Category Archive: Joy

Beauty from Ashes II

“Oh, my baby!” I cried out as I threw myself across my husband’s body. I had caressed him, speaking loving words while watching his blood pressure drop to zero. My heart ricocheted with that “O” and I knew he had left me for the welcoming arms of Jesus.

This week is the tenth anniversary of Jerry’s death.

It was a very difficult journey, filled with love, highs and lows, hope and despair. Eight months earlier Jerry and I had traveled to Florida in hopes of a transplant. And while the transplant was successful, his weakened body was too weary to fight off the infections that invaded him for months following the surgery. Our hopes of leaving the hospital to return to home and family in California, strength renewed, slowly eroded as Jerry fought one challenge after another. I was shattered.

Returning home, I began to learn who I was as a new widow. Family and friends were treasures, loving me, allowing me to grieve and grieving with me, holding me up with prayer, food, and time. They didn’t tell me when I ‘should’ finish grieving, or how soon I should move on.

And God, who had surrounded us with a body of believers we’d never known before moving to Florida, continued to be faithful now that I was alone.

My sweet number 1 girl

My sweet number 1 girl

And, over time, He restored beauty and joy to my life. On the second anniversary of Jerry’s death, I purchased a little red and white beauty named Kelly, a dog I’d borrowed for a weekend, and with whom I’d fallen in love. What a blessing to have another living creature in the house, one who sometimes climbed under the covers and cuddled against my thigh on cold nights, where I would find her on waking. I had to get up, feed her, walk her … One morning she looked at me, settled at my computer, and ground her teeth together. I had to laugh. “OK, I hear you – your breakfast is coming right up.”

New love, new hope

New love, new hope

About the same time I met a wonderful, widowed gentleman with whom a friendship began to bud through emails, long conversations, and an understanding of each other’s loss. Friendship deepened as Don wooed me in tender, thoughtful ways … walking our dogs together, coming up with amazing analogies of his love for  me, and showing his growing love in many touching ways. I couldn’t help but fall in love with him. We married two and a half years later, and will celebrate our sixth anniversary in January.

Yes, there have been ashes. Painful ones. But out of that pain God has given beauty—the beauty of learning to love again, of learning that a second love is not a replacement for a first but rather, an addition.

That loving again doesn’t take away from the first love.

That the heart has room for more than one deep love.

That joy can return.

That God knows my name.

He loves me.

He will never leave me.

And one day, we who believe will experience the promise of God in Revelation 21:4, that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new.’”

As Pastor Rene stated this weekend, “He’s STILL Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

How have you received beauty for ashes? The oil of gladness for the spirit of heaviness? I’d love to hear about it.

 

TREASURES, REVEALED AND RENEWED

I had no trouble keeping awake. Between managing a business issue on my hands-free phone, having a long, lovely chat with Mom, and singing along with our choir’s Christmas CD, my “windshield time” (driving) flew by.

Arriving at the beach destination for our college buds reunion, four beautiful women who have meant a great deal to me in and since my college years at Fresno Pacific University greeted me.

The week before our girlfriends’ getaway, emails flew back and forth …morro rock

“Anyone bringing a swimsuit?”

“No way.”

“Hopefully we’ve become more accepting of ourselves than back when …”

“Can’t we be accepting and still clothed?”

We knew laughter would be on the agenda!

 

Jeannies wedding

Unpacking, storing the food we’d brought (enough for a small army, or at least for a week’s stay rather than three days!), we delighted in being together again. Four of us were bridesmaids in MarJean’s wedding to Conrad 46 years ago (left). While most of us have seen each other periodically over the intervening passage of time, we have not seen MarJean for about 43 years.  If you have reconnected with long-time friends, you will understand when I say we picked up where we left off, sharing laughter, tears, memories, and love. That night, over halibut and sweet potato fries, we remembered our college days:

 

  • The relationships that lasted, or didn’t;
  • Professors and dorm parents who challenged us, or didn’t;
  • Crazy things we did like falling asleep in the Fresno sun with baby oil as our tanning lotion, only to waken with second degree leg burns (that one was mine)
  • Opportunities to express our faith in a variety of ways; and
  • Our friendships, which held through the years despite our relocations across California and Alaska.

We include a missionary, two teachers, an office manager/bookkeeper, and a human resources manager. Between us we have nine children and 38 grand and step-grandchildren.

And we’ve all experienced challenges along the way. Part of life.Five on bench in cambria

But as He promised, God has been, and continues to be, with each of us throughout the E-ticket rides that embody our lives.

Friendships are a treasure; with long-term, infrequent contact, they may be hidden treasures, to be opened with joy at times of reunion. That’s how I felt this weekend. We ate, shared long conversations together, shopped, explored. No need for games or tv. There was too much life to catch up on.

I recently read that one who wants friendships must invest in them. We five took this time to invest in each other, to renew and deepen these precious friendships.  And what a treasure we uncovered.

“A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Who are your treasured friends? How do you invest in those relationships?

From the Ashes, New Dreams

2014-12-04 06.27.10

 

A few weeks ago I reflected on the death of my dream of bearing or having children of my own.

(See http://carolshope.com/2015/05/motherhood-when-the-dream-dies/)

God didn’t just say no.  Over time, and through the pain, He replaced my desire to bear children with other hopes. He changed my dreams.

