Joni's Corner

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Dear Sydney

cell July 2018 007

 

 

Dear Sydney,

This is what your precious mother said on her FB page:

[19 years ago God blessed us with a beautiful amazing daughter. Syd, you have brought so much life,joy,love & inspiration to so many people. We thank God each day for giving us a daughter to care for and to love.❤️
Although you are not here with us, we know you are in heaven~in God’s care enjoying eternal life. We know there will be a special celebration in heaven today.
We love and miss you dearly our sweet
angel 💙
Happy Birthday in Heaven!⭐️❤️
#themoonisround#livelikesyd]

 

I’m sure you have already seen it. I never had the wonderful privilege of meeting you this side of heaven. I came into your family’s life the day you became face to face with Jesus. Lives were shattered that day and I tried so hard to pick up the pieces for whomever I could but I knew, as they did, that no one could put those pieces back together. They would never be the same again. It was such a dark place at the time. Yet… yet there was a Light that shone in the midst of that darkness. A Light that pierced through that darkness. It was “your” light Sydney. I began to get to know you. There were so many wonderful things about you. I couldn’t believe how many beautiful lives you touched and were a part of in such deep ways. Your love for God, Family, Kyle, Friends, and just all people in general spoke volumes in the days to follow.

Sometimes what we Road Chaplains do is so hard and we see such tragedy and our understanding can get blurred in all the heartache. But then, days like March 1st happen. We just can’t see it at first when everything is so dark, but if we’ll reach out for the Hand of the only One who can see in those times, we begin to understand something. “Sometimes God allows that which He hates in order to accomplish that which He loves.” Joni Eareckson Tada said that. She is an amazing woman who is bound to a chair physically because of quadriplegia. Mind you, she is only bound physically because her giant spirit flies high in this life. But, then, you know this as well because you see the full picture now, don’t you? Anyway, that day I began to realize that some lives are a long enduring novel and others, well, sometimes others are a short but very powerful story. This is you Syd. ❤

So, how is God accomplishing that which He loves by taking you home? Many people have seen it all over the place Sydney. The lives of some you never even met have been changed by your story. Even me, I am changed by you Syd. I’m not the same. I hope, maybe, I’m better. I try to live fuller, feel deeper, laugh harder, love more. I try to be a little more kind than necessary.

You loved Jesus and that made all the difference! And some, who never considered Him before, are taking a much closer look. Then, there are others who have embraced Him because of you, Syd. Though you are no longer here physically, you are still winning souls. Isn’t that beautiful?  Isn’t that what it’s all about? Loving to the uttermost and from the uttermost.

How I have loved getting to know your Mom & Dad. Kristi and Phil are two incredible people. I can see how, when putting them together, they made you and Casey. You two are the best of them together! It’s been hard for them. I know you know that. You probably see them in those night seasons when their hearts are longing so deeply to just see you one more time- and it’s so intense, in those dark, quiet moments. I imagine that you probably have some pretty supernatural hearing and I’d be willing to bet that you can even hear their hearts crack in those moments. Aren’t you so thankful that Jesus is there to bottle those tears? That Jesus will not waste their pain but use it to the good? That He gives beauty for ashes? He is already doing it even now. Can you believe how much they have reached out and helped others all because of you and in the name of Jesus?

I just love Kyle, even like a son. He’s having a hard time, but you know this too. I know he will be okay because he reaches for truth and he is getting to know Jesus in a deeper way. What an upstanding young man he is. I can see why you chose to fall in love with him. I so wish I could make the pain go away. However, I am convinced that God intends to use it to mold him into the most awesome of men. He has a story to tell and with his integrity, grit, and godly character, I believe, eventually, he will tell it with incredible substance.

Many people are praying earnestly for them, Sydney, especially with the holidays that are coming. This is all so hard and some people don’t like talking about the hard stuff. But I deal with the hard stuff daily, so I’m not afraid to speak to it or about it. There is healing in that.

I will close with this loved passage from Revelation 21:4, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the order of things has passed away.

One of the reasons I wanted to write is because of something I learned from my daughter in law. She lost her dear brother at a much too young age and she found that writing to him helped her in the healing process. Though I did not meet you here, I have so much love in my heart for your life. Many are grieving your absence here, including me. Yet, we rejoice, just as Kristi said, that you are in eternity and the loving care of Jesus. Also, today is your Birthday. You aren’t another year older because you are forever beautiful 18 now. I wanted to recognize the day and I wanted to thank you for living life fully and full of love. I look forward to meeting you in heaven, Syd. Could you do me a favor? Could you thank Jesus for being so close to the brokenhearted? And, thank Him for comforting those that mourn. But, mostly, thank Him for loving so completely and unconditionally. ❤

#lovewinsintheend #themoonisround #fosterlove #livelikesyd

Prayful & Grateful For Your Life,

Joni Scott, Road Chaplain BCSO


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NO DIVIDE!

When you look at this photo, what do you see? I see a friendship. Though a small band of brothers, I see two brave men destroying a large prejudice and setting an example of which this country would do well to emulate.

This is my husband, Clay, and his dear friend, Anselm. They call each other, “my light-skinned brother and my brown-skinned brother.” Their friendship extends back over 25 years.

Do you know how Clay and Anselm became friends? They started talking to one another and they started listening to one another. They found they shared many of the same convictions and passions like, being good citizens, husbands, devoted fathers. They believed in good old fashioned ideals like, respecting each other and acting like gentlemen. Their friendship never had a racial divide. They didn’t take a first look at one another and think, “We are too different. We are not the same. We will never see eye to eye.” You know why? Because they never saw skin color, ethnicity, or cultural divide. All they saw was a man standing in front of them. SO they began to converse in order to find out what sort of man that was. Nothing else. The first time they met they talked for hours getting to know one another. They connected in their shared passions of faith, patriotism, work ethic and family values. A friendship was birthed that night in those late hours. A friendship that has endured time, distance, and societal divides (as a matter of fact, social divide never, then nor now, found its way into the equation of their friendship). Anselm is one of the few men that my husband will spend time on the phone with simply to just chat. As a matter of fact, my husband has mentioned before that Anselm is more blue-blooded American than most Caucasian men he knows that were born in this country.

