A Written Word: A Small Thing

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.

Psalm 34:18 MSG

Among the precious notes written to me by my colleagues and students is a touching letter and beautiful tulip sculpted by my multi-talented student Tyhara Rain.

I’ve read the letter many times in the quiet of the night and when I pause during the day. Tyhara’s soothing words remind me into Whose arms I can fall when the darkest despair descends:

When you feel too emotionally worn out to get through the day, when your heart aches too much to let you fall asleep, I encourage you to close your eyes…breathe…imagine yourself cradled in the loving arms of our Savior. Feel free to bury your face in His chest, and feel free to feel the ache and sorrow of loss.  Sob if you have to. He understands. Feel his arms wrap tightly and protectively around you in your broken state. Listen to His whisper as He reminds you of His promises of life eternal, everlasting joy, comfort during trials, and His nearness to you always. Stay in His embrace as long as you need. When you’re ready, open your eyes, know God is always with you, and claim the power of God through Jesus to get you through…

I carry Tyhara’s letter with me throughout the day. It remains in my “pouch of pretties,” available when I need to refer to it. The tulip, Lori’s favorite flower, rests on the mantel. In Tyhara’s words, “a small thing to bring comfort […].”

See You “in the Morning,” Sister-Girl

Lori Ann by Tapman Media

My guys and I traveled to New Orleans the weekend before last–to lay eyes on and touch my sister Lori, to love on her and pray over her. Even though she could not verbally communicate with us, she was responsive. She even opened her eyes briefly. In our prayers for a mighty miracle, we also submitted to Divine Wisdom. There was so much light in her, still so much fight that we walked away, hopeful that we’d see her again the following weekend.

That was not to be.

My sister, Lori, took her last breath a few days after our return, Wednesday night, September 12, just before midnight. And now, I feel like I’m holding my own breath…again.

I am angry. Disappointed. Hurt. Grieving miserably. I wish I could sit this one out and not go through it at all. I draw parallels between Grendel, the monster of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and cancer, a horrible night-crawler that catches us unaware and snuffs out lives. Jealous over our happiness, our relationships. Our very humanity. And that horrible beast took Lori from us, like it took Karlette five and a half years ago.

One of my nieces texted me yesterday expressing her utter disappointment and anger about Lori’s passing. We were all praying that her desperate situation could become an incredible story of Divine intervention. I assured her that I share her feelings, and encouraged her to give full vent of her anger to God. He can handle it. Furthermore, He’s well acquainted with our grief and He’s just as hurt and angry as we are that we are going through this…AGAIN.

I read and reread the following quote almost daily for several weeks and finally shared it with my mom and sister:

God didn’t set this journey in motion. He’s just as angry as you are that you have to walk this road. But He promises you this: He will walk this road with you. And He will be there for you when you reach the end of it. God loves you.  –from the television series Touched by an Angel

God is a compassionate, loving Father, cradling us and weeping with us. His amazing grace, the blessed hope of Christ’s return to take us Home, preparation for the biggest family reunion ever, and a heavenly future without the suffering and pain of illness and death rescue me from the darkest depths of despair.

I already miss Lori like crazy. She was a good person, who welcomed all into her life and loved them deeply. She loved giving gifts, finding just the right thing. Like Karlette, she loved beautifying her spaces. She spent so much time babysitting many of the nieces and nephews that we can claim she “half raised” them. Her guys and two little girls (her granddaughters) were her heart, but there was so much room for many more.

Though I grieve over the loss of her, I do so with an unshakeable hope, rooted in Christ:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18

“Lavender Tulips for Lori,” by Tapman Media

Sometimes All You Can Do…

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.  –1 Peter 5:7

It was such a pleasant surprise to find a card from my little “sister” Brittany in my mailbox when I returned from work today.

Photo/Scrapbook Page by Maggie Mae Sharp, Maggie’s Quill, Inc.

Sometimes all you can do…is bow your head and pray.

Brittany wrote that she thought about me when she saw and purchased this card almost four months ago. Sending it was delayed, but it arrived right on time–just when I need prayer and a good chuckle.

