Gift Ideas - Handmade and Other

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How do We Live in the Tension?

Photo by Praisaeng courtesy of
A few weeks ago I was intrigued by a Facebook discussion sparked by an article about the gay marriage issue. Many people weighed in, some agreeing with the article's position, others strongly disagreeing. As I read the comments and followed the debate, I wanted to have the perfect comment to end the debate, to resolve the tension.

I admit, I want an easy-peasy, straightforward answer. I want both sides to walk away at peace with the other. I want resolution. However, beliefs and opinions are strong and opposing. Longings are powerful. Pain is difficult to overcome. There is no easy resolution. So we end up living in the tension. How do we navigate that?

How do we live out a Christian faith in a post-Christian (sometimes it even feels anti-Christian) culture?

I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I had the solution, however at this point, I am left with a few things I know and lots of questions.

I know God loves humankind -- more than we can possibly imagine. I know that God wants people to choose Him and to obey Him. I know that God chose, at incredibly immense cost to Himself, to allow people to chose for themselves whether or not to obey Him and that I need to give them the same freedom He does. I know that God wants me to love and demonstrate grace in the same way He has to me (oh, how poorly I do this!!!). I know that God has standards of right and wrong that He established for our well-being.

Still there is this tension, this place where we live that has no simple answers. How do we both live according to God's standards of right and wrong and love those who don't? How do become involved, intelligent, gracious citizens of a country where we have the freedom to influence public policy on matters that involve strongly held, but controversial, issues of faith and morality?

I don't know for sure. Yet, if we desire to be authentic in our faith and draw others to Christ, then I think we must come together with those who hold opposing views with respect and honesty. I think we must ask the hard questions and hear answers that we may not like and still respect the one who has spoken. We must find a way, not out of the tension, but through it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What does "In Jesus' Name Amen" Mean?

"Hello!  You have reached the Smith’s.  We’re not home right now.  Please leave your name, number, and a brief message and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”  Beep.  “Hi, this is Karla.  I got your message.  I’d love to go to the movies this Friday.  Shall we meet there at say, 5:15.  Wanna do supper after?  Give me a call.  You know the number.  In Jesus’ name, amen.  
Ummm (long awkward pause) I mean, ummm.  Bye.”  

Jesus told His disciples, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14 NIV) For many adding the words “In Jesus’ name I pray, amen” seems to be how we pray in Jesus’ name. Yet, for many, as the situation above so poignantly portrays, it has become a phrase that is attached to the end of our prayers that carries little meaning.  It almost seems to be a mantra that we spout without real thought our genuineness.
What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?  In recent years the phrase “What would Jesus do?” has been popularized, satirized, and by now often disregarded. Yet, the book from which it comes, In His Steps, raises a powerful question. If Jesus were here on earth, living in our world, working at our jobs, what would He do?  How would He handle things? I believe that this is the idea behind Jesus’ teaching in John 14:13-14. Although the name of Jesus is powerful, it is not a magic mantra to use to get God to give us our wish list. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are embracing the God-man Jesus. We are embracing all He was and all He taught. John helps us to understand this in his first epistle when he says, “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14b NIV)  Praying in Jesus’ name is about asking for the things that are consistent with Jesus and His teachings, which are consistent with His character. 

Praying in Jesus’ name is really about asking and answering the question, “What is God’s will in this situation? What does God want to accomplish?” and then aligning our prayers with the answer. Yet, that seems daunting. How can we know what God desires? Scripture gives us many clues regarding God’s will for His people. By searching Scripture, by praying Scripture, by listening daily for God’s direction in our lives, we become more tuned in to what God is doing generally which helps us to be open and receptive to what God is doing in specific situations. As we align our will with God’s, and begin to pray in His will, we also discover what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.”

I would love to hear your thoughts about praying in Jesus' name. Things you've learned or questions you've had.

How would you explain "praying in Jesus' name" to someone new to prayer? 
Have you ever rotely used "in Jesus' name" in an awkward situation?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Remembering to Pray

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic
My day is filled with work, cleaning house, tending to people's needs and my time is full.  Then I read in 1 Thessalonians 5 to "pray continually" or as the King James Version says to "pray without ceasing" and I wonder how to obey that command.

I forget to pray sometimes. I want to pray for people I love, regarding hardships, asking for direction, and I want to obey Paul's instructions to us, but sometimes I just forget. Several years ago a woman in our community was diagnosed with very aggressive breast cancer and I committed to pray for her, but I was concerned I would forget. Then I remembered that I drive by her home every day on my way to work. I committed that each time I drove by her house I would pray for her. Her house has served as a reminder to pray, when I otherwise would have forgotten. Another friend asked me to pray for a specific situation, so I put a sticky note on my computer to remind me to pray for that situation. Then an ambulance passed by, and as I've made it a habit to do when I hear a siren, I prayed for all involved the rescue workers and those in trouble. Suddenly I realized that all of these things were reminders – simple little triggers that remind me throughout the day to pray for things that concern me and the ones I love. 
A few years ago a friend taught me another means to help remember to pray for someone. When someone shares a prayer request with me, even if it's by e-mail or phone, I pause and pray with them at that moment. If it's by e-mail I write the prayer in the e-mail and send it back to them. I was drawn to this idea for two reasons. First, because I knew I wouldn't break my promise to pray by forgetting.  Second, because the person hears the prayer and hopefully they are comforted and encouraged by knowing and hearing the prayer lifted up on their behalf.

I wish I didn't forget. I wish that remembering to pray was always my first response, not just my sometimes first response. I find these little reminders help me to move closer to praying continually.  If, like me, you sometimes forget to pray for the things you want very much to remember to pray for, give these little reminders a try. You can use something you drive or walk by daily; a note on the 'frig, computer, or mirror; a sound; anything that triggers your mind and heart to go before God in prayer throughout the day can lead us to more and more consistently pray continually.

