Tag Archives: God

That Baby I Held That Day

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And a memory of 9/11 I never wrote about…

Everyone remembers September 11, 2001.  Even after 18 years my recollections of the day can still bring tears to my eyes if I linger on them for more than a few minutes.  I have shared bits and pieces of how the day and night unfolded for me…but I have never written down part of the story.

I was working the primetime 4pm-1am shift at the local Fox TV station, and I had been up late the night before.  Jeff and I were still very much in mourning for Mom Cutshaw, who had died in June, but trying to resume business as usual, whatever that means after a parent has died. My cousin Alan rang my phone that morning telling me a plane had hit a building very close to where my brother, Reed, worked, and to get up and turn on my TV.

I did, and we all know what unfolded throughout the next hours.  More planes crashing, more death.  I called my boss, Tom, and told him about Reed, and he asked if I needed to stay home.  I said I’d keep him posted.  I and my family were fortunate; we only had to wait hours to hear that Reed had gotten out of the city and was safe, at least physically.  I know people who didn’t hear about their loved ones for days.

I reported for work, grateful and shaken, to sit behind my console and watch solid, unrelenting coverage of the tragedy…endless replays of the planes crashing, the buildings toppling, people jumping from buildings rather than be burned alive…and commentary from newspeople, pundits, analysts.  My friends and TV brothers that afternoon and night in addition to Tom were Larry and Dan.  I was so grateful for these “boys” who kept me company, gave me bathroom breaks and propped me up, as I hoped I was able to do for them.  We were all overwhelmed, sad, angry, and feeling kind of…lost, I guess.  Late in the afternoon, Dan’s sister came by for a quick visit.  And she brought her little 3-month-old son, Cameron.

Lord, how I do love to shnoogle me a little teeny one, what we in the South sometimes call an “arm baby”.  I asked Meriam if I could hold her little treasure and she obliged with kindness.  I held that sweet new life close to me, humming, with leaky eyes and silent prayers…Lord God, what kind of world is this child going to grow up in?  Protect him.  Protect us all.  Lord, I am so sad…

That baby brought healing to me, more than any words of comfort spoken by ministers, vows of justice sworn by our government officials, tributes offered by the rich and famous.  That baby was born just before Mom Cutshaw died…just before all those people murdered on 9/11 died.  Holding that little, sweet, innocent new life reminded me that life indeed goes on, and that God indeed cares, even when nothing in the world makes sense.

That baby is now 18 years old, old enough to drive a car, vote in elections, serve in our armed forces.  And while I have not seen him in the years since I held him that day, I have often prayed for him.  I have shared the story of how he blessed and comforted me on a day when all of us were left feeling so very lost.  I haven’t seen his Uncle Dan in many years, but I remember him in prayers, too, and their whole family.

I owe them at least that. I owe them a debt of gratitude.  Especially that baby I held that day.

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(The baby’s hand in this photo does not belong to Cameron, but to my great-nephew Forrest, from a chance I had to hold him when he was an “arm baby”.)

Broken Ground

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The 15th anniversary of 9/11…

I remember the events of 9/11 as vividly as if they occurred yesterday.  We all do.  My closest connection with the tragedy was the fact that my brother, Reed, was caught up in it.  He worked for American Express in the World Financial Tower, which was very close to the WTC towers that were destroyed that morning.  Like many other families, we watched the footage unfold on TV, horrified by the images bombarding us.  And like many other families, I and my loved ones anxiously waited to hear from Reed, praying that he was safe, at least physically.  We were among the more fortunate families, hearing from him hours, rather than days, after the towers fell.  I was working for the local Fox TV affiliate at the time, and I reported to work that afternoon, thankful that Reed was out of harm’s way, and surrounded by my work family as we all watched the horror replayed for hours on end while news people and experts tried to make sense of it all.  Our boss, Tom, my friends Larry and Dan, and I, kept master control running that day and into the night.  One of my clearest memories of the day was when Dan’s sister came by that evening with her baby boy, and she let me hold him.  Cuddling that sweet child comforted me, reminding me that God is still at work in our world, and that life indeed goes on.  Dan told me on Facebook that his nephew has his learner’s permit to drive now, and that he has been told the story of how he blessed me on 9/11.

