• Tag Archives Christian encouragement
  • Blessings

    I’d like to tell the story of someone who changed the world, and you probably don’t even know her name. She wasn’t famous, she didn’t make great achievements in science or politics, and when she passed away, most of the world never knew to feel bereft. Her name was Dorothy–probably one of thousands of Dorothys born in the 1920’s. But this Dorothy was my grandmother.

    She was the sweetest person I ever met. She was very intelligent, witty, and had a positive, optimistic personality, so much so that we called her a Pollyanna. The name fit. I never recall her ever saying a negative word about anyone, even if they truly deserved it! I remember once my mom asked Grandma her opinion on an outfit she was trying on. My mom didn’t think it looked very good, and it actually looked quite terrible. Before stating her opinion, Grandma paused and then said, rather hesitantly, “Well, I think it looks a little less than pretty.” And that was the most negative thing I ever heard her say.

    I won’t take the time to relate her many virtues, how she quietly cared for others, supported her minister husband, and made the best family meals. She wasn’t perfect, by any means, but she knew how to love, and she lived her faith in a quiet, but profound way that was perhaps most greatly exemplified in how she died.

    After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother went downhill. She developed Alzheimer’s. I had recently had my first child, so I had the privilege of keeping Grandma with me during the day. It was heartbreakingly difficult, and yet I call it a privilege because my Grandma had always cared and loved me so well. Her presence was such a source of comfort to me. I felt blessed that I now got to care for her. If you’ve ever had a loved one go through the process of Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and senseless it feels to have that person slip away. The way I was able to convince Grandma to stay with me during the day was to tell her I needed her help. Then, of course, she would come, eager to serve me. She would fold my laundry and match socks. The socks wouldn’t actually match, and we’d have the same conversations over-and-over. But the fact that she was able to “help me,” is something I will forever cherish.

    I remember how devastated my mom was to watch her sweet mother suffer and lose her memories. It made no sense. Why would God take away the mind of someone who had served Him wholeheartedly all of her life?  Though we didn’t recognize it at the time, I realize now the answer was that she wasn’t done serving.

    It reached the point that we were not able to care for Grandma full-time, and she went to live in a facility that specialized in memory care. One of God’s waiting rooms, as they are sometimes called. My mom visited her every day, often telling her that Grandpa was off fishing when she couldn’t remember that he was gone. This made Grandma happy to know that he was doing something he loved.

    The workers at the facility loved Grandma. Alzheimer’s never changed her sweet personality, and she was always wanting to help, even when she lost the ability to do so. One day, one of the nurses asked my mom what “make me a blessing” meant. My mom replied that it was the lyrics to a hymn. The nurse thought that was interesting and remarked that Grandma walked around the home softly saying the words “make me a blessing” over and over.

    This woman who was stuck in a locked facility, stuck in her own mind, and at the end of her journey was now speaking the words aloud that she’d prayed in her heart probably her whole life. She who had absolutely nothing and could do absolutely nothing still wanted, above all, to be a blessing to others. Though her mind and body failed her, her soul still reached out to her Savior.

    And He answered her prayer. Even in heaven’s waiting room, Grandma still had purpose in every breath she took. She was a light to those around her, her faith pointing to the Lord. Her muttered words spoke a testimony that would not have the same meaning if God had asked her to walk a different path. And her prayers! Oh, how I’m thankful for those prayers, and I don’t even know what they were! But I know she prayed. And I know I was loved and prayed for.

    Because of what is going on in the world today, many of us feel stuck. We are literally stuck at home and unable to serve God the way we would like. Our independence is gone, our loved ones unreachable, and our “purpose” put on hold. After all, how can we bless others from a proper “social distance”?

    If you can’t think of anything else to do, please do as my grandma did. Pray. There are no limits on prayer. Pray for your family, your friends, your country, and yourself. Pray that God will somehow make you a blessing. Though your mind and body may be weak, let your soul rise up and converse with the One who is not stuck in any way.

    When my Grandma passed away, I wrote a poem about her that included these two lines.

    She died and nothing changed.
    Because she lived nothing was ever the same.

