When They’re Gone

Her children rise up and call her blessed – Proverbs 31:28

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mother’s Day this year. I am amazed how difficult this day is for me. Oh, I am very happy when my own adult children and my husband remember the day and share their love and appreciation towards me. But, after almost 8 years since my mom died; its still really sad for me. I wish she were here.

I wonder when and if it will ever be just another day for me. Will there be a time when I don’t find all of the advertisements bothersome? This year, I thought I was handling everything so well. I could walk past the Mother’s Day cards without feeling sad. I even searched through the cards looking for one for our daughter, who is expecting her first child. I was looking for a card for “moms to be”. And yes that is a thing, in case you are looking for a similar card and sentiment. To me, a mom becomes a mom, the moment she is pregnant. She nourishes and grows a child within her womb, who is completely dependent on her. This definitely qualifies as mom to me, not just when the child takes her first breath of air. Just ask my daughter and she will confirm this very much alive child who is already keeping my daughter awake with her gymnastics in the middle of the night, is her baby and she is her mother.

So, as I was looking for the right card to give my daughter this year, in the dollar tree store of all places, I was suddenly overcome with memories of my own mom. The words I could hear her speak, and the image of her face, began to flood my mind. I found the perfect card, though, but I was doing everything I could not to completely break down in a full blown ugly cry right there in the store.

My husband was with me, but had gotten off to some other part of the store, so I quickly walked away from the rack of Mother’s Day cards, to escape to another aisle. And also went on a mission to find my husband so we could check out and leave before the tears fell. In a moment of relief, my daughter texted me and told me a present had arrived from us and how much she and her husband loved it. It was perfect timing and brought me a moment of joy, but also quickly turned to sadness as I thought about my mom, not being able to be a part of her first great grandchild’s life. That made me sadder , and also a bit angry, feeling like both my mom and me had been robbed of this opportunity.

I know my mom is healed and happy, but it doesn’t mean that I still don’t wish she were here. She would love all the excitement around the new baby. She would probably make her a knitted blanket or sweater, or maybe even a quilt. She was amazing at handmade gifts. I still have many of the things she made for my own children when they were born. She would love the baby shower planning as well- she was amazing as a host and cook. She would make meals for anyone who stopped by her house at lunch or dinner without any stress or checking her schedule first. She simply served them and made it look so easy.

But, I have to admit, I did not always appreciate my mom and recognize the neat and generous ways she served others, including me. I thought the homemade clothes were simply just a way for her to save money, and I felt self- conscious at school around my classmates with store bought designer clothes. When I was married, she would send me past issues of magazines, old store coupons and school papers from my childhood. I thought she was just cleaning out her house and giving me what she didn’t want any longer. And at other times, we just didn’t agree on issues. I thought she was too old fashioned.

Sadly, it took me many years and her passing to realize just what a blessing I had. The old school papers she saved and sent, would have been lost and my kids would not have gotten to see my first grade class picture. The magazines were great for when my kids needed to cut up pictures for school projects. I used the coupons at the store. The homemade clothes gave me design and style sense, that taught me how to be creative, look for bargains instead of paying full price, and not conforming to cultural expectations- In other words, to think for myself. Her throwing meals together from simple ingredients, helped to learn hospitality.

And her difference of opinions, taught me how to listen to others, and to come up with counter arguments. However, the biggest part of my life that I appreciate the most is to provide an opportunity to hear the Gospel. It was her prompting to go to church, watching television church serves, and the gift of my first Bible that led me to my relationship with Christ. For this, I will always be thankful and praising God.

I just wish I had opened my eyes to appreciate her while I could have told her. I talked her while she was she was in her coma, but it just wasn’t the same. I hope she heard me.

But, if there is anything I would like to share with you as Mother’s Day is approaching- please, tell your mom you love her. Look for ways to show her. Look at the ways she has helped you become the person you are today. She may have made you angry, she might have made crazy requests, she might have been annoying at times, she might have not liked your choice of friends or politics, she might not talk with you, she might have disowned you or abandoned you, she might have hurt you. But, she is your mom and she gave you life.

If your mom is still alive, you have the opportunity to enjoy her now. But, I will have to wait until my mom and I are reunited in Heaven, but I can guarantee it will be amazing! It will be like the most amazing Mother’s Day ever. And will be able to thank her for my life and called her blessed. – God Bless You – Nancy

Loving Yourself?

