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It depends on how you look at it

Today I am thinking about perspective. Perhaps it is because of all the tragedy around me, around the world. Perhaps it is because I have stuff, relationships and a job. Perhaps it is because I am so tired of the consumer mentality in my own life.

This week many Americans will gather around a table with an abundance of food, family and material stuff. They will be thankful that they are not homeless, or that they are not starving. They may even be thankful for enough money and time off to consume more material things on Black Friday. They will be grateful to live in a free country and that they are not marginalized refugees at the border. They will be grateful for the homes that did not burn down, the people and animals that escaped the inferno and the terrorists that were thwarted. And they should!

While Christians do not have the corner on the market of thankfulness, and many even focus on what they lack, there is something that makes thanksgiving for the believer different than anyone else on the planet. The distinction is in the fact that Christians (and others who believe in God) have Someone to thank! The essence of thanksgiving for me is gratitude to a God who loves and cares for individuals.

There is so much to be thankful for, but it often doesn’t feel like it with so much sorrow and grief going on around us. How do you tell someone to go in peace without being the hands and feet of Jesus? How can someone really believe that God is for them when their house burns down or their friends are murdered in a public place? I think it is the circumstances of our lives that make it so difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

Like all of us, I have many blessings and I have heartache too. One thing I have realized in the last few years is that I am capable of changing my perspective. Instead of thinking about what I don’t have, I am learning to count my blessings. I am waking up and consciously asking God, “What do you have for me today?” Rather than saying ”there but for the grace of God go I” (which is a terrible thing to say), I am saying, “because of God’s grace I go”.  Additionally, I repeat the corollaries, sometimes aloud like a mantra: “I get to drive home because I have a home to go to and a car to get me there”. “I get to pay bills because I have heat, light, a roof, food, clothes, etc.” I get to go to work.” Do you hear the subtle difference? “I get to” instead of “I have to…” Burdens or opportunities. The reality is that there is more than one way to look at things and I can control my mindset, even if I cannot control my circumstances. There is always something to be thankful for.

It is too easy to slip back into an ungrateful perspective. Once ingratitude takes root, it gains momentum every time I compare, every time I turn my focus from contentment to what I don’t have, what I cannot do, how I look or what others think. Thankfulness is the only hope for happiness. Joy is found in a grateful heart. And the ultimate, meaning behind every expression of gratitude is found in a relationship with a Person who has a plan and gives meaning to life. When I am thankful to God and see everything as an instance of God’s goodness, it changes my perspective. It creates a sense of eternal purpose. It increases my faith. It builds contentment. While the events of the day are often overwhelming and a troubling moment can alter everything, remembering that God’s lovingkindness is new every morning and that He never ceases to work toward His purposes are blessings that build assurance, hope and faith. Knowing that God will never leave or forsake me, that He will fulfill His purpose in me, and that He loves me unconditionally is the cry of my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heaven Reflection

A Jimbo Reflection (a birthday reword of The Rainbow Connection with gratitude to Kermit)

Why are there so many thoughts about heaven
And what everyone’s doing today?
Jim’s so happy, singing and playing
Heaven’s so hard to convey
This life is short; the next is forever
I know it’s real – wait and see
Someday we’ll praise Him and worship together
My honey, my family, and me

God said that each prayer would be heard and answered
When prayed to the Morning Star
Think of a place with no more cancer
I really look forward and far
Watching and hoping with anticipation
Jim’s on the porch with my tea
Someday we’ll have it, the last resurrection
My honey, my family, and me

All of us under his mercy
We know that it’s his deep grace

Have you been loved forgiven and cherished?
I’ve heard God calling my name
In His sweet arms He carried Jim Mohler
Others He’s carried the same
Home and to rest safely they’ve made it
It’s somewhere that I’m going to be
Someday we’ll be there, all in the throne room
My honey, my family, and me

La-da-da, de-da-da-do
La-da-da-da-da-de-da-do

 

A Good Pun is its own reword

Happy 63rd Birthday to my Jim!  In honor of my funny honey, I have dubbed today “Corny Joke Day”; since he would have been 63 I have quite a list of groaners!

