Friday, December 23, 2016

Hope from a Squiggly Line

Some thoughts on loss and comfort on this, the 7-year anniversary of Dana’s passing.

Earlier this month I volunteered to write an Advent devotional for our church and was assigned a snippet out of Psalm 103. It goes something like this:

Praise the Lord, my soul; my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5, NIV)

I stumbled over the phrase “heals all our diseases” because the obvious retort to that declaration is, “No, He doesn’t.” So, what gives? Is David, whose name is in the byline, using figurative parts of speech that point to eternal “ultimate” healing? Is he writing while on a spiritual high and over-promising on behalf of God? Or does this simply mean the Bible can’t be trusted? None of these seem likely in that all other benefits from God in this passage are very literal and are for now: forgiveness, redemption, love, mercy, and good. And David himself had been around uncured diseases: the lameness of Mephibosheth as well as the loss of his first son. Yet he still writes that the Lord “heals all your diseases.” There is obviously something deeper in play here.

Well, here’s what I got. I’m seeing the “something deeper” as two things, and they are two things that God is most jazzed about all through Scripture: 1) ultimate healing in heaven; 2) helping us out until we get there.

But first a confession. I’ve never been comforted by the concept of “ultimate healing,” as in when someone passes away from disease and we say, “Well, now she is healed.”

It’s true. Our loved one is healed. But also gone. I’ve viewed, maybe unfairly, the idea of “ultimate healing” as just a convenient way to give God an out for not delivering a miracle. I didn’t find much comfort in that. My exercise with this psalm has helped me find comfort in that. In fact, I literally found it in the form of a squiggly line in Psalm 103 in Dana's Bible.

For me, the New Testament message blurs the lines between mortality and immortality, between temporal and eternal. Our personal eternity begins at the point of believing in Jesus. Death, having lost its sting, then simply becomes the moment we step out of our mortality and keep walking with nothing but immortality, like when your boot gets stuck in the mud and your foot slips right out. From God’s perspective, it’s that simple. But after millennia of existing in our fallen state, we’ve gotten very attached to our mortality. It’s all we see, and quite frankly, all we know.

You’ve heard me speak of God stamps—those moments in my journey when it was mercifully obvious that God’s hands were all over my experience. In a post titled “Lessons Learned Along the Trail…and Journey” I wrote about a stamp that brought great comfort to me and has since brought comfort and encouragement to many others. The penultimate point of that stamp was me, while at a mountaintop cabin in Montana, hearing words from Dana from her perch on the Other side (I’ll let others figure out the conveyance mechanism on that: Angels? God? Holy Spirit?) saying to me that it didn’t matter how bad life gets. It didn’t matter how sucky her cancer battle was. It didn’t matter the pain I was feeling. She had seen where this all goes and could resolutely say “It…IS…worth it!” The ultimate point of that stamp (and I humbly encourage you to read the post if you haven’t) came a couple days later while hiking a trail when I found myself having the EXACT same conversation with hikers about a boring trail leading to a glorious overlook. I was on my way down and they were on their way up. They asked, “Is it worth it?” It was comedic timing. Yes. The glorious overlook was worth the boring hike.

It’s all about the glorious end. The thing is, it’s actually frustrating that this truth seems to shape God’s modus operandi. He knows where this is all headed and He knows it’s going to blow our minds. This is likely why He seems slow and even silent when we think He should be loud and miraculous. Yes, He may perform a miracle. But He gets more excited about the glorious end. We, naturally, would like the miracle.

So what about now? How can this “It’s Worth It!” theology help when we are fighting all our diseases and everything else that a fallen world can throw at us? The prospect of the glorious end isn’t all that comforting or motivating and quite frankly we have many God-given blessings to enjoy right here and now. Thankfully, and mercifully, God does more than say, “Just wait. You’ll see.”