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made – Psalm 139:14, NIV

So, I am a bit of an introvert. Well, I actually lean more towards an ambivert. If you haven’t heard of that it’s okay. I believe it is a new term for someone who can be both shy and outgoing, depending upon the circumstances. See, I can make small talk with perfect strangers if I decide to, but in a small group setting? Forgetta ’bout it. I stop talking. I get nervous about what to say next. I’m worried that what I say will be taken wrong, or just make things awkward. I’ve had that happen before. I have even been called snobbish for not talking much in groups. But, I have learned that being an introvert makes me a better listener and more observant of others who are introverts. I find people who are willing to talk, but are being ignored by the others at social settings. I am aware of those who are hurting in the room as well.

Recently, a conversation about being socially awkward came up, no, it wasn’t about me, but the other person. They were getting down on themselves for being introverted and shy at social gatherings. They felt left out and it made them sad, and lose hope of finding new friends. They believed people would not like them because they are quiet in social settings. Believe me, I can relate. I’ve felt that way before. It seems the world is geared towards the extroverts, who always seem to have a large group of friends. They are the life of the party, so to speak, whether it is at work, social gatherings, or even church. But, despite their popularity and their infinite amount of small talk, they might have problems with listening to others. Why? because they talk too much!

But, really, that’s okay too. We are all different. And that is a good thing. God has given us all a different personality. And we need to celebrate that and not try to be someone we are not. Sometimes, if we are being honest, we can get jealous of the personality of others. We want to be like them. Have their friends. Have their following. Have their job. Have their family. We start to believe the lie, that if we could just be different than ourselves, are life would be different. Better. We tend to default to seeing the grass greener on the other side of the fence. We might even try to change to be like the other person. If we are shy, we try to be outgoing. If we are an extrovert we might try to be quieter.

But, what if instead, we try to accept who God made us to be? There are parts of our personalities that are just genetics. And there are some that are learned through observed behavior. Either way, God can use our unique personalities for His glory. He’s okay with us loving ourselves. We are His creation. If we hate how He made us, it would seem like we are ungrateful towards Him. Or we think He makes mistakes. As the psalmist wrote we are fearfully AND wonderfully made. Do you consider yourself something wonderful? Do you consider yourself loved? Or even lovable? God says you are. And He says we are to love others. How? Are you ready for it?… as we love ourselves. (James 2:8, Mark 12:31, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, Galatians 5:14,Luke 10:27, Matthew 19:19, Romans 13:9)

As you can see above, there are quite a few references to Jesus’ second greatest commandment. So, do you love yourself? Including your personality? It might be difficult to love others until we can love and come to terms with who God made us to be. Do you love who God made? Do you love you? I have heard that sometimes why we end up being so critical of others, is that we first are super critical of ourselves. Have you found that to be true? I find it in myself. I am my harshest critic. I expect perfection from myself and that spills over onto what I expect from others. I am getting better, thankfully with God’s grace, by understanding God’s grace and mercy shown to me. And that is a part of what it takes to love ourselves. Give ourselves some mercy and grace. If we keep comparing ourselves to others, we will always think we are not the best we can be and will have a difficult time accepting who God has made us to be. Instead, we need to stop the comparison trap, accept ourselves, give ourselves some grace when we fall short, and love ourselves. The, we can stop focusing on ourselves and really seek out those to love- the way Jesus’ commanded us to. God Bless- Nancy

Death To Life

Doubting Thomas. Have you ever thought about how he would compare with you? It might seem like a strange topic for Christmas time, especially Christmas Eve, the day I’m writing this blog. But bear with with me for a moment. When we think of Christmas we mostly think about the cute little baby Jesus in the manger. And the cute nativity scene with the animals- sheep, cows, and camels. and the very peaceful baby sleeping in Mary’s arms. We don’t usually fast forward to Jesus all grown up as a man. We save that for Easter.

When we look at the Christmas story as told in the Gospels, we enjoy the story as a completed picture. We have the perspective that those living at the time did not. Except for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, and John the Baptist. They all knew who Jesus was when he was born because the angels had visited or in the case of the wisemen, by studying the astrological charts. Everyone else around them, did not know what was happening. They were looking for a Messiah, but they didn’t see who He was when He arrived as the little baby lamb of God. They hadn’t read the gospels, like we have.

Sometimes God is trying to show us what He is doing, but we don’t see it. We lack perspective until we look back and see what He has done. The people of Jesus’ time had been awaiting a savior to free them from their darkness and when He came they did not all realize it, and as He grew to a man, even failed to understand who He was, calling him simply Joseph’s son.