What has helped you to pray continually? 
How do you remember to pray for specific requests?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Foursome . . . And Then There Was One

For nearly 70 years the two couples were friends, family, a foursome knit together by common experience, by love, by friendship, by blood.

The two men, brothers, were born just 11 1/2 months apart. Arlyn, the older of the two was a sickly child. Although the two boys started school one year after the other, because of Arlyn's illnesses they were soon in the same class and remained so until they graduated from high school.

The girls, Dorothy and Jessie, met and became friends in 7th grade when Dorothy came to the "central school" in town from her one room country school. While in high school, the two girls worked together one summer in a laundry. They walked many--MANY--blocks from the house where they boarded with Dorothy's aunt and uncle to the laundry. On the way to and from work, they passed a Catholic church. The unfamiliar sound of the nuns chanting morning prayers unsettled them a little. At the laundry they each had their own set of duties, one ran a mangle that pressed the sheets and the other ironed uniforms.

High school passed quickly and graduation was before them. At their class night before graduation, they did a skit that showed Arlyn married to Dorothy and Floyd married to Jessie and living in a duplex. The skit proved to be a self-fulling prophecy. Floyd and Jessie married first and moved into half a house owned by his parents. When Arlyn and Dorothy married a few months later, they moved into the other half of the house.

While they were sharing the house, the two couples continued their friendship. Both women were pregnant during this season. Jessie gave birth to a son and later Dorothy to a daughter. They crocheted together, visited, and helped each other through the early days of marriage. Each couple created a home side by side with the other to care for their budding families. However, after a few short months their paths took different turns.

Arlyn worked on the family farm and Floyd and Jessie went to Bible school in preparation to go to India as missionaries. Although separated by many miles and different life experiences, when Floyd and Jessie returned from India, they settled again in the same small town where they were born. The two couples continued their long time friendship.

For about 2 weeks each year all four were the same age. Floyd was the youngest of the four and Arlyn was the oldest. Between Floyd's birthday and Arlyn's birthday all four would be the same age, then Arlyn would turn a year older and it would be another 11 and 1/2 months before they were all the same age again.

Life was busy with raising children and building their businesses. Grandchildren came along. The blessings and the hardships of life happened.

In their declining years the two women often talked on the phone about mutual interests and the men worked together to track their church's finances. When the Arlyn reached the end of his life, Floyd visited him often during the week he was in the hospital. Unable to drive that far, Floyd's son brought him faithfully. After Arlyn came home to be cared for by hospice and his children, Floyd and Jessie continued to visit, once bringing a yummy rotisserie chicken for Arlyn's family for supper.

As Dorothy faced the grief and loneliness of widowhood, Jessie called her with encouraging words and the comfort of her friendship until Jessie's voice became too weak to be heard over the telephone lines.

Now only one of this foursome remains. Arlyn, Jessie, and Floyd have been welcomed to their heavenly home, rejoicing to be with their Savior, rejoicing to be reunited with their loved ones. Dorothy remains, longing for her husband especially, missing the other dear ones who've gone before. One day the foursome will be reunited and together they will worship the Savior they loved all their lives long. Until then, Dorothy's family cherishes the days and hours they have with her.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Trusting Heart

          ”Jump!  I’ll catch you.”
          The smell of sawdust and freshly cut lumber permeated the air. Mooing of cows provided a background symphony. My father and brother were building an addition onto our barn.  I was sitting on the edge of the hayloft, my eyes wide, and stubborn in my fright.
          Below me stood my brother arms outstretched ready to catch me. He is 14 years older than I am, and by this time he was a strong young man and fully able to catch me and put me safely on the ground.  I was afraid. I sat on the edge for several minutes.  He tried to coax me into his arms, I thought about it; I started to jump and then pulled back. I thought about it some more.  He was so sure, but I wasn’t.  What if he missed?  What if I knocked him over? What if . . . ? It was just too risky.
          I never did jump. Somehow we found a way for me to climb down which took much longer, I’m sure, but it was “safe.” 
          God says the same thing to us sometimes, “Jump! I’ll catch you!” He is big enough and strong enough and wise enough to call all the shots, and yet sometimes we don’t trust.  We wonder if God is really big enough, if He will really keep if promises. Bad things happen after all and God does allow them, what if . . .?
          Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (nicknamed Rack, Shack, and Benny by Veggie Tale lovers) were up against a situation that required them to JUMP! King Nebuchadnezzar built a statue 90 feet high and decreed that everyone had to bow down to it. Rack, Shack, and Benny couldn’t. They were good Jewish boys who loved God and wanted to obey Him. Yaweh's law said that they could bow to no one save Him. They refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar. 
          King Nebuchadnezzar was not a nice man. In the past when he was displeased with people he had chopped them up into little pieces and made their houses into dung piles. Going up against this man doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Why not just bow down? They could bow on the outside and make it look good, but keep worshiping God at home, right? No, they needed to obey God. God said, “Don’t worship any image.” 
          Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t bow down and others noticed and reported them to the King. He was angry, in fact the Bible says he was “furious with rage” and ordered them to be thrown into a fiery furnace that had been heated seven times hotter than usual. I love Rack, Shack, and Benny’s response, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
          The King had them thrown in. The soldiers who threw them in were killed from the heat. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace and later they emerged from the fire. Alive. The Bible says, “They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them”  (Daniel 3:27).
          Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego obeyed God. They jumped when God said to and He caught them.
          In the distance you could hear the sound of waves, an ocean breeze hit our faces, the sun was hot overhead, and the screech of seagulls filled the air. Anna and I were at the playground at Harvey Cedars and her toy camera had stopped working.  She asked me to fix it.  Secretly I wasn’t sure I could, but hoped I wouldn’t disappoint this little 2 ½ year-old little blonde angel. I started to take the camera, but she held on. I said, “Anna, you’ll have to let go and let me take it if you want me to fix it.” Immediately she let go, and thankfully I was able to fix it. 
          I didn’t trust my brother to catch me. I looked for my own way out of my predicament, but I’ve always wished I’d trusted him instead. Rack, Shack, and Benny trusted God. Anna trusted me. 
          Job goes through loss and heartache and stress that we can only begin to imagine.  In the end God says, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:2-3 NIV).  Then God proceeds to remind Job through a series of questions of just who He is.  He reminds Job of His power, His wisdom, His care of His creation, of His faithfulness, and His constancy. In the end, Job recognizes the sovereignty of God. He acknowledges God’s right to call all the shots. 
          Trust . . . are you willing to trust God? Are you willing to take the hard and difficult things of your life to God and place them in His hands? How easily we define God by how our circumstances look rather than look at the truth of who God is and seek to understand our circumstances from His perspective. 
          Are you willing to trust God with all of the stuff of your life – big and little, painful and easy? God doesn’t fix our lives until we place all the “stuff” that troubles us in His hands.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Jubilee List

