconds.

I felt weak, almost sick, as I mustered the courage...to walk through.
Then I spotted her.
My dear, faithful, precious friend.
With open arms.
Crying right along with me.
She knows how hard this is.
Come to find out, they had been praying for me all day.
Anticipating the pain...of this moment.
She has been down this road.
She knows.

I looked at our pew....the one we always sat on....with Mom.
It was empty...void....vacant.
A stark, overwhelmingly sad statement....that she is no longer here.
Soon, my precious sister and her family arrived.
I was SO thankful they were there.
They found comfort...just knowing she used to go there to church.
The thing that brought them such comfort, was shooting darts of pain...into my heart.

I looked over at Zachary during service, and tears were falling from his eyes.

"What's wrong, Zach?"
I reached across...the empty spot between us...where she used to faithfully sit.

I pulled him close...across the divide.

"I miss Nana", he whispered.

"I know, Zach, I know.  I do, too."

We got through it...all of us.....together.

We worshiped God.
He is worthy....of all of our praise.
No matter how much we hurt.
Regardless of what we are going through.
In spite of the pain.

He is God.
He deserves all we have.

We sang the song, "Come Unto Me".


Such a sweet invitation.
To lay our burdens down.

We all gathered around the altar....and we poured out our hearts to Him....who gave the invitation, 
"Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest..."

I was prayed for.
I felt the love....the compassion....the burden that is being carried for me....during this dark time.
I felt Him.....so real.
I felt Mom....her presence....cheering me on....telling me to keep praying.
To keep encouraged.
To stay in the faith.
Just like she told me the night we were waiting on the ambulance.

She would be happy I went back....to the place she loved to go.

I'm glad I went.

Another looming challenge successfully faced.

All glory be to God, through Christ, another "first" is now behind us.




Friday, June 15, 2012

Shared Sorrow

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."  
2 Corinthians 1;3,4  (KJV)

When something is shared by two it is divided...in half.
When it is shared by more than two, it is divided smaller....into equal parts.

There is something valuable about shared sorrow.
Actually, there is something invaluable about it.
Shedding tears...over the same grief....is powerful.

I thought of how I was expecting Zachary when God called my dear Dad home.
How those months were some of the most bittersweet months of my life.
How I struggled with wondering why God would take Dad before he got to meet Zachary.

And how when Dad died, Mom was there....
to help all of us cope, get through it, and adjust to life without him.
She shared our sorrow.
She grieved as we grieved.
We cried together.
Somehow, it helped.

Tonight, Kevin and I spent a lot of time talking.
Reminiscing over the past.
Thinking about Mom...and Dad.

I cannot believe they are both gone.
There is a part of my mind that will not....can not....wrap itself around the concept.

"I'm glad I got to know them so well", he softly said.

"Me, too."

It means so much to me right now to know that Kevin shared so many years of my life while Mom and Dad were still here.
He loved them.
He comprehends my love for them.
He was a live witness...of the deep connection we cherished and lived out day by day.
He remembers so many things.
He understands so many emotions.
He relates on the deepest of levels.
He shares my sorrow.
He misses them, too.

He had a deep bond...with both of my parents....that time strengthened and deepened.
In-laws are an integral part of life.
They are the express reason we have the ones we love the most.

During this time of deep grief, Mom is not here to help see us through.
Missing her is the reason for our deep grief.
But, this time, we have someone else.
God, in His infinite mercy and wisdom and perfect timing,
gave us the sweetest, most precious little fellow to share our sorrow.
We didn't have his gentle comfort the last time.

I am not expecting him...waiting for him....during this season of grief.
He is here.....he has blessed our home and our lives.....
every, single day for the past eleven years.

I never cease to be amazed at the amount of comfort one can find...in a child.
Their innocent understanding is so sincere...so genuine.

Zachary misses his Nana.
She meant the world to him.
He absolutely meant the world to her.
He shares this with us...all of it.

I have told him that I believe she garnered strength to get out of bed each day...
through the sole hope that perhaps she would get to see him before its close.

I am so thankful for my four siblings.
We gather strength from each other.
And though I don't get to see three of them often,
it is such a comfort to talk on the phone and keep in touch.
They are dealing with their own grief....but it is the same as mine.
Somehow, they are even more precious to me now.