As this advent season gives way to Christmas day, God has been preparing my heart and helping me to understand what He is doing in my life. Piece by piece, step by step, He reveals areas I need growth.

Recently, our beloved family dog died. It was the first dog we had ever had and she died unexpectedly early Sunday morning. My sorrow was deeper than I realized it could be for an animal. It brought back grief and sorrow that I still carry for my Mom who passed on Christmas Day 2014. Christmas can be a very sad time for some, myself included. But, as I was feeling so sad about losing our pet of six years, my thoughts and emotions were jolted in the opposite direction when on Wednesday my daughter and her husband announced their pregnancy. From death to news of life. In three days. Sounds like a familiar story, right? From feeling overwhelmed by the death of a pet, and my mom, to celebrating the upcoming addition to our family. From grief to joy.

God showed me in that moment, how I could be like doubting Thomas. He had just lost His friend, the man He had spent three years following and a presumed lifetime waiting for, like his other fellow Jews. And then He was gone. Thomas was in the middle of grieving and was in shock over the news that Jesus had risen. Jesus was not dead, but had resurrected. How could this be? Was it true? Is this really a change from sadness to joy?

Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to see for himself. Even when Jesus appeared to him later. It was Jesus who offered for Thomas to see the nail prints in his hands. I can finally understand how he felt. A bit of shock. A jolt from his grief into hope. Hopeless to hopeful.

I have a print of my new grandson or granddaughter’s ultrasound. I see him/her. I have anticipation for our meeting. On Sunday, I was grieving, but on Wednesday I celebrated. We just do not know what will happen next. God has it under control. It might seem dark now. But light has come into the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.– John 1:1-5

Merry Christmas and God Bless You

Hope

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love- 1Corinthians 13:13

So, in the last few years I have had this aversion to weeds. In my yard, in the flowerbeds, in the cracks in the driveway. But, it wasn’t always this way. When my husband and I moved, we moved into a neighborhood that has this thing against weeds. I am in awe of all the perfectly kept lawns here. Not a weed in sight. Perfect and green. And then, there are the HOA inspectors who ride through the neighborhood on Monday mornings. looking for any code violations. They look for any lawns that need mowing or trash cans left out. If there are, the homeowners will get a letter in the mail with a notice to either comply or pay a fine.

I’m not a fan of paying fines, so I am obsessed with following their rules. And attempting to get this perfect lawn. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, despite our best attempts, so we live with the stray weed or two.

Growing up, I really didn’t mind them. I thought the ones with little flowers were actually kind of pretty. I didn’t think of them as weeds really, just flowers that grew by chance. I saw their beauty instead of their annoyance.

So, this past week as I was taking our elderly dog out for a walk in our back yard, I spotted an annoyance. Except, it really caught my attention in a good way. It was standing out where and when it shouldn’t be standing out. It wasn’t so much as an annoyance as beautiful reminder of hope.

This year has been very trying on me and on my patience. I keep waiting for the right opportunities to come forward- applying for jobs and praying that I will actually get to use what I am called to do. I have also watched as neighbors have died from Covid, leaving behind children and spouses. I have seen relatives grow older and frailer, making me look at the future with a bleaker, pessimistic view. I have felt my patience tested, even with my elderly dog, who is not only blind but I think has a slight case of dementia. Do dogs even get that? She requires multiples trips outside to do her business, one trip after another, sometimes five trips in two hours.

So, on a cold morning this past week, as I grumpily took the dog out, I spotted a very bright and welcomed little flower spouting proudly from the lawn. It shouldn’t be there I mused- not because I did not want it to be there, but, you see we had had a frost a few days before. The lawn had been covered in a beautiful layer of frost. It is supposed to kill all the grass and the fragile plants. But, no, this beautiful dandelion was this bright spot of yellow on the now brown, dead grass.

It hadn’t bloomed with all its buddies in the summer or early spring, but here it was in November, standing up as the singular bright spot of life. It was a reminder to me, that despite the year that has seen both bright and bleak spots, there is still life and hope. It was a reminder to stay faithful, keep hope alive, and there will be a bright spot coming soon. It isn’t in our timing, but in God’s timing.

Sometimes I feel like that little dandelion. Everyone of my friends seemed to bloom earlier, in the summertime and springtime, and here I am in the autumn of life, blooming or hopefully soon to be, with all the hopes and dreams I have had for years. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe, like that flower, I can be a bright spot in other people’s lives, when they are feeling the bleakness around them.

