Without warning, the unexpected came. Grief wounds once healed were ripped open. The pain seeped into every crevice. Well-meaning friends offered words meant to comfort and encourage, but they fell on her ears as trite and judgmental.     

     In her pain, she grabbed a beautiful vase and slung it against the wall, shattering it. She screamed as she picked up a blue glass and dropped it on the floor. She continued to weep as she chose a yellow glass bowl and bashed it against the other wall. The confusion, the anger, the hurt lay among the broken pieces of glass. She fell to the ground and released hot angry tears. Her body heaved as suffocating loss imploded.
     Finally emptied of all feeling, she collapsed in silence. The sun set. Darkness came. She remained still. Numb. Spent. Exhausted. 
   Just when she thought the blackness would have her, the sun rose. Love breathed warmth on her cheek. Gentleness caressed her shoulder. She knew the touch. It was her Creator’s. The all-knowing, forever-loving One. She sighed as He tenderly stroked her hair. Resting her head against his chest, she gazed at the broken glass that was wet with her tears.
     Her Father hugged her and then gently moved her away. She watched in awe as He began sifting through the shards of glass, discarding some while rescuing others. He worked meticulously, ever so patient. He glanced over at her, and without a word, he nodded reassurance.
      Transfixed by Compassion, her pain-etched forehead softened. Her lips slowly formed a hint of a smile. The Comforter continued to work, arranging her brokenness. Piece by broken piece. When He was done, he winked at her and miraculously all the pieces fused to create a beautiful kaleidoscope. He raised the stained-glass to the window and commanded the sun to shine through it. The beams poured through the masterpiece. Her Father invited her to dance- a dance of new beginnings. 
     Whatever you’re facing today, please know a loving God sees you. He hears your cries. He is here to hold you as He creates something beautiful from your grief and brokenness. 

“He hath made everything beautiful in his time.”  Ecc. 3:11


True Peace

     As I walked up the rotten steps to the pitiful shack, I was making a list of all the referrals I needed to make to ensure the house was not just livable, but appropriate for a hospice patient to die in. Thankfully, I had several dedicated volunteers with carpentry skills. My mind was busy assigning tasks when the door opened. Mrs. Smith’s arms spread wide, inviting a warm embrace.
     My only meeting with Mrs. Smith had been in the hospital. She was adamant to honor her husband’s wish to die at home. Seeing the dilapidated house, I doubted if that was the best decision.We sat on a well-worn couch supported by cement block on one end and covered in a thread-bare quilt.
    Mrs. Smith beamed as she took my hands, “I’m just so thankful to have Hank home. He’s so much happier.” She glanced over at her husband who lay unresponsive in a hospital bed. “And look how comfortable he is in his new bed.”
     I squeezed her hand and we sat in silence for a few minutes.  She gathered her courage and continued, “I know it don’t seem like he knows, but he knows.”
     I nodded in confirmation. “He’s blessed to have a wife that loves him so much.”
    Tears filled her eyes. Breathing in deeply, she refused to let them spill over. “My Hank is a good man. Never had much, but always had each other. We gots two healthy children’bout grown.” She sighed. “God’s been good.” She smiled sadly as the tears were released and she cried freely while I held her.
     As I stood to leave an hour later, I knew Mrs. Smith would be okay. In the midst of her heartbreak, she had that deep, inexplicable peace.  The love in her little home was so thick it was almost palpable.
     I stopped on the dusty, gravel road to type the address of my next patient into my GPS.  Looking at the directions, I realized it was in the most affluent area of the city. What a dichotomy.  Cancer does not discriminate between rich and poor.
     Turning on the stately, circular drive, I stopped at the wrought iron gate. It opened automatically and the home came into view.  Majestic white columns stood like soldiers supporting the mansion of dark red brick.
     A housekeeper greeted me at the door and ushered me into the parlor. I could hear voices arguing in the next room. Suddenly, a young woman stormed out the front door. A few minutes later, Mrs. Wilson entered the room and introduced herself. She was cold and aloof while stating she had no need for a social worker.  Her husband was well-cared for by a twenty-four hour nurse on the third floor. In a business tone, she informed me I could visit with him if I liked, but she didn’t feel the need to see him anymore since he no longer knew who she was.
     Another employee led me upstairs. Mr. Wilson looked like a king sleeping in an elaborate, antique, canopy bed. A nurse sat in the corner reading a magazine. He didn’t respond when I took his hand. But did he know I was there? More importantly, did he know his wife wasn’t?
     Driving home that afternoon, I pondered the two extremes.  Obviously, the old saying holds true, “You can’t buy happiness.”  I thought of the secret to peace that Paul shared over 2000 years ago in a letter penned to the church at Philippi.
     “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . . I know what it is 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 all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:7 and 12-13
     No matter what we’re facing today, let’s be reminded that genuine joy and deep, unshakable peace is only found in one place. Whether we live in a homeless shelter, a trailer, a penthouse or mansion, our material home is irrelevant as long as we know our real home, our eternal home is in the unchanging, loving arms of our Father. 

