Mother’s Day Ramblings

mom and dad and Peter

A rooster is crowing in the distance.  Soft light dances through the trees as the morning breeze rustles the leaves.  Birds are in full song, up for their busy day.  The spring greens are full and intense after a long barren winter.  I sit in my favorite place on my back porch and it feels as if I am in a tree house.  The quiet morning is a balm to my soul.

The past weeks have been full of trips back and forth to Atlanta, to place my aunt’s treasured items in the hands of those who will appreciate them. I am unearthing history, and it feels like a museum of the past to go through all the memorabilia and determine what is of value and what is trash.  It is physically and emotionally exhausting, yet, it is fun at the same time to relive the past and to meet her lovely friends.  My sister Melinda has been helping me, but her father in law was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer so she headed right back into end-of-life care.  He passed in just two short weeks, but the back to back deaths have taken their toll on Melinda.  I am praying she can have some rest and recover from being the medical-go-to-person for the last days of life for two people she loved.  Grief is hanging over us all at the moment. Betty would have been 85 years old today.

Last week, Ray’s dog, Mango, was violently killed as he stood by and watched two big dogs tear him apart.  He tried to beat them off with his cane to no avail.  It is a miracle they didn’t turn on him.  Mango was his source of purpose and caring for him was what got Ray up in the morning.  It has been a hard thing for him to bear, and we have been popping in on him more than usual to be sure he is okay.

At the same time, we have had the joy of watching Peter graduate from Berry.  He is moving to his own place this week and we couldn’t be prouder of his new season of life. All the moving of furniture and rearranging of things has got me wanting to purge the house.  I don’t want my kids to have to figure out what to do with all this stuff someday!  It is not a good time to begin this task until we get all the other moving completed, then, watch out, because I am going on a cleaning frenzy!

I leave for a trip to Uganda next week.  It is an honor to be invited to a teacher’s conference.  I am always excited for any chance to encourage teachers, especially these who have experienced so much loss, and still go into classrooms to teach the future generation.  It inspires me.  I pray my friend Karin and I can bring some practical knowledge that will help them to help the children.  We will be taking some supplies for them as well as purchasing some supplies when we arrive based on how much money we raise to do so. Hopefully, we will be able to supply some books, puppets, art supplies, and maybe some chalkboard paint and chalk.  I am looking forward to this trip to see what God does among these amazing teachers.

As I read back over this, I can tell I haven’t been to my computer in a bit!  I am dumping out all my stuff. Thanks for listening. It is a good feeling to sit and soak in the peace and quiet, if only for a moment.  I had to get all that out of me before I can even start the piece I sat down to write.  Please pardon my rambling and disconnected thoughts.  It is where I have been living as of late, and it does seem that grief causes my thoughts to be more fragmented than usual.

Let me see if I can get back on track with my original intent. As I sit here on this glorious morning and listen to the symphony of the wind, I think over the list of the days I posted above.  So much gut-wrenching activity that could not be approached without a support system of family.  We are all leaning on one another these days.  It is a beautiful thing to have each other in seasons of change.

Mother’s Day is Sunday and all the latest events in our family have given me new eyes.    In reflection of how time marches forward, I have come to see clearly how my mom has been the backbone of our family.  She has been our rock.  My whole life she has supported my endeavors, even when she didn’t always agree with them.  She has been there for the good and the bad years, and has always had words of encouragement or wisdom. Not just for me, but for my siblings and her grandkids as well.  She is one who contemplates her words carefully before she shares them with those who seek her out.

I have watched her seek the Lord my whole life.  I have seen her wrestle with her own changing beliefs and have seen her step into herself more fully as she has aged.  Her home is her heart.  She has been a nurturer and her hospitality is welcoming.  She is a strong woman, who comes from a long line of strong women.  She has passed that family trait down to us, the women whom she bore, and we in turn, have raised our own girls to follow the pattern.

She has been an example of how to love ALL my kids and to trust God to take them where he will.  I don’t think I fully appreciated my mom until my own kids began to leave the nest.  Watching your offspring struggle is one of the hardest things to witness as a parent.  You want to jump in and rescue, but that would circumvent their growth, and so you learn to keep your mouth shut and pray more.  I am sure that my mom’s white hair is due in part to my choices and struggles.  I also know that her strong prayer life is due to the fact she has a connection to God that only a mom on her knees can cultivate.

