But A Vapor

memories

Look at the walls in your home. Photographs of family. Plates a grandmother collected. Awards for achievements in a career. Colors of curtains, couches and rugs all coordinating. Some of the hand me downs aged with time and wear. Closets filled with boxes of keepsakes. Shelves filled with scrapbooks and photo albums.  Those are just things, memories of lifetime that will be passed on, sold at a yard sale or thrown into the trash. Why do we hang on to things? I believe it is because the person who owned it, touched it. They held it. They kept it to remind them of something.

We touch it, we hold it and smell it because it reminds us that they were here. That they were real. And we are not ready to let go of that thing that connects us to the living, breathing person that our hearts are longing to see one more time. Grief is a funny thing. it comes fast and hard at first. And then subsides long enough to catch a breath. When you are least expecting it comes on like the wave that looks small in the distance and then crashes down with a force that knocks you off your feet. Sending you tumbling head over heal while you are grasping to find the ground underneath you. It’s never what you imagine. And it never leaves you but it does quiet itself over time.

I have been feeling as if I have gotten old overnight. A little alone and lonely because of isolation, living out here away from the city, family, and friends. A bit melancholy but not depressed. Some of it is from all the news of death recently. Several celebrities taking their own life, a very close friend losing two loved ones within a week apart and then hearing two more soldiers, suffering from PTSD, taking their own lives this past week. I spent the day in bed a few days ago not feeling well and missing my dad, my sister, and my mother all at the same time. Wanting to talk to them but not able to. My mother was the most recent to pass. She left this world on New Year’s Eve. I began the new year with a loss. I did not know that this year would be filled with it.

All this loss makes me reflect on my own life. Makes me turn inward. It brings up memories I forgot were there in the corners of my mind. At moments it takes my breath away. It has haunted my dreams waking me up suddenly with my heart beating fast. Some of it is grief, the other part is the awareness that our lives are so very short. There seems to be an urgency to get the things done I have had a on list for years. I had a ninety-year-old woman tell me the other day that she was ready to join her husband who had passed twenty years before. I told her she shouldn’t say that maybe the Lord still had something for her left to do. She said I have done everything there is to do. And she asked me how old I was. “55, soon to be 56.” Feeling somewhat young at that moment in comparison. She said, “We have different vantage points you and I, I have been there and done that. And there is nothing else I want to do or need to do.”

I think she was saying she was lonely and she had no purpose. She was living day in and day out doing nothing. Her family was living their lives without her. She had been a strong independent woman, self-sufficient and a real hard worker. This tiny woman was mowing her lawn just months ago. She told me of some of the things that she had done back in the day. She replumbed and rewired her house by herself and at one time in her life, she could lift 100 lb tanks.  In the short time, I have known her she is not one for sitting still. She could still do all that in her mind but her body will not let her. And she is ready to go.

I left her house thinking, is that what the end of your life looks like? Waiting to die? Waiting for God to take you? I remember talking to my grandmother before she passed. She was not an easy woman. She was a proud woman and never let you see the vulnerable side of her. She was judgemental and very manipulative. She would spend her last days of her life being paranoid about those around her. Even on the day she passed, I spoke to her on the phone and she begged me to call the police to come and get her out of the hospital. She did not trust the doctors or the nurses. I was in a different city and I could not get home to her. She died with no loved ones around her.

My mother passed somewhat in peace. I was five miles from the hospital when she took her last breath. Everyone told me she heard my voice on the phone, telling her I was on my way. But in the Lord’s sovereignty, I did not make it. I missed her final breath.

All of this death should have me sad and depressed. It should have me in despair. I could ask all the questions most people ask God, even the ones that know Him when people leave us. What is the point to all of this?  Why did you create us to die? Why do you allow all the pain and suffering in our life? Why do you take innocent babies? Why do you allow cancer to eat up our bodies and anxiety to wreak havoc on our minds? Why do some people think that the only way is out to take their life?

Why?

I know depression is real. I know it is an illness. I know, because it runs in my family. It took the form of self-medicating, alcohol abuse, rage and dysfunction. It showed its face in PTSD, trauma and physical abuse. It was passed on like a photograph in a frame. I tried myself to say, “No more, it stops with me.” And for the most part some of it did. But not all. It crept in through others who came into my life and left its mark. I am not a victim. I am no longer in bondage to the things the enemy used to take us captive in our family. Because I found something better than a pill. I have a relationship with Jehovah Rapha. The Healer.

I know something about God that I did not know when I was younger. When I first came to know Him I was so unsure of who He was. I questioned so much about Him. His motives, His will, and His love. I read His word to find out how He thought, how He works in our lives. I studied his concepts & principals so that I could apply them to my life. I sought His mercy, His care, and His heart. Looking back I found something I would never have found if I had not been looking.

