Category Archives: faith

A Life Well Lived

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“Her life was not an easy life.  She experienced heartache and hardship, but it was a life well lived.” This is a phrase I found myself repeating to mourners who came to pay their final respects at my mother’s funeral this week.

I’ve penned more than one post in the past (As is the mother, so is her daughter. Ez. 16:44, Happy Special Birthday, A Very Special Mother’s Day) that offered a glimpse into my mother’s 86 years on this earth.

The Great Depression.  The deaths of two husbands and one infant daughter.  Life as a widow raising four children—two of whom gave her more than her deserved share of trouble (yours truly among them). The deaths of both parents and five siblings—three sisters and two brothers. Decades plagued by the effects of emphysema (chief among them—a susceptibility for pneumonia).  Cancer.  These are a sampling of challenges my mother faced in her 86 years and seven months this side of heaven.

 

Love.  Laughter.  Family.  True, genuine, nurturing and caring friendships.  Travel.  A 25-year career working for folks who weren’t only employers but dear friends as well. Secure knowledge in her place in heaven upon departing this earth. These are the things that made for a life well lived.

Ruth Ann Cassella;  born January 6, 1931 – died August 4, 2017, following a life well lived

Seven Years

He defends the cause of the fatherless… ~Deuteronomy 10:18

Jackson Hall 3

It will be seven years tomorrow since Greg and I took Jackson into our arms and hearts as our son. It stands to reason that April is an emotional month for me. I do a lot of soul searching and reminiscing in the weeks preceding and following April 13th. This morning, in the shower, I was having an imaginary conversation with God. I was imagining how our lives would’ve turned out if God would’ve come to me seven years ago and said something to the following effect. Meeting Jax

My daughter, I know you and Greg are on board with the adoption seed I’ve planted in your hearts, but let’s talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like for you. What if becoming parents to this very special little boy I have for you, costs you relationships with friends and family members, as well as costing a lot of time and money—not only up front, but down the road because of medical care and therapies. Will you be okay with this? What if becoming this little one’s parents causes you to wring your hands and lay awake at night with a heart full of worry for the day ahead as well as for his future. Will you be okay with this?

I can’t speak for my husband, but I can tell you a conversation like this with God prior to boarding a plane to Ethiopia would’ve given me great pause. I’m pretty darn certain I was far too full of myself, far too wrapped up in life, and far too uncertain of my capabilities to have yielded to such a plan. And this is precisely why God does not make us privy to the details of all He has in store for our lives. He knows what we’re capable of, despite our being so uncertain of ourselves. And He knows we may turn tail and run if He were to paint the whole picture for us ahead of time.

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I can promise you from experience, however, your life will be so very rich if you step out in faith and let God have his way with your heart and your life. God knows you. Just as He knew us, our hearts, our inmost being, He knows you and your heart and the great things you’re capable of. I perish the thought of a life without Jackson. He enriches our lives in so many ways. And you can rest assured; God has equally wonderful plans in store for you. Trust Him!

Jax Halpat

Thank you, God, for knowing us so much better than we know ourselves. Thank you for this beautiful life you’ve blessed us with.   Thank you, for allowing us to be mom and dad to this precious boy of yours.

There is no friendship, no love, like that of the parent for the child. ~Henry Ward Beecher

A Cup of Cold Water

A Cup of Cold Water

Giving someone a refreshing drink of water is representative of the smallest act of charity one could practice. And love is never absent from charity.

According to scripture, a cup of cold water is the minimal requirement for hospitality, the definition of which is: friendliness, helpfulness, warmth, kindness, geniality, courtesy, generosity, etc. Or perhaps more simply put at its base level, the love of others, including strangers. (Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels. Unaware.”)

