Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gratitude is the Greatest Gift

I've had a very lazy morning...sitting up in bed with a hot cup of coffee, reading magazines, doing my morning Bible study, catching up with email, FaceBook and the Sunday paper. I've been reminded repeatedly this morning, that gratitude is indeed crucial to happiness.

A friend from afar posted a sweet and simple video on FaceBook today, recording for all the world to see, the simple things she was rejoicing in. Hot coffee, a beautiful view outside her window, her pooch staring out the window and moments of peace and quiet while her loved ones still slept. Overwhelming joy was what enveloped her.

It is an imperfect life we live, and most certainly, in a world that started perfect but has declined with the passage of time. I fully understand how one can be tempted to give in to the despair and hopelessness that may surround us. But, I still believe that gratitude is the best possible option, in every situation, and, that when we choose the course of gratitude, we are the beneficiaries of the unspeakable contentment that flows from it.

Psalm 124 reminds me that God is with me, for me and beside me. That said, it follows that there is no storm that can consume me. I can, even in the midst of the waves crashing over my head, the raging tides pulling me under and taking my breath away, be grateful that He is with me. He is for me. He is going to carry me through. I am devoted to that simple truth.

Even so, gratitude, like love, is a decision we must commit to, long before the storms of life assail us. I read an article about the actress Kyra Sedgwick in the newspaper. She spoke openly about her 23 year old marriage and confessed that she and her husband had endured their share of hard times. One argument had lasted an astounding six months! But, they came through it, because they had, early on, made a decision that there would be no walking away. The power of a choice, displayed. Others would have given up at about day 62. But, they held firm. They chose to press on to the other side. Well done!

I have been on vacation for the last 8 days. I have also been dreadfully sick for the last 8 days. This morning a friend sent me a text saying she was sorry I was still not up to par, but wisely remarked what a blessing that I was not encumbered with the responsibilities of my work. Much of what I had planned to do in this time had to be postponed or shelved entirely. Many things were scaled back. But, in the end, I can give thanks. Thankful that while I didn't know I'd be sick this week, God did. He knew I'd need this time to rest, relax and let me body recharge. He knew it would also cause me to sleep longer, sit more and relax, guilt free. I've been able to do all of these without worrying about the concerns of my job. Truth is, I am blissfully unaware of what awaits me come Tuesday when I'll return to work. As the Bible says, "each day has enough worry of it's own."

Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love that our busy world honors Christ by the very acknowledgement of the celebration of His birth. I love that people are generally kinder, more generous and more patient. But, I know that it's also a season that makes many of us melancholy. It can be a time we focus on sorrowful things-loved ones gone, relationships broken, disabilities unhealed and broken hearts not yet mended. Even so, we have a choice. We can choose to focus on loss, or we can choose to be frateful, sometime even for what we have lost. We can be thankful that we had the blessing to begin with. When I think of my Dad and am tempted to despair that he is forever gone from this world, I remind myself that I am blessed to have had him for the better part of my life. I am grateful that the light of his love still shines brightly in my heart and mind. Blessed.

The apostle Paul had what was referred to as a "thorn in his flesh". He repeatedly prayed to have this "thorn" removed. We don't know what it was, but we know it hindered him from living as he would have chosen. We know it was humbling and that it was a chronic, physical problem which was debilitating. At times it kept him from work. He was clear that he wanted it gone. The Bible tells us that God refused to grant Paul's earnest plea. Instead, God reminded Paul, that His grace would be sufficient for Him. Paul was able to acknowledge that this thorn kept him from being full of himself, or from taking credit for what only God could accomplish. Paul learned to delight in his weakness, knowing that God was using it to draw others to Him. Onlookers saw God at work in the life of someone who could have chosen bitterness, but chose gratitude instead.

There is no doubt that our enemy, who is constantly prowling around us, will seek to defeat and to discourage. He will remind you soon and often of your failures, who has wronged you, your imperfections, your disabilities, your dysfunctional family (whose isn't?), and of course, your "rights". It is his aim to make you bitter, angry, unforgiving, unwilling to reconcile or to humble yourself. He knows this is often a brutal life and he wants to bring you to despair. He wants it to embitter you. He will bring to mind all the toil of this journey...the missed flights, the wrong turns, the flat tires, the one star accommodations, the lack of leg room and all the scary turbulence along the way. But don't be deceived. It's an amazing trip we're on, filled with sunrises and sunsets and breathtaking scenery in between. We are promised a future and a hope. Fix your eyes on Jesus.

And be very grateful.

You'll have a Merry Christmas. Guaranteed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

If it doesn't work at home,why are we exporting it?