A year ago, I faced one of those big birthdays, you know the ones that end in a zero. As the day grew closer and closer, I felt more and more distress. Then, through the influence of others, I made a choice to turn this year that I was dreading into one of celebration and trying new things. So, I made a list of 50 things that I would love to accomplish before my next birthday in 2015. I didn't finish all 50, but I did finish many of them.

1. I had red cake for my birthday.
2. I opened an IRA.
3. I launched a coaching practice.
4. I visited a butterfly garden . . . with my dear friend Anne.
5. I went to Friendly's with my Mom.
6. I met my dear friend Valerie at Cracker Barrel to catch up after too many years apart.
7. I received a book of memories and kind words of affirmation.
8. I had a steak dinner at Texas Roadhouse.
9. I completed a scrapbook of spiritual lessons I had learned over the last 10-ish years.
10. I had a free birthday meal at Denny's with my Mom.
11. I got a kinda smart phone (although it's turned out to not to be as smart as I thought it was :)
12. I found shoestring licorice (Not easy to find, but I found some at Yankee Candle Headquarters).

13. Saw the ocean also with my dear friend Anne.
14. I finished crocheting a purple baby blanket.
15. I went to Applebee's with my sister Karen. (Although we see each other often, it's rare for us to do something fun, just the two of us.)
16. Met my sister Lucy at my Mom's house for a visit.
17. Completed the Christian Coaching 201 course.
18. Watched the Gilmore Girls series from start to finish.
19. Completed a Grief Coaching course.
20. Had a Bones season 8 marathon with my twin nieces.
21. Replenished my supply of purple ink pens. (Not easy to find.)
22. Made apple towels for my kitchen.
23. Made patriotic towels for my kitchen.
24. Had a picnic and rode a carousel with 5 of my nieces.
25. Read the Kathy Reichs "Temperance Brennan" series through the last completed book (#17)
26. I learned to make a ripple afghan - baby sized.
27. I crocheted a brown and tan afghan for myself that I had wanted to make for years.
28. Had a Christmas party with some of my nieces.
29. Gave my wardrobe a style makeover.
30. I wrote an e-book. Now it needs to be edited and published.
31. I made a pot roast meal.
32. I learned to make spiral scarves.
33. Worked on my "Sometimes When I am Down" scrapbook.

The remaining items on my list, will be rolled over to this year, because they are still things I want to do. There are family members that I wanted to spend time with, do something fun with and didn't get to. There are changes I want to make, books I want to read, and projects to be completed that I still want to complete.

Even though I didn't finish all 50 items on my list, I am happy for the 33 I did accomplish, for the new experiences, for skills learned, for people I spent time with. My Jubilee List helped to add some spice and pizzazz to what had the potential to be a depressing year.

Onward and forward to finishing my last 17 items on this list, plus some others that I want to add on for the coming year.

What fun new thing(s) have you tried in the last year?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Making Meaning - Helping

In the summer of 2012 “Making Meaning” became deeply personal. My church—where I worked and the center of my spiritual and social life—went through a spiritual and relational 8.0 earthquake. As I went to work each day, I encountered the emotional, spiritual, and relational debris of broken relationships, betrayal, heartache, and anger. I not only wanted to find some good, some purpose in the loss of my closest friends and the flaying of my church, I NEEDED to find good and purpose. I needed a reason to go on.

I wanted to be a part of the solution, part of healing the damage done. I wanted to do what I could to prevent it from ever happening again. My life changed that summer in a way that it will never change back and I wanted and needed that change to be good, to have purpose, to help someone else, at least in the end.

Below are some stories of others who have chosen to make helping others a part of finding a path through their grief.

Brian Sager lost his teen daughter as the result of her deep depression. He has helped others by sharing the lessons he learned in a blog post. To read Brian’s story, click here.

Thomas Gray lived only six days. His parents made the courageous decision to donate his body for transplants and research. Click here to read the story of the difference Thomas made in the lives of others.

The Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital is a family centered hospital for children in Westchester, NY. To read about Maria and her family’s legacy, click here.

Rachel Joy Scott was a victim of the Columbine shootings in 1999. Her father speaks in schools and to youth challenging them to “start a chain reaction”—Rachel’s mission. To hear about it, click here.

Inheritance of Hope was founded by a young family whose mother received a terminal diagnosis. The foundation was set up to help other young families facing the loss of a parent. To hear their story, click here.