The Voice

      I recently shed the worst kind of tears--tears of regret. That familiar inner-voice told me to do something, to visit someone, but I muted it. A list of other important to-dos took its place.
     The truth is I didn't want to visit this person. Her husband was a hospice patient and had died months before. While I had visited several times, providing a quiet presence and trying to comfort, I was weary of the depression, her inconsolable tears.
     “You need to visit her,” the Voice whispered.
     “I know, I know and I will. Not today, I have tons of paperwork and a new patient to assess.”
     The next day, the Voice urged again, “You need to visit her."
     “Yes, but my kids want to go to the pool. I need to get home early. I’ll go on Friday.”
     The Voice was silent.
     I called her on Friday morning but she didn’t answer. Relief, I’m off the hook.  
     A few hours later I received the call telling me she had died the night before, in her home, alone. Tears of regret, self-loathing and remorse erupted. Guilt rose from the pit of my stomach. The Voice was silent. Guilt tightened its grip, I cried out to the Voice to assuage my pain, to ease my conscience. The Voice was silent. Guilt smothered me.
    Co-workers offered reassurance, “If you were supposed to have visited, you would have, God was in control.”  The words fell on deaf ears as hot tears continued to fall.  I was inconsolable. I could have seen her one last time. More importantly, I could have the confidence of knowing I listened to the Voice. I knew I had failed. I hushed a Voice that I should have heeded.
     Now, a week later, I am released from my guilt. The Voice has finally spoken. He gave me the image of my patient and his wife dancing in each other’s arms. She looked over her shoulder at me and grinned. I knew what she was thinking. She couldn’t care less if she saw me one last time. She knows it wouldn't have changed her fate. It has, however, changed mine. Next time, I will refuse to mute the Voice. I will listen. I will obey.

I Feel So Used!

           I’m embarrassed to say that at times I can be a bit of a whiner. One day, in my not too distant past, I was wallowing in self-pity.  “I feel so used! God, why do you keep putting me in situations where people are using me?” It was a pretty pathetic display, but thankfully, I was the only one invited to the pity party. As I sat at my kitchen table, tissue in hand to sop up the free flowing tears, I remembered a sermon my pastor preached a few years back and I had to laugh at my stupidity.
     It was during a winter season of my life. You know the times when God is silent. Well, there I sat, arms crossed, feeling dejected, not expecting to hear from God. My ear perked up when I heard the pastor describe me in perfect detail. “Many of you, from an early age, have prayed ‘God use me, no matter the cost, I simply want to be used by you.’ You cried, your mascara ran, and you meant it, and God heard you. Now you same people sit here, years later. You’re whining, ‘I feel so used. . . Why is everyone always using me?’ People aren’t using you!  God has simply answered your prayer. You are being used!”
      Ouch, the truth hurts. My pastor went on to question me, “Do you now have a right to say, ‘This is too painful. You know I really don’t want to be used after all. What I meant to say was, please use me only if it’s fun, or if it’s rewarding or if it offers some recognition.’  No, you prayed the prayer and God has answered.” 
      I went home with a different perspective. 
     Now obviously I don’t believe in being a door-mat. I’m a big advocate of personal boundaries, self-care and all that other stuff we social workers teach. But unlike a lot of my counseling peers, I don’t think I should put me first. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jesus teaches us to put ourselves last. Dead last.  A big fat zero.
     I’m learning to extend my prayer a little. It’s no longer a simple “God use me.” Instead, I pray, “God use me to show others YOUR grace and compassion. Give me a pure heart that desires, above all else, to be a servant as you were. Crush all selfishness. Use me . . .  use me up until there is nothing left but your love shining through me.” 
   So the next time I say, "I feel so used," it won't be a complaint but an answer to prayer.