    I will never know what impact Grandma truly had on the world. I do know the influence she had on my own life. I have evidence that she made a difference to her last breath when she stepped out of the waiting room and into heaven. And I have faith that the prayers she spoke are still before the Lord right now, her influence reaching into our circumstances today.

    While I knew of the hymn, “Make Me a Blessing,” I’m rather ashamed to say, I never looked up the actual lyrics until today. Those four simple words Grandma spoke had such influence today, at this moment, that when I looked up their full context, I started crying because it so fit what I felt and where we are. May this be my prayer, today, as it was my grandmother’s many years ago:

     

    1
    Out in the highways and byways of life,
    Many are weary and sad
    Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
    Making the sorrowing glad.

    (Refrain)
    Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
    Out of my life may Jesus shine;
    Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
    Make me a blessing to someone today

    2
    Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love,
    Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
    Others will trust Him if only you prove
    True, every moment you live.

    3
    Give as ‘twas given to you in your need,
    Love as the Master loved you;
    Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
    Unto your mission be true.

     

    I hope that at the end of my journey, I won’t leave the world the same as when I arrived, and that, like my Grandma, God will make me a blessing.


  • For Such a Time as This

    I have a confession. I like to skip to the end of the book. Now, I don’t read the end of the book. I just scan it. Especially if it’s a really good, exciting book. I just take a peek—catch a line and a name here and there to make sure I’ll like it and it’s worth reading all the middle stuff to make it to the end. (BTW, this in no way gives any readers permission to skip ahead to the endings of my books.)

    These past few weeks, I have felt caught in a ridiculous plot that I didn’t like at all and made me wish I could fast forward to the end. Even a quick peek would be enough. Could I just scan for a date of when we get to leave our houses and do normal stuff?

    It’s so difficult not knowing. It’s overwhelming when we don’t know when the tunnel ends and we can’t see even a small light. Yet, this week, one thought has replayed over and over in my mind, and it’s helped me feel a little more peace in these present circumstances.

    The verse that keeps whispering to me is the one from the book of Esther. It isn’t even the complete verse, just “for such a time as this.” These were words spoken to Esther, and we seem to usually think of them as a summation to her calling—a banner to wave over her story proclaiming her success in saving her people. But actually, if you look at the verse in context, Esther may actually be being reprimanded!

    Here she is the queen. She had it made and could play life easy being pampered, eating delicacies, and not at all concerning herself with those outside the palace walls. To do anything would risk her life. Her message to Mordecai was telling him the reasons her hands were tied. His response was very near a rebuke, telling her that she just may be in her current position because this was what she was meant to do. If she chose not to do it, then God would save His people another way. But he asked her to consider that God had given her the tools and the position to do exactly what she was being asked to do in order to save her people. And now He was giving her the opportunity to do it.

    Esther’s response was to accept the purpose and risk her life to go to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, saying “If I perish, I perish.”

    Of course, the obvious question is what does this have to do with our present circumstances?

    Hopefully, one of my favorite verses will explain my thoughts:

    “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
    And in Your book they all were written,
    The days fashioned for me,
    When as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16

    God knew what each day in April 2020 would bring for me. He didn’t just know, he planned it. And He gave me the tools and position to serve him on this day, just as He gave Esther on the day she appeared before the king. Who am I to say that, like Esther, God has not put me right where I am for such a time as this?

    I don’t have any plans to save a nation. But maybe my purpose doesn’t need to be one with a capital P. Maybe my purpose in serving God through this is to give comfort and encouragement to others. Maybe it is doing something kind that shows God’s love to someone else. Maybe it’s giving a listening ear to someone who is struggling. Maybe it is enduring something difficult and coming out stronger and more able to help others. Maybe it’s giving my kids extra snuggles and games in between the stress. Maybe it’s writing my thoughts down and pressing “post.”

    God knew we would go through this, He planned it for us, and He designed each of us individually so we could serve Him through it.

    Ok, so that sounds like pressure, and I really don’t like pressure right now. I can’t really handle any thought of purpose when the great expedition of the week is finding TP. I’d honestly rather sit back with my eyes closed and eat chocolate. But then I realized that it doesn’t really have anything to do with me; it has everything to do with God, and I get the benefit.

