Outside My Window

The coolness of the riverbank,
And the whispering of the reeds
Daybreak is not so very far away
Enchanted and spellbound,
In the silence they lingered
And rowed the boat as the light grew steadily strong
And the birds were silent
As they listened to the heavenly music
And the river played the song
The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn…
                                        -Van Morrison-Piper at the Gates of Dawn

This morning I was up at 4:30. Alone in the early morning hours, I’ve learned to appreciate the stillness before the busyness of the day begins. It’s my time to read, think, write, and pray.

Sitting at my desk thus, I heard an owl calling. I quickly turned off the inside lights and opened my window to better see and hear what was going on outside. I sat in anticipatory calm, the coolness of the pre-dawn breeze a gentle balm to my heart and mind.

A second owl began to answer the first and so began a most welcome opportunity to apprehend the beauty and gift of God’s greatness in creation. As my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness outside, I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of an owl in flight, skimming high in the treetops and silhouetted against the imminent break of day.

What a gentle mystery is the owl’s call! It is a mingling of enchantment and nostalgia, the solemn longing for something just out of reach. Other birds’ songs are quite eloquent to be sure, yet straightforward in their expression. But the owl, reluctant to reveal too much, reserves a secret reservoir of insight and sagacity for patient souls intent on deciphering what it is he is trying to say.

Twenty minutes or so passed. One owl would call, the other would answer. Captivated by the present and afraid I would miss the miracle if I were to surrender the moment too soon, I waited, listening and spellbound.

As the sky blushed pink with morning, the owl lifted effortlessly from its resting place and glided eastward just as the mockingbird sang its exuberant welcome to the dawning of a new day.

 

Taste and See

Last week was a bit stressful for me. Worry was the main culprit. Anxious thoughts and fret fests conspired to deliver me to the edge of panic.

But God is good to widen my focus to see the table He has set before me. I realize I am hungry for a different point of view. What I’m craving is an eternal perspective.

Take the story of Elijah, more specifically the part in 1 Kings 19. Elijah is fresh off a mountain top experience after defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and yet he flees to the wilderness after a death threat from Jezebel. Elijah is so downcast that he pleads, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

The LORD responds by sending an angel who prepares food and drink for Elijah and says to him:

Arise and eat, for the journey is too much for you.

First, I confess, the journey is too much for me. It is too far and too arduous. It is often scary. My need is great and I suspect yours is too. We all enjoy times of rejoicing and seasons of ease, but the human condition is such that we must endure suffering, too. Or sometimes even worse, we watch our loved ones struggle. Difficulties are part of the journey.

What we need is sustenance and nourishment to help us see past our present circumstances and give us strength to endure. And so the words of the Angel are truth and wisdom.

Arise and eat.

Elijah eats the food prepared for him and continues in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights.

There is a kind of feast in Scripture. No dietary restrictions here; you can indulge to your heart’s content. Jesus is our daily bread. Take and eat. Return again and again to the table and partake of His goodness. Savor the Gospel. Mercy excites the taste buds. Redemption satisfies the appetite. Relish the long-lasting flavor of forgiveness and grace. Fill up on the love of God. This is stick to your ribs food. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

And when you are full, see if dessert is not a sweet, sweet foretaste of eternity.

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

 

 

Five Years

 

“Some say of temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.”
–CS Lewis

Yesterday marked five years since Mom passed away. I do miss her terribly some days, longing to hear her voice or touch her hand, but time has done its work smoothing over the sharp edges of her absence that cut so deeply at first.

But on the anniversary of her passing, I labor to turn my thoughts to happier days with her and to recall her as she was before she got sick. I’ve come to realize that although it’s good to remember Mom, the better way to mark the 18th of March is to fix my thoughts on the present and the future. Mom is present with the Lord now and her future is secure. I will see her again, unencumbered by sickness or the limitations set on us by time and mortality.

