Pleasant Places

Today my heart is once again clinging to God and His Word for strength, help and comfort.

Elias, our 22 month old grandson, is a fighter. He has been since he was born.

  • Born at 24 weeks and 5 days, after his water world broke at 22 weeks
  • He was in the NICU for 116 days
  • He was born with CMV which led to microcephaly and cerebral palsy
  • He exudes more joy than most of us on our best days
  • He is a miracle whom God rescued

Now another challenge has confronted him. He has cancer—rhabdomyosarcoma—behind his left eye to be specific. Of the two strands, his is the one less threatening, but still serious. He had a biopsy of his protruding left eye revealing a 1” tumor intertwined with nerves and blood vessels—inoperable. The pressure in his eye threatens glaucoma.

God rescued him yet again. Heather happened to read the story of a little boy who’s eye started bulging. It turned out he had this same cancer hiding behind the eye. After reading it, Heather thought Elias’ eye looked a little bulged. Her doctors all said to watch it and see if it changed. Most likely it was just swollen with allergens.

Had she not read this story we may not have noticed the threat as quickly. She has tried to go and find this article to no avail. Could it be God was leading her in a miraculous way?

Elias will have to do many more hard things to fight this beast. One happened yesterday when they inserted an NG tube through his right nostril. To say he didn’t like it would be an understatement! I am grateful I wasn’t there to experience his protest. Nana has limits. The good part of this, Elias will get all the nutrition he needs to gain some weight before chemo begins. It is also giving Heather the first break from around the clock feeds since he was born.

What’s next? Tomorrow he will have a bone marrow biopsy as well as a spinal to see if there are any cancer cells hiding there. He will also have a PET scan.

A two week hospital stay is likely this time. And once again we wait.

But God! He is not absent or indifferent. While I can’t say why He allows these things to happen. I can say that He has rescued little Elias for a reason. His joy is infectious, ask anyone who has followed his story—and there are many! He has shown us all how to keep going making the most of each day.

I love this little guy so much.

The Lord impressed Psalm 16:5-6 on me yesterday at church:

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
‭‭- Psalm‬ ‭16:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

My circumstances are not the boundary lines around me. If they were it would be hard to agree with David that my lines are pleasant places. No. God has also said in His Word that He goes before me and behind me. HE is the lines that surround me giving me boundaries of His grace. I can rest knowing He’s my Shepherd no matter what threatens.

Indeed, the lines have fallen in Pleasant Places!

If you would like to help, our oldest daughter set up a Go Fund Me campaign to provide for their many needs in the months to come.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/elias-angel-fight-cancer

Yesterday, Long Awaited

Yesterday finally happened. We’ve waited for over two years to honor her the way she deserved.

Julienne L. Walter born 6/30/39, died 3/20/20.

Right at the start of the pandemic she breathed her last in this life. We were sad at the distance (CA) and our inability to gather as a family to celebrate her life.

Grandma Jill, as our kids called her, loved life and laughter. She loved to shop and find little gifts to bless those she loved. She loved being a Mom and a Grandma, and she did them all well. We lovingly called her our “Bonus Mom” because she added so much joy to our lives.

I’d be remiss to not mention her dog, Genna. She was her pride and joy. She also loved good music—Andrea Bocelli and Sara Brightman were two of her absolute favorites.

We moved Tom’s Dad, her loving and devoted husband of 40+ years, to FL 6 months after she died. But it wasn’t until yesterday, the week of her 83rd birthday that we finally had our moment as a family to gather.

A long-time family friend and retired Bishop, Lou Campese, led the service under the pavilion at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. If you’ve never been there, it is a version of Arlington in Washington DC. Only approved veterans are honored there in memoriam, and since Tom’s Dad is retired from the US Army Reserves, he and his wife were accepted to be buried there.

A side note, when they were living in CA, Dad was honored to be accepted with burial privileges at Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego. This is where the original Top Gun movie was filmed.

It took some time to get approved to move his burial privileges from California to Florida. But as soon as he was approved, the plans for yesterday we’re made.

What an honor bestowed on all who have served our country heroically. You can feel the hushed reverence as you drive through the cemetery, passing row upon row of marble grave markers standing at attention to honor the ground where these heroic men and women lay.

Jill, we are happy you are at rest. We love you and thank God for the blessing you were to all of us. May you be remembered in the hearts of all who knew you and loved you. Until we meet again…

Dolphins

We are blessed to have a week at the beach. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this kind of down time together. Time to think. Time to reflect. Time to remember.