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Mom has been dealing with memory issues, as of late.  It is difficult to watch her struggle to find words.  She has always been a communicator and I can see the frustration on her face when she cannot say what she wants to.  She has always been the glue and taken care of all of us.  Now, Dad is returning the favor. Caregiver is not his most familiar role, but his deep love for Mom is teaching him how.  They are adorable…always have been.  That kind of love is rare these days, and I have had the privilege of being an up-close witness to it my whole life.  The way he helps her, and the way that she lets him help her is a beautiful thing.

This Mother’s Day comes on the heels of a very difficult year.  It is taking its toll on us all, but we are all in it together.  Our mom taught us how that works.  Loving your people and being there for them.  It is what we do, thanks to Mom and her example of how family works.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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Moving Forward

we are hope

The past several weeks, life has been on hold.  When a family need comes up, it takes precedence.  Everything gets rearranged and rescheduled, for all of us. Our family stopped to walk Betty to heaven’s door. I can’t think of a better reason to push pause, however, moving forward, I seem sluggish and not quite ready to move on, but I also don’t want to get stuck.  Grief is such an erratic emotional process. One thing I know is that it requires I give myself grace and time. I have gone back to work after the week of waiting for the end to come, but we still have much to do to handle the estate, including packing and going through her things. That brings its own unpredictable reactions, a shirt can bring tears, a bathing suit cover up can bring laughter. Although I know this place is perfectly normal, it leaves me raw and tired.  It would be nice if the world stopped turning when a family member dies, but it doesn’t.  Getting back into a routine is part of the healing process.

For me, that means planning my next trip to Uganda in May. One of the last lucid conversations I had with Betty was about my Uganda trip last January.  She asked me so many questions and responded clearly with her ideas of the situation at Hope Primary School.  It is a project that captured her attention because it is empowering children and teachers.  Education for those who are disadvantaged was her passion.  I told her of the refugees forming their own school. I told her of children who flee in the night and have experienced trauma that we cannot even comprehend. I told her of girls who cannot go to school during their menstruation periods because there are no feminine products.    Her words to me were, “Maybe with the current climate of empowering women, you can get something done and help them.”  It shows her clarity even a few weeks before her death.  As I am planning for my May trip, I am holding those words close.  They are fueling me to continue on moving forward to step where I feel called to go.

In January when I went, I had the opportunity to meet the teachers of Hope Primary School and do some training.  I have been invited back in May to train more refugee teachers at a teacher’s conference.  It is a collaborative effort with the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Education ministry of the Church of Uganda. I have a teacher friend in California who is going to go with me as well.  I am so excited about this opportunity to encourage teachers who are teaching in some of the most difficult circumstances, without pay, because they see the children as their hope for peace in the future of their country. These men and women are amazing and they do what they do with very little resources.  Our goal, along with giving them teaching strategies, is to bring resources with us.  It is difficult to teach children to read without any books.  When there are over a hundred students in a classroom with no walls or floors, it is hard to manage behavior without some sort of system. Paper and pencils are needed. You name anything a teacher uses in a classroom, and it is a need. The lack of resources for these teachers is beyond my grasp. My heart is both heavy and inspired by them.  I desire to take them something useful that can benefit the children.

For this conference, I am asking for your help in prayers and donations.  I realize not everyone can go, but you can still help if this project is tugging at your heart.  I am raising funds for teaching resources and some travel expenses.  Our entire team donates our services so that the money we raise can go directly to the teachers and students. If I raise over the amount posted I will get to take more supplies.  Any amount helps and any prayers are welcomed.  I will keep you updated as things progress!!

Here is the link to donate.   https://give.adventures.org/SouthSudaneseTeacherConference

My Dearest Lake Trail

 

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My Dearest Lake Trail,

I am writing to tell you how much I have missed you these past months.  My heart has been as bleak as the winter weather, which seems to be never ending lately.  I know in the past I have visited even in the cold, but for some reason this year I could not bring myself to come.  It seemed the cold cut through to my bones, and so I have been waiting for the warmth of spring.  The fickle season has been slow in arriving. She has been teasing me with hopeful sundrenched days, only to find the temperature plummeting when I step outside, or a cold wind sneaking in to steal my breath away.  I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to prepare to come for a visit, only to have a cold rain or unexpected chill interrupt a perfectly beautiful day.  I feel the time is near, where I will finally be able to make my regular outings to spend time with you.

