Saturday, April 22, 2017

Embracing the NOW..."

              "I have eyes for the here.
                For the now, and the nearly now...
                just now."
                                  -Vicky Westra, my dear soul sis

Yesterday was a beautiful mix of life's contradictions, almost like the kind of stew my Mama used to make. Every delicious bite hand-made with love, every vegetable and ingredient well-chosen. 

I'll have a dash of great joy, add a pinch of fear, relief, and concern, and serve piping hot in a gorgeous old bowl full of family history.

Just saying the word "Mama" makes me miss mine and the tears just start to flow.

I remember being in the kitchen with my Mom when she was going to make stew. My Dad and I were full of anticipation for the tastes and smells to come. Comfort, true comfort in every bite. Food made with love.

All of this comes to my mind and heart after reading a blog post from my very dear friend, Vicky Westra. If you have read this blog before, you have heard just a bit of her story. She is my soul sis, a true gift from God. She has been a teacher to me, someone who has enriched my life at every turn. There is so much goodness in Vicky, so much wisdom.

Yes, she has stage 4 breast cancer that has now progressed.
Yes, in this latest treatment her hair has fallen out, again.
Yes, she is absolutely beautiful inside and out, no matter if her hair is her own or an amazing gift from friends.

Yet what struck me most, and what I most needed to hear this week, was what Vicky said after finding out that her cancer had progressed...

  "I have eyes for the here. For the now, and the nearly now... 
       just now."     

This last week I have honestly struggled with being in the now.
I have wandered into the past and had some anxiety about the future. My beloved Bert had some medical tests this week after some pretty significant weight loss and his doctor was concerned about why this might be happening. So yesterday we spent a good part of the morning in a medical lab taking all kinds of tests. After a 14 hour fast leading into all of the pricking and poking, we were both a little dizzy.

I have wandered into "What if this happens?" "What if
that happens.." I have been in a pretty steady dialogue with God... asking for His peace, asking for His grace.

When I read Vicky's words a puzzle piece just fell into place.
An answer to prayer. He has it all, and I do mean ALL, in His Almighty hands. He knows what is in store, and He will be there in the midst of whatever comes next.

Not only was yesterday filled with a few chunks of anxiety, it was sprinkled with immeasurable JOY. Our precious granddaughter Annora Grace had her first birthday party. Bert and I could not stop smiling. Just seeing her laughing and giggling and hugging and kissing brings us such joy. Pictures to follow. :)

We were in the NOW, and we were reminded that God is with us and All Shall be Well!
God Bless!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Powerful Lessons About Forgiveness...

            Forgiveness is unlocking the door
              to set someone free and then
              realizing that you were the prisoner.

What were the chances this could happen? Totally improbable, unless you realize that God has a plan and can do what seems impossible. This week a moment at school, orchestrated by God, taught me some very powerful lessons about forgiveness. 

One of my students came into my class on Monday physically shaken. Tears were streaming down her face, her hands were moving back and forth, her body trembling like she had a high fever. It seemed as if she was having a panic attack, right there in class. 

I knew something was very wrong. I asked if she was okay and she shook her head that she wasn't. Trying not to embarrass her I brought her outside into a private part of the hall. She still could not stop crying. I asked her to take a deep breath and slowly exhale. She did.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, she whispered, "It's him."

I didn't know who "him" was, but I didn't need to know. Whoever it was she had seen, it had brought back horrible memories. 

After minutes of keeping my arm around her and encouraging her to breathe, she started to get the words out. While it is her story to tell, and not mine, the lesson is one I can share. Long story short,  some years back someone had broken into her home. She had come across the intruder as the person was taking her son's money. She looked the person in the face, and it was a face she would never forget.

She called the authorities, got a picture of the get away vehicle and the individual was arrested. They were sent to jail. The
entire time they were in there, my student felt safe. But now that they were out, she didn't feel safe any longer.

She had put her fear on hold, and then saw the person at school. Right there and it had all rushed back, like torrents of water breaking a dam. The violation and fear had returned.