    Esther chose to step away from what she’d rather do and appear before the king, but God gave her the courage and tools to do it. God gave her favor with the king, when he caused him to extend his gold scepter to her and grant the bold request she made.

    I know that some people feel utterly lost right now and God seems silent. Locating a purpose seems more difficult than finding a needle in a large haystack of pointlessness. But a person is not in charge of purpose. God is. Put one foot in front of the other. Breathe in and out (with your mask in place) and wait for God to bring you an opportunity to serve. Remember, you don’t have to save a nation, purpose can wear infinite fashions. Maybe it’s a single conversation, desperately drawing close to God, taking care of others, spending time planting a garden that will later bless others, letting someone know you care or admire them, taking the time to earn a smile from a child, or even just enduring through a time when you don’t get to see God’s purpose until the end. The point is, God meant for you to be here. Right now. And He will not only get you through it, He will make you and others better for it.

    Why is it important to recognize we have purpose in this trial? Purpose changes attitude. It changed Esther. She went from timid to bold, recognizing that she would do what she was called to, even if it cost her life. If I know I am supposed to be here, that changes my perspective. I’m no longer wishing to skip to the end, but I’m looking for what I should do in the now. The Bible is full of countless examples of people who endured horrible things all because they knew they were where they were supposed to be. Noah built an ark when there was no rain. The apostles endured great persecution because they knew that sharing the gospel is what they were meant to do.

    My achievements won’t be preserved for all time, but I am just as convinced that I am meant to be here. I have purpose in this yuckiness, and I am eagerly looking for opportunities where I get to be a part of God’s larger Purpose in all of this.

    When I write books, I don’t include fluff. Every scene I write has a purpose, whether it has to do with furthering the plot or developing the characters. I write so that if a single scene is removed, the book isn’t the same. It’s pretty amazing to recognize that God is a much better author than I am. He doesn’t waste scenes either. Even when the world is crazy and we are stuck in our homes, God is not wasting this time. He has a dual purpose, one that will benefit us and benefit his kingdom through us.

    Every scene, every event in my life is there for a reason, even if I don’t recognize the why.

    After all of these thoughts, I’ve come to one conclusion:

    I want this chapter of my story to be a good one. I want to recognize how God has prepared me for “such a time as this,” and I want to step forward to serve God on this and every day.

    None of this means that I am required to like my present circumstances, that I won’t have my fair share of crying in the car episodes, or that I won’t eagerly look forward to the end of this storyline. However, it does mean that when I do get to the end of the chapter, hopefully I’ll be able to look back and see that, yes, I was created for such a time as this. And, just maybe, I’ll recognize God’s fingerprints on every page.


  • Great Expectations

     

    The other night I had an unsettling dream. It wasn’t a nightmare, and strange dreams that make no sense are familiar territory for me. But it still bothered me, and only later did I figure out why.

    I dreamed I was attending a baby shower. By nature, I’m an introvert, so large group settings are difficult for me and things I typically force myself to participate in. I didn’t want to go to the baby shower, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. I wanted to show my friend that I cared, and from personal experience, I know that simply being present speaks love. She probably wouldn’t remember what gift I gave, but at least she’d know that I attended.

    So I went to the shower, and it was unexpectedly packed with over a hundred people in close quarters. It was a great party, with everyone socializing and eating while I tried to smile in the right spots and pretend that I didn’t feel excruciatingly awkward.

    Then, I suddenly remembered something. We were on a “stay-at-home” order because of Covid-19! We weren’t supposed to be socializing or meeting in any kind of group! In fact, with that revelation, I was certain that every one of the hundred-plus people at that dream baby shower had Covid-19, and they would surely infect me! Then I would take it home and give it to my family, and it would be all my fault!

    I held my breath and tried to weave my way out of the room, trying to avoid contact and escape. Unfortunately, I never got the satisfaction of making it out of the room. Instead, I woke up.

    From the second I woke, every minute of my day crammed with multiple needs. Four children all trying to adjust to homeschooling in this crazy time equals pure chaos. I have a degree in Elementary Education, and yet I would rather teach thirty children in a classroom at a school than my own children at home in these circumstances. It’s hard. There’s no way around that fact.