Last weekend, I had a small window of a chance to come, and oh, how I enjoyed our time together.  You are looking so well.  What the wet and cold winter took from me, she must have given to your lake, because it is full to running over.  It is lovely to see the forest green waters so high along the shore.  A flock of Canadian geese are enjoying this, hanging out on the banks and honking at passersby.  The spillway is a waterfall, and therefore the river beneath must be bubbling along as well.  A few people are gracing your path, trying to soak in the warmth, as am I.  We smile at one another as if we share a great secret. The warmth of the sun and the breath of fresh mountain air does wonders for the muscles in our faces, not to mention our hearts and lungs.  A brave fisherman floats on the water in a bright yellow kayak.  I believe he is sitting there just to enjoy the sun, but trying to look busy, so he occasionally moves his rod around.  I never see any fish.

Little children, just ahead of me on your path, run as soon as they see the playground.  One little boy, probably 2 years old, grins and gives his dad a thumbs up and takes off for the slide.  It is the way my heart feels too.  I give you an invisible thumbs up in my mind…thank you Lake Trail…this is just what I came for.  Beyond the playground filling with children, I cross your creek which, like your lake, is healthy and full.  The gurgling is loud and rambunctious as if the waters are playing with the children. Your life is obvious today and it pours into me like water into a thirsty man.

By the time I get to your fishing bridge, I can feel the stress of the long winter leaving my body. My friend, I am sorry to say I had forgotten what benefit I get from our visits.  It seems you know just what I need, when I need it.  It is still a bit early for the butterflies, but I see one or two flit along my journey, and there are quite a few red flashes of cardinals dashing from place to place. There are leaves unfurling in all shades of green, just beginning to peek their faces out.  You will be in the shade soon, but on this day the sunlight is a welcome companion on my walk.  Laughter erupts from some teenagers who have braved the lake waters.  As I approach the beach, the cold temperature can be heard in their gasps and squeals. It seems I am not the only one seeking outdoor fun.

My favorite part of you is the places that curve and wind through the coves of your lake. There is a sweet smell here, not quite time for honeysuckle, but whatever is blooming drips the sweet fragrance and it hangs in the air over me like incense. Like a prayer. Somehow, it is this section, where my brain is finally able to let go of worries and concerns.  I like our communion together here where we are of one mind. My heart is beating hard and it fills my lungs with glorious oxygen.  I begin to hear your beauty more clearly in the bird songs.  I see your depth in the reflections of the trees in your waters.  Your mountain views stun my eyes and fill my soul.  I become calm and peaceful, as my heart beats the stress right out of me and it takes flight with the birds. This is why I come to see you Lake Trail.  It is because you are such a good friend and you know just how to listen to my silence.  We understand one another, and though I have neglected our time together as of late, you still get me.  You still wait for my return, and meet me there to re-center whatever state I am in when I arrive. You fill my soul.  Thank you, my friend.  You will never know how much you mean to me, no matter how much I tell you, there is more depth than can be expressed by words.  Fortunately, you are the kind of friend who doesn’t need words.

Much Love,

Michelle

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Full Circle (Guest Blog)

This is a guest blog, written by my sister Melinda Jenkins for Betty’s memorial service. 

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My Aunt Betty passed away peacefully in her home on April 3. We are all here because she was so special to us. She has touched the lives of each of us in some way. In fact, she touched the lives of many, thousands over the years, as a music teacher, choral leader, and organist. For me, Betty gave me the gift of knowledge. Let me explain.

I am the youngest of 3. My older brother has always been smart. Betty exposed him to the arts, as she did us all. They were drawn together not only by the arts, but by current events, NPR and politics.

My sister has always been smart too. Also exposed to the arts, as well as drawn to Betty by her love of music and education. Both of them are school teachers who have such passion for education. She and Betty could talk endlessly about education theory, methods, and process.

