The new house!

The new house!
This is our spring and summer view from the kitchen of our new home in Oklahoma!

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Last Decade

For some reason, I found myself singing silly songs and making funny comments as I Fiver and I took our morning walk along the golf course next to our house.  At one point I stopped and looked down at Fiver who had also paused after sniffing out a scent and then marked it as his possession, and I noticed the questionable look on his face.  So, I let out a laugh and said “I guess your human Dad has the funnies today!”  And like it was normal business, he turned and kept on walking toward the park… although, I could have sworn that he shook his head a little!

We noticed a new dog in the neighborhood over the weekend when we walked through the narrow section of the path between the backs of a row of homes and the beautiful golf course opposite them.  As we approached the new neighbors, their backdoor opened and the midsized black dog came running out.  I told Fiver that we were going to have to name him, so we came up with the original name of “Newbie.”  When he got down to the fence near us, Fiver started to get a little excited and began to pull toward his new friend(?).  So, without missing a beat, I began to speak softly to Fiver and pull the fancy harness we have in order to keep him under my control.  Then the funnies hit me again and I began to tell Fiver how this was HIS neighborhood and that he was “BOSS DOG” and had to set the right example for the new kids on the block!

Well, that brought me to a more serious note, and I began to think about how long we’ve actually been here.  As it turns out, we’ve been in our new home for close to nine months but have lived in Oklahoma for over a year now… and that is when it hit me!

In a flash of a moment, I began to consider how drastically my life has changed over the last ten years.  Ten years ago, we were still living what I would consider to be the basic foundation of the life we lived since we were married in 1975.  We were living in our home town, renting a little house (also next to a golf course… hummm, maybe I should consider learning how to play the game!)  I was working a full-time secular job and also held a part-time staff position at our church.  So, in that respect everything was close to normal… except that Piper was past the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and was being drawn deeper and deeper into it’s devastating clutches.

In the mid-summer of that year, I finally quit my full-time job as it was increasingly evident that Piper needed me at home with her 24/7.  From there, the changes came in rapid succession.  It wasn’t all that long after that when I had to resign from my ministry position and focus my complete attention on my wife’s care.  From then on… up to and including today, we began our journey of faith in our total dependence on the Lord for EVERYTHING!

And WOW…  What a ride it has been!  I should add the caveat of what a “GOOD” ride it has been!  Through all the painful ups and downs of the past decade, the GOOD Lord has repeatedly proven Himself to be grace-fully TRUE to His Word.  If I had to choose one over-all verse to best describe our faith and His faithfulness, it would be found in Philippians 4:19 where the Apostle Paul unhesitatingly told his giving friends in Philippi that “I am convinced that my God will fully satisfy every need you have, for I have seen the abundant riches of glory revealed to me through the Anointed One, Jesus Christ!  (The Passion Translation)

Every time I have read that verse over the years of my adult life, I am always amazed that Paul wrote this epistle, his greatest letter of hope, encouragement and joy to his friends, when he was in what most Biblical scholars consider to be the most hopeless situation of his life.  And just like people have asked me since Piper’s passing, I often wondered if Paul’s faith was shaken because of the dire situation he was in.  But then, like me, I also understand that the answer is an unequivocal NO… but in fact, was such a situation that found his faith to be strengthen by the tremendous turmoil because his faith, like ours, was only bolstered because of the solid foundation his personal belief in the LOVE of GOD gave him, so as to NEVER cause (or allow) his trust in God to waiver!

In many respects, those last ten years are a complete BLURR to me.  At times, I find myself sitting in my home and thinking, “Where am I?”  “Where have I been?” “What happened to my sweet Piper?” and “Where do I go now?”

But after all those questions, I quickly revert to my knowledge of His faithfulness and I find myself comforted, in peace and full of His joy!  I may not have all the answers.  I may not like what we had to go through, and I certainly HATE the fact that Piper is no longer at my side. 