What’s interesting about their friendship is that should they ever not see eye to eye on a matter, they will listen to the other with an ear of respect and hear what the other has to say. Imagine that! They value the opinion of the other even when it disagrees with their own.  The old gentleman’s creed of agreeing to disagree has not been lost on their friendship.

These two men didn’t meet because they were neighbors, worked together, attended social functions together, or shared a church membership. They met because I first met Anselm’s family in a parking lot in Baltimore and we started chatting. I had no preconceived idea of who they were or what they were like. My first impression of them was not even formed until after talking for several minutes. You know why? Because shouldn’t you get to know someone on the inside before you ever base an opinion of what they are like on the outside? After my short encounter with this family, I fell in love with them. Why? Because they were kind. They were polite. I could tell right off that they valued me as a fellow human. We didn’t even know one another but we honored, respected, and valued each other. And, that, my friends, was enough of a foundation to build a whole friendship upon. So I found out that they would soon be passing through Indiana on their way to Michigan to see family and I insisted that they stop over at our place. And there in that plan was birthed a life-long family friendship that would extend to the next generation and hopefully continue on from there.

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Anselm & Clay’s sons, Joshua Salins & Reid Scott (Reid’s wedding day 2013) They have been friends for, you guessed it, over 25 years.

I know of a man who would have fit right into this two-some’s circle. He is actually one of my early American heroes. Booker T. Washington. His way of thinking, his ethics, his moral compass- they would have meshed right into Clay and Anselm’s way of doing and believing. Mr. Washington was the foremost black educator of the 19th and early 20th century. He was born a slave but earned his freedom and educated himself (no small endeavor during that time in our country’s history). [Side note:  If it were up to me, his book, “Up From Slavery” would be required reading for every middle-school student and every immigrant desiring to become a U.S. citizen.]
Booker T. was a man of utmost integrity, fortitude, and wisdom. He wasn’t afraid of hard work, bigotry, or racial divides and that is saying a lot for a man of his era. As a matter of fact he believed that racial prejudices were mere obstacles in life to be overcome that made one a better man. Washington had great wisdom and insight into what brings down cultural divides. He did not judge a man by anything outward, especially color. Rather, he judged a man by who he was on the inside and how he performed on the outside. I truly believe that he would have loathed our current racially divided society. He was about fellow man helping fellow man. Indeed, he said, “In order to be successful in any undertaking, I think the main thing is for one to grow to the point where he completely forgets himself; that is, to lose himself in a great cause. In proportion as one loses himself in this way, in the same degree does he get the highest happiness out of his work.” Booker T. Washington believed great men cultivate love and only little men cherish a spirit of hatred.

Yes, I can envision a third chair in that first photograph with a man of noble character sitting there next to the other two. Black, brown, and white? No sir. A band of brothers that share a common color of red flowing through their veins. And they share a common heartbeat for what is right, for what is good, and for what is true. I can just hear them discussing truth and goodness. Not only would they discuss it but they would come up with ideas for what they could do to bring it about in their corners of the world. This is what Mr. Washington did and this is what Anselm does in Pickens, South Carolina and it is what Clay does in Kirklin, Indiana.

We would do well to take a closer look at this photograph, a closer look at this friendship. I do not see a divide. I see a coming together.  It is a friendship worthy of emulation.

 


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The Voice of A Quiet Strength (An Unsung Hero)

So I have this incredible friend, who shall remain nameless because… well, that’s just how she rolls. It’s never about her- it’s always about whomever she is with. She’s very “others” minded. There are some friends that are forever.  She’s my “lifer.” Yeah – we’ve been friends since seventh grade. We use to skip school together. Yep, I would play hooky so mom would call in for me and then I would pretend to be my friend’s mom and call in for her. She’d leave her house for school but instead of catching the bus, she’d walk to my house and climb up the back to the window where I would let her in. If by chance my mom ever ventured upstairs (mom & dad’s bedroom was downstairs) I’d hide my friend in the closet. We would just hang out in my bedroom all day. Two crazy young girls thinking we really got away with something. Fun times.

She has always been an inspiration to me because she’s a go-getter, an optimist, and a life-giver (You know the kind: instead of “sucking’ life out of you, they refresh, encourage, and rejuvenate you). Just to hear the mention of her name makes me smile.

Last summer we were both attending the grand opening of a local sporting goods store. The store is located very near her home but is a bit of a trek for my husband and I. Clay and I were going out to dinner afterward. As luck would have it (and you should know by now I happen to never believe in luck or coincidence), one of my brand new first time worn sandals literally broke apart. I was shoeless. What does my friend do but steps out of her own sandals and hands them to me informing me she can zip home and get another pair. She says I am too far from home and she insists this is the answer to my dilemma. So, my “lifer” gives me the shoes off her very feet and leaves the store bare-footed. And – she is delighted because her sandals happen to match the outfit that I am wearing. This is oh so typical and I love her for it! And do you know the most amazing part of this particular story?  I got to “walk in her shoes!” I WALKED IN HER SHOES!!! Can you believe it? This so humbled me (you’ll see why)! What a privilege! What an honor! I love that Gal! ❤

We have so much in common (even our shoe size J), from the superficial (we LOVE fashion, yummy food, yoga, and a good glass of Chardonnay) to the deep and meaningful (we LOVE Jesus, our husbands, precious relationships, and kindness). We have never not liked being together. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention how we love to laugh! Her laughter is contagious and healing and oh so fun! Ours is one of those lifelong friendships that make your journey on this globe a little richer and more meaningful.

I still remember the moment that I heard the cancer was back. It was like being sucker punched right in the gut. As soon as I could get alone, I hit my knees! “Please NO Jesus! Please Please NO! Not her! We need the “hers” in this world!”

