Wednesday, December 19, 2012


We have a new word that a few years ago did not exist, regifting. It is the act of taking a gift given you and giving it to someone else as if you chose it especially for them. A number of years ago Doris was in a panic on her way out the door to a wedding shower for our friend Kim and her husband-to-be Eric. She had no gift. Another good friend, Sharon, wife to our friend Pete (you know where I’m going with this) reached in the top of her closet and brought down a still wrapped gift from her own wedding shower a few years earlier. “Give them this,” she said. “Pete and I have never even opened it.”

What a great idea! Until Kim opened the gift and found a card on the INSIDE, “Congratulations Sharon and Pete. You are a wonderful couple.”


Regifting is especially pronounced at Christmas time. We get busy. There is yet another party to go to. The budget is stretched so we grab a present from under the tree, rewrap it, CHECK FOR OLD CARDS, and off we go. My mother has more than once actually given the gift back to the person who gave it to her in the first place. Hey, we’re all trying to live green and recycle. This takes it to a whole new level. Maybe we should just establish a finite number of gifts and keep reshuffling them across the world every year. No, that wouldn’t work because when I got Donald Trump’s Rolex, or Warren Buffet’s Mercedes, I stop the regifting cycle.


There is one gift that we get over and over at this time of the year that is very appropriate though, the Gift of the Christ Child. Every year the nativity scenes come out, the Baby Jesus ornaments get hung, and we sing Away in a Manger. We receive again the gift we got last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.


This gift, however, is one that was designed in the heart of God to be regifted. Somehow in His wisdom God knew that it would take us about a year to get cynical, distracted, or afraid (especially this year). Somehow, at the beginning of time God knew that we would need an annual reminder of His endless devotion to us. And so He gave the gift that keeps on giving. (another shameless Christmas cliché that comes attached to the jelly of the month card.)


In this case though, the regifting of the Christ Child not only keeps on giving, its the whole point of the thing. When I am sure that life is meaningless, that there is no hope, and that all of my efforts are futile, I carefully unwrap this precious bundle and remember that this Baby changed the world. I remember that this Baby changed me. I remember that every good and perfect gift was and is compressed into this tiny, wriggling little infant and God really is with us. I open this gift again and again and know that My Savior is not some ethereal, mystical being but He lived and breathed, and walked among us. And I can go on for another year.


We don’t put our nativity set in the front yard or on the mantle to memorialize some event that happened 2000 year ago. We celebrate the Baby in the Manger to accept one more time the gift of joy, and hope, and peace on earth. So…in the middle of your hustle and bustle this last week before Christmas don’t forget to do some regifting. Give the Baby away again. Remind one another that Christ not only did come, He is here, now, with us, in us. And those socks I gave you last year….keep them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mary Did You Know?

As an evangelical protestant I am never sure what to do with the Virgin Mary, even at this time of the year when her story is so much at the center of our story. Oh, I have a great appreciation for her. I have even added praying the Rosary to my personal spiritual practice of disciplines, so at least several times a week I recite, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

Still, as I set up the manger scenes and read the Christmas story to my grandkids I don’t know exactly how to describe her. My wonderful Catholic friends call her easily mater Theou, the Mother of God. I believe that is true in some sense and yet my desire to keep Jesus fully God, there before time began, makes it hard for me to wrap my little head around that name, Mother of God. Then a few weeks ago I came across another designation for this blessed woman, theotokos, the God bearer. The God bearer, the one who carried God to us. Now that’s a name I can grasp.

I sat down early this morning and wrote a blog that began with those two paragraphs. I went on to talk about our responsibility to be theotokos, God bearers; to those people we come in contact with. It was a fine little blog. And then I turned on the news and began following with horror the all too familiar unfolding of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Somehow my little blogging seem so irrelevant so I took it down and deleted it. Except for the first two paragraphs.

I have been singing this Christmas season that Mark Lowry song that has become a classic, Mary Did You Know? Remember those words?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

There were other things I wonder if she knew. Did she know that He would suffer the way He did? Did she know about the beating? Did she ever imagine the cross? Mary, did you know that you would outlive your precious little baby and watch them carry His lifeless body from the top of a hill to a hole in the ground? Did you know the price you would pay to be theotokos?

This morning as I sat in front of the TV and wept and prayed for those broken families in Newtown, for those frightened, helpless children, for those unimaginably wounded mothers, I began to think of Mary, the God bearer, theotokos. She may not have known then but she knows now. She knows the pain of being a mother that lost her child. And perhaps, in some sense, just as her Son carried the pain of the whole world, she carried the pain of a thousand generations of wounded mothers. Perhaps she was not only theotokos then and there but she remains the God bearer now for those families that face a Christmas season that we cannot fathom.

Two things seem to bring some comfort in those moments when the loss is so devastating that we cannot breath. One is some meaning or purpose. “My son gave his life in the military protecting our freedom.” “My daughter died on a mission field doing what she loved.” It doesn’t ease the sadness but somehow I think it helps with the pain to know there was some reason, some rhyme to this madness. Try as I might, I can find no meaning, no purpose to bring any kind of solace to the senseless act today. There is nothing that I or anyone can say that will help us to understand this morning in Connecticut.

But the other thing that helps in some small measure I believe is to know that I am not alone in my grief; that someone, somewhere, has been through this before and knows what I am going through. I know the Scripture says that Jesus was “tempted in every way like we are.” And that “He was acquainted with all our grief.” But it doesn’t feel like Jesus knew about this kind of loss. I am pretty sure that even God doesn’t understand this pain. Enter Mary, theotokos. Is it possible that God in His Wisdom said, “I’ll start the whole story with a young mother that knows the pain of all mothers, everywhere. She will be the God bearer?” Is it possible that on a Christmas Eve 2000 years ago God foresaw the blinding tragedy in a small school in New England and said, “They will need someone to carry God to them. They will need theotokos?”

