The Pause That Refreshes

I have the delight of receiving an email daily devotion from Loyola Press accompanied by photos and a melody.  Many times these postings give me a way of looking at things differently.  Today’s was no exception.  I changed the we to first person, but otherwise want to share its wording in bold, from Friday, September 18, 2015.

A scripture well known is from I Corinthians 13, “Now three things remain….faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

The world (and I propose things like depression or self or addiction or evil, the list can go on) holds or tries to envelope us in its concerns and perspectives. But I can change my focus.  Look at faith, hope and love.  Faith allows me to believe in Christ and give myself totally to God.  Hope gives me the assurance that God’s will be done.  Love frees me to give (myself) completely to others.  These three gifts are poured out on us by the Holy Spirit.  

      If I lived by them, how would my life be different?

      Prayer: Lord, You know the issues that cloud my mind and heart.  Send forth Your Spirit that I may with greater clarity embrace and act upon the gifts of faith, hope and love.  Amen.

I pray today for those who touch me, and for those I wish I could touch.  For my neighbors who keep to themselves, for my family both near and far, for my daughters so dear, for my grandchildren to reject the world, for my church and its pastoral staff.  For my husband who tries his best to understand me.  For my stepfather and his son and daughter in laws. For our beautiful city and wonderful country, for the leaders present and future.  I pray for my doctor who will give me a stress test today, for my realtor, for the pilot who will fly me on my next trip, for the motel staff who might oversee a stay, for those to whom I write in emails, or in cards of encouragement or friendship. For the company to whom I send a payment, for the ministries I support.  For the children and oppressed women in Third World countries. For those I envy, wishing I had their talent or acclaim, forgive me Lord.  For that person whose message on my machine was most unusual, for You to meet their need.  For the person who knocks on my front door.  For the motorist I get irritated with. For those I might see at the pool today when I go swim. For those grieving for a family member or struggling with a chronic illness or recovering from surgery.  For the lonely. For my piano students and for the ones I do not yet have, but hope for. For Christian artists, musicians, writers, teachers, preachers who are spreading the Word widely.  And for who else You will show me to pray for, thank You, Lord.

We all have hoards of people we make contact with.  Is there some way we can share the Lord’s love with them?  Prayer is one way.  Please leave a comment telling of another way to share God’s love or exercise faith and hope?

Thank you for your friendship. I also pray for you, my readers.

If you want a lovely pick-me-up from time to time, I recommend an email subscription to Loyola Press. There’s no fee and it takes only minutes to read.  Not every post is as inspiring as this one, but that does not matter.  Being refreshed does.

3MinuteRetreat@loyolapress.com

Coming Home

I have the joy of being a grandmother to four and seven grandchildren, four of which live in my city.  I miss my two that are farthest away in Georgia the most for justifiable reasons. Two of the four in town are near us, and it is privilege to get to see them regularly.  Our contact with the other two in town is limited, by distance and schedule.  The remaining five grand kids live two hundred miles north and unless we are the ones driving up to see them, we see them only occasionally.

Having just returned from a ten day journey in Michigan, following the unexpected death of my mother in June, we skidded back into town late one evening with barely time to breathe.  The following morning, I was needed to care for Liam and Callie since it was an all day teaching planning day for their parents.  The timing was not great, but the fact that I had returned and was available proved to be helpful all around.

Is there any easy way to acclimate to life after a trip?  If there is, would someone tell me what that is?  I rarely take a vacation that is punctuated by long periods of rest and relaxation.  There are far too many places to see and people to spend time with.  And that energizes me.  But returning is a big stretch to touch back down, unpack, reboot, and feel the former rhythm of life.

For starters, we were three hours later than Michigan time and our bodies knew it.  I thought we were returning by 5 p.m. Arizona time.  But I was wrong: it was almost 8 p.m. and the sun was crowning on the horizon. We had a long drive home to Tucson from the airport in Phoenix.  Already having endured standing for our delayed (layover) flight in a crowded, raucous Minneapolis airport, this drive home felt like navigating a busy, endless river in a sea of darkness.  The option of spending the night in Phoenix was out of reach, since grandchildren were arriving the next morning.  So we plodded forward, in order to embrace what our destination held for us.

