Gathering Stones

This morning, Pat and I are heading down to the beach for a few days. We’ve been keeping a watchful eye on Hurricane Matthew, but it looks like he is going to stay away from the Delaware coast. Whew!

We will encounter a dramatic-looking ocean for a day or two, though. There is nothing like whipped-up, white-capped waves! Since I will be just looking and not swimming, I’m actually looking forward to it.

When we took our trip to Bethany Beach last year, I wasn’t really looking forward to anything. In the months that led up to our little get-away, both my mother and my best friend Marylou had died within a short time of each other. Their deaths were sudden and shattering. The spring and summer of 2015 were a blur and, by the time October came, all I wanted to do was just sit on a balcony and look at the waves.

It ended up being a nice trip but, looking back, I remember how grief pressed on me. I felt it physically — as if my heart was literally broken in two.

What a difference a year makes.

Last October I was deeply sad, suffering from the trauma of losing two of the most important people in my life. I wasn’t looking forward at all. The thought of life going on without them hurt. It wasn’t time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us:

To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.

Last year was a time to mourn. It was a time to look back and a time to look inward.

It was a time to gather. I gathered together my precious memories and as much hope as I could hang on to – but I needed help.

A few weeks before our trip to the ocean, I made the decision to go for counseling. It wasn’t the first time I’ve sat in a counselor’s chair and I am sure it won’t be the last. The losses were hard to bear and my mother’s absence stirred up other brokenness that I knew needed attending to once and for all. It was time.

We often think it’s weak to tend to our mental well-being – but in my experience it is one of the bravest things we can do. We cannot do it all ourselves. Our loving God provides gifted and skilled counselors to help us.

They are our beloved guides who safely take us to places of revelation within our life story. They are empathetic and encouraging truth tellers – the light shines in and then we place it all before the Father for healing.

As I learned in college – psychology reveals, but Jesus heals.

Upon my first visit to her office, a carved wooden bowl of beautiful hand painted stones was sitting on a table. A sign indicated that anyone could pick up a stone, hold it and take it with them.


The first one I picked up had the words ‘Be Brave’ painted on it. I brought it home and placed it on my desk. It would remind me to have courage to move through the grief and pain that were laid bare in her office each week.

Over the months that followed, I gathered more stones with different words on them. I placed them around my home office along with scriptures and prayers.

It was a time of looking back, looking inside and, quite honestly, grieving over more losses than only my mom and Marylou. It was a time of discovery and of painful truth.

Each week we met and together worked our way down the healing path. She led the way and I followed. It took longer than I expected, but one day something happened – I began to lift my head.

My eyes had been in a downward gaze for so long. Pain pushes us into that posture. But, as the light took over more and more of the darkness, I began to look up and out. My gaze moved outward and away from myself.

I felt so much better. The heaviness that had been pressing down lifted too. The season was changing and I was on the mend.

What a difference a year makes!

Not too long after, I realized I didn’t need the stones anymore. The time to gather had passed and so… I began to give them away.

I gave the ‘Peace’ stone to Marylou’s husband.


As my youngest son was leaving for an internship far from home, I slipped the ‘Be Brave’ stone in his hand.


And then to others. One by one, I gave them all away.
There is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to mourn

A time to seek answers

A time to accept

A time to heal

And then … He takes our chin in His hand and gently lifts our head. Our perspective changes and we notice that it’s time to give the hope away to someone else.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. — Psalm 3:3

Many Blessings,

 

 

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Unexpected Blessings

 [My friend and ministry partner of 18 years, Donna Bowles, is guest-blogging today. I know you will love the sweet story she is sharing – be blessed!]

Sandy was not just any bus driver. Her joy and her smile are something I looked forward to every afternoon as I put my student on her bus. Even though we hadn’t had any long conversations, the Jesus in me definitely saw the Jesus in her each time we spoke.

On a particular winter day a few years ago all of that changed for both of us. It was a few days after one of those snows when everyone is told school is on, but then shortly after all the drivers are at the depot, it changes to a snow day.