I am smart too. I was also exposed to the arts by Aunt Betty. But my connection differs from theirs, in one distinct way. I remember being shy in 2nd and 3rd grade. I did not want to be called on in class. My mother, after having to go through the education process, grew concerned at my tentativeness when it came to reading.  You see, my mom is also smart, still is an avid reader and she knows books = knowledge. She took me to the public library. She had me join a book club that mailed a new book each month. I would get so excited to check the mail. Curious George, Runaway Ralph and Socks were a few of my favorites.  It was perfect, as long as she would read to me, but not so great when I would read to her.

Early in my 3rd grade year, she talked with my teachers about her concerns. They reassured her that I could read, but was choosing not to due to my shy streak. Then at the end of 3rd grade suddenly, the teachers were concerned and called my mom in to tell her that I could not read. My Mom reached out to her sister Betty for help.  I still remember a conversation that I had with my Mom, Dad and Betty. Should I be held back and repeat 3rd grade? I was adamantly opposed. I wanted to stay with my friends and classmates.

Betty looked me in the eye and said, “Well, if you will work very hard everyday this summer with me, we will get you caught up.”

I thought to myself… ‘I trust her. She will help me.’  

And so, that summer Betty would pick me up each day. We would go to her Condo (where she has lived all these years). We would sit at her dining room table (still the same one) and she would work with me for hours, keeping me engaged, focused, and learning. In just 3 months (yes summer was 3 months long at that time) she took a 3rd grader, who struggled to read at all and help me become a 4th grader who was reading on grade level.

So my bond to Betty is the gift of reading, because books = knowledge. I continued to read on grade level throughout my high school and college years.  I never developed a passion for language arts, to this day poetry or classic novels still give me trouble. I did learn to appreciate them, but I developed a passion for reading the sciences… all of them biology, cellular biology, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology. I like to call it… technical reading. My love for technical reading and knowledge drove me into the medical field, where I have worked for many years as a nurse practitioner.

Fast forward now to Feb 26th, 2018

When we were alerted by her sweet neighbors that Betty was not well, I met my parents at her condo. A quick assessment found that Betty was seriously ill.

I looked her in the eyes and said “Betty we must go to the hospital. Something is wrong and we need to go now.”

She looked me straight in the eyes and said “I trust you.”  

So, at 8 o’clock at night we headed to the emergency room. The weeks that followed were full of ups and downs. There were glimmers of improvement, flashes of hope, followed by tremendous setbacks.  

At one point, while at subacute rehab, a nurse said, “Oh Ms. Betty just loves to watch TV all afternoon”.

Now, all of you here know that Betty does not watch TV except an occasional PBS special or DVD documentaries. This confirmed to me that she was not improving and not in the best place. She was not herself.  We worked tirelessly over the next 2 weeks, Betty and I, for one goal…..to get her home to see her cherry tree. You see, our family has always known where Betty wanted to spend her last days on this earth. It was in her home, where she has lived independently for so many years, looking out at her cherry tree.

So we have come full circle……She and I trusted each other in our time of greatest need.

Betty’s Cherry Tree

This what I shared at Betty”s Memorial Service.  Several people asked me for a copy so I am posting it here.  Feel free to share.

When it came time for us to plan this service, I thought of a European cathedral with a grand pipe organ where each of her organ friends could play one of her favorite Bach pieces, but I’ve never planned a destination memorial service before…so…instead, we opted for something simpler, that would honor Betty, instead of Bach.  Something that would express her heart, where we could share our Betty memories.  I wish I could read you every email I have received, because each is a piece of her.  She talked to the family about her friends and vice-versa…I know for a fact, she has force fed many of you with my writing for years!

Seriously though, her accomplishments are so many I couldn’t list them all in her obituary. I could stand here half a day and read them off, but that would not give you the heart of Betty.  Stories are much a much better vehicle to show rather than tell.  So let me show you Betty.

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The cherry tree outside her front window is spectacular.  It is evident that it has been there for decades, from its thick trunk to its broad reaching branches. Last week, the buds were opening into fluffs of ballet slipper pink.  Other petals varied from the color of an embarrassed blush to pink lemonade. Whole blossoms had multiple shades of pink which brought depth and texture to the tree.  When the wind rustled, powder pink confetti rained down, like it was a garden party.  And when the sun hit those blossoms, they glowed. It was as if the tree was enchanted the way it stood guard over the house, watching all who came and went to care for its owner.

