Women Gathering in Kitchens

I hate those parties with the catalogs selling something high priced, with the sales person giving her spiel. Abhor baby showers, bridal showers, pretty much any gathering with the word shower and/or any event that may include pastel mints or some cheesy game no one wants to play. Most of the time I avoid the tupperware-type extravaganzas. Unless of course, I’m doing someone a favor. Then I will begrudgingly attend.

Last night, it was the perfect storm for such an occasion. I had an empty house, and a bad case of procrastination with a long to-do list staring me in the face. That’s what drove me to go to my friend Raechel’s Scentsy party. (Actually, I walked…since she lives two doors down.) Yes, I know. Scentsy. Even the name makes me shudder a little. Not to disgust or offend my lovely friends who may take the time to melt wax in really expensive containers to make your house smell pretty. Nothing wrong with that at all, if it’s your thing. Lighting a candle is as high maintenance as I get with the scented stuff. A cheap candle…from WalMart. I don’t have time to worry about more than that, nor money to spend on maintaining the scent level of my home with packages of wax.

Raechel was a lovely hostess, offering us a delicious array of appetizers and fun conversation. I smelled the samples until my nose couldn’t smell anymore. We laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Ok, so it wasn’t half bad for a catalog party! I even bought some car fresheners for the Tims and me. And, some body spray. Sorry…no chance I was buying the melty pot things and bars of wax to melt.

But, after the party…

The women were gathered in the kitchen. Most of the ladies in attendance were Raechel’s family. Mom, sister, aunt,, daughters. For a moment, I stood by the table, watching them laugh and chide one another with a familiar exchange. Bantering back and forth like we do with those we love…the ones we are most comfortable with…the ones who get us. And, there it was…sweeping in unexpectedly, as it always comes. The missing. The longing. I watched Raechel with her mom, an easy exchange between a mother and daughter. What I miss most about my mother is gathering in the kitchen. To laugh, joke, tease, share a tidbit of the days. I miss when I was young and Grandma and Aunt Cheryl would gather with us in Mom’s kitchen. We had the same easy way amongst ourselves. Same banter. Same safe place that only exists with those who truly know you…and get your silly quirks… and love you just the way you are.

I miss gathering with my childhood friend, Nicki, in her Aunt Linda’s kitchen while generations of women baked delectable Christmas goodies. I ache to gather in Dinah’s marvelously eclectic kitchen…to laugh, to pray, to delve further into a morsel of His Word and chew on it a bit, to cry together…to feel at home. I miss gathering in Ginny’s kitchen with a brood of young children climbing all over the denim jumpers we spent our 20s wearing, covered in flour as we baked sugar cookies. And, I miss the bible studies in her dining room, when a blue haired, droopy pants-ed teenager named Amos took care of our brood of young ones so we could discuss passages in Corinthians.

My mother, Aunt Linda, and Dinah no longer walk this Earth. Someone else fills their kitchens. Or maybe they sit empty, echoing silently with the years of laughter and memories that once reverberated off the walls. Ginny, Nicki, and I have our own kitchens. Our own busy lives that prevent most kitchen gathering moments. And, I suppose there will be times when my kitchen serves as a gathering place for women. My favorite times now are those when my house is filled with people I love, and the sounds of laughter as we gather in the kitchen. Gerken Baking Day. Holiday gatherings. The missing I feel for the women who met together once in the kitchen with me, is so intense. No one knows you like your mom…it’s true. Sometimes I feel so desperate to laugh with her in the kitchen, I’ve even dreamed about it. But, perhaps the time has come for me to fill my own kitchen…with whomever I can. I am limited on the women who fill my kitchen. Most of time, if my kitchen is full, it’s filled with boys. That makes me happy too. Listening to their stories…offering a place where someone “gets them”….and loves them just as they are. Maybe someday, those boys will bring wives to my kitchen, and we can gather and laugh and make new memories. Maybe their young ones will climb all over in the flour as we bake. (I can promise you, though, I will not be donning a denim jumper. Ever again.) Maybe it doesn’t have to be just women in the kitchen. Maybe it’s about family. And, not just the family that exists by blood…but those who are family in our hearts.