I asked Sandy that afternoon if she’d driven to the depot on that particular day, and where she had driven from to get there. She told me she had driven from the same town where I live. I told her I lived there as well and she asked me where.  As I was describing exactly which house was mine (she was out of her seat by then), she exclaimed,

“That was my grandparent’s house!”

Come to find out, it was her uncle who sold us the house 17 years ago. We were both so excited to make the connection! She then told me of times spent in my home with her family, and of the constant smell of the homemade bread, and big dinners in my kitchen.

After our time of sharing and pure amazement at what God had done, I asked Sandy if she’d like to bring her mom and her sisters over to see the house.

We set a date, and that morning, as soon as Sandy’s mother Hazel walked in, she began to cry. She went from room to room, crying, more in some rooms than others, as she recalled times spent with her parents in my house.

It was the last place she had seen her parents on this earth.

After we went through the house, we sat down and had some homemade rolls (the house smelled wonderful) and lemonade, and talked awhile.

We finished our visit with pictures of all of us together on the front porch. We all knew the Lord had brought us together.

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This week I had an unexpected visit from Sandy. She came to tell me that her mom Hazel had died a few days earlier. She was 94 and died in the same house in which she was born.

Sandy sat on my sofa where she’d sat with her mom before, and told me about Hazel’s life, and what a wonderful mother she was to her children. She had also raised two of her grandchildren after her daughter died.

My heart was full as I listened to her.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed,” Prov. 31:28, was what came to my mind as she spoke. Sandy said that was the very verse she used in the obituary to describe her mom. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think she was telling me all of this in a place that was so special to her mom.

I went to Hazel’s celebration of life at her church. I learned of her long legacy of faith that she passed on not only to her family, but to everyone she met. It was clear that it was she who taught my friend Sandy and the rest of her family about Jesus by the way she lived her life all those years. We sang Victory in Jesus and I’ll Fly Away in celebration of a life well done.

This is truly not my story, it’s God’s. He is the only one who could have orchestrated Sandy’s and my conversation that winter day.

He knew where I lived, and was waiting for just the right time to let us know that was why He had brought us together. I am so grateful for His plan and purpose.

 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11-12

Blessings,

Donna

Donna Bowles has been leading women to stand on God’s Word, really understand it and apply it to their lives, for over 30 years. Her deepest desire is for women to apply God’s Word to their everyday circumstances and be victorious over the struggles and trials that come their way.

She is the co-founder of Sisters in Faith Ministries which includes the Manorwood Café, a Bible study for women in her community; Sisters in Faith, a bi-annual day retreat; and Step Up Coaching for Women in Ministry.

Donna has been a widow for 11 years. She is a mother of two grown children, grandmother to two very active boys, and a lifelong Maryland resident. She works full time in Elementary Special Education and really enjoys having the summers off!

Three Women {three haunting beautiful faces}

Happy Tuesday dear friends! 

This week, I am so very happy to have my sweet friend Cyndi Word guest-posting on my blog! Cyndi is one of my all-time heroes. There are many reasons for that, but today you will see that she is a person who is fully committed to reaching the most desperately hurting around her. This sister is the real deal, ‘all in’ and is drawn to places where evil has had a serious foothold. Cyndi brings Jesus’ light and truth into the darkest of places and to the most hurting & broken people imaginable. When she shows up, she brings love, grace, and a hilarious sense of humor! I just love her and so will you. 

Everybody — meet Cyndi! 

 

Cyndi and a little in the Dominican Republic
Cyndi and a little in the Dominican Republic

 Three Women {three haunting beautiful faces}

I can call-up their faces in my memory so easily. Three different women living in three different places in absolute and abject need.

The first, I recall from my week on mission with our church in the DR. She must have been in her 60’s, or perhaps she was much younger and poverty had etched those lines deeply into her face.

She had some kind of deformity, the sides of her precious face didn’t quite match up and she was so obviously self-conscious about it. This woman came into the little church where we were doing vacation Bible school and made her own craft.