Phooey on Graduations

     Graduation. For most, the word conjures up feelings of excitement and a sense of accomplishment, the end of one chapter and eager anticipation of the next. Am I in the minority when I admit that I hate the word? Even in high school, I dreaded the day of convocation. I loved school. I never wanted that season to end. I’m one of those creatures of habit who fight change, the ticking of the clock, the page of the calendar being ripped off and thrown away. The thought of my little ones leaving the nest makes me crumble.
     In case you haven’t guessed, I’m still wiping the tears away since my second, Jess, graduated yesterday. She’s such a disobedient young woman. I told her repeatedly, “You are not allowed to grow up!” Alas, she did in spite of my command, and even took joy in the journey to breaking her mother’s heart. 
See how she mocks me with her cake? 
     As I reflect this morning on all the “graduations” in life, I’m making a resolution to try and embrace them. After all, it’s worthless to fight the inevitable. You can’t argue with the old saying “The only certainty in life is change.”
    I’ve found King Solomon’s words to be true. Imagine that. There really is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance . . . Get the picture?    
     The good news is if you’re going through a valley right now, a time of grief, tragedy and heartbreak, it will end. The cold, lonely night won’t last forever. Eventually you will feel the sun's warmth, and your joy will return.
     Brace yourself for some bad news: If your life is filled with so much happiness that it's just one big party, that won’t last either. As sure as the sun rises, it also sets. The pain, sadness and confusion are coming. No one can predict the intensity or duration, but something is going to happen. So goes life.
     Anyone else feeling melancholy? Before we sink into a desolate pit of despair, let’s rethink this. I’m a look-at-the-worst-case- scenario type gal. My dad used to say, “Plan for the worst. Then you’ll be prepared if it happens and relieved if it doesn’t.”
     Worst case scenario? Death. I’ve been to several funerals where the bulletin read, “Graduation Celebration for ___________.” What an awesome outlook. Passing from this temporal world and graduating to a perfect, eternal life with our forever-loving Creator. The ultimate commencement.
     One problem: I hate graduations. Remember? (At this point, I have to pause, eat breakfast and figure out how I’m going to finish this post.)
      Thirty minutes later, I return. Sigh . . . There has been no Eureka! moment. Groan . . . The light bulb above my head is still turned off. Whine . . . What to do? What to do? 
     I collapse on the sofa. I hear a quiet voice welling up from within. "Trust Me. Know that I will walk with you through every graduation. I will carry you as I lovingly cradle you against my chest. Don't lose sight of your final graduation when I say, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.'"
     The best news? There are no graduations in heaven. 

Chronicles of the Agape House: Crabbit Old Woman

         Just like teachers, healthcare workers are told that it’s dangerous to have favorites, but I think it’s inevitable. Surprisingly, my pets seem to be the spunky, “non-compliant” ones. I knew as soon as I met Betty that she fit the bill . . . a defiant and rude priss-pot.
       It was of utmost importance for Betty to maintain her regal appearance at all times.  Her bushy wig was always in place. The staff couldn’t figure out how she kept it in place even when she slept. Her bright red lipstick and painted eyebrows were artistically applied as soon as she woke in the morning, and her ear-rings, matching pennant and necklace were all in place before breakfast.  
     To the naive observer, she appeared relatively well, but she had an aggressive cancer that she labored to keep hidden.  She had a strong opinion about everything and although she was demanding, she was never cruel. That is until she graduated to the dreaded stage of grief-- anger.
     Loudly barking orders from her chair, she didn't mind throwing a hairbrush or cup in your direction to make a point. Nothing we did even came close to pleasing her. In fact, the more we tried to caudle and reassure, the more hostile she became. 
     The staff quickly grew tired of dodging, and then, sweeping up broken glass, so I gave each a copy of the following poem.

