The Last Journey: A Good Friday Meditation

I am watching my mother-in-law slowly leaving us. Yesterday as I sat by her bedside, she Mom and Dad - compressed piclay quietly, breathing, eyes closed yet occasionally flickering as if she might stir. Her body is very weak. Always a thin woman, her slight features seem more pronounced as weight loss takes its toll. Her fine grey hair forms a tousled crown against the pillow behind her head.  It is quiet in her room, the only noise being the steady hum of the hospital bed fan  blowing a continuous stream of air into the mattress for ease in adjusting her frail body. Comfort care is our only remaining option.

It’s funny how the mind jumps from the present, to the future, to the past -and back again- while sitting by the side of  a dying loved one. My thoughts wandered to my past with her. The days when Mom was the loving grandma reading books to my young sons, the mother-in-law who had this new bride and groom over for Sunday dinners nearly every week, and the diligent keeper of family celebrations and memories.  She made sure her family ate healthy, read the Bible, and had intelligent conversation at the dinner table. If Pepsi or too many French fries appeared at a meal, she would exclaim, “Horrors upon us!”, which really meant she wouldn’t try to prevent consumption of the offending product but she wanted to be sure we knew what she thought of it.

In the present, life has been a severe struggle for this gentle woman. The slow process of losing strength and ability to manage life is not for the faint of heart. She does not appear today as the person we have known and loved, yet we know somewhere inside is the same loving heart and keen mind that made her so special to us.

And the future?  While it seems we are down to weeks- or maybe days- left with Mom, her future is bright. She has been saying for a long time now that she wants to be with Jesus. I was in the emergency room with Mom this past August when a bladder infection took a terrible toll on her. A nurse sat me down and explained that Mom had “failure to thrive”. I informed her that two days ago Mom had been eating soup and talking to people – she certainly did not have failure to thrive. When asked how she came to this conclusion, the nurse replied, “Mildred keeps saying she wants to be with Jesus.”  I tried to keep from snickering as I explained to the nurse, “Oh no, that’s not failure to thrive. She knows exactly what she is saying- and she means it. She really would rather be with Jesus. But she is still here, and for now we are going to take care of this infection so she can get home and back to eating soup and talking to people.” And Mom did.

But this time, Mom is taking her last journey. This time Mom will get her wish granted. Her future is bright because she knows the One who is going to take her hand and lead her safely through the valley of the shadow of death into the glorious presence of Jesus. Once inside Heavens gates, she will hear the words of her Savior, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” The faint smile that is now a passing shadow will become a brilliant exclamation of joy as she finally makes it Home.

Why can we be at peace as Mom slips away from us?  Because on this Good Friday we remember another Person who took His last journey two thousand years ago, a journey  to a cross of crucifixion where He gave His life for the ransom of mankind from our sins. Because Jesus died, was buried, and rose again the third day, we can receive forgiveness of our sins by grace through faith in His redemptive act. Jesus’ last journey to the cross opened the way for our journey into eternity with Him. Mom believes this with all her heart.  I do as well.  And I hope, on this Good Friday, you do too.

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The Fine Art of Fanning

fireplaceFor high school teens, this time of year brings its own special stress, in particular, the process of scheduling next year’s classes, or the next few years of classes, or even choosing a college and career path for after graduation. The menu of options can be overwhelming. Honors classes or  Advanced Placement classes? College Plus credits, Post-Secondary Credits or the Career Center? What college? What’s my Major in college? The choices are endless, like cereal in the grocery store aisle.

To make matters worse, there seems to be a marked increase in the pressure from advisers to have students select a career path sooner than ever before. College is expensive, no doubt. So why not pick a career path in 10th grade and save a bunch of money on credits before college? The logic behind this shift seems obvious and does have its benefits. But as a high school teacher and parent of a teenager, I believe we need to return to some balance in this area.

