Thursday, July 23, 2015

Summer Garden Thoughts

Been outside weeding and meditating. Funny my thoughts ran to Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. I came to love this devotional book back in high school days and memorized this poem Mrs. Cowman wrote.

Mrs. Cowman served as a missionary in China and Japan, and spent six years nursing a dying husband. She wrote:

“We thank Thee Lord, for weary days

When desert streams were dry,

And first we knew what depths of need

Thy Love could satisfy.

We thank Thee for the rest in Him

The weary only know-

The perfect, wondrous sympathy

We needs must learn below.

The touch that heals the broken heart

is never felt above;

The angels know His blessedness,

His way-worn saints, His love.” -- written in 1924

That's me today:  weary, needy, broken but kept in the Savior's love!  Hope that's you as well!  We don't have it all together even if we're pretty good at fooling ourselves and others!  But, we know where to run with our tired, broken, needy selves - to Jesus the Rock of Ages!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

As Long As It Takes!

I love to read!  I just finished Jan Karon's book Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good where the reader has more adventures with Father Tim in Mitford. 

There is a scene in the book when Coot's mother died.  A neighbor calls Father Tim to come in the midst of a major snowstorm.  Nothing but snowplows are moving, and Coot lives too far away to walk. 

So Father Tim actually rides the snowplow until he is close enough to "plow" through the 15-inch snow on his own.  When Father Tim arrives, Jan Karon writes: 

Seminary didn’t teach specifically about consoling the bereaved; that was something that came with on-the-job training. … Mostly, he was simply there, a warm body in a sweater with a reindeer on the front.  He found a tea bag and made tea and added sugar and gave it to Coot. Then he sat next to him on the side of the bed and held on to his old friend and didn’t let go for a long while.

That pretty much nails it!  It doesn't take a seminary degree or training in counseling to be a presence of comfort!  It may and often does require a great deal of effort!  It does require heart!  Father Tim braved a blizzard to get to Coot so he can BE that presence!

I have a sister and brother-in-law* (*spelled brother-in-love) who are caring for his aged father who is deeper into his dementia every day.  It's not easy!  It is exhausting!  It requires loss of sleep, constant diligence, energy that might feel like it has got-up-and-when, and presence to be the hand, feet, and heart of Jesus for another person!  They are walking that walk because they can and because they must!  Someone is depending on them in big ways and small!  And they love that man.  They are willing to give new meaning to sitting next to him on the side of his bed.  They hold onto him and don't let go for a very long time - as long as it takes!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Angels Wear Blue Jeans and Carry Snow Shovels!!!

We got a lot of snow last night for one night in Pittsburgh!  My hubby went out to clear the drive this morning.  First thing after he started the snow blower was that the belt snapped.  The snow blower wasn't going to blow ANY snow without a belt.  Our driveway is at least as long as a football field and straight up a hill accessing and egressing US 19.  Well, knowing we needed to get out to get a belt, we started to shovel.  We shoveled a lot.  Then a truck pulled up to the end of the drive to the side of US 19, a young man in blue jeans jumped out and started running through the deep snow up the hill.  I turned to John and said, "If he wants a job, say yes."  He kept coming and reached out his hand asking for a shovel.  "I've come to help,"  he said.  He started slinging snow like no-body's business!  Then we found out that his wife and 15-day-old son were in the truck waiting for him to take them to lunch.  It was amazing!  He was like a whirling dervish!  The driveway was soon cleared to the bottom, and he was on his way!  He had a name - actually a well-known name around here.  His son was the 8th generation in his family, he said.  I don't care what anybody says, he was an stranger in the snow who did the work of an angel.  Don't let anyone EVER tell you that angels don't wear blue jeans and carry snow shovels!  I know they do!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Kintsugi for the Heart!

It was a September Saturday afternoon, and I was happy to be started on Christmas gifts.  I usually made the gifts we gave, and this year was no exception. My trunk was filled with greenware – ceramic slip that had come out of the molds but still needed to be cleaned, then fired to bisque, painted, and sealed.  As I remember there were 8 sets of nativity figures.  I planned to start with the central figures the first year, the shepherds and their sheep and the angels the next year, and the wise men and camels the third year. 

I decided to run over to a nearby town to a craft show that afternoon.  On the way a teenager high on some substance struck my brand new Chevy Caprice in the rear literally pleating the car. Well, all that greenware didn’t fare too well! It was broken and crumbled into many, many pieces and dust. I didn’t know it right away, but I had a broken neck. It’s strange how things take on significance: just that week I had heard someone say on the radio that life breaks us all and afterward some of us are stronger in the places that were broken. I remembered those words that fall Saturday afternoon. I had no idea how often I would ponder them over the next weeks and months.

