We are always happy to see a wound heal.  After carefully treating it–whether that means timely stitches or just the careful application of antibiotic ointment and faithful changing of dressings–to have a cut or incision heal properly without becoming infected makes us breath a sigh of relief.

I’ve spent the last half-hour hurting with a mom who prepared to watch her son die in a desert place, desolate and without water, as she herself was.  I’ve just read the account of Hagar and Ishmael being sent away from Abraham’s household after the birth of the heir of promise, Isaac.  God came to her with provision and comfort at the peak moment of her excruciating pain in this situation.  (Read Genesis 21 for the full account.)

This related verse from Psalm 147 was included in the study I was working my way through:  “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  I immediately thought of a friend who recently lost his beloved wife.  He is very openly sharing his grieving and healing journey as he begins to discover what “new normal” looks like.  As I’ve observed him and as I ponder this verse, several thoughts about healing come to mind:

  • No matter how deep the wound, generally, given enough time, a degree of healing can happen when health exists.  As long as we walk in this world, broken hearts and wounds will dot the landscape.  Often, our encounters with them are unavoidable and not of our choosing.  Yet, if we are living in health–health of body, mind, and most importantly, spirit–our chances for healing increase.
  • Even when the wound comes to a less-than-healthy body, there is much that can be done externally to fortify and restore so that healing may happen.  Sometimes, when non-physical wounds happen, we are concurrently not at a place of health, with the circumstances that result in the wounding already having worn us down.  I’m guessing that it is not very common for a severely wounded person to reject the person who applies pressure to stop the bleeding, who calls 911, or who stays nearby to soothe until help arrives.  In our places of woundedness and brokenheartedness, God has a way of providing aid that rushes in when we are too weak to help ourselves.  In those moments, our role is to acquiesce in quiet gratitude and to embrace what is offered for our stabilization and beginning of restoration.
  • The fact that a heart can break, that a wound can bleed, shows that life is present.  We do not worry about mending a broken rock.  But, where there is life, there is hope.  The Healer of broken hearts is Hope.  His faithful monitoring of our healing hearts, through the breath and heartbeat of truth by His Holy Spirit, progresses us to a place of renewed health and strength.  His binding tenderly protects the wounded places, cushioning the blows that come through daily living while time does its healing work.
  • Once-broken hearts and healed wounds leave their scars.  A scar can be unsightly and may even cause some problems later on.  But these can be tended to.  They can also be reminders–reminders that so far, as I read on a Facebook “poster” yesterday, we have a 100% record of coming through the hard times–because we are still here.

Hagar was sent away at least twice that we read of. Both times, God met her with provision and the healing balm of assurance that she was seen and known and that God’s plan for her and for her son was working itself out.  I wonder if she would have chosen to trade the place of hostility and hurt she was experiencing in Abraham’s home for the personal, healing aid that God brought to her broken heart in the desert places.

Measuring My Words

I used to chuckle when Michael told me his memory of his mom always baking on Saturdays.  Of all the things to do on a Saturday, why bake?  (My own mom was more likely to bake during the week; we cleaned on Saturdays.)  Now, being gone from home most of the other days of the week and having a son still living at home who likes his chocolate chip cookies, I often find myself being a Saturday baker.  A key to good baking is careful measuring.

Anyone who bakes knows you don’t measure every ingredient in the same way.  As I’ve baked with the grands over the past few years, I’m teaching them the differences:  pack the brown sugar (and isn’t it fun to watch it come out of the cup like one of the towers of a sand castle on a Lake Michigan beach?); lightly spoon in the flour and level it off with a knife (or in our case, the edge of the flour scoop)–don’t shake it down!

This fall, I’ve been learning a lot about measuring my words.  There have been some hard lessons about what to say, when to say it, and how many words to use.  Being sparing with my words does not come naturally.  But, I am told that sometimes, more is less.  Knowing when it is so is not always easy.

However, when I think of “measuring” my words–well, I can get my head around that.  Just as measuring ingredients properly can make the difference whether a recipe turns out as intended or not, measuring my words properly in accordance with the purpose for which they are being written can determine the effectiveness of their outcome.

The Psalmist had the right perspective, one I should breathe in and out more often and more deeply:  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.”  Perfection in measurement, I’d say!

So Near

We had the great privilege of attending Easter Sunday morning celebration at my home church in Litchfield, MI.  It was fun to be in the same worship service as my parents, my niece and her children (who all attend there regularly), and my sister and her family, who chose to surprise Mom and Dad by worshiping in Litchfield instead of at their home  church.