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On Saturday, Betty was sitting up in her wheelchair.  It was the clearest she had been mentally in days.  We facetimed her grandnephew David in India, for his birthday.  Her grandnieces Liane and Kara were there too along with others who joyfully sang happy birthday to him as Betty joined in the song.  Then she asked, “Is my tree blooming?”  A parade of people wheeled her into her newly organized front room so she could stop worrying about the piles of papers, and so she could get a good look at her tree from the window.  When she saw her tree, she smiled the most genuine smiled we had seen in weeks.  “It is worth it,” she said.  It seems the tree’s roots had entangled in the AC unit. She told us how she had been 6 years without AC in order to preserve the tree.  She knew the cost of that beauty, and she was willing to pay it.

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It struck me that her cherry tree is a metaphor for her life.  Each of us is a blossom she tended to in her own Betty way.  Like the story Melinda just told of Betty teaching her to read.  Or the way she stood by each of the grandnephews and nieces, when they graduated college.  The ways she mentored so many of you in the different organizations.  Or the way she stood up against injustice by simply being a friend. She knew that different shades of skin color made for more depth and texture in the world.  She taught hundreds, maybe thousands of kids all about music, but also about life.  She reached her arms wide to include all in her embrace.  Knowing that sometimes roots get tangled and life is messy, she willingly paid the cost to help others, many times at her own expense. Her heart was generous in both time and donations.  She was loyal and devoted to the things she loved. Dependable as a clock on the wall, in her dedication.  She was passionate about education and music.

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I remember a gift I gave her one time that combined the music and education. I made it back in my college days, but I bet many of you have seen it.  A purple sweatshirt with kids painted on it in the shape of musical notes.  I have to tell you, we do a name draw at Christmas, and for some reason it always seemed that I got her name.  She is the hardest person to buy for because she doesn’t care about stuff at all.  I can only remember two gifts I ever gave her that she loved.  One was that shirt, and the other was the gift of a donation to a girl in Africa so she could buy a uniform to go to school. When she opened the card, she cried.  I had never seen her so taken with a gift, but I finally got it.  She was wired to educate, to pour into, to tend to, and to give, not to receive or accumulate.  Seeing those tears showed me her heart for less fortunate children and her passion to see girls educated so they can be world changers. They are more of her cherry blossoms.

She worked tirelessly with programs to bring help to others, especially kids.  She included us in her efforts by introducing all of us to the arts. Our children remember her attention to detail in the grandkid Olympics my mom had each year. Betty wanted each thing to be as accurate as possible, and she would know since she was a hostess in the 1996 games here in Atlanta.  She cooked some of their favorite foods, and knitted for them until her hands were raw. She poured into her students like that as well. They remember her music class as one of their favorites.

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If kids were her heart, music was her soul.  She must hold some kind of a record for most concerts attended. She provided a string trio for her grandniece Sarah’s wedding. She passed on her love of music, if not her talent, to all of us, and many others as well.  She planted the seed of song in so many students and children, that her tree was full of the buds of life waiting for their time to burst forth.

The cost of such beauty? Years of teaching.  Years of sacrifice.  Years of waiting and watching.  Years of encouraging.  Years of giving of herself.  Today she gets to rest from her labors and take in the fruit of all those years. She gets to see what was invisible to the eye while she was here, but is in full bloom in eternity.  She paid the cost of comfort, to impact those around her and bring out their beauty.

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On that day when She said, “Is my tree blooming?” I think she was asking, “Has my life been fruitful?  Has what I have poured myself into blossomed, yet?  Can you see my life’s fruit?”  Maybe she wasn’t conscious of the questions in that moment, but I think her spirit knew. When she saw the blooms on the tree glowing, multilayered pink, in the morning sun, she smiled so big.  I think it was confirmation that her life’s work was at its end.  Her spirit rejoiced and spoke… “It was worth it.” It was satisfaction that the beauty of her life…all her sacrifice and commitment, her loyalty and generosity, her music and compassion was complete.  It was her last big rally, and I think it filled her up with strength to get her through the remaining difficult hours until she shed her physical shell, and was set free to worship in full.