Crabbit Old Woman
What do you see nurses, what do you see,                                                     
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes not reply
When you say in a loud voice, ‘I do wish you'd try',
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe,
Who, unresisting or not, let's you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I move at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.

A young girl at sixteen with wings on her feet,                             
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now I have young of my own,                        
Who need me to build a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty my young grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young now soon will be gone,
But my man stays beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.

I look at the future, I shudder with dread,
For my young are all busy rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love I have known.
I'm an old woman now and nature is cruel,
'Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigour depart
And now there's a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells,
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years all too few - gone so fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, Nurses, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer - see me.  
     I had read the poem in a geriatric magazine years before. It was written that the poem was found among the possessions of an elderly Irish lady who had died in a nursing home. She was unable to speak but was often seen writing. The poem so impressed her nurse that she sent it to the local newspaper. It has since become famous among health care workers.
     As we continued to treat Betty with respect, we gradually, ever so slowly, witnessed a softer Betty emerge. When she became bed-bound, we hung bird feeders and brightly colored hanging baskets in full bloom by her window. Her last command was to make sure we watered the flowers and kept the bird feeders full.
     Thanks for the life lesson, Betty. Sometimes we have to look deep to find the essence of a person. It may be hidden under layers of hurt or buried in years of stubbornness. But it’s there. All we have to do is be persistent and open our eyes and see.

Chronicles of the Agape House: The Longest Night

    Shortly after opening the Agape House, my nursing assistant called out sick so I had to work the night shift. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was inexcusably short-tempered and rude to our first patient, Jim.  
     Jim was 6’3”, 280 lbs and bed-bound, no small task to change his depends, pajamas and sheets while he remained in the bed. In fact, it was similar to a Houdini trick. This dreaded night was even more difficult as he had diarrhea and the trick had to be mastered many times.
     Blame it on fatigue, about 4:30 in the morning, as I heard the bell, again, I staggered to Jim’s bedside. I tried to keep my voice steady, “No, really it’s okay. It’s not your fault. Roll over to your side please. Your bottom’s really getting red. Let me get you some cream. . . Okay, now for some fresh sheets. . . ” 
     It was a long process, a repetitive routine. Jim must have noticed my annoyance because he began apologizing. I tried to assure him that I didn’t mind. But the truth was, I did mind. And worse, it showed. I thought I would vomit if I had to change one more diaper. Jim sensed this in my touch and in my tone. 
     After tucking him in, as I walked back to the office, hot tears  surfaced. I had never experienced such fatigue. Every muscle ached. My body seemed to scream, “Enough !”  
     My prayer for strength quickly turned to whining, which deteriorated into bellyaching and collapsed into an absolute pity party. Fortunately, I was the only one invited. I have a graduate degree. I’m a professional! Why am I cleaning dirty butts? I’ve been awake for over 24 hours and nobody cares!  Woe is me. . . woe is me. . .  I’m the only one on earth who cares. . . 
   In the middle of my pathetic droning, I remembered a poem I had read years earlier. I was so touched by the poem that I created a pattern and cross-stitched it with the hope of one day hanging it in my office.

I Wonder
You know, Lord, how I serve you
With great emotional fervor
In the limelight.
You know how eagerly I speak for You
At a woman’s club.
You know how I effervesce when I promote
A fellowship group.
You know my genuine enthusiasm
At a Bible study.
But how would I react, I wonder
If you pointed to a basin of water
And asked me to wash the calloused feet
Of a bent and wrinkled woman
Day after Day
Month after month
In a room where nobody saw
And nobody knew.
          Ruth Harms Cakins  