And so I rewrote my blog. And I wept and prayed for 20 young mothers (and fathers and brothers and sisters) that I have never met and never will meet. I prayed that God would send someone to them to comfort them, to carry God to them and them to Him. I prayed for theotokos. And I will be honest, I prayed to the Mother of God.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, mother of God, PRAY FOR US sinners both now and in the hour of our death.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Maintaining Your SPIRITUAL Diet

It is a universal complaint, at least in our opulent, obese, western culture. “I was doing pretty well on my diet and then the holidays hit.” Or, “I lost 12 pounds this year and gained them all back between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.”

A similar, though reverse-image difficulty is often found in our spiritual walk during this time of the year. The packed schedules, the change of pace, the frantic focus on the family gift list, takes us away from our hard fought devotional time and our disciplines fall by the wayside. “I was having my quiet time every day until the kids got out of school.” “I was in pretty good shape on my Bible reading until the late night Christmas parties started.” We lose our traction so easily and especially when the schedule is thrown into a tizzy.

So here are a few ideas to maintain the spiritual side of things during the holidays:

  •     Eat a lot of smaller meals. It works with food, it will work here too. Maybe you can’t find that 45 minute block of time you had before to read, pray, and journal. The kids are home from school. There is another concert to attend. The gift list is only half done.  Take advantage of the few minutes here and there you get to pray quick prayers, read short devotionals, quote a familiar verse to yourself. Jesus Calling is a fantastic and very SHORT devotional book that takes only a couple of minutes to read each day.
  •     Lay off the junk food. In the summer when I’m running and active I might be able to justify a cupcake here and there (or 3 or 4) but during the winter I have to work a little harder at avoiding the sweets. In the same way, when my spiritual schedule is good I can watch an extra episode of NCIS or play a few games of Solitaire on the computer. During this season I work a little harder at using what time I have to get in touch with the Father. My quiet time moments are too precious to waste.
  •  Get plenty of exercise. Most of the time our dieting is really only as effective as our exercise regimen anyway. The same is true here. If I’m struggling to keep my prayer life current and my Bible reading up to date I have found that getting out of myself and helping others makes all the difference. This is the season for that anyway so look for new and fresh ways to be Jesus to others. You may find that the spiritual diet takes care of itself when you do that.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Last thing, when my diet goes to pot and I look in the mirror and get all depressed about the shape I’m in, I usually go to the fridge and get a bowl of ice cream to console myself. Beating myself up only spirals me downward. I just start over again and try to do better tomorrow. (Or in January.) Same here. God’s grace and His love for me is not based the number of chapters I read or the amount of time I spend in prayer. Letting myself have it over my failures only makes me feel more distant from Him. So….I accept His forgiveness, I acknowledge His love, and I do better tomorrow. I am hungry to be closer to Him.

And speaking of hungry, there are some Christmas sugar cookies with my name on them……

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012


      I woke up early this morning to a burning project. You know how every once in a while something pops into your beady, little brain while you are sleeping and you wake up thinking, “This is the most important thing in the world. I’ve got to get it done today.” Well, here I go. I’ve got a project and I’ve motivated to finish it. I am writing out my 30 year plan.

I was reading last night before I went off to sleep about planning, goal setting, and dreaming big. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz says you should live your life as if you were writing a movie script.  Maybe that played into it but at 4:45AM my eyes popped open and something in me said, “You’ve got a 90th birthday coming up. You’ve better start planning.” Hence, my 30 year plan.

Now I’m just starting so I don’t want to share any details just yet but I will let you know, there will be a big shebang and you are all invited. I plan to run 5 miles that day and if it’s not too hot (in mid-July. Put it on your calendar.) play a little tennis. I also want Doris to get her hair done and put on something kind of cute. (Sorry, TMI) The point of the whole thing is, I’m making some plans. And it will be here before I know it.
The truth is that real emotional, spiritual, and mental health involves staying in the moment, living one day at a time, and treating each day as if it were your last. But it’s not. Or at least I don’t know that it is. What I do know is that there is a lot of Kingdom work to be done. There are hurting people that I know that still need to hear that Jesus loves them. I have kids, and grand kids, and by that time, maybe great grand kids, that I have some influence over and responsibility to. “For the gifts and calling of God is irrevocable." (Romans 11:29) There just isn’t a place for me to pull down the sign, hang up my cleats and say, “I’m done.”

Now that can be a little discouraging. Don’t get me wrong, sitting on the beach in the Bahamas or lounging by the pool in Bimini sounds good to me. But is also incredibly exciting. God will not be finished with me until the very day He takes me home. He has things for me to do and the energy and resources to do them. So….
I’m making out my 30 year plan today. And if the next 30 is as adventuresome as the last, I can’t wait to see it.  “Now therefore, give me this mountain… Joshua 14:12”  (Caleb at age 85.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Sucking

We sat last week in the very back of a local, quaint restaurant called Miller’s Grocery. It was years ago a one room, general store, nestled beside a railroad track and next to the Post Office in a tiny, Tennessee village. Today it has been converted into a “must eat at” tourist kind of venue known for its squash casserole and dessert buffet. And it is a popular place for Thanksgiving dinner for those families who either don’t want to cook or don’t want to stay at home. We were in the latter crowd.

This is our first holiday season without Mom and we just wanted to do something different. Doris and I and Jacob, my step-father Sammy, and my sister Chonda, picked through dressing and gravy, shoved pieces if turkey around on our plate, and made tunnels in the mashed potatoes. They were out of the squash casserole. We tried to talk about meaningless stuff. We made jokes about the people that were eating around us. But like moths drawn to a flame we found ourselves talking about Mom and shedding tears in our sweet tea.

One of our favorite stories about Mom is the phrase she invented when she was writing her little memoirs. She was describing some of those events that we all face that drain us of our joy; those unavoidable chapters in life that take the laughter from our hearts and the smiles from our faces. She said those are “happy sucking” moments because they suck the happiness from us. I know what she was trying to say but the phrase just didn’t get it. “Happy sucking” somehow moves me to giggles rather than convey the somber, sober subject that Mom was trying to express.

