On Fridays

On Fridays, I feed the homeless.

I’m part of a team that gathers every week. We prepare food, organize the pantry, make sack lunches and feed our homeless guests. They are given hot meals, a bit of shade and a free shower.

Most Fridays I do my job (I’m in charge of bread), and when my shift is done, I go about the rest of my day as usual.

But every so often there’s a Friday like today. When I leave, I sit in my car and weep.

Perhaps it was the thick, humid air or the heat radiating off the pavement.

Maybe it was the smells – the combination of body odors, gas fumes, cooked onions and rotting fruit.

As they came through the line today, I looked every single person in the eye, smiled and greeted them like I always do.

But today, it hit me, like a punch between the eyes.

There are cravings that no bread can satisfy.

There are thirsts that a cup of water can’t quench.

There are regrets and shame that no shower can cleanse.

My weak smile can’t erase the loneliness.

I felt utterly useless today. I honestly don’t know what the point is. Why do we do it? Why do I go back, week after week. Does it matter?

I feel like a hypocrite, smiling and offering measly band-aids for gaping wounds.

There is so much pain and brokenness and illness and suffering and addiction and loss – and it’s written on the face of every single soul that stands in line waiting to be fed.

So… next Friday, I will feed the homeless.

Un-Mother’s Day – A Day For The Motherless, The Childless and The Ones With Regrets

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, my heart feels a twinge – of sorrow, regret, empathy – I don’t know how to describe it, but it lingers throughout the day. I think of the precious women whose longing for motherhood is never realized and imagine how the celebration must stab deep in their hearts.

I think of those whose mothers failed or abandoned them and imagine how the day reminds them of what they will never have.

I think of those whose mothers are gone, and imagine the sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter memories that are stirred.

I had a perfectly lovely Mother’s Day this year. It was simple, relaxed and spent in the company of my family. I felt loved and appreciated and enjoyed the gifts, the food and the words of love. My own mother is a woman of rare grace and I am honored to have such an example of a woman of faith and boundless love.

But I’m embarrassed to say, there have been Mother’s Days in my past where my expectations for what should happen, how I should be acknowledged, what gifts I should have received left me feeling more self-pity than gratefulness.

I’ve had Mother’s Days when depression and a deep sense of regret over all the things I didn’t do right and the ways I mothered horribly made it impossible for me to get out of bed.

There’s something about the contrived, commercialized, over-the-top THING that Mother’s Day, has become that makes me cringe and want to quit celebrating it all together. But I’m not sure that’s the answer. Because the celebration of mothers and all that they do is a sweet and necessary thing. I just wish we could tone it down a few notches!

If you love the hype and noise of Mother’s Day and think I’m crazy, that’s fine. But for the rest of you, reading my words and whispering a silent “amen” I want to honor you today, on this un-Mother’s Day, a Tuesday like any other.

To the motherless, the childless and the ones with regrets

To the grandmas and the mamas with empty nests

To the mothers who do it all wrong – forget the school recital, let the kids watch too much TV, feed them Froot Loops for dinner and run out of toilet paper

To the mamas with the wandering child, the stubborn son, the ungrateful daughter

To those who do it alone, without reprieve

To the dear one with the messy house, the empty bottles of wine, the unwashed dishes and piles of laundry

To the brave souls who mother other people’s children

To the women whose quest for perfection exhausts and depletes them

To the mamas who yell and scold too often; who praise and teach too little

To those who navigate motherhood without a healthy example before them

To the tireless and tired ones with children who will always need them and never become independent

To the women with angel babies

To the lost souls in a dark hole who can’t get out of bed, and who are racked with pain, with guilt, with fear.

I honor you today with a prayer for…

Grace.

Peace.

Love.

Hope.

May your minds be at ease, your bodies find rest and your spirits be comforted by the One who IS peace.

Happy Un-Mother’s Day!

 

The Infinite Benefits of a Grateful Heart

 

Do you have a heart filled with gratefulness, or one that’s always in search of a pity party?

