What Matters Most

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How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away; therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1:1-6

I was grieved by the news today. We’ve become a nation that now thinks it’s okay to openly negotiate with murders and cold-blooded killers. (I am speaking of the Taliban) Our government traded five notorious radicals that would think nothing of beheading your children, your elderly parents, your wife, your husband, your best friend, for a U.S. soldier who went missing as a deserter of his platoon. His own father uttered an Islamic greeting, referring to allah, during the press conference at the White House and he has also said he wants every detainee released from Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Pastor who converted to Christianity, is serving the first year of an 8 year prison term for working with the underground church in Iran and protecting Iranian Christians from persecution. He was also working to open orphanages in Iran. He has endured long stints in solitary confinement, according to his supporters, beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates. For months, he has been “denied proper medical attention for his injuries, according to his family and attorneys.”

His wife has repeated appealed to congress and the President for his release with no response.

All this to say, that while events of this world and the news distress us, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of it. Jesus Himself said as such. Instead we need to be focused on keeping our eyes on the One who keeps us in His peace and holds us in His grace. While there is always much to worry and stress about in this life, there is more beauty still.

Lately, my prayer has been that I will wake up before it’s too late. I don’t want to live from weekend to weekend just getting by. Sometimes, those of us with particularly stressful jobs (and really, who doesn’t?) put ourselves on autopilot. When we do that, we fail to really see the people and situations around us.

There is so much to be thankful for every day. Time is flying by at warped speed and I don’t want to miss what God has for me. No matter what we might think about the current political climate, with eternity’s values in view, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is our relationship to our Father and to each other.

And love, love always matters most of all.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

 

When God sounds a lot like your Mom

 

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Fresh off a morning commute, shouldering my bag, my backpack, everything necessary to supply me with what I might need for a 12 hour day. Grumbling a bit in my head, wishing I were home to enjoy the beautiful morning from my patio instead of spending it in a room without windows. I heard it……it was the voice I always hear when I hear birds sing.

I hear it especially when I am feeling a bit of regret, or sadness, or feeling a bit sorry for myself. It was my Mom’s voice I heard. And it knocked me for a loop because I had always thought that voice was God’s, but that day, I clearly heard hers.

“But the birds are singing, Lori.” Just that one sentence. Because I know what it costs her to hear them no matter what. My Mom doesn’t have an easy chair life. I have covered that before here in this blog. Though she is 85 she is up with the chickens. Already serving, praying, looking to Him for strength.

It’s hard to imagine just how deep a Mom’s love can go, but I found out a little bit more when I was home last. She was cleaning out the cedar chest, and as each item was lifted out she told the story that went along with it. Among the old report cards and drawings there was a broom I had made out of pine-needles held together with masking tape. “To clean up our camp,” she said. She cradled each item like prized artifacts.

Then, she lifted up a summer jumpsuit in white. I had forgotten all about  it. I could hear her grief all over again as she said, “This is what you came home from Mexico in.” She paused. Where I had faced the biggest grief of my life and hers, for a child’s sorrow is double for the parent. “I had expected you to look half-dead and instead you looked like a beautiful angel.”

As I get older, I see more of her in me. There are things we do just alike. Shape meatloaf for one. We don’t just slap it in a pan, we mix it, and shape it and mold it. And when we look in a mirror, we arrange our faces just so.

And we have a built-in desire to set about making a place homey. She and I bring wineglasses throw-rugs and coffee makers to campsites.

The way we always try to deflect a compliment.

Most of all, what holds our days and our hearts together like a ribbon is prayer. She taught me that.

This day is a day to honor Mother’s everywhere, and I honor her. I thank God for her everyday, that I still have her. I am also aware that there are many for whom this day holds much sadness.

It’s a day they grieve what they never had, or what they had and lost. Mother’s Day was always hard for my Mom. Her Mom wasn’t ever able to give what she needed most. She withheld love and affection, and compliments, though she gave other things.