I wrote the following piece several months after Mom died in 2013. I post it again now as a way of looking back, but also as a way of looking forward to a better day.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Corinthians 15:19

I love looking at pictures of my mother before she got sick. In those photographs she is how I remember her, happy and surrounded by family. If I had known how much I would miss that part of her life, perhaps I would have paid more attention, taken less for granted. Somehow, these images on paper console me. Bittersweet, yes, but a comfort nonetheless, and some days I need the comfort.

My siblings and I were privileged to be with Mom the last few hours of her life. In waiting, we experienced the most unlikely pairing of impatience and dread. It was hard to watch her suffer, hence the impatience. It was tough knowing she would soon leave this world, hence the dread. This would be the moment we most feared and the moment we’d been waiting for, the moment we would always remember and the moment we would long to forget. A perplexing contradiction of emotions where reality bit hard and we bled pure helplessness.

In a romanticized version of death, the dying patient appears at rest. In her final moments she is able to utter her last words and squeeze her loved one’s hand. In that account, people weep softly and say that dying is just a natural part of life, that one must accept it as such. But I found death to be painful and heart-rending and devastatingly unnatural. Death has claws and fangs and knows no finesse. The scars will not soon heal. Watching your mother die hurts.

I have questions. Mom could not articulate, but she was able to cry out. What was she trying to say? Was she thirsty? In pain? Did she know we were there? (I do think she did know, by the way.) Some questions, I don’t dare ask others because I know they don’t have the answers either. Why burden them with that? Some mysteries are best left for God to unravel, or not, as He sees fit.

There are also certain memories of those last hours that will remain unspoken. It’s as if to do so would somehow cheapen the recollection, devalue the treasure. I will keep them to myself, take them out now and then and examine the facets, scrutinize the details, and relive the most distressing and beautiful hours of my life.

To an outsider, there was nothing about Mom that would have been attractive that night. But we were not outsiders. We had years of history with her. We were her babies. She had labored with us and loved us and kept us safe. She was our mother, our teacher, our confidant and friend. She had agonized with us in our struggles and celebrated with us in our joys. Our being there was inextricably tethered to a specific context and saturated through and through with what our time on this earth together had allowed, a lifetime of memories bound up in the unbreakable bands of maternal love. No, we were not repulsed.

We leaned in.

We drew close to her because we loved her. We tried the best we could to give comfort. (Oh, how she had so often comforted us!) But, One leaned in closer than all the rest. One leaned in because He loved her more and better than all the rest. Jesus was with us that night, as real and as sure as the room we were standing in. Jesus leaned in with a blood-secured love for one of His own and first-hand experience in what it meant for Mom to suffer. His wounds spoke to her wounds, and He leaned in with the power and urgency of a Savior able to save. In dying, Mom let loose of my hand and was plucked away from death to life by sacred Hands that will never let her go.

Death is ugly and raw, but faith implores me to plant my feet and stand. I know that my Redeemer lives. Someday, all sickness and death will be banished forever. The misery and suffering we face on this side of Heaven are temporary, momentary and light compared to what awaits us in Glory. Part of that lightening is that Mom will be there waiting for us.

“And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan…
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout,
And come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand!” *

I miss you terribly, Mom. But, someday I will lean in to where you are and join you in singing praises to our King.

…He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:4

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

* Far Side Banks of Jordan, by Terry Smith

At Home

Home beckons. The door is always open. No need for pretense, home is where you are known. Home is nicely worn in, easy and intimate. It bids you to tarry, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. Home is an open invitation, stay as long as you like as often as you like.

Home is a refuge, a trusted covering. Loyalty stands, resolute. Trust never sleeps. Vulnerabilities are protected and instabilities shored up. Home is where love casts out fear. Home is where another always seeks your best.

Home is where the din of the outside world is shut out. Peace lives here. There is no striving to make your voice heard. Even words unspoken are readily understood. Home is where the struggles cease and the battle is over. Lay aside you troubles, you are home.

Home is full and rich, a joyous melee of loved ones and laughter, music and motion. The blessing of a happy home will not be contained, nor should it be. For home is where life begins and hope triumphs. Home is the blessing that begets other blessings.