  1. Why can’t your nose be 12 inches long? Then it would be a foot!
  2. What do you call 2 crows? Attempted Murder.
  3. Why did grandpa laugh at grandma’s curio cabinet?  He loves knick-knack jokes.
  4. The number 13?! Not on my watch.
  5. Why was the vulture not allowed to bring 2 dead raccoons on the plane? Only one carrion allowed!
  6. Why did the Algebra teacher ban rubberbands? Because they were weapons of math disruption
  7. How many apples grow on a tree? All of them!
  8. Why should you avoid buying anything with velcro?  It’s a total rip off
  9. The rotation of earth really makes my day.
  10. What’s brown and sticky? A stick
  11. What do you call an elephant that doesn’t matter? Irrelephant
  12. What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinocerous? Hellafino
  13.  Is the pool safe for diving? It deep ends
  14. Why are frogs so happy? They eat whatever bugs them
  15. What lights up a soccer stadium? A soccer match
  16. Why did the invisible man turn down the job? He just couldn’t see himself doing it
  17. What is 4 letters, sometimes is 9 letters but never is 5 letters
  18.  Dry erase boards are remarkable
  19.  Did you hear the song about the tortilla? It’s actually more of a wrap
  20. Learn sign language – it’s very handy
  21. Did you hear the pizza joke? Nevermind, it’s pretty cheesy!
  22. How did the hipster burn his tongue? He drank his coffee before it was cool
  23.  What’s the best thing about living in Switzerland? I don’t know but the flag is a big plus.
  24. Why didn’t the lifeguard save the hippie? He was too far out!
  25. What do you call a big pile of kittens? A Meowtain
  26.  A farmer in the field with his cows counted 196 of them, but when he rounded them up he had 200.
  27. A magician was walking down the street and turned into a grocery store.
  28.  Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the “P” is silent.
  29. When my flashlight went dead I was delighted
  30. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion
  31. Dreaming in color is a pigment of your imagination
  32. The shovel was a ground breaking invention
  33. Can you put the cat out? I didn’t know it was on fire
  34. Most people play soccer just for kicks!
  35. Is pushing my luck considered exercise?
  36. Sometimes I wake up crabby and sometimes I let her sleep
  37. If life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic
  38. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. If there’s not, then it is not a tunnel
  39. Why can’t you play cards on a small boat? Because someone is always sitting on the deck
  40. Ever stop to think and then forget to start again?
  41. The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese
  42. I want to go to IKEA and hide in a wardrobe, wait for someone to open it and shout, “Welcome to Narnia!”
  43. No matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationary
  44. People who jump off bridges in Paris are in Seine
  45. Writing with a broken pencil is pointless
  46. I was given batteries free of charge
  47. A will is a dead giveaway
  48. Why did the alligator wear a vest? It was in invest- a- gator
  49. Can February march? No but April may
  50. What did Tennesee? The same thing that Arkansas
  51. What did Delaware? Idaho…her New Jersey?
  52. Did you hear the rumor about butter? I’m not going to spread it
  53. The guy who made lifesavers made a mint
  54. A person who tells dad jokes and does not have kids is a faux pas
  55.  I know some jokes about retired people but none of them work
  56. If you see a robbery at the Apple store, are you an I-Witness?
  57. There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand Binary and those who don’t\
  58.  Bad puns are how eye roll
  59.  Where was Solomon’s Temple located? On the side of his head
  60.  A missionary’s favorite car is a convertible
  61.  Why did Noah punish the chickens on the ark? They were using fowl language
  62. Who is the shortest man in the Bible? Not Zacchaeus. Not Knee-highamiah Not Bildad the Shoe height. Peter was able to sleep on his watch.
  63. My friend says to me, “What rhymes with orange?”And I told him, “No it doesn’t!”

