Heidi

I walked a mile with Pleasure, she chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow, and ne’er a word said she;
But, oh, the things I learned from her when Sorrow walked with me!
– Robert Browning Hamilton

harpNearly ten years had passed since Eli died and Nancy and I had only seen each other a couple of times. We had a lot of catching up to do, so while our husbands discussed a remodeling project we covered a decade in a matter of minutes.  She showed me a lovely assortment of goats milk soaps she had made, beautifully wrapped and ready for gift baskets.

We cried as she described the day of the accident and spoke of the faithfulness of God through the days and weeks that followed. We laughed as she introduced me to the three beautiful children the Lord had blessed them with since that time. Her eyes sparkled as her oldest son entered the room. Zach, who had suffered for months in the hospital, was now a handsome young man who had managed somehow to find his smile again.

And then there was Heidi.

She was almost four years old when it happened, and she was there at the scene of the accident: old enough to know that something terrible had taken place, old enough to be traumatized and feel her family’s pain, but not old enough to understand the depth of that loss or why Eli wasn’t coming home; old enough to be told he had gone to live with Jesus but not old enough to know what forever meant – certainly not old enough to have a full-sized harp, which is exactly what she wanted for her next birthday.

Her parents didn’t understand her request and frankly, were puzzled by it. After all, they weren’t that musical and couldn’t imagine why, of all instruments, she would have her heart set on that one!

Years passed and with every birthday that rolled around, Heidi reminded them of her request. The autoharp they gave her was nice but she wanted a real harp for her birthday. So finally, once she was big enough to carry it, Heidi got that harp, even though her mother had to drive her 40 miles to the city for lessons. And now, this beautiful young lady with strawberry blonde hair and shining eyes was standing in front of me, smiling shyly as I voiced my surprise in seeing her walk in with a full-sized harp.

“This is nice,” I thought, completely unprepared for the rush of emotions that would wash over me as she began. That girl could play!

I stared hard out the window, hoping to get control of that huge lump in my throat, but to no avail. I trembled as I fought to stifle the sobs erupting uncontrollably as a picture flashed through my mind. It was Eli running through a field of flowers and sunshine – smiling and waving, mischief in his eyes as he called for Heidi and the rest of us to join him.

It took me quite awhile to regain my composure after that, for in that moment, the mystery of eternal life didn’t seem mysterious at all – it’s promise, once distant and unimaginable, seemed well within our reach.  It was almost as though the windows of heaven had opened up to our curious gaze and the angels strained to listen as a young girl took the stage and stormed my heart at a little-known country venue in a once-in-a-lifetime exclusive Concert for One.

Music is a gift from the heart of God, given to bless mankind; mend the broken heart, heal the wounded spirit and soothe the restless soul.  He sings over his children and quiets us with His love. He sends us special moments of inspiration when we least expect them and need them the most.

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It Is As It Should Be

image1With my mother’s arm in mine, accompanied by siblings and extended family, I arrived at a pristine estate with pillars on the front porch and a lovely yard that stretched around the house.  A warm welcome awaited us, with smiles and hugs, and good old southern hospitality.

“Come on in! We just want you all to enjoy this time together,” they said.  “It’s important, so stay as long as you want. You just need to be together.”

As we entered the home, I noticed my father’s open casket on display in the parlor. He laid there peacefully, arms folded around his Bible, a half-smile resting on his lips.

Sobs erupted from my throat and I awoke with a start, tears running down my face and onto my pillow. I could not stop crying and reasoned with myself that this was God’s way of helping me grieve. I had been such a rock with my father’s passing – more concerned with how the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing, bolstered by the support of so many whose lives he had touched.  Or maybe I was just concerned about my Mom. She was traveling to North Carolina to spend the winter with my brother and his wife in their new home.

I struggled with her being so far away in her condition, away from her doctors – not to mention her three daughters. But as I voiced my concerns to the Lord, the answer came in a quiet whisper – quiet, yet ever so clear, “It is as it should be.”

Her health deteriorated rapidly. The seven of us made plans to celebrate her 85th birthday together in January.  Just days before our scheduled flights, we received word that Mom was in the hospital. Not only was she extremely ill, but she had been diagnosed with a very aggressive brain tumor – glioblastoma – and we were told she had only 3 to 6 months to live.

I listened in stunned silence to a recording of the consultation with the neurosurgeon as we drove from the airport. He was a godly man who had recently lost his own mother to the very same type of tumor. He was compassionate and understanding as he delivered the devastating prognosis.  I marveled at the way God had prepared this physician, this time and this place, and contemplated that phrase once again, “it is as it should be.”