But I do rest in the FACT that God knows me and loves me with the same type of intimacy that Piper and I enjoyed over the 48 years of our time together.  And with that heart “knowing” I KNOW that His perfect plan for me is continuing to unfold before me… as I continue to trust in Him for EVERYTHING!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Conversations

I spent a lot of time in prayer yesterday.  But first, let me first explain what I mean by that.  When I pray, I simply have a normal, verbal communication with God.  Yesterday I prayed while I walked the dog around the neighborhood, while I watered the garden, while I traversed the aisles in Walmart… many times finding myself going the wrong way down he clearly marked lanes because I wasn’t paying attention… while I sat in my leather chair with notebook in hand in my study, and while laying in bed.  And like any conversation that I would have with a good friend, I talk for awhile and then stop and listen for His reply.  Then we discuss, we question each other, we laugh, we pause to think and sometimes like yesterday, I cry!

For some reason, these last few weeks have been very difficult for me.  I’ve read where certain important dates in a person’s life whose lost a loved one, will trigger avalanches of past memories and feelings.  And while the two-year mark of Piper’s passing is just around the corner, I think I finally figured out that I am also at a point in my personal journey without the star attraction of my life, of entering another transition time.  And that was the purpose behind my extended fellowship with the Father.

It dawned on me over this last weekend, that I am finding it more and more difficult to remember the soft feel of Piper’s skin, the wonderful aroma of her favorite fragrance, the warmth and tenderness of her physical touch around my arm, while holding my hand or placing her little hand on my chest. 

I found it both startling and scary when I realized that she is becoming more of a memory in all the many pictures I took of her over the years, rather than the tactile, living, breathing, laughing, spunky gal that was always there for me… and me for her… as she was the one who gave me much of my sense of purpose, desire and the honor and responsibility to love and respect and go out of my way on a regular basis to make her happy!  I think my favorite thing in life was to make her laugh!

A big part of the difficulty is that while I fully understand that this is all a part of the grieving process and is a natural step in helping me to continue on in life… one side of me does not want to see this happen. That side of me does NOT want to let go of her.

But I had a revelation one night over the weekend that greatly encouraged me in the midst of all this.  I had been reading from John 15:16 where Jesus was teaching His disciples and declared that: You didn’t choose me, but I’ve chosen and commissioned you to go into the world to bear fruit. And your fruit will last, because whatever you ask of my Father, for my sake, he will give it to you!” (The Passion Translation)

As I meditated on that verse, I began to hear what I believed to be that very familiar small-still-voice on the inside of me, telling me that the process that He started in June of 2003 when he told me that it was time to go to Bible School, was not only to build us up and prepare us for the difficult years ahead with Piper’s illness, but was also to GET ME to Broken Arrow, OK - right here and now!  Those simple words acted as a reality shock, caused me to open my mouth in awe of Him and release a flood of tears.  The idea that He also had a plan for me in the midst of all the heart ache and pain was overwhelming.

I had been sensing for awhile that some changes were on the horizon… but to be honest… was not witnessing any physical response to my prayers concerning my present circumstances.  I have a personal list of things that I am believing for, but have been getting very impatient (which is actually unusual for me…) at what seemed to be a lack of promising results… I bet that some of you out there have felt the same thing at times… right?

So, all those revelations that I have had, some online ministry meetings that I have been watching and a couple of books I’ve been reading, along with my Bible, suddenly all seem to be pointing in the same direction… the direction of transition and coming changes.  And while I still don’t know what they are… I am both shook up and scared at my feelings but yet sense the small beginnings of a fire being stirred up inside of me.  Never a dull moment, right?  Who said that trusting in the Lord was ever a boring activity?

During the Lord’s and my conversation yesterday, I also took pages of notes in my journal (the 3rd one I’m filling up since Piper’s leap through the veil), so I’ve got lots to write about in future blogs.  But for now, I just feel led to encourage both you and me to NEVER GIVE UP on your dreams, your visions and your requests to the Lord.  Talk with Him about them, listen for His replies, do what He says to do and continue to build up your faith by your consistent study of His Word, through prayer and through fellowship with other believers.

Have a great day and pass a smile and/or an encouraging word to someone in need!