Then I find out it didn’t just come back yesterday, but has been back for several months. As a matter of fact, she found out during the Christmas season. The fact that it fell during the time of her Savior’s birth brought comfort to her. Life Saving Comfort! But it also brought pain. She cares so much for others and she didn’t want her family’s holidays to be dampened with bad news. Told ya, that’s just how she rolls. She is quietly under-going treatment. And I thought, “This is so her! She’s always thinking of others. She’s never about her. Can’t believe I didn’t know… well, yeah, I can. God, I love this gal! (Have I mentioned that?)”

She has let me accompany her to the bi-monthly appointments. You’d think we were there for a skin rash prescription. Her courage and character AMAZE me! Her Oncologist loves her! Literally, he walks into the room and shouts, “There’s my favorite gal!” Though he towers over her tiny frame, he scoops her up into a big bear hug. Everybody loves her. She is on a new kind of chemo that is oral and she hasn’t lost her hair (I am eternally thankful to God for this!!! No port, no sitting and waiting while the bag slowly empties into the vein. It is a precious gift from heaven and modern medicine.). She has beautiful hair by the way.

And this brings me to one of the reasons for this post. For those of you who are prayer warriors, you don’t need a name because not only does Jesus know her intimately, but knows the exact number of hairs on that beautiful head of hair. And the Holy Spirit knows just the words that need to be said – so lean on Him. Let’s storm heaven’s door okay? Let’s overload those celestial circuits and really move some mountains.

You know I’m laid up for a while after injuring my ankle.  Well, she comes to the house, brings food, brings gifts, helps with whatever I need, and files and paints my toes so they look beautiful. She stays for the day and it’s not until her last hour that she even mentions her new meds to me. She spells them for me (she knows I’ll search that web and find out everything one can find out about them). After she leaves, and my love tank is overflowing, that’s when I knew I wanted to write about her.

It is one thing to desire good character or hope that we respond courageously when facing our own fiery furnace. We read about courage, pray for it, study it in our Bible studies, but to be thrown into that furnace is the only real way we can ever discover the strength of that character. She is right in the middle of her furnace. And trust me, the heat has been turned up. And you know how she responds? Well, it’s much like one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies.

The Count of Monte Cristo (A must see if you have not already seen it!)

Let me set up the scene for you… The Count is giving a birthday toast to young handsome Albert, who a short time earlier was kidnapped in the catacombs and the captors threatened to cut off his finger and send it home to his father. Albert stuck out his chin and said to them, “Do your worst!” His bravery was unsurpassed.

Here is the toast (this is so good but it won’t be near as good if you haven’t seen the movie- you gotta see it J):

When I arrived in the catacombs I watched as the criminals who tied Albert to a wall, threatened to cut off his finger and send it to his father as evidence of his abduction. The boy’s reply to all this was, “Do your worst.” (Then, turning to Albert) Life is a storm my young friend, you will bask in the sunlight one moment and be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into the storm and shout as you did in Rome, “Do your worst! for I will do mine.” Then the Fates will know you as we know you, as Albert Mondego, the man.

This is her! This is my friend! She has looked cancer right in the face and shouted, “Do your worst! And I’ll do mine!” She is an unsung hero that cannot be destroyed by the rocks because well – when you smash a beautiful vessel against the rocks, the light inside pours out for all to see! That’s how much character she has. That’s why her name isn’t in this post. She wants no attention drawn to herself. (Have I mentioned what an inspiration she is to me and how much I love her? Yes? Well, it’s worth repeating. J )

But some of us know and heaven knows and is recording every bit of the story… every one of her hidden tears. I think the angels catch them in a bottle on those quiet nights that she lets herself think about it and the tears come. I think that bottle is placed in a special room in heaven that is labeled, “Valiant One.” In the face of fear there is no shrinking back for her.

God tells us in His Word that “When we are weak, He is strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Sometimes He uses others to be the strength for the weak. I want to be that strength for her. However, I find that she is that strength for me! I want to be that “sister born for adversity” (to help in time of need- Proverbs 17:17). However, I find that her courage helps me in my time of need… the need to be a better person in all aspects of life.

You see, this is what the “hers” in this life do for us. They teach us what to value. They spur in us a desire to be like them. They point out what really matters in life. They keep it real. They mirror the very nature of Christ for us. There is a beautiful strength in that. A quiet strength. So quiet it is deafening in its ability to speak to us. We would do well to stop and listen.


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O The Deep Deep Love

12079696_10153392944178813_8171054273210166952_nIt is a beautiful and holy thing to see the Lord’s deep work in the heart of an individual. And to see how ALL things are for our sake and how they work, not only to our good, but to the precious good of others in our lives.

Here I am laid up for six weeks with my ankle. I am sleeping in the far bedroom until my ankle is stable enough that I can join my husband again without fear of kicks and thumps in the night. So I call it the “West Wing” as it is the most western bedroom.  Each night my dear husband asks if I am ready for bed and then asks what I need. I usually tell him I could use my water bottle filled, my Tylenol, and maybe a tissue. He procures said items, then comes and gets me after I change, wash my face and brush my teeth. He walks me down the hall. Without fail as I enter the room, the lamp by the bed is on, there is my water bottle, pills, and a tissue. And without fail the bed is always pulled down- like they do in hotels. He helps me into bed, covers me up, and asks if I need anything else. “No thank you- I am good.” Then he lays his hands on my ankle and leg- ever so carefully and prays for my healing. He also prays for our children, future grand-children (should we be blessed with them J ), a friend with cancer, a family in grief, and current needs. He never forgets to thank the Lord for me and for His watching over us. Then he leans over kisses me good-night and tells me he’ll see me in the morning. This particular night as he walks out of the room- I am reduced to tears. Beautiful tears expressing how grateful I am for this man. Tears that express how deeply I love him… and am loved by him.

Being in love is a wonderful thing and we see it played out beautifully in our newly married children’s lives. However, loving someone over a lifetime- that is something altogether different and deep. And there is only one way for that “in love” to become the love that comes from that deep place; it must be tested and tried. To find the true strength of anything or anyone- there must be a time of testing. You see- the absolute only way a lump of coal can ever become the diamond is with time – pressure – and heat.  I love this man. I am safe with this man. He loves me. He knows me. He has seen the worst and loves me the best. We’ve got history!- The good, the bad, and the ugly. We are better together than apart and we make a complete person. Already in this season of injury and recovery I have seen such incredible blessings and it overwhelms me.