In the busyness of life, it’s good to stop and remember that the things that make the most lasting impression on our lives and hearts aren’t the elaborate plans we make, or big trips we take, or even the ball games and other activities in which our children participate. It’s the simple gathering as a family in the kitchen. Or where ever. To laugh with the people who see us as we are…and love us anyway. My mother always said, in the simplest of times…when things were going well, or when they fell apart…”We’re making a memory.” She was right. My most precious memories will always be the daily moments we spent, gathering in her kitchen.

The Truth is…

Some days I’m just trying to survive it all and cling to the hem of His garment. I don’t always like to share that truth. I want to seem like I am juggling my job as a special needs para, my duties as a wife and mother, and this ministry with ease. But, the truth is, there are days when I feel overwhelmed, tired, and under qualified. The truth is…on my own, I’m not qualified. But, the Lord equips me to accomplish what He has laid on my heart to do. He will complete the good work He began in me. The truth is, I make mistakes everyday. But, His grace covers my weaknesses. I’m so grateful. The truth is…even as I reach out to minister to grieving hearts with reassurance of His comfort, there are days when I am a puddle of emotion curled up in His lap, still in need of the same comfort. I don’t have it all together…but I know Who does. I know Where to go. And, He is always faithful to offer His comfort to the little girl who desperately needs some time in Daddy’s arms. I’m sharing this now, because it occurs to me that who wants to hear from someone who always has it together, anyway? Don’t we share encouragement for one another through our struggles? Don’t we serve One who makes beauty from our messes?

I posted earlier today about Christmas and our December 2011 Wedding Trifecta. What I didn’t tell you is that this is the first Christmas since my mother went home to heaven that I didn’t cry my eyes out in alone the kitchen,  from the ache of missing, while cooking Christmas dinner, because she wasn’t there to talk to. Instead I cooked and cleaned and laughed with my people.

I’ve been putting off stopping by Dinah’s to pick up a box her daughter said was waiting for me on her dining room table a few weeks ago.  The thought of walking into her house….sigh…there are no words to describe my desire to avoid it. She was my second mom. She was the other person I chatted with while cooking Christmas dinner. When all the Christmas crazy of family and busyness would get to us, we would obnoxiously sing an off key version of “Happy Hoooooolidaaaaayyyys” and laugh hysterically at ourselves. It was a great stress reliever. Because sometimes, the holidays can be anything but happy. Sometimes, it’s hard to find Jesus in all of the noise.

I didn’t cry in the kitchen, but every time I heard Happy Holidays on the radio, I teared up a bit. Man, do I miss laughing obnoxiously with her.

Today, I pulled into her driveway and walked over the concrete patio Tim poured for her a couple summers ago, into the house. I think I held my breath, hoping to keep from being affected. Game face on…numbness. Don’t let the feelings come, because they will be too much. The white box with my name on top waited on the table. I stopped to look at the room where she took her last breaths. No…I can’t. Shaking my head, I stepped back out, carrying my white box. It’s quite a thing…a woman’s home after she passes….so full of touches of her life…so empty with her absence.

I opened the white box and still would not allow the wall to come down. I read my own words written to her in a letter meant to encourage years ago. Young and full of passion for the Lord, the scrawled words on the paper appeared vaguely familiar. There was a book called The Broken Shell with beautiful and fitting prose. And, this…

 

Now hanging on my wall beside the picture below, taken from my mother’s house to remind me how important a mother is to her home…on those weary days when I might need reminding.  

 

 

Dinah’s house was always filled with crazy things that didn’t make sense, but somehow fit perfectly together in her house. And everything had some meaning, whether it was a painting created by her eclectic friend, Diane, or a piece of twiggy furniture she made with her own hands. I closed the box, thinking I have no idea what the above item means, or why I was meant to have it. I walked away and went about my evening, stuffing Comfort Bears and watching Julie and Julia…again.

