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Thursday, January 29, 2009

A hug of blessings

A devotional in my Grandmother's Bible from Nehemiah talked about thanking God for small things--to make myself consciously aware of all the things we take for granted that bless us on a daily basis. Amen!

What nearly undid me was the prayer tacked at the bottom. It thanked God for the "daily" blessings of a child or grandchild's hug. . .

Maybe that grandmother has children and grandchildren close by. For me, those hugs are few and far between. (I did take the idea and I thanked God for the daily hugs with my mother.)

Jolene was the world's best hugger. She would clutch me in a close embrace, tight enough to break my bones if not for the padding. When she would first see me on the weekend, she would run as fast as she could and crush me. I had to brace myself. She would also demand a "group hug." I welcomed the hugs, but not their intensity.

What I wouldn't do for one of those hugs right now.

And dear Mom, home from rehab for one day, went to the ER last night. Fluid is building up in her legs, and her doctor suggested she have it checked out. She spent the night. I may not get my daily hug. The emergency physician said "she'll retain fluid--not only in her legs, but her lungs and heart as well. That's what you get with congestive heart failure." He increased the diuretic, added potassium and put her in the hospital because of the problem with her legs.

We both had known congestive heart failure was a possibility because of the problem with her heart valve. But we didn't know it had developed--yet. The condition was the direct cause of my great-grandmother's death; scary words for both of us.

I may not even get one of Mom's hugs today, not if I can't get to the hospital to visit.

So what is today's verse? "We know that all things work together for good to those who love God." (Romans 8:28)

God is with us, even now. Lord, we need one of Your hugs today.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pressure Cooker

I'm sitting here on a chilly January morning (the cold front threatened on Friday arrived yesterday, complete with snow), wishing I didn't have to set aside time to go out in the frigid air and clear off the car with a game leg. Not so much because of the weather--although it's unpleasant--but because I'm under deadline. Even the 15 minutes it will take to clear the car is a major loss.

I have two manuscripts due next Sunday. I'm in fair shape; two drafts down, the final one, integrating comments from my critique partners, to go. But that means running through about 20,000 words a day. I'm scared and concerned that what I turn in won't represent my best work.

And then there's the house. Mom is coming home tomorrow. Dishes to wash, clothes to wash and put away, picking up to do, plants to water ... I even forgot to give the cat more food (she has an automatic feeder so it's not a daily tasks) until she spent every waking minute with me on Saturday and I finally got the message.

Poor Mom. I was talking with her about a book proposal that just went out. Because as crazy as I feel right now ... I'm also concerned that I have no contracts looming after February 1st. Will I ever sell another book? Especially since the Heartsong Presents: Mysteries! will cease publication.

Mom bit her lip. As I blathered away, I realized she probably wishes I didn't have to write at all, that for now she needs my attention. Later, we did discuss it. She said, "I'm glad you don't have anything else coming up right away." So am I. I need a break.

We all need breaks from our pressure cooker lives from time to time. Our Christmas idyl was on such break--the two nights at a local hotel. My upcoming trip to Oklahoma is another such break. Even my office job represents a break, because I can be with friends and perform a task I do well. I look forward to time to work on a variety of writing projects instead of focusing on the next book due--a break of another kind.

Perhaps today's Bible verse summarizes the best means of dealing with pressure. People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every word of God. (Matthew 4:4 NLT) So far I have resisted the temptation to skip my quiet time because I'm too busy. (Maybe none of you ever struggle with that, but I do, occasionally.) In recent months, I have come to treasure those quiet moments alone with the Lord each morning.

Sorry this isn't a terribly edifying post, but it represents my status today. Jolene is never far from my thoughts. Yesterday I noticed a photograph posted to the refrigerator. I've seen it every day for months, but I really saw it yesterday. A candid snapshot of me with both children, when Jaran was six and Jolene was two. I saw that auburn haired girl with her thumb in her mouth, and my heart cried what happened to that sweet little girl? At the rehab center yesterday, Mom introduced me as her daughter. The other woman said, "Aren't we fortunate to have daughters?" Oh, Jolene. My daughter is no more. Not in the sense she meant. I will have no daughter to visit me when I reach old age.

