Rainy Days and Wednesdays…

Today is Wednesday and it’s raining. Sitting on the covered back porchimg_9198 watching the rain and hearing the distant thunder, I found myself humming a familiar old pop song from the 70s: hummm, hummm hummm… rainy days and Mondays always get me down…

Although I was fully present, watching the birds splash around in the birdbath and then search for worms in the freshly wet soil, I was magically two places at the same time: my safe, dry, covered porch and the tumultuous stormy time when rainy days were not so safe and peaceful.

I had recently been scrolling through Instagram and found a post that had the old Carpenters song Rainy Days and Mondays embedded in her story. Maybe that’s why it was fresh in my mind. Smooth and melodic, it flowed beautifully from an angelic voice but a troubled heart and mind. It was my “go to” song back in college whenever I needed a good cry. Today I pulled it up on my phone and let the old melodies and memories wash over me like the rumble of the distant thunder and the cleansing of the pouring rain.

Then I came to a subtle, yet stunning, revelation: the song wasn’t making me sad as I listened to it today. Was it because it was a Wednesday and it changed the whole song context? Or was there a deeper work and awareness of a long ago place that had quietly, almost imperceivably, healed?

It made me realize and appreciate that I’m in a very different place now.

It also made me reflect on mental health…the reality, crisis, the concerns, the misunderstandings, and all the unknowns. Sadness, depression, anxiety, and all the diagnoses that get placed on troubled hearts, disturbed spirits, and confused minds.

img_9200It also reminded me of beautiful, young, troubled Karen Carpenter and the life and breath and talent that literally wasted away in front of cameras and producers and specialists and fame and the eyes of all who heard, watched, and loved her. She is still my favorite.

I had never heard of anorexia before Karen. Millions hadn’t. How might things have ended differently with an earlier diagnosis? Quicker, more specific intervention, more education, more counsel, the right medicine…? I have no answers. I understand they did the best the could with the information and resources they had at the time. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Where the brain, spirit, heart, and hurt collide is a pool too deep for most to navigate with clear understanding.

Then I ask myself the same questions…for myself, my friends, my family, people I see at work: How might life be different with the right intervention, the right friend, the right diagnosis, the right chemical balance, the right word at the right time, the right removal of the cloud that follows our minds and confuses our hearts and our thinking?

img_9160My first encounter with suicide was in high school. My friend wasn’t at the bus stop one morning and I just assumed he had slept in. No…he had put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. Gone. In a moment, I knew he was troubled. He was angry. He smoked too much and drank too much. I didn’t know at the time that he was medicating hurt and confusion. Years later my cousin did the exact thing. He was my favorite but I never told him. Maybe I should have. Questions without answers. Should I have? What if? Why?

I suspect that we have all been in dark cloudy places of varying degrees…just “hanging around, nothing to do but frown…”  Not to minimize serious mental illness…I have seen it destroy minds and lives and dreams and families. Just to say that some feelings and experiences are universal. Sadness is universal and timeless. Anger is something we all experience. Discouragement weighs heavy in many seasons. Fear, confusion, comparison, self-defeat. Too many to name. I have wept. Jesus wept. I suspect you have wept too.

But out of angst, sadness, and near-defeat often come life-changing strength, encouragement, and inspiration. Some of the best poetry, songs, plays, stories, art, ministries, and outreaches have been birthed out of soulful desperation and darkness. And have also created platforms for awareness, for help, for hope.

Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.  – Morgan Harper Nichols

But there is no black and white. No magic formula that works in every season and situation. We can’t say to an anorexic, just eat. To the bulimic, just stop it. To someone depressed, just snap out of it. To someone in a bipolar rage, just calm down. There are a myriad other ways we unintentionally downplay or say it inappropriately: just do it, img_9197don’t do it, cheer up, get over it, just have more faith, pray more, get more sunshine….

Is there an answer? A cure? Hope? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Mental and emotional health are complex. Relationships are complex and are often at the root of serious wounding.

But where we are wounded is often where we are healed, how we are healed, and how we eventually are able to offer help to another. For myself, it was a long hard journey. It continues to be a journey. But healing has been found in safe, healthy relationships and through seeking and believing the truth of the Word of God.

The world is seeking to know and be known. img_9161To have purpose and meaning. To belong. To be seen and heard.