And today we will see Elaine’s Mom, and that will be hard. We may or may not take her out to lunch. We will see how it goes. With Alzheimer’s you have to be ready for anything.

Mother’s Day has always been fraught with difficulty for her too. Her Mom was never there as a Mom should be. The other day she held up a card at the store with a weight on her shoulders. “This day is always so difficult.” She picked up the one with puppies, “Yes,” we said, “puppies are safe.”

Sometimes Mother’s Day means losing the Mother you never had, and that’s like a double grief isn’t it? But even in that, there is redemption. Because when you allow God to fill you with His grace, you can then hand that out to others. Even others you never received it from.

Today, as I lift up thanks for my own Mom, I pray for all those for whom this day is hard. I pray that God will wash you in His grace and wrap you in His great love.

And listen………for when you hear the birds sing, it’s always God disguised as your Mom.

How to hope after the unthinkable happens

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I saw her as I strolled on the back-forty of my brothers yard a couple of weeks ago in the early morning light. A flash of orange, she (or he) landed first on the fence, then fluttered down to hop among the grass, probably looking for breakfast among the dew. A robin sighting is always hope for me. I snapped her several different times before Tyler managed to scare her away. I couldn’t blame him, his enthusiasm was infectious as he ran to and fro, nose to the ground, seeming to thank me with a glance and wag of his tail every now and then.

Sometimes we need to cling to signs of hope however small when news comes to rock our world. I believe God created birds with a special role, that of singing out hope even when ours has run dry.

I draw back a memory of a time when my world was painted black. The morning after the call came that pulled the curtain down on life as we all knew it, my Mom looked out to see a robin on the grass. He was her little thread of hope and she clung to it. She also remembers thinking that she couldn’t believe the birds were still singing. The audacity of it all. How could they?

The other day as I was praying in the car, a dove came to sit on the lip of my sunroof. He perched there looking at me for a moment, I think we both surprised one another…..then he flew off. I could tell you many more stories than this. Of other times God has sent birds.

Yesterday I got a call that something unthinkable had happened to a family member. From then on my day kind of went on pause mode. I hadn’t seen them in years but we all grew up together as kids. It’s a bond forged by memories and stories and for many years our lives intertwined and we were close. My heart breaks for them, but they’ve always been a strong family. Even now, their house is filled and they are surrounded on all sides with love. For that I am grateful.

There is nothing I could tell them right now that could take away the awful sorrow, and I wouldn’t even pretend to try. If I could I would hold them close and share their tears. I called and left a message on their phone and for the longest time the beep didn’t come to leave a message, so I started talking anyway.

I don’t even remember what I said, I just wanted them to know that they were in my heart. Later, I got a text message from him thanking me for thinking of them. Something he said in his message makes me wonder how it’s possible for someone to not know they are loved despite all the evidence surrounding them? How can we be assured that they know it, and that they love themselves enough to accept it?

And today, when I got up, the doves were cooing, and the birds were singing again, just as if they didn’t know what was going on. They can’t help it, they know the way out of sorrow is to keep singing no matter what, it’s what God created them to do. They know that there is something still worth singing about even if we don’t.

In my heart is a prayer that they will get through this even stronger and that once again hope will be theirs; that they will find a way out of the sorrow with the love they have for one another.

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For Life

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We admire the doves because they mate for life……..as do the albatross, the wolf, the puffin, the penguin, the beaver, the swan, as well as the symbol of our nation, the bald eagle. I have seen their nests, they are incredible……..as big as my volkswagen.

In many of these species, the Dad takes an active role in child rearing, egg hatching and food gathering. The Dads are needed as well as the Moms, as an intergral part of the perfect equation.
 
I look at my Mom and Dad, still together after 60 plus years. In them and so many of their generation, I see the beauty of staying together over the long haul. Most of the time they can still laugh at each other and themselves. They get mad at each other, sometimes really mad, yet through the years they have discovered the beauty of compromise, while somehow managing to keep the integrity of their individuality intact.
  
