Posted in Faith, Living

His Benefits Abound: Know Why You Are Thankful This Thanksgiving

photofunia-1479674540

In October, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln declared:

“I do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”

The War Between the States had raged for almost five years and would not be resolved for another six grueling months. In governing a land torn in two, Lincoln had not hesitated to lean on the analogies of Christ’s house divided and built on sand. Yet, where others might be inclined to curse or deny the existence of God, Lincoln embraced His goodness and benevolence:

“I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.”

As we prepare to partake of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie, may we not displace the ultimate emphasis of our thanksgiving, that is the thanks we owe our Almighty God. In Psalm 103, David exclaims, “Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (1-2).

Too often at this time of year, we tend to concentrate on the abundance of things in our lives, such as the food piled high on our tables, the family gathered to laugh together, and hopefully even our good health. But the benefits of our beneficent Creator are so much more than these ephemeral things.

From God flow the gifts of forgiveness, patience, courage, and love. Only from God do we receive the ultimate gift of sacrifice that cleanses us of the trespasses that separate us from Him, so that we might enjoy a life eternal in His presence. Having tried and failed to hold a nation together with his own bare hands, Lincoln understood all too well that only God could piece together what man in his greed and pride had torn asunder.

Thanksgiving may certainly be offered through our actions, but since we most often associate thanksgiving with our proclamations, there is another consideration for this time of year and that is the importance of all the things we say all year through.

Proverbs tell us, “The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating” (18:6).  Christ warns, “that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). Gossip, complaining, ridicule, hatred, lies, all such rumblings deny the grace of God in us and keep our message of the love of Christ in shadow.

On the other hand, words that are true, kind, patient, loving, these are the things that shine the light of God’s grace to others. Thankfulness is very high on the list of words our Heavenly Father wants to hear from us.

Scientists tell us that gratitude:

  • Increases our connections with other people
  • Improves our physical and mental health
  • Helps us sleep better
  • Improves our self-esteem
  • Makes us empathetic
  • Decreases aggression
  • Reduces our negative responses to trauma, helping us recover from tragedy

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Powers explains,

“The best way to befriend your problems is to thank [Jesus] for them. This simple act opens your mind to the possibility of benefits flowing from your difficulties. . . . The next step is to introduce them to [Jesus], enabling [Him] to embrace them in [His] loving Presence. [Jesus] may not necessarily remove your problems, but [His] wisdom is sufficient to bring good out of every one of them” (March 5 devotion excerpt).

We live in a world where our daily attempts to be perfectly good fall beneath our stumbling feet like so many well-intentioned things. But we needn’t despair because our righteousness is dependent on God’s benefits to us through grace rather than on our goodness. By concentrating each moment on how thankful we should be that our Holy God loves us so much, surely we will avoid the pitfalls of an otherwise wayward tongue.

So, this Thanksgiving, embrace a humble heart that kneels before an awesome God with gratitude that overflows. And carry that gratitude into every day so that His light may shine through you to a wounded world:

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4).

References:
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69998
http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#537a1dc76800

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Living

This Walk of Pain and Faith: Our Journey So Far With ALS

I dream in colors, swatches of Kodachrome disguising the reality in black and white. In my dreams, she speaks and walks, even as I know these are impossible things. I wake to a heavy feeling in my chest, am weighted down by the acrobatics my mind undertakes to transition from this dreaminess to the hard, cold truth.

I have, thankfully, come late in life to this quasi-existence, this place where only when I dream can things approach anything like sameness, and yet the reality flitters in and out of my dream-state like the lightening bugs that drew me into the dark as a child, even when that darkness cloaked everything in a nebulous, nameless shroud.

This shift has come gradually, not like the nightmares when all this first began, standing in a hospital room filled with a world-renowned expert and his entourage of students and administrative assistants and sour-faced nurses desperate to provide a tissue this band of sickroom veterans reject like one more sign of weakness our bodies were not designed for. We have sat in such sterile rooms before, though this news is the most fatal we have ever heard. The words tumble out of the doctor’s mouth in a staccato of long syllables as if talking over our heads will somehow take the sting out.

