Grateful for Chains?

Philippians 1:12-14 NIV

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Sitting in my hotel room, alone in Montana, this morning, Sunday, June 25, 2017, while waiting for Gary to arrive, I was contemplating working on my book, but just can’t seem to get my brain or my spirit around it. Doubting if I should even finish this book or just focus on other things and people in life, I struggle to think then pray.

Jesus, would you please direct me and show me how you want me to spend my time this morning?

Receiving word, very early today, that the sister of Taylor’s high school girlfriend was killed in a car wreck, leaving two small daughters, I wasn’t sure I could write. Tragedy hits again in the wake of the loss of my friends, Travis and Debbie, all within one month. Overwhelming chains weighing on my friends’ families.

Praying. Phone calls with just love and mourning together. Text messages of love. More tears for all.

Knowing I just need Jesus, I open my Bible, and can’t see to read, so missing a few sermons from church, I log on to my church’s website sermon audio files and try to pick one I missed. If I can’t read the Word of God, I can listen to it. Wanting to choose the most recent, instead logic (God) tells me I should pick the first one I missed, even though the title, Gospel Chains didn’t sound interesting or pertinent, since I’m not in prison. (Yes, I am dense sometimes).

Listening to Rodd Ritchie speak on our chains in life and how God uses painful situations to share his love with the world, I begin to reflect on my circumstances and was strengthened in my resolve to write to encourage others who have gone through the same things I have. While I am at peace with losing a child, and learning to have peace with a hurting grieving family, I spend tons of time in doubt about my purpose in all this pain.

Why my story; so many others have gone through the same thing? I’m not a trained journalist! Do I have what it takes? Why do I want to share this story? Are my motives right? Am I sufficiently pointing people to God? Why am I doubting Christ in me?

So, as I’m listening to this sermon, encouraging strength returns as I hear of other stories of pain where God has used tragedies to share his love – Dr. Kim from South Korea, Paul in prison, among others, friends and family my pastor knows. These people didn’t plan to share their stories elaborately, nor was it them who caused the seeds of their stories to grow in the hearts of others. They just loved and shared – period!

Each time, someone loses a loved one, my heart breaks again for them with the same pain I felt when Taylor died. While it can exhaust me at times, it is not a bad pain, but a blessing of love that I know only comes from God as his compassion must pour out of my heart into theirs. God, personally, and many others poured this same love and hope into me to prepare me for loss as I grew up and others after Taylor went to heaven, so it is a totally natural thing to pass it onto others.

Listening to this sermon, I reflected on my hope shared in the current losses of others and I also realized, how God did this again with someone who wasn’t currently hurting. Last night, I walked into the hotel restaurant alone. While I am pretty comfortable eating alone with my phone, it is usually an awkward situation for many, especially those watching us who dine solo, thankful it is not them. Another lone woman cautiously asked me if I’d like to join her. Always up for an adventure, I thanked her and moved to her table as others in the restaurant smiled watching a stranger showing kindness towards me.

We shared our vastly polar reasons for being in Montana; me attending a motorcycle club convention with my husband and she, a keynote speaker at a convention. As we talked, I could see she was an intelligent highly educated veterinary professor with logical analyses of life. I didn’t sense we shared the same faith or interests, yet we found interesting conversation as I listened, fascinated with her line of work. She calmly, yet passionately explained how her job works, caring for students working with large and small animals at her university. We discussed all my last five crazy dogs, their temperaments and maladies with humor and laughter. My potentially lonely evening turned into a fun learning experience for me with a new friend, despite our differences.

Near the end of our meal, we exhausted the animal world and moved on to our families which always leads to the passing of our son. When giving a picture our beloved children, I brought Taylor up lightly but she asked for a bit more information. Within about five minutes, I shared Taylor’s passion and hope, thus my hope and some of the good that has come out of our loss. Surprisingly, this seemingly emotionally guarded woman teared up. I was touched by her compassion, but felt I needed to stop talking about me. After a bit of silence, I asked about her family. She shared and then it was time to part ways.

