Gifts for Today

“Hummingbird and Sunflower,” photo by Larry Keller. Click image to view in Flickr.

There is a long narrow table that spans the large window in my home office, made by my hubby, of course. This is where I sit in the early morning, as the sun rises, to spend time with God.  As I study and meditate, I witness nature awakening, and I enjoy the brief encounters with birds, butterflies, and bumblebees that apparently love the zinnias growing just outside the window.

We see many different types of birds in our neighborhood, but I rarely see hummingbirds. I’ve seen them only twice in the six years we’ve lived here, and both times were at my window.

My second visit with a hummingbird was this morning, as I was meditating over Psalm 27. I had just read about the psalmist’s desire “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4) and was praying the same for myself when the bird dropped by. How apropos! This was no coincidence. It was a subtle affirmation of the beauty of the holiness of the Most High and affirmation of His presence. A gift for today.


Note about today’s image: The photo was captured by Larry Keller who has an amazing Flickr feed filled with birds, deer, and other aspects of nature. Since there were still two more posts to complete “Sunflower Week,” I wanted an image for today that spoke to sunflowers and my early morning visitor. Larry graciously allowed use of his photo for today’s post. There are so many beautiful messages in nature, and I’m grateful for the many photographers who expertly capture what we miss or can’t experience for ourselves. Thank you, Larry, for your art and for your heart. Your photo is another gift for today!

Wrapped in Love and Sunflowers

At the beginning of the year, after being cancer-free for 13 years, my sister Lori, heard the dreaded news–the cancer had returned. Initially, I shared this with just two or three close friends, soliciting their prayers. Out of respect for Lori’s privacy, I hadn’t talked about it much until I spilled to my penfriend Christine B, whose response prompted me to share Lori’s story with a group of my penfriends. They have been more than kind and supportive of me, and I knew they would embrace my sister and let her know that there are people all over the world who are rooting for her, sending her good thoughts, and praying.

Some of them went even further and sent supportive cheer mail my way as well–including three sunflower cards painted just for me!

“Sisters Dancing” by Trang K

Trang watercolored two flowers dancing–a sunflower and a purple tulip–Lori’s favorite flower in her favorite color. Her written note expresses sweetly, as only Trang can:

May you always dance to the sweetness of life in all its glory and fill your heart with everlasting joy and love.

“Time for Watercolor” by Christine B.

With her busy summer schedule, Christine B took the time to watercolor a new cheerful sunflower for my wall.

“A Note of Peace and Love” by Connie F.

Connie’s sunflower brightened a gloomy day. She slipped a beautiful bookmark (to be shared later) and a quote into the envelope with her sunflower:

It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.  –Donna Karan

Knowing who God is makes horrific trials bearable. Lori is a bit more challenged this time around, but her faith is sure. Sometimes, it seems that worry is all I can do, but from her, I’m learning more and more not to worry. Her path isn’t easy, but through faith and fervent prayer, I can be a calming presence in the chaos of the journey just for her.

To my penfriends–Lori has received your beautiful expressions of love, hope, courage, grace, peace, and faith. We are incredibly moved by your sacred act of giving. Thank you, Christine, Trang, Lisa, Paige, Debra, Jennifer, Lori-Anne, Louise, Arielle, Sheila L, Connie, Suzette, Jacki, Gina, Andrea, Fran, Litsa, and Cricket. You have wrapped our hearts in love and have served as tangible evidence of God.

Hugs to you…

“He Comes Walking”

During my prayer and meditation period this morning, I ran across a Sheila Walsh quote printed in my Women of Faith Study Bible, a couple of pages away from the psalm I was studying. I am moved to share it here:

When emotions beat against our souls like wave after wave in the worst of a storm, there is nowhere to turn but to Christ. As I sit for a while and think about Him, I hear the loneliest words in the world: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). On that brutal tree Christ embraced total isolation so that you and I never have to be alone. I am learning that doesn’t mean that life will be free of pain; it means that in the midst of the darkest night, He comes walking. Along the bleakest hospital corridors, He comes walking. When you think the world has left you all alone, listen closely. He comes walking. –Sheila Walsh

It is natural for us to feel alone when we’re struggling with everything that comes against us, when we’re desperately seeking answers that make sense. Rest assured. Things are not as hellish as they seem. We are not alone. Christ our Strength is walking with us, standing us upright, carrying us through.

I hope Walsh’s words rest deep within your soul. I hope when you are in the darkest places of human loneliness–where it seems no one knows or understands–you will remember Christ. He is well acquainted with human suffering. His light penetrates. His love and comfort reach even there.