My mother has no idea what amyotrophic lateral sclerosis even stands for, so she is spared the dread of realizing how much more of the little control of muscle she has left she will also lose. It’s almost six months before a physician’s assistant lets slip the inevitability of a feeding tube, but by then so much is lost, she takes the news like just another gut punch, absorbed until it settles in her mind as just one more thing somebody else will have to do for her.

This woman lying in the easy chair she will never rise from again under her own power is not the mother who sponsored home rooms, created treasure hunts around the house at Easter, lived by the motto that it was better to try something like a scary roller coaster ride than to miss out.

But she is also exactly the mother I have known for more than four decades. When her speech becomes guttural syllables only my father can decipher, I still can complete any sentence she begins. Her needs and her pleasures have funneled to a pinpoint. Robbed of the ability to provide her with anything except what might increase her comfort, I become an expert navigator in the world of online medical supply sales, flower delivery and complete DVD series.

On any given Monday, families like mine snake their way through the busy medical district in downtown Houston for their first day of several at this specialized clinic, one of only five in the country, where the handful of specialists required to successfully treat this degenerative disease gather to make at least one thing in the difficult life of an ALS patient that much simpler. Families come with a hard knot in their stomachs, hoping against hope that what they have long suspected as their loved one disintegrates in front of them will not be what the guy in the white coat and bow tie confirms in his matter-of-fact, clipped doctor’s voice.

I am numb the first few hours, taking in the barrage of instructions and specialists that become a sudden, permanent part of our family. Too quickly, the numbness gives way to fear. Not fear. Horror. I google the abominable three letters that would make even a hard-core Christian question God and feel the vomit rise in my throat. I dope myself at night to attempt sleep that is sporadic and filled with dark, amorphic images, waking to a pounding heart and pajamas drenched in sweat. In the course of three days, I lose more than ten pounds.

This reaction must be nothing compared to what my parents are feeling, except nobody gives voice to the emotion. My mother tells me she thinks she probably doesn’t want to know exactly what is wrong with her. My father takes the diagnosis onto shoulders hardened by a lifetime of blows such as this, with the optimistic resignation that we deal with what is and strive for ways to triumph.

Our triumphs have come in small victories that shine rays of hope upon us like the West Texas sun pushing violet and umber rays through mustard-green thunder clouds. A cat toy taped to reading glasses allows Mom to shine a laser light on the poster board across the room to spell out what she cannot communicate with the gestures of her eyes and head. Dad fashions a lever for the breathing machine so my mother’s otherwise useless hands can still ramp it down at night.

Their life has become a regimented routine, narrowed to the effort it takes to exist in an adult-sized body that must be cossetted as if she were a new born child. To eat, to evacuate, to wipe an eyelash from her cheek, all require somebody else’s hands and muscles. Besides control of her elimination organs, the only mercy left her with this illness is the ability to still chew and swallow many, but not all, of the foods she finds delicious. At some point, even that luxury will vanish.

I doubt the medical staff and doctors know what to make of us. My father moves her legs and arms, her hands and feet on a regular basis each day, as well as any physical therapist might do it. When Mom received her feeding tube this summer, it was my father showing the nursing staff how to operate the new-style Mic-key tube the doctor had implanted. I’m thankful the world-renowned neurologist is tolerant of my habit of disagreeing with him, despite the room full of white coats in audience to my stubborn rebellion. After a lifetime of dealing with people in situations like ours, he understands the woman lying in the bed is not his mother.

