Perpetual Praisers

It is a sight to behold to see trees coated in ice, looking as though their branches have become glass.

Trees are “perpetual praisers.” They are always reaching for the light.

They are always growing.

They are willing to change in season.

They are willing to shed their leaves and give back to the earth when it is time.

They allow others to come and visit or even make their home in their branches.

They provide shade for those on the ground.

They receive The Breath of God given through human breath. And they give back His Breath through their breath in return.

They move with the wind, dancing, waving, clapping their “hands,” and bending during a storm. They are flexible.

And sometimes they endure pain, as a part of them is lost in the storms of life. Today, as I saw trees toppled by the ice storm, it looked as if other trees were leaning their way, perhaps comforting them in their grief.

Even with the weight of the ice on their branches, they still stand and wait. They wait for their cold limbs to be released from the grip of ice and allow their tears to flow and water the earth.

They wait for the light.

They wait for spring.

They continue to praise their Creator.

I want to be more like trees.

“For you shall go out with joy,

And be led out with peace;

“The mountains and the hills shall

break forth into singing before you,

and all the trees of the field

shall clap their hands!”

Isaiah 55:12

How To Share

Gideon enjoyed the toddler Christmas tree so much, we decided to leave it out all year.

The ornaments are easy for him to pick up and return to the tree. He can hold them, roll them, smack them together or hide them various places.

A few weeks ago, it took all of us looking before we found the missing ornament under the couch. I am sure Gideon was pleased he won!

Today in Childhood 101, Gideon taught me another valuable lesson. He very sweetly gave me two ornaments. However, after playing with other things for awhile, he decided he wanted them back.

I watched him looking longingly at the colorful balls. However, he did not reach for them. I did not offer them because I wanted to see what he would do.

He solved his dilemma in a remarkable way.

Even when I was not offering to share with him, he did not just take or even demand what he wanted.

He went back to the tree and got one ball. He then brought that ball to me and offered it.

He did not want to take something from me and leave me empty handed.

I put down one ball I was holding in order to receive the gift he was offering me.

In order for me to receive the new gift, I had to be willing to let something go.

He then very gently picked up the ball I had relinquished.

He wanted not to take from me, but share with me. With his acquisition of the ball, we both had something to play with. And we did. We played with each other and our toys.

So much love and compassion in that lesson from a child.

The world would be a much better place if we gave each other more gifts and did less demanding and taking from each other.

And it would be wonderful if we looked for ways to share with even those who were unwilling to give to us.

I pray that Gideon will always be a person of love and compassion.

“ … and a little child will lead them.”

Isaiah 11:6

Future Talk?

To be clear, there is nothing funny about Covid. It is serious, scary and tragic.

Recently I had a conversation with someone, where we talked of how sad it was that children born into this world now never knew the world that preceded it.

It set us wondering about the future. We wondered, even after the pandemic, how many things would truly go back to the way they were and how many things might actually remain unchanged.

I pray the pandemic will end soon. But if it does not, I wonder what those who are born now will think one day when they hear about the world that used to be.

Will our future generation look back on us and say …

There used to be a time when people went out in public without masks. Can you believe they actually showed their mouths and noses in public?

Once people greeted each other by touching body parts, like hands or arms … or even worse it was said some even touched lips. Oooo …

People used to gather unmasked in large numbers at sports events or concerts and yell or sing, letting all sorts of bugs fly from their mouths.

People used to go unmasked to buildings called churches to perform traditions they called worship. When the churches were gone, it was said people did not know how to worship. There was a very dark age before they learned how to worship outside those buildings.

There were once buildings called stores that had large supplies of things people would buy. People actually touched boxes of food or sometimes vegetables out in the open that other people had touched. Very unsanitary.

People would go to places where they had things called books and magazines. They would handle things others had touched. Unbelievable.

Here’s a really nasty one. People used to get clothes off racks, try them on and then they were put back on the rack for the next person to try them on. And then somebody bought them and took them home and wore them. Very unsanitary.

