You Say It’s Your Birthday

Funny thing before we delve into this week’s blog – first, I’m late again. Thankfully, I might be the only one keeping track. Second – I’m early. Yep, this is the blog that I had in mind for next week – when my daughter, Megan, turns 21. Due to a twisted turn of events – namely that I am wholly unable to keep proper track of time these days – I present next week’s blog this week:

Do you remember what you did for your 21st birthday? Or your 18th? 10th? 30? 50? – pick your milestone poison. You likely have fond memories of that day, unless you landed in jail, in which case I hope enough time has passed that you can look back and laugh.

What if something worse (much worse) than jail happened on your birthday?  My mother’s oldest brother, Mike, died of a heart attack – on his daughter’s birthday. Yes, there isn’t much worse that can happen on your birthday than for your dad to die of a heart attack.  It’s awfully hard after that to look forward to another birthday much less ever to look upon that particular day with anything other than heartbreak. Or is there?

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Better Late Than Never

A few years ago, I picked up the practice of choosing a “word-of-the-year” or intention as opposed to making annual resolutions. It’s simple. Just choose a word to explore from all aspects throughout the year – how does the dictionary define the word; how does scripture apply the word; how does the word work in your life, and a myriad other ways to dissect and study one word. Before you give me credit for such a fabulous idea, I stole it from a friend, but feel free to appropriate the idea for your own use.

Frankly, I never really took resolutions too seriously. Diets, exercise, and bullet journals sound great until you try to put them into practice. At that point, they just become tedious. When results do not appear immediately, the flimsiest of excuses will divert us me from our my best intentions.

As such, I went through a phase when I purposefully set ridiculous resolutions. In 2010, I resolved to learn to accessorize. Yes, that is nearly as petty as it sounds. Nearly ten years later, all I can show for my efforts are a couple of belts and a basket full of winter scarves. In 2012, I resolved to drink more coffee and more martinis. Low bar. Wildly successful – depending upon how you define “success.” 

An intention is different. A word becomes a year-long quest to explore and to learn. It’s more like a game than an assignment – more task-oriented than result-oriented.

Resolutions for years 2013 through 2015 were quite unremarkable as I can’t even recall what they were. When I took up the word game in 2016, things changed. In 2016, I chose “faith.” In 2017, my word was “me too,” before #metoo was popular and with a different meaning. In 2018, I embarked upon exploring “gratitude” and was mildly successful.  Whereas resolutions tend to repeat, words are more apt to change each year. Better yet, they can complement and enhance one another over time.

Feeling as if I could have done a better job with “gratitude” this past year, I rummaged for a word that would reinforce “gratitude.” Becoming increasingly aware of how important it is to be present, my word for 2019 is “mindfulness.”

I’m going to admit right up front that I am appropriating this word from popular psychology and Eastern philosophy – where they tend to define it loosely along the lines of “non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.” (mindspirit.com) Even more incorrigible, I plan to tweak it for my own purposes because I need a singular word that encapsulates my intention for the year. 

Whereas mindfulness in Eastern philosophy is about being present in the moment so that ultimately one can transcend this world and become one with the “All” or the “sacred,” I worship a bigger and better-defined God. Where followers of certain Eastern philosophies are trying to transcend or escape this world, being present for me is a matter of reflecting mindfully my God back into this world. In other words, my ultimate assignment is not to escape this world but rather to help to illuminate my God within this world.

It’s a lofty word/intention for 2019, but you can see how it is intertwined with “faith,” “me too,” and “gratitude” and a logical step toward taking all of those intentions to new levels. 

Maybe, I’d be better off resolving to eat more kale or to man the elliptical for thirty minutes at least three times a week. 

A funny thing happened almost as soon as I settled upon an intention and began to explore what that might look like over the course of the year, I immediately felt under attack. Yes, literally under attack. At the precise moment I begin thinking about being present so that I can become more grateful and connect more deeply with God and others – I was swallowed into a vortex of chaos and urgency. Coincidence? 

I think not. 

Breezy comments about “being under attack by the enemy” used to make me cringe. My mind would shrug off such clichés as spiritual rugs under which the self-righteous could sweep the messiness of life and keep marching. My sincere apologies for every time I secretly sneered at a declaration of spiritual assault. We are under attack. And like bacteria feeds on sugar and water, the enemy thrives in an environment of discord, disorder, and detachment. He uses distraction so cleverly that we forget that we are under attack and even scoff when others acknowledge the state of affairs.