For most of the service I was very attentive, but there were a couple of minutes when a familiar move in front of me captured my attention.  The lady in front of me reached her left hand over her right shoulder and began firmly massaging that place where I often find a tense knot in my own shoulder.  As she kept it up, a fleeting thought came to me:  Isn’t it ironic that she is sitting just two chairs down from a chiropractor (my brother-in-law) and doesn’t know that one who could be helpful is so close?

Then, my mind went farther down that path.  How many people around me are needy and don’t have a clue about the closeness of One who is help for their every need–for their greatest need?

God, alert me to those ones who need to see a life that points to You.

Today, my eldest son, Gabe, turned 27.

It has been an eventful year for Gabe.  Just a little more than a year ago, he became a homeowner (bought a fixer-upper down the street from our house).  Little did he know then that in a year’s time, his little house would become “home” for his little family.  On New Year’s Day of this year, he married Rachel and to that marriage and to our family, she brought Ethan, a little four-year-old snips-and-snails-and-puppy-dog’s-tails of a boy who calls me “Gramma Amy”.  Oh, and somewhere in all that, Gabe switched from almost five years of employment in the airline industry to working for a company that makes medical implants and prosthetic devices.

What do I celebrate on the anniversary of the birth of my first-born?  I think the thing I celebrate most is that the boy has become a man.

Gabe is a red-head.  I never put much credence in the “red head, hot head” stereotype, but I have to admit that emotions always came quick and hard from the boy.  Because, I believe, we are probably more alike in some ways than either of us would like to admit, there were plenty of sparks between us in Gabe’s growing up years.  (Looking back, I know now that I could have doused a number of those flare-ups with the foam of kindness and a gentle word.  I have acknowledged this to Gabe in the intervening years, and, thankfully, he is a very forgiving son.) The man is another matter.  One of the things I love seeing in Gabe these days is the gentleness and patience with which he treats those he loves.  He’s patient with the old folks, with his siblings, his nieces, his wife, and especially with the little boy he’s taken into his heart in his role as “daddy”.  (Ethan calls Gabe by his given name, for that is how he first knew him, but, yesterday, when he was sick with a bad cold, his tearful wish for “Gabe” to be home from work so he could be with him told me that “Daddy” can go by a first name just as well.)

I mentioned the fixer-upper house.  Even though it was a stressor and even though it took many helping hands to get the place ready to bring a bride and a little boy home to, Gabe launched in to really do some very nice fixing of the place.  He had the great good fortune–blessing–of having a job as a teen-ager and college student working for a friend who mentored him in all kinds of handy-man skills.  By trusting him to work along side at first and, eventually, some on his own, the man helped equip Gabe with the confidence that he can fix and repair and remodel things.  With his handy dandy, do-it-yourself book to guide him, he took on tile installation, ceramic tile installation, and a lot of other projects that I probably don’t even know about.  He’s not afraid to try and he has this great desire to make the house a place that can become a home.

A man is wired to protect and shelter.  There is no where this ties in more closely than in the realm of spiritual nurturing.  When Gabe first became serious about Rachel, one thing I’ll always remember is his out-loud musings about and recognition of the huge responsibility that would mean spiritually.  It takes a man to humbly recognize that that is a God-sized task that cannot be done on one’s own.

In spite of the things I see these days that make me smile at the man my son has become, one thing hasn’t changed from the little boy days and that, too, makes me smile.  This boy-grown-to-man still loves to have fun.  (We always teased him that his middle name should have been “Fun”.)  That bent is a wonderful asset in the family life Gabe has chosen.  I love to hear him and Rachel laugh together.  I love to see him delight in Ethan’s delight over something fun they plan to do together.

We wondered for what God had gifted the little boy.  The answers are unfolding more and more everyday as we see the boy morphing into the man.

Happy Birthday, My Son.  This mom is awfully proud of you–proud of the man you’ve become.

Ellen and I talked yesterday on our way back from lunch about hearing yourself say things to your own kids that your parents said to you.  We further discussed the difference between just continuing the family “lingo” and actually parenting as your parents parented you.

Today, I watched Gabe and Ellen interact with a three-year-old and a four-year-old in a short version of a game of “Battleship”.  Totally fascinating to watch their patience and their teaching styles kick in as they made the complex simple enough for a little child to comprehend and take delight in.  Even though I think they each have their own special gifts when it comes to that, I also harbor a little hope that maybe a tiny bit of what I see in such moments is something that rubbed off in what they saw in the parenting styles of their own mom and dad.

Savoring the memory of those sunny afternoon minutes , I’m thinking tonight how my Heavenly Father must delight in seeing His traits in me.  And I also ponder, more soberly, whether He ever shakes His head and wonders, “Where did I go wrong with that one?”