We made it through the meal but I spent a lot of time thinking about the countless number of other families that are facing the holidays with an absent place at the table. Maybe this has been the year of a divorce, a death, or a deployment. For whatever reason you are wondering how your will endure the present opening around the tree or watching alone as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Well, here are some suggestions that seem to be helping us:

·       -  First, don’t be afraid to change some traditions. Do something you’ve never done before this season. Eat out instead of staying in. Take a trip. Buy Christmas for a needy family. Just do something completely different this year to change the pace.

·        - Secondly, embrace the emotions. Rather than trying to avoid those tearful moments or hide from painful memories, welcome those times. Get it out. Talk about it. Cry a little bit and then go on. I think you’ll find healing comes much more quickly when you allow yourself the freedom to be sad instead of feeling like you have to stuff it down.

·         -Third, slow down a little bit. Take some of the stress out of the holiday this year by easing up on the activities and expectations. The office party will be okay without your famous sugar cookies this year. You don’t have to finish all of those hand-made birdhouses for every neighbor on the street. This holiday season make sure that you take time for you.
-       -Finally, keep it simple. That sounds a lot like number three but I mean more than that. Let this holiday season really be about the simple message of a baby in a manger. Focus on the simple truth of Emmanuel, Christ with us, and let that be enough. The blessed side of that emptiness in your heart is that it creates a space for Jesus to come in and comfort you. And He will.

We finished the last bite of banana pudding, argued over who would leave the tip, and then raised our tea glasses and in one voice said, loud enough for everybody in Miller’s to hear, “Happy Sucking!” It was a good day.  


Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I confess that I am not a political person. Oh, Doris and I vote faithfully. We watch the debates and then the debates about the debates. We are very proud of our sons who follow the political scene and voice their convictions. But for me politics has always been a necessary evil. I get no pleasure out of pulling for a party like I was rooting on the OSU Buckeyes. I don’t watch with dismay as one political party takes sway over another. Nor do I bounce with glee when “my group” acquires a controlling voice in one legislative body or another. I am just old and cynical enough to wonder if it is really going to matter.

I guess I would describe my political affiliation as Judeo-Selfish. I have a vague sense that there is some moral objective to the whole government thing but what I really want to know is how is it going to benefit me. Will my taxes be lowered? Will my sons be kept from war? Will I be able to afford health insurance? Can my grandkids get a good education and find a good job? Most of the planks of my political platform point right to me and my house. What do we need out of this election?

Now some of you are saying, “Right on, (if anybody says right on anymore) Preach it brother, that’s exactly the way I feel.” And I know others of you are so mad you could spit right now. You are mumbling to yourself about responsibility, personal action, and national apathy. I get that. And I didn’t say I was right in my thinking. I am just confessing my approach to the whole election season.

But, I am also an ever more devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I am trying to take more seriously His call to “live holy and Godly lives.” I am (hopefully) becoming more mature in my desire to know and apply the word of God to my life in everything that I do, my work, my play, my parenting, and even my politics. If Jesus does not go with me to the ballot box I have no right to vote or to call myself a Christ-follower. However divorced I may feel from the democratic system, the Lordship of Christ in my life demands that He be considered in every decision, from what kind of car I drive to who I vote for for president.

So, it seems to me, in my feeble mind and humble opinion, that all of the talk about the economy, national security, and the failing social security system, while interesting and informative, does not give me the mandate I need as a Bible believing follower of Jesus to cast my vote. I often rant and rave (okay, that’s a lie. I never rant and rave) but I do often quietly comment that we have allowed the arguments about the direction of our nation to be moved to the wrong arena. We as Christian Americans should be saying after every political advertisement or rally, “But what does the Bible say?” We believe the Bible to be true and to hold all that we need “for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 Therefore we must allow it to be the determining factor in our opinions, our convictions, and our actions.

It may appear naïve. It may lack the philosophical sophistication that we think is necessary. It may even be offensive. (Think of that, the Gospel offensive?) But it is an irrefutable logic. I believe the Bible is true and the Bible says I am to live this way. Now you may disagree with me about whether or not the Bible is the word of God. You may agree that it’s the word of God but differ from my interpretation. But you cannot deny the logic, the common sense that says, “If I believe this is God’s direction for all of life then I have to act (and vote) accordingly. In fact, to do anything else would be illogical.

If all of that I true, and it is, then what does the Bible say about the way I vote? Listen closely, this is as powerful and political as I am ever going to get. In fact, I’m surprising myself as I write this. Here are the mandates of the Holy Word of God for me when I head off to vote:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. That’s as good as it gets. Do you want more? Don’t fuss at me. Fuss at my big, brother Jesus. He said all of the law and the prophets (and the constitutional amendments) were summed up in these. Love God. Love each other.

So as I vote this week I ask myself, which candidate, which party, which person or platform supports my ability to love and honor the God of the Bible. Is there a history or a record for either man that makes me believe he (or she) will do anything that will diminish the place of Jehovah God in an already frighteningly secular society? Hey, I am not voting for a candidate. I am voting for Jesus.

And secondly I ask which direction do I vote to honor and protect my neighbors? All of my neighbors. The ones who look like me and the ones who don’t. The ones who are in my general socio-economic class and the ones who aren’t (both poorer and richer.) The ones who can speak up for themselves and the ones who can’t. Especially if it is because they are yet unborn and have no voice.

