The Importance of a Small Thing

Have you ever broken a bone? I have a colorfully checkered orthopedic history, according to my doctors.

It started in middle school, breaking my left big toe when I was helping to set up a trampoline in gym class, and someone didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, as it were. It continued in high school, as I broke each ankle in its turn, finding woodchuck holes on cross country courses in the region. In college, I broke my tailbone ice skating and later one of my wrists on roller skates. As a young mother, I blew first one knee skiing, and the other one a few years later when my heel broke when I was dancing. I broke my other wrist tripping over my husband’s cat when he was flopped in my path and I didn’t see him in the dark. I thought I was done, but 4 years ago, I broke my hand tripping over a curb at a rest stop in the early hours of the first morning of a road trip. (By the way, that’s just the list of what I’ve broken. I’ve also sprained both ankles and both wrists as well, in other, separate accidents.)

When I saw the orthopedic surgeon after I broke my wrist tripping over the cat, he was shocked at my history. “What have you been trying to do, girl? Kill yourself??” he demanded. “No,” I chuckled. “I was trying to find out what I could do, by finding out what I couldn’t.

I say all that to sheepishly tell you I did it again. I have more broken bones to add to the list, another misadventure ending in injury. We were in Ottawa, Canada recently for the Life Leadership Masters of Leadership Convention. It was the final morning of our trip. The conference was fantastic. The time with our partners was delightful. The hotel was gorgeous and had a great hot tub. The time away from our routine was a welcome break. The Poutine (a Canadian food, made from French Fries, gravy, cheese curds and whatever add-in’s you select) was incredible. All things added together, we were having a marvelous time.

And then the phone rang with the wake up call the final morning. It was on my side of the bed. To his credit, Bob had gotten up with it every other time it rang, because of the difficulty he knew I would have with it. This time, he didn’t. Oops. I woke up and tried to reach for it, past my C-pap machine (for breathing when I sleep), past my ever-present water bottle and realized it was too far away. I tried to angle further in my sleepy state, partially unable to see due to my room darkening mask still mostly covering my eyes, and the absence of my glasses (I’m almost blind without them!). My momentum caused me to fall off the high bed. I landed mostly on my right foot, which was turned under me, and my left leg, which hit the partly open lower drawer of the night stand. In a state of intense pain, I grabbed the phone, silencing the ringing, hollering variations of, “OW!!!” I’d badly bruised my leg, and broke my right little toe and the outside edge of my right foot in the fall, both hairline fractures.

Naturally, being the stubborn and determined person I am, I didn’t go see the doctor when I got home. In fact, I didn’t go for another 10 days! It was only when the pain started waking me up at night (after I stubbed it against Bob’s cat, who was laying on the floor in the dark where I didn’t see him), that I went and got the official verdict. However, in the meantime, I started to learn some painful lessons about the importance of our little toes,  our littlest and seemingly least insignificant body parts.

For such a small part of the body, the little toe is incredibly important! When we stand or walk, it is a crucial part of us being in balance. When we drive or use a bicycle, our little toes add strength and stability to our efforts. In short, it adds its efforts to the other toes and combines to make a mighty force in our lives we almost never notice, until something like this happens.

Breaking my little toe meant I limped, which threw me off balance, causing my hips to be out of alignment, creating discomfort in my lower back. Limping also caused strain on my other leg and knee, which had to bear more weight than normal. Finding a comfortable place to put my foot so my sandal wouldn’t rub on it caused discomfort to that knee, too. In other words, breaking my little toe negatively impacted orthopedic issues from my waist down, which had not been in any discomfort prior to my injury. It also impacted my lifestyle, and what I could and could not do, and altered plans I’d had for 5 weeks of my summer. I couldn’t swim, ride my bike or play softball, as I’d planned. It meant I had to rely on others more, something I immensely dislike doing (I did mention I’m stubborn and determined, right?). In short, it messed up major sections of my life for a bit.

Human relationships can be a lot like a person with a broken toe sometimes. The Bible talks about the Christians being in relationship like a body. Paul says in Romans 12: 4 – 5 (ESV – emphasis mine):

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individual members one of another.

He also says in I Corinthians 12:12 – 27 (ESV – emphasis mine) :