The Compassionate Friends provides support to families who have lost a child. Families can get involved to receive support or to help provide support to others.  To read more about this organization, click here.
Helping others manifests itself in many ways.  Here are just a few more ideas to help make meaning and purpose from the loss of a loved one by helping others:
  • Establishing a scholarship to help a student headed into a similar field in which a loved one participated.
  • Establishing or donating to a fund to help end a disease the loved one suffered with.
  • MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving)
  • SADD (Student’s Against Drunk Driving)
  • Donating a loved one’s body for research or organ transplants.
  • Donating to a cause that was important to the loved one.
  • Become involved in helping others who’ve suffered a similar loss.
  • Participate in one of the many fundraising and awareness raising walks – cancer, MS, autism.
  • Write a book, article, or blog post about your journey and the lessons learned.
  • One woman created a workbook and workshop to teach people how to write letters of affirmation to their loved ones before it was too late.

What did I do to help others because of the summer of 2012?
I stayed when I wanted to leave. I stayed to help my church in its healing process. I took classes to become a coach, particularly a grief coach. I hope soon to begin a masters degree in counseling because I want to be both available and skilled in helping people walk through their grief and pain to find hope, healing, and well-being.

What suggestions would you offer? 
How can people make meaning out of profound loss?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Making Meaning - Impact

As we remember our loved ones and reflect on our memories, on the stories that keep their memory alive, we can see the ways that their life has left a lasting impression on ours. Maybe it is lessons learned. Maybe it is their influence on how we think or live. Maybe it’s the way they saw life and how they helped us to see it. Making meaning includes taking note of the ways in which their life made an indelible mark on ours.

Two stories that I did not share in this series are also two people who left a mark on my life that cannot be erased.
My dad died about a mile from the house in which he was born. In between he made his home within that one mile all of his life. He traveled from time to time, but he always came home to stay in the fertile green river valley. When I was young, I did not understand or appreciate my dad. As I matured I came to understand him more and as I understood him I appreciated him immensely.

I came to understand that he loved his family with a deep, enduring love – an unconditional love. I came to know in my heart of hearts that even if I did things he didn’t like or didn’t approve of, he would still love me. I knew that he would always love me.  I knew that he would always love each of his children and my mom. His deep love, his ability to “MacGyver” things, his dependability gave me a sense of security, of things being right with the world.

Now, in the years since he stepped through Heaven's portal, I have come to see that my view of men, of what makes a man masculine and a good man has been shaped by the kind of man he was. I find I notice first men who bear a physical resemblance to him - tall, broad-shouldered, muscular. However, more important are the things that made him who he was: hard-working, dependable, filled with deep faith, intelligent, stable, quietly witty, a dry sense of humor, uncomplaining. His abilities also come into play: his ability to fix almost anything, to build, to create. He was a man who could both laugh and cry, who was far from perfect, but big enough to say he was sorry when he messed up. He loved his wife faithfully, cared for her, provided for her, lived with her, laughed with her, and was her lover for over 65 years. Men, good men, masculine men come in many shapes and sizes with unique and individual personalities and this is good. Still, I am discovering that I am most drawn to those men who are in some ways a lot like "dear old dad." This speaks strongly to the love, respect, and appreciation I have for the man who was my dad. 

 *     *     *     *     *

The other story is of a kid, a young man in his early twenties who entered my life wearing a blue baseball jacket and blue baseball cap. My life was never the same after I met him. We are parted now, sadly, for over the course of the 20 years I knew him, I had come to love his family as if they were blood. Our lives had been woven together through a myriad of experiences – births, deaths, trips, celebrations, defeats, and the day-to-day little things that come with sharing life. All of that has ended now, but still he left a mark on my life that will never go away.

He entered my life after a season where my self-image and my faith had taken a major beating, a season where I came close to walking away from my church and seriously questioned God. He came as a 21 year old "kid" to lead the youth ministry in a small country church. It took awhile for us to trust each other and for a friendship to grow, but eventually it did. However, he did not come to that church to stay and after 9 short months he graduated college and left us to marry his fiancée and to live near her college so she could finish her senior year.

The night of his farewell party he gave me a gift. In a place where I had felt used, abused, and discounted, he treated me with love, grace, dignity, and respect. His simple act of acknowledging my humanity and validating it, was a gift no one had given me for a long time. Eventually, I came to serve in another church where he also served and here I met his family and grew to love them. In this church and in the sheltering love of this family, I learned about love, experienced affirmation, and also learned about grace.  Because of his openness to letting God minister through him, I experienced healing at a soul level. Old hurts and wounds were brought to the surface. Forgiveness, love, and grace were applied and I healed and grew and learned things about myself and about God and life with God I never imagined I would. 

I am thankful for these two and for each of the people in the stories in this series. Each one has left a footprint on my life, each one had an impact.

As you reflect on loved ones now gone, I’d love to hear how they have impacted you.
What lessons did they teach you?
How did they influence your perspective?

What one thing about them will you always remember? 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Each of the stories in this series, is the story of one or more persons who touched my heart, who left a footprint on the path of my life. For a time we shared the journey, we walked together, and then they were gone and emptiness settled where they had been.
How can a person cope in the face of profound loss? Life goes on when it feels like it should stop. Our world as we know it has ended, yet the earth keeps spinning on its axis. The sun continues to rise and set. Yet, it seems like it should stop. But, it doesn’t and we too must carry on. But how?
Each person will grieve in their own way.
I journal. I write about the pain, about the memories, about the joy that was and the sorrow that is and in time the hope of what might be someday. I look back at old journals, reminding myself of where I have been, of the obstacles God has brought me over, the trials He has brought me through. I meet myself as I was in younger years. I am reminded of forgotten little intimacies with loved ones. I tell our story and look at it from a variety of perspectives and I wrestle with questions and doubts.
In time, I come to a time and place where I am ready to do the work of “Making Meaning.”
“Making Meaning?” What’s that? We long for the life of our loved one to matter – to be remembered, to have value, to have made a difference. We long for our relationship with them to have mattered, to have made a difference. Making Meaning is our process of discovering how their life mattered and what we can do to remember it and to share it with others.
I’ve broken this final “Making Meaning” section into three parts: Remembering, Impact, and Helping.
This first part is “Remembering.” What can we do to help ourselves and others remember our loved one and the ways his or her life mattered?