We have reached a point where the sameness of our days allows us to grasp at the special moments like gem-shaped treasures. My mother’s tears, which can come unbidden in an almost constant flow as a result of this disease, have given way to unleashed laughter. Her humor, always present, has bloomed to provide us with the highlights of our days. My description of my cat’s response to his first visit from my sister’s dog results in a bout of contagious laughter. My sister and I plot the conversations we know will make her smile, our daily dialogues with our dad over the speakerphone our only connection to her as we try to juggle our own lives with this need to spend as much time as possible with parents a day’s travel from home.

As tough as the journey has been, we breathe in and out in the knowledge that the worse is yet to come. Those who have taken similar journeys know the cliff that awaits us, the freefall into absence no sojourner survives. We thank God for laughter, for her breathing not deteriorating, for a pulmonary doctor who is the only one to trust our ability to make many of the medical decisions ourselves.

Kindness comes in the prayers of acquaintances who have never met her, in the visits my cousin makes to keep her hair trimmed, in the flowers even relatives who have never called her on the phone have sent for her birthday. We hold these moments close to the hearts we are notorious for shielding, gathering courage for the unknown even as we know courage will fail us.

In the midst of a life where I have dwelled in the unattainable, throwing my energy at questions about my doing, desperately seeking the approval of a God who chooses to speak only through the veil of my own, cluttered thinking, this disease stalemates me. God draws me closer, and the devil pushes me to the cold, outer reaches where God, honoring my stubborn tantrum, vanishes. Yesterday, I wondered suddenly why I was seeking the approval of a God who, like an absent father, refuses to give me a straight answer. What does love look like when all talent, no matter how heavenly, has only that place of decay and dark-before-the-dawn to go?

These are dramatic turnings of a mind that knows better, of a body that was raised to face the hardships of living and smile in the face of adversity. God, who loves me unconditionally, does me the greatest honor by not laughing me off the page of this, my egotistic, narrow-minded existence.

For now, it is enough, this twilight time of routines designed to make my mother as comfortable and happy as a person paralyzed from head to toe but not in mind can be. We move forward knowing that this persevering is honing us for something bigger than ourselves. We settle into the not so comfortable position of listening for those instructions that will further push us outside our comfort zones, knowing all the while that if we manage somehow to accomplish God’s purpose for us here on this fallen planet, we will likely never know we’ve done it.

Our only comfort is the inkling, soft and clingy like a spider’s web, that the part of her that might suffer most from this deterioration of the body is already tucked away somewhere in the corner of her spirit, dormant and waiting for the day when the saints dance around the throne of God.

Mom after one of my cousin's gracious house-call beauty sessions.
Mom after one of my cousin’s gracious house-call beauty sessions.
Posted in Faith, Living

This Wounded Heart

light-flowers-yellow-metal-8894-large

Loss is a gift to the living, who find in grief the opportunity to truly know joy, in tears to embrace a hearty smile. Without loss, we would have no pain to compare to gladness. It would be a dull world indeed if every day was just the same without low points or high points. In the human condition, we must have low points in order to understand the highlights.

But none of this logic is very comforting in the midst of despair. Even though in despair is exactly where we should be most vigilant with our walk by faith, it is often in the valley of the shadow that we lose our way entirely. In the time of our greatest grief, we will lean heaviest on what is familiar. If we have spent our lives reaching for the one, true God, we will not have far to fall before we find Him. Where we strain most in darkness, His is the brightest light.

In February of 2015, a season of grief and shadows began in my faith walk. My grandmother passed away, my last remaining grandparent. At the funeral, my mother explained that she was having trouble using her hands, a worrisome affliction. Shortly after, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. In a few weeks, we learned the condition was terminal. In October, my mother’s condition was much worse. She had been for many tests and finally came to a specialist in Houston, who diagnosed her with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Right before Christmas, my brother-in-law, who had been battling liver cancer since August of 2014, succumbed. Not even two weeks later, my father-in-law also died.