    Also unfortunate–we were out of food and other necessities. I needed to venture out into the world, while my husband holed up in his office working and hoping the four kids wouldn’t actually bother him while I was gone. I gave each of the kids instructions on what they needed to work on, put an educational video in for my youngest, told my husband he was on-call, and hurried out, praying to get what we needed quickly

    I went to three stores looking for toilet paper (everyone’s crusade right now), finally finding success with a single package. At every store, there seemed to be different protocols. In some stores, social distancing was impossible with the cashier and with narrow aisles. Other stores had marks on the floor showing where you’re supposed to distance your cart, plexiglass between you and the checker, and still other rules and regulations on what you can and cannot buy and can and cannot do. And yet, even in the most regulated store, you cannot maintain six feet of separation in aisles that are barely six feet in width!

    Of course, shopping right now is stressful. You can never find exactly what you need. Still no flour, sugar, oatmeal, soap, and many other products I normally buy. I did the best I could, but further complicating matters was that it was my husband’s birthday. I wanted to make him a special dinner and a special dessert. However, we have three different, difficult, medically-necessary diets in our house, which makes such a feat as dinner and dessert complicated, especially with limited supplies.

    The whole time I shopped, I wondered how the kids were doing, if they were fighting or bothering Brian in his meetings, if I’d find what I needed to give him a special birthday, if I could manage to get every kid through the school work they were supposed to accomplish, if I was maintaining social distance, if I would ever manage to find toilet paper, if I was following all of these new, unwritten rules correctly, if I was getting everything so I didn’t need to come back to the store tomorrow, if I was spending too much money, if the massive mountain of laundry would every learn to fold itself, and if I could get my own work done while the kids were home. Worst of all, I worried that I would somehow manage to get infected with the virus while at three stores and then bring it home to my family.

    My last stop of the day was at my children’s school. My son’s teacher had said I could pick up a packet of work between certain hours. After arriving, I called the number she’d given in her instructions. The school was locked, but she’d said, when parents called, they could then let them in to pick up the packet. The school secretary let me in and returned to her station. Inside the vestibule, teachers had obviously left boxes of papers for pick-up, but I didn’t see a label with my son’s teacher or his name. Without further instructions, I wondered if I was supposed to go down to the classroom to pick it up. I started to walk that direction, but the secretary stopped me, asking if the packet wasn’t in the boxes. I said, no, but I could look to double check. While I returned, she called down to the classroom and told me the teacher would be right up with the work. I stood to the side to wait. The office area was actually very busy with multiple teachers working and talking. I hadn’t waited to the side very long before the secretary told me, “I’m not wanting to be rude, Amanda, but we really need you to wait outside. We’re just trying to keep everyone healthy and safe.” I immediately replied, “Of course! I completely understand,” and hurried outside.

    The packet was soon delivered, and I made it back to my car.

    I shut the door, put the packet on the seat next to me, and lost hold of my tears.

    I took deep breaths, feeling angry and frustrated with myself for losing the battle with my emotions. I didn’t even have a good reason to cry! I even felt guilty about it. After all, a lot of others had much more reason to cry than I did. But arguing with myself did nothing to stem the hot tears burning my eyes and sliding down my cheeks, even as I tried to dash them away and deny their existence.

    As I sat there arguing with myself and wondering why I was crying, I finally realized the reason. I wasn’t upset with the school secretary. I think she is amazing, and I absolutely applaud and agree with any effort aimed at keeping people safe in these crazy times. I didn’t mind standing outside at all. I would have gladly done that from the very beginning had I known that was the procedure I needed to follow.

    And that’s why I was upset.

    Expectations.

    I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped foot in the school, just like I didn’t know what to expect in any building I’d visited that day. Every place had different rules, procedures, and expectations. You might get people smiling and handing you your receipt across a distance of three feet, or you might get someone stepping out of a building before you reached it and telling you to “halt!” And it isn’t just the stores. In no part of life do I now know what to expect.

