Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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I now enter my season of remembering. (Birthday, Christmas , the bleak midwinter, day of final diagnosis, and February 27 – the end here, the beginning of heaven.) Thoughts of Olivia’s last Christmas have been on my mind. She spent her make -a- wish money on presents for the family. There were some really nice gifts. We got her a cat. She was delighted.

All things considered, it was a good day.

But I knew – this could be her last Christmas. ( It was.) The day seemed precarious, precious, breakable.

This year, an old Christmas carol is on repeat in my head. The Christmas season brings what we need most.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, says the song, let nothing you dismay.

Check out that comma! Be merry, people. The world seems to running at breakneck speed toward doubt, disbelief and disdain, but don’t be dismayed. Instead, rest in the happiness of the Savior being born. (Or, as Olivia sang, when she was about 4, taught by some cool island girls, Don’t worry, be happy.) Sit in the joy of the season, savor the merriment, laugh in celebration. The Savior is born! This is our season of Hope.

Remember Christ the Savior is born on Christmas day

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

That, right there, is our tidings of comfort and joy.

Written about 1760, but applicable right now, it is a retelling of the gospel story. Because Christmas is about the birth of Christ- and his death, burial and resurrection. It’s about redemption, the giving of a future and a hope.

I like to think of Olivia tucked in safely – in heaven, by the strongest, gentlest hands, by the greatest Comforter. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

And for me, over all the sorrow and ‘missingness’ (it should be a word), those same hands gently and surely let grace fall down daily to cover me. Comfort and joy.

In this Christmas season and on into the bleak mid winter, be comforted.  Rest ye merry; have hope. Rejoice, for the Savior is born!

I Know How You Feel

It’s Easter morning and I’m at church with my daughter. There’s maybe 400 people worshiping together. The speaker asks us to write the following on a small piece of paper, with non dominant hand, indicating vulnerability, humanity.

0510191016So here’s mine, I know how you feel.

Then he said,

If you have been depressed, raise your paper and exchange it with someone.

If you have been bullied.

If you have lost a loved one.

I exchange along with everyone else, first with those next to me who I know, and then with those who are to me strangers, but no longer. Two outstretched hands sharing sorrow. I know yours, you know mine.

I handed mine to a woman in the aisle who had lost a loved one; oh, yes, I do know how you feel, I thought, I do. I do.

(As I write this weeks later, I’m adding a few more ‘ifs’, some mine, some not.

If your heart is broken, if you feel old and sad and not seen. If you are alone and lonely, if you are sick, if your children are estranged or walking away from God. The list seems endless; add your own.)

But back to Easter Sunday…………….

Our collective sorrow sat like a pall among us. Then the pastor encouraged us to look up and consider this day. It’s Easter. He is risen! Victory has been won over sin and death and sorrow and all the sad, horrible things of this life.

All of our common sorrows have been redeemed by the most uncommon, outrageous, amazing, splendid grace. Our creator God knows how we feel and he did something (more than that – everything!) about it.

The cross is the ultimate, I know how you feel.

The resurrection is the ultimate hope.  He is risen indeed.

For……

Surely, says Isaiah, He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows.

For He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him,

And by his stripes we are healed.

It’s the great exchange. Come unto me, says the risen, powerful savior, I know how you feel, all ye who are heavy laden.

Believe in me and I will give you rest.

Learn of me and lean on me and you shall find rest in your souls.

Happy Easter, the ‘I know how you feel’ day of hope, all year long!

 

 

 

This is us, We are the Armaos

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This past weekend the children of Herb and Jeannette Armao gathered together. I say gather because we are not just 2 or 3, but 8. We missed our oldest brother who would have found cannolis somewhere in Omaha and made his ‘gravy’ for us all because that was the way he showed love.

We did what we do best, talked and ate.

We took stock of the years; we went down Memory Lane just a little.

