Light a Candle

“I am waiting in a silent prayer, I am frightened by the load I bear in a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?…Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness…”

This time of year… family, friends, decorations, lights, trees, gifts, music, yummy spicy smells, cookies…Christmastime. So many love to start celebrating early each year and keep the Christmas music going and the tree and lights up through winter. We all love the storybook Christmas.

But this time of year is also sadness and loneliness for so many — often magnified because of all of the lovely holiday trappings. Life doesn’t stop because it’s Christmas. Every year, I seem to be more acutely aware of this side of Christmas, of the messiness of life, of those who are hurting. I can take cookies, send gifts, say words of encouragement, pray for peace and healing — but the sadness and pain are still there. There are those walking through a dark night of the soul, and Christmas lights don’t take that darkness away.

There are so many.

But God…

For He is Light. Jesus. He knows the pain and the loneliness and the darkness. And for those of us who love Christmas let us remember why we love it. All the fluffy things are wonderful. But God became flesh in the midst of a dark and hopeless world. He is the Christmas Light. He gives hope  —  because we all need it.

So each night during this season, I light a candle for those whose hurt is magnified during Christmas, and I’ll pray for some small comfort, some small light to guide them.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

 

candle

Thank you Mom, for your Service

In the summer of 2009 my mom fell and injured herself — not too seriously, but enough that she needed rehab — so we started the process of learning how to best help her. Because she was with the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, someone suggested that we try to get VA benefits for her, so I met with the VA representative about her case. While visiting with him, he asked me if she’d ever received her medals. I told him I had never seen any or ever heard her talk about them. As he was perusing her documents, his eyes suddenly lit up, and a big smile crossed his face. “She was a combat vet! I rarely see this!” He then explained to me that she was considered ‘combat’ because she was serving in the European combat zone. She worked in the Medical Records department in France and was in London when it was bombed by Germany.

Mom during WWII                                                        **********************

When I was growing up, I often heard Mom tell stories of her years as a WAC, but until recently I never really understood that part of her life. Even now I can only ‘get it’ from a distance. Those years shaped her and solidified a value system that few of us today will ever understand.

Mom grew up on a military base because my grandfather was career military and fought under General Patton, and she spoke often of her ‘drill sergeant’ father (who died many years before I was born). So for a young woman to do something fairly unconventional for women at that time probably wasn’t too strange to those who knew her then — especially during WWII, when help was needed everywhere; even those who weren’t enlisted volunteered or sacrificed somewhere. And by becoming a WAC, Mom knew she could travel, which she much preferred over staying in a small dusty TX town.

Looking back on my childhood, I think I understand a little better why we moved so often; Mom wasn’t one to stay in one place very long. We either moved from one town to another or from one house to another — she got bored with her circumstances quickly and convinced my dad that it was time for a change. Now, I think some of that may have been a longing to find some of the excitement and variety she found and loved in the military.

One year after that initial meeting with the VA representative, he called me to say that he had requested and received her medals. At a Veteran’s Day ceremony, after more that 66 years, Mom was honored for the work she did during WWII. I was thrilled to be there with my family and hundreds of others who were there to honor her and 3 others from WWII.

My mom was 90 when she received her medals, and she passed away 6 months later. She wasn’t living in our area at that time; even in her late 80s she was still moving from one place to another (some things never change!), and I’ll never forget all those moves! But Veterans Day is the day I think about her most — and I think it is the day she’d want to be remembered.

Ceremony_2

This Mama’s Heart

Letter to my children ~

There is so much I want to say to you, things I’ve probably already said to you face to face – maybe a million times – but lately I’ve been thinking that somehow, all these years, I’ve probably missed some things. So I’ll say them now and hope that somehow you catch some of it and take it with you into adulthood (even though most of you are already there, the truth is, we continue into adulthood for the rest of our lives. Well, at least I think we do. I still have more life ahead, maybe. Every day I realize just how much more I have to learn and put into practice. That’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? No matter how old you are?).

When you were born, your dad and I were in awe — with each of you. And in so many ways, we’ve been in awe ever since. You’re all such amazing kids, and we feel that you’ve become such great people in spite of us. We certainly weren’t and aren’t perfect parents, and we made ‘mistakes’ along the way. I put the m-word in quotes because I believe that our mistakes can lead to our greatest successes sometimes…because everything in our lives has a purpose from which we should learn and grow. I hope and pray we learned when we blew it and fixed it when we had the chance.

But I can tell you this for a fact – we didn’t do it alone. We have a great God who directed us. We read parenting books and discussed and read more books and discussed more…but each of you is so different, and although the books we read might have helped a little, we couldn’t have done it without a lot of prayer and faith that the reason you are even here at all is because God has something in mind for you. So we trudged along as your parents trying to get to know you for who God made you, not for who we wanted you to be.

