Going Deeper

Recently I had the opportunity to take my Sudanese friend and seven of her children to the beach. She and the three oldest girls jumped in and swam like dolphins. The three little girls, following their lead, ran headlong into the surf – and immediately wiped out. Salty and distressed, they retreated to a very nice tidal pool, eased their way in, and played for hours. It was safe there with no pesky waves, just calm, serene water. Still, there was this pull to the ocean, to frolic in that wild surf.

Eventually the little girls could resist no longer; they decided to brave the waves once more. Carefully, very carefully, they dipped their toes into the surf, breath shallow and hearts pounding. As soon as the water hit them, they ran screaming onto the dry sand, then immediately went back again. The oldest younger daughter, Sahiba, is eight. She is all dark chocolate arms and legs and dimples. Sahiba was determined to learn to swim, but she was scared. She grabbed my hand and took a couple of steps past the shore and into the water.

Sahiba was too afraid to go any farther than knee-deep. The only thing was, that’s where the waves were breaking and she (and I) was being tossed about badly from the full impact. I kept telling her, “Go a step deeper, Sahiba. Hold onto me and take one more step.” Though they have only been in the U.S. for a couple of years, my friend and her older children are reasonably proficient in English; however, once she got excited, Sahiba reverted to her native language. She pointed at the waves and began telling me all about it in Maasalit. Even though I know very few Maasalit words, I definitely understood her meaning: “Can’t you see these big waves? They are knocking me down? I can’t go any further.” But I also understood what she did not – that if she would just go a little farther out, the water would be smoother.

Later on, I was trying to teach Sahiba to float on her back. She would stretch her arms out, stick her toes up, but as soon as I made any move to release her, she immediately stood up. I told her, “If you fight me, you are going to sink.” In that instant, God spoke to my heart: “What about you?” The sun still shone, the waves still pounded, little girls still giggled between waves, but for me, it was a moment frozen in time. I simply could not get away from that question.

Little by little, small successes sprinkled with failures, Sahiba worked her way into deeper water. She still held onto me for dear life, but she conquered her fear – driven both by her desire to move beyond the tidal pool and her trust in me.

On the ride home, the girls chatted quietly about their day at the shore, then one-by-one, they fell asleep. I, however, smiled as I fought back tears. This simple day at the beach was absolutely rich with meaning as God impressed His truth upon my heart.

  • Sometimes when we rush headlong into something, we will wipe out.

We see other people doing things that we wish we could do, so we hurl ourselves into them with great gusto. Only we have no idea what we’re doing, and we might fail. Our enthusiasm can propel us forward, but it may not completely prepare us for the task at hand.

  • But that doesn’t mean we should give up.

Failing the first time, or even the 53rdtime, does not make us a failure. We may not be great at something right away. It often takes time to hone a skill like swimming or playing an instrument or developing the discernment that comes from reading Scripture. We have to practice again and again and again, learning from our mistakes and building on our successes.

  • Playing in the tidal pool builds confidence.

While it lacks the intensity of the ocean, a tidal pool still has its benefits. Sahiba found a small section about knee deep and began practicing putting her head in the water. With a few attempts she became more comfortable being under the water and holding her breath.

  • That doesn’t mean we should stay there forever.

The tidal pool is calm and serene. The baby (age 18 months) wanted nothing to do with the ocean. He was perfectly content to sit and splash in the warm, ankle-deep pool. The noise and the waves terrified him and he wanted no part of that. Sahiba, however, began to long for something more. The tidal pool may be safe, but the excitement level was quite low. More and more often Sahiba began to fix her gaze on the ocean, so close, yet just beyond her reach.

  • We want to go deeper, but we are afraid.

Sahiba saw her mom and sisters swimming and she wanted to join them. But the waves! They were big, so very big! They’d already knocked her down once. That’s a scary, out-of-control experience. But still, her family members were obviously having a great time and she wanted to join them. Sometimes following Jesus is a lot like this. We want to grow deeper in our relationship with Him, but it’s so frightening, so beyond what we are used to, so very…unknown. We long for it, but we can be afraid of what it might require of us. Our inadequacies might be revealed. People might think we are weird. Shoot, we may even have to (GULP…) change certain habits or become a missionary or something crazy like that. Scare-ree!

  • When we stop short, the waves will crash all around us.