And this brings me to the mystery of God’s economy. How very different it is from man’s. We long for uninterrupted plans, we kick against unscheduled detours, we want things to go along with a modest helping of comfort and predictability. And yet… it seems to be the interrupted, unscheduled, uncomfortable, and unwelcomed events that truly reveal who we are and what we are made of. Not only that but the testing of our very character seems to place a greater quality of substance into our souls. You see, I have experienced firsthand the most caring and nurturing side of my husband that I may have never known even existed outside of this unfortunate accident. Which leads me to question whether it is really unfortunate or even accidental. I have seen God bring the most beautiful out of what might seem labeled misfortune.

As mere mortals we long for life to go according to plan. We always pray over, hope for and take caution against accidents and mishaps. And rightly so- as what parent prays for hardship for their child?

YET! GOD!

In His infinite wisdom and gracious sovereignty continues to bless me abundantly inside this ankle break, surgery, and recovery. THIS! This is why I have learned in my prayer life to always conclude with the same plea- even to mine own or others apparent hurt… don’t get me wrong- I will still pray for safety- I cannot help that- it is my mortality BUT I will always and forever attach this prayer, “Never the less Father, not my will but Thine be done!”  Why? Because He is the Almighty who always give beauty for ashes!

Well, it is late. Soon, my husband will come into the room and ask me if I’m ready for bed and if I need anything. Truthfully, tonight, I’m not even sleepy- but he won’t know that because when he asks I will say, “Sure Honey. Do I get to be tucked in again?” And he will follow his same routine that he has done for me for the last several weeks. And even if I’m not sleepy- even if I lay in bed with my eyes wide open after the lights have been turned out- I will smile- with a tear in my eye and I’ll think about how much I am loved… deeply deeply loved.


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I Loved Her

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Janet K Silver 1945-2015

 

10 years ago I met Janet Silver. I was doing some volunteering at a small nursing home in Lebanon (Essex). Long story short, shortly after meeting Janet and her twin sister, Janice- Janice died. I found out that Janet had no immediate family- no one really. There was a guardian appointed by the state but he never had contact with her except with legal matters through mail correspondence. Basically- I snatched her up. ❤ I became her legal guardian. I told her I didn’t have a living mother and she had no children, so we would just adopt each other. We had lots of walks in the park where we would eat our pickle pimento loaf lunchmeat sandwiches (I know- ick- but we loved them). We made countless trips to Walmart. Trips to the Vet to have her dove, Ophelia’s med checked. She gathered with us in our home on many holidays. And then we took trips to her family’s headstone in Washington Memorial Park. She loved White Castle burgers, Big Macs and Steak n Shake milkshakes. She had such a sweet tooth for yummy candies. She was a favorite as the nursing home. She mothered everybody. She was so thoughtful of others!!! She absolutely LOVED animals. I think she owned every Disney movie made that had animals in it.  When she would talk about dying and the top she wanted to be buried in, I told her she would not die alone and I would take care of all of it. I had just visited her last Thursday and taken her some White Castle burgers (NOTE! Jennifer Perry- who is part ANGEL- was with me and had the privilege of meeting Janet and Janet meeting her ❤ ). Monday I received an early call that she had taken ill and was in bed (note- Janet was NEVER “in bed”). I sat beside my sweet Janet most of that day. I sang hymns, read Psalms, prayed, and just talked to her. Residents and staff would make their way in to say good-bye. Especially, Keith- Janet was his table buddy. It sure was difficult for him to say good-bye. 😥  She was loved by all at that nursing home! At 4:30 in the afternoon Janet peacefully breathed her last breath upon this earth. She knew where she was going. She had accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior when she was a girl.

Come to find out yesterday at Shirley Brothers Mortuary- there had been a mistake and her policy did not include a casket and other necessities. Basically- it was about $3000 short of funds. I prayed! I called Clay and he prayed! I told God, “Father, I know what I have done for Janet is a kindness (even though I was the one who reaped) and I don’t believe we have to pay for kindnesses. Take care of me Father. Take care of Janet’s funeral Father! You love us both! Amen” Basically- Shirley Brothers switched up some numbers, found a beautiful, no longer sold, casket in the warehouse. When it was all said and done- the balance due was -0-! (Alan Dunbar- you are an angel)

Tomorrow at Shirley Brothers on East Washington Street on the 2:00 hour, there will be a memorial service. It will be a very small attendance. Some distance relatives of hers are coming. My precious niece, Catrina North, is coming to bless me (AND IT DOES) as she didn’t really know Janet. I am giving a eulogy because I want to honor Janet’s memory. She was this little known woman who spent the last 20 something years of her life in a small nursing home. She didn’t travel the world, find a cure for cancer, found an orphanage, or make headlines in the news. However, she did bless everyone in her small corner of the world. Her worth is far above gold, silver, or precious jewels. And tomorrow… there will be a middle-aged gal who will weep for her. Who will miss her. Who loved her… I really really loved her.

What will I take away from knowing Janet Silver? There is no “small” life. There are no “small” acts of kindnesses. They are each and all precious. They can be life-changing. Do not forsake the day of small things- for in the small things there is great love. I have a picture that Janet painted for me- it is of a male and female Cardinals. Anyone who knows me at all- knows what red-birds mean to me. It is my priceless piece of artwork. It is worth more to me than the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre in France.

So- in this precious Christmas season- don’t take for granted the smile from the stranger you meet in the store… the greeting from the cashier at the checkout line… your mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, child, or friend. There is no small life! Love them… really really love them.