Jesus, in speaking to the disciples, states each act of service is unto God and has its reward. We are all servants of God Almighty. All of God’s servants will be rewarded, even a person who gives a simple drink of cold water to one of God’s “little ones”—especially when given with a smile. (Matthew 10:42)

God calls us to love and has tasked us with making strangers into neighbors and friends. Jackson, my sweet son, I pray you always rise to your Almighty Father’s call to love, and may others always see Jesus in you.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. ~Charlie Chaplin

She runs. [How moms are like Marines.]

Guest post by Ashley Dickens

Ashley Wedding

Hello friends! Today, I’ve invited Ashley to write about Mother’s Day from a different angle: through the eyes of an adult daughter. Her reflection on her mom’s love might surprise you, and we can only pray our kids say the same about us someday. Enjoy!

When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.11.48 PM(photo credit: USMC archives)

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.12.45 PMMy belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.

If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.

Pour it On

Motoring.

Motoring.

I snapped the above photo en route to school this morning. This has become our typical commute, as munchkin has declared he no longer wants to be a car rider. And as long as weather permits, I’m okay with this.  There are so many benefits to this two-mile ride.

Of course, the most obvious benefit is the fitness factor. Jackson and I are both burning calories and building strength and stamina while bathing our brains in awesome mood enhancing, stress reducing chemicals. The benefits don’t end there though. The greatest benefits can’t readily be measured. I do believe, however, they’ll be immeasurable in the long run.

Our twice daily, 20-minute commute amounts to perhaps the richest 40 minutes of my day. I use this time to pour into Jackson’s soul in a manner I am unable to achieve at any other time of day (with the exception of bedtime perhaps). He is my captive; he is my teammate. There are so many elements at play while we make our way to school. We have wet, moss-covered and very slippery sidewalks to contend with. We have elevated sidewalks, driveways and intersections to navigate, which we do so fluidly. I guide Jackson along, subtly yet sternly. With all that’s going on, there is no room for carelessness or wanton disregard for my instruction. Do you know what? He steps up to the plate every single day. He is my captive listener. As I see it, some of the myriad benefits for Jackson in this (literal) exercise are:

  • Learning to rely on someone for guidance
  • Learning patience and grace as we wait to cross driveways and streets
  • Observing my expression of gratitude to drivers who patiently wait for us to cross said streets and driveways, and to the crossing guard for being there to keep us safe every single day, rain or shine
  • Learning how to use all our senses—not solely sight—for safe travel
  • Learning how to accommodate others in our path as we make way for fellow walkers, joggers and bikers
  • Learning to acknowledge (value) others as we greet each and every individual with a hearty, “Good morning!”

The greatest benefit of all, however, is our ability to have meaningful conversations virtually free of distractions. We observe cloudscapes and nature. We talk about God, heaven and this beautiful world He created for us to enjoy. We talk about anything and everything (Montana, family, horses, animals, weather, rocket launches…), unimpeded. I use this valuable time to remind Jackson of the importance of being a good listener, why we need to be kind to others and why he must be a good team member as it relates to his teachers, and peers. I use this precious time to pour love and encouragement into Jackson. I bolster his confidence by pointing out all of the things he has done and is doing right. These 40 minutes are an extremely, extremely valuable opportunity for me to affirm and reaffirm Jackson’s worth as a child of God.

Would I prefer my morning workout be more challenging? Absolutely! As a former (decades long) early morning gym rat, I miss the daily intense cardio workout and strength training I did religiously in my “former” (pre-Jax) life. I can unequivocally promise you, however, those workouts were not nearly as rewarding as my present “work out.” Would I trade it if I could? No way. Not in a million, billion, trillion years. God doesn’t give us what we want. He gives us what we need.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

The Sweet Smell of Rain

I took a gamble this morning in trying to beat the rain for a morning run. I figured I had a 50-50 chance of making it home without being caught in a downpour. There’s a reason I’m not a betting woman. I didn’t make it to the entrance of our development before it began to pour. I could have easily turned around, but I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll get wet? (Turns out that was a gross understatement.)