To me, everything else is secondary. Hey, I want low taxes. I want free health care. I want my Cincinnati Reds to get back to the World Series. But more than that I want my grandkids to live in a country that honors God and respects life. I did. Maybe if I get more political they will too.                  Mike

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

God Peeks

   Jakson cheats! Well, maybe not cheats so much as he lets his unbridled enthusiasm and his wonderful curiosity get the best of him. When we play hide-and-seek he can’t keep his eyes closed. I say, “Okay Jakson, Poppy C is going to hide. Cover your eyes and count to 374”. (I cheat too.) And he always peeks. He wants to know where I am going. He just can’t wait until that moment when he finds me stuffed between the washing machine and the dryer and we all yell and roll in the floor and then start the thing all over again.

I wandered on to this verse the other day. 2 Chronicles 16:9 “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” I know I’ve read it before but this time it struck me that God can’t keep His eyes closed. His unbridled enthusiasm for us, and His wonderful curiosity causes Him to peek. All the time. At me and you. He is so crazy about you that He just can’t wait to find you stuffed between the washing machine and the dryer and pull you out and bless you in some way that just knocks your socks off. (That is a profound theological expression.)

I think that most of us have this picture of God as a grumpy, old grandfather who really is just a little irritated at us all the time. He tolerates us as long as we stay out of His way but He really wishes that Jesus would come and get us out from under His feet so He can go back to the important business of making sure the sun rises and telling the ocean how far to come in on high tide. Okay, maybe I confessed too much. Maybe that’s not your picture. Maybe it’s just mine.

In either case, I am beginning to believe that it is not true. I am starting to figure out that the God of the universe is head over heels in love with me. Not in some generalized, all encompassing way, but in a personal, let’s laugh and have some fun together way. God peeks. He looks over the edge of heaven and says, “I can’t wait to bless that guy today.” “I am so excited about what I am going to do for her right now.” “Hey, angels, Watch this. I am going to do something so cool for that family that it will knock their socks off.” (I told you!)

One of the awesome things about God’s love for us is that it comes at the most surprising times. Often in moments that seem dark to us. When we are wedged between washer and dryer and can’t figure out how to escape. When life is crashing in and we are about ready to give up the game. God has been watching us the whole time and He shows up. If we keep looking we will see Him bouncing around the corner saying, “I knew you were here. Now let me get you out of this tight squeeze.” Just a few verses earlier, in verse 2, the writer says, “For God says, "At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you." Indeed, the "right time" is now. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Chron. 6:2)

Back when Doris and I were at our very worst place we started playing a game with God. It was hard to do at first, I don’t think either one of us thought He was really very interested in us. I sure didn’t feel like I deserved any favor from Him. I was living in Florida and Doris was in Tennessee. We didn’t know if our marriage would continue and everything that we thought mattered was pretty much taken away. Probably out of desperation as much as anything else, Doris began to pray each day, “God, show me one thing today to let me know that you love me.” She shared that with me and I began to pray the same way. And here’s the deal! Everyday God would do something to remind us that His eyes were still on us and that He “loved us with an everlasting love.” Sometimes it would be as big as a check in the mail or a call from an old friend. Other days it would be a parking place up front at Walmart. But every day we would find evidence that God loved us and was showing Himself to be strong for us “at just the right time.”

Two things became clear to us and still are. First, we have to keep our eyes open too. We have learned to look for God’s blessing on our lives. We still do today. Listen, His goodness and grace is all around us. His mercies are new every morning. We have to intentionally seek them out, I admit when I am hidden in a dark closet and the whole world seems to be against me it is not easy to see God’s best. But it is there. Look. Open your eyes. Recognize it. A simple sunrise. A puppies kiss. A song on the radio. A card from a friend. Learn to look everyday for the blessings of God in your life.

And the second thing, when He finds you, admit you’ve been found. Say it out loud. Tell somebody else. Acknowledge the love of God in your life at that moment. The more we confess His blessings the more attune we become to what He is doing in us and for us. We express our gratefulness to Him and He just starts the thing all over again. I would get a call from a pastor friend and I would say, “Thank you God. I believe you did that just for me.” Doris would find a five dollar bill in the bottom of her purse and she would say, “Lord, I know that you love me today.” And the more we declared His grace, the more grace we saw to declare. We still do that today.

I know you may be going through tough times. I am sure it seems like everyone, including God, has taken their eyes off of you. But God always peeks. He knows where you are and He can’t wait to do something so good for you. Look for it. Say it out loud. And the game is on. Try that today. I promise you He will amaze you with His love. Now, close your eyes and count to 374….        Mike

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fog

   Carl Sandburg wrote the little diddy, “The fog comes on little cat’s feet and sits looking over the city on silent haunches, and then moves on.” I have no idea what that means but I do know what it is like to have the fog setting right down over me and to pray that it would move on but it doesn’t. I have been in an extended season of fog. This summer, actually, this entire year has been a year of unceasing heaviness, unending crisis, and mind-numbing burdens. Don’t get me wrong. I would not take back one minute. Every heavy moment was a chance to minister to and love on people that were very precious to me. But the cumulative effect has been a weariness and exhaustion that doesn’t end with a good night’s sleep. It is a fog that hovers, wisps in and out but never fully disappears.

Counseling, administration, development. These tasks have been done only with the greatest of effort and the minimum effect. I have spoken to groups out of the slim reserves of emotional grit. And writing, well, writing has been completely nonexistent. The stress and strain of this summer has been as overwhelming as anytime I remember. The fog has come to stay.

Perhaps you have known those seasons, those weeks or months of demand and despair that seem endless and empty but could not be escaped. Caring for a dying loved one, dealing with a failing marriage, praying over a wayward child or a waning business. Pastors, parents, and people of all walks have lived in the fog.
So what do you do? How do you survive those days when all there is to do is survive? I have always loved Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6:13 “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Sometimes to still be standing at the end is about all we can ask for. In fact, forget standing, I’d settle for curled up on the corner of the couch in a fetal position with one eye open and still breathing. The fog of life makes even that feel like an impossible goal.