We walked up the stairs of my brother’s house – a big, beautiful home with pillars on the front porch and a lovely yard that stretched around the house.  A warm welcome awaited us, with smiles and hugs, and good old southern hospitality (even though they grew up in New York).

“Come on in! We just want to enjoy this time together,” my sister-in-law said.  “It’s important, so stay as long as you want.  We just need to be together.”

Entering the foyer, my heart fluttered as I realized that although I had never been there before, this was the place in my dream.  My father had made his journey to heaven nearly two years before – quite suddenly and without warning. We never got to say goodbye.

Every night we gathered around her bedside for prayer.

“Goodnight, Mom, we’ll see you in the morning,” we said, as we turned out the light and left the room.  Together we determined she would never be alone and from that day forward, various family members, children and adult grandchildren, took turns making the trip to spend time with her, trying to help as much as possible. We did not take for granted this opportunity to care for such a beautiful lady – one who had spent her entire life caring for the needs of others.

Mom could no longer speak but she could laugh and there was plenty of that as we enacted a comedy of errors in our home-care efforts. I won’t mention any names but there were stories of adult grandchildren landing on the hospital bed with their grandmother on top of them as they failed to negotiate the transfer properly.

Thank goodness she never lost her sense of humor or her love for her family. How her eyes lit up whenever she heard the voices of the little ones coming down the hallway. She beamed with joy as little Addison, one of the newest members of the family, was placed in her arms.

Weeks passed before I was able to return early in March, and by then it was obvious she didn’t have much longer in this world. We continued our nighttime ritual and during the quiet afternoon hours, sitting at her bedside, this song began singing to me:

We don’t have to say goodbye, we’ll see you in the morning;
Where time can only die, life goes on!
It’ll never end in heaven, forever in his care;
We don’t have to say goodbye – We’ll see you there!


I could not bring myself to sing it to her. My brother had told me that every time she heard my voice come up on his Play List, she would begin to cry – and not just little tears. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to make her cry.  Lord knows I’d done enough of that in my lifetime.

image2About ten days later, after several delays and schedule changes, I had to return home. I held her close and kissed her, whispering in her ear, “I love you, Mom.  Give Daddy a kiss for me and tell him I love him!” She blinked once in understanding.

Back in New York the very next day, March 17th, I received the call on my way home from work. Mom had gone on to glory. It was my brother’s birthday. Bittersweet, indeed. They told me how they prayed and sang together around her bedside and as she breathed her last breath, a single tear rolled down her cheek. I sat there in the parking lot at the gas station where I had pulled over, crying out in anguish through my tears, “Why? Why couldn’t I have stayed one more day?” Once again, the words came back to reassure me, “it is as it should be.”

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand it, but there was authority in those words. They gave me peace. For in all of this my God has been demonstrating to me the beautiful reality described by the Apostle Paul when he wrote:  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” or as my husband likes to say, “Our last breath here is our first breath in heaven.”

What a comfort! What a blessing to know our Heavenly Father took care of every last detail of this dear saint’s home going. What a joy to know she is healthy and vibrant in the presence of the Lord and his angels, along with my Dad and so many friends and family who have gone on before. I’m not sure why she had to endure such a debilitating illness or the frustration of being trapped in her own body without being able to attach words to thoughts. I don’t understand why we couldn’t have any of her final words to cherish – only memories of our own – but I do know this:

God is good and everything He does is good.
And whether or not I understand all that he allows – or why,
My faith is strong because in this I know “It is as it should be!”

People Need People and Friends Need Friends

friends2Sometimes it’s what’s written on the inside cover that speaks volumes – long before you ever read the book.  For my high school graduation, our youth pastor presented me with a devotional book. “That was nice,” I thought, but I was so busy and preoccupied with the usual teenage angst and drama that I never read it.  After that, time accelerated as I went on to Bible college, got married, moved to Florida, had three babies and when the youngest was just 9 months old, moved to Sicily for two years with my U.S. Navy sailor husband.

We jumped right into ministry with the American church in a quaint little town at the top of a hill overshadowed by Mt. Etna, and I was soon recruited to help the Italian congregation with music as well. They had no musicians, so I played the piano for their afternoon services, accompanied some of the teens who loved to sing, and gave guitar lessons.  Then some new missionaries moved in across the street and a lovely friendship developed as Linda and I began singing for the Italian church’s weekly radio broadcast. How I wish I had a copy of those recording sessions from Pastor Vincenzo’s living room!

