Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remembering Mama

It's a week for remembering Moms. So, I'm stepping back in time, smiling at these antique pics of my Mama, born in 1916 in New Jersey, with one older sister (12 years her senior). My grandparents lost four babies, all girls, in-between her sister and her.


Mama's mother, Grandmother Firth, as the family called her was a jolly person. Though I never got to know her personally (she died on a visit to see me when I was five months old), I heard lots of stories. Mama would often say what a gentle soul she was. You can even see it in her face. 



Mama lived to age 89, faithfully serving the Lord in full-time Christian camping ministry with Daddy for 50 years. They were married for 65 years before Jesus called Mama Home. Daddy followed her two years later at age 94. They left a strong visual of what love looks like in a marriage. Mama gave this picture to Daddy prior to their wedding. 






Shortly after their wedding, Mama and Daddy honeymooned at the seashore in Atlantic City. 


While growing up, I often walked past Mama's bedroom door in the morning before leaving for school. Through the cracked door, I saw her kneeling by the bed in prayer. She and Daddy would also kneel by the bed at night before slipping under the covers. If Daddy were here, he'd probably joke that they were looking for something but figured as long as they were down there, they might as well pray. 

At Mama's memorial service in 2005, her only grandson read a prayer she left her family. The words are not original with her; they came from the apostle Paul who wrote and prayed them in his closing remarks to the Ephesian church.

After her service, I jotted in the margin of my Bible beside Ephesians 3:14-21 that Mama prayed this for her family. I decided that I would continue the legacy and pray this "Paul/Mama" prayer for my kids and grandkids, too. 

Perhaps you, too, will find the following scripture passage a fitting prayer for your family, whether they are walking with the Lord or far from Him.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV).

Happy Mother's Day!

Eileen

Psalm 46:10

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Even to Your Graying Years

 

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

-Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

My 85-year-old mother sat across from me in her rocker. At 45, I felt a tug I couldn’t quite identify, pulling me faster down some imaginary aisle headed who knew where. Like my grade school friend pulling me out the school door at recess and onto the playground. For what? Some bully to tease and torment me? Or for an accident waiting to happen?

A similar foreboding reached out with icy fingers and clutched me at the thought of aging. I desperately longed for my mother, older and wiser, to shine a light on the journey that lay ahead.

“What’s it like, Mama?” I leaned forward on the sofa, legs casually crossed Indian style. I prided myself that I could still position myself that way without my hip locking up or pain shooting down my leg.

Her scalp tightened, ever so slightly, momentarily reordering her cottony, white hair. A dreamy expression filled her eyes, and she looked past me. Then her gaze settled on my face. “To be honest,” she patted her chest, “inside, I still feel like I’m 15. I still have hopes and dreams.” A smile inflated her wrinkled cheeks. Her eyebrows knit like mountain peaks. “Some days I’d like to bolt out down the street as fast as I can, but my body won’t let me.”

How sad. 

Selfishly, I wondered if I’d experience the same phenomenon. On the one hand, Mama provided a glimpse into a woman whose spirit hadn’t been squelched by time. On the other, she provided a reality that comes to each of us.

Growing older eventually, most likely, will involve bodies that wear out and eyes that grow dim.

The nugget of hope Mama left me that day didn’t lie in the tangible, physical realm.

No, it bubbled up from deep within, from a spirit alive with youth, vigor. The challenge—finding expression for a young person trapped in an old body.

While Mama couldn’t zip down the road in Keds, she could zip through the grocery store. So much so, I had trouble keeping up with her. One minute she’d be in the freezer section and the next out of sight. Totally gone. I’d find her perusing the canned goods, checking labels. Just as I sprinted up to her, she’d whizz away, rounding the corner to another aisle. Maybe her grocery store marathon was her way of dealing with her inner teenager who longed to break free and run. I don’t know. All I know is Mama could move.

At 4 ft. 8 in. (she claimed she was shrinking), she put the energizer bunny to shame. A Lilliputian looking through rheumy eyes, she refused to call it quits on youth. You might say she was a realistic optimist. She knew her body was old, but she refused to “get old.”

Two things served her well: Prayer and humor. While Mama could worry with the best of ‘em, she never gave into the enemy’s hold for long. A trip past her bedroom door revealed a lady on her knees, taking her concerns to the throne of grace. And yes, still on her knees at 85.

