Hope Chests of the Heart

 

hope chestWhat’s in your hope chest? I know, I know, hope chests are something from days gone by and not a tradition of today. In another day, a hope chest was something that young ladies kept items for their home one-day, precious things for their wedding, and objects that represented their hopes and dreams for the future. Maybe a sweet dress to accompany the dream of a daughter, maybe a glass cake plate to represent the many celebrations she would host in her home, and so much more.
Awhile ago, I spent two days cleaning out and packing my mom’s home after her death. I didn’t really know where to begin although I knew I needed a plan. One of the places I found myself first was kneeling in front of mom’s hope chest. She and I had gone thought it years ago and I remembered a few things yet so much I had never seen before. Inside were napkins from her wedding, silver baby cups, cards to my dad after they remarried, family heirlooms in the form of bonnets and doylies, pictures, and memories. Every object held a story. Every object held history. Every object was precious and revealed another part of mom’s journey through the early years of her life.
This journey down memory lane made me think… What’s in my hope chest? I don’t have a literal hope chest, but I have hopes and dreams written out in journals, wishes for life whispered to treasured friends, and desperate cries written on the back of rug where I go to pray and pour out my heart to God. I have a hope chest, it just isn’t made of lumber or have a lid and lock.
All of us have these hope chests. All of us hold cherished hopes, dreams, and prayers. Each of us have a picture of what we want the future to look like and all we petition the Lord for. It reminds me of the parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18. The widow continually came to the judge asking for justice, yet the judge constantly refused. Scripture tells us that he didn’t fear God or care what people thought of him. The judge ended up granting justice so the woman would stop bothering him. We are told that God will grant justice for His people even more so than the judge because He loves us.
What’s the point of bringing up this parable? Well, the widow kept going to the judge just as we should keep going to God in prayer. There’s a quote (I can’t remember who said it) that say’s our knuckles should be bloody from knocking on the door in prayer. What if we took our hopes and dreams to the Lord like THAT? What if we never stopped praying or packing the hope chests of our hearts? Just like mom, who continued to put away precious items in hope of one day having the picture-perfect dream she saw in her heart, are we continually setting our hearts on the Lord instead of just the dream? Are we submitting the dream to the Lord or packing our hearts and locking the lock not allowing anything to change even if the Lord was to answer?
Mom’s chest contained objects from various stages of life and different dreams as the Lord worked in her heart. Are we willing to allow the Lord to change our plans for His glory? Am I willing to submit my life to the Lord’s will and the Lord’s way over my own dreams? Is my hope chest filled with prayer and the scripture or simply my desires?
My prayer is that each of us will submit our lives to the Lord who wants to grant justice and who desires to give good gifts to His children. May our hopes, dreams, and hearts be set on the Lord and locked with His love.

The Baking Chaplain

baking imageAs a baker, I add ingredients to a bowl, mix, and bake for something super tasty. Baking is sequential, it is measured, it has very specific ingredients, and must be cared for in a particular way in order to come out as intended.
At the hospital as a chaplain in the Emergency Department nothing is predictable, things are done in response to situation in front of us. I respond to verbal and non-verbal cues, to hesitations, to tears, to codes, to nurses, to families, to patients, to any and everything behind the curtain. I never know what I will be walking into or what their response will be.
Yet, I know what my response will be. I know that I am praying before I enter the curtain. I know that most morning I will have spent time with the Lord praying and reading and talking with Him. I know that I am trying to listen to my Shepard’s voice, to love His people, to be His hands and feet in the midst of chaos. I know that I fall, that I fail, and more often than I wish I flounder hoping to do my best.
The nurses, aids, doctors, and others in ED have given grace and taught me in the midst.
If you think about it… they are the ingredients. All the people, all the symptoms, all the chaos get mixed in a room, and there is an outcome that may be beautiful or horrific yet it will come out as something. Some families leave with stiches or casts, some leave with a new baby in arms, some families won’t leave whole as someone is admitted or dies.
A baker looks forward to cookies, cakes, or loaves of bread. An ED chaplain looks forward to ushering people into the presence of the Lord while their world is turned upside down. The ED is it’s own mixing bowl with amazing ingredients with house supervisors watching and waiting so nothing burns or boils over.

