My grandchildren play a game while driving through tunnels when traveling: they hold their breath from the time they enter until they leave the tunnel.  They think it is fun.

Quite frankly, I have never been particularly fond of tunnels. While at times they may be unavoidable, like on a road trip, I do not voluntarily enter a tunnel unless I can see the light at the other end.

I am reminded of the year my husband, Jim, and I traveled to Hawaii with family members.  On the agenda one day was a climb to the top of a mountain where we would have a great view of much of the island.   All went well until we reached a point where we had to walk through a tunnel.  Unable to see the light at the other end, I opted to stay behind.  Then Jim lovingly extended his hand and offered to guide me safely through to the other end.  Trusting him, I began the journey, almost holding my breath like my grandchildren going through a tunnel in the car ― but my breath-holding was more out of fear than for diversion.

Years ago, a friend of mine who had lost her husband shared that for her, widowhood sometimes felt like going through a tunnel without being able to see the light at the other end.

Today marks the second anniversary of my own widowhood. Actually, it did not feel like a tunnel experience for me during the first year.  Perhaps it was because my attention was so focused on adjusting to my new status and then treating and recovering from breast cancer.  Even the first half of the second year was filled with new goals and adventures.

Then it suddenly hit me one day a few months ago:  I was beginning to feel like I was going through a tunnel, struggling to see the light at the end―the same tunnel other widows had told me about.  “Wait a minute, Harriet,” I said to myself.  “For you as a believer, even though you may feel right now like you are going through a dark, directionless, and endless tunnel, there is always light at the end of it for you.”

I was reminded that God uses the tunnel experiences of life to help me grow in my faith.  In Job 23:10, we read these words:  “But He knows the way that I take: When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Sometimes God uses them to teach me to trust in His goodness.  “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the Lord; be of good courage.  And He shall strengthen your heart.  Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14).

Other times, I learn to depend upon Him to lead me. “Nevertheless, I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand.  You will guide me with your counsel and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:23-24).

Ultimately, as a believer, there is always light at the end of the tunnel because of the hope I have in Christ:  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).  Not only do I have hope in His purposes in the day-in-day-out experiences of my life, but I have hope for an eternal future with Him. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away; reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1: 3).

And so I continue to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), in trust and dependence upon Him and allowing Him to lead me, knowing that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).

I have hope, because He knows where He is taking me and what He is doing in and through my life.  He has promised to be with me and to guide me now, and to one day receive me in glory to be with Him forever.

Today would have been Jim’s and my 45th wedding anniversary.  Happy memories of our life together help diminish the pain of missing him.

  • Our wedding day ….
  • The birth of our first child, then the second, then the third…..
  • Happy times as a family……
  • A son and daughter-in-law and six grandchildren added to the family…..
  • Ministry together in four countries on three continents…..

The memories are endless.Image

Without a doubt, my greatest memory is of a husband who loved me unconditionally and sacrificially ― who showed me his Christ-like love in countless ways.

This truth was confirmed in my heart when one of Jim’s former seminary students shared his memories of my husband.   In one particular class session, he told me,  Jim had taught the Bible’s instruction regarding the love a husband should have for his wife:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

With tears in his eyes, recounted Jim’s alumnus, Jim shared his heart: “If anyone hurts my wife, they hurt me.”

I thank God for giving me a husband who loved me just as He instructs in His Holy Word.  I can enjoy happy memories because he applied God’s principles to his life.

Today I celebrate 43 years of memories shared with a man who lived the truths he taught.  Happy Anniversary, my Love.

Question: Do we know and apply God’s principles to our lives?  Do we live them in our family relationships?

Taking one last look in the mirror before settling down for the night, I was taken aback by what I saw.

Breast cancer surgery had disfigured my body.  Two weeks into chemotherapy and I was  bald as an eagle.  “You really are quite a mess,” I said out loud to myself.

“Add to that the loss of your husband only a few months ago and the fact that you are alone in the house as you go to bed.   You really should be quite devastated.”

Continuing this one-person conversation, I replied, “But somehow I am content.”

Content.  What does it mean?  How does one become content?

My dictionary defines it as “happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different; satisfied.”

Back in my high school days someone once described me as being like a contented cow.  Not taking it as a compliment then, after reading the definition of “contented,” I rather like the word.  It shares the same meaning as content:  “contented ―having or showing no desire for something more or different; satisfied.”