Presenting educational options to our young people is terrific, but how we present these options can unintentionally become negative. Yes, these are important decisions. No, these are not “do-or-die” decisions. Yes, finding a career path and pursuing it with excellence is great. No, you do not have to know, at 16 years of age, if you want to be a doctor for the rest of your life. It really is OK to just decide your next step.  This is a narrative rarely heard anymore.

Most mornings in the winter, I start a fire in our wood-burning fireplace. One thing I have learned about starting a fire — you have to be gentle with it and give it time to grow.  It doesn’t work to stuff the firebox full of kindling and large wood, hoping to get a raging fire going in ten minutes. I start off small, letting some thin wood catch fire, then I add medium pieces of wood and let it heat up some more. Finally, after the coals are red-hot in the base of the firebox, I add a log or two. All during this process, I control the airflow into the firebox by adjusting the glass doors to allow some oxygen to fuel the fire without blowing it out. This results in a well-established fire that will continue to heat our home all day.

The Apostle Paul uses a similar picture when he instructs Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you…” (II Tim. 1:6).  To fan means “to blow or to breathe upon, to stir up to activity” (  This is not describing hurricane-force winds, a blow torch, or a dousing of gasoline to get that fire raging hot fast. Rather, this describes a gentle, controlled stirring that encourages more activity, more heat, more purposeful action. This brings long-lasting results, both when building a fire and when building a soul, a person – especially a young person with an entire future waiting for them.

Teacher, guidance counselor, parents – and I include myself:  Could we do a little more fanning and a little less dousing? Could we put away the blow torch and instead gently stir up their interests, gifts and heart desires?  Maybe if we give them a little more time to discover the fire in their hearts, that fire won’t die so quickly and they will have a lifetime to learn and grow instead of burning out at an early adult age. Let’s practice the fine art of fanning – I think the results will be pretty amazing!





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Thanksgiving 2015: It’s a Mad, Mad World

It's a Mad Mad WorldWhen Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle and Ethel Merman took to the screen in 1963 in the comedy action film, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”,  the audience left the theater laughing and the movie producers went home with an Oscar along with several other nominations. The story was a win-win for everyone.

A movie produced today with a similar title would, I speculate, have an entirely different plot, depicting instead the current tragic story line that seems to be engulfing our globe. Rather than being a tale of laughter and adventure, our story is one of angry rhetoric, retaliation, and retreat, leading to a lose-lose for everyone. We live in a mad, mad world.

In this world, anger flows freely from one government to another, one religious system to another, one ethnicity to another, one person to another, in an endless spewing stream of violence, hate speech, crime and alienation. Every recipient of this anger feels compelled to respond with retaliation so as not to become a victim or be viewed as weak. Those caught in the cross-fire of this ongoing barrage of verbal and violent attacks find themselves forced to retreat into the shadows for the sake of safety. And as if this isn’t enough, the abuse taking place on social media, where people can respond to others in ways that are entirely unacceptable in ‘real life’, exacerbates the situation. Truly, we live in a mad, mad world.

So why am I writing about this on the eve of our national holiday, Thanksgiving? Why point out disparaging news you already know? To be honest, I have not written anything for the past three months, largely due to my discouragement with the world we live in. I did not want to be part of the social media sinkhole that is sucking us all down into its pit. I am weary of reading the rants and I refuse to ridicule. I haven’t wanted to be counted among the myriad number of invisible people who have something to say on the Internet.  So I retreated.

So why focus on Thanksgiving? Why write now? Because I have seen hope. I have heard hope. I have heard hope in the voices of young people I rub shoulders with, young people who are growing up in this mad, mad world, having known nothing else. I have seen hope in the actions of young people who are choosing to put themselves out there, who are committed to making a difference in whatever way they can, large or small. Young people who are speaking up for what is truly good, for what is right, for what can bring change.

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I am thankful for a new generation of young people who are rising up with with courage and determination. A new generation of young people who, in spite of terrible odds, are choosing to walk into their future with hope. I pray I can be an inspiration for them, as they have been for me.  Happy Thanksgiving!