And a few extra:

  • When you’re down by the sea and an eel bites your knee that’s a moray
  • If you suck at playing the trumpet, that’s probably why
  • I tried to grab the fog but I mist
  • Irony – the opposite of wrinkly
  • Crushing Pop cans is soda pressing
  • I’m friends with 25 letters of the alphabet. I don’t know why
  • Despite the high cost of living it remains popular
  • My mood ring is missing and I am not sure how I feel about that
  • Dogs can’t operate MRI scanners but catscan
  • Mountains are just funny, they’re hill areas

I cannot remember your laugh!

Dear Jim,

I never thought it would happen, but 8 years after you went to heaven I cannot remember what your laugh sounds like. I cannot remember other things about you but nothing bothers me as much as not remembering the sound of your joyful silliness – one of my favorite things about you.


I can still remember so many details of our life together and I treasure those memories. I guess when you died I really lost my mind – not in the ways one normally thinks but so many parts went missing.  I stopped keeping a calendar and became much more disorganized. I stopped hearing music. I could not concentrate to read a book. My memory felt like I was suffering from “chemo brain” or a trauma induced dementia. Routines faded and self care stopped completely. My mind and life just sort of stopped functioning. It was easier to ignore the weirdness of grief because I was so focused on helping our kids find their way through the fog. But now that I cannot remember your laugh, I think that my mental circuits misfired to make sense of something that can never make sense.

Grief is so consumptive and has impacted every part of my life: social, mental, physical, emotional. Since you taught me that spiritual is our whole being, I won’t include that as a separate category.  Any way you look at it, grief has overtaken all of my life.

I am realizing now that much of my grief has been intellectual. I have read lots of books and articles. I have contemplated the ups and downs and the “stages” or directions of how to move through grief and “get over it”. And yet that is not how grief works!  In my studies I have learned that grief is stressful and varied, that there is no right way to grieve. And it is a process that takes time.

Grief has also been personal and has become my relational companion. It has been said that time heals wounds.  I never really believed that before but memories do fade over time. Some of my grief has also been an emotional roller coaster. In grief terms, your death is what short-circuited my life as it separated me from my sense of self or identity, my competence and any concept of the future.  As time has passed, the initial crowding and suffocating reaction of grief has settled down and found a place in my life.  Since attachment gives life security and meaning, when whatever is attached is severed by death, (in this case = YOU), grief is the response.  CS Lewis says in A Grief Observed, bereavement is an essential part of love. It is one of the phases that integrates loss into reality.

I also am convinced, more than ever, that grief has created a problem of narrative for me. A story needs a narrator with a point of view, a perspective on the world as they experience it. I have had a hard time narrating the story moving forward because I have become unsure of who I am without you. For one thing, I never was single as an adult so has been difficult imagining a new story, a new plot for myself apart from us.  I miss us and I am learning that life is a multi-volume story. The sequel is never as good as the original!

Most of the time I am doing better at life without you.  I don’t like it, but I am figuring out this “new normal”.  I still think of you every day. The kids and I try to keep you alive in our hearts. But losing the memory of you laughing is something I  never imagined would happen. It makes me sad. More that that, it sort of increased my anxiety as I worry about forgetting even more. I never want to lose the memory of you, Jim.

I am grateful for all the years of laughter, of meaning and story that you created around you.  Thank you for writing your love into my narrative and for the chapters we wrote together. Now 8 years of story have been written and you are still in it, but not as before. So, I cannot wait until that day when I get to hear your laugh again and until then I will keep straining to hear it again in my mind.

I love you forever.  143. 831 <+><

Miriam

Romans Eight Twenty Eight

Last night was my Bible Study group and we were studying this great chapter 8 of the book of Romans.  One of my friends asked me the question about how I interpret the verse that God works all things together for good in light of the death of Jim.  I gave a brief off-the-cuff answer but thought about the verse all the way home and late into the night.

My answer was that I have questioned God about taking Jim from this life so early but that I believe the promise of the verse with all my heart; “And I know that all things…” Like Joseph, I really believe that what was meant for evil, God makes it good.  Our present sufferings cannot be compared to God’s glory

Here is a longer answer (although not complete either!)