Brittany could have sent her loving message via text message, but I ❤ that she wrote it in a cute card and sent it via snail mail. I can tuck it in my planner or a journal and read it again and again.

Someone you know needs to know that you’re thinking about them, so grab a card and write a note. A couple of sentences go a long way to lift someone’s spirits.

Thanks for the prayers and the love, Brit!


Note about the card: The card comes from “Maggie Mae’s Scrapbook.” The back of the card gives a little history about the company: For many years, Maggie Mae Sharp has kept her favorite memories of family and friends in a scrapbook, combining nostalgic charm of antique photography with the wit and wisdom of treasured family jokes, quotes, scriptures, and common sense adages. Today, she brings some of her favorite combinations of pictures and words in greeting card form. Maggie Mae says, “I hope you will enjoy sharing some of my scrapbook memories with the special people God has placed inyour life.”

Raindrops and Perfection

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. –Matthew 5:45 MSG

It seems appropriate to talk about rain today–this 13th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina–but I have no desire to revisit that horror today. The photo above features my favorite line from R.H. Peat’s poem “Perfection.” When I “encountered” it on the blog Sightseeing at Home a few months ago, I decided to create a series of photos using lines from the poem.

Every oak will lose a leaf to the wind.
Every star-thistle has a thorn.
Every flower has a blemish.
Every wave washes back upon itself.
Every ocean embraces a storm.
Every raindrop falls with precision.
Every slithering snail leaves its silver trail.
Every butterfly flies until its wings are torn.
Every tree-frog is obligated to sing.
Every sound has an echo in the canyon.
Every pine drops its needles to the forest floor.
Creation’s whispered breath at dusk comes
with a frost and leaves within dawn’s faint mist,
for all of existence remains perfect, adorned,
with a dead sparrow on the ground. –“Perfection” by R.H. Peat

The photo above is the first in the series. I even photographed a dead sparrow I happened across one afternoon. There was nothing poetic about that image, so we can probably forget about adding the last line to the series–unless I approach it less literally.

The incongruity between the poetic lines and the actual image of the sparrow reminds me of our tendency to use language to “pretty up” some really “jacked up” aspects of life. I’m learning that such language doesn’t minimize the ugliness and does little, if anything, to help. In some instances, what appears to be encouragement or inspiration is actually damaging. There’s nothing glamorous about struggle. Nothing to celebrate in being strong enough to withstand the blows. People who struggle with mental and/or physical illnesses don’t need platitudes. They need help. They need support. They need love. It is easier to come to grips with life when we realize, no matter how hellish, life is just that. . .life.

Isn’t that the point of Peat’s poem? Life with all its “stuff” happens to us all–whether we’re good, bad, nice, nasty, or somewhere in between. That is part of our messy, perfect existence in this world.

Full Vent

I’ve been angry lately. Justifiably so. About many things.

Normally, my anger dissipates rather quickly, but this anger has been simmering for some time and is now a full-blown blaze which I can’t easily extinguish.

As I was walking through campus a few days ago alone with my thoughts, the anger flared and I felt it with everything in me. Just as I was beginning to appease myself and reel it in, I was given Divine permission to be angry and to give my anger full vent.

Scripture tells us to “be angry, but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). People generally get so caught up in the “do not sin” part that they forget that anger is a natural response to life’s injustices. Scripture validates our emotional response to the wrongs committed against us and humanity in general, the altered circumstances when everything was “just fine,” the disruptions in life that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, and plain unfair.

Be angry.

Grammatically speaking, God invites us to be–to welcome anger as a state of [our] being. There is something in the scripture that urges us to feel what we feel fully and to let it momentarily become part of who we are—without apology. Such full in the face immersion in the anger diminishes the magnitude, the awfulness of the thing and we can move toward reconciliation and healing.

I’m generally not a ranter. I don’t get angry enough to cause alarm. I don’t yell (too loudly). I don’t throw things. I don’t threaten and I certainly don’t hit. I’ve been trying to put words (and actions) to what it means for me to give full expression to my anger.