Sahiba took a couple of bold steps that brought her into water about knee-deep. She was brave to even try. It took an act of courage to get her to that point. But she stopped at exactly the point where the waves were breaking. She was tossed about, clearly out of control. This made her nervous and she retreated to the safety of the shore. Time and time again she would wade out, get knocked around by the waves, then dash back to safety. She kept trying the same thing and ended up with the same results. Sahiba could see what she wanted, but she was too afraid to go past where she had already been. I think I have done the same thing hundreds of times in my walk with Jesus. I see the faith of other people and long for that kind of intimacy with my Father. There have been times, for example, when I’ve started a Bible study with great enthusiasm. Then things start getting personal. Holy Spirit starts revealing things to me. I don’t like what He’s bringing up. It will hurt if I have to deal with that stronghold. It will cost my comfort level if I actually deal with the issue at hand.  I then dash back to the safety of my status quo, gazing at the freedom Christ offers, but unwilling to take the step past the waves of guilt and remorse and pain crashing all around me.

  • A step beyond our comfort zone things are often surprisingly smoother.

As we step beyond what we have always known and into who we could be, we discover that the surf here is not as fierce as we expected. The waves are still coming in as they always have, but from this vantage point we are able to see them coming and position ourselves to gently roll over the top of them as they crash further on, well past us. Maneuvering through the waves is not nearly as difficult as we expected. It took a dedicated effort to get here, and while our vigilance is still required, the effort is not so great as it once was. Spiritually, we are able to recall our trust in our Father. Recalling the promises He has kept and the ways He has rescued us in the past gives us courage to face the future. This remembering is what I call Practicing the Goodness of God. Problems will surely come so we have to remain aware, but He gently lifts us above them, secure in His love.

  • If we fight Him, we will sink.

It took several tries for me to relay the concept of floating on her back to Sahiba. She was tense, ignored my instructions, and quickly went under. I knew what she needed to do. I needed her to listen to me. I needed her to trust what I was telling her, even if it seemed a little crazy: “WHAT? Point my toes? Let water get in my ears? Stretch my arms straight out??? I don’t think so!”  Unlikely as it may have sounded to her at the time, I knew that if she would trust me, she would float on top of the waves. If she fought even one part of the process, she would sink. As we grow in our trust, Jesus begins to develop our character. Sometimes the things He asks of us are uncomfortable and even a little scary: “Spend time with Me each day. Deal with this deep pain from your childhood. Tell that lady over there how much I love her. Quit pretending with Me; I want you to be gut-level honest in your prayers.” It’s hard sometimes. Yet Jesus knows us inside out. We need to listen to Him and to trust that not only does He know best, He also has the best in mind for our good and His glory.

  • When we are in deep water, we can cling to our Father.

Sometimes Sahiba clung tightly, eyes wide with fear, chattering away at me in Maasalit. Other times she let go for a minute and tried out her own abilities, laughing as she practiced navigating the surf. Several times Sahiba’s head went under, but she always popped back up, and I was there to catch her while she caught her breath. I never left her side. She knew I was right there with her and I wouldn’t let anything happen to her. Similarly, as we begin to grow deeper in our faith, Jesus is right there beside us. It is His hand we cling to. His Word promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. No matter what our fears may try to tell us, no matter what the circumstances look like, this is a truth that is steady and unchanging. When we go through deep water, He is there. Always.

My Mama’s Journals

I had the extreme fortune of being raised by a truly amazing woman. She was little more than a girl herself when I was born, and in many ways we grew up together. But my mom excelled in certain ways that I may never match. She was an artist. Her primary medium was cloth. She made most of our clothes until I became a brand-conscious middle schooler, and she could take a pile of random scraps and create adorable dolls or stuffed animals. My mom sang beautifully and sketched realistic renditions of her creative ideas. My sister and brother respectively inherited these traits, while I shared her enthusiasm for the written word.

One of my favorite things about my mama was how she loved. She cared and sacrificed for us kids, even into our adulthoods. But the One she really loved was Jesus. This woman was gaga crazy over her Jesus. It was practically impossible to talk to her without His name coming up, not even as an intentional thing, but simply because of the depth of their relationship, it naturally sprang out of her. If you talked to Florence, you could know that some Jesus was going to overflow out of her and get splashed all over you. And that was a good thing.