The joy of re-entering your abode and finding things in order and at peace is wonderful!  The joy of seeing the faces of your loved ones makes the effort even more fulfilling.  Grand parenting is delightful. Though my body dragged along, I pushed through the day.  To make things have more depth and pleasure, we planned a schedule together. There was computer time for both children. Time outdoors if they wanted it, and the errand to the post office to pick up mail and grocery store to buy lunch items and treats was engaging.  Snack time. There was story time with three great Bible truths to ponder, my favorite part of the day.  Creativity time next, making and using play dough or creating a greeting card.  Then, lunchtime.  Rest/quiet time for independent reading felt glorious!  Then, the neighborhood swimming pool and to end the day, cartoons. All good stuff.  The only discipline required was to put a kibosh on some back seat squabbling while on errands.

Ah yes, “Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog.”  Love that saying.  Returning home might not be easy, but it certainly has its rewards.

No grandchildren to care for?  No matter, find a way to demonstrate care to someone who would enjoy a little of your company.  No trip to enjoy?  Travel vicariously with a video or a book about your geographical dream spot.

Going somewhere special is a privilege and treat all to itself, but coming home is even better.  I liken this to earth and heaven.  As my grief storm for Mother calms little by little, I see something.  The things in this life can be special and full of delight, and enjoying them is good.  But it is in coming home that we have the greatest comfort.

May the Lord give us joy in this knowledge.  Ecclesiastes 12: 5-7 says:  “…man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets.  Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed…or the pitcher shattered at the fountain.  The dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God Who gave it.”

It was soothing to see the home and cottage in Michigan that my parents built, with friends. Now I am even more comforted that Mom has returned home to God, her eternal dwelling place.

An Ode and a Prayer

An Ode and a Prayer

To my mother in her death. and to us in our sorrow

by Deborah Thomas

The Ode

Mom, only weeks ago, you were here.  Now you’re gone.

And dearest friend, my heart for you longs.

I wasn’t quite ready, begged God not to let you go.

I hated to see you suffer on your bed, your body laid low.

So oft before, He’d spared your life in close calls.

We rejoiced for each reprieve, treasured God’s saving grace, all.

But this time was the precise moment He whisked you to heaven.

And we did not know until  late, in the dough was the leaven.

You lived your life fully, faithful and devoted,

to all of your family and for your children provided.

Your sense of humor was delightful, your face cute as a bug.

And the last thing you did before dying was give hugs.

On a tiny slip of paper you wrote, “Do not fear death,” instead

“…remember it’s the trip of a lifetime,” nothing to dread.

For you, death is gain, for me, terrible loss.

I must sacrifice your body to the Father, as Jesus did on the cross.

The Prayer

Lord, thank you for my beloved mother, with whom I was able and comforted to share a closeness.  Please soothe my aching heart, and help it re-start. Each day feels ravaged without Mom’s presence in it, for on this earth she shall never re-appear.  I miss her voice and getting to hug her. My eyes run with tears.

Help me in Your strength to carry on, and if I am to write her life story, please inspire me. Console me in Your love, and upon the dark floor of my soul where at times all I do is shuffle, please shine the light of Jesus. If I am correct, please help me feel that Mom is near me still, just out of sight, that’s all.  I look forward to heaven and thank you for its provision through Jesus.  Please in mercy, sustain all who are grieving, and give us hope for today and the next day and the next. Fill up the holes our loved ones have left with the soothing indwelling of Yourself.

In Jesus’ name,  Amen

Dried Tears

Dear Reader,

My mom’s death is still recent, slightly over one month.  The first weeks I was numb, and was carried by family, Memorial service preparations, company and great support.  Then the shock of her death hit.  And now, the tears.  Grief barged into the house without an invitation.  It appears to have no intention of leaving in the near future.