Well, I’ve remembered a few lessons during the fog that might be beneficial. Here are some ways to survive the fog (I think). First, keep moving. It seems to me that the things that get in trouble during the fog are the things that stand still. Ships wash up on the rocks. Cars get rear ended.  People get jogged down! When we were living in Mt. Vernon a friend of mine was jogging in the early morning hours and it was blindingly foggy. He said he heard somebody running behind him so he stopped and a lady jogged right into him. You can get jogged when your fogged. The point is, you can’t stop. Just keep making progress. Put one foot in front of the other. The recovery community calls it “doing the next right thing.”

During this season with mom there were times I wanted to just pull down the sails, batten the hatches, and hide below the deck. But that would have only allowed fear and doubt and anger to catch up so I just kept trying to keep moving, another meeting, one more counseling session, my devotions one more morning. When you feel fogged in don’t just sit there. Keep moving.

But, the second thing I remembered was to move SLOW. The fog is not the time to race ahead, barrel around corners, or make sudden changes of direction. The fog requires slow, careful, prayerful movement. Movement but not much movement. This is not the time to change career paths, decide about relationships, or write your will. If all I can see is the fog I’m probably not going to make a good chose or wise decision. I move but I move slowly.

Josh was in the 9th grade and we let him go to a friend’s New Years Eve party. I picked him up shortly after midnight and was driving him home in my Jeep on another horribly foggy night. Going too fast on a country road that I didn’t know well enough, I knew we were approaching a T in the road where our road came to a dead-end onto another road. Josh and I were talking when he said, “Dad, was that a stop sign that just whizzed by?” Slammed on the brakes. Slid around backwards into the front yard of a house where all of the people were out on the front porch singing Auld Lang Syne. I put it in 4-wheel drive, Josh and I rolled down the windows and said, “Happy New Year” and then drove home. I remember now that when the fog is all around me, I need to go slow.

Here’s the last thing I remembered in the fog. Carl Sandburg was right. It does move on. It may feel like forever. You might think this fog will never lift but it will. Everything comes in seasons. Even the wise man said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, ….a time to weep and a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3) This fog will not last. God loves you with an everlasting heart. He works all things together for good. The Son will shine again and the fog will leave. I promise.

Doris and I got back this Monday from an amazing week away. We went to a cabin in the woods in Kentucky and did nothing. We took our Bibles every morning and sat out on the deck. The sunshine painted the trees with gold and crimson. The deer and turkeys slipped out of the woods and sipped from the pond that was not too far from where we were sitting. The ipod played soft worship music. And the fog left. God is faithful. Listen to me. God is ALWAYS faithful. And this season of your life will pass. “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber…nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. (Nor the fog anytime) The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”  Psalm 121

So don’t get fogged down. Go slow but keep moving. And if you hear me running behind you, just move over.        Mike

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Healing A Diverse Community

(This is the presentation I made a few days ago to the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee. The topic was Healing A Diverse Community. The people before me spoke about racial inequality in Middle Tennessee and the conflict over building a new mosque.)


My grandson is  4. His name is Jon-Mical. He lives next door to his best friend Cameron who is 5. They play together all the time. They ride bikes in the driveway, toss the ball in the backyard, and sneak out off to the park next door to their house. They get along great, except when they don’t. The other day Jon-Mical came in and said, “Cameron is stupid. I am never playing with him again.” His mom and dad would have no part of that. They marched him over to Cameron’s house and sat down until they patched things up. His parents sought reconciliation for Jon-Mical because it is good, it is right and they believe it is healthy. 

Most of us are old enough to remember the Rodney King incident and the Los Angeles police in March of 1991.  The videotaped beating of Rodney King by three policemen because an overnight world must-see.   The subsequent trial and acquittal of those policemen sparked a maelstrom of demonstrations and riots that divided not only LA but the nation.  Whatever side of that debate you were on, most of us resonated with Rodney King’s plaintive call in an interview that followed his arrest.  “Why can’t we all just get along?”  He pleaded.

Last week we watched (or we didn't) the Republican National Convention detail the faults and failures of the current administration. Sometimes with civility but usually not, they derided and decried the economy, the safety of our country, and the moral decline of society in general and laid all those things at the feet of the president and the other party. And next week we will watch (or we won't) the Bizarro world replica of that event when the Democrats say the same exact words, use identical facts, and draw the exact opposite conclusions.

 With the unbelievable effect on our world of the internet and instant access to almost every event on the planet, we are clearly in the most polarized and divided global culture that has ever existed.  We have always had differences but the accelerated awareness of those differences has driven us to an emotional frenzy as a society that is unprecedented.  The more we learn from psychological endeavors and neuro-science, the more we understand that we as human beings are emotional not rational beings. 

The problems of most of modern history we have tried to resolve with rational thinking.  Descarte, the rationalist philosopher who opened the door to the Enlightenment period, led us to believe in the power of the rational, thinking mind. I think, therefore I am.

From his philosophy came the weight that we now give to Empiricism and scientific study.  This has deeply influenced English and American law, foreign policy, and economic theory.  Our whole approach to life is based on the assumption that we are rational people dealing with issues in a rational way.  To be irrational is to be something less than human.

The truth is that we are coming to understand we are about 98% emotional and 2% rational.  When I sit in my office with a husband and wife deeply divided I always want to say “Now let’s just think this through.  What would be the rational thing to do right now?”  I never say it because I have learned both clients would punch me in the nose.

My guess is that all of us in this room understand that the preponderance of feelings and emotions in almost every situation demands that we work to resolution from an emotional perspective rather than a rational one. If that is true on a micro scale in our offices, I believe it is true on a macro level in our society.  And I believe it places even more onus on the mental health professionals to be agents of reconciliation in a divided society.

Reconciliation is an admittedly Judeo-Christian term; Latin, meaning literally “to bring together again.”   In my mind it describes a state of willingness to co-exist and remain engaged in conversation with those that appear to be diametrically opposed to what I think, believe, or feel.  Reconciliation is just sitting at the table with the hope that some point of agreement will present itself.  It is not unity. It is not compromise. It is not even cooperation.  Reconciliation in the context of this discussion would be Islamic leaders and Christian leaders saying, “Our survival dictates that we engage one another as a means of emotional healing.”

