It’s becoming increasingly clear the last couple of years – the time I have left to live is less than the time I have lived (coming up on age 70, fifteen months from now will do that). In light of my musings (more like distress) about traveling this final leg of my earthly journey, I stumbled upon the poem, “Help Me to Believe in Beginnings” by Ted Loder, from his book, “Guerilla’s of Grace”.
Beginnings? are you kidding me, when right now, it seems like the beginning of an ending?
The following words in my journal from a couple weeks ago are shared below: (Highlighting is mine.)
“Help me to believe in beginnings
to make a beginning
to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live
with the passion of Jesus Christ.”
“Help Me to Believe in Beginnings” Ted Loder, from Guerrillas of Grace:
How can I think of
a blink of an eye is
a month passed,
a lightning strike,
a year flown by.
when it feels like the
Choosing to focus on
the time I have
the time I don’t
is a choice.
Most days I make this choice.
Some days the choice is elusive.
Today is one of those days.
Happy birthday to Brenda Jane.
August 28, 1959 – August 28, 1959
August 28th, fifty-seven years ago:
I am 11 years old. A baby is coming, but the Doctor has been saying there is probably something wrong with the baby and if Mother “miscarries” it will be “God’s way of taking care of it.”
Four years and two brothers after praying for a baby brother, I am hoping for a baby sister.
Sadly my little sister is born too soon, the entire span of her life – seven hours between her first and last breath. The birth is difficult and my mother almost dies. Looking through the nursery window, daddy says the baby is so small he could have held her in his hand.
“She was “perfectly formed,” he says
August 28, 2016
We didn’t talk much about how we all felt in those days. That’s just how it was. Grief seemed to be a private thing. After the initial disappointment, I put my feelings into a box, shut the lid and placed it on a shelf. I had only told one friend, who already knew because her mother had told her. I told no one else.
Later, in conversation with my parents, I learned more of the burden of deep pain they carried quietly in their hearts.
And we know “perfectly formed” babies still die.
And now, I am the only one left after my brother Gordon died at age 49 in 2005. (My second brother Ronnie died nine months after Brenda Jane.) My little sister’s short life isn’t just a “fact” anymore. I miss her. I miss Ronnie. I miss Gordon. If even one of them were here, I wouldn’t be “the only one left.”
“Singing their song,” is now important to me.
“If their song is to continue, then we must do the singing. We have to find that special way that will allow us to sing our loved one’s song loud and clear . . .” Elizabeth Stillwell Grief Digest, Volume 2, Issue #4
This little poem came to me Aug. 28th as I once again sat in the quietness of remembering my little sister, Brenda Jane Longenecker.
Posting here gives me a way to sing her song. I also sang it HERE in 2011.
to Brenda Jane
How could I sing
your song, when you
came and left so soon?
How could I sing
your song, when I
did not know the tune?
Because the song
you would have sung
barely got its start,
the song I sing
for you is cre-
ated in my heart
Years I did not
sing your song,
did not know I could.
Wee One, I’ll sing
your song. It is
very, very good.
“You were perfectly formed,” Daddy said.
Psalm 139:13 – a big sister’s paraphrase:
For you created Brenda Jane’s inmost being;
You knit her together in our mother’s womb.
I praise you, because she is fearfully and wonderfully made.
I know that full well.
If you were walking Miami Beach along about 72nd and Collins Avenue last week, you just might have seen someone that looked a lot like me, sitting at the ocean, texting and thought, “Now isn’t that crazy – an ocean to see and she’s texting.”
Before you render final judgement, about me texting at the ocean, please keep reading and see what I was texting to my grandchildren.
Recently, Miss E and I were talking in the car about how sometimes God speaks to us through nature. He created beautiful things to show us how good and beautiful and grand he is – how much he loves us.
She said: “Oh, I love nature too, especially oceans and seashells…the ones where you can hear the ocean when you hold it up to your ear.” I assured her I would look for one and I would also send her a photo of the ocean. This morning I took that video with this message your Mom or your Daddy will read to you.
When I saw the waves this morning
“Jesus’ love is like the waves.
They just keep coming . . .
no matter what . . .”
the way your parents
will always love
Like I will always love
Jesus is always there.
He hasn’t gone away
even when he doesn’t feel close . . .
Just like the waves of the ocean…
He is there
of the day
And you will never be able to make US stop loving YOU!
Grandma and Grandpa Hiestand
( Don’t tell Miss E, we found a seashell big enough to hear the ocean for each family at the Shell Man, along the road down in the keys. Maybe it will remind of the ocean and the Jesus who always will love us and always be with us.)