The Line

Today I had conversations with students who’ve been “pink slipped” in my classes.  No, they weren’t fired (their pink slips clearly stated that).  But, with a bright pink note clipped to graded, returned assignments, they were reminded that they’d used up their two excused tardies for the semester and of the implications of that.  In the classes I teach, if you are late, your work is late.  I don’t accept late work.  However, recognizing that life happens and valuing grace, each student is allowed up to two excused tardies in the semester–no questions asked, homework accepted as usual.  Needing to come up with a way to remind students when they’ve used up their excused tardies, I’ve moved to the “pink slip” practice this semester.  So far, it seems to be working.  It always gets some kind of response, usually that being, “I’ll be here on time from now on,” with students generally making good on their commitments.

In today’s conversations, though, one comment stands out.  A student was genuinely shocked that I would count him late on a date that he was, as he put it, “only a minute late.”  (Granted, there was snow on the ground that day, but on snowy days, one must allow a little extra time.) I’ve been pondering our verbal exchange today.  If one minute late is not late, at what point after the 9:30 hour when class is supposed to start does one become truly late?

This has led me this evening to think about other lines.  And I wonder how often I have the same attitude about them.

“I’m only a little bit ______________________.”  (Fill in the negative attitude or action that is on the list of that which displeases the One who gives me breath.)

“I’ve only neglected ________________________ for a little while.” (Fill in the personal discipline or service to another that I’ve let slip.)

“________________________ was only a little bit excessive.”  (Fill in the poor response to another or the overindulgence in a number of areas of life that is not exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit known as gentleness or patience or kindness or goodness or self-control.)

Missing the mark is less like a target–when one misses the bullseye there are still other circles of points to gain–and more like a clay duck; either you hit it or you don’t.

I need to pay attention to being on the mark–every time–in this life of mine.  Failure to do so may result in it being too late to count.


A student asked me today about learning better to punctuate what she writes.  I found myself talking about commas–those little bits of ink that mark pauses as we think, write, and speak.

That got me thinking about what we do in the pauses of life.  About what I do in the pauses of my life.

I remember reading something years ago–can’t remember if it was by Elisabeth Elliot or something someone else had written that she was sharing.  Either way, the point was that, in music, the pauses–the rests–are just as integral to the music as the notes.  Without the rests, there are compositions that would lose their drama.  The rests are part of the music.

The rests are part of the music…

When there is a pause, my first impulse is too often to jump right in and speak.  (In fact, I have to force myself to wait for the pause–have to work at not interrupting.)  How much better if I would listen in the pauses.  Would I hear more of another’s heart?  Would I hear another’s idea that would turn mine to an entirely different, perhaps more productive or more creative, vein?

When there is a pause, do I look around in silent wonder?  There is much to be seen.  People are endlessly fascinating, and I don’t ever have to look far to notice. Would I be better at really seeing–really seeing–people if I silently observed in the pauses?

When there is a pause, do I savor the silence, the stillness?  Or do I hurry to fill it with noise, with activity?  That rush to fill every empty space can become an addiction.

I think I need to nurture a greater regard for commas.

Stirring Words

Something must be waking up inside of me.  I have actually felt like blogging a few times in recent weeks, after a long, long absence from this place.

Tonight I have an image of stirring in my head–of literal stirring.  Last week I made dozens and dozens of cut out cookies for Gabe and Rachel’s wedding–two connected hearts, frosted, decorated, and topped off with “G” and “R” monograms.

There was lots of stirring that went into those cookies.  First, blend the Crisco and the powdered sugar.  They come together quite easily when I use my big wooden spoon.  Then, the hard part:  stirring in the eggs and vanilla.  For awhile, it seems that I am just swishing the shortening/sugar mixture around in a sea of beaten egg.  Then, slowly, little by little, transformation comes as the eggs lose their separateness and become one with the already combined ingredients. Eventually, add some dry ingredients, and all those little bits become one good thing to share, embellished with some frosting and a few sprinkles.

The writing process is like that sometimes.  Blending words, some coming together more smoothly, more easily than others.  Finally, there is that point that the blending of the parts creates a single whole, creating one good thing to share, embellished with some frosting and a few sprinkles.

“Who have you listened to carefully?”–another of Jon Swanson’s questions for reviewing 2010.

I try to listen carefully to the people who are closest to me, the people to/for whom I have responsibility:  my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my students.  What has that looked like in 2010?

