Winsome Arrows

EDUCATIONAL SERVICES

Individualized teaching strategies & support for the exceptional child in the home, school, & church

More Than a Label

 My mother was a huge fan of labels. A child of the Great Depression, she was a fashionable woman who valued beautiful outfits and understood the care it took to keep them lovely. My sisters and I still smile when we recall the way she would sidle effortlessly behind us and deftly pull the label from a blouse's neckline to check the fabric’s contents and care instructions. 

Labels are important. They inform. They warn. They detail. Without labels, the cans in our pantries would cause daily mealtime preparation to resemble an episode of Chopped and the resultant dishes edgy at best and inedible at worst. 

But what of labels as they pertain to our children?

When I graduated with a degree in special education in 1977, recently enacted Public Law 94-142 offered welcome assistance to children with learning disabilities, developmental handicaps, and severe behavior disorders. Those were pretty much the labels of the day for children who fell in the mild to moderate range of special needs. Since then, the number of labels for our special needs children has exploded and with them the acronyms that accompany: SLD, ED, CD, OHI, MH, ADD, ADHD, ODD, PDD, ASD…. The list seems endless, and the statistics detailing levels of occurrence dizzyingly varied and mysteriously ever changing. 

Like the labels on our clothing, precise identifiers for children with special needs can do much to inform us as to the characteristics associated with particular conditions. With information comes understanding that enables us to care for and educate these little ones to the best of our ability. Labels can unite parents - offering support and camaraderie that strengthen weary souls on long days. Labels sometimes open doors to tangible assistance such as individualized educational programs or monetary resources for therapies and treatments. Indeed, these are all good things about labels. 

Yet, for all the good that can come from properly identifying children with special needs - whether it be necessary medical treatment or helpful educational accommodations - it is my opinion that today’s overzealous desire to label each and every variance in child development and personality can do much to harm the very children we seek to help. 

The following questions may help us evaluate the goodness (or not) of the labels we give our children:

  • Do we view our children as children first or as the sum total of their labels/conditions? 
  • Do we permit our children’s labels to define or limit them?
  • Are we quick to attribute common childhood behaviors or experiences to their labels?
  • How will having a diagnosis (label) positively change our children’s lives or the way in which we parent them?

Yes, labels serve a purpose, but like scratchy, ill-placed ones in our necklines, some need to be carefully trimmed or even removed in order to give our children freedom to discover the unique ways in which they have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” by their Creator.

Thoughts from a Grandma

It's been nearly five years since we received our grandson's Williams syndrome diagnosis, but I remember that day as if it were yesterday. Then, there were so many questions, so many fears. Today - so many joys! This is a revision of a post I wrote for the Williams Syndrome Association's November/December 2013 online newsletter. It has been generalized here to apply to any grandchild with special needs. 

  • Learn!  Educate yourself on what your grandchild's condition is and is not so that you can be a voice for him/her while educating others.
  • Lift!  Focus on the positive but do not negate your adult child's very real concerns.  Well intentioned but overly rosy commentary may not be helpful.
  • Listen!  Share your opinions sparingly. Rare are they who want excessive amounts of advice - especially from their parents. If your adult child needs to vent, ask if he/she wants advice (before giving it!) or just a sounding board.
  • Love!  Show your support and love in quiet but tangible ways. Ask how you can be a help (or not) or what kinds of gifts are needed or desired. Give your adult child permission to tell you no.
  • Live!  Enjoy each moment with your special needs grandchild just as you do with all your grandchildren. Grandparents are to be safe havens for all their little ones.  Don't try to overcompensate by doting or, worse yet, by withdrawing in fear.
  • Let it go!  You cannot change what is, so don’t waste precious moments “what if-ing”. Your grandchild is a blessing - “fearfully and wonderfully made”.  Live in that Truth and enjoy!

To My Dad

Teach Your Children Well

My father and I circa 1959

My father and I circa 1959

My father died about three weeks after my sixth birthday. Though my memories of him are few, they are poignant and have left an indelible mark upon my soul. Rather than fading with time, they have only grown more firm through the years. 

