Monday, February 28, 2011

Walking Cody

Meet our new dog, Cody. He is a 6 year old German Shepherd and we adopted him after his former master died of cancer. He never left his master's side throughout his illness, and Cody lost 20 lbs afterwards from missing him so much. Cody is recovering now and has bonded very tightly with Joe. He notices me only when Joe isn't around. He is an intelligent and loyal dog with good ears and a big bark (which makes me feel safe). And since he was a former show dog, he is beautifully trained and well-mannered, too (which makes me enjoy having him around).

Every night before his dinner, he goes for a long walk down to the Back Bay with Joe. This is Joe's favorite walk, and now it's become Cody's too. Oh, how they love these walks. For Cody, it's a big sniff fest! He trots along so joyfully and explores with abandon. For Joe, it's a time to commune with God and nature. It's good for both of their souls.

Here they are in the woods along the road. So much to see and explore.
I just love tagging along with my camera. I am eager to see it all change with the coming of Spring.

A small creek to cross over with the Back Bay beyond.
Cody isn't afraid to get his paws wet. We have to wear our boots.

Sunset in Tidewater Country.
Paradise for a dog and his man.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mikela's Dedication

Last Sunday, Brian and Crystal's baby, Mikela, was dedicated to the Lord. In Baptist churches, we don't practice infant baptism. We practice believer's baptism. That means that only people who have willingly put their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation undergo baptism. So that also means that little babies, who have not yet acquired the capacity for making such decisions, are not baptised.

I know this is worrisome to those who believe you must be baptised to be saved, but we also believe that all people are saved if they die before they reach an age of accountability. We also believe that it is faith in Christ, and not baptism per se, that "saves" people.

I was born into a Lutheran family, so I was baptised as a small child. But when I made a decision to give my life to Christ as a teen, I chose to be baptised again--believer's baptism. This was a bit disconcerting to my mother, but since I was getting baptised and not, say, selling drugs, it sort of blew over as an issue of contention.

Isn't Mikela precious in her ruffles and polka dots?! She is such a doll baby and we love her.

When our church has a child dedication service, it is geared toward the parents and the church community. It begins with the parents dedicating themselves to raising their child in the faith--to being an example of Christian living and love and faith in their own home and in the nurture of their child. The community is dedicating itself to being an example of love and faith as well, and most importantly, being willing to spend the time and money at church required to build all of our children in their growing faith.

My daughter, Jaime, and her husband, Drew, are godparents to Mikela. They stood up with Brian and Crystal on Sunday morning, expressing their commitment to Mikela's well-being for the rest of their lives. With military families being separated from their biological family members, they do a lot of "adopting" of new extended family. That is the case here. None of us can do life alone, at least not well. The wise find good, kindred, trustworthy souls with whom to make the journey. Friendship has got to be one of the sweetest encouragements of life.

Here they all bowed their heads and prayed for the strength and obedience to be the very best kind of loving, caring people for Mikela.
I can't think of anything that matters more in life than this.

Matthew 19:14
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Precious Gifts

These are my friends, Nick and Sharon. Their beautiful daughter, Angie, passed away just a couple months after Joey. Less than a year later, one of our mutual friends on Maui, our beloved Pastor Kit, also passed away. These three deaths and our shared grief connected us in heart and subsequently by email. Last year on our Maui trip we were finally able to meet them in person.
Sharon and I have become part of the mother's club that no one wants to join. We often grieve together through our correspondence, as well as share our hope for the world to come. No one knows a mother's heartbreak like another one who is also walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It is a very comforting bond, and Sharon has been a very dear sister to me these past two and a half years. One of Sharon's ways of comforting herself is to make things by hand. She is a talented cook and both Christmases sent us boxes full of yummy sugary deliciousness. She also likes to sew. When you are grieving, having a project that keeps your hands busy is very soothing to the tempest in your soul.
Here are some of the things she sent me this last Christmas:

Hand-embroidered "days of the week" tea towels. I love this kind of towel and love the cute puppies embroidered on them. They are so absorbent. (Monday and Thursday are in the wash. I admit I don't always use them in order :)

Sharon also makes gorgeous quilts and says she feels best when she is quilting. She made one for herself out of some of her daughter Angie's clothing. I was able to see it last year, and know it's a great source of comfort for her to be able to wrap herself in that quilt. What a beautiful way to remember her daughter and keep her close.
The brown one above is in memory of Pastor Kit. It reflects his coloring and his bright eyes and smile, and his warm and engaging personality so perfectly. His faith shone brightly through cancer treatment, and he left this world in a blaze of hope and inspiration. Kit was one of the most incredible men that we all have all been privileged to know, so this will hang in our barn in loving memory of this great man.
This purple, blue and black quilt Sharon made in honor of our Joey. It reminds me of his travels through Alaska, and the pictures of him standing in front of steep purple mountains with black outcroppings and snowy peaks and glacial ice trails. His last picture in his memorial slide presentation shows him standing in just such a place with his arms opened wide to each side. I love being reminded of how much he loved those lofty, majestic places and imagine him experiencing much the same beauty in Heaven.
Sharon's final gift was this beautiful picture frame charm. It now holds a picture of Joey when he was three years old. I love this picture of him proudly holding a cat in his arms. It hangs from an initial necklace given to me by another treasured friend this Christmas.
Sharon is one of the dear bereaved mothers with whom I have linked arms on my journey. I cannot go it alone and am so grateful for kindred spirits who understand without judgement as we work to find our way into a new life. That is the biggest gift of all.
Gal 6:2
Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Justin Bieber Fever

Darling granddaughters and their adorable friends
at the movies
with the 3D glasses still on
with the lenses popped out
making hearts with their hands...
for this sweet little 16 year old heart-throb
with the swingy hair
whose got rhythm in his soul
and says his prayers before going on stage
and still loves his mama better than anyone
this is what true love and devotion looks like

when you are 11 or 12

and you just watched "Never Say Never" on the big screen

and you just can't hold it in any longer.
In my day, it was Paul McCartney...
he was a bit older than Justin
but he had the same hair-do
and could make the girls cry
just. as. much.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Choosing to SEE

Choosing to SEE --A Journey of Struggle and Hope
by Mary Beth Chapman

I finally got to read this book. I opened it this morning and finished it an hour ago. I cried my way through it. Mary Beth Chapman's adopted Chinese daughter, Maria, died the day before Joey died, two and a half years ago. Mary Beth tells the story of her youngest child being accidentally run over by her teenaged son and the impact of this accident on the entire family. Her husband, Steven Curtis Chapman, has always been one of my favorite Christian recording artists, and I have followed his career for two decades. I remember waking up to the news on that Thursday, May 21, 2008 and reading of their daughter's death. I was shocked and filled with sorrow, wondering how such a devastating thing could happen to such a wonderful family. The next day, I got a phone call of my own that broke my heart and sent me staggering to my knees.

Fast forward to a month later, after our son's memorial services, when their family appeared on Larry King Live-- they sounded so much like us. No pat answers. No neat little boxes. Just transparency and pain and perplexity...and continuing hope in God. And tattoos. They were our family's inspiration.

Since then, I've been reading Mary Beth's blog. She has a gift for writing about the heartbreak and turmoil that their family has been plunged into, and her hope in God that He is enough even in that deep loss. I identified strongly with her words--her restless longings for her daughter, her anxiety, her anger, her doubts, God's silence, and her courage to push forward. I love her honesty. Not all Christian leaders are so open about their struggles, and not all bereaved mothers grieve in a way with which I can identify. But she is one broken hearted mama who understands and validates me in my own grief journey. I am so thankful for her openness. It's been a lifeline for me.