I think this is the second thing in play that jazzes God up in Psalm 103. He helps us get by until we get there. When we are in the pit, God climbs in with us. Further, He redeems the experience of the pit. I remember thinking while in the pit of the cancer fight that, while I’d rather not be in the pit, I’m going to take advantage of the perspective and take a look around, knowing that I would see things and experience aspects of God that I would not have seen or experienced otherwise. We’re told in Philippians that there is great fulfillment in joining in the fellowship of suffering with Jesus, that we find a depth of intimacy we would not otherwise have experienced. I have found that to be true. I am also experiencing the fruit of redemption. In fact, one of those fruits is finishing up her oatmeal while sitting in her high chair as I type. She’s even thrown some fruit on the floor to help emphasize the point.

At the moment our friends and family members seem to be experiencing more than their fair share of fallen world these days. We have young friends fighting new cancer battles, dear friends in a marriage that’s falling apart. We have several friends, neighbors, and family who have experienced tragic loss in recent months, most recently our dear sweet Erin, Jessica’s cousin, whose husband Mike stepped out of his mortality just this past Tuesday after a 2-year battle against cancer.

There is reality in the notion that God loves to help us through this fallen world, and there is truth in the notion that God can’t wait for us to see what’s waiting for us. When Dana and I were in the final weeks of care-giving, I began to read the book of Revelation to her, about a chapter a day. It was her favorite book of the Bible. Each chapter brought salve and comfort to anxiety-filled days. We could feel God’s hands and were mercifully reminded of His presence through all the God stamps we were collecting. About midway through the book I had a haunting thought: What’s going to happen after we read the last chapter? It has such a final “Amen!” On Tuesday, December 22 Dana was more interactive than usual so I read two chapters. They happened to be the last two chapters of the book. The next morning she passed away. In Revelation 21 Dana heard these words:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

That sounds an awful lot like “He heals all your diseases.” Leave it to the book of Revelation to tie it all together. To give us comfort in the pit, and hope for the future.

As I was seeking insight on the absoluteness of “heals all our diseases,” and trying to push through my own bias against “ultimate healing” in writing the Advent devotional, I consulted several commentaries, and in a last-ditch effort for some insight, I dug out Dana’s Bible (her “brown” Bible that she often mentioned) to see if she had any comments on that phrase, particularly in light of fighting a disease that threatens life. When I turned to that psalm, my eyes landed on the picture you see nearby. The only notation in that psalm, a squiggly penned line under “He heals all our diseases.” I have no idea when she noted that phrase. Was it pre-cancer? Was it during cancer recurrence? I did have a couple clues. The fact that it was squiggly, and not a neat straight line (she usually used a straight-edge) coupled with the fact that she made no notes with the line (she always noted why something stood out) indicates to me that she underlined this phrase in the final months of fighting her disease—when she was too worn out to care about the details of neatness and comments. (The dates you see noted of ’04 and ’06 were read-throughs she had done, with a straight edge, and making notes.) She was pinning, or actually penning, her hopes on healing. I may never know, this side of heaven, which healing she most had in mind when she squiggled that line. In a nod to the blurred line between mortality and immortality, it doesn’t matter. What I do know is that on December 23, 2009, she stepped out of her mortal shell and into immortal glory.

She left her diseased boots sticking in the mud. She was healed. Of all her disease.

I’m glad I found that squiggly line. It reminded me of God’s presence in the pit. It assured me, even convinced me, of the beauty in ultimate healing.

I don’t know what you’re facing at the moment, but I hope you find a squiggly line that gives you blessed assurance in the hope of heaven where the sting of death is gone.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Celebrating 60 Years with Mom and Dad!

It’s presumptuous to think that you can write something that’s a worthy commemoration to 60 years of wonderful marriage. So that is not what I’m setting out to do. Instead, please accept this simply as a humble tribute to my parents whom I dearly love.

Two big things have to happen to be married for 60 years: 1) you need to live a long time; 2) you need to stay married a long time. Mom and Dad, the blessed Bonnie and Miles Shafer, are ably doing both. They continue to redefine for all of us each new decade of age they enter, and in their marriage they actually seem to be counting backwards, getting younger and more vibrant in their love as they go along.