I found a God who wanted fellowship. Could it be that He was lonely? Could it be that God wanted to be loved? His word says we are made in His image. We desire to be loved and cared for. Our hearts desire relationship. We look for it our whole lives. Even when we think we found it we look for more. Our hearts seem to be a bottomless pit of want. And the irony is, in our creation, God put that desire in us. It was meant to cause us to look for Him. Because He is the only one that can fill it.

When He comes in, He fills it with His presence. It is then we become whole. We become loved. We become cared for. We become, slowly like Him. My thoughts become His thoughts and so I do not feel hopeless. And as my heart beats as His for my fellow man I should want to serve them, help them, and love them too. My soul is one with Him so  I am never alone or lonely. My strength is His strength working in me, through me and for me. I have nothing to fear, nothing to despair from and everything to look forward to.

The whys of life and death disappear in the light of His filling. You see He never wanted to control me like a puppet on a string. He never wanted me to be a mindless robot doing His bidding. He did not want our relationship to be based on terror. It was not about how good I was or am. It is not about punishing me for bad that I have done. It is and always has been about relationship.  And that is the purpose. For us to go out and create relationship with others and by doing so we show them who God really is. What love is, what purpose is and it gives us the hope of eternity with our loved ones.

babyfingers

I have carried seven children but have only given birth to four. My life profoundly changed with each one I lost. Sadness, sorrow, regret, and failure. Loss, mourning and forever wondering what would have been. While I have never gotten to see the faces of three of them, it was not until I beheld the face of my first little boy of how fragile and blessed life really is. Following the lines of his tiny face, hearing the cry of his little voice and feeling his little fingers curling around my one. Realizing now that God gave me a glimpse into His relationship with His children through the birth of one child and the loss of another.

Relationship. A mother and a child.

Love. I did not know him but I loved him because he came from my body. He was a miracle.

Purpose. At that moment I could not fathom what was ahead only that I would care for him, raise him and give him all that I had until the day that I die.

When he became a man I did not stop being his mother. I did not stop loving what came from my womb,  what God created within me. And just like God whose children walk away from Him for a while, I wait to hear from my son. To speak with him. To love on him. To have relationship with him. And when we do my heart is full! It is in the moments that I do not hear from him my mind can wonder if he still cares for me if he still needs me or will we ever be together again?

And so God waits to hear from us. To speak with us. To come back to Him. Our God did not create us to die. He did not cause us to suffer. Life is but a vapor and it is gone before it even begins because a man and woman in a garden wanted more than they had. They wanted to be independent of a God who would love and care for them. A God who would protect them by giving them all they would ever need. Yet they did not believe he was enough. They would choose their own way over a relationship with their creator. In doing so death & suffering came upon mankind as a consequence of their choice.

Death is not the end though. We will all live somewhere forever. Heaven or hell. But God in His love and mercy gave us a way back to Him. Back to a relationship with Him. And He let it be still our choice. Choosing Christ as our Savior takes us to Heaven, gives us a purpose beyond ourselves and can heal the despair and heartaches that come with living life.

He does not want us to do this alone!!! We are to stay connected, assembling ourselves with other believers. This is one way He protects us. Others looking out for us, comforting us, praying with us, loving on us and showing us Jesus in the flesh. When we draw away to be alone we are vulnerable to the enemy.  It is the enemy that will lie to us and lead us to destruction. Even unto death.

Depression, PTSD, and grief can be healed by Jesus. I have been a witness to and a recipient of healing so many times. We have to choose to want to be healed by applying God’s word, walking in faith and letting Him fill our hearts and minds with new thoughts and ways. Believing Him & trusting Him to walk with us through the darkest moments in our lives. Even in the dark days of loss and grief.

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I miss them all but I do not despair. I am sad but not depressed. I may still grieve their loss at times but it is only a reminder to me the day I take my last breath on earth  I will take my first one in heaven. We will all be reunited! And God does say He will wipe away all the tears. In the meantime, my purpose is to bring as many people with me to heaven as possible. Afterall, it is the only thing we can take with us.

 

No Matter Where You Sit Or Stand (It’s Not The Walls -CBC)

19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. ~ Ephesians 2:19-22

 

Life is said to be unpredictable.  That may be true on some days.  For the most part I believe there are some things you can count on to stay the same. People all over the world are doing the same thing mankind has been doing from the beginning of creation. They are living life, working to provide for their family and/or pursuing a dream, some are perhaps just trying to survive.  If you really think about it the changes we encounter in our day-to-day life can be considered ‘nothing new under the sun,’ as King Solomon suggested. The one thing I know for sure never changes is God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  If we trust in Him wholly when life becomes unpredictable or is turned upside down by circumstances we have a firm foundation to stand on.  We can walk forward in confidence knowing that He who holds the whole world in His hands holds us up in a future that may seem uncertain.