When people were sick and went to the doctor, they all sat together in the same small waiting room. Then they saw the doctor and got really close. The doctor sometimes got almost nose to nose and looked down their throat. Amazing.

When they had to go to the hospital, their families went with them. Can you imagine how many bugs were flying in there? They didn’t even have to wear masks. No wonder everyone was sick!

People used to travel places in airplanes, buses, boats or even together in cars. They breathed air in the same small space. Truly unbelievable.

Big groups of people used to get together in their homes. They talked, laughed and ate together. They didn’t know they were potentially dangerous to each other.

It took awhile to get the people to understand the only approved method of communicating was electronically. They didn’t even know how to zoom back then.

I can’t even imagine how they survived to bring us into the world. It’s a good thing we are a part of the sterilized generation. Put on your your double lined gloves and give me a high five!

P.S. I sincerely hope this is not the world of the future. While some things should change, I miss the old world a lot, especially the hugs.

O The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus!

Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed by the world, we need to stop and be awed by the Majesty of God.

It still amazes me that God selected a terrorist, Paul and transformed him into His most powerful messenger of Love. It gives me hope for this fallen world.

I share Paul’s Message as my prayer for all of you.

“I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, The Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.

 I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.

Then Christ will make His Home in your hearts as you trust in Him.

Your roots will grow down into God’s Love and keep you strong.

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His Love is.

May you experience The Love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”

As you think of The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, I invite you to worship Him from the beach. Here is the link to take you there!

https://youtu.be/KLTu1xv2-Us

You Raise Me Up!

Jesus gave the bad news.

“In this world you will have trouble. “

John 16:33

If He had stopped there, we could give up now. But then He gave the Good News.

“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

Sounds good for Him, but what about the rest of us?

Jesus gave the even more exciting news.

“I am in my Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you!”

John 14:20

Trouble is here, but He will raise us up above it. Reach up and let Him pick you up!

Here is the link to a song sung by two children that blesses me every time I hear it.

https://youtu.be/pZwNzQhjcHE

Joy In The Journey

Sometimes life brings unexpected trials and grief. Sometimes we recover.

But we may find we have a residual infection of pessimism. When the next thing happens, we sigh deeply and mumble, “What now?”

But life is also filled with unexpected joys. Such wonders should prompt us to be thankful to God for His Surprise Gifts, and be confident there will be more to come.

After living far away for a long time, our daughter, son in law and grandson moved home this year. It was unexpected and one of the most wondrous gifts imaginable.

They live close enough to see them often. This afternoon in the midst of a challenging day, Jennifer and one of our grandpups, came by and took me for a ride.

Jennifer and I talked like we used to do when I was driving her around. We dreamed of the future and imagined what we might do together. We listened to music.

The joys of those moments totally wiped out the stress of the day and even the challenges of the past year.

I invite you to listen to one of the songs we listened to today. May it transport you to your happy place!

Here is the link.

https://youtu.be/xNf2ES69fxo

This is the day that the Lord has made;

 let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Psalm 118:24

Is This Worth My Soul?

We all wanted to nose up to the manger and see the baby Jesus.

We wanted to celebrate with Him at the wedding.

We loved it when He fed us.

We thought it was great that He knew the best place to fish.

We enjoyed hearing Him teach.

It was a treat to have Him wash our feet.

We were so thankful when He touched us and healed us.

We said we would follow Him anywhere.

But then …

He started hanging out with questionable people we didn’t like.

He touched people that had contagious diseases. He let people touch Him.

He definitely did not social distance.

He didn’t even condemn outright sin, like adultery.

He didn’t understand there were bad people in the world, who had to be stopped.

He said crazy things, like, “Love them. Pray for them”

He told us to put our weapons away, even when we were trying to defend Him.

He didn’t seem to understand the teachers of the law.

We thought He should get on with saving our country or just be silent.