Whenever I come to the beach I’m reminded of a story I heard as a teenager back in the 70’s.

My friends and I had fallen in love with Jesus. We would often drive the 45 minutes to the beach in my little yellow VW bug, Sunny. He may not have had air conditioning, but I had installed a great stereo with huge speakers. I added long enough wire so I could set them on top of Sunny while we laid on blankets soaking in the sunshine. What a memory.

Barry McGuire had recently come to love Jesus too. He shares a simple story about dolphins, and today I want to share it with you. Take some time and listen.

Then follow this by listening to the song, Callin Me Home. The video photos are captivating and the lyrics beautiful. Happy Monday

One Chapter

Books are divided into chapters much like life. We go through each one not knowing how it will play out. And how one chapter ends will determine if we want to continue turning the page.

When I wrote my book, Through The Eyes Of Grace, about the life of my maternal grandmother, my sister told me she had stopped reading. When I asked why, she said she couldn’t get past one chapter that was such a horrible part of her story. I told her she needed to keep going because this was the worst part of the story. Grace didn’t stay in this hard place, but God led her through the valley to green pastures.

The point is to keep going!

I am on a similar path. I’ve made it through a really dark valley the past three years:

  • We have a granddaughter who faced the fight for her life and sanity with PANDAS
  • Our grandson was born a micro-preemie with several mental and physical challenges due to CMV
  • We lost two parents
  • We lost my brother to COVID
  • A pandemic shut the world down for a season
  • We closed two estates and sold three homes
  • We moved three family members – two across state lines, one across town

And we’re not finished yet. I realized today that these are all chapters of the story God is writing of my life. I can choose to engage with it or withdraw. To be honest there are days when all I want is for life to go as planned, as I’ve planned. But this isn’t reality. Life is made up of ups and downs and they’re not for nothing. They have a purpose if I’m willing to do the hard work to find out–to turn the page.

Ann Voskamp’s new book is titled, Waymaker. It is a timely read for me as I’m finding connections all through her story to mine. One in particular is what she calls living SACRED lives. It’s an acrostic for

Stillness – to know God

Attentiveness – to hear God

Cruciformity – to surrender to God

Revelation – to see God

Examine – to return to God

Doxology – to thank God

Ah, just typing out this sacred process fills my heart with an expectancy. Like getting to the end of one chapter and diving right in to the next because you can’t wait to see what happens. I am realizing that God is leading me through the valley to green pastures, but He wants me to learn the lessons of the valley. This comes by spending SACRED time with Him.

I have one chapter left in Waymaker, and I’m hesitant for it to end. I have cried through page after page when her pain mirrored mine. I have anticipated the Word becoming real to her in her time of need. I have been thrilled as she connected the dots of God’s faithfulness to her in her darkest times. And I have nodded in agreement with the lessons she learned acknowledging it was all worth it .

We are all growing into the person God made us to be. But we can’t get stuck in one chapter–whether we love the chapter and don’t want it to end, or it’s a horrible chapter and we want to quit because we are weary and afraid of what will happen next. No. Read on, press on.

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13 – 14 ESV

Tweet this: Looking back keeps us from moving forward.

Sweet Fragrance of Unity

A pleasant warmth brushes my face as I inhale the morning air.

IT WHISPERS,

“Winter has at last fallen asleep”, tucked beneath the black dirt of the garden bed.

“Tread lightly,” it cautions.

Hope, peeking through the soil as a timid flower, is unsure of the climate.

Thunder clouds gather like opposing views bringing with it…

…winds of threat and cloudy accusations.

…Meant to harm, yet providing something needed…

RAIN

As the

words

fall

from

the

sky

of lofty

opinions,

some run off rejected

a torrential flood of judgment.

Other words

                        S

                        I

                       N

                       K

                       deep, bringing with it gentle correction.

The solar sentinel ever present though not seen, 

sends out rays of help

chasing the clouds of accusations away

like a faithful friend.

SUNSHINE

A second look and hope has emerged safe and at attention

in response to the steady cadence call of the sentinel in the Sky.

Gone are the threats.

Spring at last.

The garden has learned to embrace only words which nourish the soil and the soul,

thus filling the air with a sweet fragrance of 

UNITY.

Interviews

I’ve had two recent interviews that I need to share with you. They were both significant moments where time seemed to stand still as I listened to myself answer questions from across the screen or room. Stories of the last three years and God’s faithfulness in each step.