Our family moved to a new house at the end of September and have been trying to settle in for several weeks.  It has significantly less wall space which makes it hard to choose what to hang where.  I had a hard time leaving the old house, mostly because of the memories contained there.  But as many of my family and friends will attest I have recorded them very well in photo books. 🙂 The holidays are coming up and I feel an urgency to get the new house all put together but temporarily I am stuck. No fear though, I have been here before because it is ninth time I have moved since moving to Texas in 2001.

Our church is moving to a new location also.  Another change. It will be the fourth move for CrossBridge. Sunday we held our last service in our current location and during the singing special by one of our dear ladies I became overwhelmed with the memories in that room.  The memories of what God has done through our little church.  Baby dedications, weddings and healing for many who have come through the doors.   I had the privilege of leading a young girl of 12 to the Lord in the little classroom.  My own family was restored there when I re-married my first husband in a wonderfully sweet ceremony.  We have prayed over soldiers being deployed out into the world.  We have begged God for healing and reconciliation of family members and have said goodbye to dear friends who went on to be with the Lord.  We have celebrated high school graduations, newborns and life accomplishments. We have poured into teenagers lives, some accepting Christ after a weekend of camping. All life changing events but each leaving an indelible mark in each of our lives as a church family.

Within those walls God’s Word has been preached, taught, sang and prayed out loud.  Our pastor often says of our church, “We are the cold cup of refreshing water to the weary and broken who have no where else to go.”  I love that, being known as a refreshment to souls.  Small in number but big in heart. Generous of spirit and encouragement.  People have come for a short time and moved on for whatever reason but for the time they were present they left their spiritual fingerprint on those of us who remain. Leaving the building, while bittersweet, means we are in forward motion.  We are stepping into a new place that we believe God has appointed. And we have been here before, stepping out in faith.  We had moved from our last location to the one we leave now.  We did not know then what time would bring, what God would require of us. Standing here looking back I could not have imagined the beauty He allowed us to behold through one another’s lives.

Changes are hard for some people.  Hard for me at times.  I have to look deep within and find the courage to let the change occur.  I have to be open to new possibilities and blessings.  For I have learned change is growing.  I have learned that while the building is where we gather it not the walls that make the church. It is the folks that come through the doors, that hug our necks, that pray with us for God to do the miraculous.  It is the people who are called by Jesus Christ to ‘assemble together’ and serve Him.  To show His love by loving one another. To show His grace by rolling up our sleeves and meeting others where they are.  To show His mercy by teaching them salvation comes from knowing the Savior intimately.  To show the world church is not about the walls, it’s about the people in it. So while the scenery changes, even the walls around us or the circumstances we find ourselves in uncomfortable the few things that remain certain is the knowledge that we are made in the image of God and we still have His purpose to fulfill. No matter where we sit or stand!

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;

Praise him, all creatures here below;

Praise him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Psalm 148:1-2, 10-14 & Ephesians 1:3

Text: Thomas Ken, 1637-1711

Music: Louis Bourgeois, ca. 1510-1561. From Genfer Psalter, 16th century.

Christmas Heart Ache

One of the things I love about Christmas is the lights.  I love the colors, the twinkle and the beams that bounce off the shiny ornaments.  As a little girl I would sit in the dark living room with only the tree lit. The bulbs were big and bright. Tinsel covered the tree. Bulbs hung along side hand-made ornaments my sister and I had made with our mom or in school.  My mother and father worked at the General Electric Lamp Plant in St. Louis.  Mom had brought some clear light bulbs home without the innards. Only the bulb and the metal end.  She put us at the table and showed us how to apply glue and glitter to the inside of the bulb.  Then we took a small picture she had cut out of us into the shape of an oval and we taped a string to the back side of it.  My mother put the picture and string inside the bulb and attached it to the metal part which she glued onto the end of the bulb. Viola! A beautiful light bulb ornament. I still have it today and it hangs on my tree.

1967 Shell GE light bulb ornament

1967 Shell GE light bulb ornament

When I left home to go into the Air Force, my mother began to send me an ornament every year.  Some were bought and some were hand-made.  All were a memorial to the year being given.  I kept every one of them and have hung them on my tree each year.  I even began making some of my own to commemorate some major events of the year. But I still continue to add them to mark a specific family event.  For example this year my son and his wife gave birth to a baby girl, Ann Marie.  My daughter got married and my third child, though now a man, graduated from high school and then 6 months later graduated Army Basic Training.  All very proud moments for me.  So I plan to hang three plus one for my fathers’ passing in remembrance.