     Sitting at my desk after my disgraceful breakdown, I recalled the poem in detail. A poem about an anonymous servant . . . how ironic that I cross-stitched it with the intention of spotlighting it on the wall of my office. Self-defeating and hypocritical. God must grow weary of my stupidity. As I prayed for forgiveness and sincerely asked God to give me a compassionate attitude, Jim’s bell rang . . .  again.
     This time my voice was lighter and my touch softer as I changed and repositioned him. I made a joke about his derriere favoring a bright red candied apple. He retorted, “Well then kiss my aa. . . ple.”   We both laughed and as I tucked the quilt around him, he touched my hand and whispered, “Thank you.” 
     I kissed his forehead. “No problem, if I am ever as old as dirt like you, I hope someone will be there to clean my aa. . . ple.”  
     He smiled.
     As I checked on other patients, a quiet inner-voice reminded me that it’s not about me. Jim had been a successful engineer. He built bridges and traveled the world. Now, he was helpless, completely dependent. As hard as this was for me, it was clearly far more difficult for him. How challenging it must be for a patient to be courteous when he is slowly losing his pride and dignity. It’s obviously more difficult than being a caregiver.
    I would like to say that through that long night with Jim, I learned my lesson once and for all. But sadly, I’m a slow learner, and so I’m constantly being mashed and put back on the Potter’s wheel. At least I’m a little more pliable for the Master’s hands now.
     Just so you know, Jim remained kind and warm until his passing. He modeled how a strong, respected man should face his last days . . . with grace and dignity, and even a little humor. I still can’t see a candied apple without smiling and remembering sweet Jim.

Stick It Out, It's Worth It

 I want to take advantage of this special day to introduce you to my hubby . . . Russell is patient and kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He does not dishonor others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Russ never fails.

Okay, I admit it; I plagiarized. I kind of stole Paul’s definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13. Before you gag and say, “No man is all that,” you’re right. But Russell comes pretty darn close. Does he have faults? Sure, but I’ll save those for another day. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through 22 years of marriage, it’s that we have to concentrate on the positive and overlook the little flaws. The good Lord knows I have more than my share of those (flaws, of course).

So what’s the secret to being happily married for more than 20 years? I don't have a clue. And I’m sure Russell would say he doesn’t either. You see, not all those years were happy. Although we were both raised in Christian homes and married knowing we were in the center of God’s will, there have been times when I wanted to drive an ice pick clear through his skull. Thankfully, God provided the much needed self-control. (After all, my children really do need their father.) To be fair, I’m quite sure there have been hundreds of times when he wished he had a magic wand to change something about me that was bugging his eye balls out. (Notice his fantasies aren’t as violent as mine. I had an ice-pick while he had a wand).

Seriously, we had a string of years (not weeks or months, mind you) when I think we could have both checked out. But by the grace of God . . . And honestly, I think that’s what has kept us, God’s grace. The other things: patience, kindness, self-sacrifice, forgiving and forgetting.

Just a word of encouragement for those who are just embarking on the adventure of marriage, (I have to credit this to my sister-in-law, Kathy, who told me this way back in 1998), “If you give up too early, you won’t be able to reap the benefits and rewards of enduring through these trials.”  She went on to say some other wise things about how maturing and getting our priorities straight often take years. That’s what the commitment of marriage is all about. So young married people, don’t check out too early. You’ll be sacrificing the golden years when you and your hubby finally get it right.

By the way, I’ve had the privilege of being with many couples as their marriage came to an end through no choice of their own. They stayed the course “until death do we part.” And I can tell you that none of them said, “We were blissfully happy all of our married years.” No, what I typically hear is “We’ve had our trials, up and downs, good years and bad years, but in the end, it was all worth it.”

So today, I say thank you to my soul-mate, I can’t remember the last time  I saw an ice-pick and thought of you. (I think I’ll submit that to Hallmark for a card . . . so romantic.) Kathy was right, it was worth the tough years to make it to where we are. God has molded you into the true definition of love and I am truly blessed.
To all the readers in cyber-land, I hope your V-Day is filled with love, laughter and memories to last a lifetime.

Praying for Me?