I am part of a church I genuinely love. It is a large body of believers, comprised of people from every walk of life. There are those with great material wealth and those with very little. There are ministries to meet the needs of nearly everyone- single parents, the homeless, students, young professionals, young parents, children and the aged. There are groups for the sick, the addicted, the grieving and the uncertain. There are people who give of their time and their money and their energies consistently, who pour out themselves as an offering to the body. There are also those who take and never quite get to the point of giving back. It is not a place of perfect health. In fact, we suffer from the same problems the world at large suffers from. We are pressing toward the goal of being transformed, one day at a time, to the image of our Savior, but, we are in process.

As a body of believers, we have grown in our commitment to world missions. Instead of having summer camps for our kids, we've recently encouraged them instead to take part in short term missions trips, primarily to third world countries. This past summer alone, we've sent out groups to Africa, China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Nepal, Nicaragua and more. We take seriously Jesus command to "go into all the world" preaching the gospel, sharing the love of Christ in tangible ways, whether by building water wells or creating jobs to divert young women away from prostitution. I believe these to be important efforts and that God wants us to continue.

My concern is, that we often romanticize and emphasize these journeys too much, and ascribe too little value to the mission field outside our own back doors. Frankly, in many ways, going to a third world country and interacting with the people there for a couple weeks is a lot easier than living out our faith day by day in our own spheres of influence with the people we see everyday and who may fray our nerves with regularity.

I serve in a ministry geared toward mostly 20-somethings: some students, some young professionals and some still trying to figure out which direction they're headed. Many of them grew up in the church and have had a lifetime to grow in their faith. Others are new to the idea of Christianity as a living, breathing way of life. Some aren't sure what they believe but are just looking for a place they can fit in. All are on the cusp of life as full fledged adults, making decisions that will impact the course their lives will take from here on. And, by virtue of the fact that they are showing up, I believe all are looking for a deeper understanding of God and a sense that their lives have meaning and value.

I've grown in relationship with some of these kids and have come to love them so much. I have been astonished by the things they've overcome, how they persevere, how they endure through great difficulty and how they maintain their focus, with little bitterness or anger, though they have every reason to exhibit both. They don't always fit in. There families aren't the Huxtables or the Cleavers. Sometimes they laugh too loud and try too hard. Sometimes their feelings are hurt too easily. They can't take a joke. Often, they don't ask for help when they desperately need it because they've learned that they cannot depend on anyone when the going gets tough, or they don't want to have someone give up on them because they're asking for too much. So they stay on the fringes, outsiders, surrounded by the insiders.

They are the invisible, the unacknowledged, the unforgiven, the overlooked, the misunderstood, in our midst. They are the walking wounded, the ones who get on our nerves and who bring us to the end of our proverbial ropes. They are the messy ones that we, who pretend to have it all together, don't want to deal with. So we wash our hands and say, they aren't like us, they're "too much," they don't fit in. We don't really want to be bothered. We have our circles and these square pegs just don't fit in them. Let someone else reach out...we're done.

Tragically, we don't know the whole story. We haven't time to find out the gory details. We do not know. The brokenness beneath the showy veneer; the loneliness behind the too loud laugh; the longing to belong when others flock together; the desperate desire to believe that someone loves them despite their brokenness, despite their all too visible flaws. We don't know because we can't be bothered. We're too busy and we don't have an affinity for them. We're sorry, but, we're done.

Short term missions trips are important. They're useful and worthwhile and have eternal value. I will not dispute that. I honor those who go and serve, often at great personal sacrifices of time and money to do so. What I'm trying to say, is this: I wish we'd be equally committed to our long term missions. Our neighbors. The folks who don't fit in. The people we have difficulty relating to. The ones we not only aren't loving , but the ones we don't even feign liking. What about them? The same Jesus who said "go into all the world" didn't just mean the down and out in third world countries. In fact, according to my bible, Jesus spent his first three decades at home, honing the art of sharing the good news, right in his own back yard by living among them, serving in his own little town. Could that be a model for us all? Doesn't it make sense that maybe we should learn to love the people at home first? Be compassionate with our neighbors? Our families? The person sitting next to you at church? Then, perhaps it's time to go beyond our borders-consider the rest of the world.

Isn't it time? I'm just ...sayin'

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And yet, our hearts are broken. Still.

It was Father's Day 2009 and we'd just returned from the beach. I'd gone with my dear friends Rick and Patricia and we stayed at a beach cottage owned by Rick's brother and sister-in-law (and my old friends, Chris and Jacquie). We came home prepared to celebrate Father's Day with a family gathering just on the outskirts of Annapolis.

