Day #5 and #6 Life is as test, a trust and temporary The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

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So tell me Sweet Sister, what is weighing on your heart today? A messy relationship in your family or at work? An Illness? A struggling or hurting family member?  Rick Warren says that “Life is a Test, Life is a Trust and Life is a temporary assignment” 

I wrote the poem Pieta’s Peace during a time when I grieved the loss of my brother Billy and my daughter struggled as well at college. When we grieve for ourselves or for a loved one who is struggling we have a choice to pass the test of trusting God and surrendering with open arms those people God has put in our lives for a short time.  

I couldn’t stop gazing at her hands. Carved from white marble, her hands did not tightly grip her dead Son, but instead gently cradled his limp body upon her lap. Her left hand lay open with its palm facing upward as her beautiful, serene face admired her lifeless son.

One of the highlights of our trip to Rome consisted of my husband and I touring St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica Catholic Church is one of the largest churches in the world as well as a masterpiece of architecture containing numerous chapels and altars lavishly decorated with renaissance paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. Such a large collection of beautiful art overwhelmed me, as I knew I could never take it all in within a single visit.     

Despite the numerous pieces of religious art on the ceiling, walls, and even the floors in the massive cathedral that holds the tomb of St. Peter, I felt drawn back to those marble hands. The hands were Mary’s in the masterpiece The Pieta by the world-renowned sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer Michelangelo.

The Pieta depicts the moment when Jesus was taken down from the cross and his mother, Mary, was able to hold him one last time. I stared in awe that a sculpture chiseled out of stone could mesmerize a crowd 1500 years later as we stood in silence taking in the heart-wrenching scene. When I had left our home for our trip, my heart felt heavy with concern over one of my children who was going through a rough patch, and this masterpiece seemed to specifically whisper to me through the ages.

After watching her son suffer and be crucified, Mary’s hands still rested open as Jesus lay on her lap. Meanwhile, my heart and hands were gripped tightly with fear and anxiety as I worried about our daughter who just recently started college. She did not seem to be thriving socially and wanted to transfer to a larger school that offered more classes in her major. She was attending the school where her father and I had met. A place filled with great memories, but where I initially struggled, too. During my own freshman year, I endured tough hallmate and professor situations and felt that I benefited from these refining challenges. I later thrived as I found like-minded friends and classes that I enjoyed.

So while I was on this trip, many questions continued to linger in my mind; “Should we make her stick it out and insist that she stay? Would this put her behind if she were to come home and/or transfer? Wouldn’t the best thing long-term be to make her stay and allow her to adapt in due time?

As I looked pensively at The Pieta, I felt as it contained a special message from above, so I decided to read up about Michelangelo and his timeless Pieta. I googled his name and learned that at early age of six, after losing his mother to a long period of illness, Michelangelo was then sent to stay with his uncle who was a stone cutter. After suffering such a tragic loss at a tender age, Michelangelo obviously knew the agony of grief. Perhaps, though, he also learned how God can reconcile loss as he began his career as an artist using the skills he learned at his uncle’s workshop.

The word “pieta” literally means “pity, compassion, and suffering.” Michelangelo wrote later, however, that he did not want his Pieta to represent death, but rather to show “the religious vision of abandonment.”  Abandonment. Yes, that is what those open hands are demonstrating.

I interpreted the scene as Mary trusting in God’s love and goodness and giving back to God the gift that was given to her so many years before. I wondered if the sculpture that took two years to complete was Michelangelo’s gift back to God. Maybe he learned as a young boy the secret of abandonment and found the serenity reflected in Mary’s face. Perhaps he wanted to share with others the peace found when one holds onto people and things loosely.