Here are some of them:

  • It is dark, and I am in a crib in the next room, crying - no, screaming - in a frenzy of furor. There are people nearby and light and warmth and laughter. My mother cautions him, “No, John, you shouldn’t get her up. She needs to learn.” But he does, and his arms are strong and welcoming. Indeed I learn. I learn I am loved and wanted but also that I can demand my way with tears or temper.
  • He is shaving in front of the brightly lit mirror in our 50s pink tiled bathroom. I am sitting on the clothes hamper listening to a story about a little girl named Joanie who lives in the forest and is a friend and protector of all the animals. “Tell me again, Daddy,” I plead, and he does. I learn the value of a good story and the importance of kindness and bravery but also (mistakenly) that I am the center of all things valorous.
  • We are sharing a midnight snack of toast in the kitchen - just the two of us - and the toaster catches on fire. My childhood eyes still see giant flames leaping from the toaster’s metal mouth when in reality it was probably nothing more than a burnt crumb causing a tiny flame. Regardless, my father deftly extinguishes whatever it was and shushes me saying, “Don’t tell your mother.” I learn that my dad is quick in an emergency and considers me a confidante but also that it is okay to keep secrets from those you hold dear.
  • We are in the boat he loved to captain on Lake Erie. Hard and fast he would drive and often in weather in which it was inadvisable to go. My sisters are clanging the bell attached to the hull opposite where my father sits at the helm. “Man overboard!” they shout, knowing the acute reaction they can elicit in me. My father says little and only seems to drive faster. I learn that he is in control and that I must deal with my fears as well as those who seek to frighten me but also that I am a bit on my own in the world.
  • We are walking hand-in-hand down a sunny, city sidewalk. After receiving a cool greeting from an acquaintance of his, we turn and start up the red rubber-coated stairs to my father’s office. He speaks quietly, firmly, sadly, “Joan, don’t ever hold a grudge. Do you know what a grudge is?” When I tell him no, he briefly explains, and I promise him I won’t. I learn that forgiveness is vital, relationships tenuous, and life’s journey both short and winding.

So here’s what I want to tell all you fathers with time still on your hands. Don’t presume upon the  day. This day, today, is all you hold. What has passed is in the past. You will teach your children many things, and much of it will be a mixed bag of good, bad, and indifferent. But know this, you are teaching your children. 

In your stories.

In your walks.

In your explanations.

In the way you treat those who love you and those who don’t.

Leave them with big ideas. Make them feel important but not overly so. Rescue them once in awhile, but teach them how to find help independently from you.

Love them freely even as you know you can’t love them perfectly (and children, forgive your fathers their imperfect love).

Most of all, Dads, entrust them to God - the only Father who perfectly gave and gives his best for his children.

And to my dad - if I could, I would say, "Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!"

And God, Bless Mimi 'n' Dog Jowl*....

Our grandsons ages 4 and 2

Our grandsons ages 4 and 2

Our oldest daughter recently told me that my husband and I are her little boys’ “number one prayer request”. You don’t know how that warmed my heart. To picture our grandsons, ages four and two, asking the Lord Jesus to bless us each night touched me deeply and made me consider in a new way childlike faith and the call to prayer.

Our message at church earlier this month was taken from this text:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

The young, visiting preacher did an excellent job expounding on Paul’s words to believers in Collosae those many centuries ago - words that detailed his faithful prayer that they might “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” - the why and the how. I was challenged to consider my life as I listened - Am I bearing fruit? Am I growing in knowledge? Does my life reflect the power of the triune God? Are my days filled with gratitude? I even began (with my pharisaical score keeping tendencies) tallying points in my head. Numbers 1 and 2 - getting better - two points. Number 3 - not always so good - half point. Number 4 - room for improvement - a bit half-hearted - zero. Although I took copious notes and privately vowed to integrate this passage into my life as a kind of inoculation against my propensity to sin, I found that by evening, such thoughts were far from me.

And then my daughter sent that text.

My heart was pierced, and my mind returned to that morning’s teaching. I recalled a time when, following my heart, I wandered for many years in a desert wasteland that nearly destroyed me. I thought of believing friends from my youth who, after my return, told me they had been praying for my rescue all along. I considered a godly grandmother, now long gone, and wondered if she had prayed for me before I knew my need for intercession. I thought of Jesus, looking down the corridor of time, beseeching the Father to guard those of us yet to come (John 17).

I thought of two, little boys faithfully praying in sweet, little boy voices for grandparents who live four, long hours away, and I felt so protected and loved.

I am one of the last in line to fully understand prayer, but here’s what I know. God's Word tells us to pray. Jesus prayed. Scripture is replete with many amazing prayers that lift our eyes heavenward and free our earthbound feet of clay. Prayer is an ordinary means of grace, and grace is far from ordinary.

Just ask those two, little boys and their grandma.


*Mimi and Dog Jowl are pet names our grandsons gave us. Yeah, Dog Jowl - long story....

Sweaty... I Mean Sweety

 Pittsburgh  Vintage Car Races with Four Children Six and Under- Summer, 1988

 Pittsburgh  Vintage Car Races with Four Children Six and Under- Summer, 1988

“I love my mom. My mom is so sweat to me.”

My oldest child wrote me these words in her best little girl penmanship 26 or so years ago. Though her spelling was a bit off, I understood what she meant and remember marveling at her spontaneous expression of love to me - a mother far less deserving of devotion than her note would indicate.

I was not always a sweet mommy.