It was a wonderful day...Chris and Jacquie came with their oldest, Zach. Daughter Olivia hadn't felt well so she stayed home. But, I had opportunity to sit and talk at length with both Chris and Jacquie. So many sweet memories...I'd known Jacquie prior to their wedding and got to know Chris shortly before. Since that time, they had two gorgeous kids, Zach and Olivia, who were both growing and entering their teen years. I'd enjoyed letters and Christmas photos every year.

The day the moving truck came to pack up Amanda & my home in Maryland for the move back to California, (18 years ago) Chris and Jacquie were the ones who showed up with breakfast from McDonald's which we sat in our empty living room and ate together. We talked then about what God was doing in our lives. Their first adoption had just fallen through and they were broken hearted, but they still showed up to wish us well. I told them I believed that God would send them another baby who would be perfect for them, in God's time, and that I knew He would heal their aching hearts and fill their empty arms.

They sent birth announcements when they were blessed with Zach and later with Olivia. Life was good. They built a beautiful home on the water outside of Annapolis. Chris was a well known entrepreneur and had a very successful career. They were active in their church, serving God and reflecting light in their community. God had blessed them.

When we sat down on Father's Day we caught up again...we sat on Rick and Pat's porch and cracked open Maryland Crabs, drank cold beer and reminisced about times gone by. Chris talked to me about a marketing position he was trying to fill and a triathalon he was training for. He was fit, and strong and handsome. He and Jaquie were the picture of God's blessing poured out. Zach came out and visited with me while I cooked peaches on the barbeque for dessert. I shared with him how we all had prayed for his arrival and how excited we all had been when he arrived.

It was a lovely day. And, it was the last time I would ever see Chris, this side of heaven.

On July 24, I had walked to the bank with my granddaughter Ruby in her stroller. My phone rang just after we'd begun to walk home. I recognized Patricia's number and eagerly answered the ring. She'd gone to the beach with Chris and Jacquie and the kids. That morning, Chris, Jacquie and Pat had walked down to the water, the kids still sleeping. They parted ways when Chris went surfing, and the gals went to get some exercise.

There was an accident. Chris was surfing and then, he wasn't. He was pulled of the water and then airlifted to Baltimore. An aneurysm was suspected. Pat was left with the children, to wait and pray.
I dropped to the curb, overcome with fear and grief. How could this be? I got on the phone and called people I knew would pray and put him on the prayer list. I began the walk home, completely overwhelmed, tears streaming down my face. And if ever in life I prayed without ceasing, it was the next 24 hours.

The next morning, Chris took his final breath on earth and his first in his heavenly home. The sorrow was wretched, intense and unfathomable. My heart was as heavy as it's ever been. I kept thinking- these are children who really need their dad...they are at a critical point in their lives...Jacquie is a woman who really needs a husband, she'd endured enough hurts growing up and needed the security of her family intact.

I could not understand. Only a month earlier I'd stayed in their little beach cottage, ate crabs and shared memories with them. He was in the shape of his life, happy, enthusiastic and hopeful about the future, grateful for his blessings. Life was good. He had everything to live for.

I wrote in my journal, "Lord! He loved and served you. How is your will served by this? How can this be good? My heart is breaking for them. It is devastating on a level beyond losing my own Dad...He'd had a long life, an illness, time to say good bye, see his children grown, know his grandchildren and so much more...Chris didn't get to finish the life he'd planned. There were no good byes spoken. He was taken so quickly, so unexpectedly and I am struggling to make sense of it. Help us Lord to bear the sorrow that is so oppressive. Oh God. Help us to receive it and to glorify You in the midst of it, even when we cannot wrap our brains around it."

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. -Psalms 116:15
And yet--our hearts are broken.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. -Romans 9:2

In my anguish, I cried to the Lord. -Psalms 118:5

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. -Revelation 21:4

The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for comfort all who bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a spirit of praise instead of despair. -Isaiah 61:1-3

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. -Jesus, Mark 14:34

Memorial services were help on June 30th. It would have been Chris' 49th birthday. Then reality began to set in. Now a year has passed. This weekend, Jacquie and her children, along with Patricia, are at that little beach cottage. It has been a long hard year for all of them. They are all learning to live without Chris, and that is no easy task. The work of grieving is not simple, nor is it swift. Declarations of trust in the promises of God have no doubt been given and revoked many times in the last twelve months. The finality of Chris' departure is still more than we can take in.

A whole year--and yet, there isn't much more understanding today than there was then. The shock of it is still breathtaking. It is still incomprehensible. I still cannot see the good in it. But, God has reminded me repeatedly that His ways are higher than ours, and that if He were small enough for me to understand, He might not be big enough to take care of us. I have been challenged to believe, even when I cannot understand.

I was reminded that decades ago, Chris was given a second chance at life. While crewing on a boat with two other friends, it took on water and sunk in the Atlantic. For several days, they were lost at sea, sharks circling and prospects of rescue were bleak until a worker on an Exxon Freighter spotted their tiny raft adrift in the distance. They were rescued and Chris came to know Jesus as Savior and Lord as a result of that experience.