In her latter years, one of the things Mama was famous for was her emails. Of course, as an older person just becoming savvy to the ways of technology, she forwarded every single remotely meaningful thing that someone else forwarded to her. I think perhaps there’s some sort of geriatric rite of passage involved in this. What she was most known for, however, were the emails she wrote herself. Have mercy, that woman was deep! I would grin every time her name appeared in my Inbox. I knew great wisdom was coming my way, but that I would have little or no idea what it really meant. This tiny, sassy yet meek woman understood things about God that few people ever will. She could take the most mediocre-seeming event or visual image and mine it for rich, impossibly deep truths about the heart of the Father and His great love for us. Nuggets, she called them. The words made sense, but the concepts were always juuuuuuuuust beyond my grasp.

When my mom passed away, almost two years ago now, my siblings and I each kept a few of her things that were most meaningful to us. I got her Bible, the one I remember from my childhood days, full of her notes and underlinings and personal reflections. Held together by love and duct tape, it remains the roadmap of a 50-year journey with her Savior and Best Friend. Just opening it up and catching a whiff of that soothing old leather smell brings a flood of happy memories. Seeing her familiar handwriting on the page is a bittersweet reminder of what a gift it was to have her as my mother. Reading her words never ceases to amaze me. There was more, so much more, to this brilliant, unassuming woman I thought I knew so well.

The other thing I kept was her box of journals. I’ve stored them in a closet for the past couple years, not quite ready to break open the seal and investigate the treasure inside. I knew that her deepest thoughts and a great deal of wisdom were residing inside a simple cardboard box. I haven’t felt strong enough to face it. There are so many things I wish I could talk to her about, so many things that just don’t make sense right now that I could really use her advice on, so many situations in which I wish I had the comfort of knowing my Mama was praying with me and for me. Yeah. I really miss her, ya know? So today I dug that box out of the closet and opened it up – not because I was strong enough to see what was in there, but oddly enough, because I wasn’t.

My heart was beating a little faster than normal as I lifted the lid. And I laughed. On the top was a huge binder – one of those five-inch monsters – full of pages that she had typed, and of course they were organized by date. Once I got past that, I laughed again. Underneath were probably 20 different books – legal pads, writing journals, steno pads, loose sheets of paper held together by clothespins – all filled with her comforting script. One of the legal pads had notes from a sermon on one page, tax information for her embroidery business on the next, followed by her Christmas shopping list for that year. My two favorites were some personal reflections scribbled on the back of a voter registration form, and notes on a passage of scripture that filled the front and back of a bank deposit slip. One thing that my brother, sister, and I determined after sorting through her important papers after my mother’s passing is that there most definitely was an intricate organizational system in place – we just had no idea what it might be. The same is true of this box. It is a most delightful hodgepodge if ever there was one.

I am still not quite ready to dive in and read all of her words just yet. That day will come, but this is not it. My spirits were lifted simply by sifting through the contents of her box. Today that was more than enough.