The world seemed to break that day.  Buildings, peace, faith, even the very earth underneath the city.  Broken ground.

Flash forward 15 years, and I am sitting in a church service at Ebenezer United Methodist Church where I have just recently accepted a call to sing and serve, leaving behind a church I have served since 2013.  The decision was not made lightly or without deep soul-searching, consideration and prayer.  On the 15th anniversary of the broken ground of 9/11, my new church family celebrated the groundbreaking of a new sanctuary, welcoming me into their heritage.  The significance and timing were poignant and emotional for me.

At the end of the service, we each received a river stone symbolic of “raising our Ebenezer”, then went out onto the lawn to stand where the new sanctuary will be built in the days and months to come, to pray for God’s continued blessing on the church family, and to break ground.  As I took my place on the lawn with the rest of the choir, I noticed something at my feet that has become a meaningful symbol of God speaking to me…

 

I hollered at my friend Marc to show him the feather, and he said, “That’s just like something that would happen to you!”  I replied, “It’s more like something God would do,”.  Then he and I dug into the dirt and celebrated the same blessed peace that holding that sweet baby 15 years ago had given me…that God is still at work in the world, and life indeed goes on.

Taste And See

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Singing, serving, and sharing

Mama always used to tell people that when I was born I came out singing.  More likely, I came out squawling, but I think I probably started to sing not too long after that.  It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and often, it has been the biggest and best part, facilitating other blessings.  Yesterday was a day like that.

It was a Communion Sunday at church, and my longtime friend Marc and I sang a duet called “Taste And See” right before the sermon.  The song is a paraphrase of Psalm 34, and among Marc, me and our friend/accompanist/collaborator John, we put together what turned out to be a heartfelt and lovely arrangement that seemed fitting for a Communion service.  Singing with Marc is often a bit of a mystical experience; the blend of our voices is special, and added to the decades of friendship we share, the music always seems to become more than just the sum of its parts.  Added to that dynamic was the brilliance of our new friend John pulling an accompaniment out of his gifted head (and in a different key than the score he was playing from!). So our musical offering felt special indeed.

But it was only a foreshadowing of the moments yet to come in the service.  For, after the sermon was preached, the familiar and poignant story of the Last Supper was re-told to us, and Pastors Ann and Jason modeled a new way of offering communion for us to follow.  We were to accept the elements from the person in line ahead of us, and in turn, we were to pass to the other side of the table and serve them to the next person in the line behind us.  In all my decades of church services and taking of Communion, this was a first for me, a chance to serve the Body and Blood to a member of the church family.

The person I had the privilege of serving was my longtime friend Marc.  John’s beautiful piano music as we communed added such a warm and lovely atmosphere to the service, and as Marc and I approached the altar, John revisited “Taste and See” that we had sung earlier.  As I touched Marc’s hands and looked into his face, offering him this Heavenly feast, with the words, “Marc, this is the body of Christ, given for you…this is the Blood of Christ, poured out for you…” I had to fight back tears.

After Marc and I had communed, we took the elements up to the piano and served John last of all.  Marc gave him the Body and I served the Blood.  The power of this whole experience humbled me in a way I could not have anticipated, and cannot explain.  I suppose it is just the chance to share music and God in a new way and deeper level with friends both longtime and recent, musical partners and brothers in Christ.  Yesterday was a little glimpse of Heaven for me and I am so grateful for the chance to have experienced it, to Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord.

Dream A Little Dream

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A little music, a big memory and a whole lot of Mama…

This past weekend a bunch of my kinfolks got together for a reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, an event I had looked forward to for quite a while.  It was a branch of the family tree on Mama’s side, the Williamses, namely Mama’s big brother, my Uncle Otto and his wife, my Aunt Katherine’s, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  These are some of my favorite people on the planet, folks I don’t see nearly often enough.  I also saw some younger cousins, all grown up now, whom I had not seen since they were little, and some I’d never met yet.

Before I had even made it into the pavilion I found myself wrapped in a warm, loving hug from my cousin Stacy.