But then again, I do have a daughter-in-law who asks "When are you coming to visit?" letting me know she loves me and is eager to see me.

God is good.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aaron's Anger

Slogging through Exodus and Leviticus, I asked God to show me something, anything, new.

I came to the tenth chapter of Leviticus. Two of Aaron's sons (all of them priests) offered "unauthorized fire before the Lord. . .so the fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them."

Moses rebuked Aaron. More or less saying, "What can you expect when you disobey the Lord's commands?"

Aaron's response? He remained silent.

I knew the story, but it struck me in a new way after the death of my child. How callous Moses seems, how cruel God seems. Yes, I understand God is holy and I am grateful we live in an age of grace; but how my heart aches for Aaron.

Before, if I noticed Aaron's reaction at all, I might have attributed it to awe or acceptance or worship. But now, with a grieving mother's heart, I see him differently. I can just imagine Aaron standing there, white as a sheet. Biting his tongue in his effort to keep from spitting the words running through his head. How could you, God? Was it really that terrible? My sons! Why didn't you take me instead? Of course God knew Aaron's heart, but Aaron kept quiet, obeyed God's commands regarding their deaths out of fath and fear, if not out of love.

God wants my obedience even when I don't feel like it. Of course He wants both. But feeling follows action, not the other way around. I'm sure Aaron's obedience in the midst of his pain was a pleasing sacrifice to God.

May the same be true of me.


Mom's release from rehab has been postponed because she continues to battle some kind of viral/bacterial diarrhea.

Monday's speaking engagement at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church went well. As so often when we use a spiritual gift (teaching/encouragement in my case), we receive more of a blessing than we could possibly offer.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Gift of Time

Tonight I am speaking about God's Gift of Time to a writers' group at Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church.

A old saw says, "time heals all wounds." A suicide survivor said, "you never get over it." For me, the truth lies between those two statements.

Saturday marked the 10 month anniversary of the official date of Jolene's death. Mom and I visited all afternoon Saturday without even mentioning it, but we did discuss it yesterday.

Has time healed the wound? In a sense. I no longer have a bleeding, repulsive, infected gaping hole in my broken heart.

Have I gotten over it? Not really. It's true, the amputation has healed. But a scar has formed where Jolene used to be. I will carry that scar to heaven, where it will at last be healed.

Time. A gift for those of us who grieve. God says of the sun and the moon, "let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years" (Genesis 1:14.) God gave me the gift of 2008, and I am very thankful that He planned for the calendar page to turn to 2009. A new year, a new attitude.

Yesterday our pastor urged us to wait on the Lord when we have a mess. I have a number of messy problems. I expect many of you do too. 2009 promises to bring changes to the adult child/aging dynamic with my mother. But God gave me time, and expects me to wait for His answer.

Let me be faithful.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dancing with Grief Plus Ten Months

The panic and overwhelming grief that has debilitated me every month the week or so prior to the 13th didn't happen. I woke up on the 13th, thought it's almost the anniversary--hey, it IS the anniversary!

Progress, or process, whatever you want to call it.

Mom said she didn't think of it either until someone at the rehab center asked her "What do you like to be called?"

"Gramma." And a few tears fell.

As I listened to the rest of Genesis on cd this week, I was struck by Jacob's attitude toward Joseph's presumed death. As we all know, Joseph was his father's favorite.

When Jacob first saw the bloodied robe, he refused the comfort of his sons and daughters. "I will go down to the grave to my son." (Genesis 37:35). I can understand his reaction at that time. His grief was so overpowering, so huge, that he couldn't move past his loss.

Five short chapters later, Joseph quizzed his 10 older brothers when they came to Egypt to buy grain. He insisted they bring Benjamin with them the next time they came to Egypt to avoid prison or worse.

Jacob's reaction? "Joseph is no more and ... now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me! [Joseph] is dead and [Benjamin] is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow." (Genesis 42:36, 38)

At least 13 years later, Jacob still fixated on Joseph's death. No one else in his family mattered.

I don't want my mother--or my son--or my grandchildren--to feel like they come a poor second to Jolene. Of course grief will come and go, and I know in a sense I will carry Jolene's death with me to the grave.

