Nature, as photographed by a 6-year-old

"The trees look like they're wrestling."


"Oh look! A Rotten cactus!"

"Oh! Stay right dere!"



I've been chewing on something since yesterday's church service. The sermon was on The Art of Reconciliation, which, while meaningful and convicting, is not actually what got my gears turning. During an opening prayer, Pastor Brad said something about blessings.

That one word - blessings - is always of interest to me. The dictionary defines blessing as "a special favor, mercy, or benefit; a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness." I guess that's the way that most people define it.

I have a different definition. I think that a blessing is anything that brings you closer to God. Conversely, anything that does not bring you closer to God, is not a blessing. This definition has radically altered the way I view many parts of my life.

Depression SUCKS. It is a big, nasty, fire-breathing dragon. And not the kind that you can train or become friends with. It's the kind that will gobble you up and then burn your village, just for fun. It has brought me to places lower than I ever thought possible.

And it has been an immeasurable blessing in my life.

Yes, you read that correctly. Depression as been a blessing. It was (and is) awful, and I hope never to struggle with it as greatly as I have in the past. But when I was laying on the floor, with nothing left to cling to or live for... that's when I found out that God was still there.

He had been there all along. He will always be there. He is all I need. He is merciful and beautiful. He is perfect. I am a weak, broken person, unable to cope with the pain and confusion of life. But God doesn't expect me to cope.

He expects me to turn to Him, and receive more strength and peace than I could imagine. God took me at my weakest, drew me close, and filled me with faith. Without depression, I might not have learned this lesson so deeply or so soon. So yes, depression has been a blessing.

And I freaking LOVE that I can say those words. I have spent years in battle with God on this issue. I have prayed again and again that He would just remove the depression. I saw no reason for it and I felt hurt and betrayed by its continued presence in my life.

So no, I have not always felt that my struggles were a blessing. Oftentimes - perhaps, most of the time - we cannot see the reason for a tragedy or season of pain until we come out on the other side. Sometimes we never understand.

I know that every person and every struggle is different. Perhaps your painful battle is not, in itself, the blessing, but rather the lens which made it possible for you to see the blessings already surrounding you.

Or, perhaps, the struggle was the refining fire. God's way of preparing your heart for the blessings to follow. I do not pretend to know all God's ways or to understand his Mind. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! (Romans 11:33)

But here's where I'm going with all this: How many times, particularly as believers in Christ, have we prayed to God, asking for his blessings in our life... and then turned on Him in anger and disbelief when hardship came?

I get it. We have a clear idea of what we think a blessing should look like. What it should feel like. Pain does not make sense to our mind or soul. It's not what we were created to experience! But we live in a fallen world, where things rarely work in the way they were originally intended.

Here's my challenge to us all: The next time a struggle comes up in life - large or small - let's turn to God, beg him for mercy and faith, and trust that He is using our pain to mold us into his Image.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)



"All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust." (Ecclesiastes 3:20)

With the kids at VBS this week, I'm having a little fun in the mornings. Today, I decided to take my camera and go to Oakwood Cemetery. I've always been fascinated by cemeteries, especially old ones. The simplest reason is because they are peaceful and I find beauty in the old headstones.

There's more to it than that, however. As I walk along, reading the names and dates, it's excites my imagination. There are entire lives connected to those names. I like to imagine what those lives contained. Some of the lives were short and others long.

Some entire families are buried together. Other times there will be one grave that seems to share no connection with the ones surrounding it. Sometimes the relationships between people are obvious. Other times, I can only guess.

Today, as I walked along, I read each name out loud, imagining that it might be the first time that person's name had been spoken aloud in decades. Even though I was at the cemetery for an hour, I didn't make it through many graves.

I felt compelled to decipher every word on each stone that I came to. Some were very easy to read, but many of the older stones were worn down and covered in moss. I spent quite a while working on one grave in particular.

It was the grave of a young girl and there was an unusually long epitaph at the bottom of the stone. It was extremely hard to read, but I felt an almost compulsive need to figure out what it said. Someone had loved this child and felt these words important enough to put at her resting place!

I even tore out the first page from the book I had in my purse, because I had no other paper, and did a few pencil rubbings. It took several minutes (and several ant bites and burrs in my shoes), but I finally figured it out.

On not only this grave, but all the ones I looked at today, I was particularly interested in the words chosen to remember the lives represented. I'm sure I'm not the only one who pauses, now and then, to consider what epitaph my family will choose after I am gone.

I think I could have stayed there all day, reading names and taking photos, but the heat and humidity finally got to me. I had gotten very wrapped up in this idea of speaking aloud the names of the "forgotten" and it upset me to think of leaving so many stones unread.