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She and I have been in touch on social media (one of the blessings of technology!) but have not seen each other face-to-face since the late 1980’s.  What a joy to see that sweet face again and enjoy a brief moment to catch up a little.  Second hug of the day was from her daughter, my cousin Danielle.  I’ve also been in touch with her online, but we had never actually met until that moment.  The musical genes in the Williams side of the family have passed on to Dani in a big way, and I was able to share a little bit of family musical history and heritage with her as we talked.

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Soft breezes blew through the shaded pavilion as my cousin Hazen asked the blessing over our meal and time together, adding special prayers for Aunt Helen as she deals with ongoing health issues.  I breathed a prayer as well for Dean, her husband, that he will remember to take care of himself as he tries to take care of her.  Seeing and hugging her was a special joy, as it always is.  She and Mama were so close, and when I hug her, I can almost feel Mama hugging me back as Aunt Helen does.

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I felt Mama with us all through the day, as we shared food and pictures and stories.  Aunt Helen’s kids, Lisa and Mike, were the kids out of the bunch I spent the most time with growing up.  And they were there, with Lisa’s husband Tim, who is a recent addition to the family and fits right in.  Mike’s wife Jane never changes, still glowing wth a headful of red hair and a huge smile.  All Mike and Jane’s kids were there, Aunt Helen’s grandchildren, and a huge light in her life.

As we shared food and stories and pictures, I felt Mama all around me, and I saw glimpses of her…in my cousin Robin “volunteering” to get up and sing, something Mama used to do…in the adult recreations of childhood photographs and the howls of laughter that resulted…

…in talking with Hazen about how active “my dead people” are in my dreams…

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…in the photo of me and my closest-in-age cousins performing a “family breast exam” (Mama and Uncle Otto are in Heaven laughing their heads off at that, while Aunt Katherine is telling us to “Be refined!”)…

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Family is not always dignified.  But that’s usually when it’s the most fun.

Unbeknownst to most of the family, Dani and I had cooked up a surprise to share, and after the meal was done, we offered them a little song, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”.  Making music with a cousin I’d just met for the first time was both a joy and an honor, and I hope it’s only the first of many more times we can do it.  My beloved Sweet Pea captured the moment with his phone, and I am so grateful that he did!

All through the day I felt Mama there with us, along with all the others on the Williams side who have gone to Heaven and wait for us there.  The last verse of the song we shared says:

“Sweet dream till sunbeams find you,

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you,

But in your dreams whatever they be,

Dream a little dream of me.”

I dream little dreams of them all the time, waiting for the day we are all together once more, with God and one another, all the generations of our family making music together. All worries behind us.  What wonderful dreams!

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Insomnia

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Broken sleep, broken hearts…

Last night my head ached, again, and I could not find a comfortable way to hold it so that it would not hurt.  So eventually, I just got up from my bed and went downstairs, hoping that a drink, my couch and some medicine would bring comfort and rest.  As usual, when I got up, our dog, Roy, got up with me.

My thoughts wandered to all the people in my life who need prayers, and I mentioned each of them to the Lord as they came to mind.  So many people, and so many needs, streamed through my mind and heart as I prayed, even as my head continued to ache. Over the years I’ve learned that, sometimes, when I am wakeful and unsettled like this, the only way to find relief is to pray my way out of it.

Last night my prayers went up for people who suffer affliction, addiction, loneliness.  I thought about the bereaved, the deceived, the diseased.  People around me are struggling with burdens I cannot even begin to imagine…but when I lift them up in prayers, I know that, at least for that moment, they don’t struggle alone.

And neither do I.  God is with me, whether I am conscious of it or not.  I can feel Him, in the quiet of the night, in promptings to pray…even in the comfort of my couch, a cold drink and doggie snuggles.

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Lost And Found

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And great rejoicing…

I usually wear a ring on my right thumb, and the ring I wear there is usually one that belonged to Mama.  More specifically, there are a couple of her old rings that I take turns wearing on that thumb.  Unfortunately, I often fidget with my ring, rolling it up and down my thumb, and sometimes it slips off entirely.  Several months ago this happened at work, and the ring got lost.