Country summers, Bailing hay, the tomboy test

Our father’s garden, our mother’s cooking

Sniffing lilacs up someone’s nose in church, giggles in church, noogies in church

Singing in the car, in church, at home

We talked about our children. Our hopes, heartbreaks and prayers. Dave and I looked at each other with perfect understanding, having both lost a child. We cried together.

We whipped out our phones, showing pics and videos of our grandchildren, all beautiful and smart and delightful.

We shared life’s challenges and struggles but also God’s provision and goodness. And as we have been taught, we sang the doxology.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him all creatures here below,

Praise Him above ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost

AAAAAMEN. When it came to the amen we didn’t want to stop, it sounded so good.

Herb and Jeannette Armao did not have much. But what mattered most they had in spades. Us. Our house, fittingly called Crestfallen Manor, was ramshackle and small. Eleven people fit in a 3 bedroom, one bathroom house.

I looked at my siblings this weekend and thought what an absolute success Mom and Dad were. If they could see us, Dad would be wiping a tear away, Mom would be breaking out in song and they both would be marveling at the amazing grace of God that has brought all their children back to Him.

Our parents died not seeing the fulfillment of their prayers.  God has brought us to this extraordinary place in life. We all love God. He is our joy, our hope, our comfort. He has given life meaning, to Him we cling.

I remember an old song, sung in our little country church.

Many years ago in days of childhood
I used to play till evening shadows come
Then winding down that old familiar pathway
I’d hear my mother call at set of sun.

Come home, come home it’s suppertime,

The shadows lengthen fast.
Come home, come home it’s suppertime
We’re going home at last.

In visions now I see her standing yonder

And her familiar voice I hear once more.

The banquet table’s ready up in heaven,

It’s suppertime upon that golden shore.

Come home, come home, it’s suppertime
The shadows lengthen fast.
Come home, come home, it’s supper time

We’re going home at last.

We’d hear that suppertime call from the Lane or the Flat or the Harp or the Haymow and we’d come home to sit around the table where we’d eat and talk and laugh. That was us again this weekend. I am overwhelmed by the love, respect and thanksgiving for and from my brothers and sisters.

To Herb and Jeannette Armao, a job truly well done, your children have come home.

To our faithful God, we humbly and joyfully give thanks.

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The Memories We’ll Never Have

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IMG_0821Our daughter, Emily, was married a few months ago to a fine young man. It was a wonderful meeting of two families, a blessed event full of joy. But  in the weeks before the wedding, we cried a fair bit.

Eleven years ago we lost our daughter Olivia to brain cancer and at that time Emily expressed the struggle of losing a sister. We hold close with thanksgiving the 18 years of  wonderful memories, but as Emily said, I miss the memories we’ll never have.

So here comes the wedding and we feel the loss. And really, who could take a sister’s place?

As the day got closer, Emily came up with a beautiful idea. Tucked back in a closet were some of Olivia’s skirts; they were colorful, happy, vibrant and fun – like Olivia. Emily had them made into beautiful handkerchiefs.

img_0849.jpgShe gave a few away before the wedding. Stephanie, who arranged the flowers, knew Olivia and walked with us through our pain, accepted one with tears and understanding. One went to Dawn who visited Olivia every day during her sickest days and made her laugh. (And then went home and cried.)

On the day of the wedding, Emily’s brothers and father tucked the handkerchiefs in their shirt pockets. Emily wrapped one around her bouquet of flowers and I held one in my hand.

It was right. It was fitting. And somehow our loved and missed one became  part of  that very happy day.

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Sorrow, says CS Lewis, turns out to be not a state but a process.  A process, may I add, that does not have a neat and tidy end.  We  live each day with all the rest of our  story providing context and the comfort of memories softens the ever present pain of loss.

We are, the Psalmist wrote,  fearfully and wonderfully made.  I do marvel at the intricate workings of our physical bodies but the way our emotions, mind and memory work is equally, well, mind boggling!

Today, February 27th, on the anniversary of Olivia’s death,  I thank God for the ability to love, the gift of laughter and tears and the warm comfort of memory.