 

~~~~~

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This picture by Egyptian artist Kerolos Safwat, entitled “First Day in Heaven”, immediately made me think of my Mom. This is how I envision the moment when she finally met Jesus.

Photo credit goo.gl/images/JUmrQT

For This Snowman I Prayed

For the past decade I have been praying for snow. This is not an exaggeration. I literally have. Perhaps to you, especially if you have ever lived in a northern climate, that may sound silly, even childish. That may very well be so. And I’m okay with that. The simple truth is that I am one of those people who really, REALLY loves snow. And living in South Georgia, it is a rare and noteworthy event around here when snow finally comes our way.

I can count on one hand my lifetime snow experiences. I do have pictures of my mom, my aunt, and me in front of a snowman when I was a toddler. I have no memory of this event, so it barely counts. In 1989, we had a terrific snow – on Christmas Day, nonetheless. The only thing was, I happened to have been extremely pregnant and no one would let me do anything fun. My primary role was videotaping my friends having spectacular adventures “sledding” down the road on a boat seat being towed behind an ancient Dodge truck. In 2010, we had a freak storm that blanketed our area in fluffy white. I, however, was at the beach with my husband at a marriage conference. There not one flake fell. By the time we got home the next day, there were maybe three or four handfuls left in the shadows of our pine trees. Gone, just that fast. Then this past year, my husband and I took an Alaskan cruise, where we gazed upon glaciers in the distance and witnessed a brief bit of snowfall during lunch at the top of a mountain. It was a wonderful experience, but that was me visiting someone else’s snow. It was not my snow.

And that was sort of the thing: Not that I would go find snow, but that snow would find me.

In recent years, friends who live farther north and who are aware of my snow obsession would send pictures and videos when their winter storms would dump down anywhere from a couple inches to several feet of snow. I lived vicariously through them. I must confess that I did indeed covet their lovely whiteness. And still, year after year, I prayed for some snow of my very own. Last year the winter in Georgia was more than warm; it was downright hot. I began to despair of EVER seeing real snow. Sometimes it felt like chewing the same flavorless stick of gum, but I never stopped praying.

When I first saw the weather forecast predicting the required combination of moisture and cold temperatures, I took notice but didn’t get my hopes up. We’ve been there many times before. Then the percentages for snow kept increasing. The news reported snow “in view” in our area. I could hardly contain myself when the first fluffy flakes began falling!

My To-Do list for the day was officially trashed – for the rest of the week. I had the luxury of being at home on this day, and was therefore able to savor each moment. I ran from window to window, taking quick videos of the progression as my yard became blanketed in stunning white. I spent several hours with my nose eagerly pressed to the glass, awaiting that just-right moment when the accumulation was at its peak. Then, and only then, would I go outside and truly experience it all. After taking about a thousand pictures (well, almost…), I set about crafting my long-long-awaited snowman. Not from someone else’s borrowed snow, but in my very own back yard.

One thing I learned right away is that making a snowman is not nearly as easy as it seems. Those Hollywood three stacked balls are quite difficult to get rounded properly then attached to each other without them falling apart. Building my snowman took the better part of an hour, with very careful attention to detail. After numerous failed attempts, we found that the best method was to begin with a fat snowball then keep adding, one handful at a time, carefully patting and shaping each one. Perhaps others with more advanced snowman-making skills could have done it faster and easier, but for me this was an experience ten years – TEN YEARS – in the making. There was no need to rush. This was a time to enjoy the journey. Slowly, each inch of his stature was lovingly sculpted by my hand. Flu or no flu, this was the moment I’d been waiting for. And it was so worth it! When done, he was about three feet tall, with a carrot nose, button eyes, and a red scarf. A snowman so eagerly anticipated dare not disappear in anonymity; he must be granted a name. I donned his straw hat and christened him Jasper, a true Southern snowman!

IMG_0538Throughout the course of the day – one of my favorite days ever – I thought about some lessons I might glean from a slightly lumpy, lopsided snowman.

1. God is Faithful

He hears the prayers of His children, even ones asking for snow. Now I will not under any circumstances pretend that snow is essential to life itself. I could have lived out the remainder of my days very well without it. The snow was a gift and I enjoyed it as such. As we delight in giving good gifts to our children simply because we love them and want to see them smile, so it is with our Heavenly Father. This snow fell onto a season of my life that needed some encouragement and a splash of frivolous joy, and it happened on a day when I was perfectly poised to both receive and fully appreciate it.

  1. Be patient – it is worth the wait

Waiting is hard, and as a general rule, I tend not to like doing it. But when something is worked towards or cherished over an extended period of time, it becomes highly valuable to us. I would be hard pressed to explain to you why snow matters to me so very much. All I can say is that somehow it represents something magical, something rare and precious. Had it started snowing three minutes after the very first time I prayed for snow, that would have been pretty doggone terrific. But it didn’t. Time after time after time, it didn’t. But then one day it did. All those days in between made the flakes more valuable to me. The waiting made something “nice” into something “exceptional.”

