The Forgiving Father

This painting by the well known Indian artist, Frank Wesley, hung in my father’s church study, his entire pastoral career. Once retired, he kept it in his home and then finally in his room at Wesley Village until he died. The painting and its title, “The Forgiving Father,” captured my dad’s heart when he was a brand new pastor. He found it in a classroom closet at his first church. It was a simple poster for Sunday school curriculum. He moved it to every church office to remind him of why he entered the pastorate. He even painted the background color to enhance it.

This picture was on the front of dad’s memorial service bulletin last week. It seemed fitting as a symbol of everything he believed, lived and preached. When I visited my mother after the service, I looked closely at the picture again and asked her if I could take it home. I promised to replace it for her, with a picture of her and daddy. She liked the trade off.

I wanted to hang it in my home to remind me that my ministry should reflect the Father’s love. When I hung it on my wall, something happened in my heart. My mind went back to a time years ago when one of our children was making bad choices. I was praying for them while reading the story of the prodigal son/forgiving father. Standing in front of that picture, I remembered the strange conversation I had with God. It went something like this. 

Me: I feel like the father in this story. (rookie bible study mistake)

God: Oh really? In what way?

Me: Well, my child is out of control and I’m waiting on their return home, like the father did.

God: You are nothing like the father, in this situation.

Me: How can you say that?

God: You are not waiting at home. You are following them around, watching their every move. Instead of staying home, you are a pig-pen-picker-upper.

Me: What is a pig-pen-picker-upper?

God: You have followed your child to the pig pen and are sweeping up corn cobs, hanging pictures to make it look better, and trying to clean up their mess. Go home and wait like the father did. 

It took me awhile to agree with God but eventually I went home and waited and prayed. God brought our child back home, without my help or interference.  I reflected on that experience from long ago and realized that this wasn’t a one time lesson. God has reminded me of this conversation several times.

Now, the picture hangs in my living room. The story continues to teach me. It stirs me to reflect the Father’s love and forgiveness in my ministry. But even more so, it reminds me, in all of my relationships to have patience during the waiting, give forgiveness whether entreated or not, and extend extravagant love throughout the process.

When you study the picture or read the scripture story, what is the Father speaking to you?

Holidays with Bethany

Our family celebrates Bethany’s life everyday, but Oct 31st and Nov 1st, we think about her all day. She was a big proponent of Halloween! Not the creepy scary part, mostly just dressing up! Some children grow up and put away childish things like make believe but thankfully, she never did. Halloween was a highlight of her year because she could use her imagination, dress up and also get candy! For a few years, Dave and I thought we shouldn’t celebrate a holiday that had become a glorification of Satan and we stopped the children from dressing up. For Bethany, it was traumatic! To know Bethany is to embrace drama! 

Eventually, we relented and she dressed up for Halloween the rest of her life. Of course, this wasn’t the only day she used her make-believe skills. We have many pictures of her in dress up clothes, even during college! I was reminded of her yesterday, while headed to see our grandchildren in their costumes. As I left the house, a ladybug, one of her favorite things, showed up on our steps. When we got to their house, another lady bug showed up on their steps. Maybe this is ladybug season, I don’t know, but the miracle in all of that is that I noticed them… a small miracle of noticing. 

Today is All Saints day. This is another day that we celebrate Bethany, along with all those who are now in the presence of Jesus. I’m grateful for this feast day to call out the names of those who are no longer with us on this side of eternity. Along with make-believe, Bethany loved holidays, (holy days). Today is a Holy Day. In many churches, they will ring bells as they call out the names of those who have moved into glory this year. I prefer to celebrate every day, the fact that one of my children is with Jesus!

This morning, I read that Pope Boniface IV formally started, what would later be known as All Saints Day on May 13 in 609 AD. It was eventually moved to November 1st by another pope. How interesting that Bethany’s life, death and after-life, are connected to so many holidays! In 2013, the year she died, her birthday was on Easter, her death was on Ascension Day and her burial was on the original All Saint’s Day. 

Today, on this Holy Day, we are celebrating Bethany, our holiday girl, her life and her eternal life with Jesus. This is not a story of make-believe. May all who read these words, find the real living presence of Jesus in your life, just as she did.

Psalm 116:15

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

Musings about loss

How do I show love to someone who is no longer, visibly in my life? How do I show love to someone I can’t talk to, hug on, share with, do for, or give to? If love is an action, I’m sunk. 