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I am part of an online group of women who are what I like to call, “of a certain age.” I think it’s women over 50 and on this my 68th birthday, I am reminded I qualify with flying colors. Each week there is a word for us to ponder on or maybe even blog about. This week’s word is “sacred.” And I can’t help but remember this post about Sacred Spaces long ago and far away (Nov. 2010), so I am bringing it forward once again. These last years of care-giving, retiring and all that came along with that, changed my rhythms and I have had a hard time finding them again. It is becoming quite clear to me being open to new rhythms, instead of trying to impose the former ones is the way to start again.
Sacred Space: A time and place set apart for God and God alone.
Sitting this morning on “my rock,” under “my willow tree,” my eyes fall on the now familiar view across the lake – the new houses I have watched “grow.” I sense there is something special here, but I don’t think the houses are “speaking” to me today. It’s more because these houses, along with the willow tree under which I sit, tell me that I am in my sacred place once again.
The view isn’t what is sacred!
But seeing these familiar sights ushers me into
a settled-in feeling that says . . .
“Ahhhhh . . . .I am here Lord.
I am so looking forward to being with you this morning.”
these are places where I’ve
met you in meaningful ways.
engaged my heart with yours.
I have more than one “Sacred Space.”
Besides this rock, under the willow tree beside Lake Opeka,
there is the off-the-main-path waterfall at the Garden,
“my”corner table at The Garden Cafe . . .
the lakeside hide-away across from the Garden fountain . . .
mom’s chair, now mine and the crackling “Montana” candle . . .
And it occurs to me that it isn’t so much the physical surroundings
as it is the interaction I’ve experienced here
the times I have engaged my heart through Scripture
Places and experiences like these draw me back for more.
Revisiting this post helps draw me back to a rhythm. It will be a new one, not like the old, for much as changed. Sometimes it’s good to read your own words.
My husband and I were alone on Thanksgiving. “It’s all good,” I told someone yesterday. “Our children and 10 grandchildren are with their other families. Well, one is still in Ethiopia. We expect to have her here with us soon.”
And I missed my mom and my dad. They are gone now, as are my siblings, taken far too soon.
Today I spent time in Psalm 100 and realized again God how has walked with me through these past 10 years. I felt Jesus’ presence here with me in the quietness of the day. Sometimes I wondered if I’d feel his presence again. There were many moments of being with the loss and the sadness and yes, even doubt that sometimes comes with the loss, yet godly counselors, friends, and loving family helped carry me.
Psalm 100 is all about giving thanks . . . God’s goodness . . . his faithfulness lasting through generations . . . . How I have believed this through my life. And how I have doubted all of it at one time or another in the darkness of the past 10 years.
Knowing God was going to be OK with my doubt, I didn’t try to “fix” it with all the right answers, although I have tried to do that most of my life. He knew I was on a journey. And so I sat with God in the doubt, in the darkness.
And now he has brought me to a place of being able once again to absorb these cherished scriptures.
I had memorized the five verses from Psalm 100 as a child. Being a visual learner, now when I can see, I can remember and even memorize again. So here goes my visual version of Psalm 100:1-5
2) Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3) Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4) Enter into his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
5) For the Lord is good, his love endures forever,
and his faithfulness endures to all generations.
God, this is why I am telling my story – to show your faithfulness, even when it has seemed you are far away and maybe will seem that way again.
You may click HERE to read a Memoir posts.
Joining this week with Lisha Epperson, Give Me Grace Community
(Carol and Gordon, April 5, 2005)
On this, the 10th anniversary of her husband’s death, my sister-in-law, Carol, has agreed to share an excerpt here from her recently written series of reflections on the first year of being a widow. Yeah, it gets confusing, both of us being Carol and all. (Gordon died of hypothermia after being lost in the Montana mountains.)
The loss of my husband of nearly 25 years left a gaping hole. I was only 52. The unfinished book “The Excellent Wife” (by Martha Peace) sat with a marker frozen in place between its pages. There is no longer an urgency to pick it up again.
Photo albums will no longer be of a family of four, but completed scrapbooks softened the edges of that jagged hole. My then 23 year old daughter asked “Who will walk me down the aisle?”
And I wonder how I will be able to support myself, take care of the yard, live alone. Who do I call about adjusting the automatic thermostat, the broken shower door or with computer or car repair questions? Who will finish the projects he started?