She’d rise with a twinkle in her eyes as if she and God shared a secret, then got busy cooking, ironing, or mending, a hum on her lips.

She knew God was with her and had a plan for her. With the apostle Paul, she refused to lose heart, for though her outer body was decaying, her inner self was being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Now that I’m 66, I lean in ever more to my Mama’s words and ways she modeled, especially in my graying years.

In doing so, I can emerge with a smile on my face and joy in my heart, all the way Home.   

~~ 

(Stay tuned for a future post on how Mama modeled humor)

In the meantime, check out this book from Karen O'Connor, trusted mentor and author friend who's compiled several humorous books for seniors. 

Gettin' Old Ain't for Wimps   



 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Tender Touch on a Winter Day


I experienced another "stop-in-my-tracks" moment in the kitchen this morning while preparing breakfast and lunch foods.

More often than not this happens in the early morning, likely as an extension of my quiet time in the Scripture with Jesus before putting hands to daily tasks. 

Chopping celery for salad, I sensed that still, small voice utter in my mind, "I'm pleased with you simply because you are My daughter. Not because of what you do or don't do, but because of Who I AM--your Father who loves you. just because you're you."

My shoulders relaxed. I lingered in God's embrace, reassured of His infinite, incomprehensible, yet unconditional love fulfilled in Christ for a messed up gal whom He's chosen to take by the hand and walk Home, teaching me, growing me, speaking through me all along the way. 

With the greatest, most profound delight--His Presence.

In a quiet reminder from His Word.

In an invisible, yet calming Hand on my shoulder.

In an eastern bluebird fluffing her feathers on my dogwood tree. 

In a patch of frozen snow, glstening in the sunlight.

In a random chorus come to mind and out the lips.

In a grandchild's paper snowflake hanging from the ceiling, swirling in the air.

In a spouse's eyes. 

In another believing sister's hug.

In a voice so tender, speaking love to my heart, affirming a relationship, an eternal bond between Father and daughter. 

A tender unforgettable touch on a winter day. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Believe in Christmas





Two gifts.

Two people.

Two responses.

Zacharias, a priest who entered the presence of the Lord on behalf of the people, did not believe God’s answer to prayer delivered through Gabriel. The gift of John—the one who would go before the Lord, a voice crying out in the wilderness, the one who pointed to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

Zacharias did not trust the very God he served, even after asking God for a son in his old age.

“How can I know for certain?”

He was an old man with an immature faith.

On the other hand, Mary, a lowly maiden, found favor with God and believed Gabriel’s incredible announcement that she would bear the Gift--Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. She trusted God would do exactly as He said. She simply wondered how since she was a virgin.

“How will it happen?”

I find it fascinating that Mary didn’t consider the child might possibly come through Joseph at a later time after their marriage. Even before Gabriel provided conception details, she alludes to the event as though it will happen to her as a virgin (Luke 1:35). God will implant this holy Child by and through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Most High (the Trinity involved in this wondrous conception). In my mind, it took more faith to believe she, as a virgin, would miraculously conceive and bear the promised Messiah than for Zacharias to accept the answer to the prayer he’d already prayed and seen answered in a similar fashion hundreds of years prior for Abraham and Sarah. The precedent for God’s miracle of aging conceptions had been set. There was no precedent for what happened to Mary.

Yet, she believed in the miracle of Christmas with the ready response: “Behold, I am the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38).

She was a young girl with a mature faith.

Gabriel added assurance to her already strong faith with his words, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

For Zacharias, disbelief rendered him tongue tied, in this instance, by God’s sovereign design.

For Mary, belief loosened her tongue in praise. What results is the beautiful Magnificat that flows through history like a resounding musical testimony to the wonder and greatness of God her Savior, who exalts the humble and deflates the pompous.

Indeed, a mind filled with the wonder of Jesus quells the questions.

So, I’m challenged, even convicted, by how many times I’ve lapsed into a Zacharias response, even when God answers the very prayer I’ve been praying. “But, Lord, how can I know for certain?”

I want to be a gal after Mary’s heart with the ready response: “Behold, I am the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to Your word.” I want my life to show that I believe in Christmas, that with God, all things are possible. I want to simply trust Him to do what He knows is best for me, whatever that might look like.

How about you?

Zacharias or Mary?

One leads to a tongue tied in disbelief, a stunted testimony.

The other leads to a tongue loosed in praise and testimony for all God has done.