So, today, when my best friend asked me to help her with verses for her unborn grandchild’s funeral, I had to sit down to reflect, and I do my best reflections when I write. This feeling is ironic because in the aftermath of my mother’s diagnosis and my husband’s family tragedies, I have given in to the feeling that for the first time in my life, words have failed me. Grief may make you bitter or angry or sorrowful, but it can make you feel like a cheat, too.

First, you are a cheat in grief because you are the survivor, the one who didn’t get the fatal illness or have the mortal accident. But, the pain of grief can also make you feel like a cheat because, despite all your high-handed, faithful words in the past, there are moments, long moments, when you don’t feel in great accord with God as you grieve. You may feel like He is punishing you (not Biblical) or has promised You a life without this pain (also not Biblical). You may even, in your heart of hearts, be just a little bit angry with Him for allowing the world to be this evil place where bad things happen like people dying!

And, when you feel these feelings, the last thing you think you are capable of doing is telling somebody else what kind of faith they should be having in God. You don’t want to be a fair-weather friend to the LORD-All-Powerful, but you don’t feel so buddy-buddy, either.

PhotoFunia-1457824003

Finding the Light in the valley of the shadow began for me with simple things, like hearing people on television discussing their own struggle to break out of a season in the slumps. One mantra, “Today is a good day for a good day,” helped me tremendously early on. By choosing to think about the good in the day I was in, I managed to while away the hours and even smile now and again.

Luckily for me, I have always spent a lot of time studying the Word and reading a wide variety of thinkers about their take on God. Long before this season of tragedy, I had read Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts?. I had taken many Bible studies with Beth Moore. I had studied the Word with Augustine and Randy Harris and Max Lucado. These foundations have helped me understand the process I am going through. I still have much to learn, much of which I will only learn by going where I have to go.

In the poem, “The Waking,” Theodore Roethke compares the process of living and dying to that of waking and sleeping. “I wake to sleep,” he writes, “and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go.” Because death is inevitable, the poet argues, the thing “Great Nature has to do to you and me,” we might as well embrace life in full knowledge of our coming death.

Even though life should be savored, I’ve come to understand, like A. E. Housman, that our post-death always may be ever more important. In Dead Lie We, the poet explains, “life to be sure is nothing much to lose, but young men think it is, and we were young.”

61FPbM3+M2L._SL300_

What do you say to a young woman who has to struggle through childbirth for a five-month fetus who has no beating heart? Philip Yancey puts it this way:

The notion of suffering as productive brings a new dimension to our experience of pain. Human beings undergo goal-directed suffering quite willingly, as athletes can attest. According to the Bible, a proper Christian response to suffering gives similar hope to the person on the hospital bed. As we rely on God, and trust his Spirit to mold us in his image, true hope takes shape within us, “a hope that does not disappoint.” We can literally become better persons because of suffering. Pain, however meaningless it may seem at the time, can be transformed. Where is God when it hurts? He is in us–not in the things that hurt–helping to transform bad into good. We can safely say that God can bring good out of evil; we cannot say that God brings about the evil in hopes of producing good.*

This transformation, this waking to sleep, is as old as the ages and takes as many forms as there are those who grieve and yet reach for the love of the ever-present God. In His Word, you will find examples of those who stood strong in faith despite tragedy, like David, those who railed against God in their despair, like many of the Psalmists, and those who put the will of God before their own needs, like Christ Himself.

As David proclaimed,

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)

Only by establishing strongholds in God, either before tragedy or after, will you truly let God in to do his work of transforming you to the stronger person you are meant to be on the other side of the valley of shadow. Wounded hearts may never fully heal, but they feel much better when they are held in the loving hands of our all-powerful Father.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

In Christ,
Ramona

 

*From Where is God when it hurts? by Philip Yancey. Copyright  1990, 1977. Zondervan Publishing,  p.109.

 

Posted in Living

Boxes

grandma collage

The personal, life events of the last eight days have brought to mind a song I wrote many years ago when a dear friend of mine was having to say goodbye to the last member of her immediate family.  Last Wednesday, I lost my last grandparent.  She was almost 92.  I look forward to seeing her again in that amazing place where there are many rooms.

