Keep Watering by John Maust

About 15 years ago I gave my wife, Elsa, a pink dogwood tree for Mother’s Day. The kids and I planted the tiny tree in the front yard and waited impatiently for gorgeous flowers to bloom.

One year passed, then two, then three. Still no flowers. We wondered if the spindly little dogwood would ever grow and blossom. A few times I was tempted to cut it down.    

But one spring we saw some blossoms, and more in the springs after that. As time passed, the trunk thickened, branches expanded, and an ever-widening array of pink petals spread among the leaves. Truly our pink dogwood was coming into its own. 

Our experience with the dogwood tree reminds me of our attitude toward ministry sometimes.  We invest our prayers and efforts in helping a friend or family member grow in their faith. 

But if we aren’t seeing results, we are tempted to give up and move on to someone or something else. 

If that is you right now, just keep on “watering the tree” and wait for God to work.

For Instance, I’m involved in a ministry of equipping Christian writers and publishers around the world. We come alongside a man or woman with gifting for Christian writing or publishing.  We nourish that talent through training, encouragement and prayer.  Sometimes we wonder if, or when, all that hard work will bear fruit in a finished book or established publishing ministry.

Then that writer’s book does get published, that publisher does makes real progress toward growth, that trainee does becomes a trainer of other writers and publishers. And we remember that it takes time for a growing Christian communicator to take root and blossom. 

Bird in the dogwood tree.jpg

Last summer our little dogwood tree had one more surprise for us. There on a branch just three or four feet off the ground rested a bird’s nest. Inside sat a mama robin alongside her baby, beak open and expectant for food. We could hardly believe it.

Seeing the bird family, I was even more relieved that we hadn’t given up and removed the tree from our front yard.  Not only was the dogwood providing beauty, it was giving shelter to new life, as it were.

It was a fitting conclusion to this parable of the dogwood tree….coming full circle to illustrate how God’s Word is working even when we can’t see it at first. 

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like…..?  It is like a mustard seed…when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30-31).

Be Glad and Be Good by Virginia Hughes

Do not eat of the tree. The warning is clear. Yet we run in our Sunday shoes and dress clothes. My two older brothers, ten and eight, and tag-a-long me at age six. Out we gallop to the ten foot cement wall between the mission home and the neighbor’s tree. My brothers shed ties and dress shirts while I am stuck in a dress. Shoes and socks are quickly removed. Carrying the stepladder together, climbing the last few feet of cement and scrambling to the top of the wall, we are met by glass shards stuck in the cement pointing menacingly upwards to keep thieves off the mission grounds where we live. We cut our feet immediately on the glass, but not enough to stop ourselves. The succulent guavas we have been told not to eat enticingly draw us. The rule to not eat of the tree is ours; given for our protection.

We reach and grab a few guavas. They are unripe and inedible. We wince, chew and want more, but can’t reach; so we jump onto the branches closest to the wall, swinging wildly and clambering deeply into the tree. Eating more unripe guavas, after a few minutes we feel queasy and very itchy. Jumping back over the wall our bare feet suffer more cuts. My calf is bleeding, but I want to be included on future brotherly expeditions so I do not cry when I want to cry. Washing the blood flowing from our feet with water from the yard pump, we jump and shake off the green caterpillars crawling all over us. My brothers button their shirts, attach their clip ties into place and run their hands through their hair. I notice a rip in my dress as I disentangle caterpillars caught in my own mass of hair along with twigs and leaves. We hastily pull on socks and shoes knowing we have played around too long; the yard near the house is quiet. We try to outrun our misdeeds and get to church.