Home is where we learn to love. Here, love covers a multitude of sins. Home is loving and being loved, because of and in spite of, at our best and at our worst. This is love without border or condition. This is the foundation, the history, the heart.

To my husband,
Much time has passed since we first met, the intersection of our lives being the most singular gift of God’s Grace this side of Heaven I will ever know. From that gift, came countless others. I still believe I am the luckiest woman alive. I’ve tried to put into words what this means to me. Here is my best attempt:

For thirty-three years we have built our life together,

And I am at home with you.

Happy Anniversary!

Blood Moon Manna

About a week or so ago, as my daughter-in-love and I were leaving with the kids for a trip to the beach, I accidentally backed into her car. Not just any car, their new (to them) car. A beautiful car with nary a scratch nor dent. A car that my son and daughter-in-love were so happy to have purchased. A car that fit and served their family’s needs perfectly.

To say that I reacted poorly would certainly be an understatement. I was mad at myself for being so careless. I felt sad that I had damaged their car. Oh, that sickening CRUNCH! When the reality of what you’ve done is solidified.

My struggles with sin and failure over the previous few days welled up and spilled out, a mixture of anger, frustration, helplessness, and tears.

Of course, my son and daughter-in-love responded graciously. My husband (as always) reacted calmly. But I was not about to let myself get off so easily. I beat myself up pretty good over it.

About 5:30 the following morning, I received a short text from my son: “Blood Moon now if you’re up.” In this case, it was a super blue blood moon, a total lunar eclipse. Yes, I was up and soon positioned myself outside on the balcony to watch.

The morning air was not uncomfortably cold. It was still dark, but I could hear the world around me beginning to stir. I thought about the people starting their work day. How many of them would completely miss the astronomical wonder unfolding above them?

I thought about the kindness of my son’s reminder. I thanked the Lord for him and my daughter-in-love, for my husband, my other two children, all my grandchildren, and for the undeserved Grace and privilege of being a wife, mother, and grandmother.

I remembered what I had been reading earlier that morning about how the children of Israel complained to Moses, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” I thought about God’s gracious and miraculous provision for them, Manna. I thought of my own grumbling heart and how the LORD had always  provided for me in spite of it.

I tried to imagine our solar system, the planets, sun, moon and stars all following their appointed course. My imagination wondered at the immensity of the universe and marveled at the power and wisdom of the One who created it.

I thought about the grandiosity of the Great Artist’s rendering unfurled above me, His canvas the dark morning sky, His subject the moon, His brush dipped into the richest of purples and reds to paint a celestial masterpiece no mortal could ever hope to duplicate.

…all things were created through Him and by Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
(Col 1:16,17)

I felt small sitting on my little balcony, my life a tiny speck in the grand order of things. I realized I had come outside hungry of heart, but how long can a soul go unfed in the glorious presence of such a God as this?

When I look at Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:3,4)

And so it came to be that my soul was put at ease. I rested then, my hunger satisfied and my heart warmed by peace that passes understanding.

This, my bread from Heaven. Blood Moon Manna.

Ordinary Thoughts on Ordinary Life

img_7337

I looked forward to this last Christmas. Mainly because of shopping for and giving presents to our grandkids. But there is a conundrum attached to gift giving. A puzzle I am never able to completely solve.

No matter the money spent or the thought that goes into choosing presents for loved ones, I always feel as if it’s not enough. It’s impossible to translate love into material goods. We try, but it can never work. It’s just that gift giving, humanly speaking, can only ever come up short at least from the giver’s point of view. I’m always a bit let down at not being able to adequately express love that way. And perhaps there isn’t enough money in the world to do so.

Which brings me to the greatest Gift of all, Christ taking on flesh and dwelling among us. That is God’s incomparable Gift to the world. With the Incarnation in mind, that God can view my pitiable efforts to please Him (my giving gifts to Him if you will) through the lens of Grace for His Son’s Sake; that is the greater mystery. For what can a beggar offer the King of Kings?