Don’t get me wrong, I like a serious pity party as much as the next person. I’ve been known to stay at one way past closing time, reveling in the melancholy, sipping the bitter dregs from the bottom of my bottle and searching for tiny crumbs of misery. But I never leave those parties with a smile on my face and confetti in my hair. I walk away with a solitary balloon dragging behind me on a string.

 

 

I’m constantly tempted to compare my own meager portions with someone else’s feast.

But comparison is a thief. It robs us of contentment and joy and drives a wedge in relationships.

So, I have to ask myself often. Am I grateful for what I have or striving for what you have?

It’s easy to avoid comparison when someone achieves success in a way that doesn’t threaten me. For example, if you open a restaurant and are booked solid every night, I will be thrilled for you. Not only do I have no plans of opening a restaurant, but I have zero desire to cook. Your success is not a threat to me.

But, what if your success is my dream?

Not long after Steve and I were married, we had our first beautiful baby. Ashley was our delight and after a short time, we decided to expand our family further. Year after year, we tried to have another baby. Over ten years passed and I had all but given up hope. During those years, friends and family had babies, and more babies, and even MORE babies while we prayed for another child, went through fertility testing and suffered through a failed adoption.

With every year that passed, I longed for what I didn’t have and struggled to be grateful. I held back the tears each time someone announced a pregnancy. I forced myself to attend a seemingly endless parade of baby showers. But pity cast a dullness over each and every celebration.

Over time, God revealed to me that His love and grace are infinite and his gifts are chosen specifically for me.

I finally found peace with our little family of three, became grateful for the gifts I was given and was truly happy whenever a friend announced another baby on the way.

So, imagine our surprise when thirteen years after the birth of our first daughter, we welcomed another daughter, Rachel, followed two years later by our boy Sam. The joy and light that our friends and family beamed onto us, with the birth of each of our children was nothing short of dazzling.

It’s been nineteen years since I last gave birth and these many years later, we now know the endless bliss of grandchildren. Our hearts are full.

Here’s the thing. It’s hard for the light in others to reflect back on me when my own gleam is gone.

It’s like looking into a mirror and refusing to smile, because the image staring back at me isn’t smiling either. 

In the past few years I have come to realize that the more I practice gratitude and send love out into the world, the more it multiplies. When I am grateful for the gifts I’ve been given, I can celebrate with you when you succeed.

Love and gratitude are infinite. There isn’t a Scrooge McDuck vault out there somewhere with a miserly, finite supply. It’s endless and multiplies the more it’s given away.

I’m not saying I’ll never throw another pity party. But the next time, I may not stay quite as long.

 

Does Jesus Love You? A Quiz

Here we are at the end of another exhausting week. I don’t know about you but I feel depleted. I don’t know if it’s the cold I’m fighting or the worry that’s nagging, or the world that seems to have gone to the other side of crazy, but I’m plum wore out.

When I feel this way, there’s no amount of self-motivational chatter or mindless eating or brisk walks or any THING that can pull me out of the funk.

Except.  Jesus.

I sat down this morning and opened up my Bible, lapping up the Scriptures like a sun-baked hound dog. I flipped through the pages and underlined verses, allowing them to soak into my parched, thirsty soul. But still, the day beat me down.

I realized this afternoon that my frantic searching through Scriptures was still ME – doing, striving, working.

It’s true that I need God’s Word but without ‘the Word made flesh’ it’s not enough.

I need Jesus.

This made me think of you, my sweet friend. How was your week? Are you feeling depleted and worn-out? Do you feel like a hamster on the wheel, spinning around and around and getting nowhere?

Maybe you read my words above and think “Yeah, me too. I need Jesus.” Maybe you read them and thought, “Jesus? I’m fine, thanks.” or maybe you read them and thought, “Jesus. I don’t know if I need Him and even more, I don’t know if He would want me.”  Whatever your response, I have a few questions for you. Answer them honestly if you want to know if Jesus’ love is for you.

Would you describe yourself as an optimist, a realist or a pessimist?

Jesus loves you.

Is your bank account fat or are you dirt poor and sinking in debt?  

Jesus loves you.