First: Paul uses the phrase “those who LOVE God”.  Isn’t that interesting?!  He is talking about people who love, rather than those who trust, follow or believe, God. The Holy Spirit delivers us from hostility to God in verse 7 and replaces it with the opposite, which is love.  We cry Daddy and we want to please Him because we love him! God works it all together for good for those who know and love him, who are called according to his purpose and are predestined as daughters and sons! I love because He first loved me!

Second: What is good?  It clearly means something besides prosperity, health, comfort or “happily-ever-after”.  When Paul refers to all things, he means all, whether or not it is painful, happy, positive or negative (every groaning) are for His glory and my best interest.  His goal for me is holiness and that I am conformed to the image of His son! Eph.1 says that God works all things according to the counsel of His will is for our good! Not only that,  it could be argued that God is good!  It is one of his attributes so when he works all things together it is for his glory alone!

Next: Salt flavors food and contributes to health and life but the sodium and chloride that make up salt are both poisonous chemicals. The chemistry of the cross means that God takes things that are in and of themselves bad and mixes them to make something that is healing!

Ultimately, my greatest good is being swept up into God as I am conformed into the image of His Son!  Joni E. Tada says, “He allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves”. God is able to redeem and restore all of my life for His glory because I love Him, even the bad stuff! He is that powerful to give me victory over my circumstances! People will always try to reconcile God’s sovereignty with humanity’s suffering but this verse is a reminder that no suffering is wasted and I can rest in the fact that God is in control.

Hank Plow

Jim has several cousins on both sides of his family, but some on his mom’s side were also friends!

Richard Howard lived in Scottsdale, walking distance to us when we lived there. He grew up in Arizona, so his parents and brother were also nearby.  When we moved to the state, he was very excited.  In the ten years that followed our families became close and for the first time I saw people related to Jim that shared his humor, his creativity, and his musical abilities! It was our privilege to share life, holidays, birth of our kids and faith and church.

There are few people who are as talented and creative as Rich Howard.  He was the quintessential entertainer and his personality was captivating and charismatic.  I loved living near the Howards.  Even after we moved away, the relationship continued.  When Jim got sick, Rich came to spend time with him. He even did a magic trick at Jim’s celebration of life.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9th, Rich passed away, leaving a tsunami of grief for all those who knew and loved him.  He was outwardly funny, kind, thoughtful, and full of love and joy.  He was definitely an original. He cherished life, loved nature, and was proud of his kids!  I will miss him everyday until we meet again in heaven.  (I am sure Jim was excited to greet him!)

 

Earl Degrafft

One of the amazing and greatest blessings of living across the street from Downey First Baptist was the family that moved into the house in front of ours.  Earl and Connie Degrafft, who went to church with us, who were almost empty nesters (Susan was in high school, but the older 4 were grown), who very quickly became our family. We shared a yard and a washer, but we shared more than that.  We shared meals.  We played games. We shared laughter and music and even our cat! We learned so much; it was really lopsided to receive so much more than we ever gave. In a word we became family! My kids know them as Grandpa and grandma De!

Last Saturday I got the word that Earl’s health was failing.  I drove down to visit my heroic friend and pray with him. He went home to heaven Tuesday morning. There are so many things I can say about this man but I am so overwhelmed with grief and gratitude that I barely know where to begin.

Thank you Lord for the gift of Earl (and Connie) Degrafft. Thank you for the impact on my life, my marriage and ministry.  Please comfort Connie and give her peace as she enters this dark valley of grief. Grant her sleep and hope for the rest of her journey home. Amen.

DFB is 150

Downey First Baptist is 150 years old.  Today was a celebration.  Dennie led the challenge from Philippians 3 to forget what lies behind and press on to the goal to win the prize. There were many friends, former staff members and memories to share.  It was fun to stop and remember the importance and the history of this local expression of the church over the years.  It is important to remember and thank God for ministry there and for the opportunities and friendships that have shaped who I/we have become. We are commanded to remember so often because we are such a forgetful people.