Create a scrapbook. Share your favorite memories of the person or create an overview of their life. Preserve letters to them now of things you'd like to tell them if you could. Describe memories of a specific trip or event you participated in together along with pictures and memorabilia. 

A memorial website. Last Memories is one site that allows you to create a page in memory of your loved one. Pictures can be posted. Articles or letters about your loved one, your feelings, your processing can be written. People can respond with memories or words of comfort of their own.

Tattoo the person’s face or name on your body.

Facebook. Maintain the person’s already existing account or create a page in their honor. Here friends and family of your loved one can continue to post messages, memories, and updates.

A garden. Set aside a space for a garden as a memorial to your loved one. It might be one that incorporates some of their favorite flowers or a small pool or waterfall – a place of beauty as a reminder of the beauty of their life.

A special gravestone. A gravestone that has a meaningful picture etched on it. One family chose to have a picture of the family farm etched on the patriarch’s stone. Another who lost a young child had her picture etched on the stone. Other’s have the stone shaped in a unique image.

Plant a tree. Planting a tree is a living reminder of your loved one and is especially appropriate for someone who loved the outdoors or who was concerned about the environment.

Write a letter. Write a letter to your loved one. You might want to save them in a special box or scrapbook to be reread periodically. If you prefer to write privately and intimately, you may want to destroy the letter once it is written. The act of writing the letter can free thoughts and emotions that might otherwise be trapped inside. When you are wrestling with an issue that you would have discussed with them, writing a letter might help you to see from their perspective as you think about how they would have responded. 

A Christmas ornament. Whether you choose one special ornament to lovingly hang year after year or to add an ornament in their memory each year, this can be a way to continue to include a loved one in your Christmas traditions.

A piece of jewelry. You may want to have a piece of their jewelry reset or redesigned as a wearable reminder. Origami Owl and Keep Collective both offer custom made jewelry so that you can design your own memory piece.

Repurpose their clothes. I have heard of both pillows and stuffed animals being made from a loved one’s clothes. Often clothes retain the most powerful of all memory triggers – the scent of a person. These huggable items can bring the person close both visually and through fragrance. 

This is only a few ideas for remembering a loved one. 
I'd love for you to join the conversation and tell us other ideas for remembering a loved one.

I am not compensated in any way for the links provided in this post. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - This Cannot Be! - My Drummer Boy Student

He was a student in my eighth grade English class the first year I taught. He never stopped moving and he never stopped drumming on his desk. I watched him grow from a gangly, rather awkward young man that some compared to the old TV character Steve Urkle into a polished, debonair college man. He was full of humor and laughter, worked hard, and was a kind and generous young man. He was also honest and not afraid to speak the truth even to one of his teachers. I became a better teacher because he was brave enough to respectfully speak truth. 

I remember the day he came into class and told me his father (a leader in our church who I loved and appreciated) had died of a heart attack. He had me convinced this was true for several minutes until he ‘fessed up that it was just a prank. I also remember the times he was working in the school cafeteria and gave me my lunch for free and how he worked hard to gather donations to take to families in need in our community. A prankster? Yes. A heart of gold? Yes.

I came to school on March 28, 2007 and the mood was somber. One of the teachers pulled me aside and told me that My Drummer Boy Student had been killed the night before. He was out with some friends from Quinnipiac University and he got on his motorcycle and pulled out to leave. No one seemed sure what had happened, but he was thrown from the bike and died a few minutes later in his girlfriend’s arms. Oh, this could not be.

At his funeral we heard about other pranks he had pulled such as convincing a family during his college days that he was an Egyptian Jew while attending their Passover. Another time he sneaked past a friend’s driveway warning system and scared one of his friend’s brothers. We also heard stories of his ability to form and maintain friendships and the many ways he had touched the lives of others. He was particularly sensitive to the individual needs of his friends even from a very young age.

My Drummer Boy Student is missed deeply and by many. His parents established a scholarship at our school in his honor.

Oh, yes! And, he actually took drum lessons after that first year I had him as a student and eventually played as part of our worship team.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - A Hesitant Farewell