Who knows how much of a seed of hope for now or in the future will take root in this woman’s life from my brief story. Throughout my life, others shared their hope in the midst of their chains and thus gave me hope, courage and strength when I needed it most. So, today, my confidence was strengthened that sharing love and hope from the chains of life with this woman, I planted a seed of hope in God in her life. God is the one who will make it grow, I just share God’s story in my life.

So, what chains in life are holding you down? Have you found purpose in your pain in sharing with others? It doesn’t have to be written in a book. Like this morning, just crying with a friend who lost her granddaughter. Like last night just mentioning a short story of hope from your life with a random stranger. For my precious friends in deep loss right now, don’t try to process what you need to do, just rest in Jesus and he will open doors for you to share as you walk this journey.

That voiced, onto writing a book about hope to share with others. I won’t worry about it being well done today, my editor and God will help with that. All this from asking Jesus to direct my day. He is so faithful…

 

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Christmas Hope and New Year’s Reflections: My Feet Set on Earth, My Eyes, Mind, and Heart Set on Eternity with THE SON

2014-12-16 20.48.31With the second Christmas without Taylor, I’ve tried to adjust to the new normal of living without our son. Another season of peace, hope and joy…how do I keep the peace, hope and joy? What is the new Carla going to do with this joyful celebration without being a fake? As always, only by trusting The Reason for my hope do I find true joy and balance in this awkward thing called grief.

When Taylor first went to Heaven, people asked me how I was surviving with a smile. At the time I told them,

“It’s like I have one foot on Earth and one foot in Heaven. I try to stand more in Heaven and focus on the joy Taylor is experiencing with the hope of seeing him again. But then my earthly foot gets heavy and I need to grieve for the deep loss missing him so much. If I try to stay on one side too long, reality tugs to bring balance between both places.” Although this did help me get through the initial shock of my loss, it started to feel like an awkward visual to stay in balance, like doing the splits between Heaven and Earth.

I’ve further processed the truths God has given me to realize what is more accurate. I’m still a resident of Earth and that is His plan for me now at this time in eternity. He has now confirmed both my feet are on this planet, placed parallel without any ripping of my spiritual Psoas muscles, but my eyes, mind and heart are focused on Jesus in Heaven giving me a peaceful balanced stance. Each of us was created with a natural longing to see our Creator, whether that is in Heaven now or in the New Earth after He returns. However, despite the fact that we are planted here, we can and I have experienced peaceful rest in His arms and His hope.The Heaven's Declare The Glory of God

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV) explains it so well for a believer in Jesus, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Challenges to My New Balance

Keeping the proper balance has been extremely difficult at times for me for a few reasons. The continual longing for Taylor, an enormous stream of deaths in my life, and being over committed to too many things have given me too much to carry in my humanness.

First, the reality of how long it could be until I see Taylor and Jesus is so hard to bear some days. Training my mind to focus on Heaven and seeing the bigger picture is my prescription. I can imagine what Taylor is experiencing in Heaven is so much better than what he is missing down here. Then the realization of how much eternal time I will have with him and Jesus in Heaven with our whole family is unfathomably exciting. This brings balance to my life and the actuality that, yes, in this world, until Christ restores His kingdom here, I will have sorrow and troubles but there is hope as I fix my eyes and heart on eternity.

The second reason for increased struggles was from an overwhelming load of death in my life. Our school, church and family have experienced more death in the last three years, especially in the last three months, than I have experienced in one time period during my whole life. After Taylor’s death I experienced four suicides, children dying, parents dying, uncles, brothers, it’s been crushing.

I heard Beth Moore say recently, at a Louie Giglio Passion Conference, that our enemy, Satan, wants to discourage the Body of Christ in a great way right now, possibly because end times are nearer than we know. Whether that is because end times are coming or not, I have to agree with her. When Satan sees God doing great things, he gets jealous. I don’t know if you are like me, but when someone attacks my peeps, I get angry and that makes me rise up to do battle with a righteous indignation. I will not let Satan defeat me and my peeps! I’ve read the end of the Bible and we win!! Christ is our strength and through pain Christ can be glorified and others will see that hope!!! Can you hear me shout this to remind myself? Do I hear an “Amen”?