Later in our trip, I reflected on perseverance and remembered the times in my life when not giving up had actually become a detriment. When my children were younger, I wanted us to be a musical family so badly I insisted that me and all three children take piano lessons. I had visions of us all around the piano playing Christmas carols. Each night, I faithfully spent time playing songs over and over, hoping that I would be able to start a musical tradition for our family.  Playing with two hands did not come easily, yet I faithfully practiced for two years as I encouraged my children to do the same. I remember one day my piano teacher turning to me and asking, “Do you enjoy playing the piano?” I realized then that I no longer enjoyed it, and that I had hit a standstill in my progression. I asked myself what did I enjoy doing? My answer was writing poetry. I loved the satisfaction of creating a poem – spending hours mulling over each syllable and line, and the inevitable joy when my poem finally came together.

Why was I spending my time on what I struggled with instead of spending my time on what I enjoyed  doing? Why wasn’t I sharpening the gifts that God had given me instead of trying to force the gift of music he hadn’t given me? Then I asked myself: “Am I doing the same thing now to my daughter?”  It must not have been easy for her to ask to leave after one semester.  Did she need a fresh start and a new direction?  A redo?

So I took my hands out with palms up and pretended my daughter was in my arms and lifted them up to the hotel ceiling as I kneeled beside the bed. I released her to God and said, “I give her back to you. She is Yours.” I continued to pray this “prayer of abandonment” whenever an anxious thought gripped me. As my husband and I discussed options, I kept releasing my own expectations as we sought God’s will for her. As I handed over my daughter into His loving, strong arms, I felt peace. Peace as beautiful as Mary’s serene Pieta face as she calmly gazed upon her son.

My husband and I decided at the end of our trip to work on helping our daughter to withdraw so she could have a fresh start at a new school. She began anew at a closer, larger school that contained more classes that fit the major that she enjoyed. She now thrives in classes designed specifically for her desired major, as well as socially with the sorority she joined when she transferred. And I am trying to each day to hold my hands with palms open facing up and intentionally release any concerns up to God, trusting that He cares about every little detail.     On the entire six hour plane ride home from Italy I joyfully penned The Pieta’s Peace, my small gift presented back to God with open hands and a grateful heart.  

Birthday Reflections: 5 Ways to Help Ensure That the Best is Yet to Be

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Dear Sweet Sister:

Are you looking forward to your next birthday? Do you see aging as positive or negative? As we live in a culture that worships youth, we often tend to view aging as something to be dreaded. Some see a birthday as a reminder of lifetime milestones that have not been realized… marriage, children, or a life dream.  Others grieve the loss of their beauty, health and strength.  Anxiety concerning the future can choke the joy out of the best birthday plans.

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Is this moon waxing or waning? Answer at the end!

Indeed, as my 40th birthday grew closer, the poet in me began to ask the “Almighty poet and creator” some probing questions. On a serene summer evening, I remember looking up at the half-moon hanging in the velvet sky and teasingly asking, “Lord, am I now waxing or waning?” Of course, I knew my physical body was waning.  However, I yearned to hear that my soul would keep waxing (growing).  Somehow, we all need confirmation at times that, like a mature apple tree that bears more fruit than a “sapling,” our lives will continue to be productive and bear more lasting  fruit with each passing year.  

I invited a few sweet sisters to come join me for a beach birthday retreat and this stanza from the poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” penned by Robert Browning graced the invitation:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand who Saith
A Whole I planned, youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

Just as Jesus saved the best wine for the “middle to end ” of the Cana Wedding Feast, I believe the Lord desires to give us increasingly new gifts and opportunities to grow and bless those around us. I asked my sisters to bring instead of a store bought gift, a positive verse or quote concerning the topic of aging.  Amazingly, these Five nuggets together form a treasure chest of wisdom on how we all can help ensure God’s promise that our time left on earth can be our very best.

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#1 Don’t Look Back
My friend Cindy shared a story concerning the importance of not holding on to the past. The character Norma Desmond in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical Sunset Boulevard kept longing for her glory days as a film star. As a former silent film star she did not adapt when moving pictures began to include sound and her life ended in tragedy as she clung to her past. This example from a “Daily Bread” devotional reminds us to see our lives like a book, and thus we need to live each chapter at a time.  If we are looking back, we can’t be creating the next chapter of our lives. Yes sweet sister, you and I need to be careful not to let our past heartaches or negative people keep us from living in the next chapter of our lives. Similarly, during the wedding of Cana, confident Mary expected Jesus to perform a miracle and save the reception.  This first miracle would change her family forever as Jesus was thrust out into His public ministry. Mary was ready and willing for a new season in both their lives to begin. Do you look forward to God’s new season in your life with each birthday, confident and excited for His perfect gifts and plans ready to be opened?