This is the 1st Christmas without him.  It is surreal to come home and find him not here. I am staying in his house. The house he and his wife bought several years ago.  A beautiful Victorian style home.  It is in the center of the town off the main street.  I sense him all around us.  The ache in my heart of missing him but knowing he is celebrating this season in heaven with my sister.  What a thought, worshiping Jesus on His birthday in Heaven. Wow!

It is more difficult for his wife, my step-mom.  She sees him everywhere she turns.  He loved her so much and she knew it.  He took care of her and she misses that. Being taken care of and loved by a man who had searched for love his whole life.  The coolest part of their relationship was that not only did they both find a special love, he found Christ through her love.  I can not begin to tell you how special that is to me.  An answer to a 20 year prayer.  In her grief she is comforted by the fact she knows where he is but the ache is more real in the absence of his touch and his daily concern for her. Grief does not have a calendar or clock.  It knows no boundaries. It takes its time in the humdrum days of loneliness! I pray she finds healing in moving forward and focus on Christ who fills the emptiness left by my dad. I am glad I was here to share these days with her.  I believe it brought some ease to both of our hearts.

I did go to the cemetery to put flowers on my sister’s grave and my fathers’. He has no headstone yet but the grass has grown over him. The small blades of grass resemble moss, revealing to those who come to visit a fresh grave.  There is always a breeze there when I visit.  A warm, hot breeze on the day of his funeral.  But today very cold and brisk, making my eyes sting with tears.  Memories are a funny thing. Standing there I remembered I was the last to leave his casket waiting to go down into the ground.  I almost could not leave him.  I knew it was just his body, not him.  Something in me wanted to stay. I guess it was the finality of it all. I think that is why 1st anniversaries after a loved one passing on is so difficult.  It is the final remembrance of all the years you spent before.  Everything reminds you of what they did the last time you opened presents or sang Happy Birthday. The end of their living life.  The beginning of recalling every last word spoken.

I have noticed that there are memories that do not really come alive until your loved one is gone.  Is that what ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ means? The memories are more vivid and emotional.  I guess it is the heart and the mind that bring them together much like a photo album with dates and places written underneath the pictures. A slide show perhaps.  I like to make memorial videos of people and their moments. I have made several for myself, friends and family of special events we have shared.  I load all the pictures, put them in sequential order and then add music.  I try to add music that speaks to their life, their memory.  It is amazing how it all comes together when it is completed.  I watch them over and over. They make me smile.

I did that for my father.  I enjoyed looking at all his earlier pictures.  When it was finished and I watched it all the way through I realized how adventurous he was.  Motorcycles, boats and hobbies he had throughout the years.  He smiled a lot when he held his children and grandchildren. That was very cool to see.  The end was harder to watch because the pictures were more recent.  Even so he ended well.

I am wondering what the memory of this Christmas will be in a few months.  It was full of what is important.  Family.  Loving one another unconditionally and cherishing each precious moment the Lord allows us to share with those who make our lives full and rich.  Never mind the junk because really the junk is the reason Christ came. To take away the junk and replace it with gems.  His precious gift of a redeemed and restored life! And that is what I remember today of my dad. A gift from God. Redeemed, restored and at peace!  Thank you Lord for filling our minds with memories and hearts with love!!! Thank you for turning heartache into joy when we turn our hearts toward you!

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:26

Grace to you

Shell

Late, Late Picture Show

I love this picture of my grandparents, Wilma and Elbert Pope.  It was taken before my grandfather went  to war and probably around the time they got married.  They look so young and happy.  I spent a lot of time with them as a young girl and a teenager.  My parents divorced when I was eight and so on weekends I would bike over to their house and spend the weekend with them.

Much time was spent playing cards or Yahtzee at their kitchen table.  Grandpa would be cooking a pot of pinto beans and grandma would be making fried potatoes and cornbread.  Yummy!  They would go to bed and I would make a pallet on the floor out of all the blankets and quilts grandma had.  The TV would be on and we watched the “Late, Late Picture Show.”  They would play 3 movies in a row and most of them would be the singing musicals or the ones with swimming ladies in the pool.  I always wondered what those would be like in color.

My favorite musical was Yankee Doodle Dandy about George M. Cohen.  I would stay up to watch every single one and then sleep till I smelled the coffee.  In the morning we would again sit around the table and watch the birds or squirrels sitting in the big wooden box my grandpa built for such a thing.  At some point I would make some hash browns with scrambled eggs.  That is all I knew how to cook at the age of 12.

I miss those weekends some times.  I always felt at home and I could be myself.  It is where life stayed the same.  As I look back on those memories it was my safe haven.  Where I did not really have to grow up.  I miss them both so very much.  But what a sweet memory to have!

Thanks for taking time to share this with me.

Grace to you

Shell