As she told the story I wondered, what can we do? After all, our college is open and a healing place for many who have made mistakes. She had been wronged in the worst way, but the person who had wronged her had been held accountable, paid the price, and had the right to be in school to make a new life.

Yet all of that rationality aside, when you have been violated as she was, seeing the person who wronged you brings it all back.
All of it. Years and years of hatred and fear and pain.

Gradually as I talked to her I realized I had a pickle on my hands. I wanted to help her, and I wanted to help the person who had wronged her. 

How in the world could this be made right?

So I did what I always try to do in situations that seem hopelessly mired in pain, confusion and fear. 

I prayed.

I prayed right there in that hall, while I was holding her hand. I prayed off and on all day between classes. I asked God to ease the hurt and to let forgiveness and reconciliation flow. I told the good Lord God Almighty that I couldn't "fix this," but I knew He could. Finally, after praying, my own heart rate started to settle down.

The next day she again came to class. Again tears were streaming down her face. She could not stop crying. I knew
instantly why she was upset again, and I took her back to the private place in the hall.

Slowly, through sobs, she got the story out. She had seen the person again and just couldn't walk by, pretending not to know him. She had stopped him, asked if he knew who she was, and when she told him her name... his face fell and he looked down in shame. His own tears came as quiet sobs. 

He was visibly shaken as he confronted the victim of his crime, Yet instead of being angry or defensive he said, over and over again, " I am so, so sorry. I was such a mess back then. I did an awful thing to you. Please forgive me. I am so, so sorry."

And there, in that hall in the college where I have taught for over forty years, she hugged him, and he hugged her back. 

She said, "I forgive you. I am proud of you for being in school and getting your life together. You can show me you mean what you say by always being in class and living your life not hurting others."

There in that hall she forgave him. There in that hall, he apologized from his heart. 

Forgiveness happened right there in that hall at SCC. 
Profound forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness God asks of all of us.

Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.

It was not lost on me that this profound act of forgiveness
freed him of the shame of making a huge mistake, but it also freed her of the anger and fear.

It was not lost on me that this act of forgiveness took place 
during Holy Week. It took place on the week when those of us who love God and Jesus mourn that He was placed on a cross, through no sins of His own, and was crucified for my sins. Your sins.

Everyone's sins.

Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.

Forgive them as they are nailing you to a cross? Forgive them after they have dug thorns into your head and mocked you and
yelled obscenities at you?

Forgive them for turning their back on you and denying that they even know you?

Yes, after all of that, He still forgave us.

Just like my student in that hall, God puts his arms around us and hugs us when we are truly sorry for what we have done.

Jesus is my absolute model for forgiveness. For making the ultimate sacrifice. For taking the sins of the world on himself
so that I might have life and have it more abundantly.

And this young lady, who forgave her intruder, put her arms around him and asked him not to do this again, she is a role model to me of living her faith. 

Really living her faith.

Today is Saturday, the day before Easter, the day before a resurrection, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

This morning as I share this lesson I learned about forgiveness from my student, I realize that she was my teacher about how to really forgive. 

She had been a prisoner to anger and fear, and as she forgave she unlocked the door to set the other person free. Yet in all truth, in doing that, she also became free herself. Her forgiveness was the first step in her own resurrection.

What a profound lesson in forgiveness. What a gift she gave him and what a lesson in forgiveness she taught me. 

As Easter approaches, may you know in your deepest heart of hearts that God loves you, just as you are. May you know
the gift of His deep love and forgiveness.

Happy Easter, dear friends! Amen and Amen!


Saturday, April 08, 2017

Hurrah! At last...

                         The day the Lord
                      created HOPE
                    was probably the
                        same day He
                       created Spring!
                                                                                    - Bernard Williams

It has been a long, long, l-o-n-g winter here in Spokane. We have had record-breaking amounts of snow and ice and record-breaking amounts of rain and flooding.

Almost every time the sun came out you could hear an audible sigh of contentment from all of us Spokanites.