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The Jekyll-and-Hyde Inside

Jekyll and HydeThe disturbing news of another moral failure by Josh Duggar brings a response of mixed emotions. On the one hand, his continued immorality and hypocrisy now brought to light create a reaction of disgust. On the other hand, moral failure tied to blatant hypocrisy is so common these days, no one should be surprised. As I have mulled these issues over today,  my mind has been drawn to the classic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as told by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Dr. Jekyll, a scientist who is convinced of the presence of both good and evil within himself, creates a potion he believes will feed the good person and diminish the evil person inside.  However, the evil person, a certain Mr. Hyde, gains more power, committing acts of brutality and murder that shock even the strongest persons. Over time, in spite of many attempts to control the evil Mr. Hyde, and with no secret potion remaining, Jekyll realizes  his own demise will soon come at the hands of his own Mr. Hyde. In spite of Jekyll’s belief in the power of his own goodness, it is the evil inside him which ultimately wins.

Mr. Stevenson’s analysis of human nature is exceptionally accurate. Yet somehow we have bought into a way of thinking that contradicts this. We believe that if a person is surrounded by good people,  given a good education, consumes good food and makes good life choices, the good will win. We also buy into the reverse viewpoint: if a person is surrounded by bad people, receives a bad education, and makes bad life choices, the bad will win. In other words, we accept the faulty notion that we become good or evil based on what surrounds us rather than what is within us.

Josh Duggar provides a vivid example of  the exact opposite. Mr. Duggar, it would seem, has had all of the good he could possibly have in this life and was protected from all of the bad in this life. So we are doubly shocked at his moral failure, as if there is no logical reasoning for it, no explanation. As if, somehow, we would “understand” his failure if he had come from a broken home or had been exposed to evil behaviors throughout his life. But this is not the lesson of Jekyll and Hyde.  If we listen well to the words of Mr. Stevenson, we will come to understand that the evil exists within us, not outside us. And thus Mr. Duggar’s behavior, while reprehensible for sure, should not be especially surprising.

It is not popular today to state that human beings are inherently evil, that we are all born with a sin nature which, left unchecked, can turn us all into a Mr. Hyde.  Sadly, Josh Duggar has provided us with another living illustration of this truth. What is the lesson to be learned?  Someone has already stated it well: “There, but for the grace of God, go I. ”   My so-called good environment, friends, choices, or lifestyle will not protect me from the evil I am capable of doing. I must always be on guard, never feeding the Mr. Hyde inside, but relying on the power and grace of God to save me from my sinful self.  This is my prayer, especially today.



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Losing the Best Gift

IFisher Price clockn the last ten days I have attended two memorial services for two different people I never met. In both situations, the loved one who passed away was a beloved parent/ grandparent who was fondly remembered with funny stories, family memories and appreciation for the impact that was made in the lives of many. Each service took place in completely different settings under completely different circumstances  But as I listened, I was amazed at some striking similarities between the two that has left me contemplating the impact on my own life.

The first memorial service was for a beloved father and grandfather taken rather suddenly as a result of a health crisis. I learned that this man was known for his fishing, for his fine work ethic, and for being a friend to everyone. He was the grandpa that told funny stories to his grandkids, planned the family reunion each year, and checked out every new house his children and grandchildren purchased. One grandson, a military man, spoke of all the handwritten letters he had received from Grandpa throughout his life, including one long handwritten note he received when departing for a new assignment in Africa this January.

The second memorial service was for a precious mother and grandmother, taken suddenly due to a fall and resulting head injury. I learned that this lady was also a friend to everyone she met. She played games, did puzzles, crocheted afghans, helped her grandkids with math, and participated in a breakfast club every Tuesday at 10 a.m.  Her grandson told how her home had a circular pattern that became a boys’ Nascar raceway with HotWheels for him and his friends.  An old mattress at the bottom of her stairs provided the perfect landing spot for those same brave boys to swing out on a rope and drop onto the mattress below. Grandma made sure they had fun together and learned life lessons along the way too.