At the same time it is also important to not stay focused on the past.  Nostalgia is dangerous.  When we look to the good old days we run the risk of of several things. For one thing, the good old days were not all good!  Additionally, looking backward is often unfair to the church today. Such a focus can be myopic, deceptive and pessimistic.

I think it is so easy to look backward because the church has had such a rich history and the relationships are so deep. And it is hard to not compare ministry then and now, and it is inappropriate to reduce that comparison to numbers and finances.  I know it is easy to look backward because we don’t know what is going on there anymore.  And from our vantage point it does not look so good.  The attendance is small, there are no pastors and the socioeconomics of the community have changed. There are so many things which were successful methods that would never work in today’s culture, but that does not mean that what is being done now is inferior in any way!  But for me it begs the question, how many of those who made decisions to live for Jesus no longer are?  How can we do better at creating disciples who run the race to the finish line?  How do he keep pressing on?

The church is still alive and God is still using the church to accomplish his purposes. My prayer is that Downey First, among others, will not give up,  that they will faithfully run with endurance the race set before them, as I thank God for the rich history and the people who have impacted my life for His glory! Amen.

 

I channeled Jim as Buford.  That was an honor!  Doug Roller was Ralph.

Tomorrow (in one minute from when this will post) I turn 59!  The last year in my 50’s.  I figured turning the same age as the year you were born was some kind of thing and so I looked it up!  It is called a Platinum year or a Bedian year (named after some NY fireman). When I think about this number, the first thing that comes to mind is the song by Simon and Garfunkel, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) and Interstate 59 that runs through Gadsden, AL Both are happy thoughts for me! (Additionally – I am a 5 or a 9 on the enneagram)

There are 2 other ideas running around in my head as I turn 59: Bucket Lists and Procrastinating  (aka. the last second!)

I realize that many of the things I had planned to do with my life are never going to happen!  I have actually known that for some time but birthdays are the time to reflect, dream and set new goals. I am torn by the idea of bucket lists. On the one hand there are things I would love to do, but the older I get, the shorter my list gets, partly because I am no longer interested and partly because I don’t think I will ever be able to accomplish them due to age, ability and finances! But, I am now finally getting to the age where a bucket list can really be a thing! Bucket lists don’t count when a person is a teenager or young parent and yet the list also seem a bit like a consolation prize for a boring life.  If I still have a long list of things I want to do at this age, then it raises the question of what I have been doing all this time! Ha!

Ultimately, I don’t want my bucket list to have things on it that are less impressive than the life I have already lived, which has been pretty fantastic!* So as I look forward do I really want a list of things to accomplish? I think that there are many of places I would love to go, foods I would like to eat, pounds I would like to lose, books I want to write; but mostly, I would like to make the most of every opportunity each day to look a little more like Jesus. I want to laugh more, pray better, memorize verses, worship with abandon, listen and love fervently.  I want to share my faith, give generously, forgive always.

My life goal for this year is to get out of debt, get the piano in the house, and shrink my stuff and my pant size! I can do it but hopefully I won’t wait until the last minute! Putting things off is a normal phenomenon but procrastination is not a spiritual gift! So as I set my “to do list” (instead of a bucket list) I am looking at my most productive seasons and times, starting with baby steps, giving myself grace and space and learn to strategize better.

*my Accomplished list (incomplete):

married my best friend~gave birth to 2 amazing people~learned a foreign language~went to college, seminary and started a PhD~taught college~ordained~shared the gospel~traveled to 49 states~met Shirley Temple~married and buried~parasailed~owned a home~surfed~learned to read music~learned to sew, cook, ski on water and snow, ride a bike, snorkel and scuba, shovel snow~owned a pet~ate haggis and flying fish~went on mission trips~made friends~finished projects~collected stuff~write calligraphy~started a business~acted in a play~marched in a band~learned to say things backward~read the whole bible~wrote curriculum~worked at a camp~learned to whistle~watched the sunrise over Haleakala~watched the sun set in a field of sunflowers in Spain~gained a son-in-law~watched countless hours of soccer….