He was given close to three decades more to live. Time to serve God and His people. Time to marry the woman he loved. Time to be a father to Zach and Olivia. Time to share his faith and the reason for his hope. He was living on bonus time. But, a year ago today, that time ran out, and for reasons we still can't comprehend, Jesus called him home. He had time. Not enough in our view, but exactly what was needed in God's.

It's enough to bring me to me knees. Which, I guess, is exactly where God wants me. This is where the rubber meets the road. So, here I am, on my knees, crying out, declaring my sorrow and confessing I still don't understand. Even so, I still believe. Even in the darkness. God is good, all the time. And for that, I am grateful.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Poppa, I miss you more than anyone knows.

Two years ago today, my sweet Dad passed over from this life to his heavenly home. Today, I drove by our childhood home and saw the house we lived in, the flower beds he so lovingly tended and the sawed off pole from which an American flag once flew daily. When I came home, my eyes filled with tears, seeing that my husband had our flag flying in Dad's memory outside our home.

When he died, I, along with my siblings, spoke at the celebration of his life. I wrote the obituary and then the handout for the services. Since then, I've not been able to write anything further about him. When I try, I am overcome with emotion and sorrow, but not regret. He knew how much I loved him. I told him often. And so, today, I share what I wrote then. Someday I will be strong enough to share more about who he was and the reasons he means so much to me. But for now, this will have to suffice.

Raymond William Matthis

December 6, 1925-June 20, 2008

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15

A Tribute to My Hero

We gather today to honor Ray, a man who need not be esteemed in death more highly than he was in life. His life was an example to all who knew him. Galatians 5:22 says, "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." These traits, or as the bible calls them, "fruit of the spirit" could easily be used to describe the man we honor here today; beloved husband, father, "Poppa", brother, uncle, neighbor and friend. His unconditional love for those of us who were fortunate enough to know and love him, and know with certainty how much he loved us, was unwavering. His generosity was unparalleled. We are quite certain that we will never know all the good deeds he did, all the checks he wrote for someone less fortunate, the pies he baked, the errands he ran, the help he offered, the quiet acts of service, the many kindnesses he extended. He was not perfect. On rare occasions he was grumpy and short tempered, but, his character was steadfast. He was quick to say "I love you" and just as quick to say, "I'm sorry" when he was wrong. His heart was soft as butter...tears sprang to his eyes easily and pride in those he loved was enormous. He was easily touched by simple acts of kindness and his wobbly chin was well known to his family and those closest to him. He was a strong, manly man with a work ethic rarely seen in our world today, but, he was also gentle and not afraid to be silly and to laugh with glee. He loved babies and roses and wood working and his tomatoes. But--most of all, he loved his family and all of us who are gathered here today to love him right back. He was faithful to his commitments, to his family, his church and his friends. If he made a promise, he kept it. He touched others deeply, whether the people he sat with at church or his favorite waitress, Angela, at the Early Bird Cafe. He had faith and he knew where his next stop would be. If he could speak to us today, he'd tell you "it's all true!" and he'd tell us to meet him on the other side. Because, just as you loved him, he loved you, too. "The gift of God is eternal life." Say yes to the gift. Be there. He'll be there to welcome you just inside the gate.

With These Hands

In late June of 2008, my beloved Father-In-Law died unexpectedly. He, at nearly 92, while trying to aid someone in need, fell and broke his hip. He later had surgery and died several days later. I believe that he died as he lived, serving others and giving his all with no thought of whether it was prudent or not. He was entirely focused on serving others along the way.

We got the call in the middle of the night that he was in respiratory failure. By the time we reached the hospital, he was gone from this world and in the presence of Jesus. We, my husband Mike, his sister Christine and I went to break the news to my Mother-In-Law, Edith at her home. When we told the caregivers there that Mike was gone, many of them burst into tears of shock and sorrow. He had been a vibrant, active man, and that he was gone was beyond comprehension to those who had so lovingly cared for him. The outopouring of love and compassion was a testimony to the impact he had on so many.

The family had lost their patriarch, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend. There were services to plan, legalities to be attended to, a house to sell , financial considerations to be made and Edith to be cared for and comforted. All of that threatened to overwhelm us even months later. The sorrow was still new, the wounds still fresh. We are still learning to live on earth without his presence. He is sorely missed and still in our thoughts daily.

