Loss

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Fred and I talked recently about the year I was so sick. He said something I’ll never forget: “I thought I was going to lose you.” His words made a deep impression on me. I have known loss and the grief that comes with it. And I ached for Fred, knowing that he looked at loss squarely front of him and could not escape it.

None of us will get through this life without experiencing loss. So we have to find a way to face off with it and walk away stronger. James Taylor’s song “Fire and Rain” speaks of loss.

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus, You’ve got to help me make a stand.
You’ve just got to see me through another day.
My body’s aching and my time is at hand and I won’t make it any other way.
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,
but I always thought that I’d see you again.

It is so true that turning to God eases loss and gives us the support we need to make it. We have several things going for us: faith, resilience, strength, courage, and a God who is ever present. With those things in place, we can face loss and come away from it whole.

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Wounds of the Soul

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The past and its memories can be harsh. Especially for those who have experienced great hurt. I call such hurts wounds of the soul.

After the injury ceases its pain, after the scars heal, the wounds of the soul remain. They remain forever as a reminder, not only that I was hurt, but also that I survived. I have learned not to be enslaved by my wounds. They remind me that I was stronger than the thing or the person that tried to hurt me.

How does one heal the wounds of the soul? You don’t heal them. They never go away. They remain on the soul as badges of courage and reminders of strength and perseverance. They happened in the past, of course, but they make me more mindful of the glories of the present moment.

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh
In spite of the soul’s wounds, I am filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love. There is a part of me that is grateful for the wounds that stay with me. They make me stronger. They make me resilient. They make me wise enough to not be hurt again. I want to always remember that the soul is able to endure the wounds. The soul’s memories will always mark the time of the hurt and hold it for safekeeping. The soul will bear its wounds with grace, thankful that they make us the person we are meant to be.

I often ask myself the question “Who would you be without the wounds?”

A Prayer

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Dear God,

Enlighten what’s dark in me.

Strengthen what’s weak in me.

Mend what’s broken in me.

Bind what’s bruised in me,

Heal what’s sick in me.

And lastly,

Revive whatever peace and love has died in me.

Amen

Wow!

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Boston Fern in my yard

Wow! Not the most eloquent thought for a writer. Nevertheless, “wow” is the best word I can come up with for a day with bright sunshine and gentle, cooling breezes. And I don’t even have to leave home to enjoy the beauty of nature. Flowers are blooming all around my house. Lush ferns are swaying with the wind. The leaves of the Chinese Tallow tree are glistening in the sun.

I am grateful to God for the wild and free beauty in nature, a Creation extraordinaire, available for our enjoyment. I am amazed at the shining stars at night, at the luminous moon, at the rising and setting of the sun. There is enough in this marvelous world to astound me beyond measure. All I need do is pause for a moment to take it all in.

Lord Byron penned eloquent words that express the love of nature.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods:
There is rapture on the lonely shore:
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
There is society, where none intrudes.
I love not man the less, but Nature more.

So it’s very true: “Wow!” Is not eloquent. But it really is accurate.

I Am Creating Me

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As a fledgling artist, the metaphors in this quote by Bishop Steven Charleston resonate with my experience.

You and I are artists of time. We bend and shape, color and texture, make and form what is to come by what we do now. Now is our tool, our brush, our chisel, with which we work diligently to create something new. We use all of the materials we have at hand, our experience, our memories, our dreams, and seek to put all of those into a finished piece both recognizable and beautiful. Our work never stops. We are born to this art. It is our vocation, our passion. Time is our medium, life our creation, reality our gallery, tomorrow our masterpiece.

What a lovely way to say that we are the creators of our lives, that our experiences, our memories and our dreams fill our canvasses with untold beauty. We are each unique, artists in our own right. We work incessantly, through wake time and sleep time, through every season, to create this art. Indeed, it is our masterpiece.

The reality is that I am in the holy process of creating me, and no one else gets to add to the masterpiece.

We create our darkest tones in difficult times. Brighter days call for the most vibrant and bright colors. Melancholy blues . . . joy-filled yellows . . . greens that hint of growth and change. Our palettes are endless as we swirl and mix the colors of our lives.

So we must never let another person disparage what we are creating. We must take our inspiration, not from other individuals, but from our own souls and from our Creator. This gives a whole new meaning to the declaration we should imprint on our hearts, “I am beautiful!”