I heard it drop to the floor and roll briefly…then I heard it drop a second time.  The environment I work in has elevated floors to allow for electrical cables to pass underneath, between layers of flooring which are several inches apart.  And in a number of spots there are small access holes for those cables to plug in to the machines we use in our daily work.

When I heard my Mama’s ring drop that second time, my stomach dropped with it.  I scrounged around on the floor on my hands and knees, with a flashlight, scouring every inch of floor in that little room, hoping to find my lost ring.  I even dug into the tiny access hole as far as my hand would reach (which wasn’t very far at all), shining my flashlight into that minuscule space.  No luck.

I gave up hope that it would ever surface again.  I even bought a “replacement” for it on eBay, an ersatz ring that resembled the lost one.  But I knew it was just a poor substitute for the original.  The thing is, it was not a valuable ring in terms of money, really.  Its real value was that it was Mama’s.

We’ve all had similar experiences, haven’t we?  We’ve somehow managed to lose something that we treasured, whether it had any real monetary value or not.  And even if we were able to find another item that looked like the lost one, it was never the same.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending.  The area in which I lost that ring is currently under demolition/construction as part of a major rebuild happening in my department.  When I learned that the area was going to be demolished I spoke with my managers and told them I had lost a ring in that room, and asked them to alert the construction crew in case it turned up.  One day last week as I ate lunch, one of the construction fellows found me and asked if I was the lady who lost a ring in that room, and I responded that I was.  He held up a slim gold band and asked, “Is this it?”

And my heart soared!  What was lost had been found, and with tears in my eyes I said, “Yes, that’s it!  Thank you so much!  It’s not really worth much, but it was my Mama’s and I am so glad to have it back.”

It reminds me of the Bible stories where something, or someone, is lost for a time and then found and restored to its/his/her right place.  In each story there is great rejoicing when what was lost is found.  I’m grateful to have Mama’s ring back…and it seems fitting that it should be restored to me during Lent, a time when I contemplate Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, a love that restores me to God, no matter how lost I feel.

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Fragile

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When normal stops…

Last Wednesday, January 20, 2016, Knoxville experienced the first real snow of the season.  The prospect of snowfall still brings excitement to the childlike part of me.  The white blanket that shrouds everything, the quiet, the glory of winter’s beauty fills my heart with wonder.

As an adult, however, my excitement is tempered by the fact that, snow or not, I still have to get to work.  Most of us do.  It is a reality I have dealt with for a long time working in the media.  Our world doesn’t stop for snow or for anything else.

I have also long prided myself on being a careful, and fairly competent, snow driver, preaching the principles of safe speeds, proper following distances and plenty of extra time to get where we need to go.  I still believe in all those principles.  Being careful is just common sense.

But despite my best efforts, last Wednesday, I wrecked my beloved DivaMobile anyway.

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It seemed to happen both in accelerated time and in slow motion, all at once.  I was driving through downtown. The interstate did not look like it had been treated with either sand or brine, and lane lines were not clearly visible.  A small pickup truck veered in front of me, too close for my comfort, and in trying to avoid crashing into it, I applied my brakes, slid, spun several times and crashed into a guardrail.  I came to rest on an interstate on-ramp facing the wrong direction.  Had the guardrail not been there to stop me, I would have most likely gone down an embankment and landed on 5th Avenue.

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I am OK, physically.  A few scratches, bumps and bruises, but I’m OK.  And by some miracle, in all this madness, no other vehicles were involved.  I didn’t hit anybody, and nobody hit me, and I never lost consciousness.  After I realized what had actually happened, I found my phone, called 911, then called work and Jeff to tell them I’d had an accident.

Here’s the thing.  Seeing the damage that happened to my car, I realized once more just how fragile life is, how quickly an event can change everything.  I took the day of the wreck and the day after off from work, and on Friday I returned.  In more snow.  And yes, I drove myself, although I had to drive the SweetPeaMobile.  Was I scared?  Absolutely.  Will I be scared for a while?  Most likely.  But for all the fragility of life and how scary things can be, I can’t let fear keep me from doing what I need to do.  I’ll just have to do it afraid for a while, praying and trusting God to protect me and those I love, being as safe as I know how to be and getting on with the business of living and working, finding a new car to try to replace my beloved DivaMobile and looking forward to feeling, eventually, a little less Fragile.

