Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lift up the hands that hang down....

Baggage claim is probably not an unusual place to meet your future mother-in-law for the first time, but it might seem like a strange place to get a lesson in kindness and compassion. In an odd sort of way, it's an appropriate place to offer help to others ("May I help you with your bags?"), and yes, even to give comfort. I like the idea that as we claim our own 'baggage' we should lift the burdens of others.

Robert's nephew's wedding was just a few days off, and his mother and brother had come to town to attend. This would be my first time meeting them both. I was comfortable and nervous at the same time. But that's another story.

As we entered the baggage claim area, Robert's mother called our attention to a young woman waiting to claim her bags. She explained that they had sat together on the plane. The woman was returning to her home after having buried her mother, who had died of cancer. Mom said, "My heart just breaks for her, she has had to face this all alone." Then I watched Robert move to the woman's side and as he assisted her with her bags, he offered condolences, compassion and hope as he shared his cancer journey (which at that time was limited to the cancer of his late wife) and tender encouragement. The whole thing took just moments. She turned and I saw a smile on her tear-stained face. But as he turned back to me, he had a sort of sheepish look on his face. He whispered to me, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to leave you standing there, I just had to say something to her to reassure her." I assured him that it was a good thing to do and I wasn't offended in the least, in fact, I was pleased he had done so. You see, I already knew that about Robert, and it is no surprise that this has been the pattern of our lives ever since; to lift those around us and give tender love and support to others. I am certain that Robert is better at it than I am.

As my boys prepared to serve their missions, a particular song became a sort of theme song in our home. The words explain how, although sometimes we are timid about sharing the Good News of the Gospel, the Lord gives us the strength to speak, and by so doing we too are changed. The song is meant to be about missionary work, but it applies to so much more in life. As we listen to, lift and help others in their journey, the testimony we bear of truths we know become stronger and we too are lifted and strengthened as a result. Many times, a question I have faced has been answered as the Spirit gives me words to say to help someone else. It makes me want to dance for the joy I feel...that God loves me so much to guide me as I help others and by so doing help myself. I never want things to always be the same, I want to savor and enjoy every moment (every experience) that comes into my life on this earth. I want, no, I need the strength and peace that comes from lifting others and from bearing testimony of wonderful eternal truths. I find so much peaceful joy as we visit with our children and grandchildren, with our friends and even with strangers. I am certain that God loves me, that He has a plan for me and for my family. He has shown me over and over again that His plan is SO much better than anything I can imagine in my little mind, and His tender mercies remind me that I- we- are in His hands.

And so, this morning, as the phone rang and a stranger somewhere in New Jersey explained how she had gotten Robert's number from the Cancer Survivor's Network, I know it will be a joyous day, because I hear him say, "The thing that gives me the most strength is my faith in God and keeping a positive attitude." And I remembered the woman in the airport and her smiling, tear-stained face.

Lifting the hands that hang down in sorrow,
Strengthening knees that bend in despair,
Reaching the hopeless hearts who do not know His love,
Seeing their lives begin to change, I know I'll never be the same.
How can I keep this gift to myself when I can lift somebody else?
I am a witness of His miracles and His mercy.
I put my future in his hands knowing He's made me all I am.
When I put my faith in Him the truth begins to speak.
His power is real, It moves me until I will not be still.

~("I Will Not Be Still", by Tyler Castleton, Staci Peters, and Greg Simpson)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, May 7, 2012