Now when I look at a cherry tree in full bloom, I think of Betty.  I see her connection to each flower.  She was so proud of ALL of us, and though we haven’t all met one another, we are family… because we are all Betty’s blossoms.

 

 

 

 

These Hands

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These hands…

have played the great organs of Europe.

have knitted Christmas stockings for an entire family.

have baked banana, zucchini, and cranberry bread for the multitudes.

These hands…

have edited hundreds of newsletters.

have played hand bells and numerous other instruments.

have sewed clothes and embroidered pillowcases.

These hands…

have directed children’s choirs.

have clapped in ovations to the symphony.

have tapped to the beat of percussion.

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These hands…

have guided students into the world of music.

have influenced many with their diligence.

have created calendars and organized mailing lists.

These hands…

have clipped coupons and newspaper articles.

have driven all over Atlanta.

have taken the family Christmas picture for decades.

These hands…

have responded to pain.

have given generously to others.

have fought for the freedoms of others.

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These hands…

have reached out in friendship.

have flipped through magazines.

have inspired with their talent.

These hands…

have written notation and transcribed music.

have folded in prayer.

have cooked with love.

These hands…

have lauded my creativity and talents.

have held mine and guided me to art museums and symphony halls.

have educated and applauded me.

have imprinted music into my being.

These hands…

will be missed.

Scraps of Paper

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Photo Credit: Beverly Brown Photography

I have spent the past two days going through scraps of paper in my Aunt Betty’s house.  As she moves closer to the fullness of life beyond this temporary body, going through her things seems an invasion of privacy.  Yet, I have learned a lot in these past two days.  Going through scraps of paper can tell you a lot about what someone values.  The things we save, show what is important to us.

In her scraps, there were tons of email addresses of friends and family scribbled onto envelopes (She’s pretty tech savvy for an 84-year-old) and historical information about every organization, of the many, she is a part of. There were receipts from her considerable charitable giving.  Organ music. Hand bell music.  Guitar music.  Choral music.  Whole sets of magazines…most about music. Photographs from the distant past as well as fairly recent ones.  Notes given to her by some of her many former students, from her 37 years as a music teacher.  Signatures of her honor chorus students wishing her well.  Thank you notes from people she’s played for some occasion or another. (A couple with money still in them!) Newspaper clippings of everything from the 1996 Olympics, to comic strips, to obituaries of her friends. Scrapbooks filled with high school football scores and hand drawn pithy cartoons about their losing record.  Every single card she has ever been sent, for any occasion, as well as every program from every concert she has ever attended.  You could say she is a packrat, but I prefer the term historian. Her front office is a time capsule.  This makes organizing both exhausting and interesting because of the treasures you find along the way, buried under piles.

When I think of a life well lived, I never have considered paper scraps before.  Yet, they tell her story, like a mosaic.  A lover of all kinds of music.  A fighter for human rights. A generous heart to give to others, while she herself lives frugally, as taught to her by the Great Depression. A stickler for details that are historically accurate. An educator in more ways that just the classroom.  A proud Aunt, Sister, and Daughter. An educated woman.  A talented woman.  An independent woman. A woman who is loved by many.  A woman who cares deeply about many things.  A woman of faith expressed through music.  A complete picture.

She may have been concerned and embarrassed as I dug through her stuff. I know I would be if someone went through mine!  But in the cleaning, came some more knowledge of what is in her heart.  My whole life, I have known her as my aunt who loves me as her own child.  She treats us all that way.  She is an influence on us with her dedication to the arts. She has made homemade computer cards for all of us for each occasion and she has knitted thousands of things, as long as we have been alive.  Those are all Aunt Betty things to do, but the things I learned in her office are things she did for others, whom I did not know.  Things that she accomplished that are hung on her walls.  Things she attended to with love and detail. Things that mattered to her deeply…all from scraps of paper.

I write an Easter blog each year with a grateful heart for the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.  It is important to me in my faith to remember the profound love of God.  This year, I am ever so grateful for his provision, so that Aunt Betty will soon be able to hear the music her heart has always been longing for.  One of her friends wrote me that it is time for her life’s crescendo.  I think that is a perfect way to say it.  Blessings to you all on this Resurrection Sunday, may you live your lives as well as my Aunt Betty.

