Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#22 A "Sacrifice of Thanksgiving"

     When I am not involved in a structured Bible study, I often return to reading one chapter of Proverbs and five from Psalms daily, according to the date. The Psalms for today are 106-110, and the Proverb is chapter 22. Today's Psalm 106 struck me as appropriate for my Thanksgiving week and, perhaps, yours too.  It begins as follows:

"Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the Lord,
Or can show forth all His praise?
How blessed are those who keep justice, 
Who practice righteousness at all times!" Psalm 106:1-4
     Hmmm. Woe is me if I stop right there after verse 4 in the Psalm. How wonderful (read with a hint of sarcasm) for those who" keep justice" and "practice righteousness at all times" (whoever that may be), but that group doesn't include me! The psalmist follows with "remember me, O Lord" and "visit me with thy salvation" because he admits in verse 6, "We have sinned like our fathers. We have committed iniquity, we have behaved wickedly." Now, that's a group with whom I can identify. David admits that his people "did not understand Thy wonders", "did not remember Thine abundant kindnesses",  and "rebelled" (v. 7).
     In my own life I have been guilty of the same failures:  I didn't understand why bad things happened in my life--divorce, illness, death, abuse--and I railed against my Heavenly Father, demanding an explanation, saying "I just don't understand." God's persistent reply has been "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don't lean on your own understanding." (Proverbs 3:5). When bad times came, I often "did not remember" God's kindness and mistakenly believed that He had turned into a punitive, harsh, and bullying Father Who was punishing me for the bad behavior of my family or myself. Consequently, I committed and justified  rebellious acts against God, just as the Israelites did (v 7). The consequences of my own behavior still linger, like ever widening circles in a pond after a stone is thrown  into it.
     My behavior, my mistakes, and my rebellion, however, are not too difficult for God.

"Nevertheless, He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known." Psalm 106:8

He saved the Israelites, and He saved me. But the Psalm doesn't end in verse 8. David continues with a litany of Israel's sins and God's responses to them. What God did or allowed is printed in blue, and Israel's actions are printed in red:
God rebuked the Red Sea, dried it up, led them through, saved them from those who hated them, redeemed them from their enemy, and killed all among the enemy.
The Israelites believed His words, sang His praise, then quickly forgot His works, didn't wait for His counsel, craved intensely,and tempted God.
He gave them their request and sent a disease.                          
They became envious of Moses & Aaron.
The earth swallowed up some, and a fire consumed the wicked.           
They made a calf as an idol and worshiped it and forgot God their Savior.
God said He would destroy them.                                             
Moses "stood in the breach before Him."
God turned away His wrath                                                      
They despised the pleasant land, did not believe His word, grumbled, didn't listen to God's voice.                    God said He would cast them down and scatter them.                    
They joined themselves to Baal-peor and ate sacrifices to the dead.
God became angry. A plague broke out.                                   
Phineas interceded for the people.
The plague stopped, and Phineas' prayer was "reckoned to him for righteousness, to all generations forever."   They provoked God at Meriba and rebelled against His Spirit.  Moses spoke rashly.
God was provoked.                                                                  
It went hard with Moses
God told them to destroy the enemy.                                        
They did not destroy the enemy, mingled with them, learned their practices, served their idols, were trapped, sacrificed their children to demons, and shed the innocent blood of their children that they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan. The land was polluted, the people became unclean, and they played the harlot in their deeds. The Lord became angry, He abhorred His inheritance,  and He gave them over to the nations who hated them.       
Their enemies oppressed them, and they were subdued. They were rebellious and sank in their iniquity.         God saw their distress, heard their cry, remembered His covenant, relented according to the greatness of His  lovingkindness, and made them objects of compassion.         
David prayed to God to save them, to gather them so that they could give thanks to God and give Him praise. He said, "Blessed be the Lord. the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. Let all the people say, "Amen ." Praise the Lord!"
In essence, David called the people to gather and to give God thanks.

     In my life I have been much like the Israelites--fickle, short-sighted, quick to act, and slow to remember God's promises, His faithfulness, and His past acts of kindness. The words in red could be a listing of my own sins and, indeed, the sins of our nation.

"We have sinned like our fathers, 
WE have committed iniquity, we have behaved wickedly.
Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Thy wonders,
They did not remember Thine abundant kindnesses,
But rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea." Psalm 106:6-7

      May Psalm 106 be a wake-up call to me personally and to others who may read it today. May we ask ourselves these questions:
How have we exchanged the Glory of our God for our own selfish desires? (verse 20)
Have we "stood in the breach" before God for others and for our nation? Have we "stood up and interposed"? (verses 23, 30)
Have we "mingled with the nations, learned their practices, served their idols, and thus sacrificed our sons and daughters to the demons?" (verses 35-37)
Have we shed innocent blood? (verse 38)
Have we "become unclean in our practices"? (verse 39) 
Are we guilty of the same spiritual infidelity the Israelites exhibited? 

     When I answer these questions honestly, I become sad and experience conviction in my spirit. The world is a terribly dark place, and all seems lost. We are an ungrateful nation that is traveling the same bleak road as the Israelites did before us, and the outcome does not look promising. Therefore, may we all use this week to ask God to forgive us both for the things we have done wrong and for the things we have failed to do. May we determine that we will not go blindly any further down the road of despair or give way, in helpless and hopeless submission, -- a dying nation living in the shadow of a gleeful enemy. May we as Christians not retreat and hide. Instead, may we read on and find in the next passage, Psalm 107, our song in the night:

"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary." (v. 1-2)
"Their soul fainted within them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses." (v.5-6)
"Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good." (v. 8-9)
"There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High." (v. 10)...
"Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart." (v. 13-14) 
(Praise God! He did this for me.)
"He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions." (v.20)
So, here then is my instruction from God:

"Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing." (v. 21-22)

I will remember His lovingkindness! I will offer Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving! I thank Him both for bringing us through trials as well as sparing us from what we deserve. We serve a great and mighty God Who is ever faithful. Let us acknowledge that we need Him!

"He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, and makes his families like a flock. The upright see it, and are glad; but all unrighteousness shuts its mouth. Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things; and consider the lovingkindnesses of the Lord." Psalm 107:41-43  

May you all be blessed with God's presence this Thanksgiving, and may you remember HIM as the source of all that is good in our lives.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Songs in the Night: #21 Believing Thomas

Songs in the Night: #21 Believing Thomas: When one hears the name "Thomas", he easily associates it with the Biblical disciple named Thomas. Unfortunately for those named Thoma...