The first interview was with my husband. A friend who hosts a podcast, Counseling Over Coffee, asked if we would be willing to share what it’s been like to have a grandchild with special needs. I like what her daughter, who has two boys on the spectrum called him, not disabled, but different-abled. Elias has continued to surpass expectations. We had so much to share our interview quickly became a two-episodes. You can hear the first interview here.

The second interview was unexpected and one of those “connect-the-dots of God’s faithfulness to me” moments.

Norah is our second oldest grand-daughter. She will be 15 next month which in itself is huge! Almost three years ago she battled a wicked disease called PANDAS. It is a miracle she has survived these past three years. Most of you are aware of this part of her life. If not, you can read it here.

She was given an 8th grade assignment to interview a grandparent. She came up with all the questions and asked them to me over Facetime. We got off to a good start…

“What year we’re you born?” 1959.

“Where were you born?” Orlando.

“How do you come to know Jesus?” This is when time seemed to slow to a crawl.

I realized Norah was asking me all the questions I regretted never asking my own grandmother. She died when I was 19. I was her youngest so she was 90 and had lived a full life. I just didn’t hear the answers to these questions until she had died.

I regretted my missed opportunity. How I wished time had slowed in that season of my life to ask such questions.

“How did you and Papa meet?“ We met at a Jesus Festival held here in Orlando.

“Have you ever seen God do a miracle?” Yes! I’m talking to her now!

Just this exchange was a moment—me sharing with her the miracle we both saw from two different perspectives.

“What gifts has God given you?” In 1989 God impressed on me that He had given me a gift of writing. He said He wanted me to keep a journal. And I’m still writing to this day—I am currently on my 78th journal.”

“You have 78 journals?” I do. I realized that writer’s write and God wanted me to learn how to write by writing. She smiled.

Through all my years of journaling I learned how to write, and this allowed me to finally write my grandmother’s story in my book titled, Through The Eyes Of Grace. It took me 12 years, and my Mom was the first to read it. To say it was my life-long dream would be an understatement. I have recorded with words the story I never took the time to discover when she was alive. But God helped me uncover it one question at a time.

What questions come to mind when you consider the story of your life? Do your children know the answers? Do your grandchildren? I encourage you to write them down so when they finally think to ask, the answers will be available for them to discover.

Hands

Hands are a vital part of our bodies, Most of us have two with one being dominant. We don’t realize how vital they are until we can’t use one or both. My friend Bonnie has been recovering from a severe injury making one hand unusable for the last few weeks. She’s in a real pickle. (Pun intended to make her smile).

Our hands are used to grab things, sort things, signal others as they come or go. But this week our hands are doing something I’ve grown accustomed to, but don’t like.

Our hands are letting go.

Our cabin in Banner Elk, NC, will soon belong to someone else. We know this is God’s leading and our hearts are at peace. But the actual moment of locking the door and driving away will be fraught with tears.

Letting go is an act of faith. It’s believing that there is something new to embrace that we can’t yet see. Our hands must be open to receive in the same way they must be open to give.

Have you also had to let go of something you enjoyed? Even when you didn’t know why?

This is where our faith is evident, because it’s based on that which we can’t see. We prove our trust in God knowing that He sees the beginning from the end. He knows all the days marked out for us. Time is in His hands alone.

So as we drive away tomorrow and wave goodbye, we will keep our hands opened to embrace what’s next.

100

That’s a number we often associate with a perfect score on a test or a high speed on the Interstate. But rarely does someone make it to their 100th birthday.

My Mom would have been 100 today.

She was born in the small town of Jenks, OK, in 1922 following the tragic death of her brother in 1920. Her only living brother was 11 years old at the time and was angry she wasn’t a boy. I can only imagine the heartache he suffered losing his little brother and best friend at such a young age.

The family moved to Florida when she was just 9 months old. Citrus groves were a hot, new investment for farmers and my grandfather and great-grandfather took the bait.

They arrived with the whole family including two cows and a horse by train. Once here they planted 32 acres of trees that produced a healthy crop for decades.

We have been in Florida ever since, but the orange groves are long gone.

It was a sad time in our family when the 32 acres of citrus trees we had were killed in the double freezes of 1983 and 1984. Only one tree survived due to it’s location; it was next to the irrigation pump that kept the tree just warm enough to save the roots of the tree.

My grandfather had installed that pump and it felt like part of him saved the lone tree for us to have its fruit. He passed away when I was 4 and my only memories of him are his pipe, the way he teased me and his delicious creamed corn.