Which do you choose?

 


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Letters by a Modern Mystic by Frank Laubach


 You and you and you and I do experience fine fresh contact with God sometimes, and do carry out His will sometimes. One question now to be put to the test is this: Can we have that contact with God all the time? All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence, can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time? (19)

Seems a stretch, doesn't it? 

To many of Laubach's missionary coworkers and fellow believers in Jesus, the notion of intentionally and consistently focusing on God throughout the day also seemed far-fetched, beyond what one can expect while living in this world, in this human body. They insisted that the demands of daily life simply require too much mental energy to maintain such a focus. 

Yet in company with Brother Lawrence, Laubach launched out to conduct his own spiritual experiment.

What he discovered is that the mind actually can absorb two thoughts at a time, even while engaged in work and human relationships. The mind can think on God while talking to someone, while teaching, while writing, while working machinery, or conducting business. 

But like most worthwhile pursuits, intentional focus on God takes practice. 

Many failures, a few successes.

In time, ultimately forming a habit, one that ushered Laubach into a vastly new and fresh appreciation of and wonder at the person of God and how He shows up to speak to the listening soul.

Through creation. Through His Word. Through reflecting on Jesus Christ. 

And yes, through the unexpected faces and gestures of impoverished Moros children in the Philippines where Laubach served as a missionary in the 1930s. 

So enraptured was Laubach by the richness of God's daily presence that he journaled his experiment and shared it in book form. This tiny book is one to ponder over and return to often for encouragement to press into the reality of God moment by moment. Laubach includes practical tips in the appendix on ways to "win the game with minutes" as he phrases it. 

Whether humming a hymn while fixing supper, meditating on a scripture while we drive, praying for those we pass as we take a walk, glimpsing a picture of Jesus on the wall, or whispering to God about every daily detail, we can grow in our awareness and fellowship with the God who created us, redeemed us through His Son, and delights in spending time with us.  

Check out Letters by a Modern Mystic on Amazon. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Peace Be With You

 

David Pyatt, Free Images


The mural in the room catches my eye. Actually, it’s difficult not to see the picture since the image is splayed across the wall of this first-grade Sunday school room where I happen to teach creative writing to kids on Mondays.

With arms raised, hair whipping about His face, Jesus stands in the boat, fearful followers gripping the ledge, peering over the side at the turbulent waves. Written on the side of the boat is U.S.S. PEACE.

If you know the biblical story, you know what happens—Jesus, the Creator of the wind and waves, says, “Peace, be still!” Noted years ago by one of my college professors, a more literal translation from the Greek is, “Shut up!”  

And, of course, the elements obeyed.

I wish it were that simple with my students, especially the young teens, who are testing me on many levels. Yet when I walk into that classroom and see that mural, I smile, for the same Creator God who spoke that dreadful day still speaks to calm turbulent storms.

In hearts.

In a teacher who needs courage to face kids.

In kids who need courage to face their fears.

And there are many due to broken homes, identity confusion, cultural lies they embrace and act out.

Darkness swells and swirls around them.

In them.

But as I start the class with prayer, I point to the mural and remind these troubled teens, many of whom do not come from Christian homes, that Jesus can provide peace in the chaos.

Whatever the dark storm.

With the amen, heads lift, and eyes glimmer, just a spark . . . of hope.

That’s what Jesus does when He stands in a boat and commands creation into stunned silence.

He shares a similar sentiment when entering the room where the disciples huddle in fear after the resurrection. In his gospel account, within the same chapter, John notes Jesus’ greeting on three separate occasions. “Peace be with you” (John, chapter 20). How they needed to hear those comforting words in the midst of their fear and confusion.

How we need to hear those words in the midst of our fear and confusion.

Jesus, our Creator and Resurrected Savior, gives peace.

When He walks into our heart’s room, He says, “Peace be with you.” Sometimes, when fears are large and faith is small, He shouts, “Peace, be still!”

Calm and courage flood the heart. Perfect Love has entered the room and where Love is, fear cannot flourish. Only peace.

Oh, my we allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, no matter the chaotic conditions. How He longs to settle down within our hearts, settle us down as we invite Him to make Himself at home.




Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Power of Seasonal Stories


September is such a lovely time of year, I pondered during my morning Abba Walk. Easy to say on this day of VA sunshine and cooler breeze gently sweeping my hair from my face.