 


Monday, August 3, 2020

BALANCE & Roses

I realized early yesterday morning that I was feeling un-BALANCED in my life.  When I sat down for my Bible Study a few hours later, I discovered a scripture that helped me to see things in the right perspective.  In a modern translation of Psalm 119:109, the Psalmist cries out to the Lord declaring, “Even though my life hangs in the balance, I’ll keep following what you’ve taught me, no matter what.” (The Passion Translation)  So, in keeping with my train of thought that morning, I read that verse as saying: ”Even though my life is un-BALANCED right now, I’ll keep following what You’ve taught me in Your Word throughout my life… no matter what!” 

I had always seen Piper’s and my life like a Seesaw in the neighborhood playground.  I pictured Piper on one side and me on the other with Jesus balancing everything out in the middle.  When I got up to take the pooch out early yesterday morning though, I suddenly felt un-BALANCED on the Seesaw of life.  I could see that Jesus was still in the middle, but Piper’s end was vacant and pointing way up into the sky… while I was sitting on the ground on the other end of the beam!

As I meditated on what I felt that the Lord was trying to tell me with that particular verse of scripture, I began to see that, as had always been in our lives, getting rebalanced was all about getting into the right alignment with Jesus!  If I was to take the Seesaw as a literal example, then I would understand that there would have had to be a regular shifting or readjusting of our positions throughout our 48 years together.  In the natural realm alone, I weighed a lot more than Piper… at times up to twice as much!

Now… Now!  I know what you’re probably thinking… but its not because I got fat (Although I’d have a hard time arguing with you right now…)!  Piper hardly ever weighed more than 105 with most days hovering right around 100… more likely under than over, and I’ve always been in the mid-190’s.  I had gotten down to around 185 during the first few months of our marriage and I clearly remember my Italian Mama taking me aside during one of the first times they invited us over for dinner since we had tied the knot, and seriously… and not too happily asking me “Isn’t she feeding you enough?  You’re looking very thin!”

But back to my Seesaw point… In order to balance the beam, we would constantly be shifting around to keep things level!  So, my point here is, that in order to re-BALANCE my life right now without 1/3 of the previous equation present, I just need to get closer to Jesus in the middle of the beam of my life.  Now that’s easier said than done… but in reality… it is a simple solution… and it’s the same solution that ALWAYS worked in our past to keep BALANCE in our lives!

When I sat down at my desk in my front room study this morning to start my Bible study, I returned in thought to the idea of BALANCE and almost immediately felt the Lord saying to me: “Jim, I want you to STOP and SMELL the Roses today!”  That pushed a laugh up from within me and I decided that I would take His word and look for roses along my path! 

As we stepped out for our morning walk after feeding the dog and a quick shower for me, I was determined to find a rose somewhere between our home, the golf course and the park.  And while I never saw an actual rose bush, I did have a couple of short but uplifting conversations with two of the golfers passing by in their golf carts, saw the most beautiful flowers in the midst of the grass in the park and enjoyed the ripples on the pond as a slight breeze blew down from the north.  It’s surprising how fragrant, BALANCED and beautiful the various sights and sounds of the locale of your life can be… WHEN YOUR LOOKING FOR ROSES!

And as my lovely wife would tell me… “Jim, that’s your confession and I believe every word of it!”  So, even though she is not here to physically, spiritually and emotionally BALANCE my life, I’ll take her advice and along with it, the understanding that even if she isn’t here sitting on the other end of our Seesaw, that she still plays a major role in the BALANCE of who I am today!

How about you?  Is your life BALANCED or un-BALANCED?  My suggestion is to find what it takes to maintain your balance… and along the way… STOP and SMELL the Roses that you discover along your paths in your daily lives!