I hesitated. People in dark clothes with somber faces stood in small groups on the gentle slope. In a nearby field of clover and alfalfa the sound of a tractor hummed and a hay bailer whirred. Overhead the sun was bright and warm; it seemed out of place. My eyes burned with unshed tears and I felt a lump in my throat. I did not want to bend down and pluck a flower from the bouquet. I did not want to lay that flower down. I did not want to say farewell.
Whimsical . . . warm . . . friendly . . . cheerful . . . caring . . . compassionate were all words I would use to describe Jill. I had come to this town alone several years ago to begin a new life as a teacher and youth worker. On the day I moved in, our youth pastor and one teen, a handsome young man named Kyle, came to help me carry in an array of boxes from the truck and arrange furniture in my new apartment.  Kyle was helpful, polite, a little shy, and yet personable.  My encounter with him as he lifted boxes and bundles, and rearranged furniture (until it suited me just right) left me with a warm, pleasant memory.  As I settled into my new life, I saw Kyle occasionally at church or youth group.  After a time, a pretty girl started coming with him. Before long it became apparent that Kyle and his blonde-haired, freckle-faced Jill had a very special relationship. I enjoyed watching them grow together and was delighted when eventually they were engaged and married. Although I didn’t see them often, I enjoyed talking with Kyle and Jill when I had the chance. They greeted me with smiles and hugs and plied me with questions about my life and I asked them about high school, then college, and most recently, their teaching jobs and new home. 
Although young, Jill was a cancer survivor. She had gone through chemo, hair loss, insecurity about relationships and love, and the fear of impending death. I think perhaps it was that close brush with death while she was still a teen that gave her that extra-special quality of reaching out to people, of seizing every opportunity, of facing life with energy and enthusiasm.
As I started to reach out my hand to pluck a flower and then pulled back, I remembered a moment three days before. I had been walking down the hall in our church, unsuspecting, when our pastor’s daughter stopped me.  Normally a bubbly, outgoing, happy person, Carrie seemed subdued.  She asked, “Did you hear about Jill?”
“No.  What happened?”  I replied, a sense of foreboding coming over me.
“My dad got a phone call last night to come to the hospital.  Jill was in a car accident.  She died.”
             Memories of Jill and Kyle flooded my mind as I tried to take in this news. I had just talked to Jill at church the week before. As always Jill’s face had been aglow with a smile that included her eyes, her cheeks, her eyebrows, even her nose.  Also, as always, she asked me a million questions about me and redirected the conversation back to me after she had briefly answered my inquiries about her.  Whenever I saw Jill and talked to her, I felt like I was the most important person in her world at that moment.  How could Jill be gone? She had been coming home from her graduate classes in a bad rainstorm. On a curve her car had gone off the road and she hit a tree. I heard the facts. I understood the facts. Yet still my mind and heart struggled to comprehend that Jill was gone. 
I hesitated.  I didn’t want to pluck a carnation from one of the many baskets.  I did not want to say farewell.  If I pulled a flower from the arrangement and laid it on Jill’s casket and walked away it would be real and it would be final, too final when I didn’t want to say farewell at all. I felt the pain of losing someone I didn’t know well, but who had touched my life. I felt the pain of losing the opportunity to ever know her better. I had thought I would have many years to build a friendship, but now I saw I never would. The chance had passed me by. I regretted every instance I hadn’t taken time to talk to her longer, all the opportunities I had missed to really get to know her.
I looked across the casket at Kyle, his face etched with pain, in some ways so like a lost, lonely little boy, in others so like the strong, mature man he had been forced to become overnight.  Kyle was surrounded by his family. His mother and grandmother were seated beside him.  His father and brothers stood behind the chairs. His father laid one hand on Kyle’s shoulder and the other hand on his mother’s shoulder. Jill’s family was there too. There was no way to disguise the raw pain they all were enduring.  The tears streaming down cheeks, the jaws set hard, the eyes so sad, the drooping mouths told the story of their pain. 
I hesitated.  I felt a strong resistance deep inside.  I did not want to say farewell, but really that choice had already been taken from me.  Jill was gone and no one had asked me if that’s what I wanted.  Surely no one had asked Kyle, his family, or anyone in Jill’s family. Yet, Jill was gone and we were left with her memory and countless questions all beginning with “why” or “what if”. We’d had no choice whether she lived or died, but in our love and grief we had all come together on this day to lay to rest someone we loved, someone who had made a difference in our lives.

I hesitated.  Then, at last, I bent down and pulled a flower from one of the baskets surrounding the casket.  I fingered the pink carnation for a moment; still fighting the struggle within, still loathe to say farewell.  Then I laid the flower on the casket as my heart whispered, “Farewell, Jill, you loved well and were loved well. Farewell, dear one, until we meet again one day.”  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Shock - The Math Teacher's Wife and Son

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 started like any other day at school. I was teaching Bible to high school students and thinking of things I needed to accomplish throughout the day. During my morning free period I walked through the gym to the church office to return a stapler. The secretary was on the phone. She motioned me over and held out a piece of paper for me to read. The words were simple . . . and terrible. “Math Teacher’s wife and baby--dead.”  She ended her call and explained what had happened. The Math Teacher’s Wife and Infant Son had been in a serious car accident. The Wife was gone, passed through heaven’s portal and The Son was being airlifted to the area trauma center. The Senior Pastor could not be found nor could she find the Youth Pastor. She asked me to find the Youth Pastor and ask him to go to the school office.  I looked in a couple of his favorite haunts before I found him.

He was in the computer lab, chatting with another teacher. Not wanting to disturb the classroom or be overheard, I whispered the news of what had happened and told him he was needed down in the school office to be with The Math Teacher.  He took a deep breath and headed downstairs.

Once again we gathered the middle and high school students in the sanctuary. I remember standing at the doors, directing the students into the room. Three of our senior boys stopped me--each of them either an EMT or volunteer firefighter--they wanted to know if it was another 9/11 situation and did they need to go serve? I was so proud of those young men, so proud.  I told them that no although this was serious it wasn’t another 9/11 situation and they didn’t need to go.

Our Science Teacher explained to our students what had happened. Again we spent much of the day in grief and prayer. Our Youth Pastor went to the trauma center with The Math Teacher and grief counselors from another church in the area came and met with our students. In a small school such as ours all the high school students knew the Math Teacher and many had met and bonded with his wife and son as well.

“Why? What will he do? How will he survive this? Why?” echoed over and over throughout the day.

The Math Teacher’s wife was killed instantly. His four month old son died at the trauma center a few hours later. We were a somber, sad, and mourning school. This was the beginning of a season of asking “Why?” as a school, of wondering what God was doing.

Over the next two years we walked with The Math Teacher through his grief and loss and saw him marry again. He established a scholarship at our school in memory of his son, a scholarship for a graduating senior who planned to work with children. Each year the scholarship is given out accompanied by a stuffed Winnie the Pooh, the little guy’s favorite.

What kinds of things have you established as a memorial to a lost loved one? 
What would you like to establish given the opportunity?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Learning about Grief

In 2002 I began to awaken to an awareness of grief flowing through the experiences of my life.  In typical Dar fashion, I wanted to understand it, so I began to study grief. My learning was primarily at an intellectual level at this time. I read books about grief, particularly those written by people who had experienced profound loss in one form or another. As I read, I reflected in my journals about what I was reading and learning.