“Nothing is really wrong…feeling like I don’t belong…” I’m not sure I really believe that line. I believe there is always something to be heard in that feeling. Something really is wrong. That sadness, that emptiness, that anger, that frustration, that _____. You fill in the blank. It is just sometimes so very hard to identify. To name. But it’s so important to attempt to name it. It says that it matters. It hurt. Is it sadness, anger, unmet need, unresolved grief, unrealized expectation or dream? It often takes two or more to look and see and pray and hope. It is so easy to lose heart when the battle rages from within and without. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble…but He also encouraged us to take heart, believing He has overcome. Take heart. ❤

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.  -C.S. Lewis

Sozo is a Greek work translated many ways: safe, sound, healed, delivered, set free. I believe there is healing to be found: through faith, through time, through relationships, through counseling, through medications, through seeking truth.  I believe there is a God who creates and knows all the intricacies of his creation. Body. mind, and spirit. I believe He can heal completely. In this world or the next. But in the present, He can also use every pain and affliction for our and others’ ultimate good and his glory. He used Jacob’s limp, Joseph’s bondage, Moses’ lisp, Naaman’s leprosy, David’s adultery, the blind man’s blindness, the lame’s affliction, the demoniac’s possession, Peter’s denial, and so many more. He can use our darkness, depression, and what every affliction we find ourselves bearing. In due time and in the right season and situation. But for now we can offer hope and love. And we can strive to learn and reach out and hold close and hang on to those we love and value.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

img_9212Nowadays I love the rain. Love a good IMG_7255thunderstorm. I still get down sometimes. Sad, angry, frustrated, confused. We are fearfully and wonderfully made to experience a full realm and range of emotions and reactions. But it’s never as dark and lonely as it used to be. Now there is hope, I pray you hold onto hope as well.

 

Remember…

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers. -John F. Kennedy

There was another leader thousands of years ago who urged us to remember. King Solomon also challenged us to reflect and to remember:

 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Today is a time to remember…but what does it mean to remember?

It’s a verb…showing action or intention: have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).

Memorial Day… Is it more than a day off work, a picnic in the park, time together with friends, the beginning of Summer, a day at the pool, and some good food on the grill? All those are great, but is there more?

Decoration Day was first celebrated (unofficially) in the few years following the Civil War, the deadliest. most close-to-home, war ever affecting the United States…dividing communities and tearing families apart. It was a day to remember, to pray, and to adorn graves with flowers to remember the sacrifice. Memorial Day wasn’t  officially recognized as a national holiday until 1971…more than a hundred years after people began the tradition of remembering all those who had lost their lives serving their country.Arlingtonandoldpic 011

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

I remember…I grew up in an Army town. Young men with crew cuts, tattoos, fast cars, and fast lives were ever-changing parts of the backdrop. Seemingly ordinary lives and faces, they were such an familiar part of daily living that I failed to see the glory and sacrifice played out in everyday encounters. I was totally unaware of the tremendous sacrifice and the risks involved in being a soldier. I failed to understand the scope of service and depth of their commitment. Practically kids, they were torn from their families and relocated all over the world. Driven and treated harshly, often viewed with suspicion and contempt, they were armed, equipped, and sent to the front lines to wage wars that would never end and could never really be won.

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,Washington, D.C 205

Strong and courageous, creative and daring, bold and fearless, fragile and broken…this human life and condition present varied experiences, challenges, opportunities, and chances for pain and wounding; but “a time to heal” and “a time to build” offer the promise of hope. We remember the past to honor sacrifice and to build a better future.

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

cellpixJuly2014 163I remember… Washington D.C.  is one of my family’s favorite cities to visit. A symbol of freedom, democracy, and remembrance, the city is built upon two hundred year old stories, legendary history, and extensive monuments that surround it like soldiers guarding their charge.  They stir us to remember.

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

The streets, the shadows, the monuments shout echoes of patriotism, pride, loss, regret, and what should or could-have-beens.Washington, D.C 085

So many conflicting feelings and words: united, one nation, under God, liberty, justice for all…but also: division, anger, hatred, death, loss of hope. We are fearfully and wonderfully made but we are also needy and broken, We live, we love, we laugh, we lose, we hurt, we wound others. We remember

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

My family loves history. We travel to former presidents’ homes, Civil War forts, museums, and scattered landmarks. We gaze on old relics and tattered pieces of history with awe and admiration and reverence. We remember

 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,flags

Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the tattered flags, the eternal flame, the cold grave stones… They are silent. They are somber. They remember.