     I didn’t choose hospice, it chose me. Okay, not really, God chose it for me. As a person who cries during sentimental commercials, I knew I could never work around dying people. But, two months into my job as a home health social worker, my manager asked me to see a few hospice patients. Death, pain, grief . . . . What crazy person would choose that?  No, don't think so.
    My manager was persistent because she was short a hospice social worker. Trying to flatter me, she went on about all the reasons I would be great at hospice. All I heard was “yadda, yadda, yadda.”
     Saying no was not an option and I found myself sitting at the table of Joshua, an elderly gentleman. I was crying more than he as he recounted the details of his wife’s seven year battle with Alzheimer’s. Francis lay in a hospital bed, immobile, unable to communicate. Her nails were polished, hair curled and she smelled of floral perfume. Lipstick was smeared on her drawn lips.
     As Joshua glanced at her from the table, he asked, “Isn’t my bride beautiful? I try to keep up her morning ritual.” He chuckled, “Can’t do it as well as her, of course.” His face softened as he continued to stare at her. “Sixty-eight years, it has all gone so fast . . .”
      I listened as Joshua reminisced about the joys and sorrows of a lifetime spent together. He spoke of God’s comfort and grace. He whispered, “Susan, there really is a peace that transcends understanding.” My trembling lip showed my skepticism. He patted my hand in a paternal way as if to reassure me, “God has indeed been faithful.”   
     He rose and went to the stove to stir the soup. Even with his stooped posture, he still towered over me. His movement was slow and deliberate. Curled arthritic hands gripped the pot as he spooned out a small portion for Francis. He asked me to join them for supper, and though I wanted to escape the intense sadness welling in my throat, I couldn’t say no.
     Joshua asked me to help myself, and I did as I watched him place a bib around his bride. He prayed a simple blessing and then patiently coaxed in a small bite. “Come on Francis, open a little for me, please sweetheart, just a few bites . . .”    
     I wondered how many times this routine had been repeated. She made no effort to turn her head or open her mouth. He sat the spoon down. “Well maybe we’ll try later. You just rest.”  He ran the back of his hand down her cheek and kissed her forehead.
     I wiped my tears as he returned to the table. “I pray my sweet Francis will be in heaven soon. Oh, but I will miss her smile . . .” Joshua continued recounting their love story as I tried to eat my soup. The lump in my throat made it impossible to swallow. And as the nausea grew, I tried to discreetly push the soup aside.
     “Are you okay dear?  I’ve rambled on for hours. You must be bored to tears.”
     “No, you’ve just had such a beautiful life together and now . . .” my voice cracked. I tried to exhale but the air escaped as a tearful whimper. 
     Joshua laid his hand over mine. “God never promised it would be easy. He did promise that he would carry us. He does you know, even through this valley of death, I can feel him.” He looked up at the ceiling as if he could see straight through to heaven. “Don’t ever forget, my dear, God carries us through the trial.”  
     I bit my bottom lip and didn’t answer. Joshua patted my hand and we sat in silence for what seemed like hours. Much later, as I stood to leave, he gave me a warm, tight hug. He pulled back, keeping both hands on my shoulders. He looked in my eyes and said emphatically, "Susan, I will be praying for you." His withered lips curved into a half smile, “Often, I might add.”
     Ironic, I thought. I was in my mid-twenties, the prime of my life, going home to a well husband and two healthy children. Why would he feel the need to pray for me?
     He patted my back as he escorted me to the door. “You’re going to make it my dear. You just wait and see.” 
     Then I realized his insight. He saw the fear, the dissipating faith, and as a man who had witnessed incredible tragedy through two wars and suffering the death a child, he knew I was at a crossroad. He had the wisdom to know I needed the prayer more than he.
     I’ve thought of Joshua often over the past twenty years. I don’t think it’s any accident that my first hospice family was one of a profound faith. I know he kept his promise to pray, and while I don’t know what he said to his Father, I know his prayers were answered.

     Has there been a time when you knew God placed the right person in your life to lift you to the Father?  Better yet, have you been that person?  I would love to hear your story. You can share it here or feel free to e-mail me.

     My prayer today is that each reader will be covered in God’s grace and wrapped in His love with the realization that He does, indeed, carry us through the trial.