Life at the Top of the Stairs

thHB3BRFJ5Many years ago, I read a book that described a garden with a grate in the middle, with a long descending staircase, and woman sitting at the bottom where the sun light couldn’t reach and where she sat alone. I don’t remember much more about the book, but this is where my imagination takes me… She sits alone in her fear, her hurt, her pain, and her broken heart. She knows there is a staircase, she knows there is a grate that simply needs to be lifted, she knows there is a garden with sunshine and flowers, she also knows there are people up there who love her.
This image came rushing back to my minds eye in the last few days… I realized that over the last three and half years I have descended that emotional staircase and for a while camped out and created a home on that landing deep at the bottom of the staircase. Grief does that to you, it takes you to a place you didn’t know you were going and can keep you somewhere long after you anticipated.
In the last few days I realized something profound. I haven’t made it to the grate at the top of the staircase much less into the garden, but I have ascended many stairs, to the point that I can’t see or even really remember the home I made in the darkness. From the step I am on, I can feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, I can smell the faint fragrance of grass and flowers, I can sense the breeze blowing by, and I can hear the people waiting for me to return.
The beautiful thing is this, some of those people who I can hear, have opened the grate for themselves, from time to time, and crawled down the staircase to sit with me. They couldn’t stay because it wasn’t their fear, their hurt, their pain, or their broken heart. But they could sit with me, they could remind me of life in the garden, they could pray with me and for me, they could make me laugh for a moment here and there, they could remind me of the faithfulness of God, they could sit with me and be present. Even now, I can hear life going on in the garden, new life blooming, some things dying, leaves changing, giggles and belly laughs, sniffles and ugly cries, people living in community, and doing life together.
I’m still not there but I’m closer than I have been in years. I am so thankful for the people who came and sat with me. I am so thankful that the Lord never left me even when I thought He might have. I am thankful that I now know how to better sit with someone in their dark place. I am thankful for this season even though it has been the hardest thing I have ever survived. Survived… the best way to describe where I have been, where I still sit, and the future seasons that I know will come.

Walking Through the Waters of Grief

flowersI’m told anniversaries are hard, while walking thru grief. I’m told months 6-12 are worst than 1-5 after the death of a loved-one.
I’m told my brain is supposed to fuzzy, my body is supposed to be revolting, and that my tears are supposed to be a waterfall.

February 1, 2019 is six months since mom stepped into eternity with Jesus. At 4am it will have been six months from the moment the Lord woke me, since I pulled a folding chair up to her bed, since the song “I Stand Amazed in the Presence” played throughout her Hospice room, since I felt the presence of the Lord thick throughout the space, since I could hear in my heart mom telling me to rest in His presence, since “Resurrecting” began to play, since mom took her last breathe on this earth, and since she entered eternity whole and completely healed.

This has been a long six months and I can’t imagine what the next six hold… I have been surrounded by some of the most amazing people who have walked with me through this season. Some have called regularly, some have shown up, some have given open invitations to their homes, some have provided manual labor to take care of things I simply can’t do or figure out. This has been the beauty of the Church! As a single woman who doesn’t live near family, my church and work family have stepped in to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my life. They have pointed me to Jesus by their actions and words, I would not have made it this far without them.

However, if I’m honest, some people have said stupid things, hurtful things, and ignorant things – I have to believe none of it was intentional. Yet, no one should have to go through those moments. So I asked myself, what I’ve learned in these past six months that I could pass on to you, as you help people you love walk through grief and loss?