 

Saying Good bye to our Brother

facebook_1482410280505We gathered together, the children of Herb and Jeannette Armao. There are nine of us. We live all over the USA and my oldest brother said if we had to choose between a visit now or for his funeral please come now. So we came knowing we were saying goodbye. We filed in, a somber bunch and stood grouped around his bed. He was very ill and struggled to express himself but his words came out clearly enough and with emphasis.

It’s my time.

Savior, holding me, going home.

I’m going to see Mom and Dad.

It’s my time.

He gestured at each one of us and wanted to know about our families. He listened with true interest and focus.

received_10153809861702541And then he reached out his arms and beckoned to us one by one. We each went over for an embrace, a last hug, an I love you. It felt like a soft blessing. When it was my turn, all I could say in his ear was, I love you, I love you, I love you. I knew he understood and loved me back.

Tired, he closed his eyes.

And we began intuitively doing what we did in our old house (dubbed Crestfallen Manor) on the hill, at the little country church we attended and even in the car as we grew up. We sang together. Our brother had not much air in his lungs but his lips moved and he remembered the words.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Then completely tired, he closed his eyes and smiled as we sang the old favorites.

Page 8 in the old hymnal, said one of us. I serve a risen Savior.

Page 61, called out another. My Anchor Holds.

We sang, tears falling freely down our faces.

How Great Thou Art and our father’s favorite, I come to the Garden Alone, were in the mix.

My very sick brother at times became agitated. My youngest brother knelt beside him, gently held him and quietly prayed and sang until he calmed down. (My sister whispered to me, Mom and Dad would be so pleased to see this; perhaps they did.)

We sang on -now the song our mom had requested for her own funeral.

When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll.

Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

We sang through tears; sorrow, love and thanksgiving for each other all mingled together. Our lot, for sure has been good. As children we did not have much in the way of worldly posessions but we had an abundance of – well, siblings and togetherness, strong familial love and faith in  Jesus Christ. We thank God for the legacy of love,truth and grace that runs deep and wide in our family.

We said good bye to our brother that day and with the strength learned from our parents we sang;

And Lord haste the day when our faith shall be sight,

the clouds be rolled back like a scroll;

The trump shall resound and the lord shall descend.

Even so it is well with my soul.

Somehow sorrow makes very clear the things in life that matter. I think all nine of us siblings would agree with Psalm 16:6

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I’m Glad I Didn’t Know

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1535402_10151813458127541_1111963590_n(1)I’m Glad I Didn’t Know

It’s February 27th.

My thought this morning as I woke up was, I’m glad I didn’t know Liv’s life would be so short. I’m glad we walk by faith and not by sight. There is freedom in not knowing the future.

Blessed be your name, says the song, when the sun is shining down on me, when the world’s all as it should be. Blessed be your name.

I’m glad we had the sunshiny happy years. I still see Olivia trying out all the flip flops our neighbors left outside their door in Papua New Guinea. I see her swimming in the Lagoon behind our house on Tsoi Island in the Bismarck Sea and playing barefoot in the tropical rain in Hoskins.

old photos 2012 from gramps house 007I remember her first dance recital stateside and the times I would go to her ballet class and sit in the back marveling at what a pretty dancer she was. When she played soccer I happily became a soccer mom and cheered her on even when she mistakenly scored for the other team. (Well, she said, I’m happy for them – it was their first goal all season.)

The carefree years brimful of laughter, harmless shenanigans and joy were a gift from God. As she said to me one day in the middle of her sickness with so much conviction as if to make sure I understood, ‘Mom, I have had a great life!’

Blessed be your name, the song also says, on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.

It seems fitting and right to dedicate this day, Olivia’s ‘going to heaven’ anniversary, to remembering her life. Kim and I sigh, cry and look at each other with complete understanding. We were blessed to be her parents. We miss her.