In John 15 and 16, Jesus prepared His disciples right before He died on the cross for the hard times to come. Although they didn’t get it at the time, He explained how he had to suffer and “go away” and how they too would suffer. He promised their grieving would turn to joy and the Holy Spirit would come. He ended chapter 16 in verse 33 with,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Take heart! Have hope! He has overcome the world and our focus on Heaven with our feet on earth is our opportunity to share this with others. We will overcome with Him! This doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve but we grieve with the assurance that this pain will last a short while.1308887019480

The third reason for my recent struggles, and probably the greatest cause of pain, was in not leaving enough margins in my life. The ability to confidently balance my earthly feet and heavenly focus is largely dependent on how I spend my time. This summer, I found that if there wasn’t purpose in my pain and I couldn’t use that pain to help others, I couldn’t deal with Taylor’s loss but God was calling me to spend more time with Him and Gary. Some people medicate pain with drugs, alcohol, or food. I medicated with doing busy good things. What actually happened was a busy over-committed schedule kept me from having space for my marriage, God and grieving, so without warning, suddenly, I completely shut down physically, mentally and spiritually. Although I didn’t need it, my bosses, family, and friends gave me “permission” to take care of myself which eased any guilt I might carry in dropping things. I quickly prioritized my life and weeded out some things that weren’t necessary.

My over commitments were good things that I could have done 20 years ago. A life-long focus for me has been Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” However, I had to finally admit that I’m a 53 year old human, carrying grief that needs a deep healing from God, and understand that just because there is a need in front of me, doesn’t mean I have to be the one to meet it. I’ve always thought, somewhat arrogantly, from that verse, that it’s up to me to take care of things needing care because I have a big God working through me. He has had to remind me to leave some of that for the others He has equipped and also assure me His arms are big enough to care for those around me who are hurting.

Identity in Christ

Along with this, I also realized, at a deeper level, my identity is not wrapped up in what I do, or my talents. My truest identity is that I’m a beloved daughter of the Most High. My first calling is to sit in his lap and just spend time with Him. Just like I love my precious granddaughter, not because of what she does, but because she is mine, so God doesn’t love me because I’m a dedicated teacher, friend or mom. He loves me, period! This has made me want to protect more time for Him, reading about Him, worshiping Him and then just listening while reflecting on His love to heal and help set new boundaries for this grandma. John 15 talks about abiding in Him so sitting on His lap has helped rebuild my heart from aches and soften my pain for others to trust Him to care for those hurting around me. The more I get to know Him, the more my hope and faith grow as I live an abundant life in the new normal.2014-12-06 10.17.25

So as we end this old year and celebrate the beautiful first coming of our Lord, I keep my heart on eternity and treasure the sacrifice God made in sending His Son as a little baby, so my son can be with Him and I will see Taylor again. During this season, I pray we can all find balance in our grief and live life to the fullest with our hearts fixed on our risen Savior in Heaven and still allow ourselves to be human with our feet planted on Earth as we ache with the deep love we have for our treasured deposits in Heaven.

John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

One Year Anniversary Reflections: He Bore Our Griefs As We Identify With His Sufferings

He Bore Our Griefs

Isaiah 53:4 (NASB)
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.

This scripture, “He bore our griefs…” has been coming to my mind ever since Easter this year. The realization that he literally understands my pain from losing our son is so precious and real. It’s overwhelming to think that Jesus carried all that pain on the cross for all of us.

 I relate to this so much now when I meet a person who has suffered any kind of loss, especially the loss of a child or someone close. I look at their teary eyes and I know it’s the Holy Spirit grieving with me as I cry for them and feel that knife stabbing pain in my heart again, only it’s for their loss this time and yet so real in my own heart as it flows from Christ’s.