Now, I hear so many talk of divorce, even in front of the kids. Before they walk down the aisle it’s already a lurking threat, an unspoken presence in the relationship; a reality looming in the minds and hearts of both parties. If it doesn’t work I’ll just bail out.
If they don’t make me happy, I’m outta there.
If I see someone better, younger, fitter…….I’m gone.
Even if It’s not said out loud, it’s a reality just the same. But do we enter a race without first mentally and physically preparing to win?
 
Do we do the same with our careers? Our kids? Even our homes? We worked hard for that degree so we stick out the first year or two of being the low person on the totem pole; we stick with that tough adolescent and love them through to the other side, long enough that we don’t want to strangle them anymore; and we take care of our home in hopes of paying off the mortgage someday.
 
Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to say that there is never an option for divorce. There is abuse, both physical and emotional…….and unfaithfulness, it happens. Or maybe you didn’t even want a divorce, for you it was forever, but it wasn’t for them. And now you are in a living nightmare you never asked for.
  
I don’t know much but I do know a few things about God. I know He’s just and He’s true. And I also know that He would never bless something and call it good without giving us the means to do it successfully for life.
Wisdom begins when we start to see things as God sees them and when we realize we have no hope of carrying if our successfully without His help. 
And when a society as a whole reduces the physical relationship that should be part of marriage between a woman and a man to nothing more than a physical act, perfectly permissible between anyone, at any time; something to laugh at, joke about, even brag about, that society begins to cave in from the inside out.
And the end result for the individual and for the society as a whole will be despair, emptiness, and a longing for something which can never be satisfied, only perpetuated until someone breaks the pattern.
If you are married today, consider it a gift. If you are single, consider that a gift as well. You can have the assurance of knowing that God will supply you with whatever you need to enjoy whatever state you are in.
 
Lastly and most importantly, we all live in the state of His grace. If you are suffering through a divorce, or a broken relationship, or the loss of a loved one; if you’re tired of being single, tired of being married, the way of help is always through Jesus. He always stands ready to give you a new start, a new season of hope.
 
There is always time for a second chance, a new start for each and every season.  

If You Only Knew…….

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If you knew how I prayed for you each day as I drove into work……and each night as I closed my eyes to sleep.

How I selected your favorite coffee at work because it makes me think of you.

You would feel better, I know.

And you would worry less, too.

If you knew how I prayed again as I drove down the freeway and saw the kind of car you drive. How, when a breeze touched my shoulder or I felt the sun warm my back, how I wished you could feel it too?

You could do anything you set your mind to.

If you knew how I appreciate your talents and abilities and how often I pray that God will lay blessings across your path, and that you could know, really know how so many people are rooting for you?

Both those here on earth that love you, but some in Heaven too.

Your burdens would feel lighter. A smile would cross your face for no particular reason. And you would remember that Jesus is praying for you right his moment.

If you knew how much I value the person you are, the wonderfully unique creation, no one just like you in all the world, ever………..If you knew just how much I believed in you, and how it makes me ache inside because I wish I could make you believe in yourself that way.

Others can take you to the mountain for a while, but remember, only God can keep you there. Never let others determine your worth, let God do that.

He’s the only one equipped to do it right.

Tonight, right before you go to bed, look in the mirror and know that you are loved by Love himself.

He has your thoughts and hairs numbered.

Not even I can do that.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

Psalm 139:1-6

Hot Chocolate and “Morrie”

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 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

I awoke early this morning, my usual time……3:00 AM. Lately, that’s my hour. Most of the time I can go back to sleep, many times I just pray until I can. There was no sound, I was once again settled back in my own bed after spending some much-needed time with my family. My mind felt like a clenched fist, tight and unyielding. Refusing to let go and release the thoughts that were zooming around, bouncing off the sides and back of my head resulting in a dull ache.