So, my response is to make a real effort to tone down the discord, disorder, and detachment in favor of being mindful of my God in all circumstances and being present with my family, friends, and others.

Sadly, I must report that the enemy has taken Round 1. My friend, Jane, from whom I stole this brilliant word-intention concept had surgery yesterday. Weeks ago, I had put it on my calendar to remind me to check on her. It was important enough to me that I took the effort to note it in my calendar so that I wouldn’t have an excuse for forgetting. I failed. I didn’t check in with her until I had gotten a text from her that the surgery went well. Yikes! Not very present or mindful at all.

I wish that I could tell you that I took Round 2. Alas, no. I was late posting this blog entry. My self-imposed deadline for posting new entries is once a week – on Thursday at 5:44 p.m. (Central). I missed my deadline this week because I was under spiritual attack. Every attempt that I made to complete my draft was met head on – emails, phone calls, text messages “demanding” my urgent attention. Some of the enemies “weapons” were less worthy – Victoria and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are getting so much hype. Once I missed my “deadline,” I even considered just letting this week go. I missed the deadline. What was the point? No one will notice. There’s always next week.

As the enemy sensed victory and slithered off to attack someone else, two things happened. First, I was reminded that some people actually follow this little blog. That’s not my doing. When I send my weekly posts into cyberspace, I pray that God will have them land where they need to be seen – where He wants these words used. In 2018, over 6,000 visitors from nearly 60 countries visited the blog. That’s a mind-boggling response to my humble prayers.  There must be something in this mess of a blog that the enemy doesn’t want someone to hear.

Second, I received a phone call from my brother sharing a story about a friend of his, an elderly man who is gravely ill. My brother learned of his friend’s condition through a chance “pocket dial.” (This is one of the many reasons why I’m not God. I’d never in my providence think to use a misdialed phone to connect people in need – but our God did.) My brother and sister-in-law have been able to visit with his friend. During the visits, they learned that the friend is a non-believer. Even so, his friend accepted their offers to pray over him.

What does this have to do with my missed deadline? Everything. I don’t know if the prayers prayed over my brother’s friend changed his heart – but I was reminded – “better late than never.” God’s timing can’t be thwarted by the enemy’s attempts to delay us.

Like the thief who hung next to our Lord at Calvary grabbed a last-minute ticket to paradise, it’s never too late for us to take steps that will lead us closer to God. It’s never too late to answer God’s call in our lives. It’s never too late to pray for a friend. And, better late than never when you miss your blog’s “deadline.”

Dear Father, whatever our resolutions may be for this new year, help us to stay focused on what really matters. Send your Spirit to guide us ever closer to You. Let us be ever mindful of the example set by your Son, Jesus. May we be present in each moment so that we can connect with the needs of others and be prepared to meet those needs. 

Armor us for battle against the enemy. When the enemy takes a skirmish against us, remind us that we CAN always go home again. Remind us that we are better late than never to take that first step.

Father, we thank you for bringing Jane through her surgery safely and we pray for her continued recovery. We also thank you for the chance to pray over a friend who is likely to leave this life sooner rather than later. We pray that he will be with You in paradise when his time comes. Only You hold the power to move in his heart (and ours) but thank You for blessing us with the chance to plant seeds of faith in every heart we meet.

SDG

Holiday Hangover

“Happy New Year!” How many woke up on January 1stwith a touch of “rockin’ pneumonia” from ringing in the New Year? When you’ve been through (or are still dealing with) a tough time, the holidays bring a different kind of “hangover.”

“They” expect us to be happy during the holidays. Thanksgiving is a time focused on gratitude. Christmas is an expectant time to celebrate the gift of the birth of Christ. New Year’s ushers in fresh starts and excitement for what the new year will unfold.

“They” underestimate the amount of energy required to get from November to January. Mustering the drive needed to make that holiday haul can zap us – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we do arrive at January still intact, we are kinda left wondering, “what next?”

When one year has been tough, hitting the reset button on a fresh year can be a welcome relief. New year, new job. New year, new gym. New year, new house. New year, new you!You name it. Whatever held you back in the prior year can be wiped clean allowing you to move forward.