Later, I wandered back to the box, and picked up the quirky, pink, beaded, mystery item. I read the tag…

Once there was a little girl

with sparkles in her hair

and giggles in her soul.

She is like an angel.

The message inside:

Give all

Believe fully

Laugh deeply

and

Be yourself

The tears came as I hung the crazy piece in my kitchen above the sink, where I spend my time doing the dishes. Dinah always put scripture and other important quotes around her sink, along with people she loved and wanted to remember to pray for. Because, you know…that’s where we will surely see them…in the kitchen while doing our dishes and cooking and other home keeping duties we women do. I hung it, and nodded, blinking back the tears.

I get it, Dinah-girl. And, I’m doing my best and clinging to Him still.

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This is off subject, but I just wanted to share one more thing. I received this ornament in the ornament exchange hosted by Fran. This ornament was created by Gabsha Designs and sent to me from Alisa. Thank you, Alisa…your gift took my breath away and touched my heart deeply. It means more than I can say to have something that honors our entire family hanging on the tree. We will treasure it always.

 

Experiencing the Miracle of Gratefulness…Some Sort of Perfect Storm…Clinging

I have hesitated to write this post…knowing the minute I speak of this publicly, I open myself up for spiritual attack or to fall miserably on my face. Probably both.

But, I’m too encouraged…

invigorated…

full of peace and joy…

strengthened…

in awe…

and grateful…

…not to share this.

Over the past few weeks, something miraculous has occurred in my heart. God is changing me, and I am in awe. I’m not sure if it’s an answer to prayers being lifted up on my behalf….or if it’s the miracle of learning eucharisteo as I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts…the simplicity of offering a steady stream of thanksgiving directly to the Lord, in everything, watching my own list growing each day…embracing the gift of right now. Gratefulness is a powerful thing. How could something so simple bring such unlimited joy and cover our lives with such grace?

It could also be the fact that my friend Dinah seems to have left behind pieces of her legacy within me and others who love her…inspiring me to be more, to be free, to be the person He created me to be. I can see her now, among the “cloud of witnesses”, encouraging us from heaven, cheering the loudest. Strange how in the midst of the missing, something else has risen….inspiration, strength, courage, grace, freedom. How can that even be?

Perhaps it’s the perfect storm of all of the above. After all, He makes all things beautiful in His time. Perhaps it’s all coming together just as He planned it.

All I know is that, while the circumstances of this imperfect life have remained the same, I am changing.

A heavy burden is lifting. Granted, it’s only been a recent change. But for right now…I’m going to embrace this gift and give thanks for it.

I am sleeping at night and have all week (This hasn’t happened much in the past four years). Good sleep. Enough sleep.

I am resisting the temptation to eat unhealthy foods, and not complaining about it.

The gratefulness is replacing all desire to complain and wallow. It’s taking away the attitude of “I don’t wanna” and replacing it with “I get to”…taking away the desire to resist what I know I should be doing, replacing it with a big “Cowboy up, Chicken Little, and do the next thing!” (In case this message wasn’t clear enough, my pastor threw in a bit in last week’s message about how we look like two year olds throwing a temper tantrum when we whine and don’t do what we know we should do…and God looks down and says, “Get over it!” Don’t get me wrong…I love me some grace and mercy…and God gives both generously. But there is a time when a loving Father says…Let’s move on…it will do no good to stay here and wallow. In other words, “Get over it!”) I’m not speaking about grief. That’s a different thing all together. I am talking about the things I make excuses for…not giving Him all of me, not doing my devotions, having wrong attitudes, going to other things, like food, for comfort.

I didn’t even consider how powerful simply focusing on the gifts God has given in each moment would be in every area of my life. In high school, I had an Algebra teacher who used to always say, “It’s a great day! You get to do Algebra! You don’t have to…you get to.” When I was a teenager, it was a bit annoying. That man, a lover of Jesus, who was also my pastor back in my baby Christian days, knew the gift of gratefulness. He had the right attitude. I feel that same fervor for life seeping into my heart, renewing me. When I feel tempted to say, “I don’t wanna”…it is quickly replaced with “I get to…live this day, go to my job, cook for this family, help this child with his homework, listen to that child play his guitar, wash these dishes, settle into this bed at the end of the day beside this man that I love.” I get to!