  1. Power of community

Each individual snowflake is unique, one-of-a-kind. That’s pretty cool (HA!). On its own, however, one Georgia snowflake probably is not going to last very long before it melts away into nothing. It takes the combined effort of all those tiny individuals to make a snowdrift, a snowball, a snowman. Much like us, they last longer and can create more when in community with others. A lot of little flakes working together can make something truly amazing.

  1. Even the ordinary looks beautiful when there’s snow

Right now my front yard is a symphony of dried grass. It’s not the most stunning view on earth. Then came that special combination of water, temperature, and wind. As the lawn was coated with millions of frozen flakes, that dead grass was transformed into a thing of beauty. I wandered all over the yard snapping pictures of things I never would have bothered to notice before – sticks and leaves and fallen trees. By adding a dusting of fluffy white powder, even the fence posts and ant hills became part of a wintery fairytale.

  1. Abundance

One of the things that really struck me was the abundance of God’s gift. This wasn’t simply a couple flakes that melted upon impact. We had three- to five-inch layers on everything – the cars, the roof, the patio, you name it. This was not some chintzy half-answer to a decade-long request. We still had large patches of snow five days afterwards, which is unheard of in these parts. This was a lavish reply. There was one moment when I was standing alone outside in the stillness and the silence, in awe as I reflected on the perfection of this day. I dare say He was even showing off a little. My heart could scarcely take in such beauty. On this treasured occasion, as my childlike dream was fulfilled, I could feel His pleasure. And I LOVE that about God! He goes all-out to shower His love upon us.

  1. Squeeze all the good out of it

Certainly in life there are more ordinary days than spectacular ones, so when the really super-dyna-whopping experiences come along, we need to make much of them. Savor them. Memorize the moments. File them away to refresh our spirits during the lean seasons which will inevitably come our way. One of the ways I did this was to keep a running update on Facebook about how Jasper was doing. I had waited most of my adult life to build this snowman so I wanted to enjoy him for as long as humanly possible. It was silly and fun, and I happen to be blessed with some amazing friends who came along side me during this slightly ridiculous exercise. While pointless from all practical purposes, it helped me prolong the joy. No regrets.

  1. Endings and Beginnings

Almost a week later, I came home from running errands and noticed that the large patches of snow had finally melted and that Jasper was leaning dangerously low. Thirty minutes later, I looked again and he had toppled over. Of course I knew this was coming, but it still made me a bit sad. As I wistfully gazed on my melting creation, a fluttering caught my eye. A pair of bluebirds lighted in the inexplicably green honeysuckle vine on the trellis over Jasper’s head. As the birds gathered twigs for their nest, Jasper melted away, surrendering himself to the water cycle. I couldn’t help but smile as one form of beauty gave way to the next.

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I Didn’t Read My Bible Today

I’m sort of an OCD kind of person. Actually, I am a really OCD kind of person. Structure and organization give me a sense of calm, and nothing makes me happier than having a good plan and seeing it through to completion. That’s just how my brain operates. The same principles that held true when I was an English/Social Studies teacher are relevant in my personal life. I like for things to be in their “proper place” – in the refrigerator and in life.

When it comes to my personal quiet time/devotion, I also like normalcy and order for the most part. One of the first things I do each morning is to read my Bible, usually working my way slowly through a specific book or topic; read a daily devotion from Oswald Chambers; and record key quotes or personal reflections in my journal. Then I pray about whatever God has brought to mind or any specific issues I’m facing, before beginning the day-to-day part of my day.

This is a pretty doggone good system. I love communing with God before I have to face the rest of the world. Keeping a journal is also a great way on those tough days to look back and see the last thing God said to me.  This helps to anchor me when life seems crazy. Seeing His fingerprints from days gone by remind me that He is still very much in control today.

One day recently, though, I did not do that.

I gathered my materials, a meeting of ancient and modern, with both an iPad and a soft, leather-bound journal, and just sat there. I simply could not bring myself to read the Bible. I couldn’t. On this particular day, I was more than just bothered by something; I was distraught. My mind was locked up almost. I could not think straight. Reading was out of the question. I tried to pray, I really did. Nothing was coming out right. My sentences were a tangled jumble that made absolutely no sense, and I’m sure they even contradicted each other as I attempted to bring my petitions before the Father. Then the tears started – not polite little drips, but monsoon-caliber torrents accompanied by much wailing and a fair amount of snot. It was not a pretty scene.

In that moment a couple of things happened. All that Scripture I had hidden in my heart from the time I was a young child came rushing back to me. I wasn’t worried about chapter and verse, but the words from the greatest love letter that has ever been written flooded my heart and my mind and my jumbled up prayers. A line from this verse, a line from another, swirled together, all pointing to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father Who is at work behind the scenes in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.