I also felt Christ’s grief for me many times in unexplained ways before Taylor died. One of the many moments was in April 2013, two months before his and Michelle’s wedding. Taylor had asked me to find a song to dance to for the “Mother-Son” dance. His favorite song as a little boy was Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure, or “Saddle up Your Horses” as four year-old Taylor called it. I wanted to do a swing dance with him to this song since he danced to it every morning with his siblings and me on his stick horse for about three years after our morning Bible time.

Last spring, as I turned on the song for my husband to hear, I tried to choreograph the wedding dance in my mind. Gary and I both simultaneously began to cry with deep unexplained sorrow over this song. We had not felt that kind of pain with our first son’s wedding song, even though our love is just as deep for all our children. I couldn’t understand it then, but now I do. Taylor decided he didn’t want that song for the wedding and we chose another special song, but as soon as he passed away, we knew that song was the story of his life, a “Great Adventure”, and had to be the main song in his life video.

Also around this time, Taylor came home wearing a beautiful full chest tattoo that was on his bucket list to do before his wedding. He had planned another tattoo for a long time; however he suddenly decided to change it to a full-winged owl with a compass pointing true north in its claws. When he explained to me that true north was for following Christ in his marriage and his choice for owls was because they mate for life, I suddenly felt that same stabbing in my heart. I now understand how God, the God of all time, grieved for us in those moments in spring 2013, knowing what was ahead for us on July 20, 2013.

Identifying With the Sufferings of Jesus

Knowing he understands my grief better than anyone else, going to the feet of Jesus is truly the only thing that satisfies me and comforts me. As a result, I pulled away from people quite a bit last year. The only way for me to find true joy is in worshiping my Creator and thanking him for what I do have and that my son is in Heaven. Turning my focus toward Heaven, reading about Heaven, and visualizing all the joy Taylor is experiencing now has given me the big picture perspective of the truth of our brief time here in the whole landscape of eternity. Yet not everyone is in the same place as me and I can’t expect them to be exactly where I am as unique individuals and we are all suffering the loss of Taylor in a different way because we each have a unique relationship with him.

Grieving has been the most humanly lonely experience I have ever had in my whole life. Even though there are 7 people in my own home, each person grieves differently and generally separately. We don’t want to bring the others down, so we cry in private or not at all. Still we want to spend most of our time with family and God, but then I am afraid our friends feel like they’ve lost us too.

There have been instances where friends and extended family think I’m so strong I don’t need them, which I don’t, but I want them and for some reason, they don’t get that. When I get my eyes off of Christ, and in my weakness, I have the tendency to feel abandoned by these people. Then my husband and I don’t find our needs met by each other on this parallel walk we are on towards God, so emotions we have not dealt with before suddenly arise. I’ve never been an angry person, but I find myself angry, not at Taylor for dying or at God, but at those around me for not being happy and not what I want them to be for me. I’ve said it many times, “I didn’t just lose a son, I feel like I’ve lost my family.” I’m sure I sound bi-polar at this point, but it’s the reality of grief.

As I shared this with my friend, Ann, who also has suffered loss, she reminded me of this verse:

1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings,
that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Ann and I discussed that the beauty and gift of going through grief alone and individually is that we are forced to dig in more intimately with our Savior to be able to survive and we therefore learn more about all he suffered on the cross and grow closer to him as we recognize what he truly did for us, thus realizing the truly deep love he has for us individually. We then can rejoice and see his glory revealed in our lives in a way that can only be supernatural!!

At this one year anniversary point, I am beginning to take time for friendships again. I have so many wonderful friends God has given me! Our family is still together because we allow each other to grieve at their own pace, knowing they are holding the hand of Jesus too. I’m not ever going to be the same Carla again. I will hopefully be a more thoughtful Carla who appreciates each moment with those I have here, a more compassionate Carla who understands the grief of others and can hold out an empathizing hand, a more passionate Carla who appreciates the Savior and his ultimate eternal plan for all of us, looking forward to the day I see my Savior’s and my son’s face daily for all eternity.