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
In the past, when I have been around as these concepts were taught, I have heard people say, “I must be a little toe, then, or something else equally insignificant. I cannot see where I am making a difference.” They are operating under the belief that if they are not out on the front lines of public ministry, if no one can see their service, it must be insignificant. Or worse, they leave “ministry” up to paid pastors and church employees and perhaps elders and other leaders, thinking if it doesn’t come with a title, it must not be a ministry. Their attitude is kind of like this:
When we think like these saints, we are living under a lie! We have been cruelly deceived, sidelined in what we can do, and a vital part of the ministry of the Body is lost in our failure to serve. We are also forgetting God sees everything we do, whether public or private. He knows our service, whether we see it as small or great. He knows it all.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song about changing this mindset, called “Do Everything.” He challenges us as Christians to live out our daily lives, performing our many tasks, as if God was watching over our shoulders at every minute of the day. And really, when you think about it (not to freak you out, or anything), He is! If we truly believe He knows and sees all, then He really does see and know every small act of service, no matter how unimportant we think it is.
There is also the matter of something called “The Butterfly Effect.” In short, it’s the impact of a small thing on larger consequences, the theory of how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in a rain forest could ultimately cause a hurricane and billions of dollars of damage somewhere else. Well, doing small things has a lasting impact we might never know about until we see God face to face! An example in my life is the choir director who saw talent in me when I was a quiet and shy kid who had joined only on a dare, who brought out in me a love of sharing my gift of song and taught me I love performing. Another was the youth leader who had compassion on me when I was a suicidal, abused teenager, who loved and counseled me back from the edge of disaster. Another is the mentor and leader who discovered my love to write and share from God’s truths hidden away in me and challenged me until I started this blog. For the most part, they don’t know the lasting impact of what their service rendered in my life, and really, neither do I.
I could go on and on! Who has impacted your life, dear reader? Who has done something, or said something, that they might have considered small or insignificant, that made a huge impact on you? Where have you impacted someone else? Please feel free to share a story and continue the discussion in the comments. Let’s thank them here, if nowhere else.
Dear Readers, be the little toe in the Body of Christ if that is what God is calling you to be. But please, dear saint, if you are the little toe or whatever body part you are, understand you are not insignificant. You are not unimportant. You are vital, you are needed and you are very much required and loved.  The pain in my life from one broken little toe has been proof enough of that!
Advertisements

When Life Turns Upside Down

What do you do when your life upends on itself? How do you handle a major shift (or even multiple ones), for which you likely hadn’t planned?

Much as my life is open on Twitter, Facebook and the like, there are certain things about which I am deeply private. Upheavals in my life, stresses I am enduring and tough things I am going through are things I do not share as I go through them, except with those closest to me. These are not for public consumption. If I do share them, I do so after, as a testimony.

However, Dear Readers, I’ve been grappling a lot with the questions I started this post with lately. I cannot say I have every definite answer on them. So why share such stuff now? Because as is my usual way on this blog, all I can do is share my journey and where I am in it, and hope it helps you in yours.

It all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the end of April. The weather was cool and the sky was cloudless. It was the kind of day that, when you woke up and looked outside and saw how gorgeous an early spring day it was, it made you happy to be alive in it. To make things better, we were attending a gathering that day with a group of our Life Leadership partners in Syracuse, NY, about a 3-hour drive from our home. It was a fun event, a reward for hard work and a time to spend relaxing with some of our favorite people.

On the interstate on the trip home, I was dozing in the front passenger seat of our minivan. I was tired from an exhausting week at work, and grateful I didn’t have to drive. My husband Bob was driving. Daughter Beth was in the middle seat, playing a game on her phone. Son-in-law Tom was in the back seat, sprawled asleep.

I woke to the rumble strip under us and saw the van speeding into the median strip on the left side of the road, heading toward scraping the guardrail. In a moment of panic, Bob yanked the wheel right, abruptly swerving us back onto the highway. Temporarily. The force of his yank caused the van to continue to careen to the right, swerving and tipping the van to the right, toward my side. I covered my face with my hands, and began to breathe the only prayer I could think of in such a moment, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

I stopped praying when the noise and movement stopped. I moved my hands from my face, shocked to be alive, and not in the Eternal presence of the One on Whom I’d called in my moments of greatest danger and need. I was upside down, pinned in place between the remains of the van’s roof, dashboard, and my seat, held firmly in place by my seatbelt, but I was alive!

I heard Bob asking everyone else if they were okay as he helped them out. I heard another voice, who I later learned was a woman who lived nearby, asking the same questions. I saw blood all over me, but quickly realized not much of it was mine. As far as I could see or feel, I just wasn’t cut that badly. I was, however, still pinned, and having a panic attack over it. The woman (who I learned was a nurse practitioner in her professional life) told everyone to let the paramedics and firefighters get me out. But I moved my arms and legs, hands and feet, and determined my spine was not damaged. I was just stuck!

Overriding her protests, Tom crawled in and released my seat belt’s buckle, freeing me and assisting me out. The woman insisted I go to one side away from the van and sit down on the grass there while we waited for the police and paramedics. Happy at being freed from my prison, I was grateful to comply.

I looked around and realized the van, which we’d just paid off a few short months before, was a total wreck. But we were all walking, talking and none of us appeared to be seriously injured! The paramedics looked at the scene, checked the cuts and road rash on Bob’s arm, and told him it was a miracle it hadn’t been torn off as we skidded upside down across the pavement and grass. My hands were cut where the smashing glass from my window and the windshield on my side cut them, but because I had put them up to pray, they took the damage, and my face did not. Beth’s shoulder was sprained where Tom had grabbed her by it and her hair as we started to flip and she was about to fly out the shattered windows and be crushed by the skidding van, saving her life. Tom’s bad back and Beth’s and my bad knees were made worse by the crash, but we walked away.