Tiny pieces of colorful tissue paper were glued onto a picture of a tree that was drawn on a paper plate, making her own version of the burning bush.

I came around with my camera and she excitedly held up her project, a huge smile on her face.

As I aimed the camera she slid her craft up to cover her deformity.

My heart shattered just a bit as the shutter of the camera clicked.

I longed to take that lovely, joy-filled face in my hands and tell her she was beautiful — that she had a Father that adored her.

That she never needed to hide her deformity because each and every one of us has them, seen or unseen.

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The second woman is a human trafficking victim, an addict and a sister in Christ.

I have had the honor of cracking open God’s word with her and celebrated when she accepted Jesus as her very own. Tears have fallen from my eyes as she lifted her amazing voice to sing of God’s grace and the freedom found in His redemption.

But…after a year and a half of safe-haven in a restoration home, Satan sent the demons so familiar to her and she returned to the streets.

I met up with her for lunch one day — or at least I had lunch while she sat shaking from the drugs coursing through her system.

I have no doubt of her salvation, but I fear her only peace will come when Christ calls her home. I ask God to help me understand, why isn’t intense love enough to draw her back to Him?

He reminds me that He feels the same way and has cried out the same question to every lost soul that has rejected His love.  

The third woman, I just recently met. Her face might be the one that is haunting me the most.

She lives just an hour away from our suburban paradise in an abandoned building on the west side of Baltimore. I had the opportunity to serve dinner to some of the people in that area, and she came to the gathering at the end of the night. She could have been my daughter — was just about my children’s age.

Despite her tiny frame, I learned she had just recently given birth to a baby which was whisked away from the choices this young woman was making.

She smiled as she was introduced to me and I saw that all of her front teeth were missing. Her voice was high and sweet as she thanked us for dinner and for some blankets we had brought along. I longed to put her in my car, to drive her away from whatever had led her to the dangerous streets of west Baltimore.

Three women, three beautifully haunting faces. I see their eyes as I close my own and I ask God — what do you want from me? The needs are huge; God-sized and I don’t know what to do.

So far, these are the answers He has given. I share them because I am sure you have beautiful faces that haunt you too.  

  • Love the one I put in front of you. You may not feel as if you are making a difference, but to that one you are
  • Take the opportunities I give you to serve. You only get one life, so put the first things first
  • Don’t feel guilty for your blessings, feel responsibility
  • Most importantly, tell the hurting about Me.Tell them I love them, tell them I see them, tell them about my Son

 

 

In His Love,

Cyndi 

{from Laura} Learn more about the Baltimore area ministries where Cyndi serves: The Samaritan Women  and Angels of Addiction

When You Lose The Horizon

Pain is a great teacher. It is not a journey any of us would volunteer for, but once there, it can reveal valuable truths that we cannot learn any other way.

When we go through a crisis, it is not at all unusual to feel disoriented. The world looks different after a layoff, diagnosis, death of a loved one, or when distressing news is dropped on our doorstep.

When my husband was a young man, he had his pilot’s license. He allowed it to lapse after we were married, but I know he dreams of flying again one day. Pat loves to tell me all kinds of stories about his flying days and often quizzes me on ‘how to fly’. It’s all in fun, and I always fail miserably! 

Because I give all of the wrong answers, I am pretty sure he thinks I don’t fully listen to those old flying stories, but I really do – sometimes.  I was thinking today about the lessons I’ve learned through difficult experiences, and I remembered one story he has told me over and over again.

Pilots flying in reduced visibility due to dense clouds, fog or storms, often encounter spatial disorientation. When this happens, the earth, the horizon, or external reference points in flight become lost.

In non-pilot language – he cannot see where he is going and can quickly become disoriented. The pilot is unable maintain a correct sense of up and down while flying. His perception of direction does not match reality and now he is in a very dangerous situation.

Flying airplane

The NTSB reports that 40% of fatal general aviation accidents are due to the pilot experiencing spatial disorientation. Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline and John F. Kennedy Jr. all died because a pilot lost their ability to navigate visually during bad weather.