My Tribute to Taylor, Our Second Born Son, Our Adventurer

Carla Wood – July 25, 2013Image

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 NLT

Psalm 20

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he grant your heart’s desires
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Now I know that the Lord rescues his anointed king.
He will answer him from his holy heaven
and rescue him by his great power.
Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Those nations will fall down and collapse,
but we will rise up and stand firm.

That last part of that verse was one of Taylor’s favorite verses. He loved anything to do with cowboys and horses. As you listened to me read this passage from Psalm you might have asked, “How were your prayers answered?” As a follower of Jesus Christ, our greatest prayer is that each family member and friend gives their whole heart and life to Jesus so we can be in Heaven together forever. We know beyond any doubt that although Taylor was not perfect, just like we are not perfect, he is in Heaven with Jesus living ecstatically in awe and wonder of all the amazing things God had promised him if he would trust Jesus with his whole heart.

When Taylor was 4, he asked Jesus into his heart. He wanted to be a good boy and he knew he couldn’t do it on his own. After he asked Jesus into his heart I told him about how I needed to spend time with Jesus every day, reading my Bible and talking with Jesus to help me to be a good Mommy. Shortly after this, I had an impatient moment with Taylor and he tugged at my shirt and said with his little Bostonian accent, “Mama, did yo have yo Jesus time? I think yo need yo Jesus time.”

From the age of 4-6, we homeschooled in Oxbow, OR. Each morning after breakfast, Taylor would get all of us in the living room. He would grab his cowboy hat and his stick horse, and the kids and I would run around singing with Steven Curtis Chapman, “The Great Adventure” or as Taylor would say “Saddle up Your Horses”. He wouldn’t let us do our Bible time until that song was sung and danced to. It is the first song on his life video J.

Taylor really knew what was important in life.

When he didn’t dress or keep his hair the way I thought was best for him in high school, I love how he gently gave me a scriptural reminder, “Mama, man looks to the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Taylor always saw beyond the outside of people and saw what God saw in their hearts and could recognize what they were created to be. He would often make a quick call and say, “Mama, pray for so-and-so. They really need prayer this week.” He would never tell me what the problem was, keeping his friends’ personal lives confidential, but he knew the power of prayer could change lives and wanted all his friends to have the same peace and relationship with Jesus that he had.

Taylor didn’t just have a free ticket to Heaven when he asked Jesus into his heart; he saw life as an adventure to learn more about God in nature and an adventure to see who God wanted him to reach out to next. He didn’t preach a lot, he loved people where they were and expected the best out of them while having a lot of fun along the way.

Taylor felt closest to God in the Idaho outdoors. It started first in our family campouts. I saw his relationship with Jesus first grow in our garden. Raspberries, my favorite food, were abundant in our back yard in July. In grade school and junior high, Taylor was always the first one up summer mornings and would say, “Hey Mama, let’s go have breakfast!” Out to the garden the two of us would go to pick raspberries and eat them as we talked noticing cool things about God from the garden. He loved to be close to God in nature so when I went to the river to see where he took his last breath I had a deep sense of peace knowing he flew to heaven from a place he would go  to hear God speak. It was a safe place, not dangerous, but beautiful and we all realized why he was so excited to play there.

During my back surgeries over the last few years, Taylor always slept on our sectional couch while I reclined in my sleep. His hand was always stretched out to touch my hand or leg. For 2-3 weeks for each surgery, he would do this and make sure I had whatever I need and prayed to ease my pain even on days he worked his 10 hour shifts.

Taylor was very creative in a mechanical way and in business, art and music. He loved to paint. If you ever saw his bedroom, he and his friends were allowed to draw on the walls. Although he loved his mechanic work, he longed to use his art and entrepreneur gifts more. His self- portrait is in the foyer that he made at a summer art school near my sister, his Aunt Carolyn’s in Annapolis. We hope you each will take a magnet copy of this which his aunt has made as a gift for all of you.