God protected us all that afternoon in so very many ways that are miraculous. In that 20-mile stretch of road, there was only one place where such an accident could have happened, and we could have skidded across 2 lanes into the grass on the roof. Everywhere else, there are guardrails, embankments, steep slopes ending in ravines and/or trees, hillsides and all the other things traveling on an interstate through hilly country involves. There was no traffic around us to hit us. The road behind us was empty when we skidded across it.

When Bob and I went to where they’d towed the van the next day to gather the remains of our belongings that hadn’t been lost or destroyed, we realized the back 1/3 of the vehicle was completely undamaged. The roof above my seat, my door and the passenger door on my side had taken the worst of the damage and had held just enough in place to save our lives, particularly mine.

God protected us even to our clothes and belongings. The only items of permanently damaged clothing were Bob’s shirt and Beth’s jacket, his with its asphalt stains and small rips, showing the force of the scraping along the pavement, and God’s protection of his left arm, and hers with its multiple rips from broken glass. And the shirt was easy to replace! Even the blood stains came out of all our clothes, including to my white turtleneck. The only items (aside from the van) lost forever were a plastic cup I’d been using and a small stuffed Tiger Beenie Baby named Stripes on the dashboard.

God protected our grandchildren. We could have brought them with us that day. Other people had, and the option was open to us. But we’d decided to leave them home with a sitter. So other than some emotional trauma because the sitter had the phone on speaker when Tom called to say we’d be late arriving and why our oldest granddaughter heard it. It took almost a week to reassure her that we’d be okay every time one of the adults walked out the door! (We now have a rule that no one answers the phone on speaker anymore!)

The paramedics and police arrived, and things moved rather quickly after that. They bandaged Bob and mopped up the rest of us. Tom initially objected to being transported to the hospital, but relented when our friends (who were following some miles after and would bring us home later) informed him they were not stopping to pick him up! (It was a good thing they did. His concussion needed further treatment the next day.) They brought us to the hospital, and we went through an evening of the usual Emergency Room “hurry up and wait” that non-life-threatening injuries have to endure. We didn’t mind. After rounds of tests, multiple bandages both large (Bob’s arm) and small (my hands), volumes of paperwork and what seemed like a million questions from marveling hospital employees, we were finally allowed to leave. We went to the nearest fast food drive-through, got food for all of us and our dear friends who’d waited so patiently for us and who we’d scared so badly (and who were bringing us home!), and went home.

We had minor concussions (everyone), several large cuts (Bob), multiple smaller cuts (mostly mine), 1 strained knee (Beth), 2 bruised knees (mine), 1 road rash (Bob), 2 bad backs made worse by the crash (mine and Tom’s, his being the worst) and multiple bruises (everyone, but mostly me because of hanging in the seat belt). In the hours and days to come, we also discovered a bit of post-traumatic stress as well among all of us. And we are alive.

Yes, I know, I keep repeating that. It’s the first lesson I learned from this. When your whole world turns (literally, in my case) upside down, find something or some things large or small to be grateful about. In a near-death episode, alive is a good place to start! We are also grateful for the other miracles, saving Bob’s arm and my face, the preservation of our belongings, the timing and location of the crash. We are grateful for our friends who came to us at the hospital, and who called our Life Leadership leaders and let them know, so they could pray. We are grateful for the prayers of our church family when they found out. We are grateful so little was injured, and that most are already healed and restored. We are even grateful for our insurance company, who was so quick with settlements and whose paperwork processes were so simple to navigate.

I took the next day off from work, to deal with the remnants of my concussion, get the stuff from the van and recover somewhat. We spent a lot of time over the next week with one another and our grandchildren, reassuring the children we were okay, and that we return home again whenever we left the house. Family time was more important to us than it ever had been over those days. When your whole world turns upside down, you get a chance to assess and perhaps even reassess your priorities. The traditional North American priorities of money and stuff can seem rather pointless when your paradigms get shifted so radically. We got a chance to affirm our faith and our family, from our immediate to our extended members, are some of the highest priorities in our lives.

Our lives have changed since the accident. Because Bob’s inattention (which caused us to go off the road to the left in the first place) was likely caused by a medical issue that had been previously unknown, Bob went the following week to his cardiologist, who is now doing tests and may send him to a neurologist for more tests. Until he gets a firm diagnosis and treatment, Bob is not allowed to drive. That leaves all the driving to Tom, Beth and me, and we’re now down one car. It makes life more inconvenient for everyone. In the inconvenience is the second lesson I’ve learned from this. When your whole world turns upside down, tolerance, patience and striving for excellence is required of those of us who live a life in service to others. You don’t have to fall into the trap of perfectionism when more weight falls on your shoulders than you are used to carrying. Perfect isn’t demanded. Your best is required.

There’s another lesson in Bob’s medical tests and current inability to drive.  These add uncertainty we didn’t have along with their inconvenience, creating a “new normal.” I grieved for our old “normal,” expressing my fears to my best friend (the same one who came for us that night). She reminded me fear is not from God, Who promises differently:

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26:3

When your whole world turns upside down, living with uncertainty is almost always a sure thing. Being uncertain is normal. Having a transition to a “new normal” and understanding grieving for what used to be “normal” is acceptable. Dwelling in it is fruitless. I tried that for a few days. It got me nowhere. It was only when I accepted the uncertainty as being part of the “new normal” and accepted it as “normal now” that I began to find peace in my situation.