Instructions to go help Dad set things in place for morning worship had been given to us earlier. He won’t be pleased to see us now. We trot along holding our aching bellies. Mother is walking back and forth in front of the church scanning the horizon searching for us. As we approach, she sizes us up: alive but askew. We know we are had, guilty and caught. What have we done? We were told to come straight to church. Where were we hiding? We caused great worry. They were about to send out a search party to find us. We cannot mask the guilty stains of bark on our hands, and bloody scratches on my calf trickle down into the white lace of my sock. Scratching uneasily at our itchy skin, red bumps form where caterpillars trail over our faces, arms and necks. Nausea has given us pinched faces as green as the guavas’ skins. We are marched straight home by Mom and Mama Benson, a loyal church member with twelve children of her own and functions as resident doctor, restaurateur and grocery store owner. Mama Benson’s doctoring bag is full of everything we dread: injections, bitter pills and stinging Merthiolate.

We confess where we have been and what we have done and are reminded it’s The Lord’s Day we have desecrated. I have disobeyed, torn my dress and broken the additional commandments of coveting, stealing and not honoring my father and mother. The boys are sharply reprimanded on every count; their offenses include blatantly leading me into a life of crime.

Our feet and other cuts are soaked in hot water, scrubbed with disinfectant and examined. The Merthiolate is poured on our raw broken skin and a smelly salve is rubbed into our wandering feet which are wrapped in clean white cotton bandages.  Thermometers register elevated temperatures and our bellies are poked and squeezed. Tetanus shots administered all around have our thin arms screaming with regret. Spankings and loss of privileges come later when Dad gets home. Once the weeping ceases, we are led to pray and ask God to forgive us. Then Dad talks to us about restitution.

Restitution is something we must pay to the neighbor because we have sinned against him. We must go ask his forgiveness and give him something of value. Something precious of our own that he will hopefully accept as payment for the guavas we ate belonging to him. At six, and not a woman of much property, I am stumped. I would like to offer siblings, the twins a few years younger often in my care, who plague me by falling into open sewers and cause a whole lot of trouble, but that is not allowed. I own three things: two kittens I consider my furry sisters Sunset and Midnight and a favorite chicken, Henny Penny. I cannot give up something I love. Not a beloved animal. Surely not any one of them. It is not fair.

There is no getting out of it. The price must be paid for restitution. Henny Penny does not appreciate being carried by her betrayer and deals nervous pecks to my hands and arms as I limp out of our gate following my brothers over to the house next door. The boys have to give their prized bolo knives which will surely end their glorious days of trailblazing like Daniel Boone. I sob for their heavy losses. We stand contrite and ashamed for what we have done, knocking on the neighbor’s metal gate calling out a greeting.

When the gate opens, we ask to speak to the master of the house. The owner comes and looks quizzically as three tear stained, freckle faced children so sorry for sins against him, offer up an angry chicken and two bolo knives. He has a guava tree? He does not know he has a guava tree. His servant nods and points in the direction of the tree back by the wall. Our neighbor does not miss the guavas, and has no need for the chicken or the knives. He shakes his head, “Thank you, thank you. No please, you keep . . . you are good keeds,” He smiles. He doesn’t know we are naughty “keeds.” We are surprised by his grace.

The boys grateful for this undeserving turn of kindness are ready to go, but I am afraid to return home with Henny Penny. Having received a spanking for disobeying, I know from experience that a second spanking may be earned if the first one doesn’t take. I set Henny Penny down at our neighbor’s feet and she lifts her wings to run only to be quickly retrieved by the servant standing nearby. Our neighbor and his servant walk us back home. The neighbor shakes Dad’s hand, and they talk for a short while. Henny Penny is released and runs to freedom. The neighbor nods and smiles reassuringly and returns home with his servant.  

We stand waiting as Dad shakes his head and hopes we have learned our lesson. Squirming as he looks us over, we wonder if we are still in trouble?  We learn that while we are forgiven, we will not be trusted to run quite so freely for many days as we will be doing extra chores. “Get to work,” Dad tells us. “You are little stinkers, you do not deserve it, but we still love you. Be glad and be good.”

At the Heart of Forty Years by Nancy Tally

Exchanging of vows

Roland

Nancy, I love you.