Breathtaking Moments

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Breathtaking sunset in Yell County, Arkansas. Photo by Charles Ross

Some moments just take your breath away. We have to make sure we don’t miss those fleeting moments because they can be few and far between. Or perhaps there are more breathtaking moments than we notice because of our preoccupation with more mundane activities.

Just this week the brilliant full moon flanked by a gorgeous view of Mars created one of those breathtaking moments. The rising of the sun creates a breathtaking moment. The misty fog after a gentle rain can be a breathtaking moment. The setting sun is almost always breathtaking to me.

There is an important lesson here: not to miss any of those moments. They are once here, and then gone forever. Keep your eyes open. Keep your heart open. You may have heard this often used quote: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Rivers of Living Water

Fast Flowing River, Australia

Flowing river above Upper National Falls, Royal National Park, Australia.

My smallest petunia got parched by the hot sun yesterday. Apparently the soil became dried by the wind and the plant needed more water. Today was a hot day at my house. I actually became overheated while out in my garden. Though I was worried about my flowers being parched by the sun, I didn’t count on getting parched myself. A glass of water eased my thirst.

The soul can also become parched,and that thirst is much harder to quench. There are times in life when dry seasons come, times when the spirit thirsts for living water. I have experienced many dry seasons throughout my life. I have longed for a closeness to God that seemed out of reach for me. Those dry times were very disconcerting. And sometimes a remedy seemed impossible.

During those times, I relied on promises from the Scripture to comfort me. I hope these passages will also bring you comfort if you’re in the midst of a dry season.

Jesus stood up and cried out, β€œIf anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, β€˜Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

The LORD will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen you. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry.Β  (Isaiah 58:11)

Dancing All the Way

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We can either stay bitter or we can get better. The choice belongs to each of us, to take what life has given us and allow it to make us a better person, or to allow it to defeat us and tear us down. The choice is that simple. No one escapes life without downturns and little devastations. People sometimes hurt and betray. And we have to respond to all of that by taking sure and certain steps beyond the hurt. Those steps could be called “the dance.”

We are on a journey of twists and turns, times of happiness and times of hurt. Between who we once were and who we are now becoming is where the dance of life really happens. I want to be wide open to the rhythm of the dance, open to its creative movement in my life, willing to embrace it with my entire being.

The dance demands that.

Either we fully join our hearts with the music or we sit it out and miss it altogether. Those are the choices. There are no other alternatives. Dance or sit! As for me, I want to take the journey dancing all the way!

Rise Up in Hope

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Delta Sunrise. Photo by Cathy Jones.

Hope keeps us going forward. No matter what obstacles we face, no matter how dark our path becomes. We lift up our eyes to the rising of the sun knowing that we will rise up in hope for another day. We lift up our hearts to receive God’s never ending love. We lift up our voices to tell our own stories, with assurance that we have lived a story of wonder, a life well lived.

That’s the important thing about stories, no one can take them from us. They are ours to tell, and surely, our narrative of love and struggle is a sign of faith for all to see. Bishop Charleston shares these comforting words:

Rise up in hope again today, no matter what may seek to hold you down. If the world around you seems dark, then have faith that your own light will only shine the brighter. Your witness is needed now more than ever. Do not bow your head before the story you hear being told by others, but lift your voice to tell your own story, a story of beauty and wonder, a story of love and struggle, the narrative of a life lived and lived well, a sign of faith for all to see. Rise up in hope again today, for you are living testimony to what hope can do when hope is set free.

So beyond every struggle, we do rise up in hope once again. And we are a living testimony of what happens when hope is set free!

Ethel

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I’ve been thinking about Ethel, one of the most loyal and dearest friends I have ever had. At times, I am quite sure she watches over me from her very special place in heaven. That comforts me, but makes me miss her all the more. Ethel came into my life when I was going through a dark time. She stuck close, in fact, through many difficult days, making all the difference in the world for me.

Ethel was like a best friend and a mother all rolled into one incredible package. I was her pastor for nine years. She offered me love and care through thick and thin. During the early days of our friendship, my light went out. Life was dark and dreary, and I was facing evil days. At least that’s how it felt for me. Ethel was a spark that rekindled my spent light. She helped change my life.

A friend posted this quote on Facebook yesterday. It so closely describes what Ethel meant to me.

β€œAt times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Β –Β Albert Schweitzer

Ethel lighted the flame within me. And what’s more, she taught me how to keep it lighted and how to make it through the dark times. Rest in peace, my dear friend. You meant so much to me.