We also grieved. When Bob and I went to get our stuff from the van the next day, as we left, I looked at it and silently said, “You were good to us. You did not deserve the death we gave you, but I thank you for it, that in your death our lives were saved.” Yes, it was just a thing. But saying goodbye to a vehicle in a culture that depends on and almost worships transportation can be emotional in such circumstances.   We remembered what was, and thought a lot about what could have been. In the end, with counsel from friends, we chose to set the event as a time of what did happen, instead of what didn’t. In Joshua 4:6 – 7, God commanded the people crossing the Jordan River to take up stones from the bottom and set them as a memorial to His power for stopping the river in flood so they could cross it on the far side. This was counsel I got from our friends: When your whole world turns upside down, the hardships of yesterday and today become the memorial stones of tomorrow. We pass that site going back and forth at least a couple of times monthly in our travels for Life Leadership. The first time was incredibly difficult for me, and I had a panic attack. On the way home, I decided to ignore it. It was on that trip we got the counsel, though I did not receive it well at the time. The second time, I took that counsel from our friends and made a memorial stone in my mind there of God’s grace and protection. On the way home, the memorial stone was there. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The memorial stones of our lives are proof to us of it.

So, where are things now? We still face the uncertainty of Bob’s tests. The insurance settlement sits in savings, awaiting the day he will (hopefully) be allowed to drive again, so we can replace the van. If the tests never allow him to drive again, we’ll eventually replace my car with it. We are living a life of uncertainty, and just grateful to God to be living it. Because when your whole world turns upside down, remembering Who is in ultimately in charge is essential. As we are learning now, He Who saved us is also He Who continues to sustain us. And when the One who sustains you has saved you from something like what we went through, trusting Him to sustains you becomes a whole lot easier to do . . . 

The Still Place in the Storm

The world turns and spins around me

But You are steadfast and strong.

Events uproar and crash at my feet

And You remain calm and restful.

Nations rage and peoples bluster

While You peacefully continue Your intended purpose.

In a world of whirlwind

You are the still place in the center.

In a universe of noise

You are the Peace in the midst.

In a society of discord and division

You are the harmony and unity at its heart.

In a life of constant change

You are the only constant never-changing Same.

I seek You in the quiet

I find You in the center

I rest in You in the midst

Like a tiny bird in the cleft of a rock

in the midst of a storm

You hold me and comfort me.

You were

You are

You ever remain

the still place, the quiet rest,

the peaceful center of the storm,

in an ever-changing world.

 

Come To The Feast!

Have you ever been on a cruise ship? How about one of those all inclusive vacation packages? Have you ever attended a fancy banquet?

Bob and I have been on 2 cruises. The first was for our honeymoon, 35 1/2 years ago. We went for a week in early June out of New York City to Nassau in the Bahamas on the classic liner Rotterdam.

Our second cruise was many years later (about 10 years ago), in mid-November with a group totaling 12 business friends and partners. We went out of Miami and for 5 days to Key West and Cozumel in Mexico on a newer ship, the Fascination.

Both cruises were incredible! The food was delicious, cooked to order, the service was impeccable, the staff on both vessels catered to our every need and reasonable desire and, for the most part, the weather was lovely the whole time. The second cruise in November, the weather part was particularly appreciated, especially when we called our then-older-teenagers at home from Key West and found out it had been cold and rainy since we left!

A “foodie” myself, I cannot say enough about the food. They really went all out, especially for the late night buffets! And on the second cruise, I was daily charmed and delighted by the antics of our room cleaning staff as they transformed our towels into an increasingly complex series of animals, culminating on the final night with 4 of them all together! (We always used the ones they hung in the bathroom and never took apart the animals to use their towels. We took photos of them, instead.)

I got to thinking about these things recently when I read Song of Solomon 2:4, which reads:

He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.

Song of Solomon is an allegorical picture of marriage, and also of our relationship as believers with God. God brings us into His banqueting house and spreads His banner of love over us. He covers our faults, failings and imperfections with His perfect love while we bask in His perfect fellowship and in a place of deeply perfect intimacy.

But just suppose we had gone on our cruises and not known our meals were covered? I read a story once of a lady who had booked a transatlantic passage to the U.S., bringing non-perishable foods with her for her journey to eat in her room. All this because she never realized until the very end of her voyage her meals were covered by her fare! Suppose we had done something like that? How foolish we would have been!

And yet, how foolish we all are, even me, dear readers! We are invited into the banqueting house of the Most High God, the supper table of the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, Hope of Nations, the One who has paid the full and entire price for everything we’ve ever done, thought of doing, could do or might not ever do. We’re invited in and given Robes of His Righteousness to cover our imperfections. We’re graciously given access to a feast more abundant than any cruise ship or all-inclusive vacation package or master chef can ever dream about.