Before God our Father and these witnesses I, Roland Spence Tally,

Understanding the instructions given in the Holy Scriptures,

That I should love you as Christ loved the church

And love you as much as I love my own body,

And to treat you with the care that a precious vessel requires:

Wishing to be obedient to these instructions found in the scriptures

So that Christ my Savior may be glorified

I promise you, Nancy Carol Seymour

That I will never abandon you

spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, or physically,

I dedicate my total being to meet your every need as God,

 through His Holy Spirit enables me to.

Until death separate us or until our Lord and Savior comes again.

Nancy

Before God our Father and these witnesses I publicly declare that

I, Nancy Carol Seymour, have chosen you, Roland Spence Tally to be my lawfully wedded husband, the one to whom I will be united and

spend the rest of my life till God takes one of us home.

Having talked with God our Father, and knowing His words

I am convinced that we are in his will and that

He alone has brought us together.

I am but a child in God’s family, but by the provision Christ has made for me, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell in me;

I will respond properly to you my husband.

By properly I mean I shall Help You. Love You,

Submit to Your Authority, and Obey You.

I chose to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God, and along with you, be made by God, more like His Son everyday.

The Rings

Roland

Unfortunately, Roland’s words have been lost in the passage of time.

Nancy

Roland , may this ring remind you that I am secure in the circle of your love,

And that I willingly bring to you my own love.

I pray that our circle of love will expand to enclose others and that our friendship, trust and love for each other will never cease to deepen.

Roland at this time I thee wed and give to you my life.

Commitment to Concepts

Love is a verb and therefore a choice.

What ever the difficulty was if love is gone it is because one or both of us decided to stop acting in love.

Divorce is not an option.

No matter what, neither of us has the right

to split asunder what God had joined together.

That left us with two options:

Continue to refuse to choose to be loving and stay miserable

Or

Chose to love the other again.

Warning: the pain you inflicted on your spouse my take years of your loving them with no visible sign of their healing or returning your care.

But when God breaks through the restoration of mutual love and warmth of relationship will be worth all the work.

Where Is Your Heart by Pat Cirrincione

I was thinking the other day of where the hearts of people are today. Are their hearts in the holiday of Valentine’s and the beautiful cards that Hallmark has printed for the season? Or are they in the type of candy, flowers, or yummy Valentine desserts that are all for sale at this time of year?

Where was your heart this Valentine season? Was it emotionally tired? Was it tired of how unkind people seem to be these days? How it’s okay for others to have their opinion of anything and everything, but you are not allowed to have yours? When did our hearts become so cold?

Thinking about all of this reminded me of my younger days:

Do you remember when you where young and your Mom came home with red, pink and white construction paper? Plus glue, pens, and if you were really lucky doilies to make your homemade cards really special for that one person you wanted to impress. It was such a joyous time as you and your siblings sat around the table, folded the construction paper in half, drew a half-shaped heart on one side, and then cut the heart out, unfold it to its big heart size and begin your decorating. This just wasn’t paper, glue, and doilies to you. This was a moment when you thought really hard about who this heart was going to. Would it be met with a smile? Would it be met with embarrassment? Would it be met with kindness? The trauma and turmoil that went into preparing those hearts for the special people in your life. It was so personal, and done with so much love. Fast forward to today’s cards our children give to their classmates. Purchased in a box of other cards, and signed “From”. It’s so impersonal. Everyone gets one. There’s no special time spent with scissors cutting out construction paper and doilies. There’s no real feeling, other than to count how many you received. How can we expect attachment, or real heart felt feelings when nothing has really gone into the giving?

So back to my original question: Where was your heart this Valentine season?

Mine was in thinking about being a more effective witness, more than being just a good example, more than purchasing what the media makes of Valentine.

Mine was in letting friends and family know that becoming a Christian is as close as your own lips and heart. That if we believe in our heart and say with our mouth that Christ is the Risen Lord, we will be saved (Romans 10: 10-12).