– Say “I’m headed to the store, what am I bringing you back?” not “call me if I can help.” Most of the time we don’t know how to ask when grief is hovering overhead.
– Check in and listen without sharing your own opinion. Let us be and let us process, point us to Jesus if we need it but keep your opinions to yourself.
– Be constant in our world. You don’t have to move in or become a shadow but let us know you are here for the journey.
– Understand that we need space but that we don’t want to be alone. Space is one thing but grief from death means someone has left and is not coming back, we are lonely but probably don’t have the words to say that. Practice the ministry of presence.
– Offer to come, or just show up, for the big things and the little things. Form celebrations to promotions to ball games and everything in between.
– Ask to hear about their loved-one who died and how they celebrated holidays and everyday life. For instance my mom always sent flowers for my birthday, Valentines Day, Easter, and any other day she deemed important and now there won’t be flowers unless I bring them home myself (not to worry, I will!)
– Help us celebrate little victories such as sleeping through the night, catching up on the laundry, and paying the bills. While we are grieving the things that seem so little for the rest of the world, can appear overwhelming but every victory is significant.
– Don’t try to replace the person who died but try to fill in the gaps. You can’t become the new mom, sister, or grandparent but you can become chosen family who stands in the gaps.
– Send mail! Send the kind of mail where you address an envelope and put a stamp on it, there is a joy to getting an encouraging note in the midst of the bills, insurance letters, and pounds of notices.
– Pray with us and pray for us and let us know you are praying. Send a text, drop a note, stop by to hug our necks, and let us know that you taking our grief and hurt straight to throne of God for the peace only He can provide.

These are only a few things that have been significant to me. From practical hands-on-help to listening to random rants during the process of grieving (yes, it’s a process and it can take up to two years before finding a steady, new, normal) we need people willing to walk with us through the uncomfortable waters of grief.

Eyeliner Lessons

moms eyeliner

I mean… look at her eyes POP!

Eyeliner.

I never thought eyeliner would make me cry, but this week it has.

While getting ready for work this week– drinking my coffee, drying my hair, and putting on my makeup– I was taken back to the day when a sweet friend brought mom a tube of mascara while she was in the hospital. Mom beamed at the thought of this friend thinking of something so small and making sure mom’s eyes would POP like they always had. But mom had also started chemo, and soon she would lose her eye lashes. There would be no use for the mascara.

I will never forget the day we FaceTimed and mom didn’t know how to make her eyes POP without lashes. A week later when I came home I brought eyeliner. We had lessons on how to apply it and how to get clean lines that made her eyes POP. We laughed so much over eyeliner!

Through the ups and downs of mom’s illness she always wanted her makeup on in the morning. She had always raised us to shower, put on clean clothes, and get ready for the day no matter what. So, no matter how she felt, mom wanted to be wearing clean clothes (or just clean pajamas), to do her hair or put on a hat, and get her makeup on everyday. We knew when a day was really bad because she never got the makeup out of her basket.

You know something? Mom was always ready to see people and engage in their lives. She was ever-ready to come alongside and show someone Jesus. For her, that started by getting ready and making her eyes POP every morning!

And so crying over eyeliner has me thinking…

Am I always ready? Do I look the part (clean clothes and halfway put together)? Am I of sound mind and rested? Do I have margins in life to walk with people? Have I spent time with the Lord to have Life and Truth to share?

Mom taught me so many things, and I never realized until recently that getting ready for the day meant so much more to her than simply being dressed. It meant being prepared to meet the needs of those she loved most, and those she would meet along the way.

God’s Provision in Promise Land

Joshua 5Buried in Joshua 5 is a verse I have never noticed before, but it is so profound that I have been processing it for over a week.
“And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.”
For forty years the people had been eating manna. Every morning they gathered manna, every day they ate what they gathered, and they did that over and over and over again. Let’s be honest, I get tired of the same thing for lunch in a week, I can’t imagine the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for forty years. Yet, the people survived on God’s provision and they knew Him as Provider.
Then generations died, Joshua becomes the new leader, each of the people have crossed the river on dry land, the alter of stones has been crafted, and now it is time to take the Promise Land, the Land of Milk and Honey, would be theirs. It’s time for the Passover Feast and God’s people eat from the land – produce that must have been so sweet, juicy, tasty, and simply tantalizing to the senses. It’s been a good Passover feast, a good celebration.
A new day dawns and routine suggests gathering the days provisions. Yet, when the people wake up and step outside the view is different… where is the manna? God has provided a new means of sustenance which is found in the produce from the land. Can’t you see this in your mind’s eye? I found myself astonished at what they must see, which makes me think the people were perplexed and amazed at what they didn’t see. Think about it, did God guide their eyes from looking for the manna to seeing the produce of the land? Did He help them see what was around them and His new means of provision?