As the Lord has ministered to me this week he keeps showing me a vision of Taylor painting his heart out in worship of God with the outdoors in Heaven. Some of his favorite past times were playing and singing with Michael Pease, Stephen and the gang. Michael and Stephen are doing a concert thinking of us today. A big favorite was going with Trevor Powers in high school, downtown, playing on the street corner on Taylor’s snare drum with Trevor on the guitar making more money than they expected. He was never quite sure his voice was good enough to follow the path his two friends had found, but Michelle said his voice was improving so much and he loved to sing this past month even more. His new singing genre was reggae in Hawaii but making up his own new words to it. I’m anxious to hear what he has written in Heaven for the Lord. I think we should expand the Christian reggae genre on earth. Hmmm…

One of my sweetest memories was when he was in junior high at that typical junior high stage with an “I-don’t’need-my-parents” attitude. However, he would ask at the end of a tiring day, “Mama, could we lay on your bed, cuddle, and watch “Little House on the Prairie?”  This went on for about a month until we had watched every episode of Little House and moved onto The Walton’s.  J

Taylor was the only one of our 4 kids that called me mama. I will forever hear his frequent phrases, “Mama, guess what God did for me today?” “Mama, please pray…” “Mama I found the greatest place.” Especially missed will be his random phone calls or texts that simply said, “I love you Mama!” My favorite Mama moment was in January 2012 when he asked, “Mama, would you please pray that God will give me a wife who is perfect for me?”

“Well sure Taylor, I have done that since you were little but I will be intentional about it now. What’s the deal with Michelle True? Why aren’t you dating her?” I replied.

“I can’t do that, she is my best friend. I wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.”

“Well Taylor, best friends usually make the best spouses. At your age, maybe you should rethink that.”

Shortly after that, Michelle started spending every day at our house and we all fell in love with her, along with Taylor J. God knew that we would need Michelle and her amazing family to help us get through this. Treasures they are in our lives forever.

To Taylor, yo Mama loves you, and she will always have her Jesus time sending messages to you through Him. I hold Jesus hand knowing he will pass on the information to you holding his other. Thank you for daring us to dream, loving people the way Jesus does, and preparing us to carry on your adventures. Dad and I always told you, with your strong will and spirit, God would do great things through you. Thanks for cheering us on up there encouraging us to continue to pass on the love you have given to others and make the world a more loving and fun place. We promise to make your domino affect change the world into a better place as you did.

To our Lord Creator, thank you for giving us 23 amazing years with our son. For using his gifts to love others and make his life an amazing adventure. Thank you for giving him the happiest year of his life with friends, the completely perfect wedding to the absolutely perfect woman for him. Thank you for the assurance that we know he is with you and for all the little kisses you have sent to us this week to confidently remind us he flew into your arms. Thank you for showing him the good things that happen down here and let him know how deeply we love him.

To those adults in this room, teachers at Cole Valley, Borah, Sunday school teachers and youth pastors, and parents and family, thank you for being a part of the plan God had to impart love and truth into our son’s heart that made him a man after God’s heart. Taylor, Michelle, and our other children are living proof that seeds planted in our young people will grow to serve our Living God.

To all of you, in this room, and those who were not able to be here, thank you for being such an amazing support to us. The miracle of the Body of Christ praying and reaching out is glorious and has given us strength that was supernatural this week. Despite times of crying, none of us are hopeless we have constant reassurance that Taylor is surfing in Heaven in between painting, singing and using these gifts to just completely worship his Awesome God in the fullness of His glory. He is cheering us on to persevere and reach the prize of our ultimate calling to also be with Christ.

To Gary, my sweet blessed man, thank you for raising a godly man to love and serve us and others. He has your servant’s heart and I’m deeply humbled by that. I am so glad I married you and have shared this amazing son with you. I am excited to continue close to you in this journey we are on to see what amazing things God is going to do next.

Michelle, my new amazing daughter, thank you for seeing Taylor as God saw him and for bringing out the best in him. You completed him, now we have the other part of Taylor to cherish for life.  You were the answer to a lifelong prayer for Gary and me. You and God gave him the best year of his life and no one could ever ask for more at a time like this. You are the greatest treasure Taylor has brought to our family and we are so glad to have you for our forever daughter. Gary and I vow to take care of you as Taylor would.