As I say that, I’m not even sure we knew who we wanted you to be or what our dreams for you were. They didn’t go much beyond hoping and praying that you would follow Jesus and become whomever He wanted you to become. And on the outside, that looks so different with each of you. But on the inside, not so much — more than anything else, our heart for you was that you would be compassionate, honest, teachable, generous, kind, thoughtful, wise, loving people.

When you were little, I wondered when we’d see those character qualities — when would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control be part of your life? Not that I expected you to be ready to go to work with Mother Teresa right away or anything. And honestly, there were times I wondered if we needed to invite her to our home to counsel all of us! But as you’re entering the world of adulthood, I see those attributes in all of you, and I’m so very thankful. They will take you far in life. Truly, the other things don’t matter so much — what you do with your ‘career’ or how much money you make. What matters is how you’ll handle life; and if you have the heart and character to make a difference in your little corner of the world, that is what truly matters.

I read a quote the other day that I think is one to remember: “You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for … unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day.” The missing word there is ‘political’ — but the idea here doesn’t just cover political unity — it goes for unity unity. Period. Unity in families, with friends, co-workers, with those whom you disagree. Unless you practice those beautiful character qualities you’ve been given, you won’t make a difference in the world around you.

As a mom, I tried to make our home and life a place of peace and beauty and grace, as much as I knew how – and now it’s your turn to do the same to those around you, to find it or create it for yourselves and others. We all make choices, good and bad, so I just hope you choose all those fruits of the spirit with which you’ve been so endowed. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect — if we were, we wouldn’t need to grow or learn anymore. So please forgive me for the times I failed you. And even though there were those times, I’m confident that your dad and I took our job seriously enough that we gave you each a glimpse of what it means to keep your faith, to cultivate it, to grow it: to walk in those God given qualities and share them with others who need light and love and peace and grace in their lives. But please remember this most important truth ~ unless you have love, all of those beautiful qualities you have in your heart won’t matter. Because the greatest is love. Always.

I love you so much.

Mom

P.S. Someone once asked me how I still have many of the friends I had in college, and a couple from high school – my answer is that I chose to have sharpening relationships – friends who sharpened me, and hopefully I sharpened them. We went deep and beyond us. Eternal relationships. They last. Choose that kind of friend. You may not have thousands of them, but the ones you have will be everlasting and make you a better person.

Lucy, the Wonder Dog

This is our dog Lucy ~

or maybe I should say our Cassie’s dog Lucy. When Cassie was about 5 she asked us and asked us for a puppy, but at the time, we already had 2 dogs and at least one cat and whatever animals people decided to drop off at our driveway. When you live in the country, people assume you want more animals, so they leave them as gifts.

Anyway, one afternoon as we were outside cleaning and mowing and working around the yard, this little dog wandered up to our house. Not a little puppy exactly, but still in the puppy stage. Cassie knew immediately that she had her puppy. The rest of us decided she must have prayed for her, and that because we wouldn’t answer her prayer, God did. He does like to bless us.

So Lucy became part of our family.

And that dog has nine lives — we’re sure of it. As we drove into our driveway one Good Friday, the always exuberant Lucy ran excitedly up to our mini van, and my husband – who has a theory that dogs always get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle – ran right over her leg. Then somehow, thinking she was under the tire, he backed up and ran over it again. So we all jumped out thinking we were going to find a smashed Chihuahua, with a crying 7 year old ready to disown her father — instead we saw a yelping Chihuahua limping away under our trampoline and out of sight.

We didn’t see her again that night. So the next morning, early, Chuck and I went out to try and find her. Somehow, she had crawled into a culvert and made her way under our yard and was waiting at the other end. We were able to get her into the car and to Dr. Wonderful Cannon, and amazingly, her leg was pretty much only dislocated. He wrapped it up, and she hopped around on 3 legs for a few weeks till it was all better.

A couple of years later, the always exuberant Lucy pranced along with Cassie as she went to our neighbor’s house for something – and our neighbor’s dog, ever watchful of menacing intruders – attempted to protect her from the uninvited Chihuahua by grabbing her backside and slinging her around like a rag doll. Somehow, Lucy made it home (very quickly), and after treating her with peroxide and liquid bandaid, she was back to her exuberant self in no time.

She never went to visit our neighbor again, but they’re still friends — sometimes (Lucy is a little schizo about our neighbor for some reason. Must be a Chihuahua thing).

Last summer we moved to Colorado, but we had to leave Lucy behind for a couple of months until we had a house. Somehow, she managed to stay out of trouble while she waited for us. As soon as we were able, we brought her here, and Cassie quickly made her comfortable in her new home.