Saturday, August 1, 2020

August 1975

For some reason, I found myself wondering about what special events in history might have occurred on this day, the first of August.   So, a quick look online revealed that in 527, Justinian I become the sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire.  That’s pretty interesting right?  Although, I must admit that I had never heard of the guy.  A few centuries later in 1774, Joseph Priestley, an English theologian, chemist and author discovered oxygen by isolating it in its gaseous state.  Humm… that kind of sounds familiar

But more in tune to my lifetime and memory was in 1975, when our (somewhat) hometown Golden State Warriors beat the Washington Bullets (4 - 0) to win the NBA Finals.  I never was a big follower of professional basketball, but I do remember some of the Warriors power years before the seemed to have fallen apart and finally resurged in recent years.

August 1, 1975 fell on a Friday and while I do not remember any specific events, I know that I must have woken up to the sight of my lovely new bride laying at my side in the back room of our older two bedroom apartment on Montgomery Drive, right around the corner from Howarth Park and down the street from her parents’ home on top of the hill behind the park.

Piper was working as a teacher at the First Presbyterian Church Preschool while I was employed at the old Sears store in downtown Santa Rosa.  If I remember correctly, Friday was a shorter day schedule for her, but she also had to go in earlier as well.

Piper wasn’t always the bright-eyed, bouncy morning girl that she became in later years… okay, maybe “bouncy and bright-eyed” is pushing it a little bit!  But she did become more of a morning person through the years!  (and I have her roommate in college to partially thank for that!)  Being as I always tended to awaken before she did, I most likely gently shook her shoulder and informed her that it was time to get up.

From there it was our new routine of showering, dressing, getting some Bible time in, eating and on the way out, snatching a kiss at the front door.  Then we’d hold hands as we walked out to the carport where we’d inevitably snatch another quick hug and kiss, before she reluctantly got in her little red woody Pinto wagon and went her way and I (just as reluctantly) slid down into my newly painted blue MG and went mine!

August of 1975 was a good year for us!  We had been married about three weeks and besides my full-time position in the Hardware Department at Sears, I had recently been asked to come on part-time staff at our church as the Junior High Youth Minister.  Our new life together was definitely looking quite blissful!  Piper was enjoying her teaching job and was very well liked by her students!  Without exaggerating, I would have to say that approximately ¼ of the Christmas decorations that I put on the tree this year were from the gifts that her students gave her during her three years at the school.

I had worked part-time at Sears while attending Junior College and then was asked to return as a full-time employee after our time at Chico State.  So, by then I had been in that particular position for over a year and was pretty knowledgeable and seen as one of the go-to guys in Hardware as well as in most of the other departments located in the basement of that small old Sears “B” Store.

Piper and I were pretty content, deeply in love and ready to tackle the world!  Besides our secular jobs, our life pretty much centered around church!  If we weren’t teaching our classes and having a blast with our students… we weren’t that much older than that first group of youth… we were playing our instruments and singing on many a Sunday Morning or during special services.  It felt like we were one big extended family.  And seemed as if we just about knew everyone and everyone knew Jim and Piper!

We had decided early on in our dating days that we were going to follow the leading of God for our lives, to GO wherever He called us to GO and to DO whatever He instructed us to DO.  If I had a scripture to best sum up that time in our lives, it would have to be from the first three verses of Psalm 23 where we would have said with David that:

“The Lord is our best friend and our shepherd. We always have more than enough.  He offers a resting place for us in His luxurious love. His tracks take us to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.  That’s where He restores and revives our lives. He opens before us pathways to God’s pleasure and leads us along in His footsteps of righteousness so that we can bring honor to His name.” (The Passion Translation – personalized)

Today, as I look back some 45 years to that day and time, I can honestly say that through the ups and downs of life, we did a pretty good job of sticking to our original decision or CHOICE made during our dating days.  Since Piper’s passing almost two years ago now, I never fail but to smile and thank the Lord for the good times Piper and I had in our seeking to serve Him. 

And even though there are many rough nights (like last night) where I am tempted to throw in the towel and cry over my pain that I feel with her absence from my side, I almost immediately am reminded of the thought of the Lord greeting my Piper at those pearly gates, giving her a smile and a hug and saying: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21 MKJV)

So, what more can I say!  Would I do it all over again, knowing what I know now?  Without a second thought!  She may be gone from me, but she is present with the Father and the Son, and when I think of that I am quickly taken back to “His oasis of peace and the quiet brook of bliss.  For, that’s where He restores and revives my life!”