When I am tempted to fall into self-pity and discontent, I am reminded of oft-heard Bible verses written by the Apostle Paul, verses that have taken on new meaning to me in my present circumstances. Paul lauds contentment ― which is “the state, quality, or fact of being contented” ―as a virtue.  He writes in1 Timothy 6:6 (NASB): “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”

In Philippians 4:11, he states, “Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  He goes on to describe in verse 12 the full gamut of his personal experience: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

I personally have found Paul’s God-given, God-focused secret to contentment to be true and can proclaim with him his words in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

As Paul shares his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh,” in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, he credits his contentment to the grace, power, and strength he has in Christ even in the midst of suffering. He summarizes his train of thought in verse 10:  “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The writer of the book of Hebrews shares Paul’s philosophy when he advocates “being content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). And his reasoning?  “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What will man do to me?’”

In addition to the ingredients of God’s grace, power, and strength in the recipe for contentment, God’s constant and abiding presence and help removes discontent, loneliness, and fear.

In his book, The Lord is My Shepherd: Resting in the Peace and Power of Psalm 23, Robert J. Morgan writes: “When the Lord is our Shepherd, that is enough. He is enough.  Enough to meet our needs, calm our nerves, clear our vision, restore our souls, ensure our future, and bless our day” (p.xv).

Continuing in verse 2 of Psalm 23, we learn the source of contentment: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters.” Morgan says of this verse:  “When our Shepherd is near us, our minds can relax.  Anxious thoughts retreat in the presence of the Lord and His Word and His promises.  Contentment comes as we realize that He is all we need and He meets all our needs.  That knowledge imparts an attitude of quietness of spirit” (p. 54).

Morgan adds, “Contentment is saying, ‘The world may be coming apart at the seams, but I’m holding together because of Jesus.  Though sometimes confused and occasionally confounded, I have a basis for blessed contentment in His compassion and power (p.57).’”  He continues, “Instead of reminding yourself of what you crave, remind yourself of what you have. . . And be thankful” (p.57).

I would never have chosen to lose my husband and be diagnosed with breast cancer all in the same year (or any time for that matter).  I would not particularly want to experience it all over again.  And to be honest, there are days when I struggle a bit.  But I would not change for a minute what I have learned and how I have grown spiritually and as a person through the experience.  I treasure the peace and contentment I find in the midst of my circumstances when I practice God’s principles.

So maybe my friend was wrong.  I am a contented sheep, not a contented cow.    With his grace, strength, power, and presence in my life, I am satisfied with what I have because the Lord is My Shepherd.  I do not desire something more or different.

The Lord is my Shepherd, and that is enough. I am thankful.

A Roots Tour

“I have been so busy that I haven’t even had time to tend to my roots.”  Quickly abandoning my original thoughts of the roots of a tree, my eyes moved to that noticeable one-quarter inch of gray between my friend’s scalp and her reddish-brown strands.  She definitely needed to tend to her roots.

For the past ten years, busyness had prevented the tending of my roots.  Not the roots of my hair – every last hair on my head had long since been gray – but to my physical roots.   My brother Roger’s  diagnosis of lung cancer motivated me to suspend every other activity and cross the miles from California to Indiana ― to go back home to my Indiana roots.

Camera in hand, I began my roots tour.  I re-visited the familiar sites in the town where I was born and raised. The home and neighborhood where I grew up, my church, my school, the family business, even the gravesites of my parents, grandparents, and extended family members all flooded me with memories.

I recalled having felt so rootless after the death of my parents (my mother in 1991 and my father in 1993), even though I had been away from home for many years.   Where did I belong now?  Where would I go just to go “home?”  Deeply-embedded roots yanked out of the fertile soil where they had been fed and nourished for 45 years.  I had depended on those roots for stability as my husband, Jim, and I had moved from Costa Rica, to Spain, to Mexico, and finally to southern California in our missionary work. Now they were gone.

I keenly felt my responsibility to provide this same kind of place where our three children could place their roots.   Jim and I tried to provide in our home the fertile soil where our children’s roots could go deep, be nourished and refreshed, and grow.  Many times we had stood together arm in arm waving good-bye to our visiting adult children.  “Thank you, Lord, that Jim and I can make home a place where our children have their roots, a place where they can always return.  Thank you that we can wave good-bye to them together.”     I envisioned repeating this scenario often for many years to come.

Now, even though I had revisited my original roots, I once again felt rootless and so alone.  Three months prior, God had taken Jim Home to Heaven at the age of 65, shattering my dreams of providing our family’s roots as we grew old together. Home just wasn’t the same any more. How could I as a widow provide roots for my family? Where were my roots?  Where did I belong?  Everyone around me seemed to belong somewhere and to someone.  Even my great niece’s heifers were thriving as a twosome in the barn on m y brother’s property!