How should I feel love for someone who is gone from my presence? How do I feel those emotions like pride in, excitement over, longing for, or comfort from? If love is a feeling, I’m numb.

How do I think new thoughts about someone who is only a memory? How do I consider the goodness of God rather than loss of, could have been, shouldn’t have, or if only? If love is a way of thinking. I’m brain dead.

How do i visualize love when no one is reciprocating, no back and forth, no sign of relationship, no mutuality? If love can be seen, I’m sightless.

When someone, has entered my life and slipped away, how do I let them go? Maybe love – real love is never interupted. It continues on, just changes shape.

So I have resolved to:

Love from afar

Love in silence

Love without reciprocity

Love without contact

Love without words

Love with no response

Love without gratitude

Love without expectations

Love without being loved.

Love knowing love was once mutual.

Oh yes, there is a bright side. There is a someday. There is a future in Heaven.

But for now, love is expressed best in prayer. As I pray, I think on these things:

Lord help me show, feel, think and look for these three things:

Gratitude for the past

Grace for the present 

Glory in the future

Amen

Rehearsing Memories

Noah’s view out the window.

May 9th, the day our daughter died, is a day for remembering. I don’t really spend too much time trying to remember that day, 6 years ago. I spend my day remembering her life: the good and the bad, the simple and the tragic, the beauty and the ashes.

I know that some people who lose loved ones try to forget. They don’t look at pictures. They won’t rehearse memories. But I have found it to be life giving. After all, remembering God’s goodness to His people is a biblical mandate and a foundation for faith. Moses told the people, “don’t forget to remember what you’ve seen,” in Deuteronomy 4:9.  If it is a good enough practice for my faith, why not rehearse my memories of my daughter too. 

I don’t want to forget to remember her!

So especially on May 9th, I look through my facebook pictures, open her childhood photo albums, view some family videos and rehearse the memories. 

I read a study done by Northwestern University in 2013 that discussed “memory rehearsal “ even during sleep. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130412132428.They found that when we rehearse events during our awake hours and during our dreams, it increases our ability to remember those events. So I’ll nap today too and pray that God will fill my dreams with memories.

A few weeks after Bethany died we took her son, Noah on a trip to the beach. He was 3 years old at the time. We stayed at a friend’s cabin in the Smokey Mountains halfway. I wondered how he was processing her death and I worried that he would soon forget her. One early morning I found him quietly looking out a window and talking to someone. I stepped closer to hear what he was saying. I could hear him quietly laughing and watched him shiver. I heard him say, “stop tickling me, Mommy.” Then he giggled again. 

I didn’t ask him what was happening. I didn’t want to invade his time with her. I’ve often wondered what that encounter actually was about. I think he was rehearsing his memories of his mommy. It came so easy for him. I hope he still does that when he is alone. Lilly was 6 months old when Bethany died but she tells me she has memories of her too. She, like her mother, has an extremely active imagination and I think it will serve her well!

So today I will engage my imagination and rehearse some memories. If you have lost someone that you love, I encourage you to do so too. 

As Moses said to his people in his final address, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

Yes, I know that Moses was speaking about what God had done for them, but when I remember the gift of Bethany, that is exactly what I am doing!

 O my soul, bless God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing! Psalm 103:1-2 The Message

Choose Life and Be Grateful


This morning I woke up feeling ungrateful. Today is our daughter’s 35th birthday and the 6th one that we won’t celebrate together. Death is a robber.

I had a conversation with God that went a little like this- 

(While pouring coffee grounds) “It’s Bethany’s birthday and I should be drinking coffee with her.” 

(While frothing my milk) “the expiration date on this milk is May 9th, the day she died. Well, that is just perfect!”

(Sipping my coffee) “Well here’s to one more year on this side of Heaven without her. This isn’t right!”

And then the grumbling got serious but in the midst of my words, I heard a voice, “Choose Life, Be Grateful”. 

“Wait a minute, Lord! I was just getting started! I have a lot more to say. I’m just getting wound up!” 

It took a few minutes to move from my list of “It’s not fair that …” to a sense of gratitude. God reminded me that I had so much for which to be grateful and some of them were right in front of my face. So I picked up my phone and took a picture of things right in front of my face!  