Sorrow shared is sorrow divided.
Somehow it helps.
Somehow it dulls the sharpness of the pain....to know that we are all in the same battle.
That we understand...each other's pain of heart.

Today's passage calls God the God of all comfort.
It tells us that He comforts us in all our tribulation.
Why?
So that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble....
through the very same comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

I thank God for the many people who have reached out to me...in this time of deep sorrow.
They have comforted me by telling me how God saw them through.
They have opened their hearts to me....shared their stories...shared their hearts....
shared my sorrow.

They have cried with me, reminisced with me, prayed with me, held my hand, wrapped me in warm, comforting hugs, allowed me to soak their shoulders with tears, mailed cards and gifts, sent flowers, emailed, and called, listened while I fell apart...time after time.

I got a surprise box in the mail the other day.
Inside the box was a beautiful purple flower arrangement my dear friend, Wanda had personally made,
and in it she had placed beautiful silk butterflies.
On the front was a note that said it was in memory of Mom.
She poured out her heart into the words of the card she enclosed.
She told me how much she loved Mom and Dad and spoke of her memories with them.
It meant so much.

My dear cousin and cherished friend, Julie, lent me the most wonderful book.
It is about angels and how they are all around us.
I am enjoying reading it...soaking it in.
It confirms God's Word and is such a sweet reminder of the faithfulness of God
and the angels He faithfully places in our lives.

I believe I am experiencing many of them....
through the hands, feet, and hearts of the many who love us
and who continue to show His love to us on a regular basis.

Each act of kindness and love divides our sorrow.
It makes it seem less.....a bit lighter.
It makes it more bearable.

"Father, thank you for dividing our sorrow by filling the hearts of others with compassion.
Thank you for their obedience to you in reaching out when we need it the most.
Thank you for the comfort of shared sorrow.
In Jesus' Name,
Amen."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Setbacks

"I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."
2 Samuel 12:23 (KJV)

This thing called grief is a funny thing.
Not funny in a laughing, "ha-ha" kind of way.
Funny in an odd, strange, mysterious way.

One minute, I feel like I am possibly healing....just the slightest bit.
Then something happens that violently rips the fragile scab away from the wound, and it is April 28th again.
The cut-to-the-heart is brand-new...gaping, bleeding, raw, and extremely painful.
It is like I am transported there...by her bed...in ICU...watching the monitor...seeing her vitals dropping.
Until, at last, she takes that last little breath....the monitor shows no heart rate, the ever-fluctuating line goes perfectly flat, and she is gone.

The other day, I had to make a phone call to take care of the last of Mom's earthly business.
As I sat there at our kitchen table....on hold.....waiting for the customer service representative to finish my request, I dared to open her wallet....Mom's wallet....that I held in my hand.

There it was....the drivers license with her picture on it...staring back at me.
I remember the day I took her to get it.
Memories of that day flooded over me.
We had fun, and she had smiled for the DMV camera.

Now her smile made me cry...as I sat there staring at her license.

I flipped through her other cards, and a steady flow of memories trickled unbidden.
Trips to the doctor's and Emergency Rooms...when I had handed her insurance cards to the receptionist.
Fear welled up fresh within me....I felt anxiety....just thinking of all those times.
I was always worried about her....dreading the worst.
During some of those trips, my fears were well-founded.
She would end up being admitted to the hospital.
Other times, God in His great mercy, allowed her to be okay.
She would return home, and I would be granted "bonus" time with her.

I'm glad I never took any of that time for granted.
I'm thankful I took advantage of every opportunity.
I'm grateful I spent every possible moment with her I could...and we made each of those moments count.

I picked up her ATM card...from her wallet, and I thought of the countless times she had handed it to me as we drove into the ATM to withdraw money.
I would hand her the money, and she would hand me $20.00 back for gas.
I'd argue with her that I didn't want it, and she would insist. 

Mom was one of the most generous, unselfish people I have ever known.
She always wanted to pay her own way.
She worried and fretted constantly about being a burden on someone.
There will never be another Mom.
Never.