Monday, October 31, 2011

#21 Believing Thomas

     When one hears the name "Thomas", he easily associates it with the Biblical disciple named Thomas. Unfortunately for those named Thomas, people also associate a consistent adjective with the name--"doubting". Just as Judas and Benedict Arnold have become synonymous with "traitor" and are used as substitute nouns for that word, and "good" is forever linked with "Samaritan", so "doubting Thomas" has become a noun in itself. It is my hope that by reading this "song", you may see that disciple Thomas gave us much more than the notion of doubting and realize that we are the richer for having known this disciple and his relationship with Jesus.
     I have a son named "Thomas", but I gave him that name for several reasons, none of which is its association with "doubting."  First, we named him after our pastor at the time of Thomas' birth, Thomas Nesbitt. Tom counseled us and provided the spiritual leadership that has continued to sustain and guide me even at this point in my life, despite his position as my church home pastor for only three years. His influence helped to change my life for the better, and I am grateful for Tom's investment in our lives.
     Secondly, my Thomas was named after my grandfather, Thomas F. Glover, who was a respected County Attorney all the years I was growing up and who represented the stabilizing force on my dad's side of the family. When things fell apart, he was the glue that put them back together. Although many of his actions served to enable my father's drinking and addictive behaviors, my grandfather was motivated by love. He consistently stayed devoted to his family in spite of having sons that disappointed him, and he never abandoned his responsibilities of husband, father, and community leader. Thirty-five years after his passing, my grandfather is still remembered in his community as a respectable and honorable man.
     Finally, I named my son after the disciple Thomas, not because the disciple doubted, but because he was a loyal follower of Jesus, believed in the Lord Jesus, and went on to be a leader in spreading the gospel of Christ. 
     Thomas was not present when Christ appeared to the rest of the disciples after His resurrection in John 20:19-23. Jesus spoke peace to them, "showed them his hands and his side," commissioned them to spread the gospel, and breathed on them to "receive the Holy Spirit." Thomas missed out on that important visit and the gifts that were given there. But, Jesus loved Thomas enough to return at another time and to give Thomas an opportunity to believe in Him.
     Those who were present at Christ's appearing went to tell Thomas that they had "seen the Lord" (John 20:25), but Thomas replied, "Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!" Thomas was probably just as scared as the rest of the disciples had been after Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, and he too was most likely disappointed and confused. He relied on what he could see and feel to believe. Without seeing for himself, he decided he would not believe. His eight days of disappointment and loss of faith were probably agonizing for him. Jesus could have left Thomas in that unbelieving state, but He did not. He did not have to schedule a repeat visit with the disciples to convince them of His resurrection or to give them the Holy Spirit or to reiterate His plan of sending them out to preach. However, He did return, and He came back for Thomas.

     "Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe." Thomas replied to him, " My Lord and my God!"" John 20:26-28

     Jesus cared enough about Thomas that He planned a special visit to him, appeared amidst the disciples even though the doors were locked, and went straight to Thomas and showed him the scars of the wounds that were given Him on the cross.  This was evidence that demanded a verdict. When Jesus asked Thomas to believe, he responded by calling Jesus both his Lord and his God:  "My Lord and my God!" More than believing that Christ was God, Thomas was saying to Jesus, "You are now also Lord of my life."

"What a divine revelation doubting Thomas had been given! He went instantly from disbelief in a resurrected Savior to certain knowledge that Jesus was not only alive but that He was also Lord and God. When confronted with the living truth, all doubts fled. The darkness of the tomb gave way to the Light of the World!"(1)    

     Thomas had already demonstrated his loyalty to Christ in John 11 when Jesus decided to return to Judea because He had heard that His friend Lazarus was sick. The disciples warned Jesus that He was in danger of being stoned if He returned to Judea, but Jesus decided to go anyway. Thomas replied, "Let us go too, so that we may die with him" (v. 16), indicating his loyalty to Jesus and his willingness to die with his friend rather than to be apart from him. Thomas was being a leader among the disciples and stepping up both to obey Jesus (Who had said, "Let us go to him") and to stand with Him in difficult circumstances. Jesus faced both grief, having told the disciples that his friend Lazarus had just died (v. 14), and possible death, having previously been threatened with death in Judea.
     In John 14:1-8 Jesus tells us that He is "going away to make ready a place for you." Thomas had already demonstrated that he was willing to face death to be with Jesus, and he didn't understand where Jesus was "going."  Thomas asked, "Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus responded in a way that not only answered Thomas' question but also speaks to us and to every other person who seeks to know God. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will know my Father too." (v 6-7) Jesus made it clear to Thomas and makes it clear for us today that He is the only way to reach God.
     So many of us are like Thomas --fiercely loyal to the things we can see and prove with our senses, or by the "scientific method." Yet, when faced with difficult circumstances, we sometimes doubt God and wonder if He is still there, still in control of the world, still worthy of our devotion. Thomas must have been grieving deeply over the death of Jesus and the betrayal of his friend and fellow disciple Judas after Christ's death on the cross. Whom could he trust after these losses? Why should he believe the word of his fellow disciples after they claimed to have seen Jesus? Tenderhearted, loyal Thomas was not about to be be hurt or betrayed again. So, Christ took the time to appear to Thomas personally. Because of what Christ did for Thomas, we can surmise that He takes a personal interest in each one of us as well. We have Thomas to thank for showing us loyalty to Christ and leadership among frightened friends, for asking questions of Jesus when he didn't understand, for believing in the resurrection of Christ, and for then following Him and making Him Lord of his life.
   Thomas went on to demonstrate his submission to Christ by obeying His commission to preach the gospel in other places.

"Jesus did not hold Thomas' doubts against him. Instead He addressed those doubts and proved Himself to be faithful to the man He had called as one of His chosen. Christ then empowered Thomas to accomplish the tasks He set before him. Thomas is believed to have become the only apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach and teach the gospel. He also crossed the largest area which included Persia and India. Tradition tells us that he was a Martyr and was killed by a group of sages near Mylapore about 72 AD when he was thrown into a pit and pierced by a spear." (2)

1. http://www.helium.com/items/1519758-doubting-thomas
2. http://www.helium.com/items/1519758-doubting-thomas?page=2

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Songs in the Night: #20 A Broken Rose--A Birthday Song