In the Silence

In the silence, images float across my mind…

Images of orphans running in the night.

Fleeing for their lives.

Dancing in freedom, that isn’t really freedom, but feels like it.

Their smiles glow, even with pain behind their eyes.

They are beautiful.

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Images of teachers and pastors moving forward.

Knowing the hard truth.

Getting up each day anyway.

Speaking hope, teaching love, praying something takes root.

Their weary souls knowing they are not abandoned, even though it feels like it.

They are faithful.

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Images of women standing strong.

Working for their families.

Despite pain, despite hardship, despite poverty.

Sharing their talents to feed their children, and grandchildren.

Smiling in their contentment.

Teaching others what it looks like.

They are wise.

Images of laborers in the dump working hard.

Digging trash.

Sweltering in the heat, wading into garbage, earning pennies.

Humbling those of us who could never understand.

Grateful for their food.

Happy they are not begging.

They are rich.

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Images of God’s heart.

Crying tears.

Pouring out love, and blood for them all.

Hoping for understanding and getting accusations instead.

Knowing we don’t get it.  Yet.

Longing for peace and family and unity to come quickly.

Depending on us to bring it.

He is patient.                                      In the silence.

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I saw God at the Dump

 

I have heard Isaiah 61 preached. I have seen it proclaimed from the stage in drama.  I have sung it, but I have never heard it like I did at the dump in Nicaragua.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

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 Plastic bags of all colors created a patchwork on the parched brown earth, as our bus bumped down the road.  The ditches on both sides were full of the discarded plastic, and the bags waved like flags on the trees and shrubs.  The closer we got the more of them covered the ground.  The closer we got, the worse the smell.  The closer we got, the hotter it became. Our destination was the dump.  Our mission was to feed the dump workers lunch. The pastor and his wife we were working with, prepare food like this several times a week, every week.  They serve out of the back of a pickup truck to the dump workers who are forgotten by most people.

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Coming around a curve in the road, we saw the smoke first. They were burning a mountain of garbage.  When our bus arrived, people began their descent from Trash Mountain.  Dressed in long pants, long sleeve shirts, hoods and some with cloths over their faces, they gathered around. The smoke and heat were suffocating to those of us who were uninitiated.  Running back to the bus wasn’t an option for us, as much as we would have liked to do it.  Instead, we gathered around for the devotion which happens before the meal.

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One of the moms in our group read Isaiah 61 with the help of an interpreter.  As many times as I have heard, quoted, or sung that chapter, I have never heard it like I did that day.  It was as if heaven came down and touched the Earth.  Suddenly, the dump was the Holy of Holies where God dwells.  It was as if the words carried the living Christ with them.  His heart so beautifully expressed, as he did in the temple as a child, and still does even now.  The words hit my heart, which was beating like a sledge hammer.  Bind up the brokenhearted…who were standing right in front of us.  Proclaim freedom for the captives…who were waiting in line for nourishment.  A crown of beauty instead of ashes…to those who were covered in ash.  The oil of joy instead of mourning…for those who walk in heaviness. A garment of praise…to those cloaked in despair.

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Suddenly, I was humbled to stand in the presence of such precious people. Suddenly, I knew the high value which they had in God’s eyes.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  A hushed reverence flooded my soul. These are the ones he was speaking of.  When you look into their faces you see his.  To serve them lunch was an honor.  To pray with them afterwards was an act of service.  As I prayed for a woman who longs for unity in her family, tears flowed…hers and mine. I asked if I could hug her, and though she seemed surprised at the request, she agreed. I whispered blessings in her ear and we held on to each other tightly for some time. I released her to go back to the heap, and I headed back to the bus which would carry me away from this place.

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My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces, as we were leaving behind a granddaughter, a daughter, and a grandmother…generations of poverty, digging through the trash. Workers who make $20 a month to find plastic and metal…a needle in a haystack…of garbage.  No gloves, no masks, no protective gear.  A blind man gathering soles of shoes to sell the rubber. A girl in her teens, in shorts pulling nasty stuff off of what turned out not to be plastic.  A little girl of four, doing her part to dig for her family.  Men with bags on their backs with which to collect their finds.  A boy, excited to find what appeared to be a radio, in hopes that with some work, it might turn on.  All of them thanking us for coming, for not forgetting them.  All of us, thanking them for opening our eyes.  I saw God at the dump, and he didn’t look like me.