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace

Love and hate. War and peace. I hate war. I love peace. War within, war without. War is costly. Peace is costly. Today we remember the toll that both have taken on our country, our communities, our young people, our family, our friends. Will we really remember?

IMG_3883Will we remember to train up our kids, to tell them of God’s faithfulness and the sacrifice of generations who have gone before? Will we talk about it with our children and impress it on them when we are walking down the road, when we are at home, when we lie down and when we rise? Will we write it on our doorframes or on our very hearts? For what beliefs, lifestyles, and freedoms have our sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers laid down their lives?  Mindfulness demands thankfulness. Count your blessings, count your freedoms, know that freedom is bought with a price, and be thankful. Remember..

Memorial Day… Maybe it really is all these things:  Summer, new life, bountiful blessings, a safe place, time to play, laughter of children, a splash in the pool, a trip to the beach, cherished time with friends and family. But it was bought with a price. So remember its value. Enjoy blessings and safety, being aware that the price has already been paid. Remember and be thankful.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.       John 15:13 

Will you remember?

Washington, D.C 077

A Mother’s Heart

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…”  Proverbs 31:28

“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for all eternity — a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.”  Rose Kennedy


Mother. What a complex picture that short two syllable word is able to paint. Both a noun and a verb, it’s a longing, a calling, a privilege, an honor, a blessing, a duty, and a lifelong walking out and responsibility. It is able to create myriad emotions in both the speaker and the hearer of the word.

Happy Mother’s Day!   img_9635

Several months ago, a precious friend of mine shared a tender, heartfelt message she had written. Whether simply an emotional outlet or a deeper, more complex expression of her grief, it immediately flooded me with so many conflicting emotions as I read it. I have her permission to share it. Meg lost her mom at an early age to a devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease. On what would have been her mother’s 64th birthday, she wrote these pained yet poignant words:

“Some days I just can’t encapsulate my emotions in words. I just love her. I miss her. I want her back. I still have questions. She needs to teach me more stuff. I don’t feel equipped to be a mom without being able to call her and talk through it. I need her. I know…I am selfish. She’s whole and happy and fulfilled…I sure do miss her. Today hurts.”   (Meg Luttrell)

My heart hurt for her. I couldn’t begin to explain the burden and the heaviness that washed over me when I first read that. Even now, I expect the responses are as varied and personal as the number of eyes reading these words. Although very painful, what a tremendous tribute! What a beautiful picture of love, motherhood, and relationship Meg penned from the depths of her loss and hurt: a relationship that embodied love and need and nurture as God must have intended it; even though the time was limited, cut short by sickness and human frailty.

If you are a mother, you’re probably accustomed to wearing many hats: cook, coach, img_9638teacher, nurse, chauffeur, counselor, confidante, role-model, and so many others. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as being like the apostle Paul: a missionary to teach the gospel and share the love of Christ and to equip the saints, no matter how small the saints may be. 🙂 Then again, maybe you have, and it seems overwhelming at times. It’s a high and holy calling. It really is a privilege. Some days, in the busyness of life, you wonder if you make a difference. Does all this really matter?  The lists, laundry, the wiping, the cleaning, the carpooling, the waiting, the repeating… It all matters.

Love, miss, want, teach, equip… Those were a few of the words Meg used. Perhaps your mother modeled that well and did effectively love, teach, and equip you with all the tools and abilities to love and learn and do and receive. Maybe she was beautifully representative of Jesus and you have been gifted with the faith and capacity to love God, others, and yourself and to see beauty and value in life and relationships. If so, rejoice! Be thankful. Know that you were loved and blessed. Even if she is no longer with you and you feel the pain of loss, her fingerprints still show on all you touch and teach and love.

But… we live in a fallen world and have strayed so far away from God’s original design. Maybe your mother didn’t or wasn’t able to love, to teach, or to effectively equip you to love, relate, and receive well. Maybe there is pain caused by sin, separation, poor choices..intentional or unintentional. It still hurts. Maybe, like Paul, there is a thorn of hurt that has wedged itself into your side and you still wince and feel the pain of emotional or physical injury..or lack and loss.  If so, grieve.  Just as we grieve the loss of love, support, and companionship through death, we may need to grieve the lack, as well as the loss. When God said He would be father to the fatherless, many are quick to embrace it. Do we limit him? Can he not be like a mother to the motherless? What about Zeph 3:17 when He rejoices over you with singing? Like a lullaby? Nurturing? Comforting?  Consider the encouraging words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

From grief, mourning, and despair to comfort, joy, and restoration.