We are sun hungry, that's for sure.

I have been waiting desperately for signs of spring. Truth be told, I have even been a tiny bit grumpy because spring seems to be taking its own sweet time to get here. It is clearly not on my schedule.

I am so, so ready for the grass to turn green, the soggy lawn to show life and the carefully planted daffodils to start blooming. I am ready to have temperatures higher than 40.

I am ready for new life and new beginnings.

My beloved Bert might be just a bit tired of my exclaiming with horror (just today) "Can that really be rain and SNOW falling? Are you kidding me?"

On top of my evaluation of the weather, I must ask Bert almost daily..."Have you seen one yet?"

Quietly, knowing how anxious I am for spring to get here, 
Bert just nods and slowly shakes his head sideways.
He knows, especially after being married to me for 34 years, that I am not going to love his answer. 

So he looks away and says, "Not yet."

Then, knowing that my word for 2017 is HOPE, Bert looks up, smiles, winks, and proclaims...

        "It won't be long, honey. I'll keep watch for you.
           The minute I see it, I'll run and get you."

With quite a dramatic sigh, I manage to say, "Ok."

This saga of waiting and anticipating brings back several old memories...

As a young girl I could hardly stand it until Christmas got here. I would count the days until Jesus was born and Santa finally came down the chimney at our house

I figured that old St. Nick would be awhile since he had to bring presents to all the children world-wide.

I also couldn't wait until my birthday got here. The anticipation often kept me awake at night as I imagined just how it would be. My mind anticipated every detail, even down to the taste of the icing on my cake.

I've never been great at waiting...wasn't great then and I am still not great now.

Bert actually loves that part of me, the part that anticipates positive things and can hardly wait until they get here. The part of me that just holds my breath until  football season, or Christmas or even the start of school.

Yet what have we been waiting for these days, you might ask?

Simple answer: The first green leaf

Not just any green leaf, mind you, but the first green leaf on a tree in our yard.

Yesterday, as we were backing out of our driveway, I happened to look up  and caught a glimpse of color.

Much to Bert's amazement, I stopped the car, flung
myself out the door, ran across the lawn and started to jump up and down in sheer glee!

I yelled, "Hurrah! At last it's here. I knew it would come!"

Bert, a tad dazed by my hasty exit from our vehicle,
decided to come take a look at what was causing all the ruckus.

He looked up, saw that tender bud of a leaf ( I promise you could see just the smallest bit of greenand grinned from ear-to-ear.

He said, "Well isn't that perfect, honey. Here it is our 34th anniversary and God gave us a present. And He must have known what a sign of HOPE that present would be, especially for you."

Yup...exactly. The most perfect gift ever!

So there you have it. After we returned from our errands, and some Baskin and Robbins ice cream (after all it was 46 degrees out), we started to do detective work all over our yard. 

We were on the look out for more green leaves.

Yes, a sign of HOPE. A sign of God's love. A sign that
"all is well!"

A sign of fresh beginnings. A sign that in times of change and tension, that God is still here, right where He belongs, doing what He has always done...bringing new life.

Not only have I been searching for the first green leaf, the past weeks have been a time of searching my heart about my relationship with my Lord.

During this season of Lent, I take lots of time to look at the hard things in life, the challenges that take your breath away. I take time to ponder and look, really look, at how I am living each day. How am I living for God? What sacrifices am I willing to make for Him? 

Lent isn't easy, but it marks the anticipation of a sacrifice and much needed resurrection. 

Lent reminds me that just like searching for the first
leaf of spring, I need to search my own heart. Lent
leads me to Easter.

Spring and Easter are all about HOPE and SACRIFICE and RESURRECTION and new beginnings. They are about focusing on what really matters.

Just as I exclaimed about spring,  "Hurrah, at last. 
I knew it would come," I can also exclaim about Easter "Hurrah, at last. I knew He could come."

God Bless, Happy Spring and have a blessed Easter!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Start Each Day With a Grateful Heart...

"Do you want to change your life?"
she asked.
   "Then start each day with a grateful heart!"