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Carried

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Words, burdens and letting go…

For nearly 20 years, I have carried a small book around with me.  It’s gone pretty much everywhere I’ve gone.  Inside its front cover I wrote down when and where I bought it.

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I have always loved blank books and journals, their potential for creativity and a place for me to vent my thoughts.  This particular one drew me in for 2 reasons.  First, I loved its cover art depicting the sun, moon and stars against a swirly blue background.  I think it’s permissible to judge a book by its cover when the inside is blank!

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Secondly,  I especially loved that its pages were unlined.  I have enough restriction in my life.  The pristine whiteness of its pages gave me freedom to write whatever I wanted, in whatever way I wanted…upside down, in a circle, diagonally or just crooked.

This little book became my constant companion, a safe place for me to write down the feelings I could not express any other way.  Looking at those words now brings back memories of the extremes in my life at the time…mostly extreme pain and sadness.  It contains the overflow of my broken heart and spirit during the last year of Mama’s life on Earth, a period when I was afraid and lonely, not thinking clearly and not making good choices.

I’m not proud of a lot of what I did during this chapter of my life.  My spiritual life and relationship with God were at an all-time low.  I couldn’t pray, really; all I could do was hurt, and sometimes, feel angry.  I realize now that God heard every anguished scream of my heart, even though I was not talking to Him.  He was still listening.

Even as wretched as I was, as horribly as I was acting and as distant as God seemed to be, I know now that He was right beside me all along, carrying me when I could not walk through life on my own.  And not just carrying me, but sending blessings, glimpses of hope that I could survive this valley.  His grace eventually brought me out the other side, altered for sure, but profoundly grateful.

I don’t think I need to keep my little book any longer, or at least, not the words it contains.  I think I can finally let that part of my life go.  Those pages need to be burned up in the bonfire of forgetting, of cleansing, never again a burden to be Carried.

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My Hundred Pound Present

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A reminder of the miracles of weight loss…

For anyone who may not be aware, I underwent weight loss surgery on June 6, 2012.  The process for this was a long and arduous one, filled with moments of both humility and humiliation.  As I wrote elsewhere, the hardest part of the whole thing was making the decision to do it, because I had to “suck it up and get humble for a minute”.  Admitting that I needed help was a difficult thing, but, as most weight loss surgery patients will agree, it really was my last resort.  After battling my weight for decades and finally deciding one last time to begin exercising and eating more wisely, I started that process only to lose 9 pounds before getting stuck and then injuring my “good” ankle (the “bad” one having been broken years before and then surgically reassembled).  Weight bearing exercise was impossible and I realized I needed a drastic intervention to help me reclaim my health.

Surgery prep happened during the same period I was completing an extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at our local teaching hospital.  The timing was totally a God thing, and I am convinced that each effort enhanced the other.  My unit of CPE placed me in a peer group of strangers who poured unconditional acceptance and support into me throughout both my hospital experience and the concurrent surgery preparation, becoming treasured friends and chosen family by unit’s end.

My hundredth pound came off on January 6, 2013, which in the church calendar is Epiphany.  That’s one sure way I’ll always remember the date, because it was an epiphany indeed!  It was also my 7-month surg-i-versary.  More pounds came off in the months that followed, and I was grateful for every one of them.  I still am, even though I have experienced some “bounce-back”, as many weight loss patients do.  I am working to get the pounds I want rid of to go away once more.  It’ll be a lifelong process, as will blood tests for nutrient levels and tweaking my nutrition.  I knew going in that these things would be part of The New Normal.

I decided I wanted to treat myself to a Hundred Pound present, to commemorate my journey and to have a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness along the way.  So the search began for my chosen symbol, a small diamond cross pendant.  I knew what I wanted, and as a lifelong jewelry horse, I was a pretty savvy shopper.  It took a while to find just the right thing…but, like losing that hundredth pound, it was worth waiting for.