I opened her checkbook register....I knew if I went any further, I was going to fall apart.
I knew every line...every entry....into her register....would resurrect a memory.
I did it anyway.
I looked at all of the entries...in her familiar handwriting.
Outings we'd enjoyed...going to Publix, to get her groceries.
Out to eat.
Walmart.
Toys R Us....a special treat for Zach.
A check to my sister for her birthday.
A check to me to repay something I had picked up for her.
On and on and on the river of memories flowed....
and with each memory, the steady flow of my tears mingled....and dropped...on the table...in front of me.

How I long to go back!
To the days when life was "normal".
When I had a mother.
To days when I could talk to her...whenever I wanted to.
However many times a day I felt like it.
When Zach and I could just get in the car, drive to her apartment, and just sit down with her...and talk...and visit...and pray.
What I wouldn't give to hear her pray....just one....more....time.
What I wouldn't give to hear her pray for me and feel the comfort of that security wrap itself around me....just one....more....time.
What I wouldn't give to sit at her table....one....more....time.....and chat as we enjoyed a sub from Subway.

Oh, dear Lord, does this pain ever stop???
How could it?
The one who has loved me longer than anyone else on earth....is gone.
Just gone.
Without a trace.
Without communication.
Without instructions....as to how I am supposed to do this.

Zach and I got in the car and drove to the bank.
To deposit her last earthly check.
The refund of her rental deposit.
I remember when she paid that deposit.
Almost six years ago.
I wish it was then.

The teller asked me to sign the back.

"Do you mean you want me to sign her name?"

"Well, can she sign it?" 
Obviously, she didn't know....what has happened.

I explained.

"Did this just happen?  Recently?"
She was so kind....sincere.

"Yes" was all I could manage.

"I am so sorry.  I lost my mother six years ago."
Shared sorrow....between two hearts who know the pain...firsthand.

I told her I was sorry to hear that..
She told me she was sorry, too.

I pulled away and looked down at the receipt....the last one.

I started crying....again.

Zach and I drove to my sister, Debbie's house.
She and her family took us out...on a little trip...to some places we've never been.
We so enjoyed the time together.
They are hurting, too....their pain runs deep.
We stopped at a store.
We laughed and had fun looking at things, acting silly...just enjoying each other.

All of a sudden, everything changed....about our day.

A little white-haired lady walked slowly by...on a walker.
She was frail...and feeble....about Mom's age.
We all stood and stared....as she slowly made her way to the front of the store....to sit and wait on whoever was with her....on the bench in the vestibule.

We needed no words.
The void...the vacancy....the hole in each one of our hearts was gaping wide open.
After we paid for our purchases, we made our way past her.

How I wanted her to be Mom!
How I longed to take her by the arm, lead her to the car, fold up her walker, put it in the trunk,and take her home.
How many times have I done that?

The other day, I finally got the nerve....to take it....her walker.....out of the trunk of the car.
It has been there since April 18th....the night she rode to the ER in the ambulance.
Each time I have opened the trunk, I have worked around it.
I could not bear to take it out.....and not have her there to hand it to.
So, it has remained.
I finally took it out and placed it with all of her other things....in the garage.

Somehow, if I see them, it seems like maybe she will be back.
In some sort of way, it seems like she is just away...on a trip...to my brother's house in Ohio.
Somehow, it feels like this...all of this is only temporary.
Then, it occurs to me....that it is.

It is temporary.
Oh, she will never return to me.
As much as she loved me, she would not want to.
She has made it...to her desired destination.
I haven't the slightest doubt.
It is true.
She is at rest.
She is at peace.
She suffers no more.
She never cries.
She is not afraid.
She is in the very best of hands....ones that are nail-scarred....ones that hold the universe in place,
yet hold her safe all at the same time.

When David uttered the words in today's passage of Scripture, his precious child had died.
He prayed and hoped with all his heart that it wouldn't happen.
After it did, he realized that his loved one would never return to him.
But, he knew that one day....in eternity, he would go to his loved one.

Mom will not return to me.
But, I will go to her.
One day, we will be together again.

There will be setbacks.
On this lonely path of grief.
I will take two steps forward, only to fall back at least one....some days two.
I've accepted that.
Every time I see something that reminds me of her, I will inevitably go to pieces.
When I hear a song she liked, I will more than likely fall apart.

It is the little things I miss.
It is the little things that set me back.