The book is a deeper extension of her blog. She gives the back story on her childhood, marriage and family. She shares the harrowing aftermath of the death of a child...the sleeplessness, marital tension, numbness, and futile attempts to fix things. She shares her tendency to want to control her life, to protect herself from pain, and of second-guessing God as he overwrites her plans with His own. I love the way she points out what she calls "bread crumbs" on the path, little signs that God is present in their sorrow, and in control of what appears to be such random chaos. I was touched that they had the same two songs at Maria's memorial that we had at Joey's, only in their case the actual artist, Matt Redman, was there to sing them.

Here is a quote from one of Steven's songs, written about Maria. I love this song:

Out of these ashes
Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of these ashes
Beauty will rise
For we know joy is coming in the morning
Beauty will rise.

I am so grateful for families who openly share their sorrow. It helps me bear my own.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Plumbing Problems

We bought this beautiful farm a few months ago. But, honestly, it's only beautiful on the outside. Underneath that shiny veneer, it sometimes feels like nothing but problems. We think the man who built it forgot to take construction 101. Or he cheated on the final. Or he didn't really believe that the house building rules applied to him. And we find ourselves with the unwelcome task of cleaning up his mess. We bought it "as is", but sometimes, even after people do the research, they still don't know what they are getting themselves into--at least that's what we are finding out. Charlie Sheen's ex-wives might say the same.

So far, we've redone the electrical system, rebuilt the heating system, added propane for the stove and fireplace, and added a new water heater. The learning curve has been expensive. Today it's all about plumbers and septic systems and pooling water and high water tables and trenches everywhere and... blocked pipes. Ugh. I will spare you the pictures.

But you know, in the midst of it all, I am here to proclaim: God bless the plumbers of the world!!
They deserve EVERY dime they charge for doing a job I shouldn't couldn't wouldn't want to do!

So how many life lessons can I extract from today's experience?

1. Beware a pretty face. They can be hiding some nasty stuff.

2. Don't do a job you aren't qualified to do. It just messes up everyone coming behind you.

3. Don't sell your second-rate goods for first rate prices; it really ticks people off.

4. Thank God for the trained professional. They will save you time, trouble and money in the end.

5. Life is not fair. This is not a perfect world. Get over it and on with it.

Oh, dang. That one again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Beautiful Post by My Friend Karen

Karen Gerstenberger

"It is hard to find words adequate to the complex emotions involved in surviving a child’s passing. I wrote on a fellow grieving mom’s blog posting, regarding the anniversary of her daughter’s passing: “I think I understand…because I go through these changes, too. It’s okay, it’s not okay; it’s bearable, it’s unbearable; we are building a life around the hole she left, I am falling into the hole where she was. I miss her; I have to let her go. It is a crazy reality; am I going crazy to be living with it? No, I am doing what thousands have done before me. I am honoring her memory, and weaving it into my life, day by day, as beautifully and gracefully as I am able. And I think you are doing this, too. She will always be the one, the only, A. – and we will remember her with you.”
From "Presence", 2/10/11

My friend Karen is the mother of Katie, a beautiful 12-year-old girl who passed from cancer in 2007. Karen wrote yesterday at a site called "Hopeful Parents". Her article, called "Presence" , explains in practical terms how people can be a support to families during times of sickness and bereavement. Karen is a beautiful, thoughtful writer and the article was particularly insightful on a subject that requires great sensitivity.

She gave me permission to quote and link it HERE. Please read on. You won't regret it. If you are wondering how to be there for suffering families, this article will explain it all to you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Missing My Maui Mornings

purple orchid against a waterfall

out on the beach, a catamaran prepares for a morning sail

the remains of my perfect island breakfast: a juicy papaya with lime juice, a cinnamon roll and hot tea

the flamingos are eating breakfast too...

I don't believe there is a lovelier way to start the day anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Maui Day

breakfast at the beach with a view of Kaho'olawe in the distance

a barefoot walk in the sand...

and on the soft green grass, next to the big blue ocean, under the shady keawe trees...

and at the end, a catamaran silhouetted by the sunset.
Ahhh, paradise.