The Gift of Rescue

I mentioned in my last post that my favorite uncle passed away last week.

Some time ago, one of my paternal aunts–my Uncle Joe’s wife–told me the story of when and where my bond with my uncle initiated: I was not quite two. The family had gathered and there was a heaviness in the house because of the passing of my paternal grandmother and one of my paternal aunts–my dad’s older sister–within six months of each other. With the curiosity of a toddler I was drawn to the trash receptacle, and my Uncle Joe patiently and repeatedly pulled me away. He followed me and stuck by me for the rest of our time there. Since then, she told me, we became each other’s favorite (Shhh…don’t tell the others).

My uncle served as a pastor for almost 43 years [in many parts of the United States], and I often called him my personal pastor. When I had a spiritual dilemma or crisis, I called Uncle Joe. When there was a wedding, Uncle Joe. When it was time to dedicate my child to God [christening in some denominations], Uncle Joe. When Karlette’s life was waning, Uncle Joe. When the family, again, needed ministering after hearing of the imminence of Lori’s passing, Uncle Joe. Funerals, Uncle Joe. No matter where he was in the country, Uncle Joe would come, my aunt a willing travel companion.

When my not-so-little one was baptized a few months ago by a pastor we respect and admire, if I’m being frank, our one disappointment was that Uncle Joe [because of a recent stroke] could not be in the water alongside him.

Beyond the rites and rituals of religion, Uncle Joe was my counselor, my spiritual advisor, and a friend of my heart. His compassion for others was palpable. It’s clear I’m not the only one who felt this way. Since their move to Northern Alabama a few years ago, I’ve noted the steady stream of former church members, friends, and people picked up along the way in their home.

I’m convinced he, like my mom, was a saint. He loved and adored my aunt and tolerated her strong will and the zaniness that comes with the family genes. [See the post on my dad to get a glimpse of my aunt’s personality]. He graciously tolerated my dad’s other two sisters, both divorcées, lightheartedly calling him their husband too.

My Uncle Joe had a keen spiritual wisdom that I rarely encounter. I’m not referring to religious rules or doctrine or biblical exegesis—though he was expert in each–but I’m referring to a wisdom that was steeped in a committed relationship [with God], in faith, belief, and trust; it resulted in a spiritual practicality that often unseated me.

When he preached my sister’s funeral sermon, in his urging us to take all the pain, anger, and suffering over the loss of Lori to God, he reminded us that God doesn’t cause death, that because God is Light and Life, death cannot abide in His presence. Instead, he taught, God stepped aside.

I’d never, ever thought of the relationship of God to death in that way, but there’s incredible [mind-blowing] common [and spiritual] sense in that statement.

While I don’t know all the whys and hows, I’m grateful for my uncle’s life. I’m grateful for his light and for the gifts he gave. He had a sharp wit and unique sense of humor that didn’t abate even though he experienced a brain injury.

Last November—out of the blue—he suffered a major stroke and a massive heart attack. Doctors did not think he would leave the hospital, but he survived and thrived for 10 more months. Fourteen years ago, he suffered a major heart attack—the one called “the widow-maker.” At my sister Karlette’s funeral six and a half years ago, he commented on the fact that the time of his heart attack [in 2005] and her first breast cancer diagnosis coincided. He mused that perhaps God kept him here so he could minster to us. Last year, he officiated my sister Lori’s funeral. Two months later, he suffered the stroke and heart attack. I’ve often wondered, was he kept here to minister us through two of the most difficult challenges of our lives?

When my sister Karlette passed away, another one of my dad’s sisters pointed out that by holding on till we could travel to her and say our good-byes, Karlette gave us the gift of time. As I think about my uncle’s crises last year, I’m sure that is exactly what God gave us—the gift of time. Ten additional months for the people in his world to go to him and love on him and support him and let him know how much he meant to them. Ten more months for his wife to dote on him and show him that she would be okay [eventually] if death were part them. Ten more months for his sons to express their love for him through giving their time and through the intimacy of care. Ten more months for us to witness his fight, his strength, his wit and his humor.

I’m grateful that I was given time to express to him how much he meant to me. I’m grateful that since their move here, my hubby and son were able to develop a relationship with him. I’m grateful that my aunt was given time to adjust to a different type of life and pull from stores of strength she may not have known she had.

The knife of grief is sharp and [seemingly] unrelenting, but I’m grateful for my uncle’s patience and the gift of rescue that brought us together. I’m most grateful for the power of the resurrection, the sure to come great reunion with our loved ones who fell asleep in Christ, and that final moment when “death will be swallowed up in Victory.”

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  (I Corinthians 15:51-54 KJV)


Note: No worries about the whole “favorites” thing mentioned above. It’s a game my dad’s sisters and first cousins started when they were young. I fully intend to keep it going, but we won’t let the others know there is verifiable proof that I was his favorite. 😉

Are You Happy with Your Story?*

“Story Girl” by Connie S.

I received the most adorable tag this weekend! It came from my penfriend Connie S. I sort of coveted the tag when I saw it in a Facebook photo among several tags she crafted a few weeks ago for a “Little Wings and Tim Holtz” challenge on swap-bot. This one was an extra, so she sent it as a gift as I “get back into teaching mode.” Happy dance!

Connie wrote a note on pretty floral stationery and ended with the question–“Are you happy with your story?”

On this rainy, bluesy Monday when the headaches are unrelenting, it’s difficult to answer when my mood and pain are trying to do the typing.

Interestingly, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about “my story”–the narrative of my life that shapes who I am, my path, and who I am becoming. Particularly, I’ve noticed  just how often other people insist on writing my story or are set on what they think I should do and be; I’ve also taken note of just how often what they think I should do, think, and be benefits them in some way.