He comes walking…

If We Love Each Other…

I read something this morning that nearly brought me to tears–a comment written in response to a blog post about God’s love for us. The post, written nearly two years ago, had few comments, but one comment in particular caught my attention. It was written by a man who for several years dealt with a series of really bad circumstances and came to the conclusion–after a lifetime of belief–that God does not love him. The saddest thing, however, is that the comment sat beneath the blog post with no response for a full year before another “random person” stumbled upon the post and read the comment.

A full year.

Even after the “random person’s” response, neither the author of the post nor the Christian organization that hosts the site responded. In nearly two years.

If it hurt me, imagine how much it affected the man who so bravely and desperately cried out. He needed an answer. He needed a virtual hug and assurance of God’s intimate concern and love for him.

He got crickets.

The thing that keeps me sane and walking upright in this world is knowing that God absolutely loves me, but I first experienced God’s love through others.

It is God’s love for and in us that allows us to love sincerely and deeply; it is His love that permeates our being and generates love action. It’s nearly impossible to experience or “possess” Divine Love and not be transformed.

Loving God and understanding His love for humanity results in reaching out to hurting people, living out His presence in our lives, and showing the world who He is–through acts of love.

Without human manifestation of God’s love, His love is simply theory.

Walking in Amazing Grace…

This is what grace does […]. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see […]. It connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have thought impossible. And that grace is still rescuing us…  –Paul David Tripp (emphasis mine)

“Amazing Grace” is a powerful hymn. Whether I’m singing along with a congregation, singing alone, or simply reading the words, the lyrics always move me to tears.

When I watched and listened to my beautiful colleague, Julie Moore Foster, and her equally beautiful daughter soulfully sing “Amazing Grace” this morning, I was stunned into meditative silence.

Even before I reached the end, which presented a short montage of Julie’s oldest daughter’s life, I knew their singing of this song was not “just singing” but a powerful story of God’s work in the soul–His amazing grace.

They lost Témar at the beginning of 2015, a loss they walk with every day.  I “knew” Témar briefly; she was enrolled in my British Literature class her last semester of college, the semester I lost my sister. Two years later, I bonded with Hannah, the daughter featured alongside Julie in the video below, over our mutual loss of sisters.  A question in my Shakespeare course led to an intense discussion of disappointment, loss, and coping with the “most difficult” challenges of life–a moving experience that I might have the courage to share another day.

I know what it is to be saved by God’s grace, not just from sin and the ravages of this world, but rescued from the deep, murky pit of grief and despair that can suffocate and rob a life of meaning and joy. But when my mother, Julie, any mother–indeed any parent–can stand upright and sane in this messed up space where parents have to bury their children, I see clear evidence of God’s grace walking and talking among us.

Notes on the song/video: “Amazing Grace” arranged by Kelvin Wooten, Wayne Bucknor, and Julie Moore Foster. Direction and videography by William Jenkins. Audio production by WoodaWorx Productions, Inc. The song is part of Julie Moore Foster’s first album, Soul Songs. To find out more see: Soul Songs Project.

Sunny Inspiration: Look Up!

My neighbor’s sunflowers came in beautifully and I made a few trips to capture them in their various stages. I managed to capture dozens of pics–one is featured in Finding Love Notes, Naturally, posted a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to work with a couple of the photos yesterday–one featuring a sunflower with its “face” turned upward and the other a “downcast” flower leaning away from another that is still full of life. The photos were on my mind and I wanted to combine them with words that speak their language.

The blooms are visual reminders that when the “stuff” of life is coming at us full force, all we have to do is stand firm, “face the Sun,” and rest in the embrace of the One who is always near.

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Sunflower PhotoArt by Me!

Sometimes, it’s necessary to face our problems “head on,” stare them down, and conquer them. At other times–when things are out of our control and bigger than we could ever imagine–we have to turn away from our struggles and focus our attention on the One who handles the insurmountable and scary situations for us. Otherwise, the worry and stress can affect our health.

“God Is Near the Broken-Hearted,” Sunflowers PhotoArt by Me!

We feel alone in such situations–it seems no one understands, can provide the comfort we need or help us manage our problems. It is imperative to know that we are not alone, that God is near, cradling us in His protective arms, and carrying us through the difficulties.

When we train our focus heavenward, our problems are placed in proper perspective, and we learn to trust the “Lover of our souls” to manage all our concerns so we can go on living and loving without distress.

I prefer to see sunflowers with a sunny disposition, but the sunflower in the second photo communicated so profoundly and beautifully the message of Psalm 34:18 that I had to capture it–even with the photo-bombing bee. The bee might seem a distraction, an annoyance even, but without bees there would be no flowers.