Right in front of my face

Instead of my typical gratitude list, I looked at the items in this picture. It started off a little rough but gradually got better.

  • A teal footstool from Target that hides junk… how is this helping me?
  • A fake fireplace because I don’t have a real one… Ok I really do like that little thing.
  • Wooden blinds left from my predecessor who lived and worked in this amazing place before I did … Ellen thank you for these and the other gifts you left!
  • The corner cupboard that my grandfather made… The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed I have a beautiful inheritance. Psalm 16
  • The wooden church pew on my front porch (from my dad’s first church) that I can just barely see in this picture… Oh God those years in Gloucester City were so formative and you gave us deep friendships for life!
  • My new faux fur blanket that reminds me of my friend of 56 years and our new yearly get away tradition… Thank you God for surrounding me with friends who walk through the difficult and beautiful times.
  • The willow twigs with a string of Christmas lights on my front porch… Thank you for those twigs that decorated the reception hall at Bethany and Randy’s wedding. What a glorious day!
  • The plant that was given to us at Bethany’s funeral… a visual reminder that life continues after death.                           
  • The yellow Life mug… I just placed that there yesterday. It has Noah’s baby foot prints on the back and it represents so much of Bethany’s story… Her son… her work in Crisis pregnancy centers… her calling…  her husband…  God’s tender care for him and their children…  my new daughter, his new wife…  the children’s new mom…  God’s provision…  an answer to our groaning in prayer…  family… Life… life after death… Heaven!

WAIT A MINUTE! I just chose life and was grateful!

Happy birthday, Bethany. May the thought of your birth, your life, your death and your life after death always bring me to gratitude…eventually.

Take a picture today of the things right in front of your face and make a gratitude list. It may just change your perspective. 

Who are your pallbearers?

I belong to a group of mothers who have children that passed from this life. In our December meeting, we make Christmas tree ornaments with all of our children’s names. I went home, hung the new ornament on my Christmas tree and began to think about the place these women hold in my life. The thought came to me, “they are your pallbearers”. I have to admit that was a scary thought. So I looked up the meaning of the word, pallbearer. 

In Middle English, pall described the cloth draped over the casket during the funeral service. Today, we call those who carry the casket to the final resting place, the pallbearers. It is an honored position. Over the centuries, the word pall has come to mean anything that covers or shrouds, with darkness or gloom. 

That is it! It wasn’t about a funeral, it was about my grief, darkness, gloom. The word pallbearer represents those who carry each other’s pall or covering of darkness. I was so moved by this picture that I spent some time remembering and thanking God also for the other people in my life who have helped to carry my pall. None of us can hold this covering of darkness alone. We need a community to lift our grief and carry the weight. 

There is something so comforting as I look at the five ornaments that I have made with this group each year. I don’t just see my daughter’s name, I see their children’s names too and I know I’m not alone. I read each of those names and in prayer I bear their pain along with my own. Somehow, adding their grief to mine doesn’t increase the weight, it lightens it. 

I discovered one more beautiful fact as I looked at the definition of the word, pall. The white cloth covering the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, is also called a pall. It is a representation of the shroud that covered His body in the tomb. Like the cloth that covered our Lord, someday our own pall will be laid aside in an empty tomb on the day of Resurrection! That day when we will be in the presence of Christ and reunited with our loved ones… Oh what a day that will be!

Until that day… who are your pallbearers? Thank God for them and then don’t forget to tell them thank you, too!

We call our group, Love, mom. If you live in the Nicholasville – Lexington KY area, you are most welcome to attend our monthly meetings.

A mother whale grieves too!

Read the story of the mother whale

636682294451549720-AP18206667542594

Yesterday I read a story in USA Today about an orca whale whose calf died shortly after birth. This grieving mother held onto her baby for 17 days, balancing it on her forehead to keep the body from sinking. She pushed her offspring for over a 1000 miles until she finally let go.

During the whale’s journey, Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orca, stated, “(The mother) is bonded to (the calf) and she doesn’t want to let it go. It is that simple. She is grieving,” 

No one in the whale research community tried to stop her. No one gave her silly platitudes. No one spoke of complicated grief. 

According to an article from the Center for Whale Research, a resident from San Juan Island reported this scene:

“At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved.

Her friends didn’t pushed her to move on. They circled her as she grieved.