Songs in the Night: #20 A Broken Rose--A Birthday Song

#20 A Broken Rose--A Birthday Song

     Today is my birthday, and as birthdays go, it's been memorable. My birthday season started out a couple of weeks ago with me coming down with bronchitis. I have missed work, a concert, and some meetings, and I've coughed my way through several patient interviews. But, I am finally (cough, cough) on the mend, having passed the evil bug on to both my husband and my daughter. 
     In the days leading up to my birthday, my husband helped me to find the ideal purse as my birthday gift. The camel-colored leather bag, with its tassels and pockets, arrived last week, to my delight, and I have already filled it. David did a great job of sleuthing to get it just right.
     Buying a purse has become, for me, quite a challenge. It has to be long enough to hold my cane when it's folded and still have space for the usual wallet and cosmetic bag. Plus, I carry two cell phones--one for personal use and one reserved just for patients--and my prescription pad and pens, a flashlight, my pocket calendar, identification badges, and the list goes on. The bag can get pretty heavy. Additionally, I need help finding a good color. Last year I found a lovely, chocolate bag at a reasonable price and proudly carried it for a couple of months before I went to see my son for a visit. When he opened the door for me as we were leaving to go out to dinner, he noticed my bag and exclaimed, aghast, "Mom, what are you doing carrying a purple handbag?!" I, too, was aghast. To me it looked brown! I wondered if people might think I am becoming more daring as I get older, or maybe a little odd. I was carrying purple with everything! 
     My mistake with the purse selection brought to mind the poem, "When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple"(see below). I like the poem, but if I am going to wear purple, I want it to be because I choose it, knowing that it is purple!
     My birthday week was a bit lonely with my daughter gone on her senior trip and no hope of my adult children coming home for a visit. I approached the weekend with anticipation, however, because I was going to see old friends on Friday. I attended a gleeful gathering of some of my former classmates--all girls from Lee High School in Midland. We had a marvelous time catching up with each other and talking about families, trials, and triumphs. As women of a certain age, we no longer care about the various cliques and  prejudices we had in high school; we just love each other and enjoy the camaraderie. 
     As the evening waned, and the stars came out, I found that I was stuck out on the covered patio, out in the middle of the large back yard in the dark, with no cane or flashlight to get me back to the house. I hadn't really talked much about my visual handicap, didn't want to call attention to it, and hadn't even brought my cane out yet in their presence. (I really don't like my problem to be the topic of conversation if I can help it.)  As I attempted to pick my way through the darkness back to the house, the girls ordered me back to the patio and surprised me with a party! They paraded from the house all in a line carrying gifts, tooting horns, wearing silly glasses and fake noses, and bearing cake! My cupcake sported a singing candle (thank goodness they lit only one!), and the presents and cards were both wonderful and hilarious. 
     It's been a long time since I had a birthday party, and this one was a blast-- full of belly laughs, giggles, guffaws, and even a few tears. They assisted me back to the house after our rowdy revelry. None of us cared about anyone's deficits. We just appreciated our benefits! Thanks, girlfriends. You gave me some new smile lines!
     I even went to bed last night smiling-- from the memory of the party and because of the arrival of my first birthday greeting, four seconds after midnight, from my niece. I awoke this morning contented--ready to get out of bed, eager to get dressed for church, and glad to be able to go to the house of the Lord after being sick for two weeks with bronchitis. None of my children were home for my birthday breakfast, but I had a dear husband to greet me when I came into the kitchen.       
     And greet me he did! David was making tea for me and had placed a bouquet of roses and a sweet card on the kitchen table. How beautiful! I was able to enjoy my tea and roses and set about arranging the flowers while David took his shower. Among the dozen fragrant, long-stemmed, multicolored roses was one red one with a broken stem halfway down the shaft. With only a moment of sadness for the broken rose, I trimmed it and put it in a bud vase by itself. Perfect. A single rose in a cut-glass vase, placed on my bathroom vanity to remind me of my husband's love. The rest I arranged in a large red vase for the kitchen table--roses for two places in the house, instead of one! 
birthday roses and cupcakes
     Once my husband was ready, he accompanied me to church. I read my card as we rode in the church bus from the parking lot to the Worship Center and, as a result,  messed up my mascara! He's a good card picker. I had to read it twice to soak up the precious words and sentiment. Life is good. But, it's better lived with one's soulmate.
     I learned in Bible study class today that the sermon is posted on the You Version Bible phone app each Sunday, and I previewed the sermon notes. I was excited that the pastor planned to speak on the topic, "What's In a Name?" His scripture references were cited as Isaiah 62:2-4 and Revelation 2:17. The second is one of my favorites:

   17 "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."
Revelation 2:17 New International Version (NIV)
     It excites me to know that God has a new name for each of His children, for us who love the Lord. He takes what is ruined and makes it new. He mends broken vessels and makes them whole again. He turns ugly into beautiful. He gives us a new name that more accurately describes who we are in Him instead of who we were. 
      One of my favorite songs about this principle is sung by Gwen Smith in the video, "Broken Into Beautiful":

     After class I donned my choir robe and joined the rest of the choir in the rehearsal room for worship. But, I was not to sing in worship this morning or hear the sermon. Just as we were leaving the choir room, my husband came in looking for me with a worried look on his face. He was having chest pain. Our church friends helped me get out of my choir robe and retrieve my things, offered to call an ambulance, looked for aspirin, sat with David while I went to get the car,  and even offered to go with us to the hospital.              
     Fortunately, David is okay, if an outbreak of shingles can be considered "okay," and we are now at home enjoying the rest of our afternoon and evening--grateful that we have each other and our family, grateful that he didn't have a cardiac arrest. He missed the Cowboy game, but he doesn't seem to mind. I missed the sermon and the singing, but that's okay too. David has a good perspective on this, I think. He says, matter of factly, "It's just the shingles again. If I have to choose between the shingles or a heart attack, I'll take the shingles!" 
     My senior daughter came home and presented me with a lovely necklace she bought for me while visiting Taos Pueblo. And, one of my adult children called  and sang "Happy Birthday." Not bad.
      Some might say that my birthday was a not-so-good day, but I don't see it that way. I choose to see it differently--in a different light.  Bronchitis and a broken rose and my husband having a potential heart attack didn't darken my day.  In fact, it turned out just "rosy".  

              Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

By Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Song #19: Who Cares About Apple Pie? I'm the Apple of HIS Eye

     Today was a beautiful day--cool enough this morning to enjoy sipping my hot tea outdoors as I picked up the newspaper, filled up the bird feeders, and watered my plants.  My honey of a husband was jazzed because Texas Tech's football game was scheduled to air this afternoon. Then, my parents decided to come visiting--a perfect excuse to put on a pot roast and bake an apple crumb pie!! So goes the day on a lovely fall Saturday.
     The aroma of roasting beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots wafted through the kitchen and den, co-mingling with the spicy-homey smell of apples, cinnamon, and pecans. While Mom and I browsed through old family pictures, the guys turned on the game and started in cheering for the Red Raiders and commenting on the inadequacies of the competition.
     Around mid-afternoon it was time to take that pie out of the oven. The streusel topping was bubbling with buttery cinnamon goodness, and I could hardly wait for dinner and dessert! I set it on the counter to cool but then had to move it over to the stove top to make way for something else. Although I offered everyone a piece of pie while it was hot, we were all still full from the homemade tomato basil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches from lunch. We were having a great day!
How apple crumb pie should look
     By about 4 p.m. Mom and I were ready for a cup of tea. Sharing tea has become our habit in the afternoons when we are able to visit one another. I put the water on the stove to boil while both of us went over to the sink to wash up some dishes. Suddenly, a loud pop followed by exploding glass erupted from the stove-top! The Pyrex pie plate had exploded from sitting on the heating element.  I had mistakenly turned on the wrong burner! Apples, pecans, and sugary sticky filling ran all over the stove, and glass was scattered  over the range,  counter-top, and floor. 
     Mom quickly grabbed a cookie sheet and began scooping the hot pie filling and glass shards off the burner while David and I grabbed towels, broom, and dust pan to start cleaning up the mess. And, it was a mess! Part of the glass was stuck to the burner, and getting all the muck from beneath the range top was a challenge. Alas!! The pie was ruined! But, no one seemed upset.
My apple crumb glass pie!