The thing is, I’ve never been one to wear a cross.  For a long time, I just couldn’t bring myself to wear the symbol of crucifixion.  I realized over the years, though, that the cross is a symbol of faith, hope and new life, not just a picture of Christ’s torture and death.  What better symbol could I choose to remind me of my own hope and new life than that?  And what possible symbol could be a better reminder of God’s constant companionship, comfort and help along the way as I adjusted to The New Normal?  What better reminder of second chances and redemption?

Because, for me, the weight loss journey has been very much a spiritual odyssey.  There has been a lot of prayer, especially during those early days after surgery, when my recovery took longer and involved a lot more pain than I had anticipated.  There have been many long nights of the soul when I cried and leaned into God because I had come to the end of myself.  And as I have experienced bounce-back and regained a few of the pounds I had lost, there is renewed prayer that God will help me minute by minute to make wise choices, and that He will comfort the hurting places that I want to feed with unhealthy foods.

I wear my cross often, usually paired with a diamond heart that Sweet Pea gave me for our 15th wedding anniversary.  My fingers find their way to my charms throughout the day, touching them and remembering the love, comfort and hope they represent.  Thanks be to God for second chances!

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Arms

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Memories of embraces past…

Tuesday, October 28, 1997 was one of the worst days of my life.  It was the day Mama went into the hospital.  It was the beginning of the end, of Mama’s life and of an era in our family.

At this time, on that night, I was at the hospital to spend the night with her.  It was a bad night for us both, for numerous reasons.  She was nervous and agitated, and the medicine given to calm her down only upset her stomach.

There are lots of things about her last month and a half of life that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  I was still trying to work during most of that time while staying as many nights as possible at the hospital.  Sleep-deprived and stressed out, I know there are lots if things I don’t remember now.  But I remember some moments with vivid clarity.

I remember people’s arms around me.  I remember the night Mama’s condition was so bad that they had to bring  a portable ultrasound up to her room because they needed to do tests and didn’t want to wait for transport to come and take her down because she was so unstable.  Jeff had come to visit both with her and with me, and her condition upset him.  That was his meltdown moment during the last of her illness.  He cried like his best friend was dying and I couldn’t offer him much comfort.  We just held each other.

Dad had spent Mama’a last full night with her at the hospital, and I came the next day to relieve him.  He left and I settled in to spend what turned out to be her last day at the hospital with her.  She was unresponsive, and not too long after I got there her breathing changed.  I know now that she was actively dying.  A nurse came in and asked how long her breathing had been like that, and I said about a half hour.  The nurse then told me that I could talk to Mama, hold her hand and pet her if I wanted to. She said she didn’t think Mama was in any pain and that she didn’t think anything was going to bother or disturb her now.  She told me she would check on us during the day and if I needed anything at all to just call.  She put her arm around my shoulder and just stood with me for a few minutes, saying nothing more.

Countless times during her hospital stay, people hugged me, squeezed me tight and infused me with strength for the battle.  Guardian angels from my own family held me close as we all cried with sadness over what Mama was enduring, and what we all knew was to come.  I never take a hug for granted anymore.  I know the difference it can make.

After Mama died, at the graveside after the service was over, people were starting to disperse and leave.  I sat by her casket for what seemed like the longest time, by myself.  I knew the cemetery people would make me leave soon, but I wanted to spend those last few minutes with her.  My cousin Van, a favorite person in my life who I don’t see nearly often enough, came over and sat down beside me.  He didn’t say a word.  He just put his arm around my shoulder and sat with me.  I never felt more loved, more understood, than I did at that moment.

Many times I have leaned on the arms of other people for strength and comfort.  I hope that my arms have provided strength and comfort for the people in my life as well.  I believe one of the most powerful ways God loves us is through the love of other people. As I have leaned into the arms of other human beings, I have felt the everlasting arms of God spoken of in the old hymn from my childhood.

 

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Lord of love, thank You for holding me with the arms of the people You have sent me when I needed them most.  Use my arms and hands to comfort, strengthen and encourage the people in my life who need to feel You in theirs.