The sun shone brightly all day. We visited our son and his family, hugged the grandkids and kicked some tires as we stopped at just about every car dealer from Greenville to Newport and back. (It’s a family joke and Olivia would have laughed.)

It’s evening now and I am full of thanksgiving to God for our dear, loving family, for grace in sorrow and for the hope of heaven. We are about to step into the month of March. Easter, the joyous holiday of victory over death, is on its way. I can hear the Easter songs already.

Each blogpost I write has a place for ‘tags’ or keywords. As I began to tag away, I realize these words mirror the emotions of the day.

Sorrow, loss, tears

Love, memories, laughter, sunshine

Family, hugs, love (again), thanksgiving

Easter, resurrection, Jesus

Heaven, Hope, Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World, the Church and the Promise of God

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I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. -Jesus

I do my share of bemoaning the current state of the world. It does seem like our culture is walking, nay, running away from God. My brother in law, who has spent years studying, loving and teaching the Bible, has encouraged me to look at things a little differently. “Well”, he said to me, in his down to earth, calm, Kim in madang 2013confident in Jesus way, “God did say, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ That doesn’t mean we are going to see it all happen here in America.” The world is, after all, a big place!

It turns out he has a really good point. My husband and I have been helping out for a short time in the small south pacific country we raised our kids in. How much encouragement can God pack into three months? (Spoiler alert- a lot!)

worn Bible1) In one province here, in the next five weeks there will be four Bible translation dedications. The people of these language groups are happy, delighted, excited and thankful. This is not just another bible translation to put on the shelf. It will be well read, taught and used!

2) A month ago we visited a village up the Guam River. We shared meals with different families each evening and afterward they storied about God’s work in their lives. Freedom from fear, joyous appreciation of the grace of God and the very real anticipation of heaven were what they talked about.

‘By His grace, by his grace, by his grace, we heard God’s talk.’

Life or death or anything else cannot separatim yumi from Christ. Nogat!’

‘You can look for your fame and riches down here; I’m holding out for heaven and Jesus.’

‘Suppose you die in America or England and I die here, we will bung (meet) again in heaven.’

3) In the islands to the east, the message of Christ has changed lives in village after village, like wildfire in slow motion. If you could visit all the dots on the map where God’s unfolding story of redemption has been told, you would meet hundreds of faithful believers in Christ. Many of these folks, despite hardship, persecution and opposition are teaching the truth of God’s word to neighboring language groups.

Across the mainland, through the swamps, in the highlands and islands and beach villages of this country Jesus Christ is being made known. In this land of several hundred languages, praise to God is being multiplied.

4) Right now, as we go about our daily lives, a people group in the Ramu valley is hearing for the first time God’s story from creation to Christ. They have waited a long time. ‘It is already so sweet,’ is one response.’ I don’t care how long I have to sit and listen; I want to hear the rest of the story.’ Others cried, ‘It’s true, it’s true, it’s true!’

God so loved the world, says the bible, THE WORLD. From all parts of the earth God is calling people to himself. When Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell are powerless against it’, he did not wonder if this would happen; he said it with absolute certainty.

The inexorable, grace-filled gathering together of the church continues. Amelia, Justina, Kleotus, Dwon, Maria,Thaddeus, Jems, Joshua ……..i go i go i go. One by one, God is lovingly gathering his people.

As a bible teacher from this island country once reminded us, ‘We see just a small spot but God sees the whole bik piksa.’ God is, after all, the creator of the beautiful, huge, amazing, intricate canvas of life. When he deems it finished, he’ll sign his name and take us home.

Take heart! Look and see what God is doing, and rejoice!

itu church meetingI will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. -Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenk yu! Aleluya! Yeehaw!

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So about that mother’s day…

On this particular (and peculiar) Mother’s Day, we crossed the path to our dear outdoor tarp- covered Gospel Light Fellowship. We sang a few songs and then Pastor J asked all the moms to stand. 10 was the first count, then 11, a few more came down the path and at the end we may have numbered 14 or so. Anyway, we received our applause and sat down.