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I Survived Suicide

It was a long time before I could speak the words, “My precious mother committed suicide.” She had suffered from depression periodically and we tried to be a support system for her. We made ourselves available and she promised us she would never go out like that. Even though the evidence was all around her body, I was in denial until the toxicology report was complete. When it finally came back and I held the piece of paper in my hands, “…fatal overdose of the narcotic Oxycontin…” I crumbled to the floor and bawled (This was the second time I hit the floor. The first time was a few months before when dad called and said, “Joni, I think your mother is dead.”) It has been ten years and when I typed, “My precious mother….” in the above first sentence I started to weep uncontrollably. Yeah, it still surprises me how raw it can suddenly feel all over again. It’s very difficult to explain how suicide affects the loved ones who survive. The family and friends that never expected their beloved to go out that way. But mostly, the intense guilt you feel because you somehow missed that it had gotten that bad, that they were that close and you didn’t know it. My beautiful mother was desperate and lonely and saw no other way out… and I didn’t know it. I didn’t pick up on that. And you play it over and over in your head. And you replay every recent visit, phone call, facial expression… you grasp for a clue, any clue that could have red flagged the situation. You even begin to make some up, which heaps more guilt onto your already weighted down heart.

Six weeks after mom died, my dad breathed his last breath on this earth and I was sitting right beside him, holding his hand. In the ensuing days I could talk about dad… his bravery, his nobility, his gentleness- clear up until the end. I did the eulogy at dad’s funeral. I couldn’t even get up and say one word at mom’s funeral. With all of dad’s courage, I found myself unable talk about mom. My dad waged war with cancer and battled it with great integrity. I felt mom just gave up and checked out. I had no idea the toll anger and unforgiveness would take on my body, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

It was a dear friend in my life who picked up on my unresolved inability to accept mom’s death or forgive her for it. I will be forever indebted to Peggy Mindrebo for being willing to step into my hurting world and walk beside me through this issue. And let me mention here that she was dealing with her own grief at the time. It was through her love, phenomenal counseling, and encouragement that I came out the other side, not only well, healed, and resolved but actually a better person. A person with a new understanding of suicide and its effects on a soul and the ability to identify and feel compassion for others going through the same ordeal. I was a textbook case of the five stages of grief without even realizing it. The first being denial. I absolutely refused to believe that my mother would commit suicide until I held that report in my hands. The second stage- anger- would have destroyed me had it not been for Peggy. She was the angel that God sent my way… for such a time as this (Bible, Esther 4:14). Peggy and I decided that I needed to write mom a letter. This may sound like an odd thing to do but I cannot begin to express how healing this was for me. But the recovery certainly didn’t come easy or quick. I put off writing that letter several times and when I did start, I must have started over a dozen times. This is where the third and fourth stage of grief came in. Bargaining and depression! I bargained and excused a million reasons for why I wouldn’t, couldn’t, or just didn’t want to talk to mom. Then- when I finally started to talk, I couldn’t stop crying and then the depression set in. I started playing the “what if” game all over again. I have to interject here and say- in all of this- three things held me together. The love and support of an amazing husband, the intimacy I shared in my prayer life with Christ and finally but most important, the Word of God. If I have gained any kind of wisdom in this life at all, it is a direct result of the plethora of truth in the Holy Scriptures. In that Book are beautiful plain, clear truths for the taking and hidden ones for the treasure hunters. And it was these very truths that walked me through to the last stage… acceptance. But for me, that meant apologies and forgiveness. And this is basically how I was able to finally write that letter. Four pieces of tear-stained paper that pretty much said, “I forgive you. Do you forgive me? I love you and I know you loved me.”

On a beautiful sunny afternoon, Peggy and I traveled to the Carmel Cemetery and up to the headstone at my mother’s grave. I knelt down, lifted the sod with a small shovel and placed my sealed letter there. Peggy prayed with me. I cried. And then we left. Within hours I felt the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. All the anger, all the unanswered questions, all the confusion faded into a beautiful memory of my precious mother. I still don’t know what caused her to sink that low. I do know of several contributing factors but some questions will never be answered. But this is what I hold onto. My mom was a beautiful woman who overcame many struggles in her life. When the going would get tough she stepped up to the plate. When our biological father left her for another woman, she picked up the pieces and taught the four of us kids how to keep that stiff upper lip and even find joy. When the debt collectors came and took everything (they could do that in the 60’s), she told us we were going to have a Chinese party and eat on the floor that night. When our uninsured home burnt to the ground in 1970, she grabbed us up into her arms and said, “We have all we need right here.” The greatest thing that she ever taught me and my three siblings was compassion. And the greatest thing she gave us was Jesus. When I think of her now- there is no shame, there is no guilt, there is only love. I have faith in all that she taught me. I have hope that I will one day see her again. I have all the memories of her undying love… and the greatest of these… is love!


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THE BEAUTIFUL

Have you ever had one of those incredible encounters? You know, the kind that there is absolutely no denying that it was a “God” moment. Even more than a moment, a whole visitation! And I got to be a part of it! It happened earlier today and I’m still up in the clouds about it.

So here’s what happened:  After yoga this morning, I was changing in the locker-room.  I just happened to glance up when at the other end of the room I watched a gal remove her top to reveal a bare chest. Not just a naked chest, please understand, but a “bare” one… double mastectomy. Her change was quick and she promptly put on her work-out top. But where her breasts should have been were two small lumps, each with a long scar through the middle.  And it struck me! I mean it really struck me! Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “How awful.” NO! That is not what gripped me and this is how I knew it was a God thing. I was struck by the beauty of her chest! And this is also when I knew that I was experiencing one of life’s miracles. It’s when we as mere mortals, fallen creatures, desperately wicked and just plain ‘ol sinners- we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually share a thought with The Almighty Creator! Now that’s a miracle. To high of a thing for my pea brain to try to comprehend and yet, it happened! My Heavenly Father put His Thought into my little brain!! He showed me what He thought about it. How it looked through His eyes and it elicited such deep emotion. That’s when I thought- I should tell her. Too many times God will give us a thought but we chicken out on acting upon it.  Yes- it’s a risk. But if we as Christians are not willing to be Jesus with skin on to the world, then why do we even call ourselves believers. I always pray that I won’t chicken out. . I’ve chickened out too many times in the past- I must be getting braver in my old age. Yay! Besides, I look at it this way: it’s HIS reputation that is at stake and He always comes through.  Love will always take the risk. I could not help myself but made my way through the room and stopped beside her. Now, I have seen her many times at this yoga studio. I placed my hand gently on her arm to get her attention. Then I said to her, “All this time and I have never seen your chest. I just saw it for the first time.”