I also understood a passage I’d always heard, and have probably referred to on more than one occasion, in a totally new way. Romans 8:26 says,  Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (NKJV) This is one of those really great verses to pull out when times are tough. I expect I had done that before. But on this day, I totally got it. I was so wiped out, emotionally, spiritually, and physically; I had nothing left. The only word I could utter that made any sense at all was, “Help!” I reached the end of me, and allowed Holy Spirit to take over, which He had probably been patiently waiting for me to do. Somehow, I knew, whatever the outcome might be, God was very much in control of the entire situation. I could rest in that truth and quit trying to resolve this on my own.

So, is a carefully planned devotion time or simply winging it the better option? To this question, I would have to say, Yes. There is a time and place for both. There is a danger, of course, in being toooooo orderly all the time when spending time alone with God. It can quickly become more of an itemized checklist than ever-deepening relationship. Years of diligence in study, reflection, journaling, and memorization combined to lay a foundation upon which I could depend when I needed it most. Sometimes though, you just have to chuck the plan and go with the moment. When I had no words of my own to offer up, Hope – stored away in a lifetime of memorized Scripture, along with the promised presence of the Holy Spirit – filled in my blanks.

Cutting & Rolling: Lessons From a Paintbrush 

Truth be told, I really hate painting. Not the fancy kind that people display in art museums and dentist offices. The kind where your living room looks dingy or dated and the obvious cure is a fresh coat of paint. That’s the one I’m not so fond of.  

I think it all started when we were building our house. My husband told me that as soon as we were done painting, we could move in. I thought, “YES!!! We will be in by the weekend!” HA! Or not. We painted for a month. One long, hot, thought-it-would-never-ever-end month. We both worked full-time jobs, came home, consumed some manner of edible substance, grabbed our brushes, and picked up wherever we’d left off at midnight the night before. It was not my favorite aspect of the house-building process. 

My first job was putty-er. Jeff would nail the trim down with an air hammer, then I would come along and putty each and every individual hole with caulk. I used a caulk gun, popsicle sticks, my bare fingers, damp cloths, anything to make the job go easier and faster. Then I had to sand the trim to a smooth texture. By the time this was completed, my fingertips were raw and swollen, my back ached all the time, and my attitude was slightly south of chipper. Then…and only then…was I given a paintbrush. Finally, we’ll make some progress, I thought. Or not.  

While Jeff and some friends who were kind enough to come bail us out on occasion were wielding paint rollers and even this awesome electric air sprayer for the cathedral ceilings, I had a brush. A stinking, hand-operated brush. I may have contemplated bopping them in the head with their fancy equipment. Maybe. One thing is for sure, I was exhausted, and I was grumpy. It’s a wonder that people who were around during this season of life still spoke to me without an armed guard and a pound of chocolate present. 

I’ve matured a little bit in the last twenty years. Painting is still my least favorite construction activity and I will do just about anything to avoid it. While on mission trips with my church, this has led to me developing other skills, like operating a skill saw, running a weed eater, and even using a bit of feng shui to build a pretty amazing rock-lined ditch.  

Recently my friend asked me to help paint the stage at church. I still hate painting, but I love both my friend and my church. Of course, I said yes. As is so often the case when there is painting to be done, I found myself in command of a hand-operated brush. I got a little pan of paint and set to work. Rather than being resentful of this particular duty as I have in the past, I found myself waxing philosophical as I began tracing around the edges of the trim. 

When it comes to painting a wall, there are two primary roles: roller and cutter. Rolling creates the more noticeable end product. Great masses of wall can be covered in a very short time. The results are obvious, and the room looks better almost instantly. Rolling is showy. Rolling is glam.  

Cutting-in, by contrast, is slow. It is tedious. It takes time and precision, and often brings tired knees and aching backs from sitting in the floor to carefully trace over electrical outlets and along baseboards, window casings and door jambs. Cutting-in requires a steady hand; rushing can be disastrous.  There is little to show for your work. Certainly it lacks the “ooooh” factor of rolling an entire wall in five minutes.  

But is one better than the other? Absolutely not. If the wall were to be painted using only a roller, the outer perimeter would look sloppy and highly distracting, in a word, awful. Of course walls can be painted using only a regular brush, but the time and effort involved would most likely outweigh the benefits. Your list of available friends would diminish quickly if that were the proposed painting plan.Each method of painting has its strengths and weaknesses. Rolling gets the job done quickly and thoroughly, and and cutting-in provides the pop, the attention to detail, that sets the room off properly. Cutting makes rolling “work”. 