Shawn, Angela, Drew, and Bethany, our precious children we are so grateful for on earth, thank you for loving and supporting Taylor and each other, especially during the last two months of celebration of his life and marriage. A student at Cole Valley told Shawn his senior year that our family was weird. When Shawn asked why, the reply was, “You all love each other and don’t fight.” I’m so proud that you all understand love so deeply.

To the True Family, the Wood Family, the Barkley and Clark families, as always you have been faithfully by our side. We are so blessed to have all of you and look forward to having many more adventures together making new memories with joy as Taylor would want.

To Jamison, you are technically a friend, but truly a brother. When Taylor chose you to be his best man in the wedding, it was a no brainer to Shawn and Drew and the rest of us. There is a friend that is closer than a brother and that is you. Thank you for being there with Taylor through thick and thin. We are here for you through thick and thin too.

And to all his friends new and old, especially you honored pall bearers, we started to list all of you and the list was going to be so long; we know you are grieving in some ways more deeply than we are. I wish I had time to list each and every name of Taylor’s friends. You spent more time with Taylor than we have lately and will have a bigger hole in your lives right now. Our home is open 24/7 for any of you to hang out. We want you to gather whenever you need a place in our home to play, talk, laugh, share, pray, whatever you need. I always wanted a huge family, God gave us a start with 4 and Taylor gave you to us to adopt. You will always be our kids just like Michelle. Be watching for his Birthday Party in September to join with us and celebrate our relationships with all of you!

My prayer for all my children throughout their lives is from Ephesian 3 and I want to pray this for everyone here and all whose lives have been touched by Taylor:

 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 Father God, I pray that from your glorious, unlimited resources you will empower these beloved friends and family with inner strength through your Spirit. 17 Then Jesus will make his home in their hearts as they trust in you. That their roots will grow down into your love and keep them strong. 18 And may they have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep your love is. 19 May they experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then they will be made complete as Taylor is now, with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the Body and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

The Upright Piano

Matthew 10:30-32 (NIV)

30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

A new Christmas song, Cradle in Bethlehem, sent to me and written by my friend Andrew Greer, started a rush of nostalgia today. Right from the beginning, the soft twangy notes on an upright piano sent a flood of memories of faith pouring over my heart. Reminisce of my little girl heart starting her melodic dreams.

I come from a very musical Seattle family. My dad’s biological mother was an excellent pianist with a Julliard background and Dad played in the Seventh Fleet Naval Band plus sang and led worship in our church with his trumpet. Mom also came from a strong musical background and was a singer. They both had a deep desire for my sister and I to play the piano, but there was no money to buy one in the challenging times of the early 1970’s.

At the end of my second grade, a church family asked us to rent their home while they moved to Texas on temporary assignment. I was thrilled because they left their piano in the house and our church pianist lived just a block away! I took lessons from her and became addicted to practicing, spending hours on that beautiful instrument. Unexpectedly, nine months later, my dad got transferred to the opposite end of Seattle.  No piano. No money either. My sister and I were devastated.

Shortly after our move, Mom sat us girls down and said,

“If God wants us to have a piano, we will get one! I don’t know how, but he can do anything. Let’s pray!” So we prayed for about a week, not much longer.

Mom then got a call from her old high school friend, whom she had not heard from in a while.

“Vivian, my brother owns a nursing home in Portland. They are getting rid of an upright piano and he wondered if I knew of anyone who might want it. For some reason, I thought of you.  All he is asking is $50 for gas money to move it.”

Stunned, Mom caught her breath and, of course, said yes. We all did a little happy dance and praised God! Our parents scraped $50 out of the budget along with the change my sister and I found in my dad’s recliner. To top it off, our pastor’s wife heard about the miracle and offered to give us piano lessons for free. God was so good to us.

My faith grew enormously and God taught me so much through that old piano.

Bach and Beethoven, In the Garden, The Entertainer sounded amazing on that tall black instrument, but my favorites were the Christmas carols. I heard Mary’s Boy-Child, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), and Carol of the Bells for the first time on those keys. So many special memories are attached to those twangy sounds.