Emily at 26

26 years old is an age that seems different than 25.  I am not sure why.  You have been married for 3 1/2 years and you are making your way in the world.  I guess for me, when I turned 26, even though I had been an adult for 7 years, 25 feels young, but turning 26 means that somehow the expectations magically change.  People expect you to start having babies or have some shift financially, socially or emotionally.  Maybe it is the fact that there are now only 4 years left in your 20s and instead of having a long time until you turn 30, there is a mental shift in the time left to be “immature and carefree”.  Maybe it is because you are supposed to be setting off on a career path. Perhaps it is because 26 is the “new” number for being an adult in our country: You are no longer on your parent’s medical insurance.  You are not charged an exorbitant fee to rent a car.  Your auto insurance drops in price and gains in coverage. I don’t know  – but I do know that somehow it feels different!

I know that most people feel old every year when their birthday comes. I also know that most people feel they should have it all together and they don’t, but everyone else does (or at least seems to).  I think it feels sort of like new year’s day with new commitments and beginnings. The fact is that most people have some trouble adjusting to the new normal and the new number that defines the time they have lived on earth.  Em, you have never been 26 before and you do not get a do-over! EVER! So you can’t expect to have it all figured out! I remember being your age…It was not easy.  That was the year we moved to Arizona.

As a person gets older, there seems to be increasing pressure to “figure it out”.  The further away you get from college age and move further in to adult married life, the harder it will be to finish goals because of time and shifting priorities; Some goals will change and old plans will feel awkward because you are in a different life stage. When you watch sports, and movies it is weird to realize how much younger some people are that seem way more successful at finishing their goals (and figuring it out) than you are, as well as how unlikely it is that you will realize some of those kinds of dreams! Some opportunities disappear and others may take their place. I personally have found that even though I have had regrets for the many dumb things I have done, they have not lasted long. However, I tend to regret the things I didn’t do for a longer period of time. It is like asking the question, “If you could do anything differently what would you do?” I usually think of the things I wish I had done and regret not acting when I had the chance. I think it is because the choices I have made, even the poor ones, have taught me something and I have worked the results into my life story. Decisions help create meaning in our lives. What I am trying to say is that I want you to pay attention to your goals in life and go for it! If there is something you don’t want to miss, figure out how to make it happen. Ignoring the opportunity or putting it off may very well be your biggest regret!

One thing I remember as you were growing up is talking about the future and what you wanted to be when you grew up.  Your answer changed over time, as it is supposed to.  Of course, the idea of being a breakfast short order cook who wears pajamas as she cooks is more serious when you are ten than when you get older because dreams change and morph and grow. I know you have been asked the question, “What do you want to be?” many times and every time it seems to add additional pressure; but, of course, your goals and dreams and plans will continue to change those answers (I think that is why people change their major so many times in college!).  If it helps, I am still not sure what I want to be when I grow up! My point is that this is your life!… and you are allowed to explore your options. You are allowed to pursue a path, to fail, to reverse course, to change your mind.  You are NOT allowed to sit around and do nothing. You areNOT free to make decisions that are selfish because your marriage and the Lord  are commitments you have already made. I want you to know that there is NOT pressure to have it all figured out, except from society and people who really don’t matter anyway! And added to that pressure is the fact that you are a woman and so you will be judged for many decisions you will make about your career path, whether or not you have children and then how you raise those children! (this is not even bringing up the facts about gender inequality).

So I want to tell you how proud of you I am, more than I could ever say. I am in awe of how stunning you are – both your appearance and your heart. You are the most extraordinary girl and you are so loved. Every time I am with you I am brought to my knees in awe of the woman you have become from the verbal toddler to the artistic and musical child to the big hearted teenager to a creatively talented woman. You are a blessing.  Happy Birthday to my sweet girl and always remember that whatever you become in this life,  that the most important thing to be is godly. kind. generous. grateful. courageous.

I love you Emily Ruth!

your mom<+><

PS (I think you have enough tattoos and cats and striped shirts…)

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