Are you a pastor? Are you a porn addict? Are you both?  

Jesus loves you.

Are you straight? Are you gay? Are you trans? Do you not know how to answer?  

Jesus loves you.

Did you spend your day in the service of others? Did you waste your day in front of the TV?  

Jesus loves you.

Are you enveloped in the love of friends and family? Are you desperately lonely and hopelessly friendless?  

Jesus loves you.

Did you encourage your children with words of affirmation and love today or did you scream uncontrollably at the people you claim to love? 

Jesus loves you.

Are you fit? Are you fat? 

Jesus loves you.

Are you conservative, liberal or ‘over it’? 

Jesus loves you.

Is your business successful and flourishing? Are you a complete and utter failure? 

Jesus loves you.

Have you spent your life in the pews of a church or have you determined to never darken the door of a house of worship? 

Jesus loves you.

Are you a believer, a doubter or a cynic? 

Jesus loves you.

Are you a teetotaler, a social drinker or a raging alcoholic?

Jesus loves you.

Have you been betrayed? Are you a betrayer?

Jesus loves you.

Do you have a genius IQ or is your mind broken in ways you can’t express? 

Jesus loves you.

Jesus loves you.

There is nothing you can DO to deserve His love more. There is nothing you have done that will make Him love you less. Isaiah 49:16 says that God loves you so much that He tattooed your name on the palm of His hand. That’s some hard-core serious love! Psalm 56:8 says that He loves you so much that He saves your tears in a bottle. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you.

Jesus loves you so much that He gave His life for you. He suffered a brutal, painful death for you.
He longs to be in relationship with you – to know you and to be known by you, to bind up your wounds, to bring peace and love and strength to your weary, worn-out soul.

If you want this love – this tattooed-on-the-palm-of-His-hand, tear-saving-in-a-bottle, dying-on-the-cross-for-you love, all you have to do is ask. Admit that you’re a sinner (welcome to the club!) and ask Jesus to take up residence in your heart. Trust me, a relationship with Jesus is the greatest love affair you could ever imagine. A love without restraint, without limit and without end.

A Valentine’s Day Gift for the Unloved and the Unlovely

Our picture of love is warped.

On the one hand, we have a Hallmark-created, Disney-distorted image of love that bears little or no resemblance to the gritty, daily reality of true, enduring love. It’s an un-obtainable, romantic fantasy.

On the other hand, there is a dramatic counterpoint to these saccharin-sweet sentiments – a dark and distorted view of ‘love’. Pornography and the storylines of many popular books and movies portrays a perverse picture of love as domineering and abusive or submissive and abused. It presents love as unbridled passion, power and lust – a commodity with a price tag.

True love is radically different and so much more. Sure, true love is sometimes expressed through marriage and sex and roses and chocolates. But it’s also beautifully demonstrated in friendship and family, through community and acts of charity and sacrifice. It’s complicated and difficult. It ebbs and flows. True love forgives and believes, hopes and endures, clings to what is good and denies itself retribution.

But what about the times when love seems unobtainable? When betrayals and our very humanness seem to banish love from our lives? For those of you who are struggling to give love or to accept love on this Valentine’s Day, may I remind you of the gifts that your Heavenly Father offers.

 

 

To the ugly and the scarred – Through His scars, you are healed – Isaiah 53:5

To the ones who lust and hunger but are never satisfied – He offers the bread of life – John 6:35

To the fatherless – He wants you to know that you’re His precious, beloved child  – Psalm 68:5

To the rejected and discarded – The rejected One has redeemed you – Isaiah 53:3

To the ones who run away and to the ones who long to be found – He is waiting for you, with a robe and a ring – Luke 15:11-22

To the doubters and the seekers – Seek Him. He will be found  – Proverbs 2:1-6 Luke 11:9-10

To the weary and the weak – He will bring you rest – Matthew 11:28

To the grieving and the hopeless – He will carry your sorrow – Isaiah 53:4

To the broken and bruised – He was broken and bruised for you – Isaiah 53:5

To the lost and the wandering – He is relentlessly looking to find you – Matthew 18:12-14

To the whores and the harlots – He waits by the well, with water to quench your thirst – John 4:7-26

To the unloved and the unlovely – the Bridegroom is entranced by your beauty – Song of Solomon 4:1-3

 

Whether you feel cherished or neglected, valued or worthless, I pray that today you would receive God’s gift of love – a love that is boundless in mercy and available to all. It is a love that is true, a love that endures and a love that never fails.

