I walked downstairs and found someone left the television on in the family room. Before I could turn it off, I heard a terrible story on the news about a man who killed his wife and young children. A picture flashed across the screen of a man surrounded by his beautiful family. I didn’t want to hear the awful details. I didn’t want to see the crime scene. The story settled into the deepest pockets of my heart.
Just before my son left to catch the school bus, he told me what happened the day before in gym class. The students were unkind. He chose words to make it seem like it didn’t bother him but his eyes and his voice told a different story. He didn’t want to talk about it. Words caught in my throat as I handed him his backpack and gave him a hug, holding him tighter and longer until he pulled away. I told him to have a good day and that I loved him very much. I didn’t want to think about the cruel words that made their way into his heart. Those words found a home inside my heart too.
I heard my husband talking in his home office, the stress in his voice rising as he talked with a client who expected too much. He already juggled deadlines and out of town trips. When he walked into the kitchen, his head hung low, I asked if he was okay and he shared his frustration. Unable to offer any real help, I encouraged him to breathe and to tackle one problem at a time. He had been working late nights and traveling even though he was exhausted. His face softened when I told him I was worried about him. That was where my son got that. He assured me he was fine and all the work would get done. He told me not to worry but concern for him dug its heels inside my heart.
I made a cup of hot tea and sat down to write. Excited about a project, I opened my laptop and my hands found their place on the keyboard. I closed my eyes to shake off the burdens of the day. My heart was heavy and my thoughts twirled around like a frenzied ballerina. Worry and sadness danced through my mind desperately searching for a way out.
There was no way out.
Words typically carved an escape hatch for emotions to flee from my heart. Not today. I thought about that mom and her kids, stolen from this world by someone they loved and trusted. I imagined how my son felt when he heard those unkind words. I wished I could erase that soundtrack from his memory. I knew it was in there forever. My husband’s exhaustion and frustration was palpable. I wanted to ease his load and give him rest.
I closed my laptop. I had no inspiring words, nothing to contribute. I was sinking.
I lost another friend to metastatic breast cancer. Another found out she had progression. The reality of my disease was never more evident than when I had to watch my friends suffer, then die. I was muddling through the teen years with my daughter, feeling like a failure on every possible level. Relationships were strained. Things were changing. People were changing. Life felt like I got up to go to the restroom and when I returned, my plush seat was filled. The only seat left was the uncomfortable chair in the corner.
I wrapped my hands around my cup of tea and walked over to the morning room. I collapsed on the couch and looked outside at the trees, their green leaves fading as summer retreated. Yellow leaves peppered the green backdrop. The cool autumn winds blew and the branches opened their hands and effortlessly let go. I wished I could do that. Leaves whirled and spun on their way to the ground. Sunlight sparkled through the treetops, sending twinkling lights into the room.
I kept a box next to the couch in the morning room where I stashed a bible, some books, and more than a few journals. I was feeling some kind of way. When that happened, I searched for comfort in The Word. I typically went to Psalms but today, I asked God to pick. I closed my eyes, opened my Bible, and placed my finger on a spot on the page.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in men – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.– Philippians 4:8, NIV
I read it. Then, I read it again.
Think about such things —
true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things.
I had allowed my head and heart to be filled with sadness, grief, and uncertainty. I had to focus on the good. Wasn’t that what I always preached? What I promised myself I’d do after I got sick?
I needed a reminder and God gave it to me, in the middle of Philippians, on the page I opened. That verse was already circled in my Bible. I circled it again. I kept track of those things – reminders, answered prayers, situations – and God’s direct messages.
I let the verse soak into my heart. I had been thinking about things that were sad and heavy, that made me anxious. I couldn’t ignore the state of the world or of my son’s wounded heart. I couldn’t ignore my concern for my husband, my health, or any of the things that hurt my heart. God wasn’t asking me to ignore those things but He didn’t want me to worry about them either.
I had to give them to God.
Today was a gorgeous day – a “blue sky and puffy white cloud” kind of day, my favorite. I sat in quiet reflection counting my blessings. Slowly but most certainly, those sad and anxious feelings faded. Every day I asked God to use me as a vessel, to allow me to spread the love of Jesus through word and deed. That was what I needed today. I had a morning full of ‘to do’s” but I drew an arrow from today to Monday in my planner.