She responded, “Oh… yeah, that.”

“I have to tell you. It is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I was struck by its beauty.”

“What? Oh my gosh- that is so kind of you!”

“No really, it’s beautiful! The feeling I felt is much like when I stared at my uncle’s Purple Heart medal.”

“Oh my gosh, really? I can’t believe you are telling me this. Did you know about my surgery last week?”

“No, I don’t know any of your history.”

“I was supposed to have surgery… to correct these, but I have too many health issues and they couldn’t do it.”

“Really.? I had no idea. I think God wants you to hear this.” (This is when I felt such a confirmation- IN A YOGA STUDIO NO LESS!!- that she is a believer. So I asked and she is! And she said she is in a great Bible study group.) So I said, “Then you have every provision from Christ to be able to understand what I am saying to you. YOUR CHEST IS BEAUTIFUL! The world and our culture have it wrong.” (And I pulled my face tight- you know- plastic surgery), “They think this is beautiful?? No- this (pointing to her chest) is beautiful. It is the deep things, the sublime that are beautiful. It tells a story of courage, fortitude, hope, and survival.”

She couldn’t get over that I was telling her all this. She must have hugged me no less than three or four times.  She said that she would be pondering what I said for a long while. She also thanked me and thanked me for telling her. She informed me that she really didn’t think “they” were very pretty but she loved what I had said.

I thought about that. I never told her they were “pretty.” I said they were “beautiful.” You can put on a fancy dress and look “pretty.” You can have a nip and tuck of the chin and look “pretty.” But beautiful? Well, that can’t be bought, fabricated, counterfeited or faked. It is something much deeper, much richer, real. I think the angels in heaven look at her chest and marvel at its beauty. Do you know how the Bible defines beautiful? The hidden person of the heart. (1 Peter 3:4).

You see, for my yoga gal, her beautiful chest came at a great cost. Many times the beautiful is very costly. In her journey to attain that chest, she has endured pain that taught her fortitude. She has been acquainted with fear and learned to overcome it with hope. She has faced the unspeakable with undaunted courage.  I see her often at the studio and I am so inspired by her life. She has always worn a smile and been very upbeat. And all the while she covers a chest that bears the scars (the beautiful scars) of every woman’s deepest dread. And I have never heard her speak a word of it or draw any attention to herself. And that chest? Well it is much like my uncle’s Purple Heart. It is awarded to one deserving of great honor. One who has overcome. Who has sacrificed. A hero. She’s now my hero. She’s every woman’s hero. And that is beautiful.


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His Banner Over Me Is Love

 So in my daily reading I had come to the book of Song of Solomon. To be honest, this is not one of my favorite books. As I thought on that I realized, I am missing something here. And I cried out to my Lover, “Why Lord? What am I missing? Please open up Your Holy Word to me!”

I am only in chapter two but it has overwhelmed me. Seriously! Even as I type I can weep at the thought of it. Okay- so it says in chapter 2 at the end of verse 13, “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away.” Then at the end of verse 14, “…let Me see your face, let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”

Now, I try to read the Bible daily but my time alone to really have a devotional has been so sparingly of late. I have gotten very busy with wedding details and such. This has caused a great deal of guilt on my part. It is human nature for us to beat ourselves up, isn’t it? Yet, our Father, in His Word, tells us not to do this. He tells us there is therefore no more condemnation (Romans 8:1). Is my reasoning to have a devotional time simply to do away with guilt? Simply to cross it off my list and say, “There, I have been a good Christian today?” What motivates me to do it in the first place? Here is what the Spirit showed me… He longs to see my face! To hear my voice! He has so much love, kindness, grace and mercy that He is ready to shower upon me. Why do we tuck away in our heads this image of Him being a Brute?!?! A hard taskmaster? This is NOT who He is.

When you have someone who is so kind to you and who loves you dearly and you just get to busy to bother with them- doesn’t it hurt your heart to think of it? It caused me to RUN to Him. To cast aside guilt, performance, and introspection. I just wanted to be with my Abba! I just wanted to yield under His Banner of Love (Song of Solomon 2:4). Don’t we see? He draws us with chords of love (Hosea 11:4)! Not guilt. Not expectations. Not standards. LOVE! Pure, beautiful, unmerited, unlimited LOVE! This takes it all off of us and anything we “think” we can do to earn it.

This life we live is a very intricate tapestry. Why do we continually look at it from our perspective under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1)? He longs to lift our eyes up to the Hills (Psalm 121:1) so that we might see the tapestry from His vantage point… the proper vantage point. He wants us to see the completed picture! Not a bunch of threads and knots. Yeah, they may look colorful but they make no sense. He wants to teach us how and what to think about ourselves. He wants us to see the beautiful completed picture that we truly are in Him… the proper side of the tapestry.

I am convinced that if we can see the Father for who He really is and let Christ and the Holy Spirit show us who we really are and get all this guilt and introspection out of the way, we could conquer the world! No matter what anyone tried to project on us or what they thought of us, we could say, “I don’t know about that. I just know that He adores me! He loves me with an everlasting love.”

It’s like the blind man who was healed of his blindness (John 9). He was brought before the Pharisees and they wanted to analyze it and point fingers at when and how it was done. The second time they summoned the man who was blind they were complaining because this happened on the Sabbath. How could this Jesus be good, He didn’t observe the Sabbath? I LOVE the blind man’s response, “I don’t know about that. All I know is that I was blind and now I see.” It was the Pharisees that were truly blind. They were so occupied with performance that they missed entirely that a man had been healed! We get so occupied with our walk with God that we miss entirely His love for us. We need only rest under His great banner of love! We need to take our eyes off ourselves and onto Him.