For now, I wanted to share the lyrics that reflect a little bit of what we all have to go through at some point or another:

Boxes

It was just a pile of boxes,
labelled by a shaky hand.
And I knew this day was coming,
but it’s not the way I planned.
50 years of family living,
all packed up and put away.
And it’s not the way I planned it,
but the boxes go today.

There’s the box of Mama’s trophies,
15 years of county fairs,
quilts crafted through hard winters,
with a hint of country air.
There’s my daddy’s favorite novels,
all Jack London ever wrote.
He’d read to us on Sundays,
his voice ringing with pure notes.
There’s the photo of my sister,
chasing butterflies in Spring.
She’s the girl that I remember,
but her memory’s all I bring.

What I wouldn’t give
to hear my daddy’s voice again,
see my sister’s curly hair,
smell my mama’s smooth, clean skin.
50 years of family living,
all wrapped up and put away.
And it’s not the way I planned it,
but the boxes go today.

And I place the generations,
in piles to give away.
And a part of me goes with it,
but I can’t afford to stay,
wrapped in memories while my own kids
wait at home for my return.
Closing down the family homestead
feels just like a bridge that’s burned.

~~~

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (John 14:27)

Posted in Living, Writing

The Gathering Stone–A short, short story

stone_tablet

The wind whipped icy fingers that cut through the knitted scarf I had wrapped around my neck before plunging headlong out of my mother’s house more than a half hour before.  If I stayed out here much longer, stamping from foot to foot, I might just freeze to death before I could even begin the grand adventure about which Mother’s caustic comments had sent me flying out the door in the first place.

I let out a puff of indignant breath, watching it billow and dissipate in front of me.  She wasn’t going to check on me.  She was going to rock in her favorite chair in the parlor, working on the cross-stitch she planned to donate to her church’s auction for some mission in Africa, carrying on as if nothing untoward had happened at all.

She could support other women’s daughters traipsing off to the far reaches of the earth as long as God’s name was attached to it, but let her own daughter propose a little trip to Central America as part of her anthropological studies, and it would seem the very heavens were destined to fall in.

“What on earth are you doing out here, Melissa?” my Aunt Gertie’s voice, sharp like a knife, split through the cold and my thoughts, making me jump despite myself.

“You don’t want to know,”  I pouted, hating that I sounded like some petulant child and doing my best to keep my teeth from chattering.

“I certainly don’t want to know out here in this freezing weather,” she shot back.  “Come back inside this house before you catch your death, and then you can vent until your lips are blue, if they aren’t blue already.”

She turned back into the house without giving me a second glance, and I followed her before I could think myself into a stubborn stance that could only end in frostbite.  Gertie was in the kitchen, pouring tea from the thick, brown pot she had purchased thirty years ago on her one trip to England.  She silently poured a second cup as I stomped my feet and tentatively felt the tip of my nose.  I wiggled it once I was sure it wouldn’t break like an icicle.

“It’s not this cold in Belize,” I muttered, watching Gertie splash a dab of milk in both cups.

She held up her hand without looking up.  “I know you prefer your tea plain, but you need it.  You could be Rudolph the Reindeer, don’t you know.”  She gestured at the chair across from her.  “Sit.  Drink.”

I obeyed robotically, feeling the smooth liquid warm my belly and slide to my toes, which tingled annoyingly.  “All I want, Aunt Gertie, is to spend the semester abroad.  It’s the most popular course in the department, and they only have the one slot left.”

Gertie poured more tea into her cup, giving me one of her famous, side-long glances.   “And you’ve got the money to pay for this popular course, I suppose?”

I sank into my chair.  Leave it to Gertie to cut to the heart of the matter.  “Isn’t that what my college fund is for?” I spluttered finally.

Gertie raised a perfectly coiffed eyebrow.  “So, you earned the money that’s in that fund?”

This would be a losing argument.  I’d already had it with Mother, who likewise refused to count all my hours of studying for the top grades I had been bringing home since kindergarten as ‘work.’  “I might as well be back out in the garden,” I exclaimed.