    What were my expectations for Spring 2020? I expected to watch my boys play baseball and play piano at their recital. I expected them to go to school and help them with their projects as they finished their grade levels with success. I expected to get to see my son play the lead role of Aladdin in his school’s drama production. I expected to watch my daughter dance ballet in her recital. I expected to watch my boys do their music recital and festival that they’d spent months preparing for. I expected to spend time with my mom and my sisters and see my new  baby niece. I expected to continue two years of work and get to vote on new high school for my community. I expected to get out of town in our new trailer. I expected a big RV trip that we had spent a year planning with my parents and in-laws. I expected to go to the store and find toilet paper and other necessities. I expected to finish writing three books by June. I expected to be able to do something special for my husband’s birthday. I expected to go into a school and not have to wait outside.

    The basic problem is that from minute to minute, to day, to week, to month, to however long we are faced with this crisis, I do not know what to expect. And nobody else does either. Nobody expected this virus to change everything. Nobody expected its impact on the economy. Nobody expected to lose their job, face illness, or lose loved ones to tragedy. And nobody in any store, schools, or house in the entire country has any more idea than I do of what all this is supposed to look like. None of us has experienced this before, and we’re all just making it up as it goes along.

    And somehow, my core fear is that in my effort of trying to do all of the right things and go to the “baby showers,” I’ll turn around and realize I’ve somehow done the wrong thing. I’ve screwed everything up, violated some rule that I didn’t even know about, not prepared the way I should, and maybe even put the ones I love at risk.

    I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels this way. We’ve all had our expectations completely dashed, and in return, we are not permitted any expectations whatsoever. You won’t know what to expect when going into any building. You won’t know what tomorrow will bring. You won’t know how long this will last. You won’t know if and when we’ll get back to normal.

    You won’t know if on the same day you cry alone in your car, you’ll be making that birthday dinner only to have the house start shaking in a 6.5 earthquake, the likes of which hasn’t happened in 37 years. (Yes, that did happen.)

    All you can hope is that this is not the “new normal.” There is nothing normal about it. And if sometimes, you need to sit in your car and cry over everything and nothing, then go right ahead. May my story give you permission to grasp hold of one last, very real expectation: you are not alone.

    You are not alone in how you feel, and you are not alone in your present circumstances. In all of those, seconds, moments, days, and weeks that I mentioned, not a single one of them exists outside of God’s control. While I’ve lost all expectations in my circumstances, there are still some expectations that will not disappoint.

    I can expect God to love me and my family. I can expect that He will never leave me. I can expect that He is good and that even the yucky stuff will be for my benefit. I can expect that He has a plan and already sees the end. I can expect that the God who made it all has not forgotten us and is fully qualified to carry us through. And I can expect that He sees every tear I cry, knows how difficult things are, and will give me His strength to make it through the next moments.

    What if I could let go of my expectations for myself and cling to my expectations for God instead? It sounds crazy, but even as all of my other expectations have dissolved, I still manage to have some rigorous, unrealistic expectations for myself. I struggle with realizing it’s okay to not do everything right. It’s okay to grieve and feel angry. It’s okay if the kids don’t get all the schoolwork done and the house is a disaster. It’s okay to cry when you really don’t know the reason.

    Lord, help me to expect less of me and more of You!

    And if, you just so happen to find yourself sobbing in your car one day because it’s all just such a mess, please know that God is there to catch every one of your tears. And also, take a look around. I’m probably in a social-distanced car crying, too.


  • Unanswered Prayer

    Have you every prayed really hard for something really important, only to have your prayer go unanswered? I’m not going to fluff this up and list all of the clichés that don’t give the issue the struggle it deserves. It is tough. It is something every Christian struggles with. Our prayers are supposed to be answered, right? But sometimes they aren’t. So what do we do with that?

    I am not a Biblical scholar, and I don’t know the church answers. All I do know is that I recently had first-hand experience with this question that seems to plague the faith of many, if not all, Christians at some point. Though not the first time, last week, my desperate prayer went unanswered, leaving heartbreak in its wake. But to tell the full story of my unanswered prayer, I really need to start at the beginning, for it is actually not my own story.

    My cousin, Mitch, was more than a few years older than me. He lived next door at my grandma’s house off and on until he graduated high school. I remember waiting at the bus stop and Mitch singing about “roly poly fish heads” just to tease us little kids. We would beg him to stop, and he would keep singing.