A Prayer For A President

On January 20th the 45th President of the United States was sworn into office.

I don’t like Donald Trump.

I struggle to see an ounce of wisdom or integrity in him. But I have a predicament. He is now the President of the United States. Whether I like him or not, as a citizen of this country and as a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to pray for him out of respect for the office that he now holds and out of obedience to the God that I serve. I confess. This is really hard for me.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Trump’s actions can’t or shouldn’t be criticized. The First Amendment guarantees the rights of citizens in a healthy democracy include: Freedom of the Press, with the liberty to speak openly without fear of government restraint and, Freedom of Speech as demonstrated by a vocal and engaged citizenry with the right to express any opinion without censorship or restraint.

At the same time, the Scriptures urge us to pray for “all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

Have you ever prayed for someone you don’t like? I don’t mean pray they’ll get hit by a bus or covered in boils, I mean really pray for their soul. I don’t remember the last time I did. Mainly because there aren’t many people that I truly dislike.

So, what to pray for Mr. Trump? This is a challenge and is something I’ve thought about long and hard. I’ve searched the Scriptures and considered my own life. I confess that I am a sinner and that I am often willful, proud, thoughtless, unkind, selfish and stubborn. I am painfully aware of my flaws and my sins. Daily, I confess them and ask God to transform my life and remake me into His image.

 

 

As an act of obedience and discipline in my own spiritual journey, and keeping in mind my own sinful nature, I composed a prayer for our president.  

The prayers I pray for myself are the prayers I will pray for him. The transformation I seek for my own life, is the one I seek for his.

“Father in heaven, I pray that President Trump would be aware that he is a sinner, confess his sins and accept the forgiveness that is available through the death of your son Jesus.

I pray that as he receives your grace and forgiveness, he would extend that same grace and forgiveness to others.

I pray that You would replace his spirit of pride with a spirit of humility.

I pray that he would live a life of generosity, and consider others above himself.

I pray that he would be devoted to caring for the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the sick, the prisoner and the marginalized.

I pray that You would grant him a humble and contrite heart.

I pray that he would exhibit self-control and be compelled to live his life as a man of truth and integrity.

I pray that he would listen more than he speaks.

I pray that he would grant mercy instead of seeking revenge; for Your Word declares that mercy triumphs over judgment.

I pray that he would be an advocate for peace.

I pray that he would be a man of grace and dignity, treating everyone he meets with respect and that he would see them as Your beloved children, created in Your image.

I pray that the fruit of the spirit would be evident in his life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I pray that he would hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Transform him Lord, into a man of integrity and into a leader who is sober-minded, thoughtful, compassionate, wise and good.

With the same measure that he blesses others, may he also be blessed.”

These things I pray for my own life and for the life of my president. Oh that we may “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” Grant it Lord, I pray.

Thanksgiving – My Story of Seizures and Coming Out of the Dark

“Where am I? What am I doing?”  These were the thoughts that raced through my brain as I sat by the side of the road, gripping the steering wheel in my hands.

Thanksgiving Day, 2001 – I was driving home from my parent’s house, less than five minutes away. We had just enjoyed a day filled with an abundance of food and laughter in the midst of our large and noisy family. Our two youngest children, Sam (3) and Rachel (5) were with me in the back seat of the car. Steve had gone on ahead in a separate car.

As I drove down the hill, I suddenly felt lost. I knew this road well. I had driven it hundreds of times before but, at that moment, the familiar became strange and unfamiliar. A fog began settling in my brain. I looked down at my hands on the steering wheel and had no sense of what I should be doing. My heart trip-hammered wildly as I pulled over to the side of the road and I struggled to get my bearings.

