The Second Year – another birthday

To Love and Be Loved is the Greatest Joy on Earth.

Mohonk1 Mohonk2

Today is Mike’s birthday. It is one of those dry warm summer days with just the right breeze and puffy white “cartoon clouds” in the sky. I am sitting on our back porch; one of Mike’s favorite places. I have had no desire to sit out here – until today.  Mike has been gone 1 year and 10 months. It seems like so much longer. On another hand, we spent 30+ years together and so 22 months seems like nothing. Grief has a funny way to distorting time.

I am giving myself time and space to experience this day. As I sit here on the porch my heart is full of gratitude for the wonderful gifts that Mike gave me over the years. I am not referring to any specific birthday or Christmas gifts. Rather, the day in and day out gifts of Mike’s faithful friendship and love.  How blessed I am to have experienced this greatest joy in life.

I miss you my friend.

Celebrating Mike today with some of his favorite things – a hike in the woods, coffee ice cream, and his “girls”. (with Caleb of course…)

 

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The Second Year – The Value of Hard Places

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing, Zion NP

“The pressure of hard paces makes us value life. Every time our life is given back to us from such a trial, it is like a new beginning, and we learn better how much it is worth, and make more of it for God and man. The pressure helps us to understand the trials of others, and lifts us to help and sympathize with them.” A.B. Simpson

The Second Year – The Lucky Ones

I am a Downton Abby fan. From the very first season I was hooked. If I had a bucket list, visiting Highclere castle would be on it.

Highclere castle

This last week, there was a poignant scene in which Isobel, Branson, and Mary reflected on their great loves:

These three characters are of different age, gender, and social and economic class. And yet, they find common ground in the fact that they all experienced great love…and great loss. Isobel is on mark when she proclaims, “Aren’t we the lucky ones”. That sounds like crazy talk when you realize the heart ache each one has been through. And yet I can relate. How fortunate I am to have experienced great love. Mike and I were far from perfect as a couple, but through life’s trials and triumphs, we developed a deep trust and respect for one another. Our love was forged in the fire of joblessness, infertility, financial hardship, and loss of family, among other challenges. Our joy blossomed in the triumphs and blessings of children and God’s provision at times when we didn’t know how we were going to make it. Oh, how I miss him. It physically hurts at times. Before I was married, there was a time when I would rather have avoided the possibility of lost love than invest in meaningful relationships. Now, I understand and agree with Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his In Memorium 27 poem:

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;I feel it, when I sorrow most;’Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.”

I believe I have come to a place where I agree with the sentiment that was shared in the Downton Abby clip above. I can now wholeheartedly say, yes, Isobel, we are the lucky ones.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 1 Cor 13:7,8

 

The Second Year – Living Water Well Update

This is a message I recently received in regards to the new well at Thomonde, Haiti.

This is a picture of the new well at Thomonde, one of the Living Water wells.  Notice the water on the ground–it works.  The man in the brown shirt is Etienne Rolzaph, the pastor of the church in Thomonde. The well is the anchor of the church’s dream for a new church building. I included his email to me when he requested a visit from us to give a “proper thank you.”  

Hello my dear pastor, I greet you in the soft invaluable name of Jesus. I am Etienne Rolzaph pastor of the church Baptist Jerusalem of Thomonde. how is – that you go? We have so much to pray for you and your group. How was the journey? On my behalf staff and of the church we are anxious to say to you thank you and thank you still for this big gift(donation) how much important for the church not to say the whole community (for the well of water). The committee of the church wants to thank you face to face. When can we to hope you and your group in Haiti still more exactly has Thomonde?
I remain at your disposal to give all the information necessary for this demand(request) and ask you to approve, my brother, the expression of my distinguished consideration.

Below is a map of Haiti. You can see where Thomonde is located.

Thomonde Location Map

And here is another map that shows you how remote this area is.

How thrilled Mike would be at this news! He would truly be humbled and in awe at the kind generosity of all who have contributed to this worthy project in his memory.

Beauty from Ashes

 

The Second Year – Melancholy days

I have been reading a book called “The Greatest Gift” by Ann Voskamp. It is a series of daily readings which coincide with Advent – the anticipation of Jesus’ birth and ultimate celebration of Christmas. I am so glad I came across this book. I look forward to my mornings reading and reflecting on this season of the year. It has enabled me to experience the days leading up to Christmas with a depth of peace and anticipation that I have never experienced before. It is a quiet joy. That sometimes includes tears.