Now that’s a Valentine gift I can live with forever.

Not Too Bad for a Protestant by Virginia Hughes

Ann transferred from a local Catholic school into public school in seventh-grade just in time for Ash Wednesday. What I noticed first was her modest blouse, skirt length well below the knees, thick knee socks and sensible shoes. Was I looking in a mirror? No, just recognizing the plight of another girl from a strict upbringing. The darkly drawn cross emblazoned across her forehead set her apart. My church used such terms as “marked and set apart.” I was equally intrigued and relieved that my conservative, Protestant missionary parents knew naught that a girl could be marked with a cross on her forehead before skipping off to school in her modest dress ensemble handed down from two older sisters.

Outward appearances mattered a lot to my parents. We were to be a Christian example in dress and conduct. It was impossible to fit in when teen fads dictated zippy mini-skirts or blue jeans paired with plaid CPO jackets. These clothes I craved were deemed, “Uniforms of wanton women, hobos and thugs,” to quote Dad. I laugh uproariously now. It wasn’t humorous at the time. My parents thought sneakers were foolish as they wore out too quickly and couldn’t be repaired to be passed down. Foolishness and worldliness both translated to “No, you’re not wearing that.” Looking at Ann, sporting a cross of ashes, maybe I didn’t have such a difficult row to hoe after all.

It must be dreadfully embarrassing for her to be marked with a cross. Not at all. She wore her ashes and faith with confidence and asked what had I given up for Lent? Absolutely nothing because my church doesn’t do that. I was surprised to learn of yet another punitive measure we were spared. Ann retorted that I must not be a serious Christian and perhaps my faith was a sham. I had always suspected as much, but didn’t know enough to state how our denominations were legalistic twins, and who was she to say such a thing?

In defense, I launched a rocket of lists of what our family was always doing; and that was attending a church related event from sundown to sunset and all the blessed times in-between. Sunday school, church, neighborhood witnessing and handing out tracts, hospital and prison ministry, Sunday evening church, youth group, weekly midweek prayer meeting, choir practice. “So? So, what?” Ann asked, after each item. Oh, I had more: We go early to everything to turn on the lights because my dad preaches the sermons, we are always the last to leave. I have read most of the Bible commentaries and illustrated concordances in Dad’s study. She didn’t know what that meant so she listened for a minute. I expounded on how reading the Bible was a piece of cake compared to digesting a Bible commentary. She was interested that my family had lived overseas in lifestyles of the poor and not famous. My being born on the field had her momentarily stumped. I was a true alien and could list church events all day. We have two-week long evangelistic revivals at our church at least twice a year and not the wimpy one-week kind. We go to camp meeting in the hottest months of summer in a giant, sweltering tabernacle with no air conditioning.

Oh, we suffer. Yes, we suffer for Christ all right. Ann responded, “You didn’t say anything about how much you love God.” She quoted the verse about how man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart. That was a real verse and I knew it. It was the first time in a lifetime of being deeply convicted of how wrong I usually am. I was impressed. “I didn’t know you knew real verses. Not bad for a Catholic.”

I knew my heart hated everything I was dragged into by my parents on Sundays and all week long at church. It was boring and interminable. I detested our outdated clothes, restrictions, rules, long-winded prayers, the emotional testimonies that got shut down just as they were getting interesting--some folks tended to overshare their guilty sins. One longed for Bernice to get worked up, wave her hankie and jump the pews. The blue-collar Christians at our church were more forlorn than victorious. The church work was unending as war veterans were now arriving by bus from the VA Hospital, shell shocked from Vietnam and nervously standing in line for the warm meal at the end of the long service.

I had a hard and embarrassed heart jaded and crusty beyond my years, but thankfully it didn’t stay that way. I stopped speed reading the Bible and began reading for understanding. Ann and I had great conversations throughout junior high and high school. Her knowledge of her own faith convicted me to love Jesus.

The prophet Joel advises us to rend our hearts and not our clothes. What might this look like?