    Annora Grace, truly a gift from God, on her 11 month birthday! Isn't she precious!!

Each morning I have a simple ritual. I get up, make coffee, wrap myself in a quilt by the fire, and take out Jesus Calling,
my journal and prayer list. I take a deep breath, focus on God's love and then start my day by writing down three things that I am grateful  for.

They don't have to be big things, little things will be just as powerful.

Remembering to be grateful changes my life every day. 

As I look at my prayer list this morning, I see some names
that have been on there for a long time. I keep praying because
I love these dear folks so much and because God has asked me to pray!

I believe with all my heart that prayer is powerful and that God hears each prayer we pray. 

I look at that list and also see hearts drawn next to each prayer request that I can see God's clear answer to. It gives me such hope to know that God hears and answers.

Some answers are not what I had hoped for, but I cannot know God's greater plan. I trust in Him and know He loves us even if the answers are hard to understand.

Who is on my prayer list? Well, one special sweetie has been on there from even before she was born. Both Bert and I commit to pray for her every day of her life. Her name is Annora Grace.

When you see the pictures of sweet Annora Grace, my beloved Grandbaby, at the start of this post...well, you are seeing the answer to so, so many of our prayers and the prayers of many faithful friends and family.

When I see Annora's smiling face and hear her amazing little voice saying Mama or Boppa or just brings me to tears.

When I see these precious pictures of her on March 23rd, her 11 month birthday, I am filled with such gratitude and praise.
Thank you dear Lord that she is thriving!!

Kissy, as we love to call her, is so wonderful and amazing. She brings such love and life into our lives. She is a reminder every single day that God answers prayers. When I just think of her
each morning in my early prayer time, my heart warms and gratitude floods my soul.

I am not only grateful to God for Annora Grace and all of the prayers God answered, I am grateful beyond words to many of you who prayed for Annora.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your 
prayers then and now for this sweet baby girl.

Special love and thanks to my dear, forever friend, Jackie,
who is a prayer warrior extraordinaire. Thank you
so much for praying for Annora and her Mama, Amy.
You hold such a special place in my heart!

Other dear friends like Vicky and Peggy and Sharon, prayed
and prayed for Annora as well. Thank you for being
so faithful and caring toward this sweet baby girl!!

Knowing that you were and are praying for her gives us all so much HOPE. Your faithfulness and continued prayers mean the world to all of us who adore this sweet baby! 

Annora Grace will always be on my prayer list and I thank God
for answering our prayers for this darling little one.

God Bless!
Love, Linda

Friday, March 24, 2017

Oh Happy Day! ...

            "Oh, Happy Day, Oh, Happy Day.
          When Jesus washed, my Jesus washed...
          all my sins awayOh, Happy Day!"
                                                   -From the Movie, Sister Act

Want a day-brightener? Watch this amazing, short song! :)

One of the great luxuries of being a "senior citizen" is being able to reminisce about anything and everything. 

I am continually amazed at how just seeing a picture or object can bring up a wealth of old stories. What's more, the face of the story teller is often animated as if the remembered event happened yesterday.

For example, my dear hubby, Bert, was/is a Paratrooper. And yes, Paratrooper is spelled with a capital P in our home. Bert's time in the military, jumping out of airplanes in the line of duty, is a precious part of my dearly beloved's life story. 

We can be in a restaurant and Bert will see another senior gentleman wearing a paratrooper hat, and suddenly Bert is up from his seat, introducing himself to a comrade. 

While they don't technically know each other, they truly KNOW

each other in ways I can never understand. That paratrooper hat set it all off and before long they are engulfed in old stories about their time in the service. 

Reminiscing to their heart's content. :) :)

It always puts a smile on my face to see how animated they are...

almost as if it all took place yesterday.

While it wasn't a paratrooper hat that set off the sea of old memories for me that I am writing about in this post, I saw something that started me reminiscing. 

Something that brought back a flood of old memories.