“Why are we stopping?” Rachel asked. “What’s wrong?”

I could hear her voice and my mind formed the answer, but my tongue was tied tight and I couldn’t speak. She repeated the question but again, I couldn’t answer. A numbness and tingling spread across my left cheek, like a foot that has fallen asleep. Eventually, the fog began to lift, my voice returned and I turned to reassure Sam and Rachel that everything was okay but deep down I knew it most certainly was not.

The whole incident lasted mere seconds, maybe a minute or two at the most, but in my mind, time became elastic and those seconds stretched into an eternity.

I didn’t want to continue driving, for fear that the incident would repeat itself, so I sat there, waiting for someone to drive by, hoping they would see me at the side of the hill and come to my aid.  The minutes ticked by and nobody came. Sam and Rachel became anxious.  They could sense that something was wrong and they were afraid.

Cautiously, I pulled away from the curb and drove through the hills. I arrived home without incident and sent the kids to get ready for bed with further reassurances that everything was fine.

I walked down the hall and into our room. As soon as I saw Steve I burst into tears and told him of my strange ordeal.

I vowed that I would not get behind the wheel of a car again until I knew what was wrong.

The next morning Steve brought me to the doctor’s office as soon as it opened.  I told the receptionist I needed to see someone immediately and I was willing to wait all day, if that’s what it took.

When I finally saw the doctor I shared how I was feeling and the specifics of my incident the day before. He asked if I ever spaced out and lost track of time. “No,” I said. “Yes, she does,” Steve interrupted. I looked at him in disbelief and told him he was wrong.

The doctor questioned Steve further. He asked him what my behavior was like when these incidents occurred, how often it happened and for how long. The doctor then proceeded to perform a litany of tests – tapping my knees with a hammer, pressing down on my upturned palms and watching me walk across the room. I had no idea what on earth this weird series of exercises meant but when he was finished, he sat down and pulled his chair close to me.

“Karen, I believe you’re having seizures. You can’t drive anymore until you see a neurologist. I’ll make a referral right away.”

The impact of his words hit me like a punch to the face.

I looked out the window, at the cars driving by, and thought, “This can’t be happening to me. What does this mean? How will I survive without driving?” The rest of his words were a blur. We walked out of his office and I wept the whole way home.

That day, I walked into a dark and scary tunnel. WE walked into a dark and scary tunnel. My license was suspended and for three years I was unable to drive. I underwent constant tests and doctor’s visits – EKGs, EEGs, CAT scans, SPECT scans and more. I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I was experiencing partial complex and absence seizures. The neurons in my brain were misfiring.

Daily, as endless seizures rolled in, I questioned God, my faith and my sanity. My children learned to dial 9-1-1. The doctor prescribed one medication after another, in an effort to stop the seizures. We fumbled through our days and, clinging to God and to each other, somehow survived.

It’s hard to believe, as I write this story, that fifteen years have passed. I have now been seizure free for twelve years!

My faith wavered but ultimately was strengthened. My sanity is still up for debate. Our marriage, by some miracle of God’s grace, survived this and subsequent years as illness, heart attack, injury, chronic pain, depression, drug dependence and more, have plagued our lives.

Next week I will celebrate my 55th birthday and another beautiful Thanksgiving together as a family. We marvel at God’s grace that continues to lead us.

Our times of suffering and crises of faith appear like underground tunnels, ominous and dark. We don’t know what’s around the corner or when the tunnel will end.

long dark tunnel

If you are at the entrance of a dark tunnel, looming large and long ahead of you – take a deep breath, grab the Light of God’s Word and hold tightly to God’s hand. (Psalm 119:105)

If you are in the middle of that dark tunnel, with the damp and dark pressing in on all sides – guard a flickering light of hope, reach forward towards daylight and remember that, even when it seems like a lie, God is there with you in the dark. Search for Him. He will be found. (Jeremiah 29:13)

If you are coming to the end of that dark tunnel, with a glow of light ahead – rejoice in the light, thank God for bringing you through and reach back to grab someone’s hand who is still wandering in the dark. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Here’s my hand, dear friend. Grab tight. You are not alone.