Other times – even when a year has been unrelenting – we don’t want to let go. Sometimes, we’d rather time stand still. Sometimes, we’d rather rewind the days to a time when things made more sense. The holidays have already left us hungover and now “they” are saying that we need to “move forward.”

Time becomes warped when you are in fresh grief. [“Fresh” is a relative term as grief really has no shelf-life on this earth.] When I hear “Last Christmas” or “Last summer,” my mind immediately meanders to 2016. My heart harkens to the last time that my little family made sense. My soul is stuck in an era when Brooke was physically with us. 

Last New Year’s (when we ushered in 2018) may have been the worse New Year ever. My prior experience with loss did very little to prepare me for the realization that we would make no new memories in 2018 that begin with “Remember when Brooke [fill-in the blank].” 

Of course, I already knew this. Yet, one of the blessings and curses of how the mind warps with grief is that you don’t know everything at once. It’s as if the mind spoon feeds new realities to you as it thinks you are ready. Other times, it’s as if the mind breaks like a bloated levee no longer able to hold back. That’s what happened on January 1, 2018. My mind held back as long as it could from telling my heart and soul that there’d be no new memories. Then, it was almost as if the holiday fireworks were bomb blasts exploding away a dam of emotion. The realization hit hard.

So, you’d think that having come to appreciate this new reality that it would be easier “moving forward.” You would think that sailing into 2019 would be smooth. Not so much. As I scrolled through posts in some of the online support groups, I found (somewhat relieved that I was not alone) that other parents who had lost children were also reeling from the holidays and feeling angst about the new year – even those who had many “new years” under their belts.

There are a couple of takeaways. First, no matter how “well” it might appear that a grieving parent (or sibling or spouse or child or whomever) may be handling a loss – grief does not move in logical, linear progression. Grief looks a lot more like a pile of tangled Christmas lights than neatly hung party lights. 

Second, any event or “celebration” that spotlights the loss will sting – no matter how joyous that occasion may be. We – the bereaved – can celebrate joy, but it is just a little different. That “before and after” date splits us into two halves. As we piece back our new existence, the halves don’t quite line up. One half praises the blessings – because there are still so many blessings. Memories of our lost loved ones are a treasured blessing, and we are ever grateful for new blessings as they come. Our other half curses the injustice of living “without” and wages an all-out war against anything joyful.

Life – as if it were not already – becomes a constant battle to remain faithful to God, to our families, and to ourselves.

The good news is that the battle is already won. If we can only “sweat out” the lies that keep us focused on our hurt and loss, we’d see that even in the midst of unspeakable hurt, we are not alone. Our God stands victorious between us and the enemy. He stands beside us in comfort. He stands behind us in strength. When time passes from this life, God will wipe away every tear.

Dear Heavenly Father, help us not to fear the passing of time here on earth. Send your Spirit to untangle our wounded souls. Hold us in your victorious right hand. With your Son as our model, fill us with faith so that our battered hearts beat only for You. Shake off the forces that seek to drain our faith. Make our spirits drunk with joy for You, and may your unfailing hope displace our hurtful hangovers. May we overflow with delight as we look forward to a day when there will be NO MORE TEARS. Amen.

SDG

Half-hearted

My daddy gave me a pair of gloves for Christmas 2000. There was nothing special about them. Just a simple (but warm) pair of black gloves with fleece lining. Two months later, my daddy was diagnosed with lung cancer – aggressive and sinister. By the time the cancer was detected, it was too late. Two months after his diagnosis, he passed away at age 56.

All of a sudden, those Christmas gloves became special. Seriously, I placed so much emphasis on those gloves as the last little connection between me and my daddy. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have placed so much importance on something physical and fleeting, but I did. So, you can just imagine how sick I became when the gloves became separated. 

At first, I didn’t believe one was lost. I was convinced that I would find the missing glove. Time passed. No reunion. More time passed. Still no reunion. 

Years went by. Yes, I carried the found glove around for years.

I slowly became to accept that perhaps, the gloves would not be together again as soon I would have hoped and I might have to learn how to survive with just the one glove. It’s the same realization that slowly settles into your bones after losing someone you love. Like gloves work better in pairs, the heart works better whole. Yet, you come to learn how to survive half-hearted.