There I was in Target on a simple errand. Side note: We feel quite luxurious to have a Target on the south hill, where we live in Spokane, as it saves us a trip to the valley or north side. 

On that day, early last week, I was walking down the aisles searching for an item...and there it was....

              A simple sign, made with reclaimed wood. 

              Three words in script...

I stood and just stared at it. And then, without consciously knowing it, I started to hum the song "Oh Happy Day" from Sister Act, a movie from way back. In the movie, there was a choir of African-American teenagers, from the inner-city, and their choir director, played by Whoopie Goldberg, was a nun.

The story was one that resonated with me on multiple levels.

The gist of the story is about a woman, in the witness protection program, who leaves her old life and has been given a new identity. As a nun she is working at an inner city Catholic school and ends up directing a choir of inner city teens. They go to a choir contest and the song they choose to sing guessed it...
                                 "Oh, Happy Day!"

Remembering the movie and song came from seeing the sign. This simple three word sign also brought back lots of other memories I had long forgotten about, or at least shelved for the present. There I was at Target, in a daze, reminiscing internally about a plethora of things.

Reminiscence #1: I taught for three years at an inner city middle school with young people who felt helpless and hopeless.

We put on plays/dramas/musicals so the students could find a way to positively express their emotions. 

Seeing the sign reminded me of the song which reminded me of the movie which reminded me of my work with inner city teens. Isn't it amazing how the brain God gave us can hold all of those puzzle pieces and then right there in Target put the puzzle piece together for us? Thank you, Lord!

Reminiscence #2: As a young girl I grew up in the Catholic Church. While I didn't go to a Catholic school, every Saturday 

I had classes, taught by nuns, on the Catholic religion. At that
time, most of the church services were in Latin, and I felt pretty disconnected from all of the rituals. However, I did have a huge fear of nuns and purgatory. Seeing the sign reminded me of the movie, (which had a nun as a central figure), which reminded me 
of my own experiences with nuns many years ago.

More puzzle pieces coming together. 

Years later, when I was in the 9th grade, I went to Malibu, a non-denominational Christian camp, and gave my heart to Jesus.

Suddenly I saw God differently. For me, at least, He became more personal and I asked Jesus to be my Savior. At Malibu, we sang the song "Oh Happy Day!" That all came back just with seeing the sign.

All of this...all of these memories came flooding in...right there in an aisle at Target. As I left the memories behind, and tried to come back to the moment at hand, I realized that I had stopped humming "Oh, Happy Day!"

Oh, my goodness... I had started to sing it out loud!

Just seeing that sign had made me so happy that I burst into song.

So, long story short, the sign came home with me. It was an unintended gift to my spirit, and today Bert and I hung it up in our hall. I can see it clearly from my favorite chaise as I sit and drink my coffee and have my prayer time.

This morning, over coffee, we reminisced some more about all of our "OH HAPPY DAY!"  memories and played the video clip from Sister Act. That clip found us smiling, singing along and even clapping. The words of the song speak to my faith and my spirit.

It is an "Oh Happy Day"to know that, like the song says, my Jesus washed, yes, my Jesus washed, all my sins away. It is an"Oh Happy Day" to know that He taught me how to live and how to pray. 

It seems like no coincidence that, on top of everything else that came from seeing this sign, that Bert and I go to Bethel AME, a primarily African-American church. 

I wouldn't be at all surprised if this Sunday our choir started to sing "Oh, Happy Day!" 

Sometimes God just works like that!

God Bless and please play that short video clip at the start of this blog post. I promise, it will make your day!!!

Hugs and loves and prayers!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Great Reminder...

                            DO   MORE
                       OF  WHAT MAKES YOU
                                                           H A P P Y

It was a simple message on a t-shirt. Yet it was as if God sent those words straight to me.

Do more of what makes you happy! 

I smiled at the young woman wearing it at Starbucks. 
While she looked familiar, and at a quick glance I felt like I knew her, it seemed like perfect timing to say,
"I love the saying on your t-shirt. What a great reminder!"