In the Garden after Dark

I cut a hole in my garden gloves accidentally. It's what happens when you deadhead roses in the dark. Luckily my finger wasn't in the end of the glove when I cut it! I was anxious to trim the roses because, well, because I knew that doing so would bring more roses. But there's more to it than that.
My knowledge of how to care for roses could be fit into a thimble. And why learn? Robert knew everything anyone would want to know about roses. He knew how to fertilize, prune and carefully cultivate them. ‘Our’ roses, for they became mine too after our marriage, did well in the Arizona heat. The 17 plants in front of our home would produce fragrant blossoms every year. The beautiful blossoms made me smile. I love roses, and I love them without knowing a thing about how to grow them.
One Saturday in March, I asked Robert to teach me about roses. He carefully explained each process, I hoped I would remember all that he taught. Then Robert grew tired, so he went inside to rest, and I worked in the backyard garden. I sat at the edge of the garden box, forcing myself to plan the spring garden. I couldn’t concentrate, and soon my mind wandered. Wearily, I finally allowed all the fears that had been swirling about in my mind to assemble into a threatening cloud in my mind.
Robert’s cancer had returned. I knew it, he knew it. We talked of it in distant phrases, but tried to keep hope alive. We had found a new treatment that offered a tiny hope for a cure. Robert taught me to care for the roses that day, but we hoped he would continue be the one to take care of them, as always. I looked up. Dark clouds had gathered overhead, matching my mood. I began to pray. I told the Lord about my sadness while I worked. I wanted to know “What if…?” As I was whining to the Lord, I noticed that some of the tomato plants hadn't dried up and even had blossoms and fruit on them (this is a bit surprising, I'm not an expert gardener by any means), so I decided to leave the tomatoes in and see what would happen. I also noticed that the broccoli had gone to seed and wondered if I should try to glean the seeds and if I did that, would they actually grow? And all of these thoughts were included in my prayer; I decided I really needed God’s help with everything, even the garden.
Then I felt my mind being led, and I recalled the metaphor of The Gardener. I remembered similarities between this garden, pruning, weeding, pulling out the dead and withered plants; and the garden in my heart. That garden was beginning to wither too. What would the Lord do for me, I asked? What would happen to Robert and I? And what about the garden at my feet? I just wanted the garden to grow. I wanted my happy life to grow, too. I wanted everything to grow with a minimal amount of work and pain and struggle. I had no sooner thought or prayed that, when the thought was impressed upon my mind: "Your garden will be successful. Yes, it will require some work from you, but you will find peace and comfort here and when you see the beauty of it, you will be reminded how much I love you." Peace wrapped around my heart like a warm blanket. I recognized this tender mercy. Tears sprung to my eyes as I was reminded of God's great love for me.
I happily went to work, preparing the garden. I pulled the dried dead plants from the earth, and raked the soil so it was smooth and ready for new seed. I moved a reclining chair into the garden area. I hoped I wouldn’t need to retreat to the garden, but I happily prepared so that I could find peace there if I needed it.
A few weeks later the garden had been planted and was doing well. Every time I watered it, I remembered my experience. This remembering was good, because Robert was in the hospital again. He had undergone eleven hours of surgery in the hopes that all of his cancer could be removed. But it was not to be; there was more cancer than could be seen on any scan. Robert was going to die very soon. The surgeon wept as he told me, “He will probably just waste away.” I thought of the dry and withered plants in the garden and cried too. Two days later, while Robert was still recovering, infection tried to invade, and he was taken back to ICU. In the late, late hours of an endless day, I trudged to my car in the hospital parking lot. I needed to return home and sleep. Robert was to undergo yet another procedure very early the next morning. I slept for what seemed like an instant, and awoke in the dim light of dawn, to return to the hospital. I wanted to give Robert a kiss before they wheeled him down the long hallway once again. As I began to back out of our driveway, something unusual caught my eye. Roses. And not just a few roses, there were literally hundreds of them. The rose bed in front of the house had erupted into a fragrant explosion of colorful blooms. I stopped, trying to take it all in, remembering the day we spent together right there in that place. And then the words returned to my mind, "When you see the beauty of it, you will be reminded how much I love you."

And that is how I came to be in the garden after dark, deadheading the roses. The peace I received that morning was wonderful. I wanted, no, I needed more. I understood in a way I never had before, how my garden is my life; there will be withered plants, there will be thorns and noxious weeds, but after all of my meager, pleading and prayerful efforts, there will be roses. Evidence of God’s great love for me.

"Every falling tear is always understood; Life is hard, but God is good."

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