God sweetly reminded me of the verses that had impacted me many years before as a college freshman:  “And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in Him.  May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love (Ephesians 3:17*).”

Since then I have viewed my own life as a growing tree whose roots continually go deeper and deeper as they drink in God’s great love.  Even in the midst of life’s changing circumstances, I am still firmly rooted and grounded in His love with roots that just keep going deeper and deeper.  My stability is in Him!  My roots are in Him! I am secure in this truth.

I desire to continue my “roots tour” with Christ.  I pray that as others journey with me, we will all experience the words that follow in the Ephesians 3 passage:

“And may you be able to feel and   understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high His love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, (though it is so great that you will never see the end of it, or fully know or understand it). And so at last you will be filled up with God himself” (Ephesians 3:18-19*).

* the Living Letters paraphrase of the Epistles (Tyndale House Publishers, 1962)

Early Sunday morning, another great man in my life, my brother Roger, peacefully entered into the Presence of the Lord.

Last January, even as my husband, Jim, was given his diagnosis of incurable, untreatable, cancer, Roger was in intensive care in Indianapolis with pneumonia.  Testing revealed incurable, but treatable lung cancer.  Months of chemotherapy and antibiotic treatment followed.

In May, Roger and I enjoyed our first visit in ten years when I traveled to Indiana ― a beautiful time of sharing love and memories.  My heart ached as I tearfully hugged him good-bye, not knowing if I would ever see him again in this earthly life

By God’s grace, my other brother, David, and I spent Thanksgiving with Roger and his family.  It was to be our last earthly encounter.   I never dreamed that in just two short weeks Roger would be rejoicing with the Savior in Heaven, and we would be mourning our loss.

Roger and Jim were the two people who most impacted my life spiritually. Roger introduced me to my need for a Savior. Jim caused me to stretch my faith and to grow in my knowledge of God and in my personal walk with Him.  Both nurtured and watered my faith and made me a better person.  Both unfailingly demonstrated the unconditional love of Christ for me.

My story, “Confessions of a Mortician’s Daughter,” is my personal tribute to my brother Roger.  He opened the door to my receiving a gift that changed my life, both now and for eternity. http://storiesfromthevine.com/confessions-of-a-morticians-daughter/

Thank you, Roger, for loving me so much.  For protecting me.  For caring for me.  For faithfully calling me out of concern for my life and my needs. For your constant example of a man who loved God with all his heart, soul, and mind, and who put the needs of others above your own.  I will miss you terribly.

Your life has left its imprint on many. You not only were a loving brother, but you were a loving and committed husband, father, grandfather, and friend.   Even as you are rejoicing in your Eternal Home, your legacy of selfless and sacrificial love, commitment, and faithfulness lives on in our hearts.

“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but tablets of human hearts.”  2 Corinthians  3:2

God with Us

“And they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)

It was at this time last year that I became aware of the seriousness of Jim’s illness. “He looks like the life is ebbing out of him,” I thought as I watched him slowly walk to the bedroom to lie down, looking pale, tired, and weak. Quickly brushing aside those thoughts, I focused on scheduling doctor appointments for him.

Nevertheless, we went through the Christmas season with its traditions. We spent an afternoon at Disneyland exactly one year ago today, enjoying a beautiful choral Christmas concert there.  Noticeably weak, Jim managed to keep up the pace.

One week later Jim climbed the ladder to the attic and brought down the Christmas decorations.  Traditionally, we have put the tree lights on together. (I am all thumbs when it comes to hanging lights.) I knew Jim was in pain, but he characteristically did not complain as he lovingly and patiently attached each light to the tree’s branches.  This was his labor of love for me, sacrificially giving of himself for his bride, loving me just as Christ loves His Church and laid down His life for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

As Christmas neared, one day he entered the house after having been gone for awhile, frustrated over his failure to find a Christmas gift for me. I assured him that I was more than happy with the new study Bible (in Spanish) that we had ordered for me, and that the greatest gift was having him with me.

Christmas Eve came.  He encouraged me to attend the Christmas Eve service alone, as he did not have the energy to attend and still be able to preach the next morning.  Of course, I was worried.

The following day, Sunday, was Christmas Day. Jim preached a beautiful sermon.  It was to be his last.  On the way home he confessed that he had thought he was not going to be able to finish the sermon and then greet the people afterward, so great was his weakness and pain.