Brokenness is a HUGE subject worthy of great contemplation!  The truth is that all of us are broken and in desperate need of restoration. That’s why Jesus came - to make that restoration process possible!

In part of my life I teach Latin. Roman history is part of teaching Latin. In almost any marketplace in any city in the Roman Empire potters displayed their wares. They developed a clever trick to hide flawed workmanship or damage. When a pot had a flaw or a crack, they would take wax and smooth it over the flaws or press it tightly into the cracks. The objective was to deceive the customer into buying a defective product thinking it was true and solid. Can you imagine what happened to those pots when they were filled with water or wine especially on a hot day? They would spring leaks. This practice gave potters a bad name in general. Most of these potter merchants were travelers. By the time their deceit was discovered, they were far down the road, swallowed up by the next city or town or wherever. There was no complaint department.  As a result sales slumped, profits were threatened, honest artists were shamed by the actions of others.

Pottery artists with integrity were sick and tired of being lumped together with these scoundrels. So, they began to sign their names on the bottom of all their new pieces along with this stamp: SINE CERA (without wax). We actually get our English word sincere from this practice. If the pottery had integrity, was whole and not damaged, then it was also sine cera (without wax). The pottery not stamped sine cera appeared to be undamaged because of the wax. Surprise, surprise when that pot was used for a hot liquid!

 One of my best friends is Japanese. She tells me about the style of Japanese art called Kintsugi (beautifully broken). It is broken - intentionally! Everyone knows it is broken. In fact, the imperfections are flaunted! The pottery has been deliberately broken and then repaired with seams of pure gold or silver. The amazing creations that result unquestionably bring beauty from brokenness! Perfection is over-rated. Real beauty comes from brokenness!

Sadly we don’t value brokenness in our culture. We shy from it! We avert our eyes. Worse, we avert our hearts! We think and live, at least most of us do, as though anything or anyone damaged, smashed, disabled is of little or no value. That is as much a lie as the non-sine cera pots of ancient times!

God is in the full-time business of fixing brokenness. He could make brokenness as though it never happened, but He doesn’t. Instead He chooses to display the beauty of brokenness! The prophet Malachi wrote in 3:2-3: …He will be like a refiner’s fire … He will sit as a refiner and purifier of siver…         

John Piper of Desiring God Ministries observes, He is a refiner's fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner's fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner's fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner's fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner's fire. (He Is Like a Refiner's Fire, November 29, 1987)

 I am blessed to be broken! I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by family and friends who know and understand brokenness, and who constantly challenge my heart to be more than even sine cera but rather to live in the reality of Kintsugi!

*The black pot is credited to Lakeside Pottery -

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Midst of Life........!

It was the worst of days, AND it was the BEST of days!  It was the day we buried my mother just a few weeks ago.  My mother was having the BEST of days as she began her new life in eternity with Jesus.  I wouldn't wish her back for anything!  Honestly, it was also the worst of days!  It was the end of having a parent on this earth.  I would never again hear her voice or kiss her cheek.  I would never again look into those beautiful blue eyes and know she loves me no matter what! Did I mention I HATE death! I even think God means for us to hate death. It's part of understanding how much we need Jesus!
The memorial service was in the morning and the graveside several hours drive away in the afternoon. We have lots of family!  I have 3 sisters and 2 brothers (one is in Heaven).  We all married, and my mother considered the children she got by marriage as much hers as the ones she birthed.  There were 21 grandchildren - all but 4 married.   There are close to 40 great-grandchildren with several on the way. All in all in round numbers it's right at 90 immediate family, and all were there for the memorial service except for 2 moms who had week old newborn babies, and one grandson's wife who is having a baby soon.  It's hard to be lonely in such a crowd of loving family! 
We were all walking into the service together, and my brother told me to go first with our sons, their wives, and our grandchildren.  Because John was helping with the service, I was alone.  I reached my hand back for a granddaughter to walk with me. Only one saw and took my hand. She not only walked with me to the front row, but she sat as close to me as glue the entire time hugging me and being hugged.
On a day like that day when death intrudes into life is when it's easy to be lonely even in a crowd of loving family. I was that kind of lonely, and I needed the touch of a hand and hugs. God sent me that hand and those hugs!  Thank you, Vania!  And, thank you all for your hands and hugs on one of the BEST-worst days of my life!
There's a lesson for my heart here that reaches out:  there is always someone who needs a hand and a hug but it takes eyes to see and a heart to understand!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pink Clouds and Popsicles!