But He would not listen to us.

We thought things were on the upswing again when we all rode together in a public parade. All the people cheered and we were proud to be His Friends.

But something went terribly wrong the next week.

He was arrested. He was beaten. He was tortured. He didn’t even defend Himself.

Now we are headed toward a very bad place. He is carrying a cross.

We are remembering something He said.

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My Sake will find it.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Matthew 16:24-26

Is my soul worth all this?

Can it be Jesus wants us to give up the life we planned in exchange for The Life He plans?

What’s ahead if we follow Him? Will there be trouble? Will there be suffering? Yes.

Will we understand every detail of The Plan? No.

Can we trust Him? Yes.

Will we get out of this alive? Yes, more alive than we can even imagine!

We are headed for Joy. Don’t look around. Keep your eyes on Jesus!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Hebrews 12:1-3

A Wonderful World

Jay and I enjoy going on rides, and observing the world.

From the Kentucky country side to the lake at Lexington Green to the parking lot at Walmart (which never fails to showcase an interesting array of characters), we see the wonder of God’s Creation.

We love seeing the ducks and swans at the lake. As I watch them eagerly swimming over to greet us, it seems like a homecoming party.

Sometimes the ducks quack and it sounds like they are laughing. I laugh too.

The swans maintain their graceful demeanor, but they provide their own brand of entertainment. Sometimes they do a “handstand” as they go under water to seek a snack.

And, of course, it fascinates me how God created them with built in pillows. They simply unfurl their long necks and lay their heads on their own feathers.

As much as the ducks seem happy in their home at the lake, they occasionally have a street party. They block the street and seem undeterred by approaching traffic.

Sometimes we have met strangers, as we worked together to encourage the ducks to move. The ducks laughed.

Even with a whole pond to get their feet wet, the ducks seem to love playing in the puddles after a rain. They jump up and down and watch each other make duck footprints on the dry pavement.

As I watch them play or swim peacefully around the lake, I wonder what they are thinking. I wonder how in such chaotic world, they achieve such peace.

Surely a duck or swan must have an off day, when life is not perfect. But they keep paddling. They keep gliding. They keep laughing.

They keep coming over to greet friends and strangers. They keep peacefully living together, even though they are not alike.

We could learn much from our feathered friends. When we leave the lake, sometimes I think I hear them say, “Good night. See you tomorrow.”

No matter what the day has brought, I feel renewed and ready to make a few more laps on my journey on dry land.

It is a beautiful world. Louis Armstrong did not mention swans and ducks in his song, but he captured their message. It’s a beautiful world!

Here is the link to his song.

https://youtu.be/p-T6aaRV9HY

Forever Friends

In 1972, I entered a world unlike anything I had ever encountered. I began work as a nurse on a locked psychiatric unit at the local VA hospital.

I was issued my keys and told where to go. Two big, burly nursing assistants held the patients back from the door as I pushed in.

The unit was packed with a variety of the mentally ill. The beds in the sleeping area seemed only inches apart. Nursing assistants stood at their posts like guards.

And then I was introduced to the nurse coordinator, Miss Fryman. She was a petite woman, who looked at me over her glasses, like someone had just delivered lunch.

I was not sure who to fear most, the patients or my new boss. She proved to be every bit as formidable as she initially appeared.

When she spoke, the other nursing staff snapped to attention and followed her orders to the letter.

She was the epitome of tough love with the patients too. Even the craziest patient responded when Miss Fryman said, “Get out of my face and go sit down in the day room!”

But the tough part of her was tempered with a heart of compassion. She could wrap her arms around a depressed, anxious patient and convince them they would be ok, even if for just that moment.

I managed to stay out of her firing line until the day I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. One of the patients had been on the unit for several years. In my youthful dream world, I believed if I could only expose him to the outside world again, he would progress toward cure.

I told Miss Fryman I wanted to take him out on a day pass. With great flourish, I gave her a list of proposed activities. She hit the roof! She told me in no uncertain terms that was not happening.