Ministry: I lived and ministered with a team in the inner city of Los Angeles for ten years, where I saw and experienced things that had not been part of my sheltered life growing up. Some, like knowing young girls who earned money the only way they knew–through prostitution–were heartbreaking. But watching God at work in the lives of teens and adults who committed themselves to Christ and walked in His paths, was thrilling.

My husband and I serve with a missions team in Mexico annually, and have the joy of sharing our home with missionaries, pastors, family and friends. God has brought a few women into my life to love and disciple. Little can compare to the joy of seeing their faith deepen, watching Jesus change their hearts, behaviors, relationships. I can say with the apostle Paul, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6, NIV) And when one turns away from surrender, it is painful.

Travel: Don and I have had the delight of visiting many parts of the world, seeing God’s handiwork and meeting believers along the way.

Family: My mother, siblings and their spouses are all still with us. Nieces and nephews are a significant part of my life, and are adding precious grand-nephews and nieces to the family.

Fulfilling Marriages: I’ve been married to two wonderful men. While my dream of a long life with Jerry turned to ashes with his death ten years ago, God later brought Don into my life. I feel great joy in this second opportunity to love, serve, and enjoy life with an amazing, gracious man who has five children and ten grandchildren. Someone once said a good marriage is the hardest, and the best, thing one can do.

So, do I regret seeing the death of my dream of bearing children?

No. While on occasion I think what a delight it would be to have a terrific son or daughter, my life is full, sometimes difficult, fascinating, and fulfilling. With a few relatively minor health challenges, I tire easily. God has known what is best for me all along, and has given me new dreams and purpose. I wouldn’t trade it. THIS is where God has me and I am grateful.

How have your dreams changed over the years? Is there something you’re still asking God to do in and through you?

Creativity, and the Master Creator

celtic woman 2The violinist danced onto the stage, tossing her long, straight blond hair from side to side as she maintained a continuous, lilting melody on the strings of her instrument–a seemingly impossible combination of music and movement.

Backing her were drums, guitars, a piano, and bagpipe. The sounds of Ireland were pure and strong.

Don and I had traveled to Fresno, three hours from home, to hear Celtic Woman, a group I’ve long wanted to see in person. Here we were in the William Saroyan Theater, Row H, Seats 37-38, anticipating the joy of the evening’s music.

celtic woman 3Then, through the darkness and mist at the back of the stage, entered three lovely women clad in elegant, jeweled gowns. As they sang, their harmonies danced around and over each other, making it difficult to know who was singing which part at any one time. The blend and cross-over of their voices, along with the music of the instruments, was sublime. The melodies, costumes, and dance drew me into a mythical world of fairies and woodland nymphs and minor tunes and joy and yearning and passion.

mairead-susan-lynn-mairead celtic womanWe heard the sounds of pain and hunger suffered throughout Irish history and famines. And out of that pain has come incredible creativity which emanates from our Master Creator, the God of the universe, the One who promised to

    • “provide for those who grieve in Zion—
    • to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
    • the oil of joy instead of mourning,
    • and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3a, NIV)

All good things come from God. The Master Creator, He weaves our lives in and out of situations where we don’t always know whether we’re carrying the melody or a harmony–or if we’re in tune at all. He brings beauty from ashes, joy rather than mourning.

Chills filled me as I heard a bagpipe coming from our left. The air moved through the pipes as he soloed, walking toward the stage. Just as he climbed the stairs, the other instruments joined his, filling the auditorium with quiet strength. Then the women entered, singing these meaningful words:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound bagpipe
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

Voices and instruments crescendoed, reaching a climax of praise to God.  And one day every created thing will give Him praise and honor as we fall on our knees before His majesty, glory, and grace.

Hope because Jesus Lives!

The sun rose early that Sunday morning. Mary of Migdal had been grieving since Jesus was arrested Thursday evening. She was shattered at the death of her Lord, the one who forgave her when others wanted to stone her, who told her to go live a new life. She went to the tomb, planning to sit with the body of her Master.

Nearing the tomb, she stopped short, her eyes wide. The stone, that several-ton rock that had been rolled in front of the tomb to prevent anyone stealing Jesus’ body, was no longer in front of the grave’s opening. Running, she peered inside the tomb. It was empty!

Turning, she saw a man standing near. Thinking he was the gardener, she spoke through the tears streaming down her face. “Sir, please tell me where you have taken my Lord.” Then he spoke her name. “Mary.”

He is Risen - Just as He promised

He is Risen – Just as He promised

A little boy once said you know someone loves you “when your name is safe in their mouth.” Mary’s name was safe in Jesus’ mouth, and she realized it was Him speaking to her, risen just as He promised. Radiant, she ran to tell the disciples the good news.

The apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead …” (I Cor 15:17-20a)

After my first husband passed away, I fell into a pit of despair. What if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? What if all I believed was a lie and I would never see Jerry again? I agonized, unwilling and unable to share my fears with anyone. After about three weeks, God brought a scripture to mind.

After many turned away from Jesus, He asked the disciples “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter replied, “Where else would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-69). God spoke those words into my spirit and my doubts were lifted as I thanked God that because of Jesus’ resurrection, I will indeed see Jerry again–and even more, one day I will see Jesus face to face. Glory!

How has Jesus’ resurrection changed your life? I’d love to hear.