     I don't think it was my lack of cooking skill that prevented my loved ones for losing their tempers or being angry with me over the lost pie. In fact, they were looking forward to a gastronomic pleasure. However, my family has come to expect such mishaps from time to time, and they are amazingly forgiving. Once, while we were preparing a holiday meal,  the oven caught on fire where something had dripped on the bottom and then ignited. The kitchen fire extinguisher came in quite handy, and I promptly put the fire out. We all gagged and coughed for awhile until the smoke cleared out, but we still enjoyed our holiday. More recently, a skillet of oil, meant for frying onion rings, ignited while I answered a call and started talking to a lawyer who was issuing a subpoena  requesting I testify against one of my patients. I was rattled by the call already when the oil burst into flame in a sudden whoosh!  I asked him to hold on while David, Kate, and I tried to put out the fire. On that occasion the fire extinguisher didn't work. (Remember? I had used it on the oven fire and had not yet replaced it.) Also, placing the lid on the skillet failed to suffocate the flames and simply drove them beneath the burner, and David's attempts at throwing kitchen towels on the fire didn't work either. By then I was saying, "We need to call 911!"  Kate finally snuffed out the flames by throwing a big bathroom towel over everything! she saved the day! Meanwhile, the lawyer for the state board was still holding and listening to all the commotion going on in our kitchen. Strangely, even after that, he still sent me the subpoena. Would you trust the testimony of a Psychiatrist who catches things on fire in her kitchen? Frequently?
    On this particular Saturday, my sweet husband patiently swept and whisked and emptied broken glass into the trash can until all was clean again. Mom scrubbed the burners and the pans that go beneath them, calm and capable. Kate, fortunately, escaped all the drama by being at play practice.  Smiling to myself, appreciative of my family, I put together a batch of gingerbread, popped it in the oven, and had it out steaming and ready by the time we sat down to dinner. 
     What a circle of love I felt last night during that dinner! No one complained of not having apple pie. Everyone appreciated and praised the roast beef and all the trimmings. They didn't even get upset about the smoke! Instead I felt enveloped by the unconditional love and acceptance of my family and had a lovely evening I will long remember.
    The absence of criticism and blaming got me to thinking--about my family, about love and forgiveness, and ultimately about God. My husband didn't care about the missing apple pie, I think, because I am the apple of his eye. He loves me and accepts my limitations and mistakes. He knows how much I love to cook, and he is not going to instruct me to stop cooking because I have a problem with my eyesight. Instead, he helps me whenever he can so that I can keep doing what I enjoy. He even helps clean up my messes without even one cross word. My mom has been through many a crisis in her life and has learned to manage them with poise and grace. She loves me also and has forgiven me for many failures over the years. I don't even have to ask her, because she already knows what I need. She shows compassion and understanding toward me as I keep stumbling along, trying to manage life under the grace and mercy God gives me. She is a great encourager, and I hope to be like her.
     Each of these important people in my life is manifesting something within him or her placed there by God Himself. "You have never talked to a mere mortal", as C.S. Lewes says, because every person was created by God to be immortal--to live on after this life and to be Jesus with skin on in this one. God's Spirit lives within them, and it pours out to me and to others.
     And then there's God. It is now Sunday, and I am reflecting on yesterday's events. Our pastor started teaching on Galatians this morning, and Galatians is all about grace--God's grace. I am awestruck with wonder that my family  looks over my mistakes and forgives me for the multiple times I have nearly torched our kitchen. I am astounded by their patience and their willingness to keep loving me and putting up with me. Yet, they, as I,  are human--imperfect people who have been "made complete" (Colossians 2:10) and are forgiven by a merciful God. God's capacity for understanding, for seeing the big picture, and for knowing me far exceeds the ability of my family to do so.
     Matthew's gospel says, "Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:9-11
     If my mother and my husband  give "good gifts" to me--gifts of forgiveness, mercy, acceptance, love, and helpfulness--how much more does my Father "give what is good" to me?! His love, mercy, faithfulness, grace, and love are far greater than what we can ever imagine. In fact, I am the apple of His eye! He loves me much more than even my husband does or can!

6 "I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer. 
7 Show the wonder of your great love,
you who save by your right hand
those who take refuge in you from their foes.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
9 from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me." Psalm 17:6-9

     We are so limited in our thinking, in our human understanding, that we cannot begin to fathom the depth of our Father's love for us. Only by seeing a picture of such love in my family do I begin to get a glimpse of His. And, that is how the world at large begins to see God's love--by seeing the love of Christ played out in our lives. "If God is love, then God’s people make God’s love visible." (http://revkencarter.blogspot.com/ August 29, 2011). My family makes God's love visible. 
     As we study Galatians at our church over the next few months, I pray that we will not only learn more about showing God's kind of love, but actually do it more. There are many more of us out there who can't see the light, who start fires and try to put them out and control the damage under their own power, who pollute the air with the smoke of their fire-setting, and who not only upset the apple cart but blow up the whole pie!! ( How do you like them apples, metaphor police?) 
      I pray that "He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen."  Ephesians 3:16-21

Friday, August 26, 2011

Song #18: My Mockingbird Marauder

My mockingbird marauder was missing, out today.
I noticed all was silent as I shooed the gnats away
And went to work with watering and pulling out of weeds
And noticed that the basil was going all to seed.
He does his garden picking well before I leave my bed,
Then he perches 'top the trellis and cocks his gray-white head.
He warbles forth his birdsong, and it lilts across my way--
So usual that its absence casts a pall upon my day.
The okra and the peppers tumbled down into my pot.
The sound of scissors snipping cut the silence. I was hot,
And beads of sweat were dripping as I listened for his song,
Then wondered quite abruptly where he was and what was wrong.
I noticed he had left me five bright cherries on the vine.
I wasn't used to finding them; he takes them all the time.
Gleefully I picked the little handful for my meal,
Then stopped and looked around me wond'ring why he didn't steal 
Tomatoes on this morning--why he left the small bright fruit.
Why was my garden empty? Why was the air so mute? 
I wondered where he'd gone, and I missed the little thief.
My picking time was joyless, and I sought the shade's relief.
I thought of those bright eyes and the tilting of his head,
The way he hops from twig to branch around my garden bed,
And decided that tomatoes didn't mean as much to me
As the sound of someone singing and the joy of company.