Again in my youthful ignorance and rebellion, I appealed the decision to the chief nurse and physician. I won! Well, “won” is a relative term.

I took the patient out. He actually did quite well for awhile, until anxiety set in. And he began to act out. Fortunately I was able to get him back before he completely melted down.

And of course, Miss Fryman was waiting for our return. After she helped calm the patient down, she turned to me. I was shaking more than he was.

She pulled me into the nurses station and taught me a valuable lesson. She said, “You are going to have to learn life is a balancing act between freedom and security. Too much freedom and you get what you just got. Too much security and you miss out.”

What I expected next was to be fired. However, she said maybe we both needed to learn that. And that was it. We never spoke of it again while I was under her command.

But I noticed my patient got added to more outside activities after that. Gail and I laughed about our “head butting” many times when we later reminisced as friends.

I was moved to another unit when the new city division of the hospital opened the following year. I worked psychiatry and then on surgical units for the next six years.

I lost track of Miss Fryman until I was selected to be the nurse coordinator of the newly formed hospice unit at the old division.

By then Miss Fryman had also changed positions and was the nurse coordinator of the clinics and personnel health. As such, we both attended nurse coordinator meetings.

Many of the meetings were long and dare I say … boring. Sometimes leaders of other services came to speak, the thrust of their presentations being about how nursing could serve them better.

During one of these meetings, I looked across the table at Miss Fryman, who was rolling her eyes. I got so tickled I almost laughed out loud.

When we walked out, she looked at me and said, “Well, that was a load of bull.” We became friends from that moment, two rebels who knew “crap from crisco.”

Miss Fryman became Gail and we began to reflect on life during breaks or for occasional lunches. She told me, “You turned out alright. I can tell people I raised you right.”

In addition to her supervisory duties, Gail was the hands on personnel health nurse. The goal in those days seemed to be to determine if the employee was really sick or just faking it to get time off.

Gail could spot a faker in a minute. She was a master at staying within the approved managerial bounds, but she could construct her questions like a prosecuting attorney.

Employees left her office, either feeling much better for her medical wisdom or genuinely ill because their plan to get off work had been foiled.

We began to get together outside work. Gail was a friend, who could relate beyond just talking about work. We talked about life. We shared our hopes and fears.

Even though many would not think of attacking Gail, cancer tried. Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery. She had followup treatments.

Cancer lost. Gail became a dedicated breast cancer awareness educator. The high point of her recovery came when she got her new nicely, artificially filled out bra.

She called me and said, “Carolyn, I got my new boobs!” Before I could go see, another friend dropped by her office. She invited her to “feel them” to see how real they were. The friend did just that, just as a startled employee walked in to see her friend “feeling her up,” as Gail put it.

I asked her if she thought the word would be out questioning her relationships. Gail just laughed and said, “Let them talk. I’ve always wanted to be interesting!”

Gail was fiercely independent. She acknowledged that while her bark was considerably worse than her bite, some people were put off by that. But, she said, she had always been “plain spoken” and that was not apt to change.

Gail seemed so satisfied to be single, I was surprised when she revealed one day there was a special man in her life. Miss Fryman became Mrs. Stamper.

John was a Kentucky wildlife artist. Those who did not know her well were perhaps surprised that the formidable Miss Fryman also had a love and appreciation for nature and art.

The love between John and Gail was beautiful, but all too brief. John had cancer. I took care of him near the end. When we sat and talked about life, he told me the high point of his life was Gail.

He said, “That woman never gives up. Many times when I said I was down for the count, she wouldn’t let me stay there.”

After John died, Gail did not give up. She became the keeper and distributer of John’s art. When I shared with her what John had said, she said, “We were both fighters. We had a lot to squeeze out of life and not as much time as some get. We had to make the best of it.”