How are we so foolish? We might come to the feast without our Robes. We could come and bring what we think our Heavenly Host should share, and treat his banqueting table as a potluck. Or worst of all, we may stay outside like the woman on that transatlantic ship, ignorant of His feast or believing it’s for someone else when God freely offers it to everyone by faith in Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will come into God’s banqueting house, accept the Robe of Righteousness Jesus freely offers you and sit at the feast of the Lord. Doing so has brought me immense joy in my journey, and I pray it will be the same in yours, also.

To Change The World — Repost for Furgeson and Baltimore

Dear Readers,

I posted this poem a while ago. In light of last year’s tragic riots in Furgeson, MO, and this week’s in Baltimore, MD, I am choosing to do it again.

When I wrote it, I was thinking about the men and women whose positive words, lives and actions changed the world. Men like Jesus, who turned His world upside down by a doctrine of love and forgiveness. Men like Gandhi, who changed their worlds with non-violence and peaceful protest. Men like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who changed their world with a dream and a vision. Women like Mother Theresa, who changed the world through sacrifice and service. Women like Princess Dianna, who changed the world through compassion and service to the least and lost.

The people in Baltimore this week started protesting from different races and socio-economic backgrounds. They did it in peace, seeking justice. That was a protest that meant something. Not the riots which followed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The world is not changed                                                 

Standard Time Zones of the World as of 2005. (...


By long speeches made

By someone whose words

Are bold and are grand.

The world’s only changed

When games stop being played,

And two people reach out,

And grasp hand to hand.

The world is not changed

By many a weary mile

By people who gather

To march in a long walk.

The world’s only changed

When to scared people smile,

And break down some walls,

To take time to talk.

The world is not changed

By acts of anger and rage,

By acting out unthinkingly

And causing great strife.

The world’s only changed

When love sets the stage

And a stranger reaches out

To help change one person’s life.

The world is not changed                                                                       

World! Wide! Love!


By those filled with hate,

Who spend their lives working

To draw others apart.

The world’s only changed

When someone refuses to wait

To dear down all the barriers,

And reaches out, heart to heart.

A World Without You (For Mom) — Repost

I originally posted this on the day of my mother’s funeral, which was also the only day it’s been read aloud. I’m publishing it again today because it’s the first anniversary of Mom’s death, and I want to honor her memory and influence in my life with it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I wanted to call you today

       to tell you about something

                      but I could not.

Because I remembered that now

        I live in a world without you.

I got in my car

       to go and visit you

                   but I remembered I could not.

Because I realized now

                    that I live in a world without you.

No more seeing your name on my caller ID.

             No more hearing your ring tone on my cell.

                         No more jokes, laughter, stories, tears or memories.

Because I grieve now

             to live in a world without you.

God’s hand is strong.

       God’s plans are perfect.

                  God’s ways are just.

                           God’s heart is loving.

You walk in a world I imagine

             but cannot see.

You rejoice

             and I grieve and mourn.

You dance in the fulfillment

             of God’s promises.

I live in the light of their hope.

           As I live in a world without you.

Obituary photo of Barbara L. French, Albany, NY

Be Still And Know — A Not So Perfect Family Christmas

Have you ever received what seems like an impossible suggestion or request or even command? How do you deal with it?

It was late December. I’d been sick for about a month, and found out the previous Tuesday I had a sinus infection. I’d probably been sick with it most of that month, but at least now I was on antibiotics. The Friday after my diagnosis, we learned my husband, who had also been sick all month, had one, too. He was given the same antibiotics.

Being sick, however, didn’t stop the massive, out-of-control freight train that was my “To Do” list and schedule. I tried to delegate some. I asked my husband (who was home and retired while I was still working full-time) to wrap the gifts. Our son took on a majority of the cookie baking, as he had every year (whether I wanted him to or not) for the past 4 or 5 years. (I still had to do the ones for the Cookie Exchange at work, and of course I’d signed up for the most complex and painstaking monster of a project imaginable!!.) The pair of them even decorated the house and yard with lights, and put up the tree, though it stayed without ornaments for over 2 weeks. My husband helped me stuff the stockings. I asked our daughter to make our traditional Christmas dessert which her husband adores, Pumpkin Cheesecake. But I was still rushed, frazzled and quite frankly, worn out. There was just too much on that “To Do” list, too little time to do it, and I was still sick . . .

Finally, at church on the Sunday before Christmas, a friend read a Scripture that touched my heart. It spoke to my illness, my “To Do” list, my hectic schedule and my lack of joy in what is normally my favorite time of year. When I heard it, I felt like God was speaking the words to me, gently slapping me upside my head.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God.” The words spoke life to my rushed, troubled heart. Sweeping aside my “To Do” list, my schedule and my self-imposed Christmas insanity, the words of Psalm 46 demanded a paradigm shift of my priorities, my schedule and my life.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to rest. Not just sleep, which my still sick body desperately needed. No, these words were calling me to true rest and peace in God. To know that perfect isn’t required, and okay is good enough. To know that the menu isn’t important, it’s who is eating the food, and making sure was Jesus our Guest, too.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They called me to remember the Reason for the season. They reminded me again of what I’d known since childhood: Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Savior. It’s about His life, His sacrificial offering of Himself for us so that we can have a relationship with Him and His Father. It’s not about the food, the presents, the lights and all the other trappings, no matter how good they are. Because they are the “good” of the season, while the gift of Jesus was, is and always will be God’s greatest and best.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They insisted I deal with the emotional weight I’d been avoiding, of that first Christmas without my Mom being among us after her death the previous March. I was reminded she was celebrating the holiday with Jesus, and even though it’s different without her, and always will be, that’s okay.