With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, I am thankful for the reading and searching I did at that time, yet, as is often the case, the theory and the reality were different. As I have experienced deeper losses of my own, I learned lessons of my own. The books, others’ stories, had given me a foundation and perhaps words to label my experience. Still the experience was not an intellectual thing as the learning had been. The experience was emotional--painful and at times overwhelming. Things I expected based on my reading didn’t happen and things I didn’t expect took place. I realized the truth so oft repeated in grief work – everyone’s grief is unique to them.

One lesson from my reading, learning, and contemplation brought theory into reality in a positive and helpful way.  I had observed that those who accepted the reality of their loss and were able to courageously face it and do the hard work of grief were also the most able to continue on and have a healthy productive future after a significant loss.  In the face of my own loss, I found this to be, for a time, a draining task, hard emotional work, and yet, I am thankful to have been able to process my grief in a way that honored those lost and that deepened my life, my soul.

However, I am getting ahead of myself. God had more grief experiences for me to observe, to feel as a peripheral participant before I faced my own deep losses. 

“Part 3 – What is God Doing?” will explore some of those grief experiences. 

Has a particular book or person's story helped you in your journey through grief?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - 9.11.01 - Everyone Has a Story

On that lovely autumn day with a clear, brilliant blue sky, I was in my classroom teaching Bible to high school students. After my first class, I headed to the church office for my weekly Tuesday morning meeting with the Youth Pastor. The secretary seemed alarmed and mentioned something about the World Trade Center, but I was focused on the upcoming meeting and didn’t really pay much attention. However, the Senior Pastor stood in the doorway of the Youth Pastor’s office. Our Senior Pastor was a big man--tall and broad shouldered and he filled the doorway. He didn’t move, so I stopped and looked up at him. He asked me if I had heard the news. When I shook my head, he told me that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. Each of the towers had been hit. My thoughts quickly turned to the Youth Pastor’s father and brother-in-law who both worked in Manhattan. The Senior Pastor, the Youth Pastor, the Church Secretary and I paused to pray for our country and for those in the towers. Then the students were gathered and we went to tell them and walk with them through the horror of that day. 

The Senior Pastor stood in front of the auditorium like an unmovable, unshakeable rock and told the students that some days shape our lives and our world and this was one of those days. He not only told them the news, he put it into perspective and he prayed with them.

Throughout that day and in the following days we prayed often with our students and we waited. Being little more than an hour northwest of New York City, many of our kids had parents or other family members that worked in the WTC or were police or firefighters in the City. We prayed and we waited. We waited for news of rescue, news of a loved one coming home.  As we talked it seemed that everyone knew someone who had been affected, that everyone had a story of how the Attack on America had directly impacted them. We watched and waited and prayed. One student’s mom escaped the Towers as did the Youth Pastor’s brother-in-law. Their lives were forever changed. The firefighter father of two of our students went into the building, but never came out. Others from our church were at Ground Zero doing rescue and recovery work.  We watched, we prayed, we waited, and everyone had a story.

On September 13, 2001 I penned the following:

Everyone has a story . . .
Stories of pain, shock, terror . . .
Everyone has a story . . .

It was a bright, clear Tuesday.
The sun shone brilliant in a cerulean sky
Over the Big Apple
The capitol of the world

New Yorkers bustled along the streets
Walking to work
Riding the subways
Hurrying about their daily tasks.

Overhead, a jet airliner whined
Spectators commented on how low it flew.
Then the horror began.
The North Tower of The World Trade Center was hit . . .
A direct hit, by a 767.

A city stood in shock
People fled the building

Then 18 minutes later the horror grew
A second plane flew straight into the South Tower
A cloud of fire mushroomed up the building
From where the plane had hit.

About an hour later the South Tower collapsed.
To those who watched it looked surreal, like a horror movie
Except it was real . . . oh, too real for all of America

A plane flew into the Pentagon
Both Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed
Thousand buried in rubble
Fires raged
Screams of terror
People fleeing
The dead and the living buried
The brave rescue workers
The innocent business men and women
The airline passengers
The day-care children
The suicide mission hi-jackers
A city . . . a state . . . a nation watched in horror and shock.

The sky filled with debris
Smoke . . . dust . . . papers . . . bits of buildings . . . bits of people

The hospitals filled
The news dribbled out
Thousands around the nation waited
Did those they loved survive?

Today, 2 days later many don’t know
We still grieve
Flags fly at half staff
Police patrol our streets
Our military is on alert

The terrorists have struck
We put on a brave face
We vow to bring justice
But our hearts . . . our hearts grieve
And deep inside, below our anger
Below the confusion
Below the hurt and pain
We’re a nation afraid
Terrorism has never struck so close to home
And we’re afraid of what will come


The two most important words in all history

BUT GOD is still in control
BUT GOD still lives
BUT GOD still loves
BUT GOD is unchanged

If our world is turned upside down
If all that we know is destroyed
If the horizon we’ve known all our lives disappears
If the people we love are gone


Our refuge . . . our fortress. . . our grace giver . . . our life giver . . . our hope . . . our strength . . . our peace . . . OUR ONLY HOPE – THE GOD WHO NEVER CHANGES!!!!!!!

What are your memories of 9.11.01?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - God is Good

In 1999 a relationship ended abruptly and with a great deal of pain. The grief and distress I experienced over this loss also brought to the surface some of those same questions I had wrestled with previously. Why? Why did bad things happen to good people? Who is this God I claim to serve and love?

Deep soul searching and study of Scripture led me on a path that first went down into an honest exploration of my view of God and into my doubts and then to a realization that changed my perspective.