Over the years, the “found” glove (or was it the “missing” one) played tricks with my mind. As I’d go through drawers or boxes of winter things, it would seem as if it played a slight of hand. One time, I would swear that it was the right glove that was found, but I would be holding the left one. Other times, I would find the right glove and spend days looking for the left because I could have sworn that I had “just seen it.” Eventually, I just played the cruel game of hide-and-seek off as my own wishful thinking.

When you are grieving an unfathomable loss, the heart and mind play similar games. A swing of blonde hair catches your eye before you recall that she’s not there. A familiar laugh lands on your ear catching you for a moment as you ponder whether these are the left chambers reuniting with the right or vice versa. Then you realize that you are not even sure which chambers are lost and which still beat within your chest.

Sure, you couldlive with just one glove. The one glove is still useful, but it just isn’t the same. Life is livable but sometimes it feels like – oreos without milk, a kingcake with no baby, or red beans with no rice. Like Batman without Robin, SpongeBob without Patrick, or Lilo without Stitch, life just isn’t the same. The needle pierces the memory adding to the tapestry of your life; yet, it is missing a thread. There is a blank space that runs through every new memory regardless of how glorious that memory is.

Amidst a world that is fraught with milkless oreos and babyless kingcakes, there is only one thing that keeps my chest beating half-heartedly and reminds me each day is still worth living. There will come a day when our hearts beat again. Not half-heartedly but full and nearly bursting in a way in which today – we can only imagine. 

“Really,” you ask, “Are we really going to be reunited in heaven with our Lord and our loved ones?” Yes, and it is just as simple and complicated as believing that God sent His only Son to make that day possible. 

“But it is so hard to hold onto that belief in this world of tangled threads and plates of beans without rice,” you say. I can’t disagree. It is hard. No way around the fact that it can be hard, but daily I am reminded of God’s infinite love and I cannot escape the draw of eternity.

About a week or so ago, I was unpacking a box of winter things and I saw a black glove. It looked so much like the “missing” glove (or was it the “found” glove). My heart had been tricked by this game so many times and I really didn’t have the energy to play another round. Yet, I carried it to the drawer where I had last seen the “found” glove (or was it the “missing” glove). Fully anticipating another disappointment, imagine my surprise when the “found” glove lay in my right hand and the “missing” glove in my left – both hands literally trembling and my half-heart pounding profusely.

After years of waiting and holding onto what felt like a silly expectation and wishful thinking, my gloves are together again. While it might seem like a trivial reminder, it is a reminder nonetheless that faith in the “lost” years will lead to reunion in eternity. 

No more half-hearted happiness over reunited gloves. We can look forward to full-hearted joy over a glorious and eternal reunion with the ones we love. More importantly, there will come a day when we will come face-to-face with our Lord and our God. 

And . . . thatis the true gift of Christmas. 

SDG

Unchain My Heart

I’m an awful person. Really. Deep down – in those places no one sees. Hateful thoughts and judgmental “observations” and intolerant tones and ungrateful attitudes lurk. The whys prowl about  – why does it always happen to me?; why am I forced to suffer?; why my baby girl? Why? Why? Why? (Read those last three words out loud. Scary how much they sound like waah, waah, waah.) My own insecurities, regrets, and doubts feed the negativity.  At that point, I’m uncertain whether Satan’s sinister lies take me by force or if I simply surrender out of exhaustion.

In either case, these are the chains that bind my heart. Read more

Waiting and Watching and Watching and Waiting

As a child, my daddy had the most annoying habit on Christmas day. He’d gather us around the Christmas tree to open presents. That’s not the annoying part. No – the annoying part was where we’d have to wait. Wait for our turn to open gifts and Watch as everyone opened each of their gifts. Waiting and watching. Watching and waiting. Read more

Gone Too Soon

Over the last week, our nation and the world became a little less dignified. A little less civil. A little less honorable.  A little less humble. A little less colorful. Well . . . it just became a little less. Our former president, George H. W. Bush (a/k/a “Bush 41″), has “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (borrowing the eloquent words of another former president) After ninety-four full years, Bush 41 joined his beloved, Barbara, and their daughter, Robin, who passed at age three nearly sixty-five years ago.

Even though the Bush family is obviously saddened by their loss, it is so evident that they are also celebrating a long life, well-lived. As well, they should. President Bush’s life was filled with humility, humor, service, love, and so much more.

Celebrating life is so much easier when someone passes away just shy of a century. Read more