As far as performance? He says that He’ll perform in us what He expects out of us (Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:24). Think about the little toddler. There is so much that he will need to learn. Is he all wrapped up in introspection about that? No. Why? Because he lives in wonder of his world and he simply basks in the love of his mother and father. He doesn’t perform for it or think he has to earn it. He simply soaks it up like a dry sponge. And his parents delight in showering him with their love. If your earthly father knows how to give you good gifts, how much more your  Father  in heaven desires to give you good gifts (Matthew 7:11). The love that toddler feels gives him peace and confidence (and he’s not even aware of that- we are!) that enables him to eventually do all that is needful for himself. He will learn to walk properly, talk properly, etc. It will come as he grows. It is the same with our walk with God. As Jesus increases in us, we will have all that we need for each season of life. We need only trust and rest in the Father.

Even Jesus in His sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) asked us why we worry so much about things. He was trying to tell us to simply seek Him. Seek the Kingdom- for in it, all else is provided. We will be taken care of. This is amazing. What a place of rest. What a place of – “Ok, I’m taking a deep breath and relaxing about all of it. God has it under control. I’m just going to bask in His love for me.” And you know what that does? It begins to transform us. And after a while we stop being introspective. We stop being so occupied with our lives and we can begin to look outward. And you know what this does? It turns us into “others minded” people. We become aware of the needs of others. And then God uses us in their lives to help set them free the way we got set free. I’M LOVIN’ THIS!! This is how to live life carefree, relaxed, and full of joy.

          So- to sum it up? Keep the main thing the main thing. Let’s stop worrying about all the details. And what is the main thing? Easy… “I don’t know about all that. I just know that He loves me! He really really loves me! And He’s got it under control.” Well, that’s all. I’m going to go have a cappuccino and watch the birds at my bird feeder for a few moments. Life is good… no matter what… because I am loved and I know how to love.photo (1)


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A TIME TO MOURN

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No, no one has died… well, there is no body to place in a fancy casket. Since I was old enough to pick up a pen, I have been writing. Diaries, journals, letters, even little notes. If you know me at all, you already know this. And, if you know me, you might be one of the many that have encouraged me to, “Please publish!”  For the last twenty years, these writings have been on the computer. I bore my soul over those keyboards. I was careful to back up hundreds of passionate renderings, including three chapters of a children’s book. When I purchased a new computer, I carefully transferred the documents and then backed them up on an external hard-drive. Last year, that computer crashed, taking with it, “Joni.” But I had the back-up, right? It seems the back-up was corrupted. I even had the files sent to the National Defense Department to have them professionally retrieved. A very expensive endeavor if they are successful.  They could not. They are gone.

I flash back to February 12th, 1970: I am 10 years old, standing on the cold ground. I watch our home, completely engulfed, burn to the ground. I stand there. How does one run home to cry when home is an ash-heap before them?  I feel sucker-punched, dumb-founded and numb, all at the same time. It was this long since forgotten pain sensation that came rushing back as I received the news, “They were unsuccessful in retrieving the files.” That’s what was said, but what I heard was, “Sorry, you’ve been erased!”

Life has been my classroom, God is my teacher. With each lesson learned, I wrote. The old man sails, Forest Gump runs, Indiana Jones searches, Christian journeys, Much Afraid climbs, and I write.

My writings actually “birthed” out of me. They came from beautiful and tragic moments in life. I would conceive, and the idea would grow until I became so pregnant that I would pour over the keyboard and a new piece would be born. My journal was my baby. I have heard it said that to know a person’s true character, who they are when no one is around is the test by which that character is revealed. My writings were, “who I was when no one was around.” If I was on the mountain-top, I journaled. If I was in the depths of despair, I journaled. When eight year old Jami came around the corner, driving the riding mower, I stood there and watched my baby girl turn her first steering wheel. I knew if I blinked, it would belong to the car taking her to college, so I wrote about it. When seven year old Reid finally learned his kata and received his yellow belt- standing there, looking at his father and just beaming! I couldn’t wait to write about it. Pages of thoughts were recorded after the 9/11 attacks. When one of my dearest and best friends was on her death bed, tears mixed with ink. When my precious mother took her life, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. When Daddy was dying of cancer, I journaled every day. And don’t get me started on marriage! This road I have traveled down with my best friend for over 35 years… well, I was always writing about that.

You see, I am finding it hard to breathe right now because, for me, breathing means writing. Remember the old saying, “Life isn’t about the amount of breaths you take. It is about the moments that take your breath away?” Well, I wrote about all those breathless moments. Almost every one of them.

…So I wrestle, I cry, I beg and then… I stop. I lie still. I think of Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God. One of my many pieces written was about how “all things are from Him.” Nothing comes our way but that it first had to go through Him. He permitted it. He allowed it. He. Allowed. It. I take a moment. I let it register.

Illumination! The pearl necklace!! It is one of my favorite stories! Okay, bear with me:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. Oh how she loved her Daddy and oh how He loved her. Every night, before bed, she would hop up onto His lap. They would sit there by the fire. Many precious nights of intimate fellowship were exchanged in that big chair by the fireplace. One night the Daddy looks down into her big eyes and says, “Daughter, I have a gift for you.” The little girl looks up wide-eyed, “You do! Oh Daddy, what is it?” The Father reaches out and hands her a beautiful stand of plastic pearls. “Oh Daddy, they are beautiful! I love them! Thank you!” She wears them to bed. She wears them to school. She wears them to the playground. A few weeks later, after she hops up onto her Daddy’s lap (graced with her pearl necklace), He says to her, “Honey, do you love Me?”  Without looking up but snuggled tight into his brow she says, “Oh yes Daddy. You know I love you.” He whispers, “Do you trust Me?” “Of course I trust you Daddy.” The Father takes her by her tiny shoulders and looks into her eyes, “Then I want you to give Me your plastic pearls.” The little girl is sure she did not hear correctly, “What??” “If you love Me and if you trust Me, I want you to give me your plastic pearls.” She is very perplexed and startled by this request, “Daddy, why would You ever ask such a thing of me?” She then hops off from His lap and goes to bed that night enduring a restless sleep.  The next night she starts to hesitate, but love wins out and she hops up onto her Daddy’s lap. “Daughter, you say you love Me. You say you trust Me. Do you really?” Now, with vexed soul she cries, “Daddy! Why must we talk of this? I do love You. Let this be the end of it, please!” The Father’s arms embrace the little girl, “I need for you to trust Me on this daughter. If you do as you say, then give Me the necklace.” With trembling fingers and eyes filled with tears, the little girl reaches up, grabs the necklace from around her neck, pulls, then straightens her arms in the direction of her Father’s hands. “Here, take them! Take them away.” To her horror, the young girl watches as the Father ever so gently but directly, throws the pearls into the burning fire. Barely audible the daughter cries, “Why? Why Father? Why?” The loving Father gently caresses His daughter in His arms and quietly tells her, “Because my precious daughter, it was only when you surrendered the plastic pearls that I could replace them with these.” And with that, He reached into his pocket and pulled out a brilliant genuine strand of ocean pearls and placed them around the little girl’s neck.