I breathed the first lines of the 23rd Psalm. Life really begins and ends with this one line:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want……..

A cup of hot chocolate sounded unbelievably good which surprised me. I am not a hot chocolate drinker, but I got up and made myself some. And it was just what I needed. I also opened “Tuesdays with Morrie,” which I had started before I left. It seems everyone in the world had read it except for me. It was the book that catapulted Mitch Albom to the top of the bestseller lists years ago and I heartily recommend it if you are one of the few like me who read all his other books except that one.

The chapter I read, Morrie was talking about family and what it means to have someone always watching out for you. He talked about people who stay, that family is not only about love, but about “letting others know there’s someone who is watching out for them.” Morrie knows the importance of this because he doesn’t have long to live. At the time of the interviews by his former student, Mitch Albom, he was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

I was thinking about all this in light of my trip home.

How blessed we are if we have someone in our life who will not leave. Knowing for better or worse they have our back and our best interests at heart. To be willing to say even the hard words that need to be said. To be willing to be disliked, even, in the name of love. That’s what real love is. Speaking the truth in love even when it hurts you more to say it.

As we got in the car to leave for the airport yesterday, I gripped the hands of Mom and Dad to say a prayer and found that tears had taken all my words. The moments that twist you inside out are when your Mom says that she has loved you more in the last year than at any other time, and you didn’t even know that. Finally, I squeaked out….”Sometimes the best prayers are the ones without words.” We all nodded as we wiped tears.

And even though they want me more than anything to be there always, Dad says he’s glad that “I can go back to my life, away from this chaos.” He knows how I love order, structure. And he knows the value of having a good job. He respects me for that, even though it means I leave and can’t be there more to help.

Even though it’s their loss, they are happy for me.

It pierced my heart when he came out limping when I drove him to Flame Market on the corner to get gas. I thought, “Someone else should be doing this for him.” It’s hard when Superheroes show signs of mortality, when they can’t do the things they used to. When you know how hard it is but you know they are going to do it anyway.

As I laid the book down and drowsed off again, I prayed the same prayer I pray every New Year. That the Lord will hold them all in the Palm of His hand until I can go back again.

How blessed I am to come home to a freshly washed car and a clean house, the decorations just like they were when I left. It took my breath away all over again. It’s good to be there, but it’s good to be here.

Thank you Elaine for doing all you do.

Thank you God, for what you will do in the coming year. Every New Year holds promise because of You.

Not just for picnics

 

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I’m a sucker for anything military. Let me hear a few strains of Stars and Stripes Forever played by a really good marching band and it’s an instant lump in my throat. Present the colors while playing taps and that’s it, kleenex time. The fact that someone would willingly put their life on the line for my freedom and not even hesitate to do so instills in me a sense of gratitude I can never properly express.

My Mom and Dad had a part that. She told me stories of when she was a young girl during WWII and my Uncle enlisted. She told me how they had always bickered and fought just like any siblings growing up, but when he got on the train to leave for boot camp and they thought they might never see him again it was a whole other story.  Everyone was crying their eyes out. She never forgot that. Thankfully, he did come back.

She told me when the young soldiers came through town on the train, she and my Aunt would go out behind the shoe store where they worked and wave to all the boys. Their boss never minded. During shoe rationing time you could only get shoes on Thursdays. My Mom says every week they ran out of certain sizes and they had to dodge flying shoes from irate customers.

Elaine had an Uncle who was shot down and spent time in a concentration camp for years. When he came back, she said he could never seem to get enough food. To watch him eat was to watch someone with a true appreciation for it. He never forgot starving.

It is never very far from my mind that each day there are young men and women, vets who are coming home without arms, legs, hands, feet. For me and my freedom. And they do this without hesitation. How can I ever thank them enough for that?

Tomorrow the first part of my day will be spent in church, thanking God for His ultimate sacrifice, of another Son who went willingly to give His life for the freedom of my soul.