Mike was a strong man with an infectious smile, a twinkle in his eye and enormous hands. With those hands, he spent his life serving others. He provided for his family by working whatever jobs necessary to be certain that their needs were met. He worked in a glass factory, enlisted not once, but twice, in the military during war time and traveled the world as a result. He delivered milk at the crack of dawn on the icy roads of Pennsylvania and, later, dry cleaning, on the freeways of Southern California. He once had a failed business venture with his brother, but, bounced back by creating opportunities where there weren't any to be found. He ended his full time work life selling furniture at Sears until he retired and took on a new, self-made career, that of a handyman. His focus was never on personal satisfactin but instead on doing whatever it took to provide for his family.

He worked for years into his retirement, hanging doors, painting walls, installing windows and putting up wall paper--you name it, he did it, Some jobs he got compensated for and others he just did to help someone who needed a hand. For many years, he went to the home of a sick friend to cut his hair. He also served in his church, ushering on Sunday mornings and taking care of the social hall, cleaning and even providing music for special events. He regularly gave of himself with acts of service and kindness. He was known as one who could be relied upon.

He loved music and passed that love on to his four children; Mike, Dan, Gene and Christine. In his latter years, he raved about his Bose CD player and spent hours enjoying music and sharing it with anyone else he could convince to listen. He made me tapes of music he thought I'd enjoy as a way of thanking me for small favors. Music and dancing were life long pleasures for he and Edith. They met at a dance and through the years, many a family gathering ended with the two of them dancing in the living room to favorite tunes as we all looked on with delight.

He, along with his precious Edith, raised four children who in turn produced nine grandchildren and, to date, five great grandchildren. The two of them worked together through good times and bad, to build a legacy. Our family endures today largely because of the sacrifices they made, the generosity of heart they lived out and the wisdom they shared. Together they modeled faith and faithfulness, kindness and compassion and finally, perseverance. That is Mike's lasting inheritance to all who knew and loved him. He was somewhat obsessed with leaving an inheritance to his wife and children when he was gone, and he accomplished that, but the inheritance was not merely financial. What he taught us and modeled for us is the inheritance that will endure for eternity.

With his hands, Mike served us, blessed us and built a home, a family and a life well lived. Now, his hand seems small, placed in the bigger hand of his loving, heavenly father, in his eternal home. We've received our inheritance and he has his.

Two Fathers: Two Blessings: Both Gone from us

The current Patriarch and his Mrs. 
Father's Day.  Both the husband and I mourn today the loss of the faithful men who brought us into the world, shaped us, loved us and proved to be the most enduring example of Godliness we know. Both worked hard and without complaint to provide for their families, honored their commitments and sacrificed for the good of others, most notably, us.
We are most blessed to have had fathers we dearly miss and whom we look forward to seeing again, on the other side, at the Eastern Gate. Michael Mandish, gone now 6 years and Raymond William Matthis, gone 5. We miss you both more than we can express. 

This day is a now a day of tender remembrances of you, our dear fathers. We are thankful for the impact you've had on us and on all your descendants. What a legacy you left.   We are blessed.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting Old Isn't For Sissies...

You know the old adage; if you think you're humble, that's a sure sign you're not. Yet, as I grow older, I find myself being humbled with increasing frequency. Today I had a couple of experiences that reminded me how far I have fallen.

I've never hidden my age. I've never cared who knew how many years I've been alive. Heck, I let nature take its course and stopped coloring my hair a year ago. I embraced the silver. I've always felt energetic and happy and reasonably attractive. I've never considered myself a raving beauty, but, one who knew how to make the best of what she had to work with.
So, I went to the gym this morning. I haven't been going as faithfully because of an injury and physical therapy, so, I was struggling-feeling really lame...having a hard time keeping up wasn't the half of it. I'd left the house with rain coming down and a chill in the air, so, I'd pulled a long sleeved shirt over my sports bra. Big mistake. Within 5 minutes of starting the class, I realized I was going to have a genuine melt down if I didn't remove the shirt. The question was clear. Would I rather die from my own personal summer, or show my marshmallow stomache to every woman in the class? I swallowed hard and removed my shirt, tying it around my waist in hopes of camoflauging my puffiness. It didn't work. I continued the workout, trying to avoid my reflection, but, acknowledging the obvious-- that the body that once got whistles and second looks, is aging and out of shape. The mirror doesn't lie.
I was reminded of the question oft asked in email questionairres, "which part of your body do you like best?" I realized there wasn't one. Not my legs, which have too much cellulite, nor my arms which I inherited from my Grandmother...Certainly not my waist, once small nor my stomache, once flat. No. This body ain't what it used to be.