We moved to another home and made more memories as it sat in our kitchen. With another impending move, my dad said it was too heavy to lug to another home. We sold it for $100 to apply on a new piano.

For Christmas, when I was in the seventh grade, they bought us a spinet. I loved the smaller piano but the sound of that old black upright couldn’t be replaced. The seeds planted from those early days provided a lifetime of a musical hobby for my sister and a teaching career for me that has been so fulfilling. Every time I hear an old upright sound, it reminds me of God’s concern over the smallest desires and the biggest dreams in our lives.

Incidentally, my sister’s and my faith grew so much in praying for the piano, we decided to pray for a baby brother. One year later, God gave us one of my greatest gifts in life, my brother Matthew, who is also a music teacher!

Learning to Listen

As an extroverted teacher, worship leader, and singer, the word quiet has not been in my vocabulary often over the years, unless it was to ask my students or children to lower their voices. I love to be with people, sharing all God is doing in my life. And no doubt He can definitely use “conversationalists” like me to share His message. Beth Moore says you know you’re a teacher if you can’t stop sharing what you’ve learned (A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place – video). And that is me 24-7.

Until now. Due to my recent neck surgery, my voice is – at best – just above a whisper. But the Lord, in His perfect mercy, has begun to teach me the value of quiet – the increased focus on listening. Listening to Him, listening to my family, and listening, especially, to my husband :). Silence has allowed me to pay attention without interrupting so I can hear the whole of my sweet man’s heart. My children and even my friends have opened up even more, knowing that I’m listening closely.

In listening to God, I’ve looked up scripture on quietness to see what else He has to teach me on this subject… and Psalm 131 spoke directly to my heart.

Psalm 131
New International Version (NIV)


A song of ascents. Of David.

 1 My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

 3 Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore.

This passage spoke to me in many ways. “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” Silence has taken me away from lofty dreams and brought me to foundational truths and simple acts of worship in my walk with Jesus. I have spent a lot of time planning great chapels and big musical programs for my students, and these things have all been good. But I see how Jesus wants to bring my focus back to seeing Him and His love for me purely and personally. Big plans can sometimes become a distraction to personal adoration of my King.

Singing is integral to worship for me, but now I can barely warble one note. In the past, it was difficult to listen to music without singing. When directing my students, it took a great deal of self-control not to join in during their performances. And I have caused real embarrassment to my husband when I’m in an audience singing in a situation where we have not been invited to participate.

Learning to listen to others worship in song is redirecting my focus to Jesus, and what the words really say to Him or about Him. I have been freed to just lift my arms to Him, opening up a tunnel directly to His Presence. My voice is not distracting my heart, and this has allowed me to be filled in a way I’ve never experienced before.

Psalm 131 also illustrates David’s deliberate choice to rest in the Lord – “I have calmed and quieted myself.” This involved David’s will. In my case, God has forced me into silence, but I still need to trust and make the choice to rest in my spirit, allowing Him to calm my heart.

“Like a weaned child I am content.” We are to be content in all circumstances. Even when I can’t use my talents, Lord? Yes, even then. I know His purpose is to use me. If that is in silence, so be it. But if this stillness is a time to teach me new truths without my voice distracting my spirit, then praise Him for this “silent learning” opportunity!

“Put your hope in the Lord, both now and forevermore.” Trust always leads to hope. My hope for the “now” is to absorb from Him truths never learned with my voice. Hope is also in the “forevermore.” Should He restore my voice tomorrow to continue my ministry, then Hallelujah! This is what I believe He is doing. However, even if no clear word should ever again go forth from my mortal mouth, I will continue to worship my King in spirit and through other believers singing praises to His Name.

Worshiping in silence has brought my heart to a place of deep focus on Jesus. Learning to do this with a quiet spirit and a calm heart, I am content to learn and meditate as I wait for Him to heal me now or later, with the full hope I will rejoice with all the saints, with shouts of joyful singing in Heaven, forever.