Then J’s mother, Anna, stood up. First she said that God had blessed her as a mother and she named her three children. Jepeth, Philma and Gloria. And so I named my children in my thoughts. Philip, Zach, Emily, Sky, Olivia……the greatest blessings in my life. Husband also, of course.

Then Anna said she had a song she wanted to sing for all the mothers. In this church we speak English and Pidgin and often both in the same sentence. Anna’s song was in English and I would have labeled it cheesy and well, country. Not my favorite genre.

IMG_2954But it had some truth in it for all that. No matter if the country flavor did not fit in with our tropical flip flopped and barefoot small group in shorts, meri blouses, cotton shirts and nary a cowboy hat! The message of the song is universal. I see it in Anna who loves her three children every bit as much as I love my five. And even though we both are grandmothers now and our children are grown, that mother’s love still grips our hearts. On this, mitupela i wankain. We two are the same.

As Anna began to sing, the already bright morning sun was shining on the green leaves and brilliantly colored flowers that surrounded our meeting place. In the distance were palm trees, banana bushes and all kinds of tropical plants. Standing by her green plastic chair in her colorful meri blouse with her dark hair pulled back in a bun Anna looked every bit the lovely meri of this tropical island country that she is. She sang the song (with a bit of a twang) dedicated to all the mothers there and it did make me chuckle at how seemingly out of place it was in this culture and setting. It was, nevertheless, a comfort to me.IMG_2945

In heaven, mamas don’t cry

In heaven nobody dies

In heaven God will wipe away the tears from our eyes

In heaven, mamas don’t cry.

Unbidden (and surprising me) the tears came. The truth is that here on this earth we mamas do cry. We labor in childbirth and we labor thereafter in love. Both Anna and I have prayed and cried over children sick with malaria or struggling with their faith or suffering in other ways. Anna prayed with tears for a wayward son; he is now a pastor. I prayed with tears for Olivia during her illness and treatment and God gave her a faith that comforts me still. Sorrow, longing, joy and hope are all part of our lives in this fallen world and we mothers feel every bit of it. But the time will come when the God of the universe will wipe away all tears, there will be no more sin and struggle and death – and we mamas won’t cry.

After the service I gave Anna a hug and thanked her for her words and song. ‘I prayed that I could sing that song without crying’, she said sincerely, ‘I just wanted to sing it for the mothers.’

‘That’s ok, Anna’, I replied, ’I cried for both of us.’ She smiled and thanked me. In the sisterhood of mothers we speak the same language. And as she told me later, quoting another song, (southern gospel, I think – her taste in music is more versatile than mine),’Tears are a language God understands.’

I’m grateful for Anna. Though I have known her only a short time, she has become my poro, my friend and now my namba wan favorite country singer.

God surprised me this Mother’s Day with an unexpected country song in the middle of the rain forest. A week later, I’m still smiling.

Tenk yu tru! Aleluya! YeehawIMG_2716

Jesus Brukim Olgeta Rules belong Physics…..our rescuer God

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Mi yet mi no inap. I heard this in church last week. I, myself, cannot. I can’t.

This Christian life is best lived knowing we can’t – can’t make ourselves holy, can’t make ourselves just, righteous, pure i go i go i go….. (et cetera). We are a people in need! Thus the gospel message is good, refreshing, life giving news! Christ came into the world to save sinners who could not save themselves.

Peter, the apostle and our brother in the faith, has been on my mind for a few weeks now. I like how the Bible gives us glimpses into his life story because he is  like us. Without Christ, we are a hopeless mess.

So Sunday at our fellowship across the footpath, when the pastor said he was speaking about Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s bungled attempt to do the same, I opened my Bible with anticipation.

We read the story in Matthew 14; Jesus ‘brukim olgeta rules belong physics’ as he walked on the water. We marveled at our rule breaker God who acts as if creation is at his beck and call. It is.