So that’s all well and good if you happen to be standing there with a gallon of semi-gloss and a natural bristle brush in your hand. But what does this have to do with real life, you may well ask. Quite simply, everything. We all have our own fair share of both strengths and weaknesses. There are things that we do well and things that we wish we were better at. In the Bible, Paul speaks to this very issue in 1 Corinthians 12. Using the analogy of the human body and its many parts, he says that while some are more prominent than others, the contributions of all are essential to the proper functioning of the whole body. Ever broken a finger or had a toothache? It impacts the efficiency of the entire body. This is true of our physical bodies, our churches, our businesses, our families, and of our society as a whole.  

We each have different roles to play. Some are more flashy, more noticeable. Some are more subtle and occur quietly, behind the scenes. Each has great value. Every individual part matters to the proper functioning of the whole. So we all need to figure out what we are wired to do. What is your passion? What are you doing when you feel most alive? Writing news stories? Cooking? Building houses? Balancing budgets? Organizing gala events? Designing spacecraft? Teaching a toddler to use a spoon? All of these things matter. Learn your role and do it with excellence. Even if you are one of those wacky, amazing people who just so happens to love painting. Whether you are the roller or the cutter or the kid who stirs the paint, give it all you’ve got. Our businesses and families and nation and world need you to get out there and be you! 

You are the only one who can. 

(On a side note, in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 12 is followed by Chapter 13. I’m pretty clever, huh? This famous passage is known as “The Love Chapter”. I don’t think this progression is an accident. Once you figure out your passion, consider how you might use it to love the people around you, and maybe even those on the other side of the globe. Goodness knows, genuine love and compassion can be hard to find these days. But we can be the generation that turns that around. You hold in your hands an incredible amount of power. You possess the ability to impact the world …..beginning by being nice to the people you come into contact with. Think about that.) 

The Day I Wore Red

Losing my mom has been hard. Very hard. Seems like every day I think of dozens of cute stories to tell her or questions to ask. I long to see that little smirk, or even have her raise that eyebrow of discipline at me. My memories of her are deep and rich, so losing her is just stinking tough. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, the “normal” of my life completely changing, and somehow making it through all the Firsts without her. In some ways I am just now beginning to truly process it all.

Last spring, when Mom had a bad fall, we knew that things were getting serious with her physical condition. I remarked nervously to a friend that when Mother’s Day came, I might not have one. Little did I know how true that would prove to be. As the date grew closer last year, I thought perhaps I might squeeze in just one more; but that did not happen.

Mother’s Day has always been special in my family. As my brother, sister and I got married and began our own families, the two days every year that we set aside – set in stone – to assemble as an extended family were Mother’s Day and Christmas Eve. Sometimes due to work schedules we had to celebrate Mother’s Day on a different date, but celebrate we did. I have many happy memories, and some goofy photo ops, from those occasions.

Then, with very little warning, everything changed.

Several days after the fall, my daughter and I were spending the afternoon at the hospital. I was feeding my mom lemon pudding. Those huge green, earnest eyes were gazing up at me. Even as her body declined so quickly, my mother’s eyes remained as beautiful as ever: The first eyes I saw when I drew my first breath. Eyes that could discipline me from across a crowded room without a single word. Eyes laughing at my horribly not-funny jokes. Eyes where I’ve seen joy and pain and anger and pride over my smallest accomplishment. Eyes closed as she taught me to pray, framed in the face of the woman who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

I lost it.

Chelsey had to finish feeding her the pudding while I tried to collect myself.

That night as I said goodbye, we clasped hands, not willing to let go just yet. She reached her tiny, frail hand up, brushed away my hair and wiped a tear from my cheek. Then she said, “I hope you know how deeply I love you.” And those beautiful green eyes smiled into mine.

The reality hit me hard that day. There was no telling what the future would hold. Hopefully there would be many other moments of laughter and tears, but even then, I recognized this was precious moment I would carry with me for always.

 
In the following days, my siblings and I juggled our full-time jobs, hour-long drives to the hospital, and discussions of hospice and nursing homes, doing the best we could to provide quality care for the woman who had cared so well for us. Then, equally without warning, an ordinary Friday at work suddenly turned into one of the toughest days of my life. My precious little mama, who had been fighting off cancer for three years, took a sudden turn for the worse. I spent a long day with her, thankful for every breath, praying that there would be another.

Cancer is a merciless thing. It doesn’t care about your family pedigree. It doesn’t care about how intelligent you are, what a gifted artist or doctor or chef you might be. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. Cancer strikes where it will. Some kinds are more aggressive than others. Knowing that she had breast cancer and that it had metastasized into her brain – and how very ghastly that particular type can be – I began praying for two things: 1. For God’s perfect timing, and 2. That God would be gracious and take her Home before it became extremely painful for her. I just wanted her to have a peaceful ending.