A mother-child bond is holy. It is deeper than the ocean that tried to separate these two. It is eternal. I wonder how much I have in common with this whale mother named J-35 or Tahlequah. After all, we were formed and loved by the same God. Our Creator designed the mother-child relationship. 

I think about this mother pushing her calf over a 1000 sea miles, carefully keeping her body afloat and wonder if I do the same. I see myself posting pictures and talking about my child who died in 2013. Is it merely an effort to keep her memory alive? Is it that I can’t let go? I can almost hear this mother whale screaming, “oh no you don’t! You will not leave me now!” Is it desperation? Or is it a mother’s instinct that this relationship is not over yet?

I know something that Tahlequah can’t comprehend. My Creator is also my Savior. His death has given me life… life after death.

His death has given my child life, life eternal! 

Yes, I will continue to carry my child, not on my forehead but in my heart. I will keep worrying that others may forget. Not because I’m afraid her memory will die but because her life is such a story of grace! I won’t stop posting pictures or bringing her up in conversation. She is after all, alive in the presence of Christ. I still need my friends to circle me in the moonlight when the grief is too hard to carry. But I know without a doubt that I’ll see her again. 

Tahlequah,  you remind me that giving birth is glorious. Losing a child is life altering. You understand we were created for relationship not loss. Your inability to let go is heartbreaking. Your Day 17 resolve to keep living is courageous. I’m thankful for your story.

Last sighting reports that J-35 is in good health and “remarkably frisky”.

Life goal: live remarkably frisky even while I grieve!

tahlequah

Christmas musings

tree

 “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.”  Karl Barth

Today is the beginning of Advent. Every year I tell myself that I won’t let this season slip away without pondering things like faith, hope, expectation, heaven and a few other small thoughts. But every year I spend these days in December shopping, wrapping, unwrapping, baking, cooking, eating, and then wishing I knew what to do with the extra stuff and extra pounds!

This year I’m making a vow to ponder, reflect, remember and muse! Here is today’s musings starting with my Christmas tree.

Yes, the tree is up too early, it’s fake and filled to the brim with ornaments. At the base of the tree the Nativity gang has been thrown behind the stable and is lying across the tracks in perilous danger of the oncoming Santa train. All of our Christmas memories hang on an aging tree that we bought at Good Will years ago for 10 bucks!

nativity gang

This morning I’m sipping coffee and trying to really SEE my Christmas tree and its heavenly meaning. There are a few ornaments that represent our family vacations through the years and a few that are the grandchildren’s but the majority of ornaments belong to our youngest son and oldest daughter. Every year we gave our five children ornaments on Christmas Eve. That adds up to over 100 ornaments and more money than I choose to remember! Three of the boys have been given all of their ornaments for their own family trees. Those that are left still hang on our tree in waiting. Our youngest son is still single and doesn’t yet have his own tree so we will hold them for that coming day. Our oldest daughter has no need of her ornaments any more. She has been in Heaven now for 5 Christmas seasons. We hold them for her children.

This year our son-in-law, his new bride and our two grandchildren decorated our tree while I prepared a meal for them. I watched in wonder as they lovingly unwrapped her precious ornaments and hung them for us.  I can’t get that scene out of my head and I’m grateful. That picture of beauty for ashes is in my mind even as I reminisce on past Christmases.

lilly decorating

 

Years of memories are hanging on that tree.  As each child came into the family, we hung a baby’s first Christmas ornament to say “welcome, you belong here, you are family and you are deeply loved”.  Every year they received another ornament that spoke of their belonging, welcome and love. I miss that sacred experience. I wonder how to express that same sentiment to our ever growing family in the years to come.

baby pics

The words that come to my mind as I look at our tree, are found in the Christmas hymn, O Little town of Bethlehem.

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

These ornaments represent more than 30 years of parenthood! Seeing them helps me remember that I live somewhere in between those hopes and fears. Not all of my hopes have come to fruition but neither have all of my fears. Those that have, have been met in Christ. When our daughter was a baby, my greatest fear was that she would die. My greatest hope was always that she would know Christ and serve Him faithfully.  She was met by Him before her birth, at her new birth and again at the end of her earthly life. At her death my hopes and fears met in His presence and there was peace. Physical death is no longer my greatest fear for any of my family.