These two individuals never met. I never met either of them. But together their lives pointed out a truth that made me sad. The truth is this: We are losing our best gift, the most precious thing we can give to those we love. We are losing the gift of time. Time to be together without technology, without TV screens, without Facebook and phones. Time to play crazy games and tell silly stories. Time to sleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor and make waffles in our pajamas the next morning.  Time to send handwritten letters to grandsons who are headed to Africa on military duty. Time to just be there.

However, the enigma in all this is that, in reality, we have the same amount of time as these grandparents did. The same twenty-four hours, the same seven days a week, the same 365 days a year.  So in truth, we are not losing the best gift. We are giving it away. We have allowed video games and media to take the place of Nascar races and mattress jumping in the dining room. Video games don’t make messes. Social media is fast and easy and doesn’t require a stamp. So we send a short text or post a quick comment instead of mailing a letter that could be saved forever.

So, Mr. Eugene (Jake) Hoffman and Mrs. Annabelle Henry – though I never met you, I want you to know you have touched my life. I have been challenged to evaluate how I am investing my time. I plan to pull out the sleeping bags and have a slumber party in the family room with my daughter sometime soon, and I will be writing a handwritten letter or two over the next several weeks. Thank you for touching so many people with a simplicity of living that is striking. I don’t want to lose the best gift – the gift of time. You have shown me the way.

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Everything As It Should Be

Norman rockwell pictureI spend a lot of time trying to get everything as it should be.  Just once I want to wake up, plod downstairs in my bathrobe and socks, and find everything in my house where it should be. I look out my windows every day and long to have my flower beds and landscaping up to par with what I envision it should be. And the list could go on — the pile of mail, bills, laundry, my writing…there seems no end to the list of what is “not right.”

And then there is the more serious list to consider. How I long to have everything as it should be in all my family relationships, my friendships, my responsibilities, my goals and aspirations. And how I long even more to have everything be as it should be inside of me – in my heart, in the very depths of my soul.  At times, this perpetual sense of dissatisfaction with “me” becomes a heavy weight.

I am reminded, however, that it is not entirely my job to get everything as it should be – not in life’s chores or responsibilities, not in relationships, not even in myself.  As the Apostle Paul says, “We are waiting the arrival of the Savior…Jesus Christ…He will make us beautiful and whole, with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around Him” (Phil. 3:21). I do not have the ability to make all things right, to arrange my life in perfect order and harmony. Only Jesus can-and someday He will arrange all things in perfect order around Himself. So for now, I am learning to live with an appropriate discontent, faithfully following and willingly waiting for the day when everything will be as it should, because of Jesus.

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Cleveland Cavaliers #ALLinCLE – An Ode

basketball-wallpaper-free-download_146952I never watch basketball. Never. Not because I don’t like the Cleveland Cavaliers – I do. I just prefer to listen to the sports report at the end of the evening news and pick up the highlights of the game. So my children are shocked that I am absorbed in every play of every Cavs game in the earlier playoffs and now the Finals.  Stunned that I am on my knees pounding the floor with my fists over a missed shot or a bad ref call.  Yes, folks – I am ALL IN.  We all are at this point. We can’t help it.  And in spite of the stress, we all love it.  At least for now. So, in the spirit of being #ALLinCLE, I present to you an ode to the Cleveland Cavaliers, their fans, and our journey in the Finals:


Summer’s here, the weather’s fine,
Blue skies rule the day;
Glued to TV screens inside-
The Cavs are in the Finals.

Got no sleep, late to work,
Bills not paid on time,
No dinner cooked or laundry done-
The Cavs are in the Finals.

Got no time for other fun,
No golf or cornhole here,
No swimming, hiking, biking
While the Cavs are in the Finals.

Indigestion, palpitations,
Cardiac arrest-
Vocal strain and snack weight gain,
‘Cause the Cavs are in the Finals.

Heads and shoulders, knees and more-
Injuries galore;
No Irving, Love or Mr. V.-
Yet the Cavs are in the Finals.

Delly’s at the table and
The king is in the house;
The scent of victory’s in the air-
The Cavs are in the Finals!