My sister, Becky (“Beck”), and I know that we are blessed. We’ve had the gift of being reared by loving, selfless, nurturing parents. Of course, that’s because they were a loving, selfless, nurturing couple to begin with. They met at the Church of God Campmeeting grounds in Springfield, Ohio. Mom, the daughter of a faithful church pastor; dad, the son of a faithful family every pastor wished they had in their church. Dad was helping to park cars at Springfield Campmeeting on a summer evening in 1953. Mom was in one of those cars with her family. To hear Mom tell it, she was smitten by this handsome young man in his t-shirt and official car-parking whistle. To hear Dad tell it, it was her cuteness and charm that got his attention.

It was a match made in heaven and on September 29, 1956 they declared “I do” to something God had already put together. And you know, they’ve been following that pattern, in some form or another, ever since. Mom and Dad are what it looks like to reap the benefits of living the gospel message, being obedient to what God puts before them: to speak truth when needed, to dispense grace when needed, to bestow forgiveness when needed, to keep at bay those things that try to sneak in and destroy. They are what it looks like to live a humbly contented life, free of bitterness, jealousy, envy and other things that erode the body and harden the heart. It’s this humble contentment, I think, that has freed up their minds and hearts to love so selflessly on Beck and me, on our extended family, on our church, on friends, and on anyone who made their way to Mom and Dad’s dining room table.

This humble contentment certainly put them in position to be the best parents in the world—all due respect to any present-company parents reading along. If I may, let me count a few ways.

First, there is their hidden, surprising sense of adventure. Before they knew how to camp, they took us camping. When they felt the nudge to leave the city to find solace in the country, they left familiarity and moved. Before they knew about livestock and farming they brought home three ponies. Knowing nothing about construction, they built a house with the help of friends. Neither finished with a college degree, but they sent their two off on that wonderful college adventure. For their 50th wedding anniversary we took a hiking trip to Big Mountain and Glacier National Park in Montana.

Then, there is their high capacity for music. Through day to day life they taught music to both Beck and me and encouraged us with formal lessons. Car trips always involved singing. Of all the great voices I’ve heard, Dad’s mellow baritone is still my favorite and I’ve always loved that Mom can play anything on the piano—anything! Over the years, Dad has faithfully kept Preble County’s pianos in tune while they both blessed the Eaton First Church of God with professional-grade music long before the church was able to hire a professional-grade musician.

Of course there is the open sanctuary of their home. Whether kneeling for prayer in the living room, or gathering for meals around the table, or saving your fork for apple pie, Mom and Dad’s home has provided sanctuary by the tableful. Through Beck’s and my high school years our back yard served as the after-game gathering spot for players, band, fans, parents, coaches, and of course, Squeak our dachshund, who turned into an actual hotdog after eating a nightful of scraps.

Speaking of pets, Mom and Dad graced us with many. History has shown Squeak and Lassie (beautiful black and white collie) to be our primary pets with many other animals serving as worthy back up pets (cats, ducks, gerbils). This also meant Mom and Dad ministered gracefully to us when it was time for each pet to find its way to pet heaven. What you don’t know at the time is that in between comforting you and being strong they are having their own cry times. And of course, they knew from the start that those times would come. But they knew the pet experience would be worth the pain. In retrospect, that may have been one of their smartest moves in truly preparing their kids for life.

I close this writing while sitting at my desk with the window cracked open, listening to the night bugs and sounds. And that’s appropriate. Mom and Dad taught us the joy of the simple. They provided the kind of home environment in which something simple like the sound of night bugs can minister to your heart, quiet your mind, and drift you off to sleep. If you can hear the bugs, it means you can’t hear other noises that might keep you awake: traffic, city sounds, noisy neighbors, your own mind. It’s peaceful. And there you have it. That’s the word. Of all the great words that could sum up home life under my parents, I am inclined to choose peaceful simply because it’s the byproduct of all the other great words that are added into that sum: selfless, loving, secure, and of course, fun.

We are blessed to have our folks reach this milestone, the Diamond Anniversary. I love Mom and Dad. I love who and what Beck and I have been able to become because of who Mom and Dad are. But it’s not just us, it’s all the people around Mom and Dad. Beck and I are blessed, not just because of our wonderful folks, but because of the people they have impacted.