With whom will I reminisce about the trip to Georgia and Alabama when it was just the two of us to remember? Gordon won’t be there to share our dreams for the future or sit with me in church or fall asleep on my couch. I won’t have a reason to fix his favorite potato soup or pecan pie. There are so many layers to losing a husband that only time would reveal, and often unexpectedly. I never thought “til death do us part” would come so young and in this way.
I learned grief is like a shadow, a permanent, attached part of me. It used to cast a long, obvious shadow, but now, even though that shadow is short and sometimes hidden, it is and always will be there. I learned you cannot fully understand grief’s broken heart until you experience it yourself. I learned sorrow and joy can exist side by side, not only in the same day but in the same moment. I learned my anchor in Christ was strong enough to hold me through the storm. I learned I needed salty tears to wash my broken heart.
I learned just as others’ lives continued on around me, I had to make my own also go on. I learned how to redefine “a hope and a future” because my future was no longer linked to my spouse. I am learning to deal with loneliness as I learn to fill the holes left by my husband’s death.
I learned grief is weird, making me feel conspicuous yet invisible, surrounded yet alone, comforted yet afraid. I learned to do the things I think I cannot do. I learned every loss has layers. I learned how to navigate through my own journey of loss and pain.
My belief God is never early and never late was tested to the max and I came through the experience with that belief still intact. Above all, I can say with the Psalmist “I have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
by Carol Jones Longenecker
And now from Carol, the sister.
By the way, who walked that daughter down the aisle when she got married? Her mother and her brother. Carol said we would experience JOY on this day and we did. See it in their faces?
“A Day of Joy” four years later
Four little boys have been added to the family – my brother’s grandsons. He’d be over-the-moon proud of his grown up children, their spouses and those little men.
And to my brother I would say – you would be so proud of that wife of yours. She just put one foot in front of the other and did the things she thought she couldn’t do. I think she surprised herself. She’s quite a woman!
You are welcome to leave messages here for her in the comments below.
(You can also read a letter I wrote to my brother HERE on the 5th anniversary of his death.)
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Second in a series of “No Quick, Easy Answers” for my Memoir. (read about “Remembering” HERE) While the story will be more complete for my family, I share here what I learned about drooping tulips and forgiveness.
* * *
Recently an acquaintance and I were talking about forgiveness. She had received unsettling news. Changes for her she didn’t want and didn’t see coming. There are reasons, she says. She understands (even I understand how it probably happened) and she is forgiving. I believe her. And then I tell her a story:
It’s a cold dreary day in April and even the tulips at home are drooping this morning. I feel like the tulips.”
I wrote the this to a friend and “brother” a couple weeks after a particularly difficult life experience that felt like betrayal. In a dysfunctional way it was. There was “blame” on both sides. And it never came to a nice tidy resolution.
“I guess I’d better forgive,” I continued. (Remember this was two weeks after a life-changing decision thrust upon us – one we had no part in making and no warning of its coming.”)
My wise friend responded, “Don’t rush to quick forgiveness without first dealing with the pain and anger. And when you think you have forgiven and there is more anger, it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It means you have more to forgive.”
It was what I needed to hear. I needed to own the hurt and anger. If I hadn’t, it would have gone down deep inside me and I suspect I would still have it down there somewhere, affecting me and others in ways I could not understand.
And when I did forgive and then had to forgive some more, I didn’t spend time in needless shame, wondering if my forgiveness was real the first time.
I thank God for that dear friend. I have never forgotten his advice.
And I have passed it on to others.
PS: My friend told me later it was helpful for you to hear this story. Maybe it will mean something to you too.
When I Am Afraid I’m depending Too Much on Others As If God Isn’t Enough
(This is the first is a series of posts entitled “No Easy Answers” which will also be included in the Memoir I am writing for my family.
Psalm 77 has long been one of my favorite Psalms. Opening with a desperate cry to God for help, the writer pleads to be heard. Losing hope, he wonders “How long, Lord, how long.” Finding comfort elusive, in desperation he says, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD: I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty acts.”
Hope returns. He is comforted. The chapter that began with lament turns to a psalm of praise – for God’s leading, his protection and guidance.
I have found comfort in this Psalm over the years. I have believed the truth of remembering. To remember we need to record God’s activity in our daily lives. I did this. I taught others to do the same.
So why didn’t it work for me anymore – to “remember the deeds of the Lord” and then praise him as I remembered. The changes and challenges seemed too hard, too big. And by this time I knew things don’t always “work out” – whatever that meant. (By the way, please don’t say “it will work out” to those walking in the dark; it minimizes the grief and pain they are experiencing.)