IMG_5902Rejoice in your great blessings. Grieve the losses and allow God to heal and restore, then believe. Believe, not only that the body of Christ is perfectly equipped to step in and provide for your needs, but that you are also part of that body and you are called to be his hands, his feet, his heart. Believe that God has a purpose in the pain of losing, the pain of not having, or the strain of imperfect, contentious relationships. Not that He authored the loss or the struggle, but that He sees and is able to create beauty from the ashes of a fallen world. Believe that you have been crafted and gifted with a mother’s heart. If you have children, you have experienced it first-hand. If you don’t have children, consider your other relationships. Have you ever had a shoulder to cry on? Been a shoulder to cry on? Had another woman ask for advice, need direction, just want a cup of coffee and a few words of wisdom or encouragement? Prayed for a friend? Been concerned for a friend’s well-being? Just sat quietly, no words needed, and been present? That is a mother’s heart and you have been gifted. Believe that you are that vessel, that tool, nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashthat platform, that word of encouragement, bit of sustaining manna, drink of water, or light in the darkness that God will use to bring light, life, and hope to someone else.

Thank you, Meg, for sharing your hurt and your heart. Even in that, your mother’s legacy continues. ❤

Words are important. The work of your hands and your heart is important and leaves an indelible imprint on the lives of others. I encourage you to consider your work, consider your words, consider your sphere of influence. Consider that the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon you and He has anointed you to proclaim the good news, to assist the brokenhearted, to provide light and relief, and to comfort. You will be called oaks of righteousness and a planting of the Lord. Believe it. What’s the quirky old cliché: Bloom where you’re planted.    plant

                   *Happy Mother’s Day*

Grateful, Thankful…Sad

There…I said it. Sad. I am sad.

I actually said those three little words out loud to no one else’s ears this week: “I am sad.” That’s when I thought about the little sign that hangs over the window in my breakfast area that has three other popular, Pinterest-worthy words scripted out in fancy lettering: Grateful, Thankful, Blessed.

Then in the quiet stillness of my room I said aloud: “I am grateful. I am thankful, I am 1a98afed-1ae6-46fa-902c-13c9257cac59blessed. But I’m still sad.” And, speaking aloud, I realized it was okay, Okay to be sad. Okay to cry. I wasn’t ungrateful. It didn’t minimize my thankfulness or rob me of blessing.

I didn’t start out my day sad. It started with a simple video someone had shared. Not even a sad video. An informative, supposedly encouraging video, but it nudged a tender spot and magnified an unmet need that I hadn’t given attention to in a very long time. I had no choice but to put everything else on hold and attend to it at that moment.

There are so many cliches about growing and blooming and thriving in the midst of the mundane and ordinary moments of life: “Loves grows best img_5536in little houses” and “Bloom where you’re planted.” How about a few more specific phrases to apply to the places where I found myself this week: “Bloom where you’re quarantined” or “Weeds grow deepest when they’re ignored and not attended.” The details buried in my messy little garden of sadness aren’t important right now; but the overwhelming, unexpected response to sifting and weeding through the dense, tangled growth caught me off guard at the moment.

I really am grateful, thankful, and blessed! So very blessed. But sometimes I am sad and it has taken me a long time to understand that that is okay. Even longer to admit and name the sadness.

Approximate day 5000 of the quarantine, hiding from the threatened effects of an enemy so small we can’t even see it…is when I realized there was a bigger threat looming. There was a deep sadness knocking at my door. Should I put on mask and gloves and let it in? No, that would just be sanitizing and cautiously mishandling it. Maybe I needed to be totally exposed to whatever was knocking. A friend recently asked me if I thought vulnerability was a bad thing. Is it? Or does “safe vulnerability” build up healing antibodies to make you stronger and healthier? Who or what defines safe? That sounds like a post for later.

Truthfully,  that morning’s sadness had absolutely nothing to do with the virus, threat of illness, being hunkered down at home, or every moment of my usual habits and existence being stripped away. It had everything to do with being still and all the to-do lists and pressures of daily life being halted and silenced for a fleeting, yet revealing, moment in my personal emotional history.