Mama used to say September was a sad time of year. I suspect that was because the season brought memories of loved ones who’d died.

Interesting how one season can generate positive feelings for one person but negative feelings for another.

I wonder if that’s not often the case with our seasons of life. Sunshine during childhood days for one might be rain for another. Or likely for most of us, a combination of weather. All of us can point to events, whether during childhood, teen years, young adulthood, or even more recently, where the emotional imprint runs deep in our minds and hearts. If and when we share these memories with someone else, our faces alert the listener to the imprint. We don’t have to alert our faces. The memory does that for us. Eyes sparkle, skin glows when we recount happy moments. We may even lean forward, reinforce excitement with hand gestures. On the other hand, brow furrows, mouth sags when we recount sad or troubling moments. Our shoulders droop, body may slump in the chair. The mere mention of the stormy event whips us into defeat.

This is the power of story. Our own or others. Life is made up of seasons which in turn produce stories.

It’s not really so much about the happy, the sad, the tragic, or anything in-between. What’s fundamental is what we do with those seasonal stories. Therein lies the power of redemption.

If we believe in a sovereign God, and I do, who according to the psalmist has created us in His image and has His hand on us from conception (Psalm 139), then events in our lives take on meaning and purpose. While I didn’t choose to be born in a missionary family or experience the death of my older brother when I was four years old, I have learned over the years to lean into both of those dynamics with all the particular nuances presented in both--the good, the bad, and the ugly, as they say.

Aware that according to the Bible I live in a fallen world, and I’m one who contributes to that fallenness by virtue of my inherent sin nature, I find it much easier to accept the ramifications of a fallen world (Psalm 51:5; Genesis 8:21; Ephesians 2:1-3). Because God gives sunshine and rain to all His creation, I can live in light of Job’s words after tragedy struck: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10, NIV). Any outpouring of God’s goodness, on the just and unjust alike, flows from His mercy and grace (Matthew 5:45).

I don’t know about you, but that puts seasonal stories into perspective for me.

Creator God loves me. Loves you. He created us for relationship with Him and with others.

However, rebellion against Him stemming from man’s original choice to sin in the Garden separated us from Him, broke our relationship with Him and marred all other relationships (Genesis 3:1-24). Thus, sin, sorrow, sickness, death, all things tragic, entered the human landscape, with no hope of remedy apart from God’s intervention. Though, sadly, we prideful humans have tried to restore that relationship through our own fallen, broken efforts. Thus, the plethora of belief systems generated by the angel of light, Satan, the great deceiver and latched onto by our sinful hearts. In essence, all false belief systems boil down to good works, which according to Scripture is nothing but filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:9-20). Only He, the Perfect One, the One who created us in His image could restore what was lost (Colossians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17).


So, in His mercy and grace and longing to reestablish relationship with us, the ones on whom He set His love, He devised a plan to restore us to relationship with Him and with each other. That plan involved the entire Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—each playing a part to call us back Home to His great heart (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Redemption involved sacrifice, because agape, God’s love, equals sacrifice (John 3:16). The Father gave the Son to be the Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit ignites faith in our hearts to believe and receive His great gift of salvation (1 John 4:14; John 16:8-11; 1 Peter 1:2-9). He then makes us into a new creation in Christ and goes to work reshaping us into the image of His dear Son (Romans 8:29). This will take a lifetime and will be fully realized when we finally see Him face to face (1 John 3:2).

Only in relationship with God through Christ can we fully appreciate, and yes, redeem our seasonal stories. Prayerfully, the good stories call us to marvel in God’s gracious gifts and take note of what He wants to say to us through them. The sad, yes, tragic, stories call us to remember we live in a fallen world, of which we contribute, but that in the vast fallenness, God longs to redeem that season’s story for use in His glorious, larger Kingdom story. Perhaps to comfort others with the comfort which He has given us (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Perhaps to bring us running into His arms, relying on Him again, which is the only, truly safe place to be, regardless of what season we live through. Perhaps the specific season is for a reason known only to Him. So, we choose to trust in the foundational, anchor truth: He loves us and in the mystery of His workings, only takes us through the weather that is ultimately best for us.

When brought to the Cross and empowered by the Resurrection (new life in Christ). every story can ultimately, will ultimately, blossom into spring.


Remembering Mama

It's a week for remembering Moms. So, I'm stepping back in time, smiling at these antique pics of my Mama, born in 1916 in New Jers...