Whenever Cassie leaves the house, Lucy props up on the back of the couch and looks out the window, waiting for her. And every Wednesday night, when Cassie goes to youth group, Lucy waits by the door to remind us that she’s going with us when it’s time to pick her up. But one day recently, she didn’t want to go.

A few weeks ago, Lucy suddenly stopped being her exuberant self. Cassie knew immediately something wasn’t right, and a few hours later, when she couldn’t pick her back legs up off the floor, it looked as if she was in pretty big trouble. We gave her a baby aspirin and put her in her bed. But the next morning, after not-the-best sleep, I got up to check on her and I thought she was in doggy heaven. So I called Chuck at work and asked him to pleeeeaaaase come home and help me break it to Cassie – I couldn’t tell her by myself.

Then a few minutes later, I went and looked at her again, and she looked back. Didn’t move, but looked. So I called Chuck back and told him, never mind, she’s still with us. He came home anyway, just to check.

So off we went to the vet hospital a few blocks away. Turns out that she had a fever and infected saliva gland, of all things. She took meds for 2 weeks, and suddenly, one morning, she got up, looked at me, and wagged her tail again for the first time in weeks.

Now she’s back to the picking-up-Cassie routine — and going for walks in the park, and riding with us to Taco Bell. Yes, we’ve come up with a few new ways to spoil her.

Now to figure out how to extend the rest of those nine lives…not sure how we’ll do that, but I just hope they last awhile. We love little Lucy, and I hope she’ll be around for many more moons to come.                         

Will I Ever Learn?

One of my former professors asked me once what the greatest thing was that I learned in college. After thinking about it for a short time, my response was that I still had so very much to learn. Just when I think I have everything all figured out, when I just know I’m finally right about something, life seems to jump up and knock me off my feet…one more time.

I used to be so much more opinionated than I am now; I guess I really truly thought I had everything figured out. Or maybe I just felt the need to speak my opinions aloud, I don’t know. But whatever the case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize that most of the time, my opinions just aren’t that important, because there will always be others who can out argue me, out prove me, or out think me. And do you know what is really, truly important? Not what I think — shocker! — but what God thinks.

I know that we always grow and change, and I hope I’ll continue to realize my need to be teachable. At my new job, I’m still wearing the ‘I’m in training’ badge, and when people ask how long I’ll be in training, I usually tell them “always.” I’ll always have something to learn — from those who think differently, who look different, who are different.

One of the things that showed me just how much I needed to look outside my comfortable box was when I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  We were on the threshold of sending our oldest daughter to college in the northwest…the crazy, liberal, ungodly northwest. Eeeek!! As I read it, I loved it and I hated it at the same time. I didn’t want to think about seeing my faith from a different angle — it was just too scary and unsure. I was spiritually raised in the south, in the Bible belt, so reading something like that really challenged my faith and I had to ask questions. Yep, QUESTIONS! Sending my baby to the crazy NW, where I wondered if they even spoke English, just seemed like an equally crazy thing to do and had a huge question mark. How could a mother send her daughter straight into a den of wolves? A huge den, at that? What kind of mother would do something like that??

What I started to learn then was something about trust. Wolves are everywhere, even in the Bible belt, and I was over confident that my children, that we all, were “safe” there. I had to come to a place of trust that what she had learned from us would take her into the world (where I know we are supposed to be) with love and respect for others and differences, and yet keep her grounded in who she was and who God was making her.

Now, years later, my sweet girl actually lived through college in the northwest, and I actually lived through her going to college there. She still lives there and is alive and well, and I know she’s being a blessing to those who know her.

But most recently, I’ve begun to question more than what my kids are doing — whether they’re ok moving here or there, or having this relationship or that one. Or even if they’re thinking the same, believing the same, as I do. Not that I don’t look at those things…I always want the best for my kids. But that’s just it. What is best? Where and Who is best? How should I know? I don’t. Yes, I believe God gave these kids to us and us to them. And yes, we have a responsibility to raise them in light of eternity and with wisdom given to us by God. And yes, we spent many hours in prayer for them (and still do). But none of that automatically gives me an enlightened understanding or vision about what they should do or about how they will live. Whenever they struggle or question life or God or what is right, I struggle with them.  I know without a doubt that God can handle their struggles, way better than I can. But then the questions start to come back: questions about my own faith and understanding of how I’m supposed to live and love.

And now I’m at a point where I’m having to trust that what God has done in my own life, with my own faith, will keep me grounded as I learn to appreciate people right where they are – and for who they are. That over-confidence I had with my daughter, and that at times I’ve had with all my kids, that ‘safety zone’, I’ve also had with my own way of thinking. I thought I was good at loving others; and it’s easy to do when most of them think the same way I do. But I’m beginning to learn that there is a difference between what I thought about people, how I thought I loved them, what I secretly expected of them, and what is truly true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I see and work with people everyday who are very different from those I’ve chosen to shelter myself with. And I really really want to love them, right where they are, in that Philippians 4 kind of way.