Another day…really?

Is being transformed to…

Another day! Really!! What a gift!

Crazy, huh?

I’m embracing it.

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One more thing…on the subject of “clinging”…

Have you ever considered the word “cling” in The Old Rugged Cross? I never had…until the day we stood side by side, singing at Dinah’s funeral. Tim’s guitar music gently guided, and I sang the words. And, when I reached the chorus, my voice quivered for a moment as I sang,

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

“I will cling to the old rugged cross…and exchange it some day
                                             for a crown.”

A crown which I will lay at His feet. I remember when Dinah and I talked about how He will turn our struggles, and our clinging to Him into crowns one day. Crowns we can lay at His feet in an act of worship. She had just gone Home, and I stood in  her church, singing about the crowns and the clinging. And..He met me there.

You know, He always meets us there. Where ever He asks us to go, He is faithful to meet us there.

And, He’s here, right now…in the laying down of my trophies, in the learning to cling to the cross ever closer.

In all of it, He is there.

Cowboy up, Chicken Little…More Things Dinah Said…

Last week was hard.

Going back to life and work so quickly after saying goodbye to Dinah seemed so surreal.

The weight of that reality for her family…heavy on our hearts, heavy on theirs….

A lot of heavy.

Tears fresh in my eyes as I walked into work, heavy with thoughts of her and images of grief-stricken faces parading through my mind.

Tuesday, Wednesday…

By Thursday, I awoke once more with the heavy. The heavy of cancer’s fury, of another goodbye, of all the sorrow this world offers, the reality of death, the missing of my friend. I looked in the mirror at the dark circles, the pale face, the worn look of one who has lived a lot of life in thirty-five years. I sighed heavily.

Another day, really?

Then, her words…playing in my mind as they had so many times before.

“Cowboy up, Chicken Little. Just do the next thing.”

She always called me Chicken Little. I have no idea why. She called her daughter, Christy, the same thing. A compliment indeed, since Christy is one of the most cool, beautiful, classy chicks I know. She has a lot of her mother in her. Dinah liked the saying “cowboy up”…meaning, “man up”, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. Dinah was a horse lover. I’m smiling now, picturing the cowboy boots under her casket. So Dinah.

“Just do the next thing” was a phrase spoken by Elizabeth Elliot…a phrase we share here, often when talking about grief. When life overwhelms us, when things hurt too much…just do the next thing. It might be: get out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work. Keep it simple. Give yourself grace. Dinah loved it and said it often.

So, I cowboyed up…got ready for work, got into the car, put one foot in front of the other….did the next thing. And, the next, and the next.

I’ve been thinking of a couple other things she said to me when I was young and feisty.

“Life is a process, not an event.”

“He makes all things beautiful in His time.” (love this truth…love this song.)

Years ago, when I was frustrated and wanted to let someone have it…tell them how it is, she would say…

“What is your goal? What are your trying to achieve by saying that or doing that?”

Those words reminded me to have self-control. I learned to pray more and speak less. Now, the Lord has imparted much grace into my life, teaching me that He is faithful if I wait on Him. I’m so grateful for Dinah’s wisdom and patience as she taught my young, head-strong, opinionated self to hold my tongue.

The gift of her life is ongoing. Many are missing her…and we will miss her until we enter heaven’s gates. But, until then…it is her voice in our heads along with His strength, encouraging us to cowboy up and do the next thing.

To read more nuggets of wisdom from Dinah, click here.

P.S. I just had to come back and add another quote mentioned by my pastor this morning that I so loved. I think Dinah would have liked this one, too. It was on a magnet that Pastor James’ mom, Joyce (another woman I dearly love), had on her refrigerator. It read: “Don’t try to outstubborn your mother.”

Good stuff.