“To the gathering stone,” Gertie agreed, nodding absently.  Her dark eyes looked into a distance I couldn’t see.  She snapped back to the table quickly.  “You may as well settle in your mind that you won’t be going anywhere except to the campus up the street until you are a woman full grown, with your own means of taking care of yourself.  If you hadn’t noticed, the budget in this house isn’t . . .,” she stopped herself.

I grimaced.  My father had been dead for almost a decade, but between Mother and Gertie, it might have been yesterday.  “Is it any wonder I want to experience more of the world?” I asked, thinking more of my desire to be away from the sorrow, to have a day where I did not have to be reminded as if I could forget that I was fatherless.

“Just because your father’s days were cut short doesn’t mean that you have a short life to live,” Gertie comforted, patting my hand with her boney fingers.  “You will have plenty of time to travel once you have graduated.”

I ran my palm around the curve of the brown teapot.  “That’s easy enough for you to say.  At least you’ve seen a little of the world.”

Gertie stood up suddenly and began gathering the tea things, her back turned to me.  She coughed and switched the water on in the sink with more force than was necessary.  “Seeing the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” she said in her cutting voice again.  “But, as I said, you’ll find out for yourself soon enough.”

Mother showed her face in the kitchen doorway then.  “Have you talked some sense into her, Gert?” she asked.

“I’m sitting right here,” I said.  “Why don’t you ask me?”

When she turned to me, her blonde hair streaked with gray, her eyes looked more tired than usual.  For the first time in my life, I had the feeling that I had somehow failed her.  I was almost ready to give up my dream then.  Almost.

“I can see what you are thinking,” Mother blurted, pulling a chair from the table and having a seat.  “I am not trying to make you feel guilty or even trying to keep you from growing up.  We don’t have the money, Melissa, and that’s the bottom line.”

“But if I could get the money?” I asked, feeling the first glimmer of hope.

“Then you could apply it to the second mortgage we’ve taken out on the house to keep up with our expenses.”  Mother spat.

Aunt Gertie sat back down again, and we three sat looking at each other, the silence in the room so deafening that even the ticking of the clock over the kitchen sink came to me as if through a thick wall.  I could forget about Belize, about the Mayan ruins in the jungle and the weekends on the beach with handsome Mike Spears in swimming trunks.

“What did you mean by a gathering stone in the garden, Aunt Gertie?” I finally asked, unable to look at my mother any longer.

Gertie just kept herself from jumping out of her own skin.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

Mother shot Gertie a withering look.  “What have you been telling her?”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Gertie shot back, “as you well know.”

I stood up and pulled my coat back on, wanting, no needing, to get away from them, from my life.  “You said it was in the garden,” I said.  “What does it look like?”

Mother stood up then.  “It doesn’t look like anything because there is nothing there.”

“Then why would Aunt Gertie say something about it and then get all dreamy-eyed?” I shot back, my sympathy for our financial troubles evaporating again.

Mother sighed from her toes.  “The gathering stone,” she said, “isn’t in our garden, Melissa.  It was in the garden where Gertie and I were girls.  Take off your coat.”

I shrugged.  “I’ll go to the museum then.  It’s free today, and there’s an exhibit on shrunken heads I’d like to see.”

“Don’t be gruesome, Melissa, just because you are disappointed,” Mother ordered.

“Life is disappointment, Mother,” I said, just keeping myself from wincing at the drama in my own words, but I had gone too far to stop myself now.  “Can’t you understand how I might want to escape the disappointment, just for a little while?  Just for one semester?  Aunt Gertie did it!”

Gertie came up behind me and ripped off my coat suddenly.  “Sit down, Melissa,” she said in her sharpest voice yet.  It startled me so, I did exactly as she asked.

“I don’t know what made me mention the gathering stone today, dear,” she began in a softer tone.  “Perhaps all this talk about travel is what did it.  Your mother and I took our first travels at the gathering stone, you see.  It was a huge chunk of rock, a boulder to our young selves that we could climb upon and pretend.  That rock was a raft on the Amazon, an airplane soaring over the Atlantic, our wedding altars.”