I do, however, remember being a sweaty mommy.

I sweated my way through motherhood thinking I, alone, was responsible for all things child related. I sweated over the foods they ate (or didn’t), the developmental timelines they kept (er… or didn’t), their doctors, their friends, their schooling. How did they look? Did they make me look good? 

I sweated too much and prayed too little, and if I could have one mulligan - one thing to go back and change, it would be that.

There have been many other notes through the years including four received just yesterday. Kind and affirming, they speak of their love and admiration for me - a sweaty woman who now just wishes she had been as sweet a mother as their notes say I was.

Today is (Good) Friday

Today is Good Friday. 

I remember first hearing about the crucifixion of Christ as a girl and finding myself horribly puzzled that such a day could be called “good”. Why would a body of people christen one day of the year “good” when it was the day commemorating the torture and execution of their leader? My young mind could not fathom it. Were Christians some kind of backward people who called evil good and good evil? Were they confused at best or maniacal at worst? 

I remember asking my mother about this while in the car heading somewhere. She gave me a kinda-sorta answer - something about Jesus and sacrifice and… actually, I don’t quite recall other than it being an awkward moment when I felt stupid for not understanding a tenet of my alleged faith that was taken for granted by so many.

I remember junior high - my first year of school “in town”. Noon. Bells ringing. Then silence. Did we leave school early that day? My memories are so vague, yet what does come to mind is that the day was special, holy, dark yet full of hope, and I wished I understood.

I remember a teenage winter a couple years later in which I struggled through the gospel accounts of Christ's life - reading his recorded words that only caused more confusion:

"Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” 

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Upside down indeed! It appeared clear to me then that Christians were confused because the man they considered their savior was confused. Still, the words he spoke and the historical accounts I read only wooed me to read more, and so I peeked at the prophets’ writings - men who lived centuries before that inside-out man from Galilee:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

I remember August of that year - a hot, summer in which the lacquered hard chrysalis shell that had kept me from truth cracked just enough - allowing a fragile, wet butterfly to squeeze its way into a serendipitous world in which these words began to make sense and Good Friday became good.

Good Friday is good because on that day, on that cross - Jesus the God-man willingly bore the punishment that I deserved. It is good because, by his dogged obedience, he sought out and brought peace to this war torn rebel child. It is good because, with the tenderness of his nail pierced hands, he bound up the wounds that had scarred my sin enslaved heart. It is good because his pronouncement, "It is finished," only signaled the beginning of everything that is new.

I remember. 

Today is Good Friday, and today is good.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved*— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10

*emphasis mine

Repurposed

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My husband Ken is a man of many talents and interests, yet he’s something of an enigma. I tease him that when we first met, I thought he was a “city slicker” - smooth, well dressed, tall - a man of presence. To this day, he has a knack for color and can select the perfect tie to rock any suit. His artistic abilities are impressive. He knows his classical composers and, unlike me, enjoys operatic performances. And as to how he continues to win my heart - in the words of a once popular song, he definitely knows “What a Girl Wants”. So how, you might ask, is he an enigma? Well, my otherwise refined mate of nearly thirty years also loves to make regular visits to area scrap yards (that's right - junk yards) to search out and retrieve all manner of interesting items which others have discarded. This is what I've come to discuss.

It wasn’t until after we married that I discovered my husband’s hobby - and not long after that discovery that I came to the conclusion, albeit a premature and wrong-headed one, that I had made a "terrible mistake". For one thing, Ken collected (um… collects) stuff. Lots of stuff. Stuff stuffed in stuff - in garages, basements, and attics all over a tri-county area. I did not know this when I said “I do." I did not know the extent of his car and car part collection. I did not know I would have a Weber carb set-up in my family room as a kind of "Martha Stewart Meets Car Crazy" home interior scheme gone wrong. No, I did not know this about my husband, and for too long I nursed that surprise until it grew from a disappointment in infancy to an adult-sized resentment with a life of its own. 

By God’s grace, however, many years (and scrap yard trips) later, I've seen the need to repent of self-focused, ungrateful attitudes that cry out for my husband to be a mirror image of me. My eyes have grown accustomed to the unique light of our marriage, and as they've refocused, I’m seeing things in fresh ways. What a revelation it has been to recognize Ken's motto “Don’t Throw It Out” as an integral part of the way he was created to be an image bearer of the Divine. Huh, you ask? Let me explain.