Then Peter began his own tentative walk on the water; in the midst of the buffeting winds and scary waves, fear took over and he began to fall. Oh, how I identify! But on his way down into the crashing waves, He knew who to call for help. Peter instinctively cried, ‘Lord, helpim mi!’

Here Pastor J reminded us that right there in the Bible passage it says, ‘Immediately, Jesus caught him.’ That is hariap kwiktaim, no wait time!

I love that! I want to be caught fast by Jesus. When I am down from sorrow or my heart pounds like a trip hammer for fear or I’m just plain too tired, weak and hopeless or frustrated, angry, upset i go i go i go……..He is near to catch me. ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms’, say the scriptures. Those arms are my safe place.

Yumi dependim on Jesus was the last point of the Sunday message. Yes, all of us who live and breathe, we fail again and fall another time – limitless times. Like Peter, we cry, Lord, helpim mi and He never disappoints; He is near, close, present and will swoop us up as we tumble trembling down.

Those in the boat said to Jesus after he caught Peter and calmed the winds, ‘Truly, you are the son of God.’ We too are daily being rescued by the risen, victorious, powerful son of God.

Mi yet mi no inap. It is true that we can’t but – oh glorious truth- He can!

 

 

 

Happy Easter – Yu no Ken Pret!

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He is risen, I called to my friend, Anna, expecting the usual response of He is risen, indeed. Apparently that memo has not reached these shores. Praise the Lord, she said without hesitation, Hallelujah! So I explained to her the pasin bilong mipela (our tradition).
IMG_2716Anna is my counterpart in this Developing Country. Although she is 8 years younger, we both have grown children. She is bubumeri to three and I am Nana to three. We have known sorrow; she is a widow and I have lost a daughter. We have learned to laugh again. We both love God and feel incredibly blessed by him.
It was a beautiful Easter morning and we sat together in our open walled church with its tarp roof and sang our hearts out. We pulled out all the stops, did a little harmonizing, sang the old Gaither song, Because He Lives, and then the song I wait for every year, Up From the Grave heIMG_2710 Arose. This we began down low in the cellar in order to reach those high notes at the end. I don’t know if we have a soprano in our mix; it was nice to be able to sing that last ‘He Arose’ without screeching or giaman (fake) singing!
My favorite song of the morning was Aleluya. In this song one needs to find the exact balance between gusto and a runaway train. I believe our little gathering has found just the right tempo. It sounds victorious, happy and full of joy. We began with the verse;
King Jisas I kirap nau, Aleluya. Plenti ensel mekim song, Aleluya.
Litimapim nem b’long em, Aleluya. Mekim song, yumi bekim, Aleluya.
The chorus follows – six Aleluyas in a lilting, melodious refrain in which I hear worship, joy and hope. A few toes tap and flip flops flop in time to the music.
Then came time for the tok and praise God, the message of Easter remains unchanged. It can’t be improved and it doesn’t need embellishments, great video productions or hashtags. A simple reading of the gospel story tells the sad, horrific, beautiful, victorious amazing story of love, redemption and hope. Jesus died for the sins of the world, was buried and on the third day He arose.
I wrote down these words that seemed to capture the tone and meaning of the morning: Triumph, Victory, Marimari, Hope, Nupela Freedom. My favorite phrase of the day is that told to the women at the empty tomb. The angel said gently,  Meri, yu no ken pret. Women, do not be afraid. That is a small sentence brim full of meaning and hope and followed with the reason why; He is risen!
IMG_2712After church Anna and I (we two meris who have learned the truth of that phrase yu no ken pret) walked down the path arm in arm singing, Aaaaaleluya! Aleluya Aaaaleeeluuuyaaaa…. We sang our way to the Big Shade Tree where the children were enjoying Bible time and sat behind them chatting in whispers like barefoot schoolgirls.
When the Bible time ended, Anna’s grandson ran up to her and off they headed home. So did I and as I began to walk away, I looked back to call out, Anna, He is risen!
Anna called back, Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! And then she added with a smile, He is risen indeed!