So, to help manage it, I’m doing the following:

  1. Investigate as best I can about what exactly occurred to her physically, what caused her death. I did that, and I am at rest with it.  I also took a day to “protest” her death before the Lord, and that felt incredibly good.
  2. Support myself through the grief in these ways:
  • write her letters
  • talk with family and others about her life/ death
  • see my counselor
  • sing worship songs at the piano or listen to them online
  • write thank you notes or notes of explanation to people who care
  • read several books, currently: Experiencing Grief— Norman Wright, A Grief Observed—C. S. Lewis, Nearing Home—Billy Graham, Life After Loss—Bob Dietz, scriptures about heaven (only a partial help, but interesting in content). Also to come: Grieving the Death of a Mother (H. Smith) & The Mourning Handbook (Helen Fitzgerald.)
  • journal
  • let the tears fall; they cannot and should not be stopped: aren’t they from the heart of God?
  • plan a trip back to Michigan and walk where I did as a child; interview cousins/family members about her, so that I can finish her life story with our voices

This I do to take care of me, that I might recover from the unexpected “kidnapping” of her presence. (God has the right to do that, after all, He took Enoch and Elijah with little warning at all.)

All these things are helping. But I haven’t figured out how to handle life’s joys and excitements without her here to share it with. How do I do that?  She used to rejoice with me in the Lord over wonderful things that happened!  My grandson Rowan was baptized only months ago, and how we delighted over the phone about that.  And my nephew Casey just became engaged and announced it on Mother’s Day, our last family gathering with Mother still among us.

Last weekend, there were new wonderful things……..some neat surprise visitors come to my show on Saturday….and on Sunday, I taught a great lesson on the life of Isaiah in a children’s class.  I wanted to call her and say, “Guess what, Mom?  Michelle and Alf sold their house, isn’t that wonderful?  Mom?”

But she is gone. I want to see her face, and I cannot. The silence is a most uncomfortable quiet.

I surely do miss her, my friend, my fan, my fellow rejoicer in the Lord. Perhaps my next strategy will be to just talk to her as if she were sitting in the chair in my living room?

I have to come up with something.  If I don’t, life without her is going to feel more pitiable than a lost duckling at night.  I have to find my way now without her, like I had to as a girl—feeling my way down the long, dark hallway during the night, to get to the bathroom. It was foreboding.  But this is my new assignment, to live without her here.

Yesterday I went online to a music site given me by a friend. I was thirsty to hear something beautiful. One worshipful melody led to another. My tears began to dry up. I found a group of college students in Canada (from Fountainview Academy) who sang this song. It made me feel connected to my mother. I am singing it now.  And my tears are gone.

‘Wonderful Words of Life by Phillip W. Bliss, 1874

Scriptures:  John 6: 63, 68  and Phil. 2: 15 & 16

Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty
Teach me faith and duty.

Refrain:
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
Wonderful words of life;
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
Wonderful words of life.

Christ, the blessed One, gives to all
Wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the loving call,
Wonderful words of life;
All so freely given,
Wooing us to heaven.

Sweetly echo the Gospel call,
Wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all,
Wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior,
Sanctify us forever.

————–

In Closing:  Today a friend stopped by. As we talked, I remembered a strategy for what to do when something has overwhelmed me.  Per chance, why not apply it to my sorrow?

Here it is:  Stretch out both your hands with the palms up.  Upon both of them, put the concern or trouble and pray, “Lord, what would you like to do with this? (because I can’t handle it.)”

So Lord, today I place this sorrow for Mother in my opened hands.  What would you like to do with it?  (Repeat this prayer as many times as you are troubled, and the Lord will do something astounding with it!  When I first began using this strategy, I had to put the anguish into my hands over a hundred times per day. Over time, it became less.  And then lesser still, a week later…  In time, the ________ was all gone.[Fill in the blank!]

May the Lord of Mercy bless and strengthen us for what He has assigned.