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Ken doesn’t simply roam scrap yards hunting for treasures to haul home. Indeed, he does bring things home, but he does so with an eye to the future. Not content to leave things in their broken estate, he fixes them. Why, the man is a miracle worker! Need a power drill to replace yours with the burned out motor? He’ll find the same model with a broken grip, combine the good parts of both, and voila! a functional drill. Did you see that 40” flat screen TV set out for the trash? Chances are good he can salvage it by replacing the power supply with a $25 part purchased online. Do you need a wrench to reach an oddly-placed fitting? It’s more than likely he has two in stock - bent ones tossed out by a less visionary man who could only see damaged tools. The examples I could give are endless, and the dollars he has saved our family unknowable. But, this is what I do know: like Christ, my husband seeks out once treasured items long ago discarded - not just as an end in themselves, but with restoration and repurposing in mind.

We have a joke around here that Ken likes to say in regard to me - “I just now got her squared away.” He winks, and I smile, but the truth is he's right. Like the castoffs he drags home to restore, he has been used by God throughout the years to restore me. It is humbling to learn that my best efforts at knowing what I needed in life - even in the area of selecting a spouse - were short-sighted and self-serving. And it is also humbling to see God’s kindness and good intentions for me in the restorative nature of my enigma of a husband. 

When it's all said and done, Ken points me to Christ, for it is Christ who seeks us out, who brings us home, and who restores us with an eye to the future.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. -Jeremiah 29:11

Bus Stop, Bus Goes

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The school bus stopped in front of my mother's house six years ago today. It was strange because no children lived there nor had they in a long, long time. My sister and I turned to her as she lay in the hospital bed we had erected in her front room. Close to us she lay yet so very far away. She slept peacefully, beautifully, with her hair drawn up tightly in a ballerina's bun, her profile taut, belying her ninety-one years on earth. She lay silently. The soft moaning sounds she had made as she wrestled with death only a couple days prior had ceased.

"Mom! The bus is here!" we called in the cheeriest voices we could muster. "Hurry up! Don't make the driver wait!"  

Much of my mother's life had been spent in school. The child of a teacher, her precocious entry into first grade when she was but five years old paved the way for her own career in education. She started with forty first graders when she was barely out of her teens and finished with two daily classes of thirty kindergarteners each. Fun loving and multi-talented, she taught kindergarten when it was still that - a garden for children. She led her charges in letter identification, name writing, and finger plays. She was their art teacher, their music teacher, and the supervisor of their play and rest times. Holidays were celebratory events, and bulletin boards were handmade delights whose creation, on occasion, she would entrust to me

And so, the bus stopping at her house that morning seemed only right. Little did my sister and I know how prophetic its visit would prove. Since then, I've reviewed that day and wondered at our lightheartedness. Were we trying to dispel the solemnity of the circumstance? Did we hope we could, with these words from days gone by, summon her back to our world? Would we have encouraged her departure, even jokingly, had we known she would leave us for good that very morning?

Death is a horrible thing. It marches into our lives with the cadence of a merciless army. It is a part of life, we are told, and yet when it becomes a part of our lives, it is all too apparent that something is terribly wrong. We cannot halt death. We each must face it. The bus stops for us all. 

In Paul's Epistle to the Romans, we read that the result of sin is death. (6:23) In the garden, our first parents were clearly told as much but chose to believe a twisted version of that truth instead. Still, from time before time, our triune God, not hampered by the constraints of time, set a plan in motion to make all things right again. Yes, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8 explains to us how God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh in order to condemn sin in the flesh.

Did you get that?

Jesus put death to death.

And for those who trust Christ's finished work on their behalf (for on the cross he said, "It is finished!"), the spirit of Christ dwells in them and "he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." (8:11)

So, I find myself, these six years later, considering life - its beauty and its brevity - and considering death - its fiendish finality. Though the mood is somber, I do not despair as those without hope, for my considerings gently lead me to this verse, and it is here that I find peace:

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39 

 

A Double Batch

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New Year's Day is here! Time for our family's annual meal of sauerkraut and sausage rolls, a tradition that was passed on to me from my inlaws who have both been gone for a few years.

Now I am not a recipe collector or one who often works from them, and honestly I've memorized how to make this dish. Even so, it seemed imperative to search out the old recipe card written in my mother-in-law's hand those many years ago. And when I found it... EUREKA! Rich feelings of warmth and love swept over me.

So this has made me think about the imprint we leave behind. Handwritten thank you notes for thoughtful little gifts or deeds. Letters of affirmation to our husbands or grown children. Recordings of songs sung with grandkids. 

Recipes written down for daughters-in-law who think they don't need them.

I am so thankful for the mother God gave my husband. She taught me about acceptance, about laughing at oneself, about finding joy in the everyday. She taught me a few things in the kitchen, too. And so today, in the spirit of her generosity and the memory of the many bountiful meals she prepared for our family over the years, my meagerly sensibilities were overruled and I was inspired to, in her words, "make a double batch."

Happy New Year, Bea!

 

 

Things I Missed

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Today is our second son's twenty-seventh birthday. As is my recent practice, I scrounged around for a fun old photo to commemorate the occasion and, upon locating one, quickly posted it to Facebook.  "Still a keeper!" I captioned and smiled as I moved on to busy myself with other things.