While running, I couldn’t help but think of the downpour as a metaphor for life. When you’re stuck in a storm, how great does it feel when you finally reach a safe/dry shelter? My desire to return to dry sanctuary was motivation to run. Fast! But for that brief period of time while I was slogging along, I was on sensory overload. I was overwhelmed by the sweet yet earthy smell of the rain itself. I was aware of the cold, hard rain pelting my skin. As alive as I felt while running, I couldn’t help but focus on getting back to a warm safe place. As much as I loved experiencing these sensations (I felt alive!), I was uncomfortable. And I thought—this is a lot like life!

Sometimes we’re most alive when we’re in the midst of a personal storm. A storm forces us out of our complacency.   It makes us face our surroundings and situations head-on. Our days unfold in sharper focus and we tend to feel things much more acutely when life is raining down on us. And when we’re in the midst of a storm, we naturally want nothing more than to get back to safety and security.

I experienced something else too. I increased my pace (9:08 mile!) in order to get home quickly. Isn’t that something else we tend to experience in life’s storms as well? Storms tend to kick us in the butt, sending us into overdrive in an effort to rectify all that’s wrong with our life/world.

Whatever storm you’re facing, keep your head down and keep moving forward.   Use the instinctive momentum to carry you forward to safe shelter. Hopefully it’ll be a good bit of time before you’re caught in the rain again, so take time while you’re in the midst of the current storm to feel the rain on your skin and take in your surroundings. Your life will be richer for it.

Home Safe

Rain! whose soft architectural hands have power to cut stones, and chisel to shapes of grandeur the very mountains, as no artist could ever do! ~Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

Hearing Truth

The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. ~Proverbs 15:31

This morning I received reproof from a five year old. I would like to tell you it was an inappropriate exchange—a child giving a parent correction—but it wasn’t. It was spot on.

As with any working mom, my days are busy with marriage, child caring, child rearing, child transportation, homework, work, housework, yard work and any other kind of work you might want to throw in there. I’m no more or less busy than most folks. I have, however, been distracted lately.

News flash: Upon returning home from vacation in early August I had a bad attitude. I’m less than proud to admit that. I was feeling fed up with all things South Florida. I was tired of the heat, the bugs, the critters, the traffic, the people, and on and on and on. I grumbled to anyone who would listen. A lot. (Forgive me, friends!) But God had a word for me. He distinctly told me I should tend the garden I have instead of looking longingly at the neighboring one. Honest to goodness, that is what God spoke to me. Admittedly, His correction was difficult to take. Although I knew precisely what He was talking about, I still wrestled with it. I know we need to make some repairs and enhancements to our existing home. Aside from wood flooring we installed prior to munchkin’s arrival, we’ve not done much, and our 25-year-old home is showing its age. Investing in a home I don’t really care to be in was a difficult prospect for me. God softened my heart and I finally yielded to His correction, hence my recent preoccupation. I’ve been busy researching wise, cost-effective ways to perform some upgrades without putting ourselves deeply in debt. I want to do this in the most financially responsible way so as to honor not only God’s directive, but to honor HIM as well. [After all, it IS HIS money.] This isn’t an easy task.

My research has taken my attention from Jackson, and he had no reservation in letting me know so this morning. Just before breakfast, Jackson took me to task. He told me straight up, “You never play with me anymore.” This isn’t wholly true. We ride bikes or scooters to/from school. We tell jokes. We play Rock-Paper-Scissors, I Spy, number, word and guessing games, and read plenty of stories. But this isn’t the type of play Jackson was speaking of. He craves physical, interactive play. I know this better than anyone. He said, “You never play tag with me anymore. You don’t race with me.” And he’s right. I’ve been taking the easy way out, and he called me to be accountable to it. Initially, I wanted to mount a defense, but I didn’t have one—at least not one suitable for a five-year-old boy. He had me dead to rights. I admitted I was wrong and apologized to Jackson. I accepted his reproof.

German mathematician Johannes Kepler stated, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” I concur, even though the intelligent man is only five.