The Chains We Show and The Chains You Cannot See

He was handsome, with dark black skin, a proud erect stance and a muscular build. I hadn’t seen him before but I was fairly new so perhaps he was a regular. He moved quickly across the yard and took his place in line. It was Friday morning and I was serving breakfast to our local homeless community.

He was younger than the average man there and taller by several inches. But the thing that made him stand out was what he wore. Draped around his neck was a thick chain.

No, that’s not it. That picture you have in your mind – a thick gold chain, a piece of jewelry – that’s not it. He wore an actual chain.

No. You’re still not picturing it right. It wasn’t like a bike chain or a dog chain, it was more like this.

chain-690088_1920

The chain he wore around his neck was a heavy, steel chain – dark gray like thunderclouds – the kind of chain you would expect to see in a shipyard, tied to a piece of equipment or lifting a crate to the deck of a ship.

It weighed several pounds. It was at least three feet long and each link was two inches – but in spite of it’s weight, the young man stood straight and tall. The burden of it made no impact on his posture.  He had that chain draped around his neck and hanging down his chest as casually as a winter scarf.

As he moved up the line, I felt it and it was clear the other men felt it too. The tension in his body crackled in the air around him, electric like a gathering storm. Inadvertently, the men in front of and behind him moved a few inches, giving him a wide berth.

Finally, he stood before me. I looked up into his handsome face, smiled and greeted him. He stared back at me with blank eyes as dark as a winter night, without a flicker of light or warmth.

He didn’t respond to my greeting but simply took his food and walked away.

I finished serving breakfast, completed my morning tasks at the kitchen and went home, but I couldn’t get this young man out of my mind.

That chain. He was literally wearing his chain. He had surrendered to the burden that life dealt him so completely that he wore it, like a millstone, for the world to see.

How weary he must be, shouldering that every day, I thought. I sat down on the sofa, imagining the weight on my own shoulders, and prayed for peace for his soul.

That’s when it struck me. We all have chains. Some of us show our pain on the outside, sending signals to the world through our faces, our clothing, our scars, a tattoo and even a chain. There’s a scar that runs the length of my husband’s chest – the result of his open heart surgery. It’s a constant reminder to us of his brush with death.

Most of us, however, wear our chains on the inside. Our scars are hidden there where nobody but God can see.

We wear masks to hide the pain. Paste on smiles to disguise our scars. Laugh and nod to one another while hiding the burden of our chains.

I have borne my own chains. The chains of my sin. The burden of my past. The heavy weight of regret and pain. These chains shackled my spirit with fear. I was helpless to remove them on my own. But then this.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Oh, how the tender words of Jesus ministered to my heart, like an ointment to my sin-sick soul. When I fully surrendered my sin and my pain to Jesus, he removed the chains that were binding me and set me free to love fully and accept his forgiveness completely.

I don’t have to bear the burden of my sin. You don’t have to bear the weight of your shame.

Surely He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes 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.

Isaiah 53:4-6

The Day I Heard God’s Voice in the Words of a Stranger

Steve almost died.

By almost, I mean he had a major heart attack and went into cardiogenic shock. His heart stopped beating and he flat-lined. So, technically he did die. But, between God and the skill of a cardiovascular surgeon, he returned to the land of the living.

Three days later, he lay in a hospital bed, on the road to recovery, and I was at a baseball field.

“What on earth am I doing here?” I thought.

It was January 14, 2006.  The sun was bright and warm – one of those picture perfect Southern California winter days.  It was also Little League sign-ups and that’s why we were there. Our son Sam talked about nothing else for weeks.  This was his first year playing baseball and he couldn’t wait to get started. I stood still and looked up at a brilliant blue sky. The smell of freshly mown grass mingled with the enticing aroma of popcorn. The chatter of voices and the laughter of children filled the air.

baseball glove, green grass

I could have asked my dad to bring him, but I was desperately trying to pretend everything was normal and maintain some semblance of control.  As far as Sam knew, dad didn’t feel well, had a problem with his heart, and was in the hospital for a few days. He and his sister Rachel hadn’t yet been told about Steve’s brush with death, so when Saturday morning rolled around, he was excited and chomping at the bit to go.