But, midst the setbacks, I am determined to press forward.
Until one day, Jesus will say, "Okay, Cheryl.
It's time for you now.
They're waiting for you.
Come and join us."

No more setbacks.

I can only imagine the look on her and Dad's face when I get home.
















Monday, June 11, 2012

Feeling God's Love

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, not depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:37-39  (KJV)

Did you happen to catch the very first thing in Paul's list?
Of ten possible scenarios that could threaten to separate us from God's love?
If you sit and ponder on these three verses, you will come to the same conclusion I did.


Paul pretty much covers every, single, possible situation in human life.
His list even includes every possible hypothetical.
He covers it all.
And at the top of his list?
Of things that could possibly place a barrier between us and the love God has for us?
Death.

Losing someone you love has to be one of the most profound losses and sources of pain in this life.
Knowing they are gone...off the scene of present life....never to be seen, heard, felt, or touched again is very powerful, and it touches the deepest recesses of the spirit.
It is an overwhelming loss that only God can heal.

So, I think possibly that is why the wise Apostle Paul mentioned death first.
No doubt, he had experienced it...firsthand.
Perhaps, his losses had been deep.
His mother, possibly.
Perhaps his father.
More than likely, both.

Had he stood by their bedsides as they were crossing over?
Did he leave the scene and find a place alone to weep?
Did they have an extremely close relationship?
How old was he when he lost them?

Questions for which we do not have answers.

I have found, that in order to write about something...to truly write about something...to be able to convey those deep emotions and feelings....the words must come from someplace deep...from someplace known.
On a personal level.
From first hand experience.
If I am to sell you on something, I cannot tell you about it second-hand.
You won't be convinced.
The words will be empty, without passion, without inspiration, without life.
Your first question to me will be this.
Have you tried it?
Have you experienced it?
Have you felt it?
Have you gone through it?

Before Mom died, I could only imagine what this would feel like.
Had I written about it, it would have been from a distant and hypothetical point of view.
My words would have come up short....flat....and uninspired.

I learned years ago that in order to be a good and effective writer, in order to pen something believable, there is one rule that never fails:
Write what you know.
Write from your heart.
Let words flow from personal experience.
Speak reality....from your soul.
Hence, these devotionals.

I love to read the Apostle Paul's writing.
He wasn't speaking from a place unfamiliar.
He didn't daydream, then reach for his pen and scroll.
His words were not his words.
They came from the gentle pressure of the precious Holy Spirit...moving upon him with inspiration from the very mind and heart of God.

God allowed him to experience emotion.
So he could write about it firsthand.

God turned Paul's tests into Paul's testimonies.

Paul listed ten things that absolutely could not separate us from the love of God.
He started out by saying..."for I am persuaded."
How does one become persuaded?
Is it not through having gone through a particular situation and proving the outcome?

Today, I am a little over a month in.....to living daily life without my Mother.
The one who has loved me longer than anyone else on earth.
The one who carried me in her womb for nine months.
Who took extra care and caution to make sure she didn't drink, smoke, or do anything else harmful to me before birth.
Who after my birth, cared lovingly for me, put me first...above her own needs and wants.
Who prayed over me....and for me.....and with me.
Who drove mile after mile to keep me in Christian schools, no matter how many times we moved or where we lived.
Who was undoubtedly the most selfless person I ever knew.

I'll tell you the truth.
I didn't think I could go on....living, breathing, functioning, going through the motions of life...without her.
The fear and dread of it hung over me like a black cloud...all my life.
I knew the day would come.
And its terror gripped me...each time I would think of it.

There is only one way I could ever truly believe Paul's words...in today's passage.

Oh, I believed his words...before...
for Mom and Dad taught me...from the moment I was old enough to understand English....that the Bible and every word in it is the divine, inspired Word of Eternal God.
There are no errors in it.
There are no discrepancies.
It is absolute.
The only absolute I know.
I have based my whole life....my entire belief system....my complete world view....on the Holy Bible, the eternal Word of God.
So, to say I believed Paul's words....God's words....would have been a completely true and accurate statement.

But, now I can tell you that I am persuaded.
That death absolutely cannot separate one from the love of God.