Happy October's Mother's Day, Jade Hooper Holmes! 

One of God's beautiful masterpieces in the sky as Vania & I were on our way to Mission Hospital yesterday... I told Vania look God made the clouds pink for you...She's my daughter-in-love, and she's a rock star mother juggling a late teens special needs daughter, a typical 3-year-old, two other boys (11 and 15) along with a dog named Reko, a black kitty named Esmeralda, Sally the coon dog, Mr. Turtle, assorted cousins, and sometimes a snake or two plus her SuperHubby and (Great-Granny) Nanny (age 98) all in the same little house tucked under the trees, rhodendron, and laurel beside a mountain stream.

Daughter Vania has had serious cardio issues since her birth 17+ years ago.  When she caught an upper respiratory infection recently, she got clobbered especially hard.  Finally two days ago she ended up at Mission Memorial Children's Hospital for respiratory and oxygen therapy. 

On the way Jade and Vania were stunned by the beauty of the sky.  Pink is Vania's favorite color, hands down!  Jade posted on Facebook what she told Vania: Vania - Look!  God made the clouds pink just for you!

Another post describes a midnight popsicle party with pictures!  ... in the hospital! 

October is Down Syndrome Awareness and Celebration month.  I celebrate the blessing Down Syndrome is in my life in the beauty of our sweet Vania and her very special mom!        (published with permission)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Kick the Can Down the Road?

What do we do with a heart so sad and scared that we hardly know how to stand under the weight?  What do we do with well-meaning advice to Buck up, my friend! or You just need to trust God!  It’s NOT that easy!  When a heart is bruised and broken, when the pain is crushing, and all but too great to bear – that IS when we are cast upon the rocky shore of keeping on!  What is a Christian to do with such a heart at such a time?  Denial kicks that painful can down the road for a short time perhaps but does nothing for the ole achy, breaky heart!

A game dredged from long ago memory is Kick the Can.  It’s a poor man’s Kickball!  Any metal can will do, and it’s played with two teams kicking the can and then running the bases to score runs baseball style.  Like most other games involving skill and balls, I certainly didn’t shine.  I didn’t even care all that much about shining!  I’d much rather read a book or watch others play.  It’s more difficult to handle life as a kick-the-can exercise.  There is no comfort in kicking a painful can down the road!  There is no closure in kicking the pain away temporarily only to have the waves of grief and pain plummet the heart and soul all over again in short order.

 What if some well-meaning someone counsels:  You just need to live in the truth that God is in
control and trust Him.  That is a very true statement, but it’s a process hard won in the daily battle with pain and loss!  It’s a terrible burden to dump such a seemingly self-righteous platitude on shoulders already slumped under the heavy burden of unexpected loss or the burden of constant barrage and assault. How is such counsel helpful to the grieving child whose parent is dying?  How is such advice helpful to a parent suddenly thrust into the world of special needs with their child?  What good does it do to speak such words in the face of devastating loss and even death?  What help does such a quick prescription offer in the midst of unrelenting, bone-wearing care-giving?  The blanks to fill in are almost endless and tailor-made for each individual sorrow.

Scripture has at least two examples of this sort of spiritual (?) admonition in the face of unrelenting, heart-deep suffering:  Job’s friends (Job 16) and the man who was born blind (John 9).  Job’s friends did come to sit in the town dump on top of the ashes with him, but they offered little in the way of REAL comfort and even implied that somehow Job must deserve his plight.  The man born blind received his sight when Jesus healed him, but some asked, Who sinned – this man or his parents – that he was born blind?  NICE! With friends like that………….
There is one more instructive Biblical example of desperation:  the father whose son had overwhelming special needs in Mark 9.  Dad is desperate for help and comes to Jesus as his last hope.  He begs Jesus to help – not even sure Jesus can.  He says, If you can do something for my son …   Jesus assures Dad that He can and will help.  Dad grasps at that glimmer of hope and says, Lord, I believe you can and then just as quickly falling back into despair that still clutches at the hope Jesus offers, Help my doubt! (Mark 9:24)  That may be all there is, but it is enough because of the One we come to for help and hope:

Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! … Listen to my cries for mercy.   -- Psalm 130:1-2, MSG

We don’t need to kick the can down the road!