Be still and know that I am God.     -Psalm 46:10    img_5523

Yes, I was being still…a forced stillness; and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The morning that the great sadness came pouring in had nothing to do with being home, out of work, potential financial problems, worry about the pandemic, or any relational struggles. It had everything to do with the quiet stillness of a brief respite away from distractions and external voices. My ears were open and my heart was vulnerable.

There’s that word again: vulnerable. What was this great sadness? It doesn’t really matter right now. It could be a thousand things that have happened or a single thing that hasn’t. But at that moment it was a doorway I had to choose to cross over, gently close and pretend no one was there, or slam tightly shut.

Sadness is the feeling that speaks to how much you value what is missed, what is gone, and what is lost.     

 -Chip Dodd, The Voice of the Heart

So…sadness can be a good thing? A hard feeling, a gut-wrenching pain…but a catalyst to open your eyes to value and worth and loss and lack? I would ask these questions cautiously but intentionally: Are you grateful? Are you thankful? Are you blessed? Are you sad? Are you feeling a loss? A lack or an absence?

img_5522I certainly can’t answer for you. Being grateful is an external response to your internal feelings of thankfulness. It is an ongoing practice. It takes work and realization and choosing to see; but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Are you blessed? If you are alive and breathing and have access to be reading and understanding information at all, then, yes, you are blessed! Are you sad? I am sorry if you are sad; but sadness isn’t all bad. It tells you something matters. It tells you something is missing, misgiven, mistaken, or misunderstood. It matters. It tells you your heart is still beating and feeling and sensing and yearning.

Chip Dodd also writes “Either we value life and deal with the losses we have experienced, or they will eventually burst open and deal with us as consequences that occur due to denial of grief. If we dare listen to our sadness and value the losses it declares, we will awaken to the restoring power of grief. Grief, in turn, leads us to acceptance.”

Acceptance fosters peace and understanding. But maybe your fill-in-the-blank word isn’t sad. Maybe you are grateful, thankful, ______. Afraid. Lonely. Confused. Angry. Hurting.

Maybe they all could be plugged into that equation. Maybe we need to deal with our afraid, our lonely, our confusion, our angry, our losses, our hurting.

img_5524The more I looked around my home, the more reminders I found of blessing. Choosing to be present and to see blessing in the here and now didn’t disguise or minimize the sadness. But a little sadness looks even smaller in a room filled with life and light and laughter and love. Sometimes I look up and read the sign to remember: Grateful, thankful, blessed. I have two other signs around my window, both hand-lettered scripture verses.

Acts 2:46 They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. And a simple catchword from Colossians 3:23 Whatever:img_5521

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. 

 

Yesterday I was very sad. And it’s okay.

I even cried, The prophets cried out. Job was saddened unto desiring death. King David poured out his sadness into Psalms and laments. Even Jesus wept. So I guess it’s okay for me to cry too.

His mercies are new every morning

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning

img_5532Today is a new day. Have hope, have love, have a heart and eyes to seek and see blessing. And have permission to feel your sadness. Feel your pain. Feel your joy. Even feel your anger. You can still be grateful, thankful, and blessed in the midst of the mess. You can even be a little sad.

 

(And when you are sad and the quarantine is over, come to my table and we can truly break bread and eat together with glad and sincere hearts. Blessings.)

And someday: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.   Rev 21:4

Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

Dogs, Days, and Decisions…

I’m a terrible decision maker. Not that I make bad decisions, I just have a hard time deciding what to do. Something as simple as where to eat after church on Sunday, what color to paint a room, or where to go on vacation can send me into a dizzying tailspin of confusion and indecision. So for someone who has trouble deciding on tacos or pizza, beige or gray, the beach or Boston, what do you do when faced with a decision of life or death?

I made a very good decision about fifteen years ago.

img_7161Sitting at a computer screen perusing an animal rescue site, I saw her. Little bitty ears, bright eyes, and a playful face…I knew we had to have her. So we packed up the family van with a little clothes basket and blanket in the back and drove to the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Belvedere, Tennessee. There in the front office we met the little black and white pup we had seen on the screen. They had affectionately named her Bonnie and she was the unofficial office pup, scampering freely in the office with her other little furry partner in crime. Bonnie had had a rough start: abandoned, wormy, malnourished, found wandering on the side of a busy highway, narrowly avoiding traffic. Someone had rescued her and brought her to safety and nurture. She was 10-12 weeks old when we met her and she wasn’t wormy, malnourished, neglected, abandoned, unwanted, or unloved any longer. She was playful and thriving as she bounced around the office, back and forth between our excited children.