    Yes, Mitch was an incurable tease, but he also had some issues that even as a child, I was aware of. How did I know? Because I remember my grandma’s tears. I remember her crying over the bad decisions Mitch had made, agonizing over what would happen to him, and constantly praying for his salvation. Decades passed, and she never stopped praying for him. Even with heartbreak and seeing zero results to her prayers, she still loved and prayed for Mitch constantly. She prayed for him to turn to the Lord, for him to turn his life around, and she prayed that she would turn around to find him in heaven. On her better days when her faith was strong, I remember her speaking about Mitch as if there was no question in her mind. “I have prayed for Mitch.” And that settled that.

    Grandma didn’t live to see her prayer answered fully. My understanding is that some of Mitch’s trouble continued into his adult life, though I don’t know the details. However, Mitch celebrated his 51st birthday recently, and I’m happy to say that his life has changed. He turned to the Lord and became a Christian, and not just in name only. A year ago, he married the love of his life. She had three children, and they became Mitch’s children in every way that mattered. Mitch’s Facebook posts have been filled with him marveling about how blessed he is, especially with his wonderful wife and kids.

    I’ve had a chance to get to know Mitch more the past few years. We’ve seen him in fun and sad times. We’ve laughed at family reunions and cried through funerals. Mitch and I have an aunt who lives on the coast where he lives. When my aunt lost both her sons a couple years ago, Mitch really stepped up. He was ready to help in whatever she needed and always told her, “I’ll always be here for you.”

    Mitch hadn’t been feeling well recently. Things got so bad, that he went to the hospital, only to be life flighted to a larger hospital in an effort to save his life. As they were taking him to the hospital, he was still reassuring our aunt that he would be fine, he was strong, and he would always be there for her. Unfortunately, they discovered Mitch had MRSA in both lungs and Influenza A. His body was in such bad shape that they said it would take a miracle for him to live.

    Oh, how I prayed for that miracle! Our whole family did. Mitch’s wife and kids desperately needed him. Our aunt had already faced such tragedy. Another one was incomprehensible. God is good and merciful, and I prayed based on those traits that He would save Mitch.

    A few days after he was admitted to the hospital, we received word that Mitch’s kidneys were failing, and he wasn’t going to make it. After hearing the news, I had to drive home from dropping my daughter off at preschool. I cried and said audibly over and over, “This isn’t okay, God! It isn’t okay!”

    And it still isn’t okay. It isn’t right that Mitch was called home when he was needed on earth so much. It isn’t okay that he got his life right only to lose it. It isn’t okay that such a positive, kind, generous heart stopped beating. It isn’t okay that our family is hit with another unthinkable tragedy

    Part of me was angry and very frustrated. What’s the point of praying if God isn’t going to answer? And I was so very weary of feeling like my prayers aren’t answered.

    Then I felt a gentle knowledge seep into my spirit. It wasn’t a voice, and I don’t even know the moment of realization. But it was an awareness of God clearly saying. “I did answer a prayer today.”

    And I knew. I had prayed with all my heart, but someone else’s heart had been poured into prayer long before mine. God answered the prayer that came first. He answered the prayer that had seemed unanswered for decades, and yet that prayer had remained until the day he chose to answer it.

    Grandma had prayed for Mitch to make it to heaven, and today, he made it and found her waiting.

    Who was I to criticize the way God answers prayer? While I had prayed for God to spare Mitch’s body, Grandma had prayed for God to spare his soul. As much as I don’t like the result here, the answer to Grandma’s first prayer is infinitely more valuable than the answer to my second prayer.

    So why do we pray? Because our prayers are more powerful than we can imagine. Each one reaches to God in such a way that it remains even after your time on earth is gone. Even though God took Mitch home, I still believe that my prayers for His goodness and mercy will be answered for Mitch’s family. Sometimes I think we get too wrapped up in the time aspect of our prayers, and it takes prayer for us to communicate with God and understand that He is without the constraint of time. In the book of Revelation, the prayers of the saints are described as incense before the throne of God. That’s a wonderful image because incense is of great value and is something pleasant you are aware of in every breath you take. I believe that’s how God sees our prayers. They are not temporal like the world in which we live. Instead, they remain before Him, waiting for the day when God says, now is when I answer this one.