Most people have read the verse above, and remember it from weddings and the talk of love as the greatest, but I was reminded that in this verse, faith, hope and love are connected. Faith is believing, hope is putting our trust in and love is what God has shown us in sending His son. Never give up on believing, on faith, on hoping. For God never gives up on loving us. -Amen

Beloved

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” – Song of Solomon 6:3

Today, our son is getting married. Like other weddings I have been to, it will be a day to celebrate the love between my son and his bride. Many family members have traveled to witness this beautiful ceremony and reception. To join in celebrating with the couple this very special day, when they affirm their covenant before God to love each other no matter the circumstances.

I often think about our wedding celebration that is yet to come with Jesus. For Christians, we have this promise that some day, we, as the bride of Jesus, will be presented at the wedding feast of the Lamb. We will eat and celebrate together with Jesus and all of us will be beautiful, radiant, and unblemished. We will be healed and whole.

And I wonder, as I think about this upcoming celebration, if Jesus will gaze at his bride, the church, as a groom gazes delightfully at his bride. You see, I have seen it before, in my son as he looks at his fiancee and as my son in law looked at my daughter on their wedding day- also this year. He was totally captivated by her.

Life is so busy, and I think I missed it before, but what I saw a few days ago, was nothing short of beautiful. The look on our son’s face- He and his fiancee were practicing their wedding dance, and there it was- for a moment- my son looked at her with a most beautiful gaze, an amazing moment of love- shining through in his eyes as he looked at her. It caught me off guard as I had seen them many times together, but in that moment, I could imagine also, of the way Jesus will look at us, his bride with love.

A love that is sincere, captivating, beautiful. May we look forward to that day with all hope and anticipation. It will be a day to celebrate and will wipe away every bad memory of this sometimes long, difficult and tedious life. May it give you hope to think of Jesus looking at you with a love that is sincere, captivating and beautiful. Amen. – God Bless Nancy.

Don’t Miss It

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24, NIV)

This week has been difficult. Not going to pretend that it hasn’t. But not so much for me as for others that I know either personally or through a friend of a friend. Life is difficult at times and it is only complicated with the “ever- hanging on” world- wide pandemic. It seems like it just won’t give up its grip. It is easy to get discouraged at these times in our lives. We are looking for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, only to discover it is a train coming straight towards us. It is overwhelming and if anyone considers it soberly, thoughtfully, they can find the secondary affects of this stress filled global situation. If it seems to you that people have become angrier and lashing out at others, then you have the same thoughts as I have. The world is reeling from the stress and people are just reacting to the fear they are experiencing. Anger is a a secondary emotion that is caused by hurt, fear or a perceived threat or hurt.

As a Christian, I am not immune to feelings of fear, or hurt or anger. The difference is that I can take all these fears, and hurts and bring them to the feet of Jesus. I can ask for His wisdom and ask for help in dealing with it all. I can ask Him to help me forgive others. I do not have to solve it by myself. I do not have to let it all get the best of me. Although, I admit sometimes I let it do just that; get the best of me. I get overwhelmed, stressed out, angry, hurt and discouraged. I fall short of giving it to Jesus first, preferring to struggle on my own for a bit. But just when I get comfortable trying to deal with it in my slump, God shows up with a reminder of the good that is left in a world of a global crisis.

It may be just me, but I have noticed something very remarkable in the past two weeks. While the world has been watching the Olympics and celebrating the medal winners and conversing about the athletes’ mental health issues, I have seen a beautiful picture of what it means to “Spur on one another”. I can’t help but notice that the talented athletes of the games, have been hugging, fist bumping and cheering on others, that is not only their own teammates, but their competitors. Winners do not gloat over themselves, but reach over the ropes, or walk around the ropes to hug and congratulate the other competitors. They represent different countries, different political viewpoints and ideologies, but here, at the Tokyo Olympics, they are just athletes, who act more like friends then competitors. The level of sportsmanship has been amazing. Countries who do not get along on the political stage, have athletes who walk up and hug each other. The common ground of course is their sport. They are all athletes who have trained hard and love their sport, and are not afraid to share in celebration and encouragement with others, regardless of where they live, or what country they represent. I have watched quite a few Olympics- not going to tell you how many- but for real, this is the one thing that really stood out in contrast to other Olympics. These athletes should be recognized for this sportsmanship. It is the way the world should be and needs to be now. It is what the church in particular should look like. This is what the author of the Book of Hebrews was reminding the Christians to do. Encourage others to keep on keeping on doing good deeds for others. Keep on believing. Keeping on having faith.