My Mom sold the 12 acres of dead trees in town for the city to build a public park complete with ball fields, picnic pavilions, a massive playground and boardwalk through the bald cypress trees to the lake.

The other 20 acres she replanted with tangerine and tangelo trees alongside the one lone original tree. It stood like the grandfather of the grove making sure the young trees grew healthy and strong.

They did grow well, and we loved harvesting the early fruit that ripened just in time for Thanksgiving each year. We would pick as many as we could and gave them as gifts to friends at Christmas.

Those days are gone. My Mom was unable to afford to keep it, since the cost to harvest the fruit was more than the price she’d make selling it.

I’m sad to say the grove is now a subdivision in the sprawling hills of Clermont. The only memory of our family is the name of the road—It still bears my grandfather’s last name, Oswalt Road.

My Mom and I vowed to never drive out there again. A promise I’ve kept even after she took her last breath in 2012.

Happy 100th birthday in Heaven, Mom. I miss you. 💯🥰

It’s A Small World After All

Finding refuge in our hearts to pray for Ukraine

I was born in Orlando 12 years before Mickey literally came and welcomed the world to us. I’ve seen changes and met many people from other countries who love coming here because of him.

One of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World is called, It’s A Small World, where little wooden dolls, that are dressed in customary clothing for their country, dance, twirl and sing along with the ride’s theme song. If you’ve been here you’re most likely singing it now and will be for the rest of the day. Sorry.

But seriously I’m not sorry. Our world has become smaller to us personally.

We have had two pastors staying with us for this past week attending the International Grace Partnership Conference that happens every February at our church. One, has been a dear friend since 2016 when we first met him and his beautiful wife. Their home is far away, but our hearts are bound together like family.

Their home is Ukraine. The invasion of Russia began while they were asleep in our guest rooms. Each morning since, we awake to hear if their families made it safely through the night. We thank God over coffee for another safe night for them.

We have laughed together when we heard of how a gypsy band managed to steal a Russian tank by towing it away with their tractor.

We have cried together seeing his wife in a bomb shelter with a smile on her face as she sorts warm clothes and blankets for refugees passing by their town on the way to Poland.

Such a strong community, people and nation who have grown to love freedom these last 30 years, as I have all of my life.

We don’t know what the future holds for them. But My husband and I are grateful to have been able to offer them comfort, prayers and hearty meals at such a time as this.

If you would like to help you can donate through Grace Partnership and designate it’s for Ukraine. All money will go to Hosanna church in Rivne supplying food, clothing and shelter to the refugees passing through their town in western Ukraine. Every little bit helps.

All our pastors praying for our dear brothers who lead and serve the church in Rivne, Ukraine

Most of all, pray for an end to this evil attack on Ukraine. They love their freedom as we do. They have families and jobs as we do. They are like we are, but facing insurmountable odds to stay so. I pray we will all come together to help in their time of need.

Realizing more than ever…it is a small world after all.

Connect the Dots

Art by AKesterstudios.com

This past weekend a dear couple finally married. It was a celebration that all who attended will not soon forget.

Our church building, that is a multi-purpose complete with a wood basketball court under the carpet squares, was transformed to look like a grand hotel ballroom.

The days leading up to the wedding were full of happy friends eager to make this day one of dreams come true. We cut floral stems, hung fabric with twinkle lights indoors, market lights outdoors. We set tables with greenery, white flowers, candles and hundreds of clear bottles and vases.

The groom has faced tragedy in his young life. His Dad passed away suddenly a few years ago leaving him the oldest son. His Mother was left to raise their four kids while grieving the unbelievable loss of her best friend.

His siblings were all in the wedding party and his Mom was ready to welcome a new daughter to the family. Joy exuded as the wedding began!

The bride is the only daughter of three children. She is a talented musician and artist who spent much of her college years working for a prosthetics company making dreams come true for new amputees. In her off time she paints for fun and profit—and she’s very good. Check out her website AK Studios.

I was the recipient of a piece she was commissioned to do for me by one of my best friends for my birthday. You can see it at the top of this post.

His (God’s) faithfulness connects the dots.

And this couple personifies the faithfulness of God. As I write this they are enjoying their long-awaited honeymoon, and all of us who witnessed their vows couldn’t be happier for them.

Life brings so many difficulties including unexpected death. But if we wait long enough, the tides turn and the good God has stored up for us rolls in like a flood.

What troubles are you facing? Know that this too will pass. But we must connect the dots or we may miss the good that is sure to follow.

❤️ Mr. and Mrs. ❤️