In the van and into the padded clothes basket she went. We had already named her before we even img_7213saw her in real life. No longer Bonnie…welcome home Molly Ann Foster!

We’ve always been dog-people. Molly joined big brother Zack, also a rescue, and the next several years consisted of dog toys, backyard chases, treats, and snuggles . There was the fishing-lure-up-the-nose-requiring-surgery incident, but mostly fun, furry times. It would take hours to list all the love, laughter, memories, and blessings that Molly brought to us all. Dogs are like that. “Man’s best friend.” Also, kids’ best friend…and mom’s best friend. 🙂


Days turn into weeks and months and years. Even as I write this, I feel the weight of  a hard day, week, and year. Today I  made one of the hardest decision I’ve ever made: to let Molly go. It was a family decision along with discussions with the vet, numerous friends, img_7212and even Facebook advice. But I was the one who took her for that last dreadful drive. Honestly, it felt a little like betrayal. But also mercy, compassion, and love.

Actually, it didn’t really feel like love at the moment. It felt necessary, but it also felt like a hard, heavy, ultimate betrayal. Like I was giving up. I was supposed to protect her and make the best decisions for her.

I am thankful for a friend who called at just the right moment.

A friend who loved Molly as her own, who puppy-sat her on our first trip away, who created so much excitement in Molly that it made Molly pee a little every time she saw her. Maybe that’s a little too much information, but funny every time. A friend who had walked the same road and told me I did the right, loving, merciful thing. A friend who believes our pets are gifts from God and who believes we will see our pets again. Maybe some people don’t believe that; but I do. I believe she is free and whole and pain free, and running with her big brother, Zack.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31:26

What would I say to Molly? That I’m sorry. That I tried everything, every medicine, every prayer that I had. That she was so good, so loved, so wanted. That she was beautiful and smart. She was chosen and she was perfect. That I miss her already. That she had a good life and her life made our lives better. What could be a better tribute for anybody? Your life made someone else’s life better.

I don’t cry often but I’ve found myself weepy all day. At the vet, on the way home, in the middle of Sam’s, with every phone call, with every typed word. And that’s okay. It tells me that it matters, it hurts, it’s loss; but mostly it’s love and privilege. I’ll always be a dog lover. They bring out the best in us and model unconditional love and acceptance. I didn’t write the following passage, but I wish I had.

img_7211And on the 9th day God looked down on his wide eyed children and said, they need a companion.
So God made a Dog
.

…God said I need somebody willing to sit, then stay, then roll over, then with no ego or complaint dress in hats they do not need and costumes they do not understand…  Somebody who no matter what you didn’t do or couldn’t take or didn’t win or couldn’t make, will love you without judgement just the same.
So God made a Dog.

God said I need somebody strong enough to pull sleds and find bombs and yet gentle enough to love babies and lead the blind.  Somebody that will spend all day on a couch with a resting head and supportive eyes for the broken heart.
So God made a Dog. img_7158

It had to be somebody who would remain patient and loyal even through loneliness, somebody to care, cuddle, snuggle, and nuzzle and cheer and charm and snore and slobber and eat the trash and chase the squirrels.  Somebody who would bring the family together with an open heart. Somebody to bark, and then pant and then reply with the rapid wag of a tail, when their best friend says, “let’s go for a ride in the car.”
So God made a Dog.

img_7160God said I need somebody who would stand at your side when the world around you collapses.  Somebody to lie next to you during the long nights of pain and sorrow when it hurts to move, to talk, or think, or be.  Somebody to stand guard, play games, snore for hours and repeat as needed.  Somebody to give you strength when you have none of your own.  Somebody to fight when you have no fight left, to hold onto your soul as if it were their favorite toy, playing tug of war to keep you in this world. Somebody to be your companion and guide in this world and the next. Somebody to wait for you on the other side or stand guard in your absence until they can join you for eternity.
So God made a Dog

(From a popular Facebook video)

For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.     Psalm 50:10-11

 