If that little experience wasn't humbling enough, later this afternoon, a young woman friend from church came by to take some photos at my house. I had volunteered to help her with a school project by serving as a model for some portraits. We had a some great conversation while she took candid shots over the span of a couple of hours. Tonight she posted them on Facebook and once again, I was confronted with the truth. Brace yourself! I am no longer 26. I know that seems obvious, and, of course, I already knew it, but, there was the vivid proof, in living color, for all the world to see. Oh my! As I told her, she did a beautiful job, considering what she had to work with: a 56 year old woman who has seen better days.
I guess it's that time...time to recognize that the outer shell is fading...time to realize that inner beauty is the only kind that will endure. All the exercise classes, moisturizers and cosmetics in the world aren't going to turn back the hands of time. And, for me, plastic surgery is just out of the question. There isn't enough money and there aren't enough drugs.

I've always said, I want to grow old with grace. Now I have to live it out. This is where the rubber meets the road. I am painfully aware that I need to spend more time cultivating wisdom, kindness, a gentle and quiet spirit and accepting that I am an aging woman. External beauty doesn't last. Genuine beauty comes from knowing to Whom you belong and accurately reflecting His light into the world around you. That's a reflection I can live with.

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, will be praised." ...Proverbs 31:31

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moments forever lost...

In everything, give thanks. Not for everything, but, in everything. I am challenged by that scripture today. It's hard to give thanks when you don't understand, and, frankly, I don't. I struggle with the knowledge that someone you love so much can create so much heartache by their willful absence, shutting out those who love them. I struggle with the knowledge that outsiders unknowingly add to the sorrow by buying into one side of it without assuming the best intentions from the other. I refuse to speak poorly of one who speaks poorly of me. I will not. Instead, I choose to entrust myself to the One who judges all things rightly, knowing that He will work it all for my good, in His time. I still believe that. But, today there were tears for moments forever lost. Tomorrow I will stand in hope again. But today, for a few minutes, a wave of sorrow engulfed me.

His mercies are new every morning. I am grateful.

Friday, March 26, 2010

It's not about me: the daily struggle continues...

The gifts of community are great. They are also sometimes burdensome. Relationships bring joy and laughter, tenderness and anticipation. They also bring frustration and sorrow and sometimes a heavy heart. We want to share the joy, but sometimes we're called to grieve with the grieving, weep with the tearful and comfort the hurting. Sympathy and compassion are crucial to relationship and, I admit I often fail to extend enough of either.

Walking alongside another is easy when life is smooth and when our companions are healthy and whole, their attitudes positive and their bodies, strong. It is less easy, and frankly, less appealing, when their attitudes are in the toilet and they are growing physically weak, unable to participate in life's activities due to failing capabilities or lack of enthusiasm due to depression or weariness or down right inertia. Relationships are hard work. Whether in marriage, friendship or with a relative or a co-worker; they happen in different contexts but they all have seasons of comfort and seasons of struggle.

Most Americans have lives of relative ease compared to the average world citizen. We have homes to live in, beds to sleep in, food to eat and incomes to satisfy both our needs and many "wants". We are bombarded in our culture with those who have"more"- more money, more beauty, more vigor, more health, more education, etc., and hence, we are often guilty of believing that we are deprived and that we "deserve" to have what we lack.

The result is that we frequently become even more self involved than we naturally are. We exercise excessively, we spend more time online that we do face to face, spend hours in front of the television but whine if church lasts 5 minutes longer than we expected. Why is it that I can spend hours reading a book I'm engrossed in but struggle to study the Word of God for consistent amounts of time? Why can I mindlessly chatter to a friend for hours and yet struggle to spend significant time in prayer? I can find ample time in my busy schedule to go to classes at the gym several times a week, but, can't seem to find time to keep my spiritual life strong and consistent?

The truth is we all give up too easily. In relationships and in our own lives. We look inward too much and outward too little. I have heard from several different sources lately that marriage may well be intended to refine us. There is no relationship as close or as long lasting as marriage can be. In marriage, if we are constantly concerned about my needs, my rights, my desires and what I deserve, we will often be unhappy. No matter who you are joined to, that person was never intended to meet all of your needs. Further, marriage was never intended to make life easy. When we begin to release the notion of "Prince Charming" and living "happily ever after" and instead look for opportunities to grow and learn and serve within the relationship, that is where the refining process begins to bear fruit.

Life is not easy. Not for anyone. It wasn't meant to be. It's a journey. Like most journeys, there are right and wrong turns. There are great roads with beautful views and conversely there are winding unpaved roads with ruts you may temporarily get stuck in. We all have unique journeys, but we are all fellow travellers. Some people join us in our journey for the long run, others for brief periods of time. Some we think will always share the road and then one day they're gone. Sometimes we understand why and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we are on a bumpy, uncomfortable road longer than we think we can bear and sometimes we believe we are going to avoid those pot holes all together.