Tasting Heaven While Dressed in Funeral Clothes

I laid out my dress, chosen with her in mind, searched through my drawers to find the elusive pair of black hose without a run, fastened the silver beaded necklace, slipped on the bracelet Marlene made for me, and smoothed the make up over my tear stained face. He pulled his suit from the closet and hung it on the door as we readied ourselves.

Funeral clothes. Everyone who loved her was laying them out at the same time in their various homes, getting ready to say goodbye. Tears mixing with water droplets falling from the shower head. A ritual that becomes more familiar with the passing of time. Laying out the funeral clothes.

The scent of yellow roses wafted throughout the sanctuary and draped her casket. I nodded in the direction of her zebra print top and stepped onto the stage for the sound check. She always inspired me to rise to the occasion and do the next thing. “Lord, help me be able to do that now…help us.” After adjusting his guitar strap, I sang a couple verses, breathing in the flowers and letting the song carry us. His peace was there.

The whisper…”Just cling to Me…I will carry you…I will meet you there”.

I nodded, knowing He would.

The joy of her heart, three years old with the blondest hair I’ve ever seen and the bluest eyes, stole my heart in one second as he clutched his big Floppy pony. He danced to show what Grandma Dinah was doing in heaven, and made the tear stained faces smile. He stood by his Grandpa and folded his hands as he leaned into his mama. Pieces of her living on in him…in all of us.

We bowed our heads, we took the stage, and sang our songs. I thought of how she always inspired me to rise to the occasion. Even though I was being carried, I was grateful that He met me there so that I could honor her. We listened to the memories of her, and I clung to him. There’s nothing more beautiful than the testimony of the life of one who loved the Lord and served Him with all of her heart. Precious. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His servants. Precious. Because death here means new life there.

Heels clicking on pavement and a sea of black suits made the procession. Driving through puddles in our funeral clothes, snow melting into mud. Heels sinking into the soft earth and gentlemen hands helping ladies over the puddles. Black suits huddled beside the grave adorned in our funeral clothes, breathing in yellow roses under a tent, February winds swirling around. Quiet weeping and scripture reading, heads bowed in prayer, hearts honoring a woman dearly loved. Her blond legacy beautiful, sitting in a row…saying goodbye, beginning the missing. Full of the grace and beauty she leaves behind.

She knows how I feel about the grave and visiting the cemetery. She knows I’d rather focus on heaven, and she always agreed. Still, we stopped to lay one of her yellow roses on their grave, just a couple spots over, clinging to one another as if it were yesterday that we stood in this spot saying different goodbyes with the much younger looking tear stained faces. We walked away from the graves, heels sinking in the mud.

I’m always saying the only thing you can take with you to heaven is other people. If in heaven our riches are based on how many we take with us by showing the love of Jesus during our time on this earth, then our Dinah is a very rich woman. She touched so many lives in such a profound way…

A funny thing happened…an amazing, miraculous thing. Dinah loved everyone in her life with all that was in her and she talked about each of us to the others. She described the people she loved in such detail that when we met face to face today in the place we came to honor one we love in our funeral clothes, we felt as if we knew each other. In heaven, scripture tells us that “we will know one another as we are known”. I tasted that today.

Let me preface this by saying that I have an absolutely terrible memory. I am always forgetting names and everything else. But, today, many times I would see a someone Dinah loved…a person I had never met or seen before, but I knew their names. I would say “Are you so-and-so?” And, they were the person that Dinah had told me all about. Each one knew me right back. It was as if we all knew each other and were connected by her love. That must be a taste of what heaven is like…knowing one another…connected by His love. It was a special gift. And, truly a beautiful celebration. Except for all the black and the tears, she would have loved it. She would have loved all the people she loved gathered together and knowing one another as we are known…no doubt she did.

Things Dinah said…

Dinah was a character. One of a kind. Well, I have no doubt she still is…just heaven-style, now. But, if you were listening, she was full of wisdom. This morning I awoke with her words on my mind. Here are some of my favorite Dinah-isms. I may come back and add to the list later as I remember. I have a whole-lifetime of her words in my heart.