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The Beauty of Nicaragua

A Parent Vision Trip (PVT) is when parents of World Racers go to the field for a week to be with their kids in another country.  They get to do ministry with their sons and daughters.  It is a life changing trip.  I am fortunate enough with my job, to go along on these trips as a facilitator and see the amazing places around the world where God is working.

This week I am in Nicaragua…

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The hibiscus open their faces to the sun. Morning glories, sprawl across the ground calling me to a path leading to time with God, just after dawn. Rows of plantain trees quiver in the breeze, their frons flapping, making a distinctly different sound than the trees at home.  The birds also sing different songs than my neighbors in the States. In the distance, the volcano Mombacho towers over the landscape. My eyes to lift to the peak in order to determine if it is smoke I see, or clouds playing tricks. There is not a rain cloud in sight, as it is the dry season.  The ground is parched, and the wind blows up dust which creates puffs wafting across the fields. As the day wears on, the sun will broil the grass and any exposed flesh, with its direct rays in close proximity to the earth.  In the glorious shade, the wonderful breeze dries sweat…as long as it is blowing.  The secret of this land is to walk in the cool of the morning, with circulating air kissing my face. It welcomes me to the beauty of this country.

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Her people are as welcoming as the breeze. Our translator and guide work with this community regularly enough that they no longer have to go ask to pray for people, because the people come to them.  They invite us into their homes, which have dirt floors, and are held together with very little.  Animals roam free, and the dirt streets have rivulets of sewage and laundry water swirling through them.  As we walk, we are invited in to pray over the inhabitants. A woman in a wheelchair needs prayer for her daughter.  Her five-month-old granddaughter lies in a nearby hammock, curious at our white faces.  We stop in the streets all along the way to pray for those we meet.  We pray for a man whose wife and son both recently had appendectomies, and he is caring for his other children while they recover.  Another man approaches our translator, in tears, saying he does not feel well.  We pray for healing of his body and his downcast spirit, and then we receive the gift of a smile in return.

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We continue down the streets and we intersect with people all along the way.  One woman, a cancer survivor like me, is about to go for her one year check-up.  I pray that the fear of reoccurrence does not flood her mind, because I know that fear all too well.  I pray for continued celebration of health and that her testimony would shine the light of God to those around her. She admits we are the first she has told of her miracle.  We swap treatment stories, and I share what an inspiration she can be to others around her.  I pray for her to pass the one year, five year, and ten year marks.  We share a hug that transcends language barriers. Our team takes turns praying, as it seems that God is directing us to homes where we have commonalities.

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In maybe the most beautiful moment of the day, we pray over a woman’s feet.  A mother of twelve children, and grandmother of at least five that we could see, she welcomes us into her home. Her cough is noticeable, and we pray for her lungs, but her request is for the pain in her feet. She makes tortillas for a living and she stands all day. As she points to where her pain is, three moms in our group recognize the description as plantar fasciitis. We have all had it. We sit her in a chair and we gather around her feet.  We remove her shoes, and begin to pray.  As we pray, we rub her feet and stretch them. We speak healing and cry tears of compassion.  One mom kneels down and kisses the woman’s feet. No translation is needed.  It is a God moment.  Moving.  Tender.  Hugs all around.  Her feet are feeling better, from the prayer or from the massage we cannot tell, but the smile shows us she is sincere in her assessment of her pain.  She offers to make us tortillas, and we agree to purchase from her tomorrow.

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The Nicaraguan people invite us into their hearts as well as their homes. One elderly woman in a wheelchair invites us in.  She is used to having prayer teams come to her home.  She offers us chairs, and we ask how we can pray for her, she says, “I do not know of anything to pray for.  God has given me so many blessings.”  We all stand, pretty stunned, in this dirt floor home, with holes in the walls, and chickens running around the floors, as this woman, bound to a wheelchair, shows us what contentment looks like and shines a spotlight on our own lack of understanding. It is a gut moment, when we realize we are not here for these people, they are here for us.

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