Years ago Mom and Dad bought 2.5 acres of woods with a creek running through it and a clearing near the road. When the idea of building a home on that idyllic plot of land was still just a glimmer in their eyes, we would head to that woods to play, grill out, and do mowing and clearing. Each time we’d pull out and head to our farmhouse home, usually just after dusk, mom would point at the woods and say, “Someday won’t it be nice to see some warm lights glowing in a home right at the edge of those trees?” That someday soon came and those lights have been serving as a beacon for friends and families on myriad journeys and have left a glow in the hearts of all those who’ve been inside the home, most likely gathered around the dining room table.

I love you Mom and Dad! Happy Anniversary!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Children Everywhere!"

Over the past months several families close to us, some close by friendship and others close by blood and friendship, have lost a child, either by disease or tragic events. These recent losses have, of course, triggered memories of children lost in recent years.

In my own journey of loss, today, August 28, is a date that rings true in that it was the birthday of my late wife, Dana. So it seems fitting to share a story from the journey today that might bring encouragement and hope to those who’ve experienced one of the worst heartache’s this world can dish out, the loss of a child.

First, some necessary, and brief, backstory. This blog, A Journey Observed, is the chronicle of my journey of loss and recovery: the loss of Dana that left me feeling that I don’t need to love again, and the recovery that led to actually loving again. Loving again times three, in fact; not only as husband to Jessica but as father to Reade and Rachel…proving that God is not only miraculously redemptive, He’s also funny.

Dana and I didn’t begin thinking family until a few years into marriage. But, a few months after deciding to let nature take its course, instead of getting pregnant, we got breast cancer, which tends to mess up child bearing plans. And just to seal the deal, on our 5-year “all clear” anniversary from breast cancer, and at a time we could still consider a narrow window into parenthood, we learned that Dana would need a hysterectomy.

We grieved the loss of parenthood but eventually embraced our new position in life and, with a few longings here and there, were relatively fine with being the non-parents in our circles. Dana always had a soft spot for the babies and children in those circles, a spot that took on new significance once child rearing was completely out of our picture. She coined the phrase “baby holdies” as in “I need some baby holdies,” capturing the restorative, divine vibe that comes while holding a baby. When knitting became her forte, booties were a “must knit” for any new babies that came along. She certainly carried the nurture gene and I would get a little sad when I thought of her not getting to maximize that gene. To this day one of my favorite pictures of Dana is her displaying two freshly knitted sets of booties for friends pregnant with twins.

Within a few days of Dana’s passing, even before her funeral, I received an email from our good friend Karen Norval. I had known Karen for many years through youth ministry circles and she was serving on InWord’s board of directors at this time. She and Dana were good friends but had not spent a lot of time together. In her email, Karen shared that she had a dream about Dana the previous night. In her dream she saw Dana in heaven and then she wrote, “Barry, there were children everywhere.” Karen is a soulful, thoughtful, discerning person. I take her dreams seriously.

For many years I was comforted by that scene…by Dana getting to experience the joys and fulfillment of nurturing children in ways immeasurably beyond what she could imagine. Of course, it would only be the joys and fulfillment part of nurturing, not the frustrating parts of nurturing…this is heaven, after all.

But I had a specific epiphany (“spepiphany”?) while sitting in church a couple months ago that has melted my heart: I can now picture some faces in that scene of “children everywhere.” I don’t want to presume to know what God has going on for our little ones who’ve gone before us. But when I feel the pain of our friends and family who’ve lost their precious ones, I am comforted by the redemptive circle that is being completed in heaven. I share this in the hopes that it may comfort them, if maybe for just a moment.

In the months we spent in hospice mode, in the shadow of heaven’s gate, we had two very clear moments that reminded us of how thin the veil is between here and There…moments of assurance that all you believe about heaven is true, moments of assurance telling you that you can trust all your instincts and beliefs about hope, that God is indeed communicating with you through unusual means, including dreams.

So it seems that we can take heart in a particular reunion in heaven: children whose lives have been robbed of being raised by their nurturing, loving parents connecting with someone whose life was robbed of getting to nurture and love her own children. It’s God-parenting at the highest level. Literally.

Whether we feel like it or not, we are part of something that’s bigger than what we see.