“Be still and know that I am God.” They reminded me I’m not in control of my life, and God is. Even when I tried to give in to the illusion and deception of being a (recovering) control freak, the words cut through my feeble efforts to direct my life and reminded me there is One who is ultimately in control. And He is in control not just of my life, but of situations and circumstances beyond my comprehension, even reaching to the far-flung galaxies of the universe. The words reminded me I can trust the One who spun it all into existence, and holds it together by His will.

That last reminder was very helpful 2 days later (and 2 days before Christmas), when I got a call at work, telling me our daughter and 6 month old granddaughter had influenza, despite having gotten flu shots! (CDC says the shots don’t cover every strain, and they got one it didn’t, of course!) Our daughter and son-in-law wanted us to take the 2 older children (who were not sick), and have them stay with us from that day, through Christmas and for several days after.

“Be still and know that I am God.” These words ran through my mind repeatedly as I spoke to my husband, working out first if we could do it. Then, when we decided we could, we discussed the logistics of my work schedule and transportation needs, all now more complicated by the presence in our house of 2 girls, ages 4 and 6, for a few unexpected days.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Stuff I’d planned and we “always” do didn’t get done. Our daughter didn’t get the cheesecake baked before she got sick. Since small granddaughters prefer Christmas cookies to cheesecake, we were okay with that. My husband and son decorated the tree with the help of 2 small girls. As long as my delicate, breakable ornaments were put high by one of the men, I didn’t care what it looked like.

“Be still and know that I am God.”  The 4 year old and I started having coughing fits on Christmas Eve. I suspected exposure to my daughter (for me, prior to her showing symptoms on Sunday) was the culprit. Instead of the “perfect” family Christmas, we had one that was a different and not so perfect kind of family Christmas. We were missing Mom, and almost 1/2 of us were ill. But in its own way, it was perfect, because those ancient words prompted me to remember Christmas is perfect when we are with people we love and we have invited God and His presence and peace to be in our midst.

“Be still and know that I am God.” I pray your holiday season will be filled with the gentle stillness of God’s loving presence and at least some of the people you love.

Merry Christmas!

When Pain Mocks The Song — Even In The Christmas Update Letter by Terri Brady

Easter In Song

For Easter, I am giving you a few videos of some of my favorite Resurrection Day music. I hope you like it as much as I do.

The first is by one of the early bands of the Contemporary Christian Music genre, 2nd Chapter of Acts. It’s called Easter Song.

The next is by Dallas Holm, another pioneer in Christian Contemporary Music, called Rise Again.

The next is by Don Francisco, known for his story-telling through music, Too Small A Price. (Warning: Graphic images inappropriate for small children. But don’t let the images scare you away. The ending is positively amazing!)

The last one is another by Don Francisco. It is my absolute favorite, the joy-filled He’s Alive.

Photo: After Eden: The Difference

 

My Mom Was Rich – Guest Post

The following eulogy was given on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at our mother’s funeral by Suzanne Aardema, one of my younger sisters.

Suzanne said so much good stuff about our mother’s life and the example she left for us, I asked her if I could share it with you. I told Suzanne her words deserve a much wider audience than just those of us present that morning. I am reprinting it (other than the emphasis, which was how she said it) exactly as she wrote it. Thank you, Suzanne, for allowing me to post it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hi. Thank you for coming.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but my mom, she was rich.

Mom worked a bunch of lousy, low paying jobs in order to help make ends meet in a family with five kids, and yet mom, she was rich.

You see, my mom, she understood the secret to being rich. My mom understood that being rich is not about what you have or what you can get. Mom understood that the secret to being rich is in what you can give.

From the time that I was a young child I can remember my mom exemplifying that giving spirit in how she lived.

The door was always open. Everyone was welcome, and there was always enough for another plate at the table.

My mom and dad opened their home to so many people over the years. People who were down and out. People who needed a place to stay temporarily or for a longer time. There were the foster children, and my brother’s friend Allen from high school who had been booted out by his parents.

There was Mary, a young lost woman who mom took under her wing. Mary became a part of the family lived with us for several years until she could get back on her feet.

My friend Ray from college lived at the house for a while, and even my husband stayed there long before he was my husband or even my boyfriend.

The Makokha family came and stayed for the better part of a year, and they became a part of our extended family. Then there was Diego who lived there for like, forever and then Bruce. I’m sure that I’m missing a few names.

The door was always open and everyone was welcome. Even when times were tough, there was always enough for another plate at the table. Because my mom, she understood the secret to being rich.