And there is one common denominator in most all of these fatal crashes — the pilots were not trained to fly in ‘instrument conditions’.

When human senses are no longer reliable, the instruments are. The pilot who is instrument-rated knows that they alone tell the truth. He trusts the instruments, the training kicks in, and he makes it through the fog and storm.

Girls, when we are experiencing the grief, panic and upset from a storm on our own journey, we can lose sight of our horizon. 

Our perception may not match reality. Everything is upside down and our sense of direction is gone.

When we find ourselves disoriented and we cannot trust our instincts – what do we do?

How can we find the horizon again?

I’ve learned that when bad news has been dropped on my doorstep, my life is flipped over and my senses are no longer reliable, my training kicks in.

Understanding I can’t go with what I see and feel – I go with what I know.

  • I may feel alone — but I know I am not alone.
  • I may feel there is no end in sight — but I know there is
  • I may feel as though I cannot see where I am going — but I know I am still on the journey.
  • I may feel I will not make it — but I know I will

And how do I know? I am trained in the unchanging, storm proof, total-truth compass that is the Word of God.

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I turn over my trust to what I have been trained for and He shows me the way out of the storm.  

It’s not to say I don’t panic or have upset – I do. But I am learning, ever so imperfectly, to rely on what I have been trained to do — and make no mistake, the training is on-going!

Scripture tells us that the Word gives us endurance and hope!

For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we may have hope. — Romans 15:4

And the amazing thing? The fruit of trusting His Word during the stressful times of life is this: you and I are being watched.

The people around us will wonder how we are still ‘flying’ after all we have been through – and when they ask — we will tell them Who is really flying the plane! 

We not only find our horizon, but we help others find theirs too.

We say, “I have been in the fog just like you – let me show you the way out into the light.”

I love God – He is such a multiplier. He blesses us so we can bless others.

Our witness – imperfect as it is – is contagious!

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many people will see this and worship Him. Then they will trust the Lord.” – Psalm 40:3

And He, of course, gets all the glory! 

Sister, if your life is upside down right now and you have lost the horizon, turn to what you know. His Word —  the unchanging, storm proof, total-truth compass, will set you straight again. It will lead you out of the darkness and into the light. 

Many Blessings,

laura

Giving Up The Right To Be Right

Last summer, my family and I took a trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It had been many years since we laid eyes upon the farm where my grandparents lived while I was growing up.

My brother and I have such wonderful memories of playing in the corn and soybean fields, as well as the wonderful meals my grandmother prepared in her farm kitchen. As children, we spent every Thanksgiving around her table and loved to visit each summer.

The farm was sold 30 years ago, after my grandfather died, and we don’t know the people who live there now. We drove by the house and noticed how much it has changed, but we didn’t go up to the door.

We decided to stop by the side of the road and take a few pictures.

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The farm across the street, which used to be owned by a distant cousin, had also been sold. We wanted to drive up the lane to look at the early 1800-era family cemetery located on the farm, but there were ‘no trespassing’ signs all over the place warning us away. We thought we had better not ignore those signs!

Instead, we visited the public cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried; we then drove through the little town of Goldsboro, past the church and other places that were part of our childhood. Once we had done all that, we had nothing else to do.

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About midway through the day, I realized that we had no one to visit.

There were no cousins or relatives to reminisce or catch up with. It hit me in kind of a strange way. My grandparents are both in heaven. My mother, their only child, has gone there, too.

Mom’s cousins and relatives may still live in the area, but I don’t know them. In fact, I’ve never even met them. I don’t know them at all.

I know that sounds odd. The fact is, my family farmed that land since before the Revolutionary War. The farm was acquired as a land-grant from the King of England. That’s how far back my family goes – but I do not know any of our relatives — my own generation — who live in the area now.

There are ways that families are broken that, in the moment, seem justifiable. There are hurts and disappointments that happen – and sometimes relationships are severed as a result. 

This was true in my family. The reason that I don’t know anyone on my mother’s side is that there was unforgiveness that went unresolved for decades. It was never made right and never gotten over.