I leave you with a picture from one of Dana’s scrapbooks, just sent to me by Dana’s mother, my mother-in-law for life, Mama Sue…a little something that might help us picture that particular reunion in heaven. This is Dana showing toddler Buzzin Cara (“beloved cousin”) how to play the harp. Cara, now married to Aaron, is a beautiful woman with two energetic boys of her own.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My 1 Corinthians 13 Mom

Writer’s Note: Many years ago I took a crack at writing up a family history for my grandparents’ (my mom’s folks) 50th wedding anniversary. I was inspired and it came together surprisingly well. In fact, over the years my mom has asked me to create similar writings for various family occasions and milestones. So, I thought I’d take it upon myself to write something, without her asking, for a special birthday milestone we just celebrated with her. (I will let her share the milestone.) This is my humble attempt at a gift with the written word.

I have been privileged to be reared by a 1 Corinthians 13 mom. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the phrase “1 Corinthians 13 mom.” This makes sense because my mom may be the first one ever. We all know 1 Corinthians 13 as the “love” chapter of the Bible, a book that is an anthology of love. Every day Mom displays some combination of that chapter’s familiar trio of goodness: faith, hope and love. This being the year of a milestone birthday, which we celebrated last month, it seems fitting to share.

We’re told in 1 Corinthians 13 that the greatest of the trio of goodness is love. So, saving the best for last, let me start with hope.

I am grateful that I grew up under the influence of Mom’s hope, which manifests as all-out genuine enthusiasm for everyone around her. When I was growing up, the word on my mom was, if you’re at a gathering and can’t find her, simply listen because soon you will be able to hone in on her laugh.  It wouldn’t be a loud obnoxious laugh but an infectious, gracious laugh that ties together everyone in the room, the yard, the fellowship hall, whatever the space might be. Scripture doesn’t list a named spiritual gift of enthusiasm, but it should. Mom has it. It’s driven by her hope. As soon as you meet my mom, she is your number one fan. It doesn’t matter what you do or what stage of life you are in: you have a new fan to encourage you, laugh with you, and connect you to others who do what you do and are in a similar stage of life. It’s enthusiasm driven by the hope Mom sees in each person she’s around…not simply seeing “the good side” but hoping for the best out of anyone in her orb.

This is the kind of hope you have when it is driven by faith.

I think the biggest and best gift regarding faith that Mom gave to me she actually didn’t know she was giving it. And I didn’t know I was receiving it. In the house where Mom and Dad now live, where I grew up from seventh grade on, all of the bedroom doors are clustered around the end of a hallway. So, when growing up, we all shared in each other’s pre-bed routine, which for me, usually involved a trip to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. On my trek to the kitchen I would always see Mom and Dad in their bedroom kneeling in their respective prayer spots, Dad at the chair, mom at the side of the bed. I would fix my cereal, (which at the time involved mixing cereals), find something to read, and enjoy a nice big bowl of cereal, the size of bowl you can enjoy when you don’t yet have to worry about calories. This of course included additional pours of cereal and milk until the last of each came out just right. After 20-ish minutes I’d head back to my room, passing Mom and Dad’s door. Still praying. I’d go to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Still praying. Eventually I’d hear them stir about, hear a chuckle or two from both of them as they laughed about something in the day, and then I’d hear the click of their light. And a few more chuckles.

It wasn’t until later in my adult life that I realized the impact of seeing my folks pray long and often (daily, actually). Their actions planted a seed in me about the reality of God; that a relationship with God was personal enough and real enough to affect daily behavior. I saw that God wasn’t a compartment in their lives. He was their lives. His promises and precepts were worth trusting. Heaven was real. God was real. I had no idea, as I brushed the cereal out of my teeth while they prayed, how much I would need that rock-solid reality later in life.

This then brings us to the greatest of the three traits of my 1 Corinthians 13 mom: love.

I remember, around late grade school, forming the thought that people enjoyed being around my parents. They lingered around the dinner table long after dinner was done. Our family seemed to be a drawing card.

As a child growing up with a 1 Corinthians 13 mom, (really, 1 Corinthians 13 parents, but it’s my mom’s birthday we’re celebrating at the moment) I always knew I was loved. Looking back I see the security that gave me. I always felt safe. As a new parent myself, I see the sacrifice it took. The essence of love is selflessness. What stands out about Mom, though, is how easy she makes selfless love look.