Later, upon looking again at the two-decades-old picture, I checked myself as I saw with fresh eyes our son's expression and suddenly comprehended what I had missed those many years ago. Look again with me, won't you?

Do you see the conquering boy's fixed gaze? His focused biting of the lip? The firmly clenched fist thrust forward as he displayed with pride his marvelous catch? Why had it taken so long for me to see? That little boy who I always thought to be the easy going one, the quiet one, the uncomplaining third child of four had the early seeds of drive and determination sprouting even then. But, as I stated above, I had too quickly moved on to busy myself with other things and had missed those that were right in front of me.

So with a blink, the years have passed. The little boy is grown, and I, as his mother, feel surprised about the man he has become. Confident. Driven. Successful. Still loving. Still gentle in spirit. But different than I had expected. How is it that we carry a child for nine months (or spend years preparing to adopt), we nurse them, cuddle them, wipe both ends of them, clean, feed, teach, discipline, love... and yet know them so imperfectly? Perhaps it can't be helped, and maybe it isn't all bad. To be sure, it is a bit of serendipity to suddenly notice with joy and surprise the men and women our little ones become. Kind of like Christmas again - the day after Christmas! And yet in our busyness, we often miss the things that ought not to be missed.

May it not be so today. 

Thanks-Living by Guest Blogger Cathy Austin

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One of my pet peeves is overlapping holidays. You know what I’m talking about - Christmas decorations out at Halloween or the opposite. The other day, I saw someone taking down a large Jack-o-lantern outside the front of his garage as he was putting up Christmas lights.  Then there’s always my “favorite” - pumpkins, corn shocks and Christmas decorations out at the same time!?!  

At our house, we have family rules - “No Christmas until Thanksgiving is over!” and “Be sure to get fall things put away before Christmas comes out.”  Having said that, I’m breaking my own rules this year, spiritually speaking.  In my reflections this year, I’ve discovered that Thanksgiving is not just a one-time holiday of giving thanks - not just one day set aside to list all of the material things we are glad that we have. True thankfulness is so much more than that!  

We are called to live a life of Thanks-LIVING—always showing-sharing-telling what God has done, is doing and will do in the future!!  By so doing, we will experience that inner joy that we all seek. So this year, I’ve given myself permission to go ahead and overlap all of the holidays with Thanks-Living—continually living a life of giving thanks to my Lord and Savior!

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!  For His mercy endures forever.”  Psalms 106:1


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Cathy Austin considers it a privilege to have been a pastor's wife for nearly 36 years. She is a mother of three, grandmother of six (soon to be seven), Director of Children's Ministries at her church and a retired elementary school teacher. 

When Mercy and Justice Met

Mercy's first night home with us

Mercy's first night home with us

Mercy came to us in mid-April of this year. Mercy, that is, in the form of an undersized, nine month old German shepherd rescue pup. She came to us out of the blue from an unexpected source. Perhaps that's how mercy comes to us all.

It's taken this long to write of her mostly because of a protracted season of busyness. Truth be told, though, it's been hard to focus on Mercy when Justice was not far behind.

Puppy Justice

Puppy Justice

Both dogs were born in my mind not terribly long after Nikko died (see "Good Dog"). For some time I didn't think I would ever want another dog, but at our youngest daughter's urging, I thought again. Justice and Mercy! Not one dog but two! Therapy dogs! Two furry friends, useful beyond the scope of my own little world, to once again greet us at the door with a wag and wiggle! So with this, my search for Justice and Mercy ensued. 

Unlike his older sister, Justice was planned - premeditated - as justice often is.  Coming from a breeder, we knew when he would arrive. We planned for it. Yet, it was Mercy who prepared the way. They have been comrades since that first day - most certainly incomplete without the other. And though they are both still pups, I have already fast forwarded to the day when one will need to go on without the other. I cannot fathom it.

Tug o' War

Tug o' War

In a similar way, the ideals of justice and mercy are inseparable sides of the same coin.  Heads or tails. Which do you choose? Would you want justice without mercy or the other way around? Who among us could withstand the scrutiny that true justice demands? I often long for it - that is until I am reminded that justice, in its perfect state, must be meted out to me as well. And what of mercy with no justice? It is unnecessary, of course! Why, the very thought of mercy implies that justice is due - but mercy, instead, given. Even so, justice must be satisfied -- but how?