I’ve continued to ask questions and learn to love others who are different than I am… a lot different. And that is a good thing. Thank heaven they aren’t all like me…oh the thought!

I’ve begun to question what I’m doing…and why I’m doing it. Not question the validity or importance of what I’m doing — but how to be truly honorable — toward God and others, and why I’ve been placed where I am. And tying it all together is tough; learning how to stand for Truth in a completely non-compromising way while loving and accepting others right where they are – no judgement, no requirements, no expectations.

I wouldn’t trade any of my life, because I know without a doubt that God has orchestrated every corner, every situation, every person. If I could, I might change some of the things I’ve done, that I’m not proud of. Because I know I could have been kinder, more merciful, more loving, more graceful. Those are the virtues I learn again and again every day, and I hope I’ll be worthy of them and able to impart them to those around me – today, with whomever I may meet, with those I work with, with those I’ll run into at the coffee shop or at work or at church or at the food bank.

And I hope I’m worthy of what they have to teach me, because I still have so, so much to learn.

People-purpose

For the first time in a very long time, I’ll be starting a job away from home. A real job, working with the public. Working with other people who are working with the public. Oh, I’ve done a few jobs in recent years that I did away from home, but the schedule was completely flexible, my ‘office’ was small and quiet, and I was rarely away from my kids. Home schooling didn’t go down the drain, my family didn’t fall apart (although there were times I did), and life pretty much went on as usual. But now we’re in a different season; our ‘normal’ is going to change. Yep, there will be times when these people who live at my house are going to wonder what hit them – and times when I’ll wonder the same.

There will be a learning curve, and I think I’m up for it. But it will mean more than just learning about a new job – it will mean learning again how to interact with the zillions of personalities out there, the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

And it’s one of those times when I’ll need to remember where to put my trust. Whether I know someone well or have never laid eyes on them, I need to remember that I don’t see the big picture. Not at all. I don’t know what others are going through or what kind of day they are having – what crisis is taking place in their hearts or lives. So I hope and trust that my responses will be the kind that could make a positive difference in their day – that maybe they are the reason I’m there, working with or talking to them. And that is true about the customer or the kids, the co-worker or the husband. I need to remember, daily, that I am where I am for a purpose – a ‘people-purpose’ – and I need to trust, for that moment in time, that I may be standing in part of the picture that may change the perspective for the person in front of me.

Isn’t that what life is about? Relationship. So often, relationships are hard work – some more work than others – and if we’re honest, some we’d rather not do at all. But when they’re right in front of us, it really isn’t our choice; we just try to make them work the best way we can. That means with those we see often and those we may just talk to on the phone. Family, friends, co-workers, regular customers, or people only needing a refund. Relationship looks different with every person.

Those I’ve had a long time are always changing, and hopefully growing; those that are new are sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes intimidating, sometimes comforting and encouraging, sometimes challenging. Sometimes they’re downright scary! But I know we’re all in this world of relationship for a higher purpose, and the way I choose to interact and respond could be the difference between grace and peace or confusion and pain for the one standing there.

Relationship is what we were made for. So as I walk through each day, I pray I’ll be faithful to keep my eyes focused on the One who sees the whole picture – that I’ll be a blessing to someone each day. Because we all have a place in eternity, and our true job, whether at home or in the local retail store, is to shine a light on the picture and trust the One who knows where we belong in the canvas.

What to pray?

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

I got a message yesterday from an old friend. I love hearing from old friends, but this time it was about “one of those things”; he wanted to tell me that our mutual friend’s wife died suddenly in the morning.

I feel great sadness for my friend. He was one of my best friends in college, and since then he’s been through more heartache then most people go through in a lifetime. Some years ago, he lost both parents and a grandmother in a tragic, hard-life scenario. But he picked up the pieces, and although I never met his wife, I’m sure she was the biggest helping-hand God used in his recovery.

All day yesterday, I thought of my friend and the shock he must be feeling. All day, I thought of his son, now a young adult, who must be at a loss to know what to do, what to feel. All day long, I asked God how to pray…what to pray. I really had no words. Still don’t.

But I know there are times when words just don’t work. Sometimes I think they get in the way. Sometimes there are only tears, only groanings. This is one of those times of trust, trust that the Holy Spirit will do the ministering to my friend and his son. God knows what I certainly don’t. They don’t need my words – or those I lack. I know we are here on this earth for each other, to help one another and be a support. But in times like this, the best support we can give is just to be.

Lord, help me to just be – be a vessel to cry out to You for others in their time of need. And when I don’t know what or how to pray, may I trust in your comfort and goodness and mercy.