The Trip of a Lifetime

This morning I awoke to the tune and words of: “No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus” rolling around in my head. We had begun Mother’s Memorial service with it, thanks to the Lord recently giving it to my oldest daughter to sing at her church in Marietta, Georgia weeks before.  Our remembrances of Mom couldn’t have begun in a more precious way.  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, Becky.  Here are its words by Charles E. Weigle.  (Find and listen to it, if you can.)

I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus, since I found in Him a friend so strong and true.

I would tell you that He changed my life completely. He did something that no other friend could do.

Chorus:

No one ever cared for me like Jesus. There’s no other friend so kind as He.

No one else could take the sin and darkness from me.

O how much He cares for me!

 

Every day He comes to me with new assurance. More and more I understand His words of love.


But I’ll never know just why He came to save me, ‘t
il someday I’ll see His blessed face above.  

Chorus

My adorable mother died of intestinal failure recently.  It is still fairly surreal.  Her condition became unexpectedly perilous, for at her fragile age of ninety-three, there was no way to recover from the slide.  I had the privilege of being with her that second day of her hospital trial. My sister and brother tried to get here quickly.  We had no idea it would be her last full day on earth.

It was not as if we didn’t know that at some point God would probably call her Home.  My sister and I talked about her becoming more delicate many times. I’d tell my daughters we probably could not expect much more time with her. There’d been a radical change in her physical abilities— she couldn’t travel any longer, even to cross the city to my house.  Up until then, she was vibrant and energetic, a well preserved woman for her age.

My counselor says not to dwell on the suffering of Mom’s last days, rather think of the happy times we shared.  That matches what Philippians 4 tells us: whatever is good and pure, whatever is right, think on these things…

Mornings are the hardest, waking up to the reality of her absence.  I used to call her several times a week, to hear her voice. This loss is giant.  But I’ve been told it is healthy grieving to keep the communiqué going.  So I talk to her and began a notebook, “Letters to Mom.”  I write about the last weeks, my feelings, my regrets, tell her I’m thinking of her, what’s new:  things she’d like to know about, things she’d understand. Talking and writing to her sustain me.  And there are other things that help.

If a family member or friend calls, how sweet.  Meals have been brought to us, how wonderful.  Three gifts of gorgeous flowers, wow!  A relative sent a Honey baked ham, how kind is that?  Cards have flowed in.  A pal asked me to come over and swim, she herself going through chemo with struggles of her own. My husband strives to be understanding of my emotional sensitivity.  My sister mourns beside me, knowing how to sympathize instantly.  I reach out to my stepfather whose pain stings, without his darling mate at his side.  (He is ninety.)  And then there is music, uplifting music like this gifted song “No One Ever…” I sit at my piano and play it many times over.

Plus, we have the hardiest comfort of all:  God’s communiqué to us. Yesterday I found a balm in First Corinthians 9: 1,2: “Am I not free?  Am I not an apostle?  Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?  You are the seal* of my apostleship in the Lord.”  Paul was explaining his credibility as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and the application is rich.

Mom was Jesus’s “apostle.”  She loved and lived His gospel; shared it with all who came into her presence.  Now she’s free!  Her eyes are no longer irritated but whole, with 20/20 vision!  We who “follow” her are her spiritual fruit, her “seal,”* evidence of her loyalty to the Lord.  We can honor her life by living with that same unwavering faith in Jesus.

The morning knowledge that Mom’s gone is not how I like starting my day.  Waking up isn’t for the fainthearted.  But Reality is God’s Plan.  We are only visitors in this world.  Mom knew the end was near, that last day.  She stayed as long as she could, then it became her turn to travel.  She had lived well, and her pre-paid ticket to Heaven was at the “Will Hold” table before its gates.  Splendorous!  She’s no longer restrained by a frail body!  She took her trip of a lifetime!  She has to be rejoicing with her Savior and our adorable relatives and friends who went before her.  She requested the song, “I Can Only Imagine” which ended the Memorial. (I imagine the Lord let her view her Celebration service–hurray!)