And I do believe God answered both prayers. My precious Mama passed away at 3:00 AM Saturday morning, quietly in her sleep. I knew what was coming. I thought I was ready. I was not. Not even close. We all shed buckets of tears, knowing that she awoke in the arms of her beloved Savior, but brokenhearted at the thought of life without her. Then we dried our eyes, and began focusing on the happy event of this day – my niece Emily’s wedding. Here is where I believe the perfect timing comes into play. My family was able to channel our emotions into this beautiful occasion. We didn’t have to second-guess ourselves: Do I go to the hospital, or do I go to the wedding? That was no longer an issue. So we celebrated at one of the most picture-perfect, and fun, weddings I can ever recall. It was so therapeutic that in the middle of our grief, there was such an expression of love and joy.

Then, came Sunday. Mother’s Day. I won’t lie; it was hard, so very hard. Facebook was filled with pictures of people with their mothers. I tried to stay away from that. It was just too raw. I didn’t so much feel jealous of those people, but the ache in my heart was fresh and deep. What I did do, that day and this one, was remember. So many happy, angry, laughing, problem-solving, creative, hard, wonderful moments spent with this amazing woman. I was the first person to hear her heartbeat from the inside. I was the first person she taught to ride a bike and use a spoon. I was the first set of ears to hear her stories, to have her stroke my hair as she sang and prayed over me. I curled up with her on Sunday afternoons and took naps in her big fluffy bed. I learned about Jesus from her lips and from her life. In all of this, I have been remarkably blessed.

The picture included with this post shows two women, connected by a series of events, large and small, that together add up to a lifetime. On the left, in pink, is my Mama. This was taken at my wedding. Moments before, she had sent her first baby girl off to begin a life of her own. The second picture, on the right, is me. This one was taken on the day of My Mama’s funeral. Perhaps red may seem rather unconventional for such a solemn occasion, but I wanted to honor this sweet and sassy woman by wearing her favorite color. In a way, on this day I was the one sending her off to a new life. The cancer is gone. My Mama is whole and perfect, and as a lifelong lover of Christ, her joy is now complete.

If you look very closely at my life, you will see Florence’s fingerprints all over it, both her strengths and her weakness, and even that little smirk. I feel so fortunate to be her daughter. She invested 50 years into teaching me, shaping me, loving me. Her work here was done. My job now is simple – to continue the legacy of faith and family, and to somehow, someway, one year, one breath at a time, to learn how to live without her.

I love you, my Mama.

I close this post with what my daughter wrote on the day of my mother’s funeral. How fortunate am I to be a conduit between these two incredible women.

 
Today will be tough. You taught me that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Today I will be sad and shed some tears. You showed me that “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” (Psalm 34:18)
Today we will celebrate your life. You without a doubt showed me that “His love gives life.” (John 10:10-11)
Today is not goodbye, it’s see you later, my beautiful Grandma!
“She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.” (Proverbs 31:25)

Chugging Along

It’s been just over a week since I made my bold declaration to quit moping around and start taking steps toward better health. This update is two-fold: to hold myself accountable; and to encourage others who may be struggling to make positive progress in some area of their lives, whatever it might be.

So far I’ve gone running three times in the past week. There would have been a fourth, but an impending thunderstorm interrupted that idea. In the end, it was a thunder sprinkle, but I am not so keen on the threat of a lightning strike. My eating habits were improved – not perfect, but considerably better than before. The clean- to processed- food ratio inverted itself, and there were fresh, crunchy vegetables at almost every meal. To further add to the encouragement of these small improvements, I’m down a pound or two from this same time last week. That’s not exactly monumental, but still a nice place to start.

As far as the actual running goes, I still have quite a bit of room for improvement. My legs know what to do, but my lungs haven’t completely gotten with the program yet. As I have been shuffling along and trying not to literally gasp for air (I sometimes giggle about what other runners on the trail must think I sound like!), slowly, oh so slowly, I am noticing improvements. Serious runners keep track of their split times, which means how long each individual mile takes over the course of a longer run. While I am still too embarrassed to state outright what my splits have been this week, I will say that today’s outing was 20 seconds per mile faster than the one a week ago. Afterwards, I felt sufficiently tired, but not inches from death. So, there’s that.

As I was wrapping up my last mile today, however, the best thing happened. OK, maybe not as great as being given a private resort/writing sanctuary on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean…but it has definitely been the best part of this new health improvement journey. I noticed that I was THINKING like a RUNNER! Let that sink in for a second. I noticed I had a stride and not a shuffle. My arms were straight and pumping in rhythm with my foot-falls. My mind was calculating what to put in my run bag so I would be ready at a moment’s notice to come running next week. AND I was already mentally planning the next run: what day it could happen, skills to focus on, challenging myself to beat today’s time. Today I wasn’t thinking like a formerly fluffy, formerly thin, getting fluffy again girl just trying to counter the effects of too many Cheetos. I re-found that little something-something that used to drive me on, to set goals and annihilate them. I am a runner. I am a RUNNER! It’s still a tiny spark, but it’s there. Every good decision now is simply more fuel for the fire.