I wished for more faith, felt guilty I didn’t seem to have it. I leaned hard on my friends. They prayed when I couldn’t. They believed for me when I didn’t. They hugged me when I was sad, while encouraging me to embrace the grief and not run from it. My younger pastor friend, who was the age of my brother read everything I wrote, encouraging me to share my story with others and offered to let me be his sister. (I forthwith adopted him). Others made me feel special when I was so unsure of myself by the encouraging words they spoke. One had lost her brother and I knew she knew. They offered no easy answers, because there were none.
They were God to me – God with skin. Yet the question remained, why couldn’t I remember what God had done for me in the past and have it be enough?
And then I noticed the last verse. I had read it many times before, but I saw something new:
“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron”
God led them. He did great deeds.
And . .
God’s leading included the people he sent to them.
Suddenly it all fell into place. Instead of feeling shame at the niggling thought I should have been more faith-filled, not so dependent on others, I read with gratefulness this reminder – even thousands of years ago, using people was one of God’s ways of meeting the needs of his people.
We are not meant to walk this faith journey alone. We need each other. We bear one another’s burdens. Neuroscience has proven we are wired (created) for relationships, for connection with others.
When we remember what God has done and it doesn’t seem enough, let us remember the “deeds of the Lord” include the resources he has given us and often those resources include people.
linking with: Kelly Chripczuk and “Small Wonders” Community
I am going to include this in our family memoir. Maybe those reading this here on my blog will also enjoy learning more about these things that make it easier for me to sit down, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as I tell you my story.
“A practice is an act that helps you to engage with the process.”
(Vinita Wright, The Soul Tells A Story)
Most Important: Our Family Photo:
You are why I am focusing on Memoir Writing. If what I write does not speak to you, it won’t matter if it speaks to others. You are the precious people God has given to me. To do the work of capturing stories and lessons and insights to share with you, I sit at my desk with five key elements. This is how I write.
Five Key Elements:
A Mug, a Candle, a Glass Heart, a Journal and a Pen with a Message.
A Mug: The coffee mug, cracked, but still usable, reminds me WHY I write. Etched into the pottery are the words from Psalm 78:6 “ . . . that the next generation may know.” (See Why I Write – click HERE)
A Candle: Striking the match and lighting this candle is my way of inviting the Holy Spirit into my writing process, for I see my writing for you as collaboration with God. My candle of choice is a crackling, Woodwick Candle® Fireside Scent. (I wish I could add a “scratch and sniff” feature here.) I bought my first one in Red Lodge, Montana and think of them as Montana candles. Much of my blog writing and memoir project is shaped by the Nov. 8, 2005 event in the Montana wilderness. The friendly cracking sound and the scent say “Write, so others will know what happened here and what happened to you as a result.”
A Glass Heart: A few years ago, my friend Karen and I each made a glass heart at Patterson Glassworks as a celebration of our friendship. This heart reminds me to write from my heart. I also remember whose who stood by me during a dark time in my life.
A Journal: Writing first drafts by hand quiets the inner censor and keeps me from editing as I go. It keeps my ADHD mind going somewhat in a linear fashion because it slows me down. Rabbit trail thoughts become starred items in the margin for safe keeping and future reference. Thinking without writing sends me in endless circles.
Inserted in the front of my journal is a message with these words from a friend, to remind me of my calling: “I see you as a courageous writer . . . courageous because you are . . . Writer because you love to write. It is part of who God has made you to be. You are learning to tell and honor your story.”
I will never forget Fall 2012, wrestling with the decision to retire from my 25 year career with a direct sales company. I spent weeks agonizing about this, wondering what I should do when, in one day, a dear friend and later that day, my counselor asked, “What do you want to do?” I could only answer softly, tears in my eyes, “I want to write.”
That evening, telling your dad about it, I looked down at the pen I had been twirling around in my hand. And there they were, the words: “Pursue YOUR Passion.” I didn’t know what to say, so we kept talking. Finally, holding out the pen to him, I said, “Look.” He looked at me and said “I think you know.” I did.
This pen resided on my kitchen window sill the next two years after retirement, as life took a different turn and writing took a back seat. Now the pen is on my desk.
With the photo of you, my precious family in front of me, reminding who I’m writing for, and these five elements close at hand to help me stay focused and centered, I begin putting down the words, one after another.
Linking up with Lisha Epperson and Give Me Grace Community (following links like this took me to blogs where I ended up making friends