It's time to focus on the future, not the past.

Regretting: Barbour has chosen to discontinue the Heartsong Presents: Mysteries! bookclub with the third cycle in 2009 (which includes my second mystery, A String of Murders). Good news: they will publish all books under contract, including Paint Me a Puzzle, but the timing and format has not been determined.

Rejoicing: I received contracts today for devotions to be included in A Cup of Comfort Devotional for Mothers and Daughters and A Cup of Comfort Women of the Bible Devotional. In fact, they accepted everything I sent in! I am doubly pleased. I submitted a couple of devotionals centered on surviving this first Christmas without Jolene; please pray for favor about those as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Looking for New Fruit

My mind is flying around this morning as fast and furious as the snow falling outside my window. The storm my knee threatened on Friday showed up today, and it looks more like a spring storm in the accumulation. I am thankful it didn't snow on Saturday--when I had to go shopping--or yesterday--when it would have been a convenient excuse to miss church. But I don't look forward to stepping outside and cleaning off my car, hoping the ground isn't slick.

But you know what? I'll be okay. I decided yesterday that I need to stop treating myself like an invalid. It's also okay, and welcome relief, that I no longer brood over Jolene quite so much. I will still hurt and grieve, and I'm sure fresh waves of grief will come--but for now, today, I think of her with a sigh and a sob, and go on to the next thing.

Yesterday, our minister of education preached from John 15. The second verse jumped out at me: Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

2008 was definitely a time of pruning. I felt encouraged that God wouldn't prune me if I wasn't bearing fruit (in that case, He would cut me off.) So it's time for me to consider "what does God want for me?" Consider the various projects I outlined on January 1st.

A lady at church asked me if I wanted to join the group that sings at a local nursing home on Thursdays. My first reaction was no. Mornings are my time to write.

But ... didn't I say I wanted to give back to people at nursing and rehab centers? Is God opening a door I said I wanted to walk through?

Our church is collecting items for an alternative pregnancy center. I had wanted to reach out to single mothers. Does God want me to donate some of my devotional books for single moms?

Pray for wisdom and a willing heart as opportunities come. And pray for faithfulness in the commitments I make.

But for now ... back to pushing through the revisions to my 3rd mystery, Paint Me a Puzzle.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

How a Blog is Like Prayer

Jordan Elizabeth Franklin is 4 weeks old today. Can you see the smile on my face? Use your imagination.

I have received very few comments on my blog since before Christmas, and I wonder, does anyone read it anymore? Does it help anyone? Does anyone care? The truth is, people do read my blog. Sometimes they send me private emails with their reactions to what I've written. I appreciate that, but checking for comments is a bit like looking presents under the Christmas tree.

While I was wondering whether I should continue, a sharp thought sliced through my self-pity.

How often do you read God's Word? Uh, every day, at least the verse of my calendar.

How often do you read God's Word and don't pray? Uh, the empty pages in my prayer journal attest to my absence, although now I could use the excuse that my devotional Bible includes a prayer with the readings.

If I wish people would not only read what I have to say, but also talk back, how much more must God feel the same way? He's sent me a letter from His heart, full of longing and encouragement or even reprimand, and He wants me to talk with Him about it. He wants fellowship with me, and when I read but don't pray, I'm ignoring half of the equation.

Encouraged by a friend's example, I started listening to my Bible tapes again this year. I listen a few hours a week at work; it usually takes until August to make it through Revelation.

Of course I began with Genesis. These thoughts jumped out at me:

Did Abraham know that Lot survived the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?

We read of Abraham's powerful prayer in chapter 18, and of God's deliverance of Lot in chapter 19, but verses 27 and 28 of chapter 19 jumped out at me: Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

Did Abraham see the smoke and assume Lot had died? Did he wonder if even Lot was not considered "righteous" in the Lord's eyes? Did he feel grief, despair? Did he question the effectiveness of his prayer? Abraham became immensely human as I considered those verses. He must have struggled with the same questions that I do. I prayed and it didn't make a difference. Jolene still died. Does God care? Or did the problem lie with me, that improper motives and inconsistent lifestyle led to a failure to pass on the faith to the next generation?