I believe the beginning of my heart’s rending came from my friend Ann earnestly endeavoring to convince me how wrong Protestants are. Are we wrong? Read, read, read. Do I love Jesus? Pray, pray, pray. Dear heart of mine, melt heart melt and fall in love with Jesus. What is he saying? Keep seeking me. I am the vine and you are the branches. And Ann would say, “You’re not too bad . . . for a Protestant.”

The Royal Sisterhood by Lorraine Triggs

 The Royal Sisterhood in training. (I am the sweet toddler princess in the middle.)

The Royal Sisterhood in training. (I am the sweet toddler princess in the middle.)

We were the ruling royalty of South Kenwood Avenue. Granted, our kingdom only extended to one neighborhood block and we were self-crowned. Nonetheless, my sisters and I were benevolent monarchs, gently cajoling our friends to play all games by our rules all the time.

The finest display of our grandeur was reserved for our annual summer backyard play—written, produced and starring ourselves, the Royal Sisterhood. We managed our own promotion, plastering telephone poles with hand-drawn fliers announcing the date, time and place of the performance. And the loyal subjects, uh, neighbors, would come in droves to watch us.

Then one summer we noticed a decline in the number of subjects in attendance. It turned out that a competing kingdom moved in on Dorchester Avenue, one block over from ours. It was ruled by Pamela. The call to arms came when we discovered that she was going to put on a play.

We spent the rest of the summer spying on her. We would climb the old willow tree in the backyard and have a clear view into Pamela's yard. Better yet was our friend "Tuffy" who rermained loyal and lived right next door to Pamela. We would pretend to swim in his above–ground pool, while keeping a watchful eye on her. We neglected our kingdom and our play planning. We sabotaged her publicity and tore off her fliers from telephone poles on Dorchester.

We drove ourselves (and our mother) crazy with this insane need of ours to compare ourselves with Pamela and always come out better than she. No, we didn't want to put on a play with her, the Royal Sisterhood decreed. No, we would rather die than befriend her. No, we were perfectly happy playing this new game of comparison.

Even Jesus' disciples played the comparison game when they "argued with one another about who was the greatest." (See Mark 9:33-37.) When Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, their silence was telling. I know mine would be. Would I really say to Jesus, "Oh, just spying on Pamela to make sure we were still the greatest."

On a lot of levels, I still happily play the comparison game. I don't tear down fliers from telephone poles anymore, but it's hard to avoid comparing homes, children, achievements, social media posts. We even compare how crazy busy we are.

In his book, Saving the Saved, author Bryan Loritts referenced a statement C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: "C.S. Lewis was right. In order for pride to exist, there must be comparison with what we would deem to be an inferior other."

The fatal blow to my pride is the recognition that compared to Jesus, I am the inferior other—not Pamela. Any attempt to make myself better than I am will always fall short of his glory. And there, in all my inferiority and other-ness, I recollect the amazingly graced words of Ephesians 2:4-5: "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…" 

It's time to stop playing my favorite game.  

Emergency Room Laughter by Wil Triggs

My grandfather spent a lot of time in the hospital. At least, that’s how I remember it.

I remember him as an old man who liked to smoke a pipe--a passion he shared with C. S. Lewis.

At Christmas I would buy him a pouch of tobacco or a new pipe. Giving tobacco as a gift seems like such a strange choice from where I sit now, but at the time, it was a treat for me to go to the Sav-On Drug Store, pick out a pipe or an exotic-looking pouch, wrap them up in candy-cane paper and give it to him. He seemed to really enjoy smoking his pipe and as a boy, I was fascinated to watch him light one of his wooden matched and draw the flame into the bowl of the pipe where he packed the right amount of tobacco. The smell of it seemed like a welcome and happy part of visiting my grandparents.