Wide Open Door

     “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  I hate that saying. So I searched the web, seeking the origin of such a half-baked remark. Did it really come from the Sound of Music?  
     Yes, I know the intent is to encourage us to see the silver lining. But, really? A door is tall.  It’s easy to walk through. You remain upright as you saunter on through. But a window, it’s small. You probably have to climb, crawl and wiggle to get through it. Doesn’t sound like a logical trade to me.
      Seriously, closing a door and opening a window isn't representative of a loving God. In my opinion the saying should be “When God closes the wrong door He opens the right door” or better yet, “When God closes a window, He opens a door.”  Yes, I definitely like that better.
     A big part of my job as a hospice social worker is reminiscent therapy and facilitating a therapeutic life review (Gotta love the way everything has to sound so clinical). Basically, it’s encouraging my patient to tell his life story from the earliest childhood memory to the present. The goal is to give value to a patient’s life. No one wants to die thinking that it was all pointless and that he didn’t make a difference. So I affirm, validate, and praise. This is the best part of my job, especially when it’s a war veteran. I love thanking him for his sacrifice.
     Usually I can reframe any bad experience or crisis in a positive way, because simply surviving a tragedy takes courage and resilience. Patients often confirm the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s been my experience that most can look back at their lives and acknowledge that there was meaning and purpose in spite of life’s heartbreaks.
     But what happens when this isn’t the case? Mark was my most challenging patient,  challenging in that I couldn’t find any “good” in his life. Yes, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. He was in and out of detention centers from an early age. He grew into a drug addict, wife beater, and well, a not so pleasant man. His children described him as mean and bitter. How do you reframe that in a positive way?
     When I first met him, I have to admit, I was intimidated. Big, burley, unkempt and foul- mouthed, I think intimidation was his goal. But over the weeks, as I slowly built his trust, he began telling his story. His journey was one of many closed doors. He didn’t like windows much either. He smirked one day as he told of throwing a chair through a window in a moment of rage.
     Staring into his cold eyes, I realized his life had been a series of closed doors. Crashing a window seemed almost poetic, in a morose kind of way. I gathered my courage and asked if he ever felt trapped. He looked down and mumbled, “Still trapped.” Such an incredibly sad tragedy.
     I was able to share that no one is ever truly trapped. Yes, we can feel imprisoned, like we’re incapable of change. Mistakes and regrets may hold us captive, but by accepting our Creator's unconditional love, we can be freed.
     I would love to say that Mark accepted this agape love, but I’m not sure. He didn’t respond that day and died shortly after. What I do know is that there was an open door and he had the choice to walk through it.
     That’s the awesome thing about God. He opens the door to all, regardless of our past. The ugliness, the hurt, the pain, He washes it all away. You get a fresh, clean start through a wide open door.  Oh, and by the way, on the other side of the door is sustaining Grace and a Joy that’s indescribable. 

Sweet Serenity

     I want to live in Serenity. I hear it’s a peaceful place with rolling hills, quiet streams and plush pastures. There’s one problem; I don’t have a clue how to get there. In spite of this, I begin my journey . . .
     I hike up a mountain, and as I reach the top, pride blossoms. I pause to bask in my accomplishment. Closing my eyes, I lift my chin and savor the warmth of the sun on my cheeks. A cloud dances by and covers my sun. I open my eyes. No, as sweet as it is, this is not Serenity. I continue my journey.
     I cross a river . . .  still searching. Anxiety grows. Rain pelts down as the thunder claps. There is loss. There is sadness. I trudge forward, but Serenity is out of my grasp.

     Then . . .  an intersection. Indecision. Nausea churns in my stomach as I fret over which way to go. I crave to dwell in Serenity, but how do I get there? What if I make the wrong decision? How much will a mistake cost?  Fear engulfs me and the storm still rages. I doubt if Serenity really exists.

      I press forward, but soon I descend into a valley. I look up but the apricot sun sinks into the horizon. As the darkness gradually consumes me, my heart grows cold. I remain still. No desire to move. Apathy paralyzes me. I collapse.
      Then, a tender whisper, “I love you.”  He caresses my cheek. “Quit searching. I am here. Rest. I will take you to Serenity.”  He picks me up and cradles me to his chest. I feel his warmth. Peace consumes me. Joy begins to bubble from within. At last . . .  Serenity is mine.
     The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. Psalm 23:1-3