Had someone asked me if God was good, I would have said yes. During this time of soul searching, I realized that at the very core of things I doubted God’s goodness. I doubted that a God who was good would let these things happen. While I believed that he was mostly good, I couldn’t understand how He let these bad things happen if He was fully good. I came to realize that there is no middle ground. Either He is good or He is not. If He is not, then He could not be God. 

The Bible describes God as pure, holy, righteous, and good. This is His moral character. The Bible describes Satan as evil. I realized that if God was evil in even the tiniest of ways, then He was not absolutely good, pure, holy, or righteous as the Bible declares Him to be. If that were true, He could not be God. If He was not good, then we were left only with an evil ruler of the universe and both God and Satan would be evil. We would be left with nothing truly good. As I processed this and worked through it, I realized that I believe there is good in the universe, in the world AND I believe there is evil. Better stated I believe there is a Good God ruling the universe and an evil Devil seeking to overthrow him. I realized that if that were a true premise, then God had to be 100% good.

If God were 100% good, then He could do no evil. Nothing that comes from His hand is evil.

But how does a God who is 100% good even allow evil?

Despite knowing how things would go, despite knowing that His only Son would have to become a human being, suffer, and die to rescue humankind from the clutches of evil, He chose to give human beings the ability to choose. The ability to choose God or reject Him, the ability to choose good or evil, the ability to choose to love or hate, the ability to have a true will of our own, was so very important that God created us with it, despite knowing all that would happen because of it.

God’s design is not for evil. God’s design is for 100% good and He is working out His plan to bring that about one day. In the meantime He has allowed evil to enter the world, to exist because that is what humankind, in Adam and Eve, chose. God valued us having an ability to choose so very highly. Humankind chose to disobey, chose evil and every second of every day we experience the consequence of that choice and of our own continued choices. One day God’s purposes will be accomplished and He will establish a place where there is only good and where we choose only good. Evil will be eradicated and good will prevail.

In this I found the answer to my question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

The reality is there are no morally pure people, only imperfect people, experiencing the consequences of sin in this world . . . BUT ONE DAY this will change. One day we will live in a perfect place where death and sin and pain and sorrow are no more. 

What do you think it will be like to live in a perfect, good place where evil has been eradicated?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Part 2 - Learning to Grieve - Grieve Purposefully

Although I had witnessed trauma and grief, I had no idea how to grieve. All I knew was that it knocked people off their feet and was so very painful. 

A book entitled A Severe Mercy changed my perception of grief. The book is written by Sheldon VanAuken and tells the love story of himself and his beloved wife Davey. Through interaction with C.S. Lewis the couple comes to faith in Christ. Davey’s faith grows strong and she is willing to give everything up for her love of Christ. While Sheldon also believes, he is unwilling to surrender everything to God. Davey’s greatest wish is that Sheldon would surrender completely to God and she is willing to give her life to see that happen. She prays to God for Sheldon and offers herself, if need be, on his behalf. Not long after this prayer, Davey becomes ill and after an extended illness, Davey does indeed die and Sheldon is bereft. 

As he described the process he went through to grieve the loss of Davey, I realized that grief didn’t have to be a bottomless abyss of hopeless agony, but that it could be approached in a purposeful way that honored the person lost, the relationship with that person, and God.

Everyone grieves differently and the things Sheldon did might not work for everyone. Still, I believe that the principle behind his actions is universal. Grief can be approached with purpose and a path to hope and recovery can be found. 

Has there been a book or song that has encouraged you in your journey through grief?
Please take a moment to share it with the rest of us. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Yeah, Though I Walk - Questions

These first four deaths (My Uncle, My Pastor's Son, My Missionary Cousin, and My Little Cousin) occurred before I was 20 years old and impacted my life profoundly. They taught me lessons about the shortness of life, the suddenness of death, and about keeping short accounts and telling people I love and value them.

These first four deaths also raised questions about the character of God. I have consistently had a firm belief in the existence of God. I see too much evidence in the natural world around me, in the intricacy of the human body and the laws of nature to doubt that He exists. I have, however, had many questions about the character of God.

My Uncle was a youth group leader and driving students to a youth group event when he sustained the injuries that would lead to his death. My Pastor’s Son was a good boy and his father was a Pastor – a man of God. My Missionary Cousin was going to tell people in Peru about how Jesus died to save them, but he was never able to go. My Little Cousin was the daughter and granddaughter of people who loved God and served Him faithfully. It seemed so unfair to me that God would allow these people to die. After all they were serving Him, didn’t that mean they should experience blessing and long life? It seemed so very unfair to me. I asked why. No, at times my heart screamed why.

Although I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to admit it to many or even to myself, I spent many years doubting that God was good. I questioned what kind of God would do this, what kind of God would kill people who were serving Him. What kind of God would allow people to suffer so?

I didn’t know that I was asking the age old question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But, I was. And it was 16 years before I would find peace with this question. 

What insights into the question 
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" 
have you gleaned on your journey?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Month of Silence . . . What's Up?

Dear Readers,
Thanks for tuning in today. I wanted to pop in to say, "hi" and to explain where I've been the last month.

Accountants have tax season, doctors have flu season, pro athletes have the season that matches their sport. And I, well, I have editing season, that time of year when doctoral candidates are frantically writing and needing editorial help because deadlines are looming just a short time away. Usually from mid-November until mid-January I have a great deal of editing to do and I spend many hours carefully sifting through doctoral dissertations correcting errors and giving suggestions for a better paper. This year I have seemed busier than usual and that combined with extra family responsibilities eclipsed many other things including keeping in touch with you my valued readers. I have missed you and our conversations.

I have a post ready to publish in a day or two that will continue the "Yeah, Though I Walk" grief series. And then, Lord willing, we will continue our journey together.

Blessings and thank you for your patience!