As I turned to leave, I spotted a chunk of granite on the path. It had plainly broken away from one of the nearby headstones. It was just an edge piece, containing no designs or words, so I picked it up and carried it with me.

It seems a fitting reminder that one day, this life will be over. I will be put in the ground, with a stone above my head. My life summarized in a name, two dates, and a few well-chosen words. Within a couple of generations, no one will visit my grave or tell stories of my life.

Within a few more generations, my name will be forgotten. In 100 years, my stone will also begin to crumble. The prospect of death has never bothered me as much as the idea of being forgotten. As though I never existed at all.

However, this is where hope enters the picture. As much as I liked the idea of remembering names and lives from the past, there was no magic in speaking the names aloud and it was not up to me to keep their memory alive because they were never forgotten!

My life will end, my story will most likely be forgotten on earth. But it's after death that life really begins. I will move from life on earth to eternal life. From pain and brokenness to complete freedom and unencumbered joy.

Eternity is where our stories will not be forgotten because they will never end! Every step we take on earth should be seen in the light of eternity. Consider what you devote your time and energy to. Is it something that will pass away when your body does?

Or is it something that will last for eternity?

"For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

"You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures." (Psalm 16:11)

"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to shame and eternal contempt." (Daniel 12:2)

"For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

- - - - -

For some of the more interesting and/or sweet inscriptions, see below.


Gone but not forgotten

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die


Weep not Father and Children,
for me, for I am waiting in glory
for thee.

Aged 19 yrs 2 mo.
& 12 days.

I just thought this one was so pretty!
(especially for the time period)

Beneath this stone in
soft repose is laid a
mother's dearest pride
- - - - -
(I placed the flower there.
This is the one I obsessed over.)

"After lifes fitful fever, she sleeps well."

- - -
Of such is the kingdom of Heaven.

Thou art gone little Agnes
Sweet child of our love.
From earth's fairy(?) strand
To bright mansions above.

This one was odd...
- - - - -
This sign X was on his forehead
This star * was over him
"He tried to be his brothers
keeper and failed
And hid himself under the name of

Never before have I seen a headstone that said, "See Other Side"!
To be fair, there was more written on the back side of the stone.


Thunk. Bang!

Thunk. Bang!

That's the sound that woke me at 4 o'clock this morning. It usually takes a pretty substantial noise to wake me, which is why I nearly always miss out on thunderstorms. This noise must have made it through to my brain because of its being so out of place.

Thunk. Bang!

Doug was still snoozing away. He is usually such an incredibly light sleeper that I'm pretty sure a fairy sneeze would wake him (and then he'd be very cross at the fairy for interrupting his sleep). In fact, the only thing that does not seem to wake Doug is his own snoring.

Thunk. Bang!

Seeing that Prince Charming was not coming to the rescue this time, I got up to see what was going on. My money was on one of the children. You never know when one of them is going to embark on some bizarre midnight adventure, like getting stuck under a bed or having an anxiety attack.

Thunk. Bang!

The kids were both snug in their beds, sound asleep. "Huh. So, if it's not me... and it's not Doug... and it's not the children... Oh my goodness! One of the air conditioner installers must have hidden himself inside the house!"

Thunk. Bang!

Surely this was the sound of a very clumsy and delayed attempt on our lives! I followed the noise to the kids' bathroom (because I'm a stupid woman in a horror movie). But there was no one in the kids' bathroom. "Huh."

Thunk. Bang!

"The cabinets! It was coming from the bathroom cabinets." Clearly, a person couldn't fit in there. And really, what would be the point if they could? No-- this must be an animal. "Oh my goodness! There's a rabid raccoon in the cabinet!"

Thunk. Bang!

(Before you judge my intelligence, please keep in mind that it was 4 a.m. and I had been awakened from a very deep sleep.) "I'm going to open the cabinet door and the raccoon is going to jump out and attack me and I'm going to be very surprised!"

Thunk. Bang!

"Well... here goes!" I opened the cabinet door and... Cookie. Not a child. Not a malicious intruder. Not a rabid raccoon. Just my cat. The dear, sweet moron had managed to get into the cabinet, but couldn't get back out.

I released the defective feline and stumbled back to bed. Unfortunately, once he had been rescued by his Mom in Shining Armor, Cookie felt the need to repay my heroic act by purring as loudly as possible and stomping around on my pillow.


I rather wondered if Doug hadn't been playing possum through all of this, but he verified this morning that he was totally unaware of the entire event. He had a nice laugh about it though. Next time, he gets to investigate the strange noise!