    This is not a new concept to me. I remember the very last thing my grandfather told me before he passed away. He was dying, and I had to leave. I knew I would never see him on this side again, and he knew it as well. He told me, “I am praying for you.” I think in the moment, I said something like “No, Grandpa, I’m praying for you.” Only after did I realize what precious final words he gave me. He was praying for me. His final moments as his body failed were spent in prayer on my behalf, and those prayers have lived so much longer than his last breath. He was giving me the gift of his love and influence in God’s provision for me that would likely carry me to the end of my own life. Years and years later, I have great comfort knowing that he prayed for me. Those prayers are before God still today, and He is acting on them.

    So, let me encourage you to keep praying. Keep praying when the situation seems impossible. Keep praying when you don’t get the answer you think you need. Keep praying regardless of time and years of not seeing results. Keep praying through senseless tragedy. Keep praying when the world is chaos and everything is definitely not okay. Keep praying as you seek to better understand God, His will, His plan, and your place in all of that

    Though you may not get your answer here on earth, you can definitely leave a legacy of prayer that God will continually hear long after your physical words are silenced. It doesn’t make tragedy okay or understandable. It doesn’t answer the “why” questions of now. But someday, when you are enjoying eternity, maybe you’ll turn around and see that which you have longed for. Maybe, like Grandma, you’ll see that, today, God answered.


  • Home Plate

    I’ve thought about writing this story for a long time, years actually. I knew the day was coming when I’d do it. Now I’m finally here and all the words that have drifted through my head are gone, and I’m left trying to translate tears to a white page.

    It seems appropriate that this past week I published my latest Crossroads Collection, which is a set of books about weddings, and yesterday I got to experience one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen. So, now is the day where I get to finally tell the story of a beautiful wedding years in the making.

    I first met Lori about fourteen years ago. I was blessed to be her oldest daughter’s third grade teacher. Two things that were very apparent about Lori was that she adored her family and baseball! By the end of that school year, both Lori and I were expecting baby boys that had nearly identical due dates. I didn’t know until later that we both chose the same name for our boys. Even more amusing is that we were both married to a “Brian”!

    Over the next few years, Lori and I kept in occasional contact, chatting when we’d run into each other around town, but her Cayleb and my Caleb found each other in first glade. They struck up a friendship that continued through the years since then as they’ve played on sports teams, gone to each other’s houses, and attended birthday parties together. A few years ago, I ran into Lori at our local 4th of July fireworks show, and we got to talk. She’d just been diagnosed with cancer. She explained openly and matter-of-factly the procedures and treatment that would start immediately. When I hesitantly asked a few more questions, she told me she’d been given a survival rate chance of fifty percent. While the thought of life or death on a flip of a coin terrified me, Lori was an optimistic person, and she seemed confident that should would win the coin toss.

    Surgery and treatment took a toll. I stayed in touch with Lori, and we had Cayleb and his younger brother over to play to give Lori some time to rest. For a while, she seemed to be in the clear. In spring, the boys got to play on the same baseball team, and Lori and I got to talk. One evening, she’d just gotten back from a doctor’s appointment, and of course, I was eager to hear how it went.

    Unfortunately, she found out that the cancer had spread, and they were out of options. Treatment could possibly prolong her life, but not save it.

    Lori was terminal.

    What thoughts go through your mind if you find out you are dying?

    I know the answer to that. On that sunny evening while our boys hit baseballs and ran around bases, Lori unloaded her utter devastation and chaotic thoughts into my willing ears. Lori wasn’t worried about herself. Lori was a Christian. She knew where she was headed and wasn’t afraid of dying. Her primary concern for her husband and kids. She had four children—two older girls, who were in high school at the time, and two younger boys.

    She didn’t want her diagnosis to prevent her girls from pursuing their dreams. Her oldest, my former student, Chelsey, was due to start college next fall, and Lori adamantly wanted her to continue that plan.

    She also talked about how much she needed to do, including finding her husband a new wife. And she was serious. She said Brian was too wonderful of a husband to not have a wife, and she absolutely wanted him to remarry. Yet she was worried because she said it took himforever to ask her to marry him! Now he’d have to do it again!