Though sometimes [most times, maybe?] individuals are actually advocating for us, I realize if we’re just going along and not paying attention, we can make it easy for someone else to write or rewrite our story. Therefore, we must be intentional about guarding our own developing script.

My life isn’t perfect–it’s certainly “been no crystal stair,” but those ups and downs and all arounds have developed in me a deep sense of empathy and compassion. The questions yet unanswered have taught me to love the questions and either seek the answers with an open heart and mind or patiently wait through the process. I’m learning still that sometimes the answers will come on “the other side of glory.” In my weakest moments, through Christ I’ve found strength–grace sufficient–to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.

I have an amazing family, the best friends, and good energy in my most important spaces. When I count my blessings, they far outnumber my setbacks and disappointments. Even in my most dejected state or my hour of most profound need, my gratitude deepens and widens over the blessed life God has given me and over His indescribable, incomparable love for me.

Am I happy with my story? Yes indeed. I’m not sure I’d know how to behave with a different story.

Are you happy with your story?


*My apologies to those of you who received a draft of this post via email or in your reader. Somehow the WordPress bot decided to publish before I hit the publish button. 

Lanai Views | #WordlessWednesday

Lanai

“In the Mountains,” Li Bai (Chinese Poet, 701-762)

You ask me what my idea is, staying in the green mountains?
I smile but have no reply, my heart at peace in itself.

As the peach blossom on the flowing water goes into the unknown,
there is another heaven and earth, not among people.

Trans. William P. Coleman


About the images: Photos from a trip to Maui, Hawaii many moons ago. The photos were shot from a yacht early one evening.

Joy Break 3 | Infallible Sign | #Wordless Wednesday

Raven’s Joy I

Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

For today’s #WordlessWednesday, I’m sharing three photos my Raven shot with her “not iPhone” while on a walk yesterday. 🙂 She texted the photos to me with the message that she “thought to flower up [my] day.” I smiled from the inside out at this beautiful tribute to my love for photographing nature.

Raven’s Joy II

The message was timely. I spent much of yesterday fretting about an “unfairness” over which I have little control, and Raven’s joy served as a powerful sign of God’s presence.

Raven’s Joy III

Thank you, Raven for sharing your light and joy!

Joy Break 1 | Discipline and Practice

“Barnsley Daisy” by Kelly of Happy Shack Designs

Around this time of the year, I usually begin a weeklong series of kindness posts, but this time around, I decided to focus on joy.

Despite the trauma and drama of the past several months (see last Monday’s post), I’m okay. As I mentioned at the very beginning of the year:

I’m learning to practice a steadying joy no matter the circumstance. This does not mean I work on being perpetually happy; it means that when LIFE does its thing, instead of driving myself crazy with worry or lying down in defeat, I rest in God’s presence and stand firm as His strength carries me.  Pics and Posts, January 1, 2019

Many people confuse joy with happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not tethered to our emotional state. It does not depend on external circumstances or conditions. Joy is a discipline, and when we train ourselves in joy, we walk with knowledge that “a dark moment” is not the whole life. Therefore, in our innermost being, we are not held captive by our emotions–no matter what is going on around us.

I’m learning to lean in and remain in the Presence of my Heavenly Father. I need Him day by day, hour by hour, and being in His presence helps me confront my deepest aches and longings and experience life to the fullest even as I’m working through disappointments and pain.

The assaults can be wearying, but I’m convinced when we practice joy, we won’t succumb to the madness life tosses our way.


About today’s image: The Barnsley daisy above has been sitting in my “to be blogged” bin for a year. It was a side-swap from Liberate Your Art 2018. I’d planned to include them in this year’s LYA posts, but the swap coordinator, Kat, decided to take a much needed hiatus this year. The photo was taken by Kelly of Happy Shack Designs. Check out her website to see more of her photography and handmade jewelry. You can find her blog here, Artful Happiness.

Love Means…

“Love” by Robert Indiana, 6th Avenue at 55th Street, New York City. Photo by Jennifer Howland Hill.

“Love” is likely the most difficult word to define. We talk about what it means, but definitions fail to hit the mark. Since it finds meaning in action and in character, we describe love more than we define it.

“Love means” was the final prompt for Love Notes 27. Peggy, again, did not disappoint as she shared a poem which demonstrates the evolving meaning(s) of love as she travels the decades.

Love Means
By Peggy L.

At the age of 10
Love means my mama’s smile and a hug.

At the age of 20
Love means bodies tangled in the sheets.

At the age of 30
Love means walking my sweet daughter to class before heading to work.

At the age of 40
Love means letting my baby find her own life, away from me.

At the age of 50
Love means discovering myself and learning to paint.

At the age of 60
Love means…

I’ll let you know.

I love how the poem touches on parental love, romantic love, self-love, and the “unknowns” of love.

As for my part, exhausted and with a mile-long to-do list I couldn’t  even attempt. I went to the Source of Love and sent my partner 1 Corinthians 13:4-8–but again, that describes rather than defines love, and there are more negatives than positives in the description.

According to 1 John 4:8. God is love. Love, therefore, is as complex and multifaceted as God. Perhaps, this is what makes it difficult to define.

If you missed Peggy’s responses to LN 27 Prompt 1 and Prompt 2, be sure click the previous link–twice!


About the imageThe postcard above was sent to me by my friend Cy after a trip to New York last summer.

From the postcard back: The artist, Robert Indiana, settled in New York City in 1954 and began making pop art. His most famous work, Love, was originally designed as a Christmas card for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1964. The image quickly became a symbol of peace at a time when the country had become involved in the Viet Nam War. The 12-foot sculpture was installed at the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th Street in 1971, two blocks from MoMA. It has become one of the most photographed icons in New York City. Every day thousands of couples visit the sculpture and awkwardly ask a stranger to take their photograph.

Happy Weekend!