"I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD."  Psalm 104:33-34

Sunday, August 21, 2011

#17 Song for a Season of Change

     I am having a difficult time accepting the fact that my youngest child is entering her senior year and getting ready to leave home and go off to college next year. I am not ready, and there are so many things we haven't done yet-- so many things I haven't taught her. Yet, I still take her on college visits, discuss degree plans, and look at dorm rooms with her. I try to envision myself with an empty nest and don't like it. However, if I truly didn't want her to go to college, would I be doing all these things to help her get there? Wouldn't I be more likely to puff up like a toad, shut myself in my room, and take her car keys away?
     Yet, I am helping her to leave, to grow up, to be able to fly on her own--just as I have for all my children these last thirty-five years. How do I both dislike what is happening and facilitate her going? What a mixed up bag of emotions I have!
     I became a mother in 1976 and love being a mom. I also enjoy taking pictures of my kids. Now that I have limited vision (tunnel vision, you might call it), I take even more photos because that is how I can see a whole person at once--by miniaturizing him. Otherwise, when I look at someone, I will see just his face but not his arms, or just her skirt but not her blouse. In fact, I get lots of eye rolls from my kids when it's time to take pictures. 
     My first "first day of school" photo I took was when Josh was five years old and starting kindergarten at Westcreek Elementary School in Ft. Worth, Texas. I cried, of course, just as I have every year on the first day of school. I went through the same emotions with each successive child: first Josh, then Tommy, Jenny, and Kate.
     Wednesday morning was my last "first day of school" photo, and this time, as I watched my little girl/nearly woman walk across the grounds of her school, I was weeping again. I guess I had better keep the tissue box handy, because every last play, last prom, and last homecoming will probably evoke the same response.
   Thirty-five years is a long time to be actively mothering children at home. But many other women have done it longer and better. Some even rear their grandchildren. I have great admiration for those women who have reared several children to love the Lord, be good citizens, treasure their country, and honor their parents. Those women are to be highly praised and will have many stars in their crowns in Heaven. But I won't know for some time whether I have been successful at accomplishing what God has charged me to do. Perhaps I won't even know until I am in Heaven. But, I know I can trust the One Who gave me those children. 

"Yet I am not ashamed, because I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day." II Timothy 1:12

     I already have one child in Heaven, and, in many ways I have felt over the years that my negligence or self-absorption contributed to his early going-home. But, I have committed all of my children to God, and He is both responsible and trustworthy. His ways are Higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than mine. Because I know the One in Whom I believe, I know that He can take care of those that I have committed to Him. When Kate goes off to college, I cannot know how she is doing day to day, and I hardly know what I will do with myself. But, God will know. And, I won't cease being a mother. I just won't be on active duty all the time.
     Even with my faith in God, I can't say that I am ready for the change. Instead, it's like I have hold of the end of a rope, and I am pulling against it with all my might. But, even with my full weight on the line, I am being dragged forward, inch by inch, day by day, holiday by holiday, until I get to that graduation day and finally the day we take our daughter to college, help her get unloaded and settled in her dorm room, and then drive off. That will be a teary day!
     Meanwhile, I am more fully aware of how much I don't like change! But change is dragging me kicking and screaming into next year. My daughter growing up and graduating is a good thing. For her to be able to go away to college and make good decisions and to stand for what she believes in is a good thing! And, yes, however begrudgingly I may admit it, this transition in my life is a good thing. My Lord knows what is good for me, and He has my best in mind. He has blessed me with the gift of children these 35 years--laughter in my house, late night giggles, midnight movies, tender sweet talks, goodnight prayers, cuddles on the sofa, clothes in the floor, puddles in the bathroom, shoes in the den, dishes in the sink, music blaring down the hall, piles of laundry on Fridays, and someone to eat my chocolate chip cookies. I am grateful for the time and these memories and for the new season to come.  
     Now that I have made it clear that change is a comin' in our home and have told you how I feel about it, I want to change gears and present to you a song written and sung by one of Kate's fellow seniors. There's not much I can say that isn't expressed in Paul Ruark's music video, "Keep Your Change". He sings about the things that matter. Here it is for your listening and watching enjoyment!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

#16 My Garden of Discovery

     I enjoy gardening and devote a great deal of time, effort, sweat, and money to my flower and vegetable garden. Some of my endeavors are successful, and some are miserable failures. I have a particular deep pink rose I grow in pots beside my front porch. Every year I get a few big, luscious, fragrant blooms, and then the black spot attacks. I fight it, pruning off the ugly blighted leaves, give the poor things medicine, but then end up having to prune severely and hope to save the plant for another season of bloom. Somehow, though,  I don't give up on it and throw it away!
     The darn things require so much attention! They have to be planted in good soil, fed and watered at regular intervals, dead-headed, treated with anti-fungal spray, pruned, protected from the cold, and given plenty of sunlight. With only ten days of neglect, these potted roses turned brown and crispy while we were on vacation. But, with proper care, they are beginning to come back.
     How like those roses are we! No wonder Jesus used so many agricultural references as He was trying to teach His followers: the vine and the branches, the parable of the sower, separation of wheat from the chaff, the wheat among the tares. Our spiritual life is like tending roses. We need to feed upon the Word, drink of the Living Water, stay in the Son light to be able to bloom, emit His fragrance, and bear fruit, and even endure pruning at times. With a little neglect we grow cold apart from  the Son, we lose substance when we're not in His Word, and we shrivel up without the Living Water.
     I risk belaboring a metaphor, and I have another one yet to offer!!
     A few days ago, when I was out in my vegetable garden picking tomatoes, I had a revelation. Because of my visual disorder, I have blind spots. I have a really difficult time finding a particular cereal on the grocery shelves or even finding an earring on my bathroom counter!  I can set down my glasses on the kitchen table and not be able to find them again, even when they are right in front of me. Thus, I may meticulously go through the garden, picking all the ripe produce I see, then turn around, look again, and discover vegetables I missed!
     This particular day I had already picked a bowl of beautiful, ripe tomatoes.  I searched through the jungle of dense vines a second time and found more of the luscious Red Beefsteak variety that rarely grows in this hot, humid climate. I was looking over the tomato vines yet a third time and found even more lovely, plump, red tomatoes that I didn't see the other two times!! I actually laughed aloud because I realized God was teaching me something.
      Reading the Bible for me is like looking for tomatoes in my garden. I have read it through, and I regularly attend worship services and participate in Bible studies. We have a pastor who always offers new insights as he unfolds the scriptures for us. Yet, like I do in my garden, I still discover wonderful surprises in the Bible that thrill me and feed my soul.
     When I was going through some of the darkest periods of my life, I developed the habit of reading five chapters in Psalms a day and one chapter of the Proverbs as well. With 150 chapters of Psalms and 31 in Proverbs, I was able to read through each book every month. Strangely, as I read the same verses month after month, I would find new meanings and insights. God would be able to teach me something different from the same passages as long as I kept coming back to them. He taught me about myself and examined my heart. He showed be how to quit blaming someone else and begin examining myself. Although I read other portions of the Bible, those months of reading and rereading the Psalms and Proverbs were some of the best times of spiritual growth for me.
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
     I am amazed that a book centuries old is still "living". 
     Not only do I learn something new when I go back to the scripture, I receive fresh mercy and extravagant grace from my God Who is more faithful that any human ever can be. Like my tomato plants, God's Word is fruitful and bears a new harvest each day, awaiting my picking. I just have to hunt for it and regularly go back--even to the same places I have been before. I miss things the first time and even the second time I read a passage of scripture.  It's like "my secret garden"! I am fed and refreshed each time I visit.
    But, the garden cannot feed me continually or endure with me indefinitely like God does. My garden will eventually stop producing and shrivel up in this wilting Texas heat. Its season of productivity will end. The Bible, however, offers me something new and beautiful every time I walk among its pages. There I find a loving Lord Who pours out His compassion upon me and all who come before Him.

 " Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness."  Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)

     I find God's compassions by looking in the pages of His Word. I witness them as He blesses my life in ways I have never deserved. As He daily fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna from Heaven, He feeds me. He gives water to my thirsty soul. Under His tender care I become His garden!

"The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58:11 (NIV)
      Thank you, Lord, for the red beefsteak tomatoes, for the bountiful garden with which You have blessed me, for the laughter among the vines, for the feast of Your Word, and for tending me "like a well-watered garden." Thank You even for this eye disorder and for showing me I have blind spots--both physically and spiritually! You are an amazing God!! I joyfully sing Your praise.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

#15 Breaking the Chains and Moving Forward

     I recently had the privilege of hosting a missionary doctor who has been shadowing me in my clinic so that she may learn more about the newer psychiatric treatments and medications. She will take this new knowledge back with her to parts of the world where only the most rudimentary of psychotropic medications are available and where psychiatric patients are often treated with chains and a locks--and the patient has to buy the lock!
     A few days ago, as she was answering questions from one of my patients, she described how the patients in her part of the world are kept, sometimes for many years, in dark dungeon-like places where the odors of urine and feces penetrate everything. When she enters the facility to visit the patients, her eyes sting and gradually adjust to the deepening darkness as she descends into the stench-filled pits of human suffering. Surprisingly, when she offers the patients a new and different treatment that may give them hope and freedom, they are sometimes unwilling to accept it. They prefer to stay in the dark and keep their chains and locks. Others, once free from their chains, go back to them--out of fear of the unknown and lack of trust that they will be alright without them. They choose to be  prisoners to their illnesses and their past and to hold on to that which is inhumane but familiar.
     It struck me that in my practice many of my patients choose the same fate. I see a woman who endured abuse from an alcoholic father as a child and then married an equally abusive man who additionally abuses both her children. I show her the way to freedom, introduce counseling and other treatments, and suggest people and groups who would be willing to help her. Yet, she believes the lie that this monster of a man is the best she can do, that no one else will have her, and that she deserves or somehow causes the abuse that is dealt to her. She turns her face away and returns to her chains.
     Even those in the church, those of the redeemed, sometimes hold on to the familiar that binds them rather than letting it go and grasping hold of the freedom that Christ offers.  Paul is addressing this very problem in Romans 6 where he is writing to Christians who, although they have been set free from sin, continue to be tempted to live like they are still slaves to it. 
     Last night our family watched the gruesome but moving movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Our daughter had never seen it and wept when the old man Brooks, who was finally parolled after a 50 year imprisonment, committed suicide because he couldn't bear to live in freedom. He had been locked up for so long, said "Red", one of the inmates, that he had "become institutionalized." Freedom frightened him.
     The mentally ill "prisoners" in Africa have experienced much the same. They have become "institutionalized"--used to the chains and locks that make them feel safe., accustomed to the walls and the dark and the rats that enclose them. They cannot remember freedom and cannot imagine a world where there are no voices in their heads to torment them. They are frightened and reluctant to trust those who are wanting to give them a new life.
    Don't many of us who are Christians do the same thing? We want to live free (or "live strong", as Lance Armstrong would say), but we are unwilling to believe that we actually can do it. We look at the path on which we have walked our lives, see the potholes and pits through which we have come, and cannot envision a life in the future that isn't the same. We are so limited in our vision (seeing "in a mirror dimly") that we live far below the level that God has for us. We live on the poverty level of life instead of in the riches God wants to give us. We live in the dark dungeons, like those in chains in Africa, rather than in the glorious light God is providing for us.

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known." I Corinthians 13:12

     I sometimes tell my patients about the verse, "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I," especially when I am trying to help them see that it is time to trust a higher power. They may feel like they are in a dark hole with no way out, but God is above that hole and offering a hand up and a way out into the light. In Africa, my missionary doctor friend is offering her patients a way out of their darkness and chains. But, they have to choose to accept her help, to try the medicine that is offered. We, as Christians, no matter how long we have lived under the master of sin and slavery, need to trust that Rock that is higher than we are. That Rock can break those chains. He is offering us freedom and a victorious life. We need to get over our prideful thinking that "my wound is too difficult for Him to heal" or that "my sinful habit is too hard to break" or that "His grace isn't sufficient to cover me." That attitude is pure pride and is putting your opinion above that of Christ's
"From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Psalm 61:2 NASB

     How do we do it? We have to let go of what we are holding onto to take hold of Christ. Those poor, suffering psychiatric patients in Africa must let go of their chains and locks to take hold of the new therapies that are offered to them.  Those in my own practice who have continued to languish in depression and defeat while continuing in the same habits that put them where they are must let go of the old bad behaviors and embrace the new lifestyle changes and therapies that are offered to them. We Christians must take hold of Christ. We cannot do that while holding on to the past and to our sinful ways. We must trust Him to do what He says He will do for us. We must let Him take our hands and lead us out of our dungeons into His light.
     And why should we trust him? Why on earth should we let go of the familiar and step out on faith to grasp His hand and move forward? Because He has the power to defeat our past. He has the power to defeat sin! He conquered death! He has resurrection power, and so do we-- in Him! That resurrection power means NEW LIFE. Take hold of it, because Jesus has taken hold of you.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12
      I hope some day that I too can help the mentally ill in other places, in countries where there is little help, where darkness and superstition reign and where Christ's light is needed so desperately. Thanks to my missionary doctor friend for enlightening me about psychiatric care in the dark places of the earth. I thank God for being my Rock, for breaking the chains that enslaved me, and for the freedom that He has brought into my own life. May He do so in yours as well.
 Galatians 5:1-2 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Song #14 The Blessing of Joshua Carl Tucker

"Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him." Psalm 127:3 (NIV)