Our time in Sicily soon came to an end and my friends presented me with another book – this time an Italian hymn book that I cherish to this day. The kind words written in delicate European penmanship on the inside cover evoked torrents of tears at the time, but warm my heart and conjure up sweet memories of our time together. I can still hear their beautiful, heartfelt singing.

Circumstances and directions changed. We moved – again and again. And then I found myself in what felt like a wasteland to me. Oh, I was surrounded by family and friends, ministry, busy-ness, and lots of snow (2 feet for our first welcome-to-NY storm). But I was lonely. I missed my southern friends. I missed our church. I missed the recording studio in Jacksonville, FL, grieving for all the opportunities and dreams it represented to me as a songwriter.

That’s when the devotional book reappeared.

I had forgotten all about it but there it was, after all those years and moves, sitting at the top of an unpacked box, waiting to comfort and challenge me as I read the words that a young college student and servant of God from Lebanon (by way of Liberia) had written on the inside cover:

People need people and friends need friends,
And we all need love, for a full life depends
Not on vast riches or great acclaim,
Not on success or worldly fame,
But just in knowing that someone cares
And holds us close in their thoughts and prayers.

For only the knowledge that we’re understood
Makes everyday living feel wonderfully good,
And we rob ourselves of life’s greatest need,
When we “lock up our hearts” and fail to heed
The outstretched hand reaching to find
A kindred spirit whose heart and mind

Are lonely and longing to somehow share
Our joys and sorrows, and to make us aware
That life’s completeness and richness depends
On the things we share
with our loved ones and friends.

~ Helen Steiner Rice ~

Let’s save discussion of the devotional book for another time (it’s still my favorite and the impact on my life has been huge) but the point is this: our lives have become a constant whirlwind of activity.  We are filled to capacity with things to do – some necessary and worthwhile, others not so much – pressures, obligations, mindless diversions and distractions all competing for our attention and affection. Technology is great and social media has its place (I’m sure thankful for you, Facebook Friend), but let’s not forget that people still need real people and friends still need true and faithful friends.  God has already placed the people in our lives, so let’s go out and be that kind of friend to someone today!

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller

Just An Excuse

“Never trouble trouble ’till trouble troubles you!”

“It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.”

“It’s not the ups and downs in life that’ll get you, it’s the jerks!”

1My Dad had a host of quips and quotes that remain as whimsical sound bites from his 53 years of ministry. Some originated with people who influenced him: authors, teachers, poets, parents and preachers, while others were reminiscent of growing up in a time when such pearls of wisdom were valued and repeated often, passed down from generation to generation in a farming community. Still others, or so I am told, came from signs on the barber shop walls where he used to get his hair cut!

“I hate the guys who criticize and minimize the other guys
whose enterprise has made ’em rise above the other guys!”

“Never kiss by the garden gate. Love is blind but the neighbors ain’t!”

As a teenager, those favorite sayings of his were sure to elicit a groan or rolling of the eyes from me. I wondered if anyone else noticed how many times he’d repeated them. But there was one in particular that got under my skin a little bit because he had a real knack for knowing when I least wanted to hear it and would deliver it with gusto, even though it wasn’t necessarily directed toward me:

“You know what an excuse is, don’t you?
It’s just the skin of a reason, stuffed with a lie.”

Ouch! Let’s be honest – we all make excuses for things we don’t want to do (or don’t believe we can do) and our culture encourages it. Even in church. In the name of being sympathetic and understanding, we need to be careful we don’t ease someone else right out of a commitment or worse yet, their calling. We have become experts at justifying a lackadaisical, non-sacrificial, Christian-like existence and highly skilled at encouraging others to do the same.

Well, you can sugarcoat it but it’s just an excuse!

When you know what God wants you to do, and he’s provided repeated opportunities to act on it but you haven’t, you’ve opened up your heart to a slow process of decay that sets in and festers every time you repeat the lie. Others know it, too, but they may slap a band-aid on it and repeat it with you anyway, so as not to make you feel badly. And then everyone goes about their business, never really speaking the truth and never knowing what it’s like to experience the fulfillment of growth or the thrill of victory; seeking every day yet another distraction to take away that gnawing sense of defeat.

It’s just an excuse – it’s what you do;
And each time you choose to use it you lose
And you just can’t win!

Excuses breed mediocrity and failure, and while I don’t like the sound of either one of those outcomes, I am pretty sure I have employed my share of excuses. They have the potential of destroying relationships and integrity, and are harsh in their treatment of cherished dreams, subjecting them to a slow and painful death. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of that!

Excuses have whittled away some of the best years and greatest opportunities of my life. Some were born out of vulnerability and weakness, others in pride; all of them desperately trying to hide a lack of faith in the One who promised to fulfill His good purpose in my life.