I try to spill out my questions to God, and He sends me reassurances from time to time.

Let's enter into a dialogue about what God is saying to each of us this year.

A reminder: You don't need a google account to leave a comment.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Changes. I have made changes to the blog. . .feeling my way, I've added the book cover of Snowbound Colorado Christmas (a little late, I know) as well as books coming out in 2009. I hope to update those as I sign more contracts (God willing) and see more book cover designs. Also I'll add a picture of my darling grandbaby as soon as I bring the disc home.

Of course, change is about a whole lot more than my fumbling attempts at controlling a blog.
Right now my mother and I appear to be facing changes.

As many of you know, Mom had heart valve replacement surgery on October 2. Her kidneys failed, her lungs didn't work right--her life seemed to hang in the balance for a few days. She had three dialysis treatments. Then she seemed to improve, spent several weeks in rehab, and returned home the day before Thanksgiving.

She returned the day after Christmas, after she fell down twice in one night. No broken bones, praise God. The diagnosis? Raging bladder infection, possible pneumonia, blood thinner levels too low, kidney levels too high. They kept her for five days and sent her back to rehab.

We're both wondering if they released her too soon. She's gained 30 pounds since Christmas; she's retaining fluids. Does she need dialysis again? Is fluid building up around her heart? Is this the beginning of the end?

On a happier note, Jaran reports that baby Jordan changes daily. He is full of "firsts." The day her umbilical cord fell off. . .her first trip. . .her first bath. I can't wait to see her in person (timing still pending).

2009 promises lots of changes ahead.

Praise the Lord that whatever happens, He doesn't change. His faithfulness is everlasting.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dreams for a New year

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14, NIV)

It's no longer the year when Jolene died. A burden has been lifted from my shoulders.

I used to think our new year celebrations were artificial and, well, trite, to an eternal God. Until I finally realized that God gave us time. He knew we humans would need boundaries to separate one day, month, year from another. And so I take the beginning of 2009 for what it is: a gift, an opportunity to move on.

I still grieve Jolene. I always will, and 3 months remain before we reach the one year anniversary of her passing. Last night I forced myself not to wallow in grief. Alone by myself in an empty apartment, I was tempted.

I was alone because Mom entered the hospital last Friday night and yesterday returned to rehab. She fell twice (no broken bones) and we discovered she had a raging UTI, possible pneumonia, as well as continuing problems with her blood thinner and her kidneys. We don't know what lies ahead.

But God is pointing the way to the future even as 2008 closed. For one thing, in an unexpected twist, I have been invited to speak to two different writers' groups--both in the month of March. THE month. The first one I dismissed as bad timing. When the second invitation came, I realized "this must be God's gift to protect me from overwhelming grief."

I am praying that God will open doors for me to "pay it forward." So many people have done so many things for us during this difficult year. I can't begin to pay it back, but I can reach out to those whose struggles lie ahead. Among my dreams for 2009:

Four books. I still can't believe it. The last 2 books in the Dressed for Death series are scheduled for release in March (A String of Murders) and in August (Paint Me a Puzzle). My first Heartsong historical romance, Beacon of Love, should arrive in June and another Christmas novella, Lucy Ames, Sharpshooter, will appear in the Wild West Christmas anthology in September. (Thanks, yes, but prayers needed. I have NO contracts after I submit 2 manuscripts on February 1st.)

Grandchildren. Whether we live in Colorado or Oklahoma, I intend to spend as much time as possible with baby Jordan.

Ministry to single mothers. I don't know how this will happen, but I pray that God will use me (and the book 365 Daily Whispers of Wisdom for Single Moms) to help single mothers with their unique challenges.

Ministry at the rehab center. Mom and I would like to return and minister to those who recover (and those who live) at the rehab center.

Return to choir. Between Jolene's death and health problems, I have not participated in choir much since March. For several months, I couldn't even climb the stairs.

Changing relationship with Mom. As her health declines, we need wisdom, strength, grace to determine a new dynamic in our relationship.

Of course, God may laugh at all or some of these dreams. But please pray with me that I will follow in the path where God leads and glorify Him in whatever happens.

What are your dreams for 2009? I'd like to hear.