      Perhaps you know my family and have seen their pictures. But I don't own a photograph of all my children together. Only God can see that photograph, I guess. You see, they didn't all live on this earth at the same time. I have two sons --one in Heaven with the Lord and one in Austin, Texas. I also have two daughters. The youngest was born over two years after her eldest brother's death. Today is my first-born son's birthday: May 17, 1976. He died by his own hand on April 15, 1992. This entry is a brief look at Josh's story from my perspective.
     God chose to give us a son while we were still in college. Both my husband and I were working on our masters degrees, mine in English, when I found out I was expecting. I was shocked to learn I was pregnant and didn't really want to be, but God changed my mind. My husband reminded me that it was God's choosing to give us this gift at this time in our lives. It was our job to accept it. I became more excited about the pregnancy after a few months, and I was able to restructure my classwork to take extra hours, write more papers, and finish my Master of Arts degree two weeks before the birth. We graduated, Josh was born, and we moved to Iowa--far from all family and friends--about three weeks after that.
     Joshua was a brilliant, happy child. (Don't all of us think our first-born children are the smartest in the world?) He made us laugh, and we loved to make him giggle. He ate well and was a chubby, rolly-polly baby.
      I was not prepared for that first winter in Iowa. We had snow from November to April, and January was a month of mostly sub-zero temperatures.We rented an old house with little insulation. When condensation formed on the insides of the windows, it would drip down the window and freeze! It was common to have a half inch of ice crusted toward the bottom of our window panes on the inside! That made for a cold house, and we got cabin fever that winter staying indoors so much.
     I stayed home with Joshua and loved being his mom. Steve, my husband, was often gone due to his responsibilities as a campus minister at Iowa State University. I was busy trying to make a home, learning to be frugal on our meager monthly salary, teaching piano lessons in my home, and figuring out how to be a mom.
      Those were beautiful days. Joshua had three imaginary friends: the brown and white spotted dog, Jane Jane Jane, and Mister Monster. He liked to play in his room in a big cardboard box that our washing machine came in. The end was cut out so that I could see him., and I had cut windows in it so that it looked like a little play house. He would arrange his stuffed animals inside and talk to them and to his imaginary friends. Sometimes he would "show" me a "yahnin", pointing insistently towards the wall saying, "See him, Mommy? It's a yahnin!! Don't you see it?" Later on, when Josh could speak more clearly, I learned that "yahnin" was "lion". I never did see it though.
Joshua with my dad, Harry Harmon
     Mr. Monster got the blame whenever something went missing or was broken. I would ask, "Where are your shoes, Josh?" He would shrug and say distractedly, "I don't know. Mitter Monter took dem." Sometimes we even had to make a place at the table for "Mitter Monter". Apparently, he was a kind and friendly monster and never scared Josh. Oddly enough, when we moved away from Iowa after Josh's little brother Tommy was born, Mr. Monster stayed behind along with Jane Jane Jane and brown and white spotted dog.
Joshua and brother Tommy with their dad
     One of our college  graduate students tested Josh as part of her graduate project, and he tested at age 4 plus developmentally when he was only 2. That trend continued. When Josh was a first grader at Westcreek Elementary in Fort Worth, he would sometimes get in trouble for his precocious behavior. They suggested we have him tested. His IQ was 146 then, and he was put into a magnet school afterwards.
     I started medical school in 1984, and both my sons attended elementary school in Bryan, Texas. Two years later we moved to Temple for my 3rd and 4th years of medical school where Josh again went to a magnet school. While we were there, he was involved in the Duke Talent Search for gifted children and took the SAT. When he was twelve years old, we were told by his math teacher that he could qualify for a college scholarship then, just based on his math scores alone. We were encouraged to push him along and let him graduate early, but we didn't think that best for him. He received a state award in 1989 for his superior performance on those tests, and his photo was in the newspaper. I think he was embarrassed by the attention.