In relationship, as in life, we have to learn perseverance. As a follower of Jesus, there is an even greater responsibility. We who call Him "Lord" have an obligation, a sacred duty to bring Him glory. In a nutshell, for me, that means overcoming my self focus so that it's no longer about comfort and peace. It's a daily battle. But, having lived a little while, I realize that an unhealthy focus on myself, my needs, my just desserts, my desires, "what's fair" and even what I don't deserve, are at the heart of most of the struggles of my life. Difficult circumstances are common to all of us. Whether visible to the human eye or not, every human being has heartache, struggles, and battles to fight. If my identity is tied to the battles I fight, I will most assuredly loose that battle, becoming a victim. If I accept my circumstances, lay them at the cross and trust the Saviour to either (a) get me through them, (b) carry me over them or (c) give me the grace to live with them, then, I can be victorious and the glory will be His. Whatever the outcome.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


You have to take the bitter with the sweet. I get that. But sometimes, the bitter IS the sweet. A loss so great that results in a reunion so sweet...this is the story of Edith Marta Donatelli Mandish, and her passing from this life into the next.

I married into a family so vibrant, so intense and so LOUD. The Mandish clan was, from the beginning, part of the attraction. My Slav Father-in-law, Mike...a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for saying things so bluntly that it sometimes took my breath away and othertimes so funny that he made me laugh for days. My Italian Mother-in-law, Edith, whose existence was centered around her family, and who in later years, referred to me as her "Angel" (My husband doesn't always concur) was my biggest supporter. Their family included my husband Mike, his brothers Dan and Gene and their sister Christine.

Family gatherings were always intense...conversation was fast and furious, people talking over each other about politics, religion, news, books and our varied lives. Laughter abounded and voices escalated. One time when our daughter was about 12, she invited her friend Heather to come along for a gathering. We had our traditional dinner with everyone gathered around the table, talking long after the meal was over. When we went home, her friend asked, "Are they always mad at each other?" To which Amanda replied, "They weren't mad, they always talk at the same time in loud voices!"

Through the years, Edith was always an encourager. She often told me that she prayed for us...for Mike and I to be reconciled (we did), for Mike to quit smoking after decades, (he did) for our girls to get good educations (check) and for them all to find good husbands. (two down, one still pending, but we believe!) She had a rich and faithful prayer life. She never gave up. She spend many hours praying for anyone who needed prayer and many of us were the recipients of her faithful endurance on our behalf.

She grew up without a mother, due to the untimely death of her own when she was very young. As a result, she never knew the tender warmth of a mother's embrace, the encouraging words a mother can speak and she faced unusual harshness as a young child. Her father was a good man, but gruff and unsentimental toward his young children. His expectations were high and there was no time for foolishness. Her days were long and hard. She and her sister Norma were expected to cook and clean and iron from a very young age while also going to school. Before she was ten, she had to prepare her grandmother's body for viewing following her death. This was not a fairy tale childhood.

Even so, she raised four children, was the loyal wife of one man and lived a life of extraordinary faith in Jesus Christ. She attended a Baptist church when she was small, but, ultimately was baptised a Catholic and raised her children in that faith.

In her later years, she experienced a healing, which she kept secret for years, uncertain that anyone would believe her. She had cancer and the physicians she saw didn't hold out great hope for her recovery. But, they didn' t know about her prayer life. They also apparently weren't familiar with the Great Physician she had entrusted herself to. Years later she told me that she was up one night praying ...all night she prayed and suddenly she felt a heat come into her body from the top of her head down through her toes. At the same time, she heard the words, "Your body is healed", a healing that was confirmed when she returned to her earthly doctors. That was decades ago. She was given "bonus time".

In June 2007, her beloved Mike died. She missed him terribly. At one point she considered stopping her medications so that she could be with him again. Thankfully, a friend talked her out of that. Her last couple of years, though, every future event was couched with, "If I'm still here." When her most recent great grand-child, Ruby was on the way, she said she hoped to live to see her. She did and in fact enjoyed many visits with the blue eyed beauty she loved so much.
In January of last year, nearly all of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered for a surprise 90th birthday party at our home. Letters and cards came from loved ones near and far, and she reveled in the love that we poured out on her.

January this year, the party was smaller...the local family members gathered again around her table and she blew out candles on the cake I had made her. She was a blessed woman and contentment was hers. She appreciated every opportunity to be with see the fruit of a life well lived and the results of the prayers she had long prayed.

Ironically, she died much the same as her beloved Mike did. A hip fracture, followed by a surgery and then a recovery that didn't come to fruition. But, the difference, the very sweet difference, was that we were given the precious gift of time. To the end, she was cognizant of what was happening...fully aware of those around her bedside and ultimately ready to let go and meet her Maker.