As I figure this out, I’m noting that the biblical parameters give me a lot of room to vent…as long as I do no harm to others or myself. As long as anger is a temporary state of being, resolved by “sundown.”

Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down. And do not give the devil an opportunity [to lead you into sin by holding a grudge, or nurturing anger, or harboring resentment, or cultivating bitterness]. –Ephesians 4:26-27 AMP

 

Seven Keys for a Productive and Fulfilling Life

Even though they are spoken directly to graduates, I love the motivational and inspirational graduation speeches. I certainly felt inspired Saturday night as I listened to actor and producer Darryl Bell, of A Different World fame, address the graduates at my alma mater–which is also my employer. 😀

Bell delivered a succinct, timely, and power-packed list speech that resonated with me and reminded me of some basic principles for navigating life. Here are his tips and what I remember of his commentary on each one.

  1.  Use the gifts that call you.  Choose a vocation because of your compulsion toward it, your passion, not simply because you’re competent in an area. Your being good at what you do but hating it leads to a miserable life.  Pay attention to the thing that keeps calling you, the thing you can’t help but do. “Your gifts have been calling you. Answer them.”
  2. Remember the four-year-old.  Four-year-olds are confident that they can do anything.  A few years later, kids begin to learn their strengths and their limits, and begin to doubt themselves. Be like four-year-olds and do not put limits on what is possible. Use all of your abilities and gifts, empowered by your education, to solve the world’s problems.
  3. See the world. Travel beyond your state, beyond your country. Experience other places and cultures. Those interactions will open you up to other ways of seeing and being. If you only know America, you can’t be competitive in a global economy. Travel changes your perspective on life and everything you do.
  4. Pick somebody else.  Sometimes you won’t hear extraordinary advice given because you hear the same voice so often that you automatically tune it out.  Pick someone else. Always ask another person; get another opinion. It affirms and confirms. Sometimes you have to hear [the extraordinary advice] from someone else.
  5. Ask for help.  No one accomplishes anything without the help of others. Life is worse than hard. You’ll have times when you’ll face bone-crushing, soul-crushing defeat, where you’ll feel like “it” isn’t even possible. Interestingly, when you are going through these moments, when you most need help, contrary to what is logical and instinctive, you are least likely to ask for help.  You must fight through your vulnerability and through your shame and ask for help. You’ll be surprised by the people who exceed your expectations in providing what you need to turn the situation around. Be prepared to ask for help.
  6. Be kind. Kindness goes a long way and is long remembered.
  7. Embrace the fear. You experience fear when you try to accomplish something big and you are afraid to fail. “Everything that I accomplished that was worth something scared me and I learned to run toward it, to embrace it.” Fear tells you this is something worth doing. Embrace it! Run toward it! Grab it! Now, go change the world!

Bell punctuated his list with (mostly) entertaining anecdotes from his life that kept us all riveted. He offered keys for a productive and fulfilling life. There are other keys, of course, but I think the graduates found the most important one in the school’s motto–“God first!”

But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.   –Matthew 6:33 AMP

Until next time…

[Note: Photo from Pixabay.com]

Sunflowers and Tears

“Those who sow in tears…”

You’ve probably figured out by now that I am incredibly blessed to have a number of friends who are artists. They do amazing work and generously spread their light. My friend Lindy, whom I met via swap-bot, sent me the “scripture” sunflower painting above a few years ago.

I was going through a period of deep sadness, but “life” needed me, so I had to continue functioning in the midst of my pain. At times, the only thing that kept me going was the assurance of others that “this, too, shall pass.”

This is what I appreciate most about Lindy’s gift. She could have sent just the sunflower, and for me that would have been enough. But, knowing what I needed, she added the scripture.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  Psalm 126:5.

The painting reminded me then (and continues to remind me) that there will not always be pain, that if I push through it–if I sow through it–songs of joy will indeed rise in my spirit again.

And the sunflower, you know, is my constant reminder to “face the Sun.”

Lindy is a gifted and prolific artist who offers paint lessons and paint parties from her home studio. You can see more of her work in her Etsy Store, Nana Who Paints. Check her out! I’m sure  you’ll find something you like. 🙂