On marriage and keeping a home…

“You’re giving that man way too many words. He cannot handle every thought in your mind and every feeling you have. Without a word…He is won without a word. How do you not know that after growing up with all those brothers?”

Incidentally…she also said the above phrase about my boys…whenever I gave them too many directions or over explained…=) She would say, “You know he heard about three words of what you just said, don’t you?”

“Your home should be a haven to all who enter.”

“Let the kids play, but start getting things in order an hour before your husband comes home: have the house picked up, children clean and presentable, supper cooked and comb your hair, put on some lipstick,  and wear something pretty before that man comes home. He should come home to order and peace.”

“My mother took a nap everyday. I think that’s a good idea.”

“If it blesses your husband when you make him breakfast before work, then get up and make him breakfast.”

“The way you present yourselves and your family is a reflection of whether or not you honor your husband.”

“Never get too tired, angry, hungry, or lonely.”

“Make sure those boys know how to conduct themselves in any situation. You never know when you might have to eat dinner with the president.”

“Make sure those boys know how to treat a lady with respect and use their manners.”

“Make sure those boys know the Word. Better to pay them to learn scripture than to do their chores or get good grades. Sometimes good godly fear and reverence are necessary for a boy to know. They need to respect the things of God. Respect is the language young men speak.Then, they can learn about grace.”

“Baseball games and golf matches are not an excuse not to feed your family something healthy.”

She loved James Dobson’s philosophy about helping our kids find their niche: “You have to find some area of life..some skill or ability or activity for your children to experience success…keep looking until you find whatever it is.”

In regards to children with stubborn wills: “You always need to have more time than they do.” (That’s fine…I’ll wait it out…I’ve got time.) And also…”If you do find yourself in a battle of wills with your child…you must win.” Hence the waiting it out. Better, of course to avoid the battle of wills whenever possible. =)

On the way we present ourselves to others…

She hated it when people spoke with too much slang or “dumbed down” their speech. She would say it’s important to have a good “command of the English language”.

She was appalled by “poor-talking”….focusing on what we don’t have….acting like one is just so poor when they have plenty. She would say…”My Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills…it is disrespectful to act like He hasn’t provided plenty.”

On my family…

“Tim is such a good dad because he has horse sense.”

She always loved to say at various times when she was super proud of my kids or Tim, or anyone else, really. “He is just a rock star…really he’s a rock star.” She is one of the only people other than my mom and mother-in-law that I have felt like I could really brag about my kids when I was proud of them, and she would care just as much and feel just as proud. She claimed us as her own, and rightly so.

For her final resting place, she said she wanted to be “where Kelly’s babies are”. And, so that’s where she will be.

On God’s ways being higher than ours…

“He is who He is and He does what He does.”

One of my favorites when I was giving her too many of my words…(Ya’ll know I like words!)

“Are you almost done giving me the prologue? I haven’t got all day…can you just get to the point?” I do love a good prologue.  Everything has a story. =)

On God’s ways regarding grief and healing…

(The words below are taken from the Dreams of You Memory Book, Copyright 2004-2011 Sufficient Grace Ministries, Kelly Gerken. They were born like so many things in a woman’s life from a conversation Dinah and I shared about grief and God’s ways as He heals our hearts. I’ve shared them here before, but they seem fitting to share again here. Oh, I just remembered another phrase she always said when something wasn’t right….”This just ain’t fittin’!” She wouldn’t say that about this.)