Here is what hit me… do I realize when I am living in God’s fodder, or basic fulfillment of our needs, or in God’s plenty? Do I realize the difference in the moments when God is sustaining my every basic need and when He gives in great abundance? My first thought is YES! However, in reality, the answer is, no. Living in His abundance, which for the Israelite’s would have been the produce, is easy because I don’t have to look for what I need. In the abundance, I have more than enough. Here, I have what I need, and I don’t always see that God is the one providing. But living in the fodder, relying on the manna, and the moment-by-moment supply, is what makes me look for and depend on God in ways that aren’t necessary in the plenty. Living on the fodder is difficult, it’s constant reliance of the Lord, it’s waiting, listening, and obeying for the next breath.
My first thought was, Lord let me see You in the plenty and praise You as You supply all I want. I desired to live in the abundance but if I’m honest with you, that is where I take my eyes off the Lord and where I depend on myself. After a week of processing, praying, and placating I have come to see that I want to live in the place where His provision looks like the fodder, like the manna. That place is where my eyes must stay focused on the Lord. That place is where my every moment, breath, step, and action must be given by the Lord because I am solely dependent on Him.
The good news is that our Good Good Father gives good good gifts to His children. Which I understand as my Heavenly Father, my Daddy, giving me times of fodder and times of plenty. He gives what I need, when I need it. He does that for all His children! That is His provision, supplying our needs in the Promised Land. He knows if we need abundance or complete dependence and His provides for our needs while we are with Him. He is our Promise Land, the Israelites had all the needed in the land He gave them even though the Lord changed how He met their need.
So, the question comes, are you living in the land of produce and plenty or in the land of fodder and dependence? Find the sweet moments in both, find a way a rest in the Lord, and relish in the season He has given. I would challenge you to read through Joshua, allow the Lord to teach you, so that as you read, you are on a journey with His people.

Antsy and Anxious

Today was one of those of days… One of those days when we waited for answers, waited to see doctors, and waited to know what tomorrow would hold.
This morning I started with a long walk by the water. You know, the Florida girl in me needs to hear the waves, smell the salt, and watch the palm trees sway. This morning I laced up my shoes, put in my ear buds, and began walking across the causeway trail. The music flowing was from an old playlist but was exactly what I needed. Songs about trusting the Lord, declaring it is well with my soul, and reminding myself that the wind and waves know His name. I’m sure people around me thought I was crazy as I worshiped and walked.
While I walked I noticed two types of birds. One was little and antsy, it couldn’t stop moving while on the rocks or even in the water. Then there were the seagulls… they would glide over the water and then settle in and rock back and forth with the waves. So, much of my heart has been like the antsy little anxious bird – not able to stop, not able to rest, not able to settle. While I watched the seagulls, the Lord reminded me that I was created to be like them, to settle in and the ride waves that He knows are coming. These are the waves that know His name, the waves that went from violently crashing to calm glassy seas when Jesus spoke from the boat with the disciples. The Lord wants to speak that into my heart, He wants me to ride the waves, to be settled, and trust the Creator of it all.
I was expecting a miracle of complete healing as of a few days ago, I was ready to proclaim to those around me that mom was healed again. Yet, this morning as I walked the Lord settled in my heart that she was far from healed. As tears fell, I knew the news wouldn’t be good. However, I also knew with deep resolve that God would use what was coming for His glory.
As the doctor walked in today, he hung his head, he apologized, and he proceeded to tell us the news. The good news, the cancer spots on mom’s bones are gone. The bad news, the other spots continue to lite up and new spots have joined this cancer party. The cancer is in mom’s lungs, some lymph nodes, and uterus. The wait continues until we see the specialist tomorrow.
The choice is mine – be the anxious antsy little bird that never settles and never stops or be like the seagulls and rest and trust in the one who Created the waves. God knew what was coming today and He is not surprised. He allows each and everything that is happening with mom’s cancer. I can choose to trust Him or fight against life circumstances. The antsy bird made me tired, just watching, but the seagull brought great peace.
As each of us fight, wait, and walk through this life we can chose. May each of us chose to trust the Creator, the Great I Am, the One who speaks and creation listens. May we hear His calming voice and rest in His peace.