I am a grateful son. At that point, here are some things Mom has taught me…things I’m thinking of at this moment. The list gets longer the more that I think; I better start writing and hit “post” soon.


1. The best things happen around the dinner table (or breakfast table, or lunch table, or birthday table, or Christmas table, or Buckeyes-on-TV table).

2. Laugh. Laugh until you cry, or pee your pants, whichever comes first.

3. Go to funeral visitations, even though you don’t want to. You’ll never really want to.

4. Send thank you notes; gratitude is the force behind all things good.

5. Pray.

6. Enjoy your family; value time over money.

7. Forgive. Your ability to forgive protects your family more than anything else you could do.

8. Start with the benefit of the doubt; be quick to let someone off the hook.

9. Sing. If you can read music, sing your part. If you can’t read music, learn to. Then sing your part. The Doxology and Happy Birthday are both better with harmony.

10.  Contentment is great gain (more stuff means more problems).

11. Never speak harshly to your kids, whether to them, or about someone else; in fact, the less you speak harshly in total, the less you have to worry about that.

12. Respect teachers (especially the math teacher you’ll have all four years).

13. Keep falling in love with your spouse; not only is it the best gift for you and your spouse, it’s the best gift for your kids.

14. Oneness with your spouse—in decisions, in finances, in disciplining children, in faith, in everything—is the hub that supports all other spokes of life.

15. Respect authority (a paddling at school will mean a paddling at home).

16. Don’t let your son get away with saying “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

17. Make compliance your first thought, it’s the path of peace.

18. Read the classics (it took 30 years for that one to take, but it took in a big way).

19. Understand music’s Circle of Fifths (45 years and it’s still taking).

20. Affirm people every chance you get; make that your default setting.

21. Respect your elders, both spiritual and chronological.

22. Don’t be selfish, especially with your time and resources.

23. Look for more than the good side of people; find the best side.

24. Know and trust the Word of God; in fact, stay fascinated by it.

25. Life is not fair; in fact, life is one, giant freshman semester: one adjustment after another.

26. Eat the things you don’t like but are, of course, good for you, especially Brussels sprouts.

27. Be able to quote things your dad said, your mom said, your grandparents said.

28. Even though it will eventually hurt, don’t be afraid to get pets for your kids (cats, ponies, ducks, gerbils, wonderful dogs).

29. Don’t be critical.

30. Offer your giftedness to your church.

31. Tithe, and start the habit early. Ten percent of a $1 allowance is a dime. Drop it in the plate. The dollar amount of that 10 percent amount will grow, and it won’t get harder as the amount gets bigger.

32. Record, collect, and act on those spiritual reference points, those times when God pokes His finger through the veil and you’re more assured of His existence than your own.

33. Cherish your friendships.

34. Be a good worker.

35. Take sermon notes. If you know shorthand, take sermon dictation. Decades later you’ll be glad you did.

36. Aspire to the organization mantra of “A place for everything and everything in its place” and give yourself one messy room so that other rooms can be organized by that mantra.

37. Love and trust Jesus. He never fails.


Mom, you have taught me how to be a good parent, a skill I never thought I’d employ. And as I now get to employ that skill, I get a front-row seat to watching you be a 1 Corinthians 13 grandparent. And of course, my hope, is that someday my kids will be able to write about their 1 Corinthians 13 dad.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Grace in the Key Changes of Life

Music is a gifted discovery.

Even before Jessica brought the worlds of opera and classical music into my living room (and dining room and basement, not to mention other rooms in my heart and life), I have long been enamored at how composers and musicians can combine the mathematics of a musical score with the mechanics of a musical instrument and create a beautiful sound that makes people cry.

Or more accurately, create sequences of sounds that make people cry. It’s the contrast we notice as the music moves from one chord to another, from the minor to the major, from staccato to legato, from suspenseful to resolute. The change is what creates the beauty that magically draws out the tears.

Music is what’s used in movies to, quite literally, set the tone. It’s what let’s us know whether we should be fearful or happy; it’s what gives us a heads up to a sad ending.