Soul Ties and Goodbyes

Her name was Lillian. Like Lily…a beautiful flower, a symbol of beauty, innocence, and purity. She wasn’t perfect but she was available. I didn’t recognize it at the time but it was a form of ministry: the ministry of presence and open doors. I didn’t know how to express appreciation at the time but years later I felt the need to call her, to write, img_4810to visit; but I never did. I ignored the spirit promptings because of busyness, forgetfulness, or just not knowing what to say. So I never said it. Her days ended before I was able to speak appreciation, love, and respect. To let her know what a difference her kindness made in my life. I still regret it. I swore at the time that I would always let people know what they meant to me: their influence, their significance, and how much I loved them. It’s a work in progress. I still forget or tread awkwardly in silence. My first trip to the beach…Lillian. First visit to the mountains…Lillian. Camping, a safe place, weekend retreats…Lillian. She opened her home to me for days at a time and made me feel safe and welcomed, even as an awkward, confused teenager. Her family invited me to church and encouraged me to stay involved. They saw me. How different my life would have been without our lives intersecting.

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.   -Helen Keller

This week the world lost an amazing man, a godly man, a talented man. I lost a friend. My friend lost a husband, their kids lost their dad, a church lost its worship leader, a job lost a dedicated employee, and dozens of other people lost an amazing friend. Heaven gained a talented musician, a man of the Word, a computer whiz, a deep thinker, a leader, a mechanic, an innovator, a provider and lover of his family, a man after God’s own heart.

It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.  -John Steinbeck

Weddings and funerals. How easy it is to make img_4431them our great reunion sites; but how tragic to not make time to spend with those who have impacted our lives not only for a moment, but for eternity. I was recently blessed to be able to live, laugh, love, and celebrate with these loved ones, these dear friends, these brothers and sisters, these who have walked the long road. Now there are two fewer footprints in the dust on the road, but lingering fingerprints and heart impressions of loving and living well will persist in his legacy forever.

But the shadowing questions remain, echo, and begged to be asked: Do we say enough, visit enough, make enough time, speak enough truth, love enough, share enough? Do our loved ones feel our love, img_8817our respect, our appreciation, our admiration? Do they feel loved and valued? Do they know what an impact they’ve  had on our lives, our families, our world? It takes less time to call and visit than it does to linger in loss and regret.

The term “soul tie” isn’t officially found in the bible and when it’s used in modern biblical teachings it often has a negative connotation; but in 1 Samuel it says that “…Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.”  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they img_9058-3keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Those verses sound like soul ties. Aren’t we called the family of God? The body of Christ? Do we live interlocked with soul ties and heart strings? And even with the hope we have, do we still feel a stinging pain or gnawing emptiness at the loss of our body part? As humans we don’t like the pain of loss. We don’t understand why good men, children, or innocent ones are harmed or are taken too soon. But still we have this hope…

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24

So, we hope. We know that a peace that passes understanding will eventually settle over our souls. We’re also reminded that we have only this moment to love, to live, to laugh, to hug, to speak words of life and encouragement and appreciation. Don’t wait til time to say goodbye. There is so much more to say. Love your babies, love your family, love your friends, love those who have stood by you, led you, and encouraged you and your children. Call when you’re prompted to call. Visit when you’re called to visit. Text, email, send a postcard. Hug tightly but hold on loosely. And when you don’t know what to say, when there’s no explanation, verse, or empty platitude to offer, just sit on the back porch with your friend in silence. And maybe take her a little banana pudding.

Rest well, Kelly. You’ve run the race. You’ve won. Well done, good and faithful servant.

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When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

roomThe evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through christmasalonethe overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back.alone1 But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting,church1 and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in stara world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

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A Mother’s Heart: Rejoice, Grieve, Believe

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…”  Proverbs 31:28

“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for all eternity — a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.”  Rose Kennedy


Mother. What a complex picture that short two syllable word is able to paint. Both a noun and a verb, it’s a longing, a calling, a privilege, an honor, a blessing, a duty, and a lifelong walking out and responsibility. It is able to create myriad emotions in both the speaker and the hearer of the word.