We visited them a lot. I would go over to their home and cut their grass with a rotary push mower. We would go grocery shopping for them. If they needed something moved from one room to the other, we would go and help. These were tasks I shared with others in the family; we took turns making sure the yard looked nice or getting food for them to eat. And the walls inside the house were adorned with paintings from artists in the family and photos of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Back to their yard, my grandmother seemed especially proud of the passion fruit vine that grew along their fence that faced the alleyway. One of my aunts told me about how the passion flower told the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. She explained it to me. The apostles, the crown of thorns, the nails that nailed him to the cross and more—all part of the flower. It was a little too complicated for me, but it was a pretty flower and I loved the juice once the flower gave way to fruit. Still, if either of them did any gardening, it was my grandmother or my aunts and uncles or mom and dad or me.

With all of those visits, and the big and little things we did for them, I never wondered why my grandfather didn’t mow his own lawn or do other about-the-house chores. All I remember was him sitting in his chair, smoking his pipe. This was just life. I thought of him as capable. It never occurred to me to wonder why he wasn’t more, well, active. It was all good from my boyhood’s perspective. And he was just great as he was.

Now, looking back, I realize that he was not well. He had heart problems.

This was before the surgeries and procedures and replacements that we have today. When the phone at our home rang at odd times of the night, I began to wonder, as others did, was this the call. If it wasn’t the heart, then there was the even more ominous shadow of a stroke that could leave him paralyzed or, as some of the grown-ups whispered, turn him into a vegetable. My young imagination started to have bad dreams.

As these episodes took place and multiplied, so did our night-time and weekend trips to the hospital.

I stated to feel comfortable at Memorial Hospital. I wasn’t usually allowed into his room, but I got to know the waiting room pretty well. I watched the nurses and the doctors. I read Highlights magazine—or rather, played the games and puzzles that were printed in the magazine. There was a television. And I got to watch the nurses and doctors make rounds, deliver food and medicine, and spend time with my aunts, uncles, cousins.

Usually the visits were in shifts so as not to overwhelm the waiting room or the room he shared with two other patients or the beloved patient himself. But one time, everyone thought that this was the end for him. He must have had a heart attack. Everyone came. The family took up about 70 percent of the waiting room.

Things looked so bad that they even allowed us children go in and see Grandpa. They didn’t exactly tell us, but it was to give us a chance to say good bye. Otherwise they wouldn’t have permitted us to go in. But since no one told us, none of us kids thought of it quite that way. He didn’t look that bad to me. I told him that I loved him, squeezed his hand (he squeezed back), and then it was time for me to step out.

We went back into the waiting room, which had become a makeshift family reunion, a couple of my aunts started to laugh. To appreciate this laughter, I need to explain. The women in my family have loud joyous laughs. My mom had it. Her sisters have it. My sisters have it. And, my wife does, too. So when I say that my mom and my aunts started to laugh in the emergency room, understand that theirs were full-throated, life-embracing and heartfelt laughs that couldn’t contain themselves.

It was contagious. Others joined in the laughter. Then everything anyone said became hilarious. And they couldn’t stop. We couldn’t stop.

The few people not in our family who were in the waiting room looked shocked. What’s wrong with them, their faces asked. They are in here for a person in much worse shape than ours, and they’re laughing.

Some of us felt embarrassed by this display. Afterwards a family member said it was just nerves—they weren’t crying, so they laughed. There was probably something to that, but I look back at that incident as emblematic of a feast in the joy of life…remembering it and hearing at the same time the laughter of my mom, her sisters, my sisters and my wife.

My Grandpa pulled through that crisis. I like to think that was partly because he heard his family’s joyous laughter. And if he heard, though silent, I think in his heart, he was laughing, too.

Proverbs 15:15

All the days of the afflicted are evil,
    but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.

Flight Song by Virginia Hughes

As chair of the board of deaconesses, Virginia and the deaconesses are well-versed in grief and mourning as they rally around families with sweet comfort and assurance of the church family's care and love.