 

I hear my own voice cry to the Father, “Why Daddy, why?” And I hear His voice, “I know that many times in life you will not understand the “why’s” but child, do you “know” that I am a Good and Loving Father? “Yes! I do! Altogether Good! Altogether Loving! You have proven this in my life over and over. Remember, Daddy, when my babies kept dying in my womb? Remember when my third baby died as I lay there in such pain and I felt your very breath on my brow? I was comforted in a supernatural way that I could never explain. Somehow, it was a peace that passed understanding.”

I remembered! He is altogether faithful! Altogether trustworthy! And He promises to give beauty for ashes. Anytime He brings death in our lives if we will stick close we will see that it is followed by resurrection life. Not of the thing that died, for that is the old, but it is new life, a new thing.

Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.  Isaiah 43:19

It is the ‘ol, “Let go and let God.” But He knows our frame. He knows we came from dust. So He ordains a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). He also bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). Someone once told me, “You don’t want to find a bunch of empty bottles in heaven. Let yourself cry.”

So, I do not forbid the tears but with them comes a sweet sense of comfort.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

So what is one of the lessons learned? Life! It is so full of mystery around every bend. And inside of each mystery we set out on a journey to find truth and meaning. Then, around each bend we find the unexpected! Sometimes to our great joy and excitement and sometimes to our grief and mourning. But with every single new place that I find myself in, I have this amazing confidence in the journey because it is all working toward a perfect plan and end.  Because it is not left up to me to figure it all out (I thank my God!) but I just step in the flow of the river of life with utter abandonment and trust in the One who died for me and paid the price to finish the work! I love the song “To Life” from Fiddler on the roof.  “Life has a way of confusing us, blessing and bruising us. L’chaim! Drink, l’chaim to life. God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor. L’chaim to life!”

So I shall stand back up, shake myself off and shout to life, “Bring it on! I got this! I got hutzpah! I got Jesus! Right here! Right now! In my little corner of the world!

And, to You Father, I raise my cup (You know, the one that overfloweth) and say, “L’chaim!”

 


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Joni’s Corner, It’s My Right Angle

This is going to be a blog about life. I am doing so because my friends have entreated me to put my thoughts into words.  I trust my friends. I doubt that I will write on a regular basis as I usually write when life tugs at my heart-strings, in good ways and bad. After all, they call me the “story teller.”  Why “Joni’s Corner?” Because this is my corner of the world. I love my corner. It is where God has planted me. It is my schoolroom. Why a “right angle?” Who wants to read about a wrong angle? Seriously, in the lessons that I have learned, many of them I entered into with a wrong perspective but by the grace of God came out the other side with, hopefully, a right one. Enough said.

One of my most important lessons that has come out of that corner has been to make it a better place. How do I make it better?  It’s like Cinderella sang about in the Roger & Hammerstein’s Classic, “In my own little corner, in my own little world, I can be whatever I want to be.”  What do I want to be? I want to be “Jesus with skin on” to this precious corner of the world. For me, this certainly does not imply getting on a soap box. I am in Camo, in disguise per say. There is an old hymn that is called, “Brighten The Corner Where You Are.” It’s beautifully corny.  It’s my heart. Whomever I come in contact with, I want to make their day, their life or their current situation a bit brighter. Why? Because that’s what my heavenly Father did for me and taught me to do for others.

I am melodramatic and it comes out in my writing. My bestest friend and husband didn’t get this when we were married over 30 years ago. It was like a Jamaican having to learn to understand Mandarin. He just didn’t get it. Now, however, while he does not speak Mandarin, he seems to not only understand it, but even has come to love that part of me… Like I said, he is my bestest friend. I say that to say my writing is more free style. It’s where I bare my soul. I usually bare my soul when a circumstance has revealed to me a lesson that has actually caused a change in my character, hopefully, for the better. For is it not a noble pursuit, the betterment of one’s own character? This answers the question, Why should anyone read my blog? Maybe you, the reader, will come away with something that also inspires you or is a lesson learned for you as well. Then we all win. Awesome sauce.

I can be funny, poignant, emotional and on rare occasions even quite eloquent. Don’t look for the latter too often. This very first blog will probably be the first and last time I talk about myself. It is not too interesting of a topic. I only do it now for introduction. I much prefer to talk about life and people. You see life has been my schoolroom, mountaintops and valleys have been the tools by which God and people have taught me!

            You know what caused me to finally set my fingers to the keyboard? Another blog. Yep. After reading it, I was stirred to the core. I love being moved like that, it’s better than a Starbucks’ Carmel Macchiato Grande . Words! How powerful. In the book of Proverbs it tells us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. That being said, even more so the power of life can be in the pen because then it endures. I believe they call that a classic in literary terms. Yep, those kinds of words have hutzpah or staying power.

Oh, and that blog? It’s beautiful and it’s written by my favorite daughter in-law. It is well worth the read. Here’s the site:  http://roxannabradley.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/maybe-ill-always-write-to-you/

Last thing- to each of you reading this, welcome to my corner! Come on in, have a seat. Let me know what’s on your mind. Tell me a story.

Finally, as the Jewish blessing goes: And May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.