  • Action:  Look up Jeremiah 29 :11-14.  Write out verse 12.

 

#2  Family First
A thought provoking quote from Thomas Jefferson was offered by my dear friend Beth.  Jefferson stated, “I find as I grow older that I love those most whom I loved first.” She went on to explain this could mean a better appreciation for all our parents did for us when we were children or an increased love and patience for our own children and loved ones.  Shouldn’t our inner circle of our family receive our best energy?  An apple tree that is strong enough to produce strong healthy limbs and fruit must first have strong roots.  So focus first on your family roots.  Do you, sister, see each passing year as a new opportunity to heal past rifts between family members? Let us ask God to give us mercy and understanding for those who have disappointed us and the grace to reconcile broken relationships. Peace can be the greatest gift you give yourself and your family.

  • Action: Call your parents on your birthday and wish them “Happy anniversary!” Or invite a sibling  or child out to lunch – if you are still alive there is still hope for stronger relationship.

 

#3  Remain in Him
Next, my cousin Laura reminded us that God’s grace is like the rhythmic waves of the ocean. Just as the waves continue to ebb and flow, God’s mercy is new every morning. She  encouraged us to spend time with God each day. Without water the apple tree will wither up and die;  just as we need to stay watered and regularly drink from the Word of God. So, to expand one of my favorite sayings, “The best is yet to be,”  we must add a preface to be accurate: “As you stay close to the Lord, the best is yet to be.” We have the responsibility to continue to make good choices every day. The most important choice is to seek out our creator and have fellowship with Him daily. I often imagine the Lord faithfully waiting to chat with me each morning. If I sleep in or miss our “morning date,” then I try to find a quiet moment later in the day.

  • Action: Find a special spot to place your bible and a journal, and pick a time that you plan to sneak away for time just with Jesus. Don’t stand Him up, He’ll be there waiting.

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#4  Fellowship with God’s Family
My friend Suzie attends daily mass most mornings and shared how beautiful the more mature members are that come to worship each day. Despite their physical ailments (waning), they joyfully come to be with God and with each other. Suzie exclaimed, “A woman in Love is beautiful!” So if we want to be beautiful in the Lord, my sister, we need to fellowship with other believers and receive God’s love and grace. Then, just as the moon reflects the sun’s light, we can in the same way reflect God’s love and beauty to those around us.

  • Action: Have you found a good place of fellowship? A small group bible study? We are to sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). There were times in my life that I had just one prayer partner and we used the phone to chat and pray. If you can’t find a small group of sisters, pray and seek out one sister.

 

#5  Make a List
Lastly, my sister Liese shared a list of gifts the Lord has already blessed me with in my first 40 years of life. Making a gratitude list has been a tool I have used often in my past.  Usually to gain perspective when I felt down, I would list 10 good things about my life in my journal. If a person in my life had angered or disappointed me, I would write down 10 good things about that person. Grateful people are positive people.  So instead of counting the candles, count your blessings my sister. For every year that you have had the privilege of existing on this earth, write down a gift that is in you or your life.  

  • Action: Tape your list to your mirror or steering wheel. Keep reminding yourself of all your many blessings. Tell the ones who made the cut on your list about your list.

Whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70,80, 90 or 100, my sister, the Lord has new plans to unfold and fresh gifts to be opened.

In short, in order for “the best is yet to be,” we need to not look back, but be ready to write a new chapter in the book of our lives. We should spend time and energy on our families, our relationships with God and within our Christian communities. When we physically write down our list of items to be thankful for, we maintain perspective and a joyful attitude.

happybirthdaytoyou

 

Moon answer: If you guessed waxing, you are correct. Hopefully your soul is waxing, too!