“So, you called it the gathering stone because?” I said.

She shrugged, remaining silent.  Mother answered.  “Because our dreams were gathered there, I suppose.  Now, let’s pick out a good movie and make some popcorn.  I’m in the mood for a comedy.”

I glanced between the two of them.  “There’s more to this than you’re letting on,” I said.  “If you think I’m just going to forget something as mysterious sounding as this, you’re crazy.  What was the gathering stone, really?  Did you meet your boyfriends there or sneak out at midnight to light candles and chant like the Ya-Ya Sisterhood?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mother scoffed.  “We were young children without Xboxes or computer games.  We had to use our  imaginations.  That’s all it was.  Now, let’s go to the living room and relax.”

I was all ready to grab my coat again and head to the museum, or the Starbucks in the Student Union.  I had at least five dollars in my left pocket and a bit of a gift at getting the boys from my classes to buy my lattes for me.  Sitting down with my Mother and Aunt for two hours watching a movie, being forced to stew in the juices of my latest disappointment was just too much to bear.

“Don’t go,” Aunt Gertie’s voice stopped me.  It was a pleading voice, not the sharp one that had greeted me an hour before.  “There’s really something you should know, Melissa.”

“If you open your mouth, Mother, to tell her to be quiet, I’ll scream until I faint,” I promised.

“Very mature,” Mother responded, but she stayed silent otherwise.

“What do you want to tell me, Aunt Gertie?”

“I’ve never been to England,” she blurted.

I blinked.  Hard.  Three times.  “What?”

“The teapot,” Gertie said, swallowing.  “The teapot is from England, Melissa, but that’s not where I got it.”

“Why would you tell me it was?” I asked, feeling sad and outraged all at once.

“Did I?” Gertie asked, her voice rising to a strange pitch.  “You’re sure I didn’t just talk about England so much that you assumed I had been there?  I’ve read an awful lot about it, you know.  I spent many an evening at the gathering stone reading about it.”

“So, why did you never go?  What would be holding you back?”

Gertie smiled a sad smile, a face that showed me more than anything the depth of my own ignorance.  It had not been an easy life for all of us, but Gertie had always been the tag-a-long, the tall, awkward sister to Mother’s attractive curves and curls, all angles and hard lines.  Mother had lost her husband, but Gertie’s only wedding altar had been the stone in her parents’ garden.

And now I knew she had never been anywhere, she who had toted the brown teapot from church social to bridal shower for decades, explaining the fine points of high tea and knitting teapot cozies as if she had not only visited the United Kingdom but become one of its citizens for a season.

“You’re trying to shock me into forgetting about Belize,” I said.  “Forget about it.  You already made your point with the second mortgage threat.  I know I might as well tuck that idea under your gathering stone and move on.”

Gertie laughed, a bubbling sound that seemed to come from her very core.  “Well, it worked, didn’t it?”

“Now, can we watch the movie,” Mother asked in her most bored voice.

The two sisters walked out arm in arm, discussing what title they wanted to slide into the DVD player.  I stayed in the chair a few moments, staring at the teapot and trying to imagine younger versions of my mother and aunt on a huge stone in their parent’s back garden.

Finally, I decided it wouldn’t matter if Gertie had made it to England in reality or only through her own imagination.  Somehow, her stories were so real that they might as well have been.

Now, if there were only a gathering stone in our own garden, even just a small one I could carry in my pocket, well then, maybe, I could dream myself into a college course of a lifetime.

Or I could check out a book at the library.

I threw some popcorn in the microwave, slipped off my sneakers, and rubbed the now cool crockery that had been the symbol of Gertie’s independence for the length of my lifetime.  It was cold comfort, but it was the closest thing to England I was likely to get in a wintertime of Sundays  tucked into the cupboard that served as our computer station, “Pinning” fantastic pictures to my board titled “Where the Gathering Stone Stayed.”

Posted in Christian Living, Living, Uncategorized

The Only Thing You Really Have

20140104-124610.jpg