And that my friends, is what I am also believing for each of you as well!  Have a blessed weekend!


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

CHOICES!

Yesterday was an interesting day out here in the “Green Country” of northeastern Oklahoma.  It rained with the occasional accompaniment of thunder and lightning on and off throughout the day and therefore I had decided to forgo Fiver’s and my longer walks to the neighborhood park.  Instead, we enjoyed the confines of our newly fenced backyard.  So, I tossed balls to him, chased him, laughed a lot and got plenty wet in the process!

Today’s forecast looked pretty much the same as yesterdays, so I made the decision to change things up a little bit and take him out early, in the break between storms.  On the way we met one of our neighbors who was walking with her two young children, most likely taking advantage of the same quiet before the next deluge hit.  We’ve met on many prior occasions and her soon-to-be five-year-old son always stops and asks if he can pet Fiver!

During our brief interlude this morning, the subject of school came up and I happily interjected that my wife had home schooled our kids.  (You know me… I’m always looking for an opportunity to sing the virtues of Piper!)  Well, she gave me a surprised but yet excited look and mentioned that she has just begun homeschooling her son!  That led to a fun conversation about study materials, curriculums and the importance of teaching your kids the love of reading.

I jokingly… but yet kind of seriously… mentioned that I have all of Piper’s school materials that she collected over the twenty-two years of her teaching career and to let me know if she needed anything!

I asked her what led her to make the choice to homeschool and we talked for quite a while on that particular subject.  On the way home from Fiver’s and my walk, following our chance encounter with our neighbor, I got to thinking, once again, about all the choices that we are faced with on a daily basis in our lives.  Some of those choices being big and complex while others are quick, small and simple!

My usual routine of quickly reviewing some of the scriptures that I had studied earlier in the day before I turned the light out last night, turned into a longer than expected time of Bible study, prayer and intimate conversation between me and God.  I had read from the book of Romans where the Apostle Paul makes the astute comment that, “Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves. But those who live by the impulses of the Holy Spirit are motivated to pursue spiritual realities.” (Romans 8:5 The Passion Translation) 

I mentioned that during my conversation with my neighbor, that my thinking was “once again” reminded about choices, and this was the origin of when that thought occurred.  When I had read that verse, I immediately began to think about all the choices that Piper and I had to make throughout the last twelve years of her life.  From medicine choices, medical procedures to follow, medical equipment to purchase, life-style choices, who and/or what we were going to listen to, all the way down to what kind of attitude that I would choose to have each and every day… and that wasn’t even the half of it!

WHEW!  That was a lot of choices!  With all of them, I began to see that there were different people within our daily contacts of family, friends, medical personnel, neighbors, church members as well as  some complete strangers we met along the way, that regularly inferred that we should follow their advice.  And while most of the suggestions were given as friendly ideas, others were more forceful and adamant.

As I thought about it last evening from the standpoint of Romans 8:5, I slowly understood that it seemed like the more forceful individuals were, in reality, trying to get me to choose between their ideas and the ones that we believed that the Lord had told us to adhere to.  We had to decide whether their ideas were correct or what we believed to be God’s.  Some of their suggestions felt more like demands and sounded as if they were inferring that their advice or needs at the moment, were more important than my wife’s!

And I have to tell you… when it came down to making the right choice… Piper’s needs and God’s directions ALWAYS came out on top… NO QUESTIONS ASKED – NO DISCUSSION REQUIRED!

How do you handle all the decisions and/or CHOICES that you are faced with every day?  Have you established certain parameters, truths, guidelines, beliefs, agreements (or personal contracts like the Covenant of Marriage… in my case) or other responsibilities that will ALWAYS get FIRST CHOICE?  If you’re anything like me, then I bet you have!  If not… well, maybe it’s time to start!


Monday, July 27, 2020

Simply Amazing!

In amazement the Psalmist spoke to the Lord in Psalm 139:14-15 declaring that “You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother.  I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this.” 