     We moved to Terrell in 1988 after my graduation from medical school so that I could do my residency in Dallas. My husband took a teaching job in Terrell. Joshua was a seventh grader by then, and Tommy was still in elementary school. Jenny began going to an in-home daycare while I worked at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. We found a church home in Terrell where the kids and I felt welcome. However, one year after moving to Terrell, our family went through a crisis. My husband decided, after 15 years of marriage, to leave and get a divorce, leaving the three kids and me alone in the fall of 1989. 
     This event was a huge blow to me and the children. It came on the heals of a major illness for me, and I was already knocked down by having been off work and on steroids for two months. I had been on call for only one night after returning to work when my husband told me of his decision to leave, and I was shocked by his statement. I started going to counseling the next week, and Steve didn't tell the children for another couple of weeks. When he finally called the boys into our room late one evening to tell them, Josh refused to believe it. He at first said, "You're joking with us. You're kidding." Then, our younger son looked at us, then at his brother, and said, "No, Josh, they are serious. They really are getting a divorce." Josh responded by yelling "NOOOO!" and ran out of the house barefooted in the dark . We didn't know where he was for a couple of hours. Finally, one of Josh's teachers called to tell us Josh had run all the way to his house and had been crying and talking to him about the situation. We went to get Josh and brought him home. 
     His dad moved out and into a garage apartment in town, but the boys would still see him frequently at school because he was a school teacher. Seeing him at school was difficult for them because they  endured the rumors circulated by the other students about their dad being seen with other women and men around town.
     None of the children handled the divorce well. Neither did I, for that matter. Joshua tried to play the man of the house. He continued to be responsible and self-motivated--always doing his school work, getting himself up in the morning, going to classes, playing in the band and on the tennis team, and participating in the youth group at church. I took him to a counselor for about six sessions, but he wouldn't talk to the therapist or to me either. When I tried to ask Josh how he was feeling, he would make a joke, chuckle, and say, "Aw, Mom, don't play Psychiatrist with me now." I had to remind him that he just needed to be a kid and didn't need to worry about me or the details of running our home.
     Tommy, on the other hand, started blowing up. He went from being a model student to one who got angry at friends and teachers at school and ended up in the principal's office about twenty times during his spring semester. I also took him to counseling where he talked a great deal and expressed his anger and disappointment while playing bumper pool with his therapist. The therapy was beneficial for him at the time.
Josh, Tommy, and Jenny after their dad left, 1989
      Jenny, who was only three when her dad left, was broken-hearted. She cried every night and asked for her daddy, as if there were something I could do about his absence. I would pick her up and rock her and sing to her after giving her a bath and putting on her pajamas. She would hold her bear and plead with me, saying, "I only want to wock wif him, Mommy. Can't you get him to come wock wif me?" Instead, I would do the rocking (and cry along with her), read and sing to her--often every song I could possibly think of,--and finally get her to bed.
     During the visitation times and Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Steve took the kids to Wichita Falls where his parents and his girlfriend lived. That first Thanksgiving was particularly difficult for me without the kids, but Christmas was even harder. By spring semester I took time off from my work to be treated for depression and to regroup, taking a moonlighting job to make up for the lost income from Steve's leaving. The divorce, no matter how much I didn't want it, was final sometime around spring break of 1990, and Steve moved to Wichita Falls at the end of the school year. He was married in June to the other woman. The kids and I remained in Terrell where Josh started high school, Tommy was in middle school, and Jenny was four. This time was perhaps my greatest period of spiritual growth as I learned to lean upon the Lord and to trust Him for His best for my life. His Word became my daily food for survival.
     Joshua always missed his dad. Initially he saw his dad every other weekend, but the visits started conflicting with school events and tennis matches, and he chose to do those things. That particular spring break Josh had been to Disney World with his high school band instead of visiting his dad.
     It's difficult, still, to know what all played a role in Joshua's death. He made good grades his freshman year and was in the top ten percent, but he was still determined to bring them up his 10th grade year because he wanted to be in the top five percent. He accomplished that goal. In the church youth group he participated in youth camps and mission trips and once stated he might like to be a home missionary. He took part in the church plays and in youth choir and even attended a Disciple Now weekend shortly before his death. He wanted his friends to know the Lord and was concerned about the world at large. He was worried about world problems that I never even considered when I was his age.
     At school he played percussion in the band--the quads, the bass drum, the snare, and even the timpani. At the time of his death, he was looking forward to playing the timpani for the first time in an upcoming band concert. He also played on the Terrell High School tennis team and had recently moved up the ladder before he competed in the district tennis meet. He was especially looking forward to getting his driver's license and had been driving my mom's big ol' Mercury for practice.
     The week Josh died was also the week of six weeks tests. He went to the district tennis meet, lost, but went back with the team the next day. At the end of the day, when all the players got on the bus to go home, the coach announced that she was doing a bag check because a racket was missing from the the opposing team. The racket was found in Josh's bag, but he asserted that he didn't take the racket, have access to his bag during the day, have opportunity to take the racket, or have any reason to take it. He, in fact, was surprised to see the racket in his bag and insisted that he was innocent. The coach, however, castigated him in front of the other team members, and Josh was humiliated. 
     After he got home from that second day of district play, Josh talked to me and told me of what had happened. He promised me that he had not taken the racket and wept over the ordeal. I seldom saw Joshua cry, but it grieved him that his friends might think that he was a thief. He was concerned about what was going to happen the next day, and I assured him that I believed him and would stand by him.
     The next day I went with Josh to his school and met with his athletic director and coach, explaining to them what kind of young man Josh was and how I believed his story. I then said "good-bye" to Josh and watched him walk across the street with his head down. The athletic director then proceeded to question the other members of the team that day and later called me at work. He assured me that Josh was innocent. Josh had been exonerated of the offense. The athletic director could find no evidence that Josh had taken the racket, and he believed that someone else had taken it and placed it in Josh's bag to get him in trouble. However, no one would confess to the prank. The athletic director was worried about Josh because he had seemed sad when he had left to go home.
     I tried to call my son at home but got no answer. He went home alone, talked to the housekeeper a bit,  played  Amy Grant's "My Father's Arms" on the piano, left us a note on his desk in his room, and shot himself with a twenty-two rifle he had used for hunting. He did not die immediately and was discovered by my housekeeper who then called my son Tommy. Both Tommy, then 13, and Jenny, only 5, went into the room where Josh lay and saw him. Tommy knelt to see if Josh was breathing, took Jenny out of the room, and called the ambulance, directing the EMT personnel to Josh's location when they arrived.
     Josh was airlifted to Methodist Hospital, Dallas, where I went directly from work. I was met by a chaplain and taken to a private room where the emergency room physician later joined me. His name was Dr. Nicodemus, and he was very kind, explaining how they had worked to resuscitate my son unsuccessfully. He hugged me and invited me to visit the trauma room where they had worked on Josh to see him and to say goodbye to him. There I found my son, still warm, his hands wrapped in plastic bags to preserve evidence for the police, with a tiny hole in his left temple and the breath gone out of him. He lay there, seemingly asleep, stretched out to his 5'11'' height--a sweet boy's face in a man's body--his hair softly tousled around his face, and I was supposed to tell him "good-bye." I stroked his face as the tears rolled down mine. This moment was the most difficult of my life, and my pastor and his wife walked in right then to help me. They had driven to Dallas from Terrell as soon as they had heard the news.
     I don't remember what we said or who said it, but I know we held hands and prayed. I gave my son over to my heavenly Father for His care and thanked Him for the nearly sixteen years I had shared with my son on this earth. When I left the trauma room, the halls of the ER were lined with my church family friends who had driven in from Terrell. You see, it was Wednesday, and it was our custom to go to church on Wednesday nights. Kim, one of the church college girls, would go stay with my kids after school on Wednesdays and take them to church where I would meet them for supper. We would then participate in our Wednesday night activities before we would go home. When I got back to the little room where the chaplain had taken me, other friends from work arrived to be with me. They were from Minirth-Meier Clinic, the place where I had been moonlighting since spring of 1990. I was permeated with a peace that passed understanding, just as our Father has promised us. My aunt and uncle arrived to drive me home, and another Christian family in Terrell took my children to their house to keep them until I arrived. We spent the night in their home huddled together and holding on to each other as we faced our grief and the prospect of continuing on without Joshua.
     Yet another family from my church went over to my house with a steam carpet cleaner and cleaned up the room where my son had died. They also took his blood-soaked clothing and washed it and returned it to me later. An aunt spent the night in my home and watched over things while the police lingered and did their investigation. At some point the next afternoon my ex-husband arrived, and we went to the funeral home and to the florist and cemetery offices to make arrangements for our son's funeral. 
     He was buried on Good Friday, and the church was filled with Josh's friends, my coworkers, and our family and church family for the funeral. It had rained earlier that day, but the sun came out before we had to go to the cemetery. I will be forever grateful to Ernie McCoulskey for the sermon he delivered that day to all of us attending that service and to Myron Wilson, our Worship Leader, for the songs: "I Know Where I'm Going" , a song I wrote and had sung with Josh, "Peace Be Still", from the album by The Watchmen, and "Because He Lives". In a time of loss and exquisite grief, both of those men poured out the love of God and were ministers of His grace to us. Ernie assured us of Josh's salvation and of his place with the Father and related stories of those in the Bible who had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. He pointed out that even Sampson is one who is listed with the saints in Hebrews but himself committed suicide after asking for God to give him the strength to destroy the Philistines.
      Our church family and extended family were the arms of Jesus to us during that time as well. They provided food to nourish us and arms to hold us. My fellow residents in my training program collected donations to help me pay the Care Flight and hospital bills, and friends I didn't even know very well helped me with the kids and with the day to day process of living.
     In the weeks that followed I got a report from the police from a kind Lieutenant who had done the investigation, was finally given my son's suicide note (after six weeks of not being able to see it or know its contents), learned more about Joshua's thoughts from his school papers and notebooks when I eventually got them back, and ultimately was given the duffel bag that Josh had carried on the tennis trip that day. In it I found his Bible. He had been reading it on the bus the day he died.
I thank God for the privilege of having had the blessing of this son for the few years he was with us on this earth. His friends have told me how Josh witnessed to them about Jesus.  I am sorry for the things I did wrong as his mother and for the mistakes I made, but grateful for the forgiveness and redemption that is freely given by my Heavenly Father through His Son. I am reminded once again this year that His grace is sufficient for whatever happens in this life and that He lives in the people that make up His church. God proved to me in the darkest times of loss and grief that He is present and that He cares. He has been faithful always, just as He is tonight. I look out my window and see a beautiful full moon and know that He is there. I get a message on my phone at 4 a.m. from a sweet Christian friend and know that He is here. I am giving Him this song in the night because He first gave it to me. 

I know where I'm going
And Who waits for me there.
It is Jesus Christ in Paradise
Who hears my every prayer.
And the ones who've gone before us
Will be just beyond the door, 
And I won't have to wonder any more. 
May last photo of the 3 children together: Joshua, Thomas, and Jenny, Christmas 1991