Running an errand yesterday, I hustled through the grocery store, right past an employee carefully putting out the displays for, you guessed it, Valentine’s Day!

OK, I was in a hurry. I was in a rush to get back to work, which was piled up since I had taken a week during Christmas to go visit my family. So, my point is that I wasn’t exactly taking the time to stop and smell the roses, as they say (and pardon the pun), which probably means I have no right to complain, but since that hasn’t stopped me before…..

Come on! Those were the words that went through my head, followed quickly by, you’ve got to be kidding me? In other words, can’t I just have January to take a breather from the next thing I’m supposed to be prepared for?

And my next thought after that little tirade was that, in reality, all I ever really have is the moment I am currently in, and yet I spend so much time worrying about or preparing for something that is going to happen or may happen tomorrow or the day after that, I fail to soak in all the blessings and glory, sights and scents, all the nuances of the now that are what make a day worth living.

The Bible is very clear on this moment-by-moment approach to living:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself,Jesus said. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

The Preacher writes, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). The Message puts these same verses this way:

After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.

Be sure you don’t mistake living in the now for a “live and let live” philosophy. “Be very careful, then, how you live,” Ephesians tells us, “not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. . .” (5:15-16). And those opportunities are not to embrace the treasures of the earth but the treasures in heaven: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” Colossians 4 admonishes. And Christ made clear that loving God first and treating your neighbor as you yourself would want to be treated sums up the whole of all God’s commands.

When it comes right down to it, the past has already come and gone, with only the ability to repent of what wrong was done in it and move forward earnestly trying to do better. Tomorrow only comes by the grace of the One who made us all. But today, TODAY, is the gift of the moment that we have the opportunity to make the most of with all surety.

So, sorry Valentine’s Day, but I’m going to keep myself busy with today this January. As the Psalmist proclaimed:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 ESV)

Posted in Living, Poetry

The Extraordinary Gentlemen

20130524-224611.jpg

As I prepared to write this post, the Memorial Day holiday uppermost on my mind, my husband flipped on the television to the movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It seemed appropriate, this far-fetched tale about a group of men (and a woman!) who band together to use their unique talents to save the world.

On Memorial Day, we take time to remember our own loved ones who have passed, but also pay much-deserved respect to those who died in defense of our country. The British poet A.E. Housman has a short poem about the sacrifice of our soldiers that goes like this:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
but young men think it is, and we were young.

Patriotism doesn’t mean you have to blindly believe everything your government tells you or wholly support your government’s actions. The great thing about America is that we have the right to make known our disagreements with those in power, both through our free speech and at the ballot box.

There is a difference, however, between disagreeing with a government policy, or even war, and denigrating those who have chosen to defend our right to freedom with their very lives if necessary. When soldiers of the last Great War returned home, they did so to parades, confetti reigning down on them amidst the grateful cries of an entire nation. The soldiers who returned from Korea were quickly forgotten. Those who managed to come home from Vietnam outside of a body bag were scorned.

So, every Memorial Day, I feel a great swelling of pride for our soldiers past and present, along with sorrow for the times when those soldiers have been made to feel less than heroes by the very people they have sworn to protect.

There are ways to express disagreement with government policy or even war. Write letters to Congress. March on Washington. But honor always those in uniform who did not choose to shame us by defending our right to be free. They are the ones who are truly extraordinary.