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Wounded Wives

romantic-black-white-wedding-photo-bride-groomThe arrival of spring and (soon) summer often brings with it the advent of wedding bells. My pastor-husband and I have had the privilege of interacting with many young couples in pre-marital counseling sessions and eventually their wedding ceremonies. These are fun times in ministry life!

On the other hand, my pastor-husband and I have also counselled many married couples whose relationships have fallen on hard times. Often my role involves talking one-on-one with emotionally wounded wives. A wife full of wounded emotions is a very fragile thing. She is holding herself together by a thread. Her heart is pierced with pain, her mind is numb from the sheer exhaustion of coping with deep disappointment in her marriage. (I am specifically referring here to emotional distress only. Any wife who finds herself in a physically harmful or abusive marriage needs to seek help to safely leave the relationship.)

womans-cryingOver my years of counseling emotionally wounded wives, I have seen some marriages saved, some not. One condition, however, has never produced a successful result. In fact, women in this state of mind rarely stay in the marriage. This state of mind is defined by two beliefs:

#1: I cannot be happy in this marriage unless my husband changes.

#2:  My husband will never change.

A wife who believes only one of these statements can often be helped.  Statement #1: If a wife believes she can be content even if her husband never changes, she will make the necessary adjustments and succeed. Statement #2: If  a wife is unhappy in her marriage but has faith that God can work in her husband’s life to bring change, she will find the strength to remain committed to her husband. But a wife who believes both of these statements to be true – she cannot be happy unless her husband changes, and he will never change – will not be able to experience a healed marriage relationship or a God-given contentment in a less-than-satisfying marriage.

So, dear wife with a wounded heart,  you may feel these two statements describe your marriage right now – and perhaps they do. But I plead with you, do not choose to believe this. You may not have faith in your husband, but have faith in God. Faith that God will enable you to live contentedly with your husband as he is. Faith that God can bring about the change in your husband’s life that He desires, in His time, while enabling you to live with him graciously in the present. For “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone that comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Seek hard after God, wounded wife, and He will reward you. You can trust Him!

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Murphy’s Laws at Our House

Murphy's LawWe are all probably somewhat familiar with the phrase, “Murphy’s Law”. This phrase is typically associated with sayings which refer to something that goes wrong or takes an unexpected turn. Recently I did a bit of research into the origin of Murphy’s Laws, particularly the person for whom the sayings are named.

One fact I learned is that Mr. Murphy was most likely not the originator of the concept. There is evidence that similar expressions were in existence prior to Mr. Murphy. However, in 1949, at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Captain Ed Murphy was working on an Air Force project and discovered that a technician had done a wiring job incorrectly. He stated with profound frustration, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he will find it.”( This saying eventually took on a more generic meaning, “If anything can go wrong, it will,” which ultimately became the standard for a multitude of trite sayings and expressions of negativity, from serious to humorous to outrageous, which describe the common human experience.

In many cases Murphy’s laws appeal to us because we identify with them so well. For example: “Nothing is as easy as it looks.” I’m sure a specific example came to your mind as it did mine. For me, this reminded me of a recipe I tried last week, one I was sure would be perfect but was not. You probably thought of something unique to your life experience, yet we both identified with this common element of life.

Here’s another one: “The greater the value of the rug, the greater the probability the cat will throw up on it.” Now I don’t have a cat, nor do I own any rugs of value, but I still identify with this, as we spilled ketchup on a brand new rug in our living room just hours after it was installed. (Don’t even ask me why there was a ketchup bottle in the living room!) Some things are just bound to happen, no matter how much we try to avoid them. And sometimes laughter is the best way to cope.

So, with all due respect to Mr. Murphy and all others who have contributed to this familiar and loved way of expressing humor in the midst of the negatives of life, here are a few of my own “Murphy’s Laws at Our House”. In fact, #3 just happened yesterday! Perhaps you will identify with some of these, or maybe this list will inspire you to write a few of your own.