As Mercy came to us before Justice, I am eternally grateful that God extended me his mercy before exacting his justice.  Still - justice was required, and my debt was surely paid. But, it was Christ alone who could and did pay the price I owed. Did I suggest above that justice is planned but mercy not? Think again, my friend. Though Mercy came to us suddenly and without much forewarning, it would appear her little path had been planned all along. Rescued twice, nearly starved, street wise and quick, I believe it was God, in his providential care, who set Mercy aside for us. It was he who guarded her and kept her alive so she could come to minister to us. To others. So it is with mercy and justice. Before the foundation of the world, God planned that justice would be satisfied through Jesus, his only begotten Son, and that through Christ's finished work on the cross, I, and others, would meet God's mercy before his justice.

Mercy prepared the way that we might stand forgiven - before the holiness and justice of God.

Canines for Christ Therapy Dogs in Training

Canines for Christ Therapy Dogs in Training

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are this workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10

 

Good Dog

Reflecting on loss seems to be a recurring theme here. Perhaps it's because, at this stage of life, losses (or changes) march into our lives with increasing regularity. Parents die. Children leave. Careers end.

Nikko the Noble

Nikko the Noble

Yesterday, our sweet natured German shepherd lost his fight with what was most likely a brain tumor. In light of the day's cacophonous reports of death and mayhem around the world, this is a very small thing. Inconsequential. And a part of me feels ashamed to even write of it. Yet here I am - writing.

I would like to think my record of this event goes deeper than a desire for sympathy or sentimental platitudes about pets being family members. I hope this even goes beyond being a faltering tribute to a "good dog". Yes, my husband and I (and even our grown children) are sad. Yes, though Nikko was not truly a family member (after all, who sends a family member to a kennel or bathes him with a hose in the backyard?), he was a part of our family structure - the one who most vocally and joyously greeted us, our children, and even guests without abandon. And yes, Nikko was a good dog.  He was everything a dog  should be - from his devoted guarding of the steps while we slept to his relentless chasing of tennis balls (and our relentless sweeping up of his hair balls throughout our house).

Dog hugs

Dog hugs

But the thing I really want to talk about is this - losses are ultimately for my gain. They cause me to ponder life's brevity and hopefully to hold it more tenderly. Losses lead me to reflect upon my own life and its meaning. Most of all, however, I think losses point me to Christ - as his willing loss has resulted in my eternal gain.

From heavenly king to earthly babe, from time before time to the minutia of this life, from sweet intimacy with the Father to abandonment on the cross. Jesus freely laid down all the glories that were rightfully his that I might receive all the glories that I do not deserve.

Consider this passage from Philippians 2: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Young Nikko in the snow he loved

Young Nikko in the snow he loved

And so I am grateful for these recurring lessons in loss and gain and am thankful that God does not tire of teaching me. He does not spare me from loss but is there with me in its midst - comforting, holding, gently directing my eyes ever upward. Sometimes he uses the simplest of his creatures to accomplish the task. In this case, my dog. A good dog. Our Nikko

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Mark 8:36

A picture one of my students anonymously left on my desk for me

A picture one of my students anonymously left on my desk for me

The Yellow Door

Transient

I painted our front door yellow yesterday - certainly not a very notable accomplishment for most folks. For me, however, it was akin to wing walking or swimming the Atlantic Ocean (do people even do that???).  A yellow door was not on my radar when I awoke that morning. Although I had intended to paint the door all summer, I was awaiting the go-ahead from my husband as to color choice and method- which came yesterday in a series of texts (why do married people who live in the same house text?):

Would like to paint the front door and it's a good day to do it. Is that okay? Any thoughts to color? Kinda wanted it to pop a bit.

Tryin....

Yeyyo?  (family joke - that's how our grandson says it)

Yeyyo would be beautiful!

And, that's all it took! Forty-five minutes and a trip to Ace Hardware later, and I had begun the transformation of our front door from.... well, I'm not sure what words to use here. From boring to bling? From putty to poppy? From safe to sorry?

Honestly, I'm not a big fan of yellow. Oh, it's alright in small doses. Quite nice, actually, when strategically placed in bouquets or, let's say, as sunshine. But, my front door? Why didn't my husband like the deep burgundy or quiet taupe color chips I had shown him? When I had suggested "yeyyo", it was really kind of a joke, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps he had been joking, too, and my gullibility had left us with a door nearly the color of a school bus.

I don't know how long I'll keep our door yellow. Most likely, I will revert to a safer hue in the near future. But, for now it seems apropos - a symbol of taking risks. You see, our family is set to embark on a trip this Saturday that will bring us all together for the first time in two years. Destination - Hawaii! Our son and his wife are living there while he's in school, and it is the logical juncture for his mid-western family to meet hers from Japan. We will be celebrating their marriage which took place in March. It's a big trip for someone like me who prefers my own back yard to most other places on the planet, and I hope we've planned it well. I pray the Lord will go before us and be there in our midst so that his name will be glorified.

Hmmmm.... Yellow is a glorious color, isn't it? Perhaps the perfect color door to step through on our way to a glorious and joyous reunion.  What "yellow doors" have you been walking through lately?