In nearly all episodes of ABC’s Modern Family (I am catching the reruns at the dinner hour while Jessica and babies are off on an extended singing gig), every branch of the family hits meltdown mode at some point. Conflicts and dynamics reach what appears to be an unrecoverable peak. And then, with just two minutes left in the episode, the emotive music trickles in and the voice of the family member who’s been narrating the episode (in its mockumentary format) comes on in resolved tones saying something like “yeh, we’re a crazy family, but we’re our crazy family.” The narrator’s words are always well-written and inspiring, but it’s the music that makes it believable, that makes you feel that all the forgiveness, understanding, and grace-giving needed was actually bestowed and accepted in those two minutes. You wouldn’t believe this without the music.

And it got me to thinking.

We all need those moments when, after all elements of our lives have reached their full fevered pitch, our personal musicscape changes keys and our Narrator ties it all together for us, leaving us with at least the very slightest inspiration that gets us to say, even ever so weakly: I can do this.

Thankfully, this happens in real life, not just on television. I know this to be true.

The musicscape of our lives, of course, isn’t an audible soundtrack (although I know we’d all have a blast creating one). In the situations and pain that we face, the shift from a minor to a major key comes in the form of moments of grace. Or, if you will, grace notes. It’s those moments when the finger of God pushes through the veil like a finger pushing through shrink wrap, and we are touched. A few years ago, in a conversation with mother-in-law-for-life Mama Sue, we came to call these poke-throughs “God stamps,” divinely coincidental events that left us no doubt that God’s stamp was all over this journey, that He was with us just as sure as the tears on our cheeks. For those who’ve been journeying along with me you know these “stamps” as The Deer Story, The Rainbow Story, and, in a direct connection to music, The Church Bells story. (So maybe the musicscape of our lives can be literal music after all.)

And just like the change in the music that sparks emotion, it’s the contrast of the darkness of a situation with the light of God’s poke-through that sparks a moment of resolve, or strength, or encouragement.


In recent days many people around me have been experiencing great loss. In the past few weeks, our friends Dan and Brittany lost their dear one-year-old Avery after a year of overcoming one obstacle over another. We lost Jessica’s dear uncle Ken to a long battle with cancer. Our friend Amy lost her much-to-young uncle to short battle with cancer. My neighbor across the street lost his mom. A neighbor behind us passed away. My cousins Mike and Susan are well over halfway to the one-year mark of losing their precious 3-year old Will. While I don’t know them personally, I’ve been intimately touched by the loss of Joey Feek, wife of Rory Feek and part of the Christian/Country duo of Joey + Rory. And those are the tough situations that come to mind without even thinking. There are many more.

I write this today, as a prayer, for my many friends and family members who are in the epicenter of loss. I wish, hope, and pray that you have moments when you modulate from the minor to the major chord, that you experience a poke-through from God that gives you a touch of grace, a moment that gives you enough strength to say, even ever so slightly, “I can do this.”

For those, like me, who’ve lost a spouse, as you move farther, and further, from the first moment of loss, you find that there are three dates on the calendar that tend to have their own pulse: your spouse’s birthday, your spouse’s date of death, and your wedding anniversary. I’m writing today in commemoration of our wedding anniversary. I’m using the occasion of this date to somehow try to pay forward the comfort I received from God. His grace is real. And as the apostle Paul said, it is sufficient. When I think, though, how God’s grace ministered to me, the word “sufficient” seems a gross understatement. But from the sense that God’s grace is all we need, which is what’s being said here, the measure is exactly right.

It’s fitting, too, that today, March 20, marks the day that nature makes its own key change, from the minor key of winter, to the major key of spring. It’s easy to imagine in your mind’s ear a harp glissando as you breathe in the spring and exhale the winter.

Of course, just like a TV comedy series, there will be a new episode of mayhem right around the corner. But at least we know we can listen for the music. And our Narrator’s voice can be heard any time we listen. Grace notes are written into the music scores of our lives. I’ve learned that actual grace notes in a musical score can be considered optional. The conductor or musician decides on whether they’re played. For me, when applied to the music scores of our lives, they are required playing. When it comes to grace, I do not want to miss a note.