Those of you who know me/our family know that my husband Michael lost his job when Taylor University closed its Fort Wayne campus in May 2009.  His unemployment is still a reality, despite multiple job apps and several interviews.  Listening carefully to Michael’s mind and emotions and spirit in this part of the journey is one of the hardest “listenings” I’ve been called upon to do in my life.  I have learned that there are limits to which one can get inside another’s mind and heart and that sometimes just walking alongside, listening, seems like a very unhelpful partnership indeed.  Beyond that, we have both tried to listen carefully to what God is saying about this season; there have been many, many times when that effort has seemed to yield silence.  But, as 2010 draws to a close and the calendar turns to the first days of 2011, we will continue to listen with hope and trust.  God, adjust our hearing if we are not tuned in at the right frequency.

A mother listens to her children even before they are born.  What mother of the modern age hasn’t thrilled to hear that first swish-swish-swish sounding heartbeat detected at a pre-natal visit?  When our children are with us every day, we hear a great deal, but may listen less if we let life’s stresses separate our ears from our hearts.  When our children leave our homes, we don’t hear them as often or as much; does that make listening easier?  My children are at threshold stages of life: young motherhood and grad school, about to be married, senior in high school.  It is so tempting to talk, talk, talk, but I am painfully aware that my best mothering at this stage may come in the form of being a better listener.  Part of listening is pulse taking–I’ve been trying to do better at hearing hearts when it comes to my kids.

I teach college students.  They come with stories.  Class time doesn’t give much opportunity for them to tell them.  But those stories give shape to their lives, and it is that shape that determines their successes or failures as students.  I try to hear the pieces of their stories that come through in every conversation or email or response to a question.  I’m discovering that at the point of their story bits, we connect most and best.  My philosophy of education is that teaching, if it is nothing else, is relational.  Listening well helps me be a more effective teacher.

I would like to say I have listened carefully to God in 2010.  But, if I am to be honest, I know there are far too many times that I’ve been in another room when He was speaking.  God, just as I am drawn into a room where a fire is blazing in the hearth and lights twinkle welcome, let me quickly and always draw near to the irresistible light and warmth of your voice to me in the cold and dark of my sojourn apart from your presence.

My prayer is for clean ears.


My friend Jon’s blog, Levite Chronicles, is very inviting.  Not just in the sense of being a place one wants to be, but he literally invites thinking and reflective writing from his readers.  I have not spent much time in the blogging world since I returned to the work force in August 2009 as an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.  However, when I do blog hop, Jon’s place is always one of my stops.

In a recent post he listed “20 Questions for Reviewing 2010”.  I find in that list enough thought provocation to keep me thinking and, if I choose to take the time, writing for a long time.

The first question on the list is “Who do you know better than you did at the beginning of the year?”  The first person who comes to mind in answer to that question is Rachel.  She is the young woman who will become my daughter-in-law in just 10 days. She has already established her special place in my heart.

When I think of what I love best about Rachel, four things pop out immediately.  The first is one of the first reasons I heard from Gabe about why she is so  special.  “She really cares about people,” Gabe replied in answer to my early queries about this young woman who had caught his eye and was capturing his heart.  He obviously judged her aright.  Always ready with an offer to help after a family dinner, giving up her time and her possessions to help a co-worker who comes up a little short on both from time to time, not wanting to put anyone out during the process of wedding planning–those are just some of the evidences I’ve seen so far.  When we opened gifts at our family Christmas celebration this past weekend, I could see the “I have paid attention to who you are” stamp all over the gifts that were given by Rachel and Gabe.

The next two things I love about Rachel have to do with laughter.  I love her laugh.  If it was translated into words, one of the adjectives one would have to use would be “delight”.  When Rachel laughs, it’s as if she is just so tickled about something she can’t keep it in.  It always makes me smile.  And, when Rachel laughs, very much of the time these days, I hear my son’s laughter too.  This special girl has the ability to make my son smile and laugh in a way that I’ve never seen in all of his fun-loving twenty-six years of life.  That is something a mother has to love.  May the two of them always together find something in life to make them smile and, even if they have to deal with dark days along the way, always be able to return to the laughter of their early love.

Finally, I love to watch Rachel the mom.  With this marriage, I am gaining not only a lovely daughter-in-law, but an all-boy, cute-as-a-button, smart-as-a-whip, four-year-old grandson.  I love to see Rachel interact with Ethan.  She does not let him get away with murder, which would be very tempting when he looks up at you with those big hazel eyes in his little elf-like face.  She is tough and tender, and it is clear that they have a very special relationship.  She is very nurturing and in her quiet way she teaches and trains him as they interact.  And, best of all, it is clear that she truly enjoys her son.  I am happy to see Gabe and Rachel in their parenting roles for this little guy, and I hope that he will someday realize how blessed he is to have two people who love him so deeply.

I will always remember the first time Rachel stopped by the house on her way to work and Gabe simply introduced her with, “This is Rachel.”  Indeed.

This joyful journey of knowing has just begun.  The beginning has been one of the riches of 2010.