Without going into a lot of detail, my grandfather ended his relationship with his two sisters — his only siblings — long before I was born. When this happened, my mother lost her two aunts and all of her cousins.

I only saw my great-aunts once. It was from a distance at a church supper. I was about six years old.

My mother pointed them out to me across the room and I remember thinking how much they looked like my grandfather. I also thought they looked like nice ladies, even though I figured they must’ve done something really bad if Granddaddy wasn’t speaking to them anymore. It was confusing to me, but I accepted it. I never saw them again.

My grandfather was a very good man, we loved him dearly and I do not plan on disparaging his memory in any way – but he was human. Something very hurtful happened to cause him to break off his relationship with both of his sisters.

I wonder why it was never resolved. Why didn’t they find their way back to each other?

The truth is, whether justified or not, my grandfather’s decision has affected our family for two generations. Right or wrong, it was a loss for the whole family. I didn’t fully realize it until we visited the farm.

Unforgiveness that is unresolved, never made right and never gotten over reaches far beyond the original offense.

To be clear, I am not speaking of a situation where something horrendous has happened. There are times when we must sever ties with people who have hurt us – even if they are family. Some people are not safe and there must be a break. Forgiveness, not necessarily reconciliation, is still the goal but, of course, it is a process. It can take a long time and we need God’s help to accomplish it.

This kind of deep, devastating hurt is not what I am writing about today.

I don’t know exactly what went on between my grandfather and his sisters. I do know that no one died, no one was physically hurt, and no one was unsafe. It was all a misunderstanding that snowballed and grew until it simply blew up.

Not always, but more often than not, unforgiveness is the result of pride, feeling justified and having to be right.

Many of us have trouble working through conflicts and problems.

When it gets hard, or we feel as though we might not win, we throw up our hands and say we are done. The other side feels the same. Lines are drawn and the relationship is broken. It remains unresolved because no one makes the first move or takes the first step. The stalemate can last a lifetime.

Here is a true and wise statement — I actually want to cross stitch it on a pillow, it’s that good. 🙂

“When in conflict with another person, the goal is not to be right – the goal is to be effective.”

Think about that for a moment. Isn’t that so true? What if we kept that in mind when navigating through any kind of problem-solving —  and not just in our family?

In my mind, ‘effective’ means that there is no winner – the issue gets resolved, the relationship is preserved and both parties are ok.

With this approach, we allow ourselves and the ones we are in conflict with the room to grow, learn and do better next time. Grace.

Scripture tells us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” – Romans 12:18

Since this is in the Word of God, we can’t pretend it isn’t there. Our response is our responsibility.

After my grandfather died, my grandmother lived another 15 years – she and I developed a close grown-up relationship. Many, many times she cautioned me about unforgiveness. She had deep regrets about the broken relationships within the family. In her generation, most women followed along with what her husband decided – even if she pleaded with him not to do it.

In her later years, she impressed upon me the importance of keeping the lines of communication open, to set boundaries if I must, but to forgive my loved ones.  She knew something that I am only now realizing – unforgiveness that is unresolved can break a family for generations.

Ephesians 4:32 says that we are to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

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We are supposed to be different, those of us who follow Christ. We are to extend the olive branch, give up our ‘right to be right’ and, as far as it is up to us, live in harmony with everyone.

After all, how can we explain God’s free gift of forgiveness to those who do not know Him, if we are not extending it ourselves?

 Sending love to all,
laura

 

 

 

 

"The first time I heard Laura communicate, my exact response was 'Wow'! Laura's teaching style is passionate, relatable, and hope-filled. She radiates warmth, kindness and a genuine interest in those around her -- on and off the platform. Her amazing story of transformation, coupled with her solid biblical teaching, will leave you also saying "wow!" If you're looking for a dynamic communicator, Laura has my highest recommendation!"

- Cindy Bultema, International Speaker and author of Red Hot Faith: Lessons from a Lukewarm Church and Live Full, Walk Free: Set Apart in a Sin Soaked World