Happy Mother’s Day!   img_9635

Several months ago, a precious friend of mine shared a tender, heartfelt message she had written. Whether simply an emotional outlet or a deeper, more complex expression of her grief, it immediately flooded me with so many conflicting emotions as I read it. I have her permission to share it. Meg lost her mom at an early age to a devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease. On what would have been her mother’s 64th birthday, she wrote these pained yet poignant words:

“Some days I just can’t encapsulate my emotions in words. I just love her. I miss her. I want her back. I still have questions. She needs to teach me more stuff. I don’t feel equipped to be a mom without being able to call her and talk through it. I need her. I know…I am selfish. She’s whole and happy and fulfilled…I sure do miss her. Today hurts.”   (Meg Luttrell)

My heart hurt for her. I couldn’t begin to explain the burden and the heaviness that washed over me when I first read that. Even now, I expect the responses are as varied and personal as the number of eyes reading these words. Although very painful, what a tremendous tribute! What a beautiful picture of love, motherhood, and relationship Meg penned from the depths of her loss and hurt: a relationship that embodied love and need and nurture as God must have intended it; even though the time was limited, cut short by sickness and human frailty.

If you are a mother, you’re probably accustomed to wearing many hats: cook, coach, img_9638teacher, nurse, chauffeur, counselor, confidante, role-model, and so many others. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as being like the apostle Paul: a missionary to teach the gospel and share the love of Christ and to equip the saints, no matter how small the saints may be. 🙂 Then again, maybe you have, and it seems overwhelming at times. It’s a high and holy calling. It really is a privilege. Some days, in the busyness of life, you wonder if you make a difference. Does all this really matter?  The lists, laundry, the wiping, the cleaning, the carpooling, the waiting, the repeating… It all matters.

Love, miss, want, teach, equip… Those were a few of the words Meg used. Perhaps your mother modeled that well and did effectively love, teach, and equip you with all the tools and abilities to love and learn and do and receive. Maybe she was beautifully representative of Jesus and you have been gifted with the faith and capacity to love God, others, and yourself and to see beauty and value in life and relationships. If so, rejoice! Be thankful. Know that you were loved and blessed. Even if she is no longer with you and you feel the pain of loss, her fingerprints still show on all you touch and teach and love.

But… we live in a fallen world and have strayed so far away from God’s original design. Maybe your mother didn’t or wasn’t able to love, to teach, or to effectively equip you to love, relate, and receive well. Maybe there is pain caused by sin, separation, poor choices..intentional or unintentional. It still hurts. Maybe, like Paul, there is a thorn of hurt that has wedged itself into your side and you still wince and feel the pain of emotional or physical injury..or lack and loss.  If so, grieve.  Just as we grieve the loss of love, support, and companionship through death, we may need to grieve the lack, as well as the loss. When God said He would be father to the fatherless, many are quick to embrace it. Do we limit him? Can he not be like a mother to the motherless? What about Zeph 3:17 when He rejoices over you with singing? Like a lullaby? Nurturing? Comforting?  Consider the encouraging words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

From grief, mourning, and despair to comfort, joy, and restoration.

IMG_5902Rejoice in your great blessings. Grieve the losses and allow God to heal and restore, then believe. Believe, not only that the body of Christ is perfectly equipped to step in and provide for your needs, but that you are also part of that body and you are called to be his hands, his feet, his heart. Believe that God has a purpose in the pain of losing, the pain of not having, or the strain of imperfect, contentious relationships. Not that He authored the loss or the struggle, but that He sees and is able to create beauty from the ashes of a fallen world. Believe that you have been crafted and gifted with a mother’s heart. If you have children, you have experienced it first-hand. If you don’t have children, consider your other relationships. Have you ever had a shoulder to cry on? Been a shoulder to cry on? Had another woman ask for advice, need direction, just want a cup of coffee and a few words of wisdom or encouragement? Prayed for a friend? Been concerned for a friend’s well-being? Just sat quietly, no words needed, and been present? That is a mother’s heart and you have been gifted. Believe that you are that vessel, that tool, nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashthat platform, that word of encouragement, bit of sustaining manna, drink of water, or light in the darkness that God will use to bring light, life, and hope to someone else.

Thank you, Meg, for sharing your hurt and your heart. Even in that, your mother’s legacy continues. ❤

Words are important. The work of your hands and your heart is important and leaves an indelible imprint on the lives of others. I encourage you to consider your work, consider your words, consider your sphere of influence. Consider that the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon you and He has anointed you to proclaim the good news, to assist the brokenhearted, to provide light and relief, and to comfort. You will be called oaks of righteousness and a planting of the Lord. Believe it. What’s the quirky old cliché: Bloom where you’re planted.    plant

                   *Happy Mother’s Day*