My day was suddenly free to spread that love.
I already planned to bake chocolate chip cookies for a generous soul. I mixed the batter and scooped the dough. I put them in the oven and that delicious aroma filled my home. I pulled out my box of cards and my bag of colorful pens. I wrote some notes to thank, to encourage, and to let people know I was thinking of them. As I wrote the cards, God placed more people on my heart. I was excited to hear God’s requests and overjoyed to act on them.
That day, I got to bless several people. With every deed, with every written note, my heart felt lighter. My place in this world felt more secure. As I wrote the cards and packaged cookies, my heart filled with thoughts of the wonderful people in my life. I thought about my son and my husband and how I could love them through the hard times. I wanted to be an encourager. Just thinking about the good things I could do for others helped me to feel better, to rid my heart of heavy thoughts. I saw the bright blue sky. I felt the autumn breeze on my face. I began to dwell on what was good – not what was bad. I felt lighter. I felt more comfortable in this place.
I reclaimed my seat.
My son had a great day at school that day. I was so relieved. My day turned around. I even met a new friend. She blessed me and her kindness allowed me to bless my mom. Isn’t that awesome how that works? Mom and I had an amazing night at a Christian concert. We listened to songs that continued to work on my heart. We sang “Amazing Grace” along with a stadium full of people. How sweet the sound …
My heart was full – no longer of anguish but of peace. God’s peace.
On the way to that concert, my husband called. Our hot water tank leaked onto the basement floor and needed replaced. My heart hurt to hear the stress in his voice but I knew God would help us deal with this unexpected trial. I told my husband to take the kids as planned and we would figure it out in the morning. I prayed for God to calm his overwhelming emotions. Although I would have typically stressed right along with him, I didn’t. Not that day. When we returned from the concert, I expected to find him sitting in his office researching hot water tanks online. Instead, he had fallen asleep waiting up for us. Answered prayers.
The next morning, he sat down next to me with that familiar defeated look on his face.
“What are we going to do about this hot water tank?” he asked with a heavy sigh. He was stressing about the unexpected expense. My husband was pretty handy but he had no experience with hot water tanks and was hesitant to work on the gas lines.
“Let’s go buy the hot water tank,” I offered. “Then we will find someone to help. We can get this done.”
“No one is going to help, especially on a weekend,” he said. I saw his shoulders slump as he walked away.
“Let’s see what happens,” I called out, trying to encourage him. “Have faith.”
I posted a message on Facebook asking for help. In just a few minutes, a good friend replied. Before the afternoon was over, our new hot water tank was installed. Better yet, that defeated look on my husband’s face was gone.
I saw relief. I saw faith restored.
My husband was no longer burdened by stress. He had been like a ship without sails, beaten by the waves of life, and taking on water.
Work. Home. Life. I saw it. He had been drowning, like me.
Then God sent help through friends willing to step up and show up – for him. He didn’t think anyone would help. God bless them. That simple act of kindness – the time and effort sacrificed to help him – filled his heart so full, there was no room for the rest. He was lighter. I saw it on his face and in his spirit.
My husband was thinking on the “right” things. Like me.
Earlier that day, we canceled our date night. Too much going on. After the hot water tank was installed, we changed our minds. We went for an early dinner at one of our usual Mexican restaurants. Over chips and salsa, fajitas, and my husband’s ridiculously large burrito, we talked about the great weather. We talked about exciting upcoming events. We talked about ‘good people’. We had a wonderful time.
On the way home, we noticed a gorgeous sunset from the car window. The sun was just about to slip into the horizon. Mike quickly drove past the turn toward home and made a left to one of my favorite ‘sunset spots’. The sky was washed in deep indigo blue. A fiery gold hung over the black silhouette of the rambling hills. It was breathtaking. It was the cherry on top of our day.
We stayed for a moment, taking it all in. I took a picture with my camera, but also with my heart. I knew the bad days would come again. I knew the emotions would once more weigh heavily on my heart. When those times came, I wanted to remember that moment.
I wanted to remember the beauty of God’s Creation. Gratitude for all my blessings, especially the ‘good people’ in my life. The opportunity to bless others. The love I shared with my husband. The relief of finding my comfortable seat.
When those times came, I would be prepared. For I would think – about all those things.