From this perspective, I suggest four objectives for the divided community.

1.       An assessment of value.

Douglas Noll is a peacemaker and mediator for the University of Oregon.  He writes this:

To understand how our brain deals with conflict, consider a simple emotional model. In this model, conflict starts with some problem. The problem is serious enough to cause anxiety, reflected in a feeling of insecurity. When anxiety or insecurity is first experienced, we have a choice between reactivity and reflection. If we do not make a choice, our default mode is to be reactive.

By being reactive, we might reject the problem, give up, or feel inadequate to deal with the problem. If the problem is persistent, we might struggle or exit. As the conflict develops, we perceive it as a threat, and we may blame, attack or withdraw. These behaviors constitute our fear reaction system. I like to call it our self-protective system. The brain systems associated with fear reaction are very, very old, dating back to the earliest vertebrae animals. Although highly adaptive in the uncertain and dangerous environment of 20,000 years ago, the system is largely maladaptive in our modern, complex culture.

If the choice for reflection is made, we have learned to reflect, relate, and relax. The insecurity arising from a conflict situation is recognized as pointing to a pathway of growth towards greater peace and self-realization. We are led by our curiosity to discover something new, find what is lost, or complete unfinished business. Success leads us to wholeness, authenticity, power and wisdom.

In other words, part of what we offer as Mental Health professionals is the idea that there is value in engaging and we as people will benefit more from coming together than pulling apart.  

2.      The second objective is establishing hope.

 Because we are emotional and not rational, we respond to the anxiety and insecurity that Noll cited, particularly on a global scale, by retreating into overwhelm.  We lose hope.  Our dreams of a civil society, a utopian society have died and we say with Peggy Lee “Is that All There Is?” A revolutionary Punjabi poet, Avtar Singh Sandhu wrote.

“Being robbed of our wages is not the most dangerous.

Being beaten by police is not the most dangerous.

The most dangerous is to have our dreams die.”

I often tell my clients, “I will hold the hope for you.”  As a society, perhaps in the counseling profession, we do just that.  

 3. The third objective is to provide coping skills. 

 While it is true that we are emotional creatures, we do have within us as individuals, and as a society the ability to make choices.  One blogger wrote:

Training, habituation and commitment are an important part of our makeup. How did so many very ordinary black people during the 1950-60s Civil Rights movement in the South manage to practice nonviolence? All were threatened, some were beaten, some killed. No doubt they were mortally afraid--and sometimes very angry. But they practiced nonviolence--together. Genetically we're social beings and we draw strength from healthy relationships--for thousands of years these were the foundation of human survival. We CAN choose--and in our era choosing behavior that keeps us emotionally and physically alive together is a crucial element of our future.

To use a football analogy, I see myself as an offensive coordinator standing on the sideline calling out plays.  Those whom I influence have the responsibility to access strengths, read defenses, judge their own fatigue and make the appropriate audible.  But I still want to supply a list of possible plays that I believe can work.

4.      Finally, we recognize worth.

 The emotion of the battle, the passion of the cause, the fire of the fight too often produces myopia in us so that through a dark tunnel I only see worth in one point of view.   As counselors, spiritual leaders, mentors, and clinicians our role is to recognize the worth in all human beings and diverse societal perspectives.  Without that, we are reduced to stomping on an opposing player’s head or burning down a mosque.  My objective, as a reconciliator, is to say there is some measure of intrinsic worth in every person that I come in contact with.  Understanding that, I have no choice but to engage.

We face complicated, convoluted, critical issues in our villages and in our universe.  Far better minds than mine have come to an empass time and again when seeking resolution.

I do not begin to imagine that I have the answers in me.  In addition, the issues are burning with the bonfires of emotion, anger, fear, insecurity, and hurt.   Frankly, I don’t know what to do.  But I do believe that to do nothing is not an option, that I have a moral responsibility as a healer and a human to continue to work for reconciliation and engagement. 

I know that this little ditty is far too simplistic on a geo-political level.  But, it just seems to ring true for us today.  It just feels right.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten
Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand box at nursery school.
These are the things I learned. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are food for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday.
Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why. We are like that.
And then remember that book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK! Everything you need to know is there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology, and politics and the sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put thing back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together. 

Dr. Mike Courtney


Douglas Noll

“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy

Gerald Corey

Brooks/Cole Publishing

“All I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”

Robert Fulghum

ego existo a blog from Jacob

New post on egoexisto

Faith in a foreign land

by jacobcourtney1
It was cold.  Much colder than I’d thought it would be. I was only wearing a t-shirt and zip-up sweatshirt. I had been cold since I left my hostel in London that grey and rainy morning. I made my way to Waterloo train station and asked for a ticket to the next place a train was headed. The lady at the ticket window expressionlessly handed me a ticket to Brussels, Belgium without being the least bit impressed with my spontaneous sense of adventure.  Even though I was excited, I was still exhausted from jet lag and quickly fell asleep on the train.  A few hours later I was jarred awake by two uniformed officers yelling “Reisepass” at me. I was terrified and trembling because I had no idea what they wanted until I realized they were pointing at my passport. I showed them my passport and then began to gather my things. I stepped into the Brussels train station with my giant backpack and guitar in hand. I was still cold and now hungry. I made my way to an ATM to withdraw money so I could get some food and then take a taxi to the nearest hostel. When I put my card in, it was declined. It troubled me for a moment because I had called the bank just a few weeks ago and they said that I’d have no trouble using my bankcard in Europe. As I walked away from the ATM I began to take account of my situation. I was cold and hungry. I had absolutely no money that could be used in Belgium. I had no place to stay. And I had a cell phone with a dead battery (although I had no idea who I’d call since I didn’t know anyone within a 3,000 mile radius). I began to pray (after panicking.) I then found a 2 Euro coin on the ground which was just enough to take a bus to the nearest hostel. I praised God! And when I arrived at the hostel and found out they accepted credit cards, I praised God again! My excitement and relief was shortly lived because the girl working at the desk quickly informed me that there was no vacancy. I was back to square one of being cold, hungry, broke, homeless, and friendless. And that’s the night that I learned about faith.