In Christina Rossetti’s words:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him:
Give my heart.

And now comes the new year.

Even if you aren’t the kind to make resolutions, it hard not to see the new year as a new beginning, a starting over of sorts. And who doesn’t need a “do over” now and then?

Resolved, to take each day in 2018 as a new opportunity to love God and others in word and deed. To remember that people are more important than projects. To seek out and take the greatest pleasure in the simplest of moments. To cultivate a grateful heart. To continue learning and growing. To remember that God is always working in a multitude of ways and to trust more fully in His Sovereign Goodness.

Now these are some grand and sweeping resolutions, aren’t they? I am sure to fail. Still, His Grace is sufficient. May the LORD remind me of that in the thick of the battle when struggles, disappointments and frustrations present themselves, as they surely will, in the year ahead.

I was thinking the other day how there comes a time in everyone’s life when certain dreams and aspirations must be let go. And if the time is right to release them, the letting go offers more relief than grief. Lofty goals weigh more heavily as time passes and become burdensome. Not that we should or even can live without purpose, but rather wholeheartedly and without reservation appreciate the marvelous and miraculous gifts that come our way in ordinary life.

… there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his labor–this is God’s gift to man.      Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13

 

 

 

 

The Tradition

Well, Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books.

For over fifty years, my family has traveled up to the Paso Robles area of California to celebrate Thanksgiving. As a girl, we stayed with my grandparents for the holiday. Later, my parents built a house next door to them and the tradition continued even after my grandparents passed away. As my siblings and I got older and had families of our own, our group grew bigger. And bigger. And bigger! Eventually, some of our kids married and started their families.

About eight years ago we realized that something had to give. My parents’ home was just too small to hold all of us. So, we ended up renting a huge house surrounded by rolling hills and ancient oaks not too far from Paso with plenty of room for everyone.

Not everyone can come every year. On lean years, our crowd numbers about twenty-five for Thanksgiving dinner. When everyone comes to celebrate, we cook for close to forty people!

This is a big production and we pretty much have it down to a science. We all have our food assignments. We spend Wednesday through Saturday together. We cook and eat tostadas for dinner on Wednesday night. Thursday breakfast is casual, usually cinnamon rolls, bagels, cereal, and everyone fends for themselves. And then it’s all day Thursday preparing and then enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Here’s a sample menu:

Thanksgiving Day Appetizers (Pre-Feast Stomach Stretcher)
Spinach Dip
5 Layer Dip
Artichoke Dip
Jalapeño Cheese Poppers
Chips and Salsa

Thanksgiving Day Feast
2 Turkeys (one roasted, one deep-fried)
Two types of dressing (one traditional, one gourmet)
2 hams
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Fried Okra
Macaroni and Cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Creamed Corn
Deviled Eggs
Cranberry Sauce
Yeast Rolls
Homemade Chocolate Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, and Pumpkin Cheesecake

But wait, there’s more!

Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day, we prepare a huge breakfast. Bacon, ham, eggs, biscuits and gravy (including white and chocolate gravy… yes, you read that right, chocolate gravy), and fried potatoes. Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and dinner on Friday. Saturday breakfast this year we enjoyed chorizo and eggs. On Saturday after breakfast, we say our goodbyes and everyone heads home.

That is a lot of food and a lot of people. A lot of cooking and cleaning up. Kids everywhere. It gets noisy. It gets messy. Some turn in early, some stay up late. A few of us are up at dawn to watch the sunrise and drink our first cup of coffee. Others sleep in. We talk and reminisce. Sometimes, we cry. We laugh, play games, take walks, and have time to do our own thing. Everyone helps and everyone contributes. I’m convinced that our commitment to Thanksgiving together is the main reason our family has remained close over the years. And for that, we can be extremely thankful.

In March of 2013, my mom passed away. Although her absence is profoundly felt by all of us, we honor her at Thanksgiving by making the pilgrimage to Paso Robles each November.

I hope The Tradition never ends.