But that was then and this is now! I keep reminding myself that as long as I wake up every morning to a brand new day in this old world, I have yet another opportunity to do something with the time and talents God has given me – something of value for the next. I am committed.

How about you?

“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9a

You’ll Be – Listening?

image1

My Dad, Rev. George Whitman

Growing up as a preacher’s kid in a small country church that was surrounded on all sides by dairy farms, I suppose it was rather unusual to have vivid memories of a radio broadcast, “Echoes of Faith,” being recorded from our Sunday evening services (choir, special music and all), but that was exactly what took place. My Dad delivered an evangelistic message every week. We even had a small orchestra, led by my Mom. During the week, she would faithfully listen at home while preparing school lunches and rounding us up for breakfast. The messages have long since receded into my long term memory bank, although I suspect they are living out their truths in my life. However, I can still hear the choir’s opening hymn:

Encamped along the hills of light, ye Christian soldiers, rise!
And press the battle ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below shall all our strength be hurled;
Faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world!
– John H. Yates, Faith is the Victory

I have to tell you – we had some pretty good musicians in that little congregation! They loved the Lord and you could hear it in their singing, which my Dad often explained was the spiritual thermometer of the church.  But even more remarkable to me was that humble, unassuming servant of God, whose main objectives in life were to bring as many souls to heaven with him as he could, and to train and equip the next generation to go out and do the same. And I can still hear him signing off each week with,

“This is Pastor George Whitman speaking. Until next time, you’ll be – listening?”

He was never famous, although his children can hardly go anywhere in the world without running into someone who knew him or sat under his ministry that extended well past his 53 years of pastoring churches. His early childhood and upbringing were very simple and ordinary: raised on a farm in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, a mischievous lad who walked with his sisters to a one-room schoolhouse. His family was so poor he had to sell homegrown popcorn to buy his first bicycle. He even brought a cow along with him to his first week of Bible camp – you know, to pay his way by providing milk for the campers that week! Wouldn’t our health inspectors have a cow over that?

What was it that compelled such an ordinary young man to go out and accomplish such extraordinary things? What was it that inspired a young farm boy to set his sights on eternity, planting seeds throughout his life that would bear fruit in the Kingdom of God? It was the soft prompting of the Holy Spirit calling him out and leading him on to do great things — things that most likely seemed ordinary and mundane to him as they played out in his daily life.

“There’s no sense in going further — it’s the edge of cultivation,”
So they said, and I believed it — broke my land and sowed my crop –
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop:
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated so:
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges –
“Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!
. . . Anybody might have found it, but his whisper came to me!”
– Rudyard Kipling, The Explorer (1898)

And his whisper came to me, too. I shall never forget it and I cannot quit. I must forge ahead even though I most often feel undeserving – inept, inadequate and incapable. I know that when he calls and where he leads, he will provide and he will keep. I am reminded that as long as you and I have breath, there is work for us to do.  It may not look glamorous to us and at times may seem far too difficult and costly to complete. But “it will be worth it all when we see Jesus,” and we must allow the Lord to accomplish his creative and redemptive purpose in our lives.

We are continually retreating behind our limitations and saying, “Thus far and no farther can I go.”  God is ever laying His hand upon us and thrusting us out into the open, saying, “You can be more than you are; you must be more than you are.”  
– Lettie B. Cowman, Springs in the Valley

So my friends, as we begin yet another year by the grace and mercy of God, let me remind you that the Lord is still seeking open minds, tender hearts and willing spirits to do His work in this world while there is time.  Our Heavenly Father is speaking.

Until he calls us home, you’ll be – listening?

Silent Before You

bb1True story. I try to be good when people are praying – close my eyes and fold my hands like I learned in Sunday School, but sometimes I really wonder what God is thinking when we give him these multiple choice requests (Lord, you could do this, this or that); or when we let him know up front what his limits are (Lord, if you would just do that…); or my personal favorite – when we take on an advisory role with the omniscient God of the universe.

 

In my mind I have this picture of him stroking his beard thoughtfully and saying, “Hmmm – I did not know that” at someone’s stroke of genius … Or “thanks for telling me that – I had no idea,” when another well-meaning petitioner has pointed out the best approach to remedy a sticky situation, or the inner workings of someone else’s motives.

When do we ever stop and listen to what He has to say? Do we really enjoy the sound of our own voices that much or are we just afraid of what He might be trying to tell us?  Some of my most earnest – and effective – times of prayer have been those times when I was broken, at a complete loss for words and desperate. Desperate to hear his voice.

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