I remember in my wild high school days I used to have friends sleep over a lot. One night I had permission for my friend Donna to sleep over. Well, I came home with not one, but two friends.   I can still remember sneaking my friend Vickie up the stairs on her hands and knees while mom was sitting in the living room. Of course, we were laughing so hard, she suspected something was up. But when she came upstairs and opened my bedroom door and saw the three of us there, she just laughed. Everyone was welcome.

Even in my wildest years, my mom never gave up on me. She kept hoping, praying, believing that I would come around. She bailed me out of trouble and disciplined me because she could see the bigger picture.

My mom understood that serving was better than being served. As many of you know, she was involved in this church and served in various capacities for many many years.

She sang in the choir, served in the altar guild and the prayer chain. She regularly visited shut-ins, and organized a woman’s retreat.

Mom loved this place, and she loved the people here. Even as her health declined over the past several years, the only thing that mattered to her was being able to get to Our Savior’s church every Sunday so that she could worship.

I never realized what an impact she had made here until I was speaking with my friend Arleen the other evening and she told me about how mom had supported her and the other young mothers with the moms group for many years. Mom was always there, praying, interceding, supporting.

Mom was rich in life. A loving wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend. She loved travel, adventure and trying new things. I remember when we went to Israel together in 1993, she couldn’t wait to ride the camel. That was the highlight for her.

Mom was a woman of faith, and she understood the principle of Galatians 5:6, that the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. She lived her faith by loving the people around her.

Even in her final moments, mom gave us a gift to cherish.

I have lived overseas for almost 20 years, and my brother Rob and sister Judi have also lived outside of this area for most of their adult lives. Whenever we came to visit or mom came to visit us, there was one thing that remained constant. Whenever it was time to say goodbye, mom would tear up and cry. It never failed. She hated to say goodbye.

In her final moments, she knew that she wasn’t going to see us for a while. Her eyes opened and tears streamed down her face as she said her final goodbye.

As mom walked into the arms of Jesus, she was a very rich woman. It has nothing to do with the amount of finances that she did or didn’t have in her bank account.

Her life was rich because she understood that being rich is not about how much you have or what you can get, but it is about how much you can give.

I hope her example inspires us all.

Thank you.

Christmas 2013

 From left to right (siblings in birth order): Rich, me, Judi, Suzanne, Rob & in front, Mom

A Swift and Deadly Season

Have you ever looked at a situation and wondered why? As in, why is this so, or not so? And why isn’t this being addressed?

I have gone through something like that lately, dealing with something unexpected in my life. I discovered there was a mass murderer on the loose in the world, killing indiscriminately, regardless of race, creed, sex, age and socioeconomic standing. The mass murderer to which I refer is pancreatic cancer.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, pancreatic cancer is ranked #4 on the list of cancer killers. The following figures are a compilation from the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. I highlighted the 2013 statistics for pancreatic cancer, so they could be more easily visible for you.

Cancer   Type

Estimated   New Cases

Estimated   Deaths

Bladder 72,570 15,210
Breast (Female – Male) 232,340 – 2,240 39,620 – 410
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 142,820 50,830
Endometrial 49,560 8,190
Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer 59,938 12,586
Leukemia (All Types) 48,610 23,720
Lung (Including Bronchus) 228,190 159,480
Melanoma 76,690 9,480
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 69,740 19,020
Pancreatic 45,220 38,460
Prostate 238,590 29,720
Thyroid 60,220 1,850

Percentage of patients deceased within 5 years of diagnosis:

1. Pancreatic cancer – 94%

2. Liver cancer – 83.9%

3. Esophageal cancer – 82.7%

4. Lung cancer – 83.4%

5. Stomach cancer – 72.3%

6. Brain cancer – 66.5%

7. Ovarian cancer – 55.8%

8. Oral cancer – 37.8%

9. Kidney cancer – 28.2%

10. Rectal cancer – 33.5%

11. Colon cancer – 35.1%

12. Laryngeal cancer – 39.4%

13. Cervical cancer – 32.1%

14. Prostate cancer – 0.8%

15. Breast cancer – 10.8%

16. Bladder cancer – 22.1%

17. Skin cancer – 8.7%

18. Uterine cancer – 18.5%

19. Thyroid cancer – 2.3%

20. Bone cancer – 33.6%

21. Leukemia – 44%

In the last 5 years, pancreatic cancer has listed film star Patrick Swayze and Apple mogul Steve Jobs among its most famous victims. Pancreatic cancer is so deadly because it is usually not found until patients are symptomatic, and by then it is usually in more advanced stages.

Many pancreatic cancers tend to be swift growers, with times between diagnosis and death for most patients measured in weeks or months. Battles with pancreatic cancer are, as I titled this post, swift and deadly seasons for many patients, measured in weeks or months, instead of years as is the case for most other cancers. As you saw in my compiled statistics above, the 5 year survival rates for pancreatic cancers are shockingly low.