When I do let fear creep in, it comes as the thought that one or more of them would never know Life and Death in Christ. I make a daily choice not to live in that fear because 1 John 4:18 tells me, “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” So until Christ comes again or He meets me in death, each Christmas I will hang my ornaments along with my hopes and fears and remember that all will be met in Him.

I am believing that someday I will hear Him say to each of us, “welcome, you belong here, you are family and you are deeply loved.”

believe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Addition to Our Family

grinch

St. Therese of Lisieux once said, “Only love can enlarge my heart”,

or was that the Grinch?

When I was pregnant with our second child, I wondered how I could love another child as much as our first born. I agonized over how my heart could ever have room to love as deeply as I loved the delightful little girl who made us first-time parents. I asked questions like, how could we give them both an equal part of ourselves? How will our family dynamics change when we add another person? Who will we be when we are no longer 3 and we become 4?

Maybe most parents ask themselves these questions with child number 2. But by the time I felt the first kick the questions were over. We were in love as soon as we met him. How could we have even wondered? The next three pregnancies it never even came to mind. We knew these children were a gift, would enlarge our hearts and would change us forever!

Some of those same questions ran through our minds as our children chose their mates. How will we love this new person? How will they change our family dynamic? How will this marriage affect our relationships? We fell in love with each of them during the dating and courtship time. They became family.

Four years ago, our daughter was in a fatal car accident and left behind her husband and two children. In an instant, they became a family of 3. I wondered how they would ever be whole again. I prayed daily that God would bring someone into their lives as a sign of God’s love.

After four years of prayers from people all over the globe and an incredibly discerning son-in-law, April came into their lives and ours. I didn’t ask if we would have enough room in our heart this time because I’ve seen what God can do.  I did question if she could have enough love for us… the other family.

I watched her with my son-in-law and his children and saw her selfless love. I observed her passion for God and His people, especially the least of these. I saw her strength and casual comfort in her own skin. And yes, she never once looked at us as “the other family” or even “the other family once removed”!

She is not intimidated by the legacy of Bethany. She doesn’t see herself as second but as a beautiful continuation of God’s covenant of love. She is filled with grace and beauty that can only come from above. She is family. Next week they will walk down the aisle and become a family of four. She is God’s benediction!

30 years ago, I wondered if my heart could stretch large enough to include one more in our tiny family of three and love took that question away.

4 years ago I agonized about how God could bring healing to another tiny family of three and love became the answer.

 

 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21                

15940595_10154089085702301_1806910752061649084_n.jpg

 

 

Once upon a time, three children lived in a forest…

IMG_1131.JPG

When we were young, my sister and brother and I ran away to a forest. We had been sent to our rooms over some sibling squabble so we packed our bags and moved out… together. We told ourselves that we would live on nuts and berries and find shelter and comfort under the trees. By the next meal time we were hungry and headed home to the campus student housing right around the corner.

Many of you will recognize this “forest” as the semicircle at Asbury University in Wilmore, KY. As you can see we had overactive imaginations! Or did we?  Is it possible the Holy Spirit led us to this place and was whispering something far deeper than we could hear over the rumbling of our tummies?

We couldn’t have known then that our family would find spiritual nourishment here for generations to come. We sat and pondered our future as orphans in the forest.  We didn’t realize that by 2017 our family would have 16 members graduated from Asbury University and 7 of those would cross the street and study at Asbury Theological Seminary.

It was beyond our imaginary skill to picture that many of our someday family would meet their spouses in this forest called Wilmore. Nor did we dream that our children would attend school at these institutions together. In our hour all alone among the dark shadowy trees, we had no idea we would soon find life-long friends in this place who would shelter us in the storms of life.

Farthest from our minds were the real life tragedies that would eclipse the pain of our self-imposed hunger on that day. We couldn’t then see how God would use the far-reaching community of Wilmore to lift us to the Father, comfort us and meet our needs in such tangible ways.

Yesterday, I stood in this forest, took a picture and remembered those three small children and their parents who were so concerned that their kids couldn’t get along. I smiled that our instinct was to huddle together and battle nature rather than each other.

It is strange to be living in the same town that holds this forest of memories. Proximity and familiarity can be blinding. But yesterday for a moment, God’s Spirit lifted the veil, unstopped my ears and I heard His whisper. His words sounded something like this,

I am your family’s nourishment…

I am your family’s shelter…

I am your family’s comfort…

I am your family’s future…

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3