All of a sudden the quizzical look on her face turned into a huge grin. "Linda? That's you isn't it?" She looked a bit startled at how loud her voice had been and her demeanor changed. All at once she was out of her chair, both arms open, ready to give me a bear hug.

As soon as I heard her voice, I recognized that somewhat southern twang and those deep blue eyes. She had the kind of grin that showed off most of her teeth. You just felt kind of giddy in her presence. She looked older than before, but then so did I.

Former students are everywhere! 

They are working at hospitals and are the ER nurse when Bert is brought in. They are teachers who love their students like I do. They are doctors and lawyers and social workers. They work at MacDonalds and they own small businesses.

This former student, Jennifer, had always been an artist. She and I used to comment on our shared love of design and I always loved to gaze at her photography portfolio.

That was then and this was now, so I was so happy to have a moment to catch up with her. Her bear hug felt like just the gift I needed that morning. Her sweet and kind words almost melted my heart.

* "I use what you taught me every day."
* "Whenever I correct my self talk and make it more positive, I can almost hear you whisper in my ear that I am somebody special."
* "I'm so honored that you were my teacher."

I tried not to have a big ugly cry in the middle of Starbucks. Somehow her kindness just sunk into a place in my heart that needed healing.

You see the end of the quarter is always bittersweet.
That very morning I had just said goodbye to 76 amazing students, and all the way to Starbucks I was trying to be brave.

I told myself that this always happens, this goodbye at the end of the quarter.

I told myself that while I would miss those students I might never see again, that they would always be a part of me and I would always be a part of them.

I told myself that after 50 years of being a teacher that it shouldn't hurt so much to let go of all of them.

But it does hurt. 

It is glorious and magical and God's work, and I pour my heart and soul into teaching every day.

The message on Jennifer's t-shirt told the story perfectly.

You see I get to do every day what truly makes me happy and teaching brings me such JOY!! I used to say, and it's still true...I was made to do this!

My grades will go in today after another long, long marathon grading session and then I'll get to rest and do more of what makes me happy in other areas of my life.

Yet for now...I will just take in Jennifer's words and thank God for the blessing of seeing her again.

God Bless!
Love, Linda

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Greatest Kindness...

                                   One of my very favorite sayings is... 
                            "Sprinkle kindness like confetti."

When you are truly the recipient of an amazing act of kindness, it restores your hope and it enlarges your heart.

The pictures above are of two people who hold the keys to my heart. They are the kindest people I know, the most giving and the most unselfish. They are Mama and daughter...Amy and Jenna. They both love fully with their whole heart and they both love Jesus and live for Him.

When my beloved Bert had a TIA stroke a year and a half ago, 
his whole world changed. While we were so grateful to God that Bert was still here, Bert retired from being a counselor and felt it wasn't safe to drive. 

So he was at home a great deal, recovering his strength. During that time, Annora Grace was born and Amy and Jenna's beloved dog, Daisy, came to our house so the family could become adjusted to the new baby.

Sometimes new babies and doggies need to get to know each other in small doses, so the decision was made to have Daisy visit us...for a small while.

And then it happened...Daisy and Bert (affectionately called Boppa) became buddies. They took walks together, took naps together and Daisy became Bert's special companion.

Daisy brought a huge smile to Boppa's face, just as sweet pets often do. That sweet little pooch filled a hole that no one else could fill and Bert was so attached to her.

And then the time came for Daisy to go home and the unthinkable happened. 

Amy and Jenna decided that as much as they loved and adored Daisy, they loved Boppa more. So Daisy, all these months later, is still at our house. She is still Bert's buddy and every day she puts a smile on his face.

When I think about how truly unselfish that act of kindness is, giving your special puppy to someone else you love so he can be happy, well... it just brings me to tears.

I'm not surprised that Jenna has a heart of gold, after all her Mama does too. I know that God must smile when He sees acts of kindness like this and it warms my heart every day to see Bert with Daisy.

I couldn't love Amy and Jenna more!

God Bless!
Love, Linda