The second part will be spent at the Ballpark where I will help Elaine celebrate her Birthday watching the Diamondbacks play ball and eat a hotdog. I will take part in an American tradition that goes back a long ways. The flag will be waving, and someone will throw out the first pitch, and there may even be a fly over.

I will sing God Bless America and Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and I will feel like a true American. And I will tear up sometime during all that.

In my heart I will give thanks for those who serve in all areas, military, missions, outreach. Committing themselves to the cause of freedom while they lose theirs.

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:39

 

Calling a Truce

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I tugged at my hair and frowned in the mirror. Then I remembered I couldn’t frown because that’s bad for the furrow between my eyes. I lift my eyebrows as if to iron it out. I can’t look too close at the things that are changing more with each passing year.

I apply makeup furiously and with a vendetta against the things I am trying to cover up. I do my usual squint in the mirror, my usual way of addressing mirrors ever since I was in fifth grade when my Mom let me start using pancake makeup to cover up my early acne.

In many ways, I am still the girl behind the curtain of hair on my first visit to the dermatologist office, all these years later. I look for the seat against the window, not facing it. Those visits lasted years and took me to some dark places.

I thought I could make myself disappear if I lost enough weight.

When I finally emerged at 25, by God’s grace and healing and my parent’s prayers, I entered into a foreign and wonderful place I had never been before. It was my own personal Woodstock. I waded in at first, then I plunged in with both feet. I exulted, I danced, I splashed, I reveled in my new-found joy and freedom.

I got my hair cut and looked out at a new and wonderful world.  I ran my fingers over my face and down my neck where there were no more lumps. Praise God. For the first time in my life I felt beautiful.

It was a pretty good run from then on. Until lately that is.

At 50 I was all confident and unafraid, ready to take on the next phase of life. At 53  I am entering into a peculiar stage. It’s not so much fun anymore. Gravity and years are tugging at me.  Simple tasks result in stupid injuries.

But from today on, I am calling a truce with myself and my body.  I will forgive it for aging.  I am going to fall in love all over again. With myself. Cause God said I could.

This….day….I….will….remember.

Each time I get angry at the  extra pounds pressing at my clothes, I will remember this post.  I will not think of it as my body betraying me, but reminding  me that I have to work a little bit harder. When I look at my upper arms I won’t pinch angrily at the extra flesh, remembering how firm and muscular my arms used to be.

And when I look at the wrinkles on my skin, which to me are looking more like trenches,  I will try not to dream of winning a trip to the plastic surgeon or running to get laser treatments. I will not hate my extra sun spots and think of them as defects but friendly freckles, and  I will let my arms go free from sleeves and I will wear shorts and enjoy it.

I will love my legs, knowing that underneath they are the same legs as when I could point a toe and see muscles pop like a ballet dancer. I can still use them to walk fast and even run when my back doesn’t give out.

I will not dread the swimsuit season. I will not allow it to give myself permission to hate my body or berate myself for how lazy I have gotten over the winter, I will use it as extra motivation to improve and make better food choices.

I will remember my re-birth, both of them. And live the truth that God has called me wonderfully made, and good, and yes, beautiful. And when I love myself, I am not only praising what He made, I am praising Him too.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

I will from this time forward, look to my beautiful older sisters who dress young and act young. I will see their radiant faces in my mind when I am tempted to pick up the barbed chains of self-flagellation.

And last but not least I will let my inner beauty shine so bright it’s the first thing people notice about me.

And starting today, I will hug myself in the mirror instead of frowning or squinting.

Because I love the me God created.

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When God sounds like a Jewish mother

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Days like today it seems like praying amounts to throwing a cup of water into the ocean. All around me, everyone I am close to is in some kind of crisis mode. I don’t mean things like your car wouldn’t start or you didn’t get the grade you thought you deserved on that test. I mean big things. Life altering things. Problems so big they actually swallow everything else up and leave you reeling, trying to catch your breath and recalculate the direction of your life.

Problems that eclipse all the regular normal day-to-day life as you know it.