What I have seen from the Olympics has challenged me to find ways to encourage others. To offer hope, to praise their efforts, and let them know I am pulling for them. Is there anyone in your life you can encourage? To build up and not tear down? To spur them on in their faith walk? This is what we are called to do. -God Bless- Nancy

Was it you?

Some days we can let our circumstances get the best of us. And our emotions. We get tired and we get cranky. On the outside we are adults, but on the inside we can act like an unruly two year old. We want our way, and when we don’t get it, we get upset.

The recent events of the world have stretched me and tried my patience to the point of my becoming that unruly two year old.  I feel bad for feeling bad, which makes the situation worse, it seems. I have been the queen of self- criticism before, and on a particular, hot, tiresome August day, I acted both as a temperamental toddler and a self-critic. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. I had been fighting the constant battle of my thoughts. If you read my last blog, you know that I addressed fear versus caution in the midst of this pandemic. Most of the time, I can keep my perspective and my focus on Christ and the things that matter, rather than on the fears that continually get fueled by what I see and read. It is easy to give into fear, especially when you’re worn out and tired.

So, there I was, exhausted, worn out, stressed and alone in a gas station bathroom. I had had enough of it all. The worries of the pandemic, the fears of moving into new chapters of my life, the pressure of resuming my seminary classes after a summer break, the disappointments and disagreements between family members, and the late hour. I felt my eyes well up with tears, but I didn’t want to let myself cry. I’d have to walk back through the store portion of the station, and didn’t want to face anyone, even a stranger with my red eyes and running mascara. I quietly told God I wanted to give up. I’ve had enough. I  knew that much of what had been happening in my personal life was a spiritual attack from the pits of hell, but I was just tired of fighting it.

In those moments of frustration and desperation, it seems like the most logical thing to say or think is to cry “Uncle”. Our faith is being stretched so much. We just want to throw in the towel and tell the Devil he’s won. We’ll stop trying to make a difference in the world. Just look out for number one, forget others, Isn’t that what the world tells us to do? Why go against the current? Why speak up for the truth? Why follow God? Why keep going to school to answer God’s call to be a pastor? How many war wounds and battle scars are enough God? I just wanna give up God, it’s not worth it anymore, can you help me God? If not, I’m giving up!

But, you were there. And you made a difference. I never saw you, might not ever meet you. But I know you had been there and must have listened to God’s voice, that still, quiet voice, to leave me a note in the bathroom that evening. It was such a clear message from God, that in my two- year tantrum mindset,  I tried not to see it. I was just so fed up with everything. I know God it was really a note from you. An answer from you, not just from a person. You are pretty intentional, and you intended for me to see that little piece of folded paper.

There it was, a handwritten note, slightly damp from the water of the sink from others who had seen it, while they washed up. It was written in colored pencil or ink, and some of the writing from the back side of the paper had faded. But there was no doubt about the message; “Jesus loves you so very much” Simple. To the point. And not even a memorized Bible verse. Just the reminder I needed that late evening at a gas station bathroom. I recited in my mind the words over and over again as I walked back out into the parking lot. Jesus loves me. So. very. much. Not just the simple Jesus loves me this I know, of the familiar kids song, but different, personal, and just what I needed to hear from God.

So thank you, who ever you are, you made a difference in my world and hopefully in the world in general. Thank you for not giving up in telling the world that yes, in fact, Jesus does love them so very much. Maybe you were a child, who forget their handwritten picture on the sink earlier that day as you washed your hands, or maybe you were a teen or adult, who knew to hear God’s voice and share the love you know with the world who does not know of God’s love.

We all have a part to play in Christ’s kingdom if we are Christians. Don’t give up and throw in the towel. Your action might be small, like a little piece of paper on a sink. But you make the difference in the world.

The world is desperate for answers, for peace, and for love. God has all that, and He is offering it freely. We all need to encourage each other about God’s love for us. Of His truth. Of His peace He offers. Of His hope that does not disappoint. Of His answers to prayer, that sometimes come in the form of little notes left on sinks.

Maybe you are looking for answers, be sure not to overlook those little quiet voices, reminding you to look to God for those answers. Be quiet enough to listen so that you don’t miss them. They might come in the form of a little, folded, love note from God. God hears you.