My friend Dinah gives a great analogy of how God mysteriously works. She likens it to the changing of the seasons. In the autumn the leaves change colors. Often though it is so gradual, so subtle that we don’t realize it fully until one day the tress are orange, yellow, red and brown instead of green. In the same way as winter approached, the leaves fall from the tress. One day, we notice that the leaves are gone. We know they must have been falling for some time, but it was so subtle and gradual that we hardly noticed, until, one day when they were all gone and the land was stark and bare. When spring comes, everything brings forth new life. What once was dead is alive again. And one day it happens. You wake up and the leaves have returned once more – green and shiny and new. You can’t point to a time when they began to bloom, exactly. You may have seen a bud or two. But it seems that it is sudden. In reality it was happening all the time, subtle, gradual, unseen, changing and restoring life. That is the best illustration I have heard of the way the Holy Spirit works in us to heal and restore. How subtly God works in us to change us until one day what once was, is no more. One day , we are no longer struggling. We have overcome what once held us captive, be it bitterness, pain, grief, or sin. God had been healing us all along, working while we struggled. He will take the tatters ashes of the broken hearts and made them into something beautiful … God will use every tear, every moment of brokenness to make beauty from ashes to heal our pain and restore our joy.


Another Goodbye…

I walked through the house, drinking in the sight of each room, unsure of when or if my eyes would settle on her house again. I always loved the way her house was adorned with touches of her, paintings she made, fabric draped across windows, fabric she chose for it’s color and texture. Fabric she sewed with her hands. I looked at her pictures telling the tale of a life well-lived and a woman well-loved, who loved well.

I settled in the chair beside her bed, the room filled with amber light bouncing off the sage green walls, listening to the rhythm of her breathing her waning breaths and the whispered prayers of the women surrounding her. I saw in her daughter’s eyes a reflection…familiar. Oh…how I wished they weren’t being asked to walk this path. I looked at the scripture scrawled across her beloved chalkboard and my eyes wandered to the kitchen table where we shared our revelations, our tears, our prayers, and most of all our unbridled laughter. I ran my hand across the table with the wild horses painted on it…the table she made with her hands, admiring the beauty of her work. Absently, I brushed the crumbs from the table onto a plate. Dinah always hated crumbs on her table.

I remembered our conversation after my mom passed.  I was struck by how much the touches of a woman and her personality makes up a home…how valuable a mother is to the life of her family. Dinah had talked then of her own mom’s passing in those days when my wounds were still fresh, as I cried with the ache of a daughter who had no idea such missing could exist. She knew about the missing. She missed her own mother still…her mother, the one who always had painted finger nails and called me, “the girl who laughs”.

Listening to her anguish, an Ecclesiastes moment threatened to punctured my thoughts, “What is the point?” The answer lies in the look in her husband’s eyes when someone shares how his beloved has touched their lives. The answer lies in her beautiful blond daughters who love Jesus and are filled with the grace and grit she leaves behind. The answer lies in the legacy of photographs, pristine English riding competitions, and her dog Sky’s blue eyes wondering. The answer lies in the face of her precious grandson. It lays in the beauty of my marriage restored and flourishing, and countless others she prayed for…healed and restored. It lays in those who proclaim the name of Jesus because she prayed and boldly shared the truth with them.

As I lay awake in the night watches praying my pleading prayers…the prayers that hurt too much to fully utter… I think of all the night watches she lay awake on my behalf…on behalf of my kids, my mother, my husband, her family, her friends, the prisoners she ministered to….everyone she loved.

I read some of her favorite quotes hanging in the kitchen. One was a reminder never to get too hungry, tired, lonely, or angry. Advice she gave me early on in my marriage, along with a myriad of other things. Another was “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” I smiled, looking around at her eclectic, colorful house that so reflected her eclectic, colorful, snarky sweet personality. Not Dinah. She held nothing back…not her opinions, her wisdom, her passionate love for Jesus and His word, and most of all her love. The symphony of her life was poured into the lives around her. Her symphony plays on in the lives of everyone who loved her.

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I started writing this early this morning…reflecting on saying good-bye to my friend Dinah, whose time was short as I began this post. She went home to heaven this afternoon. She is free from cancer and every other earthly discomfort and sorrow. I will see her again, but for now, I will miss my dear friend. Please pray for her family and those who loved her.

Psalm 116:15

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants.

Shaken

Tonight I’m feeling a little shaken.