Wishing you a week filled with sunshine and good things…

Mama Is a Saint!

snapseed

I woke up this morning thinking about my mom and the absolutely beautiful woman she is. Today is her 80th birthday and I am deeply grateful that God continues to gift us with her life.

I hear it over and over and over again.  “Your mom is a saint.”  She’s not simply a good, good person.  She’s a saint.  I’ve learned to accept that perhaps she is, and unlike many women, I wish I were more like my mother.

My mom carried 10 children in her womb, delivered us naturally, and took care of all of us.  As far as I’m concerned, this alone should be enough to qualify her for sainthood.

I lived in the house with us.  And it was a wonderful, noisy house with loads of love and fun, but it also had its fair share of the typical sibling rivalries, squabbles, and kids who always needed something or had a question that just had to be answered.  In my mind, I’m thinking my kid times 10.  No way!

Can you imagine this type of person who has enough love and patience for 10 individual personalities trying to find their way in the world?  Can you imagine worrying and fretting over not one or two or even five but 10 children? Parenting is scary, scary business, and I shutter to think of the challenges ahead for my one kid.  I can’t imagine having to walk with 10 heartbeats floating around in this world.

Mom with my sister Karlette (RIP) and nephew Eric

Mom with my sister Karlette (RIP) and nephew Eric

I distinctly remember my mom taking all of us kids on the bus to Canal Street in New Orleans [Canal Street was the shopping center of New Orleans then].  There might have been only eight or nine of us then, but we’re all pretty close in age. How did she do that?  With nothing less than amazing organizational skills and child management skills.

This explains why our house was impeccable at any time of the day–even with 10 kids.  Unexpected guests might have been met with an apology for her “messy” house, but they probably looked around confused.  My mom’s house was [and is] always clean.  There was no scrambling to clear the clutter when uninvited guests arrived. I don’t even know how she managed that with all of us running all over the house?

And just like our home, we were always clean and dressed and fed well with home-cooked meals every day.  This is no overstatement.  My mom cooked every. single. day. for twelve people. My mom’s version of fast food? Burgers and fries she made herself that were way better than anything we could have purchased at a restaurant.

Mom let us grow and gave us wings.  No matter how many times we came to her with a problem or situation, my mom never directed our actions.  She may have made a comment or two about the situation, but she never told us what to do or tried to manipulate us into doing what she considered the “right” thing.  If we made the wrong decision, she let us fall and learn from our mistakes.  She was still mom, loving us without judgment and allowing us to become.

My mom sacrificed for us in ways that continue to impact our lives. I once asked her what was her dream career. She answered that at one point she wanted to be a nurse. That would have been the perfect career for her. She has a calm and comforting nature that others are drawn to and that would have been so beneficial in nursing. She chose, instead, to nurture the 10 of us into productive members of society.

I know, nowadays, we celebrate mothers who juggle family, careers, community obligations and still find time for themselves, but there was an incredible amount of security for us in knowing that mom was [still is] always there and would always find a way for the things we wanted/needed.

Besides qualifying for sainthood because she put up with us crazy kids, mom is a saint because she put up with my dad.  My dad is a wonderful person, but he and my mom are almost complete opposites.  He is always ready for a party while she prefers the quiet of home.  He spends a lot of time on Facebook baiting his friends and watching CNN and the other news channels while she sits quietly reading.  He loves long debates. She’s not having it.  She says “her piece” and nothing more.  She’s not having the back and forth for too long.  My dad goes on and on and on.

Mom and Dad in the early years.

Mom and Dad in the early years.

I think God chose my mom for us because only a person with her character and spirit could love us all to health and wholeness.  With her quiet spirit, she’s not easily unsettled, so people’s issues (read: craziness) don’t faze her.  She has a heart of gold and always sees the good in people.  She welcomes all and listens without judgment.  She is the embodiment of forgiveness.  She forgave our “wrongdoings” without making us feel rejected or small, and taught us how to forgive.  If we went to her with some “offense” committed against us, she’d basically tell us to shake the dust off our feet and move on.  That bit of her is so ingrained in me that I can’t hold a grudge if I wanted to.

My mom has a fierce, uncompromising faith that is simply inspiring. It is this faith that got her through the most difficult moments of her life and that prays her children through almost unbearable circumstances.

Of course, she’s not perfect–she is human after all–but I’ve not encountered anyone in my life whom I want to emulate more.

Happy Birthday, Mama, with all my love…