 

Faithful

A gift from my mother's friend, Mrs. Melady, that we get out every birthday

August 2 is always a day of reflection for me for it is the anniversary of the day God redeemed me from death through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Today is my 41st birthday in the Lord. It is a day of rejoicing – in fact, I think this year I will get out the little dancing birthday girl and celebrate!

it is interesting, looking back to that day in 1971, when at the age of 15 I was born again to a living hope. Throughout the winter prior, I was being challenged by the preaching of my Methodist pastor to search the scriptures for an answer to the emptiness within me. During that time, God pricked my heart – both in church and at home on my bed. I read and struggled and questioned and resisted. I spoke with my pastor. I made bumbling attempts at coming to know Christ even as I negotiated with Him the terms of our relationship. It was both a miserable and a wonderful time - as near to my recollections of laboring to give birth as I can recall.

From Lakeside, August 2, 1971

So, fast forward to August 2, where at a youth camp on the grounds of Lakeside, "The Chautauqua on the Lake", I came to a full (at least as full as it could be at the time) understanding of sin (mine) and grace (God’s). It was then that I was made alive in Christ! For the next three years, I immersed myself in studying the Bible and getting to as many faith related activities as I possibly could – churches, youth groups, Bible studies, Christian coffee houses (the Jesus People/Jesus Freak movement was big at the time), street witnessing, baptisms…. I even sang a Christianized version of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” on the stage of Hoover Auditorium at Lakeside in a dress that, due to my ignorance and the style of the day, was assuredly much too short to be wearing on an elevated platform.

Sadly, however, at age 18 I walked away from the Lord (complicated to be sure - but certainly a result of my own sinful heart rather than the failings of those I tried to blame). My wanderings and waverings over the years have been many and protracted and of unhappy consequence. I wish it were not so. Yet, what I can say is this - God is faithful when I am faithless. He, in His mercy, preserves me and keeps me then and now. What I thought, in 1971, was "my decision" has proven to be God's work, and without it I would most certainly be lost.  For these, His tender mercies, I am eternally grateful!

A visitor on my front porch - 8/2/12

So, today I think I will sing a little “Happy Birthday” song - not in honor of myself, but in celebration of the One who died that I might live. God keeps His promises, and all His promises are fulfilled in Christ. His love never ends.

Glory

While considering what to write as a second blog entry, I found the eulogy I wrote for my mom's funeral in early 2008. It seems strange now - to consider my audacity in thinking I could summarize her (all 91 years of her!) in nine short paragraphs. Impossible. Yet, in posting them now, I hope to share with you just a bit of the woman she was. It is titled "Glory" because Gloria was the name my grandmother first gave my mom (she later changed it to Dorothy) who was born on a glorious day in December, 1916: 

Mother's Day, 2007 - with sisters Nancy and Anne

First, my sisters and I would like to thank each of you for the special role you played in our mom’s life and especially in the week leading up to her passing.  Your prayers, your calls, your presence enabled her to live her life knowing she was loved and gave her sure footing as she journeyed from this world to the next.  May you be blessed in return for your many kindnesses.  We hope you sense, as we have, the hand of Providence in each step you took with her.

Secondly, we want to say how grateful we are for the innumerable ways in which we experienced the hand of God this last week.  Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, we have treasured all these things up in our hearts and meditated upon them.  While many of the signs we saw, the conversations we held, and the moments in time we lived were the same, each of them spoke to us individually and uniquely and was exactly what we needed when it occurred.. 

Lastly, we want to express our gratitude to our mom who so thoroughly prepared us for this event.  Not only did she raise us to be women of purpose, she purposefully had put her life in order.  From her business affairs to her wishes for medical care, she was prepared.  Even her many photo albums she so diligently kept over the years, were a gift she left us as we made arrangements for this day.

Consider this clipping I found in one album.  It was her senior class write-up from Margaretta High School titled “Individualism Shown by Unusual Senior Maiden”:

Skating at the Pickett Cherry Farm

"Dorothy Pickett – fiery Senior girl who hates nicknames – thinks they show lack of respect – has a terrific temper – admits it – but insists that it is a German one and not Irish.  She has a secret passion for the colors orange and green – makes her less bashful – believes that vivid colors give a feeling of importance.

Strangely enough, she detests books – thinks they are too fictitious, she is extremely realistic.  She is handy with her right hand – gets a bigger “kick” out of slapping boys than girls – says they’re not so apt to strike back.  She can play “The Doll Dance” on the piano then starts clogging – believes that a dancing class ought to be in the school curriculum – has charming dimples and laughs continually – swims like a fish—sinks when she floats – prefers riding in a Chevrolet to a Whippet any day – or night for that matter."