We can rejoice.  I do rejoice, for in just a blink or two, I’ll be with her again!

One of God’s names is God of Comfort.  I love that.  May the Lord bless and comfort you, if you mourn.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  ~Matthew 5:4     If you want to write, I’m at: tdthomas2000@gmail.com.

Never Separated

Never Separated

The bird was not destined for longevity.  But it did make it to adulthood, long enough to enjoy many worms and bugs, inhabit the trees of Kennisaw Mountain and fly among them.

I was walking my grandchildren to school this week while visiting them in Georgia.  Our route was a sidewalk adjacent to a busy thoroughfare, so our hands were firmly clasped.  To our right was a forest of very tall trees.  In no more than a brief moment, there was squawking and fluttering of wings, and something swooped down from overhead and fell into the road.  It was no more than three feet from the curb, right in front of our faces.

“What’s that?” Emmalin said.

“Oh my, I think it’s a crow,” I said.  We stopped, stared at it.

“It’s hurt, Grandma,” Rowan said.  It landed with its feet and one wing crumpled underneath.  His head was erect and his eyes blinked, probably stunned.  It made no attempt to stand up, perhaps it couldn’t. It flapped its other free wing slightly, then stopped.  I wondered if it had been injured by another crow, or what.  We pitied it, lying there helpless.  The children wanted me to help it, but of course that was not an option.  We continued on our way.

Rowan looked back at the cars driving by. The third one clipped the bird, and he shouted, “Wow! It’s dead now!  That car got it!”  Intrigued, he kept watching and announced two more “hits” before I made him turn back around. Fortunately, we were several feet away from the crow while it was being clobbered.

A discussion about death followed.  These are the teaching moments of life.  Thankfully, there was no crying and fussing, but my daughter told me if it’d been a furry animal, there would have been.  I told the children that in all my sixty some years on earth, I’d never witnessed a bird fall to earth right beside me, and then die so fast. That we got to see something quite rare.  That this was God’s plan for the crow, today was his time to die.  They seemed to accept this but Rowan did ask about whether or not animals would be in heaven, which ones and so forth.  He told me animals have no souls.

On my return home, there was another road kill, an adolescent squirrel.  Poor thing.  First the crow, and minutes later, the squirrel.  It seems Kennisaw  Reserve is a veritable sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife.  Many meet with their death on the local roads nearby.  When I see a dead animal, I often think “…not one…[sparrow] falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.”  (Matthew 10:29)

An animal’s departure doesn’t hold for them the same kind of suffering as humans, of course.  The severance experience for us is far reaching.  For those death leaves behind, an ever present and ongoing adjustment is required.  Cut off from someone or something, how do we do then live?

Visiting here in the eastern part of the country, I am separated temporarily from my house, routine, computer, and husband.  While this is a given, it’s also an illustration.  While away, I have no control over whether those I live with will stay in touch with me.  When they do, I’m blessed.  Conversely, without that, I feel cut off.

But God is my refuge and strength.  I can think of Him whenever I want.  I can take comfort in the fact He is with me.  The feeling of being cut off or separated no longer has a direct pull on me, rather, a slighter one.

A secondary thought is that if I want something so much I become upset over the lack of it, perhaps I want that thing too much.  There are exceptions.  First, I can never want the Lord too much.  Also, if one is grieving the loss of a beloved family member, it takes years for the soul to acclimate.

My daughter has a window ledge solar plastic flower with move-able arms.  When overcast, its little leaf arms barely move at all. But when it’s bright and sunny, its arms flit so fast, they make a clacking sound.  Remembering that noise, I smile.  So cute, so cheerful.  I’d like to get me one of those solar flowers

My sunshine is not that phone call I have been languishing to receive, nor the return of a life taken from me. It is not an answer to prayer my heart longs for.  My sunshine is the Lord Himself.

He sees me.  He sees you.  We are ever visible.