Feathers lay strewn across the bark chips in white, black, brown, grey and speckled array sticking there ruffling in the light breeze. A tiny yellow beak and one remaining claw sink into the fluff where minutes earlier the hawk sat ripping and tearing at the flesh of the little bird. This scant pile is all that remains of the hawk’s hasty meal. I am at fault for placing the birdseed enabling the wily carnivore to snag the unsuspecting bird, so I retrieve the feeder willing the hawk to fly away from rooftop perch and not have my yard open season for hunting.

His eye is on the sparrow, and sometimes sparrows fall. A giant member of the avian species would not swoop down to consume a smaller, weaker member in the early days of creation. Blood spilled and animals eating each other are the sad result of our original sin. Nature after the fall is attack, split and devour. It seems in violent disarray, yet creation in its fallen futility remains part of the divine order. As do our losses, grief and mourning for an end to separation, a longing to make things whole and right.

Our loss, our grief echoes within ourselves, our families and community. We join creation’s groaning when a loved one dies. Loss rakes as it takes the faithful believer. Bitten by death and gnawed by grief, the sharp sting is felt even as we celebrate the passing into heaven of our loved ones. We need comfort, and there are times when the sad outnumbers the glad in cards sent to say we love and care about you, as in the past two months at College Church where many have entered their eternal home, and we miss them.

Grandpa’s death shattered my father. The family could hear Dad crying and playing recordings of Grandpa’s preaching behind the closed door of his study. My father could be tender, but he had never cried in such loud lament as heard through that door and it terrified us. We sat in a huddled mass with ears pressed to his door, weeping along. My brother announced, “Dad is crying like there’s no tomorrow,” bringing another wave of tears along with Mother scolding us for listening at closed doors. When I asked Mom why Dad was crying so much she sighed, “Your daddy never quite got enough of his daddy. All those years he spent in boarding school when Grandpa was off preaching, then Daddy went into the army and next came the mission field. He really misses his daddy is all.” At nine years old I was awed that a grown man could feel so much love and loss for his father and I cried even more.

When my father died we were all so relieved and that didn’t feel right either. Dad had struggled and wasted away on kidney dialysis for 20 years. It was painful to behold his suffering. Death was a terrible blessing. Home after the funeral, I was watching my young daughters twirling and giggling so vibrantly alive in contrast to the dead garden stalks of winter. They were carefree and carrying on as if death had no hold on us. I cried knowing that loss would touch them someday as it touches us all. 

Mourning, yearning, emptiness and quiet. The hollow pain that lingers when a loved one leaves us behind. We may at times be rolled over and snowed under by grief. Tears aren’t enough. Words don’t cover. We are blinded by our tears and maybe angry at the circumstances. How dare the world go on? The sun will rise too brightly and set too beautifully for our grief. Sound is too loud. Metal spoons crash and clang on pans. The chewing of insects is deafening. Snowflakes fall with a harsh tick on the window pane.

Through it all we need comfort and assurance that we are loved, and the community prays, and practical kindness appears in the form of cookies and delicious food on trays at a funeral reception. Special effort in planning, arranging, setting it all out with willing hearts and steady hands. A cup of cool, refreshing water or aromatic, hot coffee. Something sweet to cover the sour feeling. Something savory to balance the sweet. In some small way emptiness may be filled and cold replaced by warmth. Here is a kind word or tender morsel to lighten your step as you trudge through your heaviness. We walk together hand in hand. We cry rivers until we run dry, and here enters grace with a balm of kind words, Scriptures, memories, smiles, tears, prayers and favorite hymns.

There are birds who sing flight songs to draw attention as they fly upward in a straight line. At a memorial service we gather to share our sorrows and affirm belief in our Savior. We do not walk alone through the valley of the shadow, watching death be swallowed up in victory. Our mourning turns to dancing as we join in a flight song that begins together now and resounds into eternity as Jesus taught us:

Our, our, our.
Father, Father, Father.
You are, you are, you are.
In Heaven,
Holy is your name.