What struck me in reading this and in speaking with each visitor who called yesterday, was the similarity in the words used to describe our mom.  Their impressions of her tell of a woman who was true to herself.  She was, in fact, true in many ways to this little vignette from years gone by.  That is not to say she was a stagnant, unchanging person.  To the contrary, she was one of the most effervescent, alive people I know.  But she was herself – no phony baloney – and as private and reserved as she could often appear, she was very real.

December 2007 - between strokes

We were fortunate to experience that realness in new ways since the time of Mom’s first stroke.  Because of it, much of the guard she, like we, had learned to carefully put in place over the years, was lowered.  She became open to hugs, transparent with her emotions, and though sometimes easily frustrated, just as quick to apologize.  This does not mean the last 13 ½ months were easy for her.  They were hard times but ones in which she, as in hard times before, valiantly prevailed.  That is perhaps one of her greatest legacies to us – prevailing in the face of opposition.

Her other legacy is the faith she had (and has) in a loving God – one whose hand can be seen in all of creation if one simply takes the time to notice.  It is that God who spoke to us throughout this difficult time.  It is that God who redeems us through his Son.  And it is ultimately that God who ushered our mom into his kingdom and has restored her to wholeness.

Mom and Me - 1960s

I am thankful that God saw fit to give me a mom who was both a rock and a cushion on which to fall, my biggest cheerleader while still a dispenser of needed reproof, a nurturer yet the one who prepared me to leave her nest for a life of my own. I am thankful that, no matter the time or distance that separates us, I can still, if I'm very quiet,  nearly hear her voice call my name. I can consider the wise counsel she would be sure to give if she could and see hints of her in the mannerisms my aunt and sisters and I share. In all these ways, she remains forever alive. And indeed she is, for she is never out of the mind of God.

Simplicity

It's been nearly a year since my mother-in-law died. I miss her - differently from the way I miss my own mother - but in some ways I miss her more intensely. Perhaps it is because her loss is more recent or maybe because she was the last of our parents to survive, so losing her was like losing all of them all over again. But, one thing I know, the relationship she and I shared grew sweeter as the years went by, and I miss her dearly.

July 201

My husband and I went to her now empty home a couple weeks ago to be present during a pre-auction open house  Her home was important to her, especially as she got older, as it represented her independence and autonomy. She loved her little house in her little town; being near her sister; being able to drive herself wherever she wanted whenever she wanted. But, it's not the house that prompts me to write. Rather, it is the things that I found in the house that reminded me of her and of the years in which our lives became so serendipitously entwined as she shared her son with me and I my children with her. Here are some of them:

From June 1997

  • The taped together computer generated 80th birthday banner we made my father-in-law in 1997 - It had been placed in the trash by industrious cleaners who did not understand its value to children now grown or a woman now gone.  
  • Stacks of envelopes she saved from that same occasion - She probably kept them to remember and/or write those who thought of her husband and her on their "big day" (their birthdays were separated by only one day).  
  • Two little snapdragon flowers that had survived years of fending for themselves - I remember our kids being drawn by the wonder of those flowers much like I was enthralled by the honeysuckle that grew wild in the cliffs near my childhood home. Well, there they were - two little undersized blossoms - growing by her house with their little "jaws" clenched tight - a throwback to years gone by when tiny fingers would poke inside them to discover their Jurassic Park like qualities. They caused me to smile.
  • A laminated clip from Ann Landers (again, in the trash) - It had to do with donating ones organs after death for the benefit of the living.
July 2012

There were other things - holiday themed window hangings, hand cut construction paper decorations, pages from coloring books, a paint by number replica of The Last Supper my husband had created for her as a boy, appliance manuals, stationery from far flung places our kids have visited, an old address book with loved ones' deaths recorded on the inside cover.... Things that my husband and I knew were there but had yet to gather together and bring home where we seem unable or unwilling to dispose of them - for to lose them feels like losing her for good. 

Looking back, each one of these simple treasures coordinates with the others to collectively illustrate my mother-in-law's character, but perhaps the last in the list most perfectly embodies her. When she died, her organs were destroyed - they had shut down as she lay in the hospital - and nothing we could do, nothing her medical team could do could save them or her. Sadly, she was unable, in the end, to gift them to the living as her Ann Landers clipping from years ago suggested would have been her wish. And yet, her desire to enrich the next generation did not go unfulfilled, for she left the essence of who she was in each of us. Her devotion to her husband and her love of family, her wise (and sometimes funny) sayings, her spontaneity, her commitment to her church, her rascally sense of humor, her Sunday meals, her steadfastness in everyday things, her times spent with our children. She savored and saved them. She cataloged them. She cherished them as she cherished us. May I, through her example, be inspired and strengthened to do the same.

Bea and grandson Stephen - July 2010

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