Why?
Because I feel God's love.
It has transcended the threat of separation.
It has pierced through the walls of sorrow...of grief....of anguish....of terror.
God's sovereign, divine, all-consuming love....is surrounding me in a way I have never experienced before.
Ever.

How could I have?
I have never felt loss....on this level before.
I have never lost my mother....until now.
How could I have been subjected to...this kind...this depth of love?
Nothing has ever hit me so hard.
Nothing has ever hurt...this much.

God has never had the opportunity to disclose love to me...at this level....to this degree.


At first, in the very beginning, as the gate to this lonely path opened up before me, 
and I was forced...dragged.....forward to walk it....I'll admit.
I did not feel God's love.
I felt abandoned.
I felt forsaken.
I felt cast off....by God.
It was a stage....I had no choice but to walk through it.
It was inevitable.
It had to happen.

Jesus felt it....remember?
From the cross?
When He said, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

He walked it....this lonely, feeling-God-forsaken-path.

But, soon after, He rose....from the ashes, from the despair, from the grave.
And He realized....that it was all a part of the plan.
That His Father loved Him.
So much...that He had to do what was best.

I feel Him near me...every time I break down.
Each time a teardrop falls.
In every moment of despair. 
When I am missing her....so much....I feel I will go under.
He tenderly comes to me.
He takes me up in His arms.
He holds me so close.
Until the sobbing stops.
And I can face the next moment.

I've been taught all my life that God loves me.
I started singing "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so..." soon after I began talking.
It has been pounded, reinforced, preached, taught, and reiterated to me through countless ways...all the days of my life.....that God loves me.

Death's shadow cast its gloom drearily over my life.
It's waters threatened to overwhelm my soul.

But, God's love is stronger.
God's love is more powerful.
God's love trumps every situation, every emotion, every scenario, every level of pain....in this life.

I wish I could convey to you the way I am experiencing God's love...at this very moment.
I believe if you could feel this....this power....this force...that is compelling me forward...that is enabling me to get up each morning....that empowers me to take each new step...face each lonely moment....
you would absolutely stand amazed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVR9E0Vg_F8

You would be in complete awe....of Almighty God.

I have walked hand-in-hand with Jesus for many years...most of the years of my life.
I have loved Him, and He has loved me.
We have enjoyed sweet, close communion...on an intimate level.
He has been everything to me....for years.
I have never before, in all these years...of our walk together....experienced His love for me....on this level.
I have never felt Him this close.
I have never experienced Him this way.
And though He has always been a tender, loving, gentle Savior and Shepherd to me,
He has never held me this close.

I am clinging tight.

I can say with Paul, "Death has not separated me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

He still loves me....in spite of the pain, in spite of my condition, in spite of my inability to believe, in spite of my questions, in spite of my anger, in spite of it all.

I am persuaded.....God loves me....still.




Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Light of Life

"To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace."  
Luke 1:79  (KJV)


If anyone has read this blog over the past several weeks, it would have been outside the realm of possibility to not feel and sense the black darkness from which each word was wrenched.  
The place from which it has been penned is pitch black with no light...not even a peep.  
A dark dungeon of despair, pain, and hurt.
What more can I say?
It is where I am right now.
It is where we have all been or where we will all find ourselves...at some point....on the path of life.
Because we have one thing in common.
We are in the human condition.
Everybody hurts.

You, faithful reader, have walked and are walking through the valley of the shadow with me.
It is a very big, foreboding, all-encompassing, all-consuming shadow.
The word "through" means "in one side and out the other side of:  from end to end of."
It indicates and suggests that there is a beginning and an end.

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."
It is not a permanent place.
It is a temporary experience.
I'm glad it says "through" and lets me know that the gloom will not last forever.
Could anyone honestly endure it?  
Forever?

There is an "other side" to this shadow.
And the beginning of the "other side" is a moment when something truly remarkable and absolutely amazing begins to happen.
Somehow, by utter mystery, the tiniest, almost unseen, minute, little dot appears.
It is just a dot.  Nothing more.
Nevertheless, it is a dot.
Of light.

Anything greater would consume and devour and destroy....and blind....the eyes of one so accustomed to the darkness.
So, it comes gently...softly...on tiptoe feet, and it waits.
Until, for the briefest of moments, I raise my head...in the blackness....toward the hills.
The tears stop...just long enough for me to dare to look up.
I don't even notice it...the dot.....at first....so consumed, so enveloped....by the dark....am I.