    Maybe most heartbreaking of all, she talked about all the little things that drive you nuts in life—like the Legos her boys would leave everywhere, including her bed. Nothing is more aggravating than trying to crawl into bed only to land on Legos! Yet, now, she couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for those Legos.

    What do you say to someone who is dying?

    I still don’t know the answer to that one. It is an ugly ,helpless feeling to know that nothing you can do can change the reality that is to come. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. So on that day, all I did was to cry and pray with her.

    Over the next few months, I got to help out with some of Lori’s last wishes. She went on one last vacation to the coast, had pictures taken, and made some memories. Less than six months after that spring baseball game, Lori passed away. As completely fitting, we all wore Cardinals red and sang “Take me Out to the Ballgame” at her funeral.

    After Lori’s passing, I talked some to her daughter and Brian, and it was clear that they were devastated. Even before Lori’s death, I remember watching Cayleb and seeing the anger and grief pour out of him, and I know those feeling did not in any way improve afterward. Again, I experienced the helplessness of seeing heartbreak and not being able to do anything but pray.

    Over the next few months, Brian did an amazing job of keeping the boys busy while the older girls continued college and high school. Our Cayleb/Caleb duo did scouts together, and of course, when spring rolled around again, more baseball, so I would see the family every once in a while and pray for them much more frequently than that. Eventually, a woman started showing up to baseball games. One of the first times I saw her, she brought treats for the team. I didn’t know who she was, but after months of seeing her in passing, I overheard one of Brian’s boys call her by name: Mom.

    Last baseball season, two of my boys played on the same teams as Brian’s two boys, and I had the opportunity to get to know Misty. I already liked her because it was readily apparent how much the boys cared for her, but it didn’t take long at all for me to like her for who she was herself. She is smart, spunky, dedicated, and most importantly, she loves Brian and the boys with her whole being. She stepped into the role of mother and considers those kids her own. I’ve been so blessed by Misty’s friendship, and also blessed to get to see the joy she has brought back into that family.

    This spring, my once little third grader—Lori’s oldest daughter—graduated college, exactly how her mom wanted her to. And yesterday, Brian and Misty got married.

    It was a simple ceremony with only a few people in attendance. They are doing a bigger, more public ceremony in a few weeks. But this one was absolutely perfect and made even more special to me because I got to sign my name on Brian and Misty’s marriage certificate as a witness. And it all seemed so fitting. Yes, I was a witness. I was a witness the day Lori looked into the future and wanted Misty for Brian. I was there when she agonized about not getting to see her kids grow up and experience their everyday “Legos.” And now, I was a witness to a family being made whole, to children getting a mom who loved them completely, to a man getting to once again be a wonderful husband to a wife, and to a woman getting to experience the Legos another woman had to leave behind.

    And it didn’t hurt that they said “I do” on home plate of a baseball field!

    I’m not sure I deserve the great blessing God gave me through all of this, but I see it for the beautiful work it is. He allowed me to see the full story. I got to be there to see the tragedy and heartache, and then He allowed me to see the other side where He brought joy and healing.

    I don’t know where everyone is in their journey, but I can guarantee that a good number can relate to the dark part of this story. Life is hard. It’s not right that Lori got cancer. It’s not right that she didn’t get to see all of her kids grow up. Unfortunately, you will never find the answer to ‘why.’ Life is hard. It’s not fair. Pretending it is otherwise doesn’t do justice to the other side of the coin. While the harshness of life in unavoidable, the goodness of God is undeniable. Even though bad things happen. Even though pain and tragedy exists in a fallen world, God is still good. Though prayers aren’t always answered the way we think they should, God sees the big picture. At the time He heard Lori pray for her family, He knew how He would answer both her prayers and mine. In this story, His great goodness and mercy is thoroughly evident in my beautiful friend. Her name is Misty.

    So take heart. if you are suffering through the darkness of life, please know that your prayers are still heard and God is still good. Though you experience pain, try to notice and enjoy the Legos in your path and know that He still has your good planned on the other side of the coin.

    And don’t worry, He will not fail. After all, God always bats 1000.