My heart has been heavy lately. I realized that in an effort to gain some sort of “normalcy” in life, I am trying to “remake” myself – who am I? What kind of work do I want to do? Figure it out. Figure it all out. Where do I want to live? Where will I be in six months or six years? Figure it out. Figure it all out. Churning, striving, thinking. Always thinking. Wakefulness, wonder, worry. Yes, there are questions to be answered. So many. Why did the coal fire go out? It was just burning great three hours ago. Why is it 49 degrees upstairs when I had the furnace repaired last week? Why can’t I escape the multitude of things rushing through my head? God, why? God, how? God, help.

I have questions. I have doubts. And this is what I learned about doubts today:

There are “two kinds of doubts – one that fully lives into the questions, and one that uses the questions as weapons against fully living.” (The Greatest Gift)

I do not want my questions to stagnate me. To get me stuck and become a barrier to living. Life here is short. I am painfully aware of that – and seem to be reminded of it frequently. But the unanswered questions grab onto my legs and pull me down into the sea of doubt. And this is the doubt that becomes a weapon against fully living. I cannot be afraid of the doubt that fully engages me into the questions – to talking about it, all of it. Be authentic and real. We all have doubts. Even the most faith-filled have doubts. How we handle those moments of uncertainty determines whether we truly live or not.

Trying to “remake” myself has been exhausting. I am realizing that the process cannot be forced. But what to do? Today I received some insight from the Greatest Gift:

“Come to Him just as you are.  Give up trying to be self-made: this is your gift to Him – and His gift to you. Simply come.” “the miracle of Christmas is that you get more than proof of God’s existence. You get the experience of God’s presence.”

This Christmas I desire to be freed from the striving, the churning, the worry. I know it is a process. But there is this hope – that life can be lived; fully. Even with the doubts. There is a place where I can go. Just as I am.

“You don’t have to work for the coming of the Lord. You don’t have to work for Christmas. The miracle is always that God is gracious. You don’t have to earn Christmas, you don’t have to perform Christmas, you don’t have to make Christmas. You can rest in Christ. You can wait with Christ. You can breathe easy in Christ. Open your heart to the miracle of grace. He will prepare your heart for the coming of the Lord.”

I may not have much to give others in the way of gifts this Christmas. It is humbling. Can be frustrating. But perhaps the gift I can give is one of Hope – that there is life to be fully lived. Joy in sorrow. Beauty from ashes. Hope that came in the form of a helpless infant. Hope that grew and willingly suffered as a man; One who knows my sadness, my quiet sorrow, my doubts. One who understands. And because of His life and death, I can experience life fully here. That is the joy and hope that I have.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter)

The Second Year – Joyful music

A little known fun fact about me. I grew up playing piano. And when I was in middle school I learned to play the pipe organ at our church. Around that same time,  I remember going to Radio City Music Hall and sitting up in one of the many balconies listening to the Christmas music. I saw the organist moving both feet and hands on multiple pedals and keyboards while manipulating various stops as he created such beautiful sounds. Powerful and strong, gentle and tender. I was amazed.

Once a week, I was able to practice on the pipe organ at church in preparation for my lesson. On more than one occasion, I would climb up on to the bench, open up all the stops and do my best to blast the roof off the church building. Oh, what power. And on the occasion I was able to play a piece well (it took a LOT of work for that to happen!) it had an impact on me. Each foot moving in a separate direction, hands on different key boards and eyes taking it all in. Music touches me deeply. All kinds of music.

But one song in particular was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.  I came across this YouTube video on facebook. The part I enjoyed most was the transformation of the faces in the crowd…from uncertainty to understanding to pure joy. And you could see the sense of joy in the musicians as well once the piece was done. A shared experience amongst strangers. A gift of song.

A bit about the history of this piece:

The text for the hymn was written while (Henry) van Dyke was a guest preacher at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  It is said that one morning van Dyke handed the manuscript to the college president, saying, “Here is a hymn for you.  Your mountains (the Berkshires) were my inspiration.  It must be sung to the music of Beethoven’s “Hymn of Joy.”

The tune is from the last movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s great Ninth Symphony, “The Choral”.  In this great work Beethoven combines the sounds of the orchestra with a full chorus and soloist.  The choral finale uses Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” as its text.  It is hard to believe that at the time of composition Beethoven was totally deaf.  At the premier in 1824 the soloist had to turn the great man around to acknowledge the thunderous standing ovation, which he could not hear.

Joyful, Joyful we adore thee. God of glory. Lord of Love.