Our family celebrated together the next day. Jim could not assume his usual role of reading the Christmas story and joyfully distributing the family gifts from under the tree.  Not this year.  He sat in the recliner, pale, weak, and in pain, leaving in the middle of the festivities in order to lie down.  Not one of us in the family could have imagined that the following days would find Jim in the hospital, culminating in a diagnosis of incurable, untreatable cancer that was blocking his intestinal track. This would be his last Christmas with us.

I kept the tree up well into January. Upon returning home from the hospital each night, I sat in the stillness of the living room, the only lights in the room those that twinkled on the Christmas tree. It was hard for me to remove that tangible reminder of those last happy moments hanging the lights on the tree together– Jim’s sacrificial gift of love to me. I could almost feel his presence.

Jim is not with me this Christmas. In the midst of loss, life still goes on.  Tonight my son, Steve,  helped me put the lights on the tree.  Did I miss Jim?  Of course. . I spoke of him constantly while we worked.  “Dad did the lights like this,” I would tell Steve.

I have shed a few tears today. But mixed with the tears of sadness were tears of gratitude.  Thankful because I know I am not alone.  God is with me! He has shown me time and time again in the year since last Christmas that He is my Immanuel – my “God with me.”  In the good times and in the bad time.  In happy family holiday times, in lonely moments.  My Immanuel is with me –  today and every day!

Immanuel. God with us. this is the beauty of Christmas.


Questions to ponder:

Do you know this Emmanuel personally?

Can you think of a time when it was especially meaning to you to know that God is with you?

The Oops File

An “Oops File.”  Not exactly what you want to see at a hospital desk when your precious loved one is in surgery. But there it was.

I said good-bye to my husband with a kiss and a prayer as he was wheeled off to surgery. He would be having the Whipple Procedure, a delicate surgery that not all patients survive, Jim’s only human hope for overcoming bile duct cancer.  While the doctor had prepared us for the worst possible outcome from this potentially six-hour-long surgery, we had peace that God was in control.

A bit disconcerted when I saw the sign, I discovered upon further investigation that it was a file in which hospital volunteers reported errors in their record of number of hours served. It had nothing to do with surgery. I breathed a sigh of relief, just as I did when the doctor came to speak with my family after only four-and-one-half hours.  Surgery had been successful and Jim was doing very well. There were no surgical “oops” to report.

Often I have reflected upon that sign, especially when things don’t go as planned, when I wonder if something has gone drastically wrong. I have wanted to say “Oops,” rectify the mistake, and get life back to normal. It would have been easy to wonder if God had made a mistake when almost two years later my husband’s time on earth came to an end and he was promoted to Heaven. But I rested in the truth that in God there are no mistakes, that He has everything under control, that He has a perfect purpose and plan in everything.  He has no “Oops File.”

Now I am the one with the diagnosis of cancer.  When the biopsy revealed breast cancer, it would have been easy to have said, “Pardon me, Lord, but did I hear correctly?  Is this the ‘future and the hope’ that you have for me? I was expecting something more exciting. . . new ministry opportunities, perhaps travel, extended time with my children and grandchildren, time with friends.  But cancer?  Really?”

But there are no “oops” in God’s economy and I have peace that this truly is part of His good and perfect plan for my life.

My recovery from surgery has far exceeded expectations, for which I praise the Lord. I entered my follow-up appointment with the oncologist full of prayerful hope and expectation, ready to learn what the pathology report had revealed and what my future treatment would be.

With four out of thirteen lymph nodes testing positive, my cancer is considered to be at Stage 2.  Four to six cycles of chemotherapy at three week intervals will be followed by five years of the hormonal therapy of Tamoxifen    Radiation after chemo is an option we will explore when we see how I do with the chemotherapy.  I first must have a PET Scan/CT Scan to be sure there is no cancer elsewhere in my body.

 Today I have had contradictory emotions. Disappointed that the cancer has metastasized in the lymph nodes and further treatment is required?  Yes.  Sobered by the reality of cancer?  Definitely. Concerned about the effects of chemo and radiation?  Of course.  Wondering if my cancer will go into remission and I will enjoy many more years of life?  It would be hard not to. But doubting? No.  Cast down? Only for occasional passing moments.  Distraught?  Not as long as I keep my eyes on my Sovereign God who is in control of my life.  I continue to trust God and His perfect plan. I rest in the fact that God has no “Oops File.”

Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB)

11 For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts

Psalm 93:1-2 (NASB)

93 The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

This Is My Father’s WorldMaltbie D. Babcock

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

That thought the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world;

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavers ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad.

(verse 3)