Blessed time. Time to read to her from the Word of God. Time to sing songs around her bedside. Time to talk about her wishes. She spoke to each one gathered around her bed, expressing her thoughts. Time to say good bye...time to talk about the reunion ahead of her, with her Mike, with her own Mother, with her brothers and sisters and with my own dear Dad. The day before she passed, all four of her children were with her all day...five of her grandchildren and one great grandchild was there. She told us she wanted "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "Amazing Grace" sung at her service by her granddaughter Lynne, and she was able to hear Lynne rehearse them for her at her bedside. She was ready and it was on her terms. It was the hardest and sweetest of times.

That night, her youngest son, Gene, chose to stay the night in her room. We all went home and slept, only to awaken to the news that she had crossed over from this life to the gates of Heaven, early that morning. The journey through the valley of the shadow of death, had come to a conclusion. Destination reached.

We planned services. We walked through them. We carried out her wishes. We sang songs, prayed prayers and spoke of what she meant to each of us. We spent countless hours as a family, recounting the gifts she had given us. Gifts of faith and love and acceptance and selflessness. In her apartment we found boxes of cards and letters she'd saved for more than half a century, from all of us. She had no possessions of great worldly value. She often said that her children were her diamonds. In the end, it was imminently clear that her family was her treasure. That's where her heart was.

And so, her legacy is a life well lived. A life of faith. A life of endurance. A life of service. We have much to live up to, but, a deep well of example to draw from. It is very hard to imagine that she is no longer with us...that we can no longer enjoy her stories and her company. It is hard to say good-bye. But, she lived for the reward that now is hers and her reward is great. How could we begrudge her that? Still...


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wong Way

This afternoon I went to my mailbox at work. Lo and behold, there was a piece of returned mail. When I looked at the address on the envelope it had a house number and then "Wong Way". As in, 2222 Wong Way. WONG WAY. Is it wong that I laughed my guts out? Is it wong, or is it wight? I don't know. It just makes me realize what a gift it is to be able to laugh and to find pleasure in things that may appear to be small and insignificant.

It wasn't the easiest of days. One of my residents was not doing well and last I saw him, his lovely wife was on her way to take him to the VA hospital. He didn't look well and he, who usually is heavy on charm and rich in smiles, was not very responsive. My heart ached for him and for his sweetheart. When I got home tonight, there were some little challenges waiting for me there. Dark clouds hovering, with storms in the distance. Then there was the news of Haiti...where our sponsored child, Remise, lives. Is she still alive? If she is alive, after the devastation of the earthquake, are her parents gone? Her siblings? Her home?

I consider anger, tears and frustration and then remind myself that with the bitter, comes the sweet. Sometimes it's harder to see when we're sinking into the relentless quicksand of sadness. Sometimes we need to look a little harder, and be willing to focus on a whole bunch of little things that help us get past some of the big nasty ones.

That said, I began to recount my day, and realized quickly that the day was full of sweetness. Laughter with my office mate about Wong Way...a lunch time walk with co-workers, up a hill and around the fountain at LMU on a beautiful day...a beautiful 10 month old girl named Penelope in our lobby...coming across a piece of paper with movie titles written by my Dad and the swelling of my heart at that remembrance...the opportunity to offer comfort to a friend who was to sing along with enroute to work and a sunset over the ocean as I drove along the Coast on my way home...Cajun salmon for dinner....frozen lemonade for dessert...a precious thank you note from my nephew Jack, thanking us for a gift card and telling us he'd purchased gifts for his mom and brother with it...all good, sweet things to be thankful for. And, I am.

Thank you God, for helping me to look beyond those things that threaten to destroy my joy, wipe me out, leave me desolate, discouraged and sad. Thank you for reminding me of all the sweet things. The tender moments. The warm smiles. The healing of laughter. The love that is irresistable. Thank you that although the earth shakes and people are sick and sorrowful and angry, that You, oh God never let go and you never give up. You are on the throne and You are good.

And God...please take care of Hank...and Remise. In Jesus Name, Amen

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day

Out with the old and in with the new. Twenty Ten. One of my goals for the new year is to begin this blog, and to document the struggle to maintain an attitude of gratitude in a world that constantly tells us we don't have enough and, that what we do have is substandard and not worth appreciating.

It is a long held belief of mine that to be happy, one must have a deep sense of gratitude; not just for the things we possess, the status we attain, the jobs we hold, the cars we drive, the homes we live in, the people we associate with , the education we complete or the awards on our walls, but for the simplest of gifts and the greatest of gifts, that are not always valued in our culture.

And, so, today I invite you to join me on the road to gratitude. In plenty and in want. May we be like the Apostle Paul who said so eloquently, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything in him who gives me strength. " ...Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

An attitude of gratitude, a grateful heart. That is the goal.