Right now, if my heart could make a sound, it would be like that dove I hear crying right at this very moment outside this window.

I am in here right now, in my prayer closet. My little shed where so much happens. My back is having some kind of a spasm today and after trying to sit unsuccessfully in this chair, I grasp the table and stagger to my feet.

Suddenly I hear God sounding very much like a Jewish mother in my head. “So quit complaining, already. You just finished saying how great the need was, so you can still kneel right? Is there anything wrong with your knees? Are they broken? Oy vey….these kids I have to deal with.”  

This alone proves how much of a healthy sense of humor God has. He had me there.

It’s not that I know much about Jewish mothers mind you, but I have my own Mom who never fails to remind me how good I have it and how others don’t when she catches a whiff of anything close to me feeling sorry for myself.

I glimpse the globe which for a reason that will soon be apparent, didn’t make it to storage. I slid it up to where I was kneeling so I could see it, this world that God so loves. I touched that globe, and then God revealed to me what it was there for in the knot of tears that formed around my throat and threatened to spill over.

Sometimes God uses props. I layed both hands on it then, and I prayed for everyone in my life, and then the world too.

I thought of Moses and his staff, Jeremiah and his linen belt. Me with my forehead now resting on the globe, in this little prayer shed, in this town, on this planet. And then I felt just a little bit like God must feel when He looks down on this earth, knowing He could change it all in an instant, waiting for us to do what we expect Him to. He has given us everything we need to help, to heal the ocean of pain, but too often we look to Him because it’s so much easier to blame someone else.

God is an easy target.

Sometimes I think we read the verse about how He so loved the world and we leave it right there in that past tense. The truth is, He is actively loving it still. He never stopped.

Each and every day when the sun comes up He proves it all over again.

All these things have to play out in each of our lives. Next year it may be something entirely different, but God will still be the same.

He is after all, the God of yesterday, today and forever.

And even if it sometimes feels useless to pray? It never is.

Because He hears every one.

And sometimes He uses props to prove His point.

When it just flows

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Sometimes you hit a sweet spot with blogging, or any kind of writing for that matter. You stop wrestling and trying to figure out what you should write, or what people want to hear, or what you want to hear from yourself. It doesn’t always happen this way, but when it does?

It becomes not something you do, but something you release as a free expression of the worship that naturally flows out of your heart and soul. It’s gratitude and nothing more…..

Just now, I was heading back up the stairs here at work. I had a spring in my step because I am on break and I knew I had an hour or so to do this post. I simply couldn’t wait, not because I have anything of much importance or earth shattering to say, be because I serve a very good God and I am so glad He is walking with me on this earth, because the more I see in the news?

The more hopeless it seems to get. The bleaker the outlook, the more I cling to my God and the more the gratitude spills out. And the more I want to share that with everyone else.

As I spent time with my family just this past week, I learned to cherish them all over again.

When I was unpacking my suitcase last night, I came across the hand drawn map my Dad made me, the directions to the hospital. I couldn’t bear to throw it away. I tucked it into my keepsake box, which is fairly bursting at the seams with each passing year.

Looking at that map, I wondered how in the world I have been so blessed. I have had people drawing maps for me my whole life. At every turn.

And when I took that wrong turn on the freeway just recently? I got a call from Elaine who was watching me via the “Find friends” app on my iPhone. She called to tell me how to get back on but I had already stopped and asked directions.

Friends and family that have your back. When it all comes down to it, that is what matters most. In the hospital room beside my brother there was a man who had no visitors. He was awaiting his heart surgery and he had no company.

He has no hope of any face to greet him when he comes out. No hand to grasp except the medical staff.  No loving eyes that meet his, and no one to wipe his brow with a cool cloth. My brother felt so bad he said he might even go visit him afterwards.

Yes, I am extremely grateful these days. For people who love me, and for a loving God who gave me the best road map and the only one I will ever need.

His word and His love.