He is with us.  Let us be of good cheer.  What we have or do not have is up to Him.  For what He brings, let us praise Him.  For what we lack, He fills with Himself.  Nothing separates us from God or His love for us.

These Days

The sub office called about five this morning, jarring and untypical.  I could not get back to sleep. Though I have tried to change my sleep habits, more often than not I am up late enjoying the Fox night news, reading, crochet work or writing.  When interested in a teaching post, I do not block the calls but filter out the unsuitable.  Today’s offer was a Special Education spot for which I felt unqualified.  So, I’ll spend my day on a different offer, or work on projects at home.

Each of us has these days given us by our Maker, until our bodies are taken back by Him.  He allots to each a different amount.  Some are privileged to enjoy the presence of a parent on into their eighties and nineties.  With both American women and men living longer, this is possible.  I am most blessed to still have my mother, at ninety-three now.  I know there are some of you who enjoy the same.  I have chosen to interview her for a memoir and began the process many months ago.

This ties in with my subject:  the spending of our days.  If we were to write a memoir of our own life, are there chapters we would want to leave out?

The concept of spending is a creative one. What kinds of things can we spend?  Commonly the word spending is synonymous with money.  Then there is time, which I am talking about.  What else?  Energy—what kinds of things do we put energy into?  And of course devotion, a spin-off of energy.  To what or whom are we devoted?  And lastly, there is the mind and the soul. How do we spend the gift of free thinking?   And what do we do to care for this gift of a soul that will last forever?

I am a pianist, not the concert type.  Just your basic black and white key player able to read music well enough to accompany a program or soloist, or grace the bride and groom in wedding overtures.  Years ago, having learned to play most simple tunes, the duet “Heart and Soul” became part of my repertoire.  It was a favorite if not over-used simple piece for most budding pianists.  Do you remember?

Heart and soul, I fell in love with you,
Heart and soul, the way a fool would do,
Madly…
Because you held me tight,
And stole a kiss in the night…

Heart and soul, I begged to be adored,
Lost control, and tumbled overboard,
Gladly…
That magic night we kissed,
There in the moon mist.

-circa 1930’s

I cannot attest to the devotion of this song.  Rather it is the melody and pairing of the heart to the soul that has become ageless. They go together, don’t they?

We know of someone dear who has decided to devote her non-working hours to another man and place other than her family.  Bills are neglected, time is used raucously, and what little energy she does have left after work is being spent on lustfulness and alcohol.  Maybe you have experienced something similar in your own circle of life.  It is heart wrenching. We pray  it will not prosper and for her heart to return to a place of rest and rightful devotion.  Failing that, her road’s end will not be happy; it won’t lead to a castle. It is joyless for her children and all who love her.  An agonizing unraveling of life.

Our Lord lets us spend ourselves in ways that render us frightening freedom.  The hope is Big, the hope for his creatures to return His love, as do children.  A child looks to the parent, stays connected, has the reward of exchange and mutual love.  In the hand of our Creator, we can walk with helpful direction, stability, peace of mind.

For those who did not have even one nurturing parent, may I say I am sorry.  It came short of God’s perfect design. Mercifully, there are surrogate parents or friends who might supplant a barren pantry with goods that were supposed to be delivered.  And there is God.  Always, there is God.  Bigger than all life can supply.

I had the challenge of a first marriage that rarely met my needs.  I didn’t rush into the arms of someone else.  Forty years later as a divorcé and single parent, I did re-marry but this time I knew my mate couldn’t meet those needs.  Only my Maker could, my Forever Parent.

I want nothing more than to spend the gifts He has lavished on me with gratitude.  Humility calls to me daily, for without it, sharing and praying is not the same. May the talents He gives us bring Him attention.

May the Lord bless our gift of these days, their number His doing.  And may our lives bless Him also.

       “The days of our lives are seventy years, and if by reason of strength they are eighty ….teach us to number [them] that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Satisfy us…with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!”

 ~Psalm 90, 10, 12 & 14