Our Top Ten Murphy’s Laws at Home:
1. You will use your last fresh egg just minutes before your daughter reminds you she needs brownies for the school bake sale tomorrow.
2. The morning you forget to put your trash out to the curb, the trash collector will come especially early.
3. The morning you do remember to put your trash out to the curb, trash pickup will be delayed one day due to a holiday.
4. The number of toothbrushes in use in your household will always be greater than the number of people living in the house.
5. The number of shoes visible in the house entryway will far exceed the number of people actually living in the house.
6. The amount of bird poop on your car windshield will be greatest on the day you are driving in a funeral procession.
7. You will go through your pile of mail the day after that bill was due.
8. The more tomatoes you plant in your garden, the less it will rain that summer.
9. As soon as you finish one load of laundry, two more will appear.
10. If you go looking for the TV remote in the couch, you will find everything but the TV remote.

So remember, when your life’s journey does not go as well as you planned, laughter truly can be the best medicine!

(This article first appeared in Ohio Family Magazine in October, 2012)

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Confessions of a TCP

social media iconIt should come as no surprise that I am not a member of the FBI, the NRA, or the CIA. I do not work for the FDA or the FAA. I once considered joining the PTA and I carry a membership card for the AAA travel club. However, I am probably most known for my association with the TCP. Yes, folks, I am a member of that notable group of people known as Technologically-Challenged Persons.

I have been a Technologically-Challenged Person for some time. I first joined the ranks about ten years ago when I determined I did not need a cell phone. My home phone rang enough during the day, so the last thing I wanted was a ringing phone in my purse. However, when my oldest son began driving, owning a cell phone meant I could be in touch with him whenever needed, which gave this mama some comfort. Not willing to be drawn into a phone contract, I stuck with a prepaid phone plan at first. Eventually a family phone plan saved us some money. Finally I gave in to the world of texting. At first it took me twice as long to text a message as it did to call. Things have only slightly improved.

My next hurdle as a TCP was social media. I had always appreciated the value of the world wide web, but I surely didn’t need the internet to talk to people! Email became my first online venture-after all, it was simply mail without a stamp. But I dug in my heels on a Facebook account, until my sons went to college. With Facebook accounts of their own, they were able to communicate much of their college experience via posts and pictures. After having too many conversations with friends who commented about the great pictures my sons were posting, I decided it was time for me, this TCP, to step into the world of social media and Facebook.

My sons were soon encouraging me to tweet. Being sure I was too old to tweet, I kindly ignored them for some time. But a little over a year ago, on a cold snowy evening when everyone was stuck at home, I had a weak moment and allowed my son to set up a Twitter account for me. I think I have tweeted twice. I might have twelve people following me. I would check, but being a TCP, I don’t know how. In a later moment of near insanity, I set up a Tumblr account, for which I promptly lost my username and password and have never opened up since.

A major breakthrough for this TCP occurred when I upgraded my cell phone to a smartphone. After choosing my new phone, the customer service man asked for my current phone in order to transfer my contacts over. When I handed him my phone, he gave a low whistle and commented that he “hadn’t seen one of those for a long time”. I even had to remind him how to use it. After going to the back room to transfer my phone’s information to the new phone, he returned to report he did not have a USB connector that worked because my phone was so old. Fortunately I had brought mine along. After disappearing again into the back room, he re-emerged with a somewhat grim look on his face and announced that the transfer process had not worked, all my contact information had been lost, and, in fact, my battery had also been fried in the process, making my old phone entirely unusable. So I was now the owner of a strange new smartphone with nothing on it of my own. Somehow I didn’t feel so smart at that moment. I longed to have my old, comfortable clunky phone back. But it was too late. Every ounce of this TCP wanted to cry, but I kept a stiff upper lip and timidly slid the shiny new strange smartphone into my purse.

Things have improved since then. My smartphone and I have developed a casual working relationship. And, as you can tell, I have even ventured into writing my own blog. Yes, I am learning more about technology each day, but I will always be a TCP, and that is just fine with me.

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