I have been purposing in my heart to make some changes. To run toward the Lord, to cling to Him, not to seek comfort in the things of this world, or my stinky onion layers. I have been desiring life and joy…determined, focused, excited about the Lies and Truth Bible Study…ready for a new year, a new adventure…excited to see what the Lord has in store for our family and Sufficient Grace Ministries in 2011. I’ve been having a grand time, getting my groove on with the Just Dance 2 game on our Wii. Dancing until I am out of breath, dripping with sweat, and laughing hysterically at myself. Good stuff.

The thing is, we are not in charge. We never know what is waiting around the corner. We may think we are going to get our dance on and wallow in a season of joy, reaping a harvest of the fruit that comes from sowing our tears during the seasons of sorrow.

We think we are ready for one thing.

And, something entirely different punches us square in the face shattering our plans.

I have shared before that watching my mother suffer and die from cancer was a struggle unlike any other in my life. It changed me…for the rest of my time on this Earth. Although I have leaned on the Lord, and felt His comfort and strength. I miss her daily…yet even in my missing, His grace is sufficient for me. I dream my dreams of longing for her…some ending bitterly. I experience her days of suffering like the flashes of a veteran returning from war. And…still His grace is sufficient for me.

Paul speaks in Corinthians of his thorn in the flesh. It was something that wasn’t taken from him…something he struggled with all his days on this earth. Many of us have thorns in the flesh…illness, pain, sorrow, grief, loneliness, depression, physical and/or mental disabilities. We have imperfections, flaws, quirks. Call them what you want.

This afternoon, I heard that one of my dearest friends who has been battling cancer was taken to the hospital. She has endured radiation, chemotherapy, all sorts of procedures and medicines, and other forms of torture to fight the cancer in her lungs and brain and perhaps other places in her body over the past couple years.

This woman taught me how to be a wife, with her sweet, snarky way of telling me how it is. With her straight-talking ways, she drilled into my young, selfish, raised-in-a-household-where-women-were-in-authority mind the importance of honoring my husband and caring for my home…and training up Godly young men. She walked with me through the deaths of my twin daughters, Faith and Grace…and later my son, Thomas. She sat beside us as her husband delivered Thomas’ eulogy under the blue sky with big, fluffy white clouds while the sun shone on our grief-stricken faces. One of a handful of people whose eyes looked upon our Thomas, she saw and appreciated his beauty. Her house was always the best place to have parties…the best food and fellowship. Her special gift has been making her home a haven for all who entered. She can make the best apple pie on God’s green earth. She prays fiercely for everyone in her life…no doubt her prayers helped keep my marriage together through the toughest years. She loves and “gets” teenagers…and they love her right back. When in good health, she visited and encouraged, and genuinely loved those in prison as she helped deliver the gospel to them. Her words are part of the story…our story…shared in the Dreams of You Memory Book. Dinah and I are always saying…”The most beautiful gifts in this life emerge from some of the most difficult suffering. It’s in the hard stuff that beauty is born.” Saying it is much different than walking it.

She is my second mom. And, like my first mom…cancer has stolen much from her. She has toughed it out…much like she toughed out everything else this life has dealt her so far…with a perfect blend of grit and grace. I love her dearly.

And…tonight, she is laying in a hospital bed.

The outcome is uncertain, for now, as far as the condition of her physical body and mind. She has survived much more than doctors expected. And, we serve a God who makes all things possible.

I am trying not to look with my eyes….

Trying not to remember the flashes of the moments I watched cancer steal my own mother’s mind and body…

Praying for my beautiful friend, Dinah, and her beautiful family.

Trusting that the same God who carried my mother and I through those days…will carry Dinah and her family in these days. Knowing that He is faithful.

When my mother was in the hospice center, Dinah sent me these verses:
Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.
~ Isaiah 46:4

Verses I whispered to my mother as she longed for reassurance of His promises in the last moments of her life…

Tonight, I am shaken…

But my God is steadfast and sure. He is not moved…

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… ~ 2 Corinth. 4:7-9

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-20

When my world is shaking, heaven stands…when my heart is breaking, I never leave Your hands…
~JJ Heller


Please pray…