When I read this last night I immediately thought about Piper and found myself shouting out “She sure was all of that!”  But almost immediately, I heard that familiar voice on the inside of me whisper, “What about YOU…” and I found myself at a loss for words!

Then I realized that God is including ALL OFF US in that declaration of truth!  Both YOU and me!

What do you think about that?  God made you SPECIAL.  You are hand-crafted by Him.  You were amazingly and miraculously made!  Maybe it is time to concentrate on this reality of YOURSELF… than all the negative things we tend to dwell on!

Oooh!  I like that!  How about YOU?


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Back to Our Roots


Piper and I followed and financially supported certain worldwide Christian ministries for many years.  Some from the beginning days of our marriage that I still support today.  Others, although we still believed in the message they taught and the good work around the globe that they were doing, tended to slide a little bit under our immediate radar, although we would occasionally catch them on TV, read an email or see an article about them on social media.

As the months have turned into almost two years now, since Piper moved through the veil into the wonderful realm of heaven, I have sensed the Lord impressing upon my heart, the need to reconnect with some of those ministries from our past who had much to do with the establishment of the firm foundation of our personal faith.  I most definitely believe that this is all a part of His divine plan for the healing of my shattered heart as I slowly proceed through the process of re-entering into life and the plans and purposes that He still has for me to pursue on this earth.

In Philippians 4:9, the Apostle Paul encourages us to “Follow the example of all that we have imparted to you and the God of peace will be with you in all things.” (The Passion Translation)  When I read that verse, I hear the Lord instructing me to go back to my Christian roots.  I briefly described some of Piper’s and my Christian experiences and training in my last post (“Certainties” 7/23/20) and although some may seem unrelated to each other, they all had the common core of agreement with the ministries I mentioned above… and a lot more of them!

I can see the Lord wanting me to re-settle the foundation of my faith.  Especially now that my long-time partner is no longer at my side and has left a large and unsettling void in the balance of that equation.  Does that make sense?

Yesterday I was listening to a sermon given by one of our favorite ministers from our past who is based in the deep south.  He was teaching on one of those core scriptures found in Mark 11:22-24 that is so important to the methodology behind Piper’s and my strong and active faith in the supernatural abilities of God in and through His Word.  I’ve always been amazed at how something as quick as a fifteen-minute clip of the teaching of the Word spoken in season, can quickly bring peace, calm and a sudden understanding to parts of life that up to then, had been very confusing!

I had been asking the Father for some wisdom and direction concerning a few important steps that I feel are necessary for me as I continue on with life.  But I know enough in this stage of my Christian walk to NOT move until I get a sense of where He is leading me… and that is where the difficulty has been… I haven’t been hearing or seeing anything!  I have been told on more than one occasion that I am a patient man… but this seemed ridiculously long and my patience has been wearing pretty thin!

But as the Minister was repeating verse 24 where Jesus said, “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (KJV) a light suddenly went on in me in many different directions!  I literally jumped in my desk chair and startled the dog laying on the couch behind me in the study!

Certain phrases and words in that verse seemed to pop out at me and I saw some instant directional steps that I should take.  In one request that I had made, I realized that I needed to make a correction and be more specific in what I was asking of Him.  Praise the Lord!  I’m planning on watching that video again this afternoon to make sure that I didn’t miss anything!

So, what am I rambling about here today?  I guess that I am trying to point out that sometimes it is profitable to go back to your roots when needing to branch out into something new!  Many times, I have heard men describe their wives as their “better halves” and I’ve come to realize that they are right about one thing… when their spouses are no longer in the picture… as in my case… you most definitely DO feel like HALF of you is missing!

So, for me to go back to my roots, is to go back and reaffirm and re-establish that part of my foundation that I used to share with Piper.  It is like I must re-balance the basics of me across the whole of who I am now… as a newly single individual.
 
What about you?  Are there places in your life that you may need to re-establish or re-balance by remembering the roots that made you who you are today?

Hummm… that could make for an interesting exercise… just as it has been for me!

Have a great weekend… and in whatever needs to be adjusted in you… keep expecting God’s best!