As soon as we arrived, doubts and second thoughts bombarded me. I clutched Sam’s registration forms in my hands and stood still, watching everyone rush by as my mind reeled with these thoughts.

What if Steve never recovers?

What if he has another heart attack and dies…while I’m here?

What if I’m left to do this day and all the other days on my own?

All the emotion and worry of the previous three days spilled out of me, right then and there.  My composure and confidence disappeared and I started sobbing.  Sam looked at me with concern in his eyes and tried to reassure me. “It’s all right, mom.”

It wasn’t all right.  I wasn’t all right. Steve wasn’t all right.  I didn’t know if any of us would ever be all right again.

I stood there blubbering and gasping for breath, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  “Do you need help?  Is everything ok?” I turned to see the face of a stranger and shook my head no as a fresh wave of tears spilled out in a flood.  

He stood there quietly, with one hand resting softly on my shoulder and the other hand reaching out to Sam. I struggled to regain my composure. “I have no idea what I’m doing. Steve should be doing this. He would know what to do. He’s not here. He’s in the hospital. He should be here. I shouldn’t be here. I should be at the hospital.”  My words spilled out between gasps for air.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. “I can help. Everything’s going to be fine.”

As he introduced himself to Sam and asked him his age, he gently reached over and took the crumpled registration forms from my hands.  

I breathed deeply and brought my panic under control while he guided us over to the correct field. He took the time to introduce me to the coach and connected Sam with the other boys on his team. Sam ran off with his newfound friends. The stranger turned back to me. “Karen, can I pray with you?”

His words provoked another round of tears and I stammered out the whole story. I told him about Steve’s heart attack – the 911 call – open heart surgery – my worries about our future.  

He nodded his head as he listened. I’m sure he had somewhere else to be, but he made no attempt to leave and just stood there nodding while I blubbered and rambled.

I finally ran out of words.

He took my hands, bowed his head and prayed.  

Right there, in the middle of a baseball field, on a beautiful January day, with kids yelling and the sun shining and my boy happily playing the game he loved, and my dear husband lying in a hospital bed, he prayed for me, a perfect stranger.

He prayed for our family, for Steve, for his healing. A supernatural peace settled over me, as he petitioned God on our behalf.

He finished his prayer, squeezed my hands, smiled and walked away. I knew right then that when I needed it most, God’s hand touched mine, in the skin of a stranger and no matter what the future held, He wouldn’t let go.

To My Friend Who Had An Abortion

I remember the day you told me. The shame and anguish in your voice. The tears that flowed like a storm surge after a hurricane – unrelenting and washing over you in wave after wave of grief. Your body convulsed and your wailing pierced the air. How helpless and inept I felt in the face of such sorrow.

I think of you often these days. I’m reminded of you every time I see a post meant to heap even more shame and guilt. How is your heart holding up under the weight of it all?

We never talked of it again, you and I. I’m sorry that the only thing I offered you was a weak hug and a few tears. I long to go back and hold your face between my hands. Remind you how much you are loved and how deeply you are forgiven. I regret not praying with you. I regret not weeping with you. I regret not mourning with you or acknowledging the depths of your loss, your pain, your heartache, your shame.

If, by some twist of fate, you happen to read this, please know God’s love for you is greater than the storm surge of your grief. His forgiveness is deeper than the pit of your shame. His blood has washed away the stain of your scarlet letter.

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Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Is. 1:18)

I pray that your life is surrounded by grace; that your heart is immersed in love. I beg you – lay down the stones you cast at yourself. Pry open your hands and let them tumble, one by one at the Savior’s feet. Stand up and acknowledge your scars and use them to bring healing to others.

I haven’t forgotten you, dear friend. I’m thinking of you tonight and I’m reminding you of God’s grace.

You are not your past. You are a precious child of God – loved and redeemed and whole.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion.

Psalm 103:1-4