John was Gail’s one human Love of her Life. But she still had love to give and she still wanted to receive love. So she had dogs, one at a time. First Willie, and then when he died, Lucy. She was totally devoted and a wonderful mother to her fur children.

After we both retired from the VA, we kept our friendship going. Gail always teased me about being a “picky eater.”

She suggested early on that we eat at Cracker Barrel. She said, “if you can’t find something you like on their menu, there is something wrong with you!” I ate well.

We also expanded into attending the annual retired nurses luncheon. The first year we attended, Gail looked around the room and gasped in horror.

She said, “They must have sent us to the wrong room. All these people are old!” I asked her if she realized we were old. She said, “I don’t ever plan to get old. The test is whether people can still recognize you.”

About that time, someone came over and said, “Gail, how are you?” Before answering, she turned to me, winked and said, “See, I told you. I am not old!”

In spite of resisting the external signs of aging, the last few years took its toll, resulting in health problems for both of us. We were not able to get together in 2020. We hoped to get together in 2021.

However, that was not to be. Her neighbor found her one morning. She had exited during the night due to a possible heart attack.

She died as she lived. She never wanted to die in a hospital or nursing home. She got her wish. She died at home. She was fiercely independent to the end.

Gail knew I was a writer. She read or heard me read many eulogies or other writings over the years. Once when we discussed dying, I told her one reason she should keep on living was because if she died first, she knew I would write about her.

She laughed and said, “I might take that chance. At least you would make me sound interesting.”

Gail was more than interesting. She was a legend, and I only knew part of her story. If you knew her, perhaps my memories will make you smile and bring to mind your own memories.

If you did not know her, now you have an idea of what you missed.

The memories are sweet, but I miss her already.

May Love Be What You Remember Most …

I have read many obituaries in my life.

I read who the departed was related to. I read where they lived on earth. I read what their earthly “accomplishments” were.

I often had the urge to write addendums of who I knew them to be. How I would describe their life often had nothing to do with their DNA, career choices, awards, or hobbies.

I remembered the warmth of their smiles, the comfort of their hugs, the way they talked or laughed and the wonderful ways they made my life and the lives of others better.

As I reflected on my memories of those who have been promoted to Heaven, I began to realize that what I would have written about them is truly what I would like to be said of me one day.

I am not there yet. I take comfort in what Paul said about himself.

“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13-14

But, as I remember the Saints of God, who touched my life, I know I want to be like them when I grow up. I would like it to be said of me —

She loved God.

She loved everyone, even those who were different and challenging to love.

She repented of her missteps and received God’s forgiveness. She lived a life of receiving Grace and Mercy and she extended it to others.

She forgave everyone.

She loved her family, but she welcomed others into her family too. She never made anyone feel like an outsider. Everyone was in.

She loved life. She saw God in everything. She rejoiced in the every moment miracles.

She was funny. She found the humor in life and shared it.

She looked for ways to encourage others.

She shared the resources God gave her. She gave to those in need. She delighted in being God’s “delivery girl.”

She prayed. She prayed for those she knew and those she did not. Her days were filled with calls to prayer. All those who knew her knew they could depend on her to pray.

She was full of Hope. She was persistent and never gave up. She trusted God had a Plan and it was a good one.

Music filled her life and overflowed into songs of praises to God. She lived the meaning of her name, “Carolyn,” which means “song of joy!”

God so completely filled her life that people felt His Presence more than hers.

The Fragrance of Christ lingered long after she was gone!

I’ve got a lot to work on before I can come up to these standards, but now you know my goals. Those of you who are still here after I am gone can see how you think I did.

But the real evaluator will be My Creator!

I think of earth as our “basic training” for Heaven. All we hope to be in full begins now. You may want to make your own list. How would you like to be remembered?

If we fulfill now what we are called to do, our lives will not just be a listing of our earth activities from the funeral home when we leave these bodies.

It will be a welcome home in Heaven where God presents us to all assembled, reviews what we did on earth to further His Kingdom, and says,

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:23