But like the early morning dawn breaking softly over hills encompassed by dark shadows of night, through the open eyes of my upturned face, I spot it for the first time.
Could it be??
Is it feasible?
I blink my eyes, wipe away the blinding tears that come unbidden and unnoticed...
so accustomed to them...I have become.
And I stare.
I fix my eyes.
It is like a feast, a smorgasbord...placed there with all the trimmings.
Dropped by Divine Providence.....directly and strategically into my upward line of vision.  
Into this hopeless dungeon of despair...this abode into which I was so forcefully dragged...against my will.  
Where I have been held captive...day after anguished day.

There it is.
It is light.
The tiniest ray streaming in, through a tiny hole...at the top...of my dungeon....that I never noticed before.
As a matter of fact, I don't think it is just that I have never noticed it.
I honestly don't think it was there...before this moment.

But God's Word is sharper than any two-edged sword.
You could search the world over and never find an instrument more keen....
more capable of slicing the blackest of darkness.
Of boring a hole through this Alcatraz....of pain and grief.

The piercing moment....of me spotting that tiny dot...of light...came as Zachary and I worked on school.
Thank God in Heaven above for Christian homeschool curriculum writers, editors, and publishers.
I hope and pray with all my heart that a special reward be given to the men and women who devote their time and lives to writing such God-soaked texts and learning material.
How many times has God spoken to me through their endeavors....as I use them to teach my child?

We were reading Zach's literature book...together.
Suddenly, there it was.
My dot of light.
It was none other than HIM...the living, breathing WORD of God...speaking....right to me.
His precious words...written and recorded by His beloved disciple and cousin, John.
I read the words.
They sank deep....I could feel them....penetrating....boring a hole.....dropping....falling....into the very bottom of my broken heart.
"I am the Light of the world:  he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."  (Emphasis mine.)
John 8:12 (KJV)

LIGHT!
Hope sprang within my tortured soul as my determined eyes fixated on that shiny dot, miraculously creating a shiny ray now penetrating and falling on the dingy black floor....of this dungeon.

Jesus loves me too much to leave me here...imprisoned, held captive in despair's clutches.
He, the precious Light of the world...sought....me....out.
He pursued me.
He found me.
He loves me.

With His Word, He created the world...in the beginning.
With His Word, He said, "Let there be light", and there was light.
With His Word, He pierced through the layers of the shadow of death....this dreaded, horrible blackness shadowing my inmost spirit, and He reached a placed inside of me, with hope's gentle voice.

HOPE!

He didn't promise that I would never walk through the valley of the shadow.
What He said is if I would follow Him, He would light the path......through it.
That even now...right here...if I follow Him, I will not walk in darkness....blindly, stumbling, bumbling, groping, fearing each step, unable to see the obstacles in front of me, hoping I don't completely fall.
He promised me that I would have the LIGHT of life!

Today's passage of Scripture, (Luke 1:79), spoke volumes to me.
I sat and read it and my mouth literally fell wide open.

Zacharias, spoke these words.
He prophesied right after the birth of his son, John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ.
He knew John's role.
He knew Jesus' role.
He realized the Messiah's birth would shortly follow the birth of his son, John.
And that with His birth, He would bring hope and light....to a sin-darkened world.

"To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
to guide our feet into the way of peace."  

To give light to them that sit in darkness.
To give light to them that sit in the shadow of death.
To lead them out.
To see me through.
To show the way.
To light the path.
Out of this pain.

Day after day, since I first spotted it, I am making the conscious choice to fix my eyes on that dot...of light.
I feel Jesus, the Light of life, walking beside me, when I'm able to take a step.
He doesn't rush me.
He tenderly stands beside me, holding me up, quietly waiting.
He isn't in a hurry.
I'm keeping my eyes on Him.
I'm reminding myself often that He absolutely knew what was best....for Mom.
He keeps reminding me that He knows what is best for me, too.

I am SO glad He has appeared.
He came when I was ready to lift my head upward.
He was there waiting...my precious Light.

How precious His presence!
How welcome His light!
How blessed am I...to have Him so near.