Breast cancer is discovered through self-exams and mammograms. Prostate cancer markers are found through a simple blood test. Colon cancer is found in a colonoscopy. Lung and throat cancers are found through x-rays and other tests. Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is found when areas of the skin are seen to change. The only way to find pancreatic cancer is when a patient arrives at their doctor’s office, complaining of its symptoms. And by then, it’s far too often too late. There are no currently viable tests for early detection of this deadly disease.

The media was very vocal about Patrick Swayze’s and Steve Jobs’ fights with pancreatic cancer. Now, I want to tell you about someone lesser known and no less loved. Her name was Barbara.

Barbara was born on July 2nd in Albany, NY. Her father was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, VMI. His exploits there were so legendary, a movie was made, called “Brother Rat,” and Eddie Albert played him. By the time Barbara was born, he was a entrepreneur, who would later be quite successful. Barbara’s mother worked for the railroad.

Barbara was a studious child. Her parents were divorced, and her mother remarried several more times to a succession of step-fathers of varying character. Barbara went to both public and parochial schools, and eventually graduated with high honors from high school. Offered a full-ride academic scholarship to Syracuse University, Barbara gave up college to marry her high school sweetheart, George, and the pair settled briefly in Florida while George served in the Navy, where they started their family.

After George left the Navy, the small family returned to their hometown and settled down. While they looked into moving elsewhere once or twice, nothing ever came of it, and they raised their family in the same town where they grew up. All their children graduated from the same high school, and a couple of them even had one or two of the same teachers. George and Barbara were active in their church life, and encouraged their children to be active church members, too.

As their 5 children started to leave the nest, George and Barbara began to travel together. First was Maine, then a cross-country trip and then another one into the South. Eventually, after retirement, they explored maritime Canada. Barbara also traveled abroad with one of her children, going first to the Holy Land (Israel, Jordan and Egypt), and later to The Netherlands, where that adult child had moved with their family.

There was an esophageal cancer scare for George, and then a spinal stenosis (bone spur on the spine) for him, but they beat that, and celebrated their 50th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska on a small ship. Barbara considered it a great victory to get George on any type of cruise at all, which had long been a dream of hers. Unfortunately, within 2 years of that wonderful time, George’s cancer resurfaced, and he lost his long battle to it 6 days prior to their  52nd anniversary.

After some time of attempting to live on her own with live-in help, it became obvious to Barbara’s family she needed to move into an assisted living facility. Always opinionated, independent and stubborn, Barbara didn’t like the rules one bit. Eventually, her health demanded she move about 2 years later into another facility that was more comprehensive, which she liked even less.

On Sunday, February 9, 2013, Barbara went  as usual to church, complaining of nausea. She looked jaundiced and felt unwell, thinking she had a persistent flu-type virus. Diagnosed as a diabetic over 15 years before, her blood sugars were erratic at best, swinging wildly up and down. Later that day, Barbara insisted on being transported from her assisted living facility to a local hospital. She never went back.

Monday, the hospital found a mass in her abdomen in an MRI. They tried to do an endoscopy Tuesday, but were unable. It was decided to move her to the regional major medical center Wednesday night, hours prior to a major winter snowstorm. At the medical center on Thursday, they did the endoscopy, and confirmed it was advanced pancreatic cancer.

Within days, her 5 children and many of her 10 grandchildren knew Barbara’s pancreatic cancer was inoperable and untreatable. Barbara was moved into a local nursing home with Hospice care on February 25th, where she spent her final days.

When asked, Barbara said she wanted to be remembered “As a woman who loved her Lord first, and her family second.” She had definite opinions, clearly stated to family members, for her final arrangements, with her wake at the same funeral home, services at her church, burial next to George and a luncheon back at the church after. She told them what she wanted as part of her service, and was very clear about it.

Barbara would be among the first to tell you she was not perfect. “A sinner saved by grace,” was what she often said of her imperfections. After George died, Barbara found her life’s purpose of caring for him over, and struggled with finding another so late in life, while grieving his loss. Her grief and lack of purpose often appeared in overwhelming neediness and anger, which drove away the people to whom she most wanted to be close. Thankfully, in late December of 2013, Barbara finally found peace with herself and her situation, and the anger and neediness largely disappeared.

Barbara was always a woman of wry wit. One of the vacations George and Barbara took often with their family was wilderness camping. When asked by a friend who was well to do (and took fancier vacations, like European tours), what the family did when it rained, Barbara dryly deadpanned, “We let it.”

Barbara had great patience with the antics of her 5 rambunctious children, 10 grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren. Her younger son was especially skilled at jollying her into good humor when he’d misbehaved, much to the consternation of the rest. Barbara was also strong-willed, which was a good thing, with 5 strong-willed kids.

By now, dear reader, if you’ve followed my blog, read my family stories and gotten to know me a little, you’ve guessed Barbara was my mother. I initially wrote this on March 11 and edited it in the days between then and now, knowing she was dying and wanting to capture my thoughts on Mom and her killer. Before she left us, I read it to her, and received her approval to publish it. I knew I’d be unable do more today than publish it. My mother Barbara’s swift and deadly season, her battle with pancreatic cancer, ended today, and she is at home in Heaven with her Lord and her beloved George.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job 1:21
Barbara French