The three men who taught me about faith were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their’s is a familiar story. They defied a king. The king then commanded them to bow down to a statue or be thrown into a furnace. This was their response to the king, “…we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” That is one of the most beautiful statements of faith I’ve ever heard. But I’m not talking about the first part, the “[H]e will rescue us from your hand” part. I’m talking about the “but even if…not” part. I think another way of saying it is, “even if not, He is still God.”

These men taught me about the foundation of faith that up until that moment sitting homeless in Belgium, I had not understood. Faith begins and ends with God. I would put my faith in outcomes or my own understanding of God. Therefore, if the outcome was different from what I wanted or if God did something I didn’t understand, my faith was rocked. These men taught me the foundation. God is God. If the outcome doesn’t come my way, He is God. If I don’t understand what’s going on, He is God. That is why we sing songs that state, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” and “On Christ the solid rock I stand”! He and He alone is the only foundation stable enough for our faith to rest upon.

I went out into an alley behind the hostel and made a bed out of cardboard boxes I found in a near by dumpster. The sun had been down for a while and it was even colder. I walked back into the lobby of the hostel and asked the girl if I could just sit there a few more minutes and get warm. She said that was fine. I began to pray and ask God to give me strength to make it through the night and for his protection over me as I slept in an alley in a strange country. When I finished praying I grabbed my backpack and guitar and started to walk out the door. As I was walking out, the girl at the front desk was on the phone and began waving for me to walk over to her. She was speaking German on the phone so I had no idea what was going on. When she hung up, she told me that they just had a cancellation and that one bed would be free. As Wesley once said, “my heart was strangely warmed”. It took me being on the brink of homelessness in a foreign country to hear what the Lord wanted to teach me about faith through a story that I heard hundreds of times as a kid. I’m ashamed for that level of stubbornness in my life, but absolutely thankful for a Lord that loves me so much he will not stop trying to teach me of His love.

Father, as Beth Moore says, “you are who you say you are”. And I fully believe that. Thank you for your lessons that continually show your faithfulness. Forgive me when I begin to lose faith because of circumstances or outcomes that I don’t understand. Just as you did with Peter, please lovingly remind me to fix my eyes back on you. Help me to center my faith there. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who hold tomorrow. You are my Mighty Fortress. Thank you

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Ministry of Presence

"More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn't be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them."  
- Henri Nouwen

My mother died two weeks ago. I promise that I will not begin every blog from now on that way but today it seems appropriate. She had surgery on a Tuesday night and never really came back to us. For seven weeks she stayed in a hospital bed and we stayed beside her, my sister, my step-father, my wife and me. At first we all wanted to stay but then the economy of energy began to dictate that we take turns. We would work in shifts like factory workers passing in the courtyard. My step-father came faithfully every morning, though most mornings Mom did not know that he was there, or if she did, who he was. Chonda would come just after lunch and spend the afternoon and evening combing Mom’s hair, making the nurses laugh, cleaning soiled bed sheets, and playing Doris’s CD  for Mom. And I usually had the graveyard” shift. I would come sometime after my last appointment, 8 or 9 when the hospital was starting to get quiet and the rooms were dark. I would just sit, reading the Psalms to mom, talking to her about the Olympics playing out on the TV, or telling her what latest yard project Sammy was doing at their little home. I don’t know if she heard me much. Some times I would decide to leave at midnight if she was sound asleep, many times I stayed until Sammy came in the morning with a cup of coffee and a ham biscuit from  Hardee’s. We would spend a minute catching up and then start the process all over again.

During that time we came to appreciate the ministry of presence, those people who stopped their busy schedules for only a moment, entered the hospital room and just sat. Most did not do anything particularly memorable, some stayed too long and talked too much, others only flitted in and out with a mumbled prayer and a quick handing over of a casserole, like the Olympic relay team passing the baton on the flickering TV over our heads. Some seemed comfortable in this “visitation” role, others were very ill at ease and made me nervous. But they came. They came and sat and when they came they brought Christ with them. That’s the ministry of presence.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every text, every FaceBook post, even every email and phone call. These people were making an effort to connect and I am thankful. But there is something about presence, physical presence, the warm bodied, looking you in the eyes, not sure what to say, presence that allows Jesus to enter the scene in a new way. That presence sustained us and encouraged us through seven grueling weeks. And even at Mom’s funeral, the ministry of presence is what ministered to us.

I have never been one to go to parties much, or sit long hours with elderly people on a Sunday afternoon, or take the time to drop in on a friend that is sick (or hurting.) For one thing, guys don’t do that. For another everybody is so busy, they are, I am, busy. We have modern conveniences to help us with that, texting, voicemail, FaceBook. I usually make sure I do that and send a nice card with a little check in it when the time is right….. I have missed it. If I get too busy doing the Lord’s work to BE the Lord in someone’s time of need then I have misunderstood the Gospel. Jesus always went to feasts and funerals. He never turned down an invitation to eat or mourn. That was where some of His best stuff happened. Water into wine. Loaves and fishes.” Little girl, get up.” “Lazarus, Come forth.”  Jesus was all about the ministry of presence.