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. -Psalm 107:8-9 

Blinded by the Now


No one is immune to difficulty. Financial concerns. Car problems. Marital issues. Worries about children or elderly parents. Loneliness, addiction, physical or mental illness. This one has a son who serves in the military, currently stationed a little too close to a certain mad man in North Korea. That one is going through a divorce. Another one is dealing with the pain of losing a loved one in the recent Las Vegas shootings. A dear friend of mine just lost her husband to cancer.

To be sure, even in the midst of suffering there are moments of joy. But the point I’m trying to make is that anxiety and fear serve to keep us laser focused on the problem at hand. We become blind to everything else.

At least in my life, I miss out on so much because of worry and fear. It’s like there’s always a worst-case scenario running in the background of my mind. It’s exhausting.

I, we, desperately need a glimpse of the eternal perspective:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day
Nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out
And coming in
From this time forth and forever more.
-Psalm 121

The words of this Psalm and Scripture in general make no sense if the context is not eternity. In fact, without the broadness of eternity undergirding them, these words would only seem to mock us in our suffering.

The truth is that our existence this side of Heaven will always be a mingling of sorrow and joy. God’s promises do belong to us, but will only be perfectly realized in the glorious and real future that is ours in Christ.

Lift up your eyes, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bit of This and That


A young new mom mentioned that she loves her baby “so much it hurts.” I know precisely what she means. I’ve described my love for my own children in those exact words, and now they hold true for my grandchildren. It’s not pain in the normal sense of the word. More like a big ball of love, compassion, pity, fervor, tenderness, delight and all-consuming devotion that threatens to explode and blow your heart into a million little pieces. Sounds like an idea worthy of its own blog post at some point in the future.

This past Sunday, our pastor asked us to consider how much time we spend on our phones. Certainly worth thinking about and definitely something I grapple with on a daily basis. For years now, my habit has been to get up early and before reading my Bible, eat toast and drink my two cups of coffee while reading the news. I used to do this with the newspaper in front of me. Now, of course, I read the news on my phone. I’ve come to realize what a time sucker this is. Reading the news in a newspaper format takes a limited amount of time. The news available for consumption on my phone is unlimited. It’s easy to for me to get carried away with it, news junkie that I am.

Better to eat a bit of breakfast and go directly to Bible reading. There’s always time for scanning the news later. And I don’t think it would make my life any the poorer to skip reading the news completely now and then. Making this change may even give me a little time in the morning for writing. Old habits are hard to break. I think this one will be worth the endeavor.

I used to think that as you age, life would become simpler and quieter. Well so far, that hasn’t been the case. Life is as busy as ever. I can’t complain, really. My life is full and my blessings, boundless. But, I’m looking forward to the weekend and hope to spend some quality time with my husband.

God is good. That is all.

 

 

 

Early Riser

I haven’t always been an early riser. In fact, there was a time in my life I would’ve classified myself as a night owl. There was also a time when I was neither. When my children were small I would have paid good money to turn in early and sleep in late.

But these days I am usually in bed by 9:30 or 10:00 and wake up about 5:00 or 5:30 each morning. I don’t work (at least outside my home) so my early start is elective. My choice. It’s not that I don’t like sleep. I adore sleep. Then why would I forfeit the warm comfort of my bed for a couple of extra waking hours each day?

First, I need time alone. I need time to think, to reflect, to prepare spiritually and emotionally for the day ahead. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but the moments I spend alone each morning are a way to rest with my eyes open.

There is another reason I get out of bed early. Sometimes, fear and anxiety wake me up. Usually it’s some worry about one or the other of my children. Rather than allowing anxiety to consume me (and in my life, anxiety is ever the hungry little troll), I roll out of bed and set my mind on other things. My children are all grown, but my worries only seem to have grown along with them. Does it ever stop, a mother worrying about her children?

Each morning, the world wakes up. Ever hopeful, the sun rises, the birds busy themselves, and life begins anew. The morning holds a hope and beauty that I just don’t want to miss.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases
His mercies never come to an end
They are new every morning
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23