I am determined to do better. A friend of mine was in the hospital last week, It was a busy day. Counseling all morning. I had two meetings in Lebanon in the afternoon. It was supper time when I was driving back to town but I decided to stop by the hospital. We sat and talked for 45 minutes. We told stories and laughed. We hugged and showed pictures of our kids. In a little while I prayed a not too profound prayer and left. Not much to it. It was the closest I was to Christ all day.      Mike

Monday, August 13, 2012

Holding On, Letting Go

It is one of the great challenges of life, how long do I hold on and when do I let go? A few years ago we were fishing and swimming and just chillin’ at the little lake on my sisters farm. The kids, including my two sons were swinging on an old rope swing and dropping with a kerplump into the middle of the lake. In between every jump they yelled over at me, “C’mon Dad, you try it.” Now I am a wise, mature, solid thinking older gentleman so of course I got up and gave it a whirl. Amazing, exhilarating, a real adrenalin rush. And that was just climbing up on the platform so I could reach the rope. I grabbed this wet, muddy object of so much activity, took a death-hold grip and sprang out like a gazelle into the upper atmosphere somewhere just above the water and under the leaves of the trees.

Let’s leave our hero suspended in mid flight to discuss holding on. It’s not a bad idea. There are certainly some appropriate times and places to hold on. Walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon comes to mind. The handlebars of your sons Harley Sportster is another good place. I can think of a few more. When my grandson wants to get quickly from the car, across the parking lot to Toys-R-Us it is a good idea to hold on, tight. When my wife comes and sits on the couch next to me, even when it is the fourth quarter of the Titans and New York Jets, I have learned the hard way, that’s a good time to hold on.

In fact holding on is the stuff legends are made of. How many tales do you know of explorers that were ready to turn back but they held on a little longer? Or inventors that held on for one more experiment and then they broke through? War heroes held on against all odds. The rags to riches success models that we follow are all about holding on. Even scripture is full of admonitions to hold on. I Thessalonians 5:21 says to “Hold on to what is good.” Hebrews 10:23 says to “Hold unswervingly to the hope that is within us.” We grew up with Sunday School lessons and youth camp sermons about “holding on to Jesus.” And our favorite spiritual poster is that cat gripping desperately the end of a rope with some applicable Bible verse underneath and the caption, “When you get to the end of the rope, tie a knot and hold on.” You KNOW that is profound!

Holding on is just what we do. It is woven into our DNA. I give Jakson, my one year old grandson, a new toy and he holds on. Jon-Mical, the four year old plays in the evening outside in the tree house until he is so sleepy his eyes can barely stay open and his head drops, but he holds on. We hold on to jobs when they are less than fulfilling. We hold on to habits that we have promised to give up. We hold on to our kids long after they are out on their own. And we hold on to the false confidence that we can fix things when we know we can’t. My mother died this past week. I stood by her bed and held on probably long after I should have let go. On the other hand, she seemed to hold on until some special moment or circumstance that we can only guess, was in place. Holding on is as natural as breathing.

And speaking of holding on, what about the hero of our story suspended between earth and sky on the rope swing? We forgot about him. He (me) is still holding on. In fact that is exactly what I did. I held on while the swing made a glorious arc out over the beautiful, sundrenched lake. I held on as it paused for a moment, imperceptibly shifting directions, in that second free from the bonds of gravity. I held on as it started its rapidly increasing descent back towards the place from which it had come. And I held on while it whacked me against the muddy bank of the pond and then dropped me unceremoniously into the shallow, moss covered edge of the water. I lay there enveloped in slime, breath knocked out of me, hand throbbing (found out later it was broke), thinking to myself, “Self, you held on when you should have let go.” And there’s the rub. When do I let go?

Well the bad news is, I don’t know. The good news is you do. You know if you listen to the heartbeat of God, if you tune your desires to the Holy Spirit, if you take on the mind of Christ, you will know when it is time to let go. You will recognize that sometimes letting go is not only the best thing to do. It’s the only thing. You will understand that if I have any hope of holding on at all I am going to have to let go. There will come a time when you will see that holding on is going to cause more pain and letting go will bring freedom. Does that make sense?

Let me give you three times that come to mind when letting go is better than holding on. First, when you are holding on to hurt. We have all had those moments when we have been so wounded, so unjustly treated, so betrayed that the anger and hurt of that seems to hold on to us as much as we hold on to it. We process it, rehearse it, relive it, analyze it. We hold on to it, sometimes rightly so, to make sure it will never happen to us again. My wife speaks often to other wives who have been betrayed by their husbands. Doris will say to them, “You have to forgive but not today.” There is a benefit is holding on to hurt for awhile to help you establish boundaries and keep yourself safe. But….there comes a time, and you know it, when holding on to that thing is strangling you. The death grip you have on that perceived wound or unfair treatment is really a hold around your own heart. You HAVE to let it go. The situation may not be completely resolved. You might not feel fully vindicated. You may not have received the full apology that you desired. But it is time to let go and move on. Holding on any longer will only create more hurt and rob your life of joy.

The second time to let go is in a relationship that has become toxic. Listen, there are people that I have loved that in the long run were so unhealthy for me I had to let them go. We’ve all had those, an abusive father, a controlling mother, a legalistic church, a wayward child. Now I don’t mean for any of those that we desert or abandon them. God is a God of reconciliation and Paul says He has given us “the ministry of reconciliation.” We never stop loving. Never stop praying. Never stop believing that God can make things right. But there comes a time when we do that from a distance. When that connection with a sick person is beginning to make me sick too it is time for me to let go. God hates divorce. Our kids will always be our kids. We are to honor our parents. I don’t know exactly how all of this plays out but I do know that in some relationships there comes a time when the right thing to do is to let go. (And trust God!)

Which leads me to the third time of letting go. We did it this week. It was not easy. Still isn’t. As my family stood by the hospital bed of my mother who had battled for so long, it became apparent that the time had come for us to let go. My sister whispered to her, “Mom, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” In one way or another Mom had given each one of us that last smile and tender goodbye. She was ready and we, as much as we would like to have had one more day, or one more minute, knew it was time to let her go. And you know what? When we did God reached down to her and said, “Here Nanny, Take my hand and hold on.”

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