When all else fades…

Born and raised in the shadow of the Nashville skyline, I grew up in a life of comfort.  With a nice car, a nice house, and a nice family, I was never in need of anything.  Even within a fifteen mile radius of my house, it would’ve been possible to eat at a different restaurant for both lunch and dinner every single day for a month or two.  On my way to school every morning, I drove past many big houses, including the one below.

Now though, I’ll ask you a question.  What life would be like if we lost our possessions, our loved ones, and even our health?

You probably have your own past experiences with those types of loss, but I’ll share mine, too.  My life has changed dramatically since experiencing the loss of a loved one.  The reason why I told you about the town where I grew up, though, is this: I never felt the need to fully rely on God for my survival.  All of my troubles seemed solvable by wearing the right clothes, building the perfect resume, fitting in with the right crowd of people, and maintaining the appearance that everything was okay.  In the past few years, I have learned just how wrong I was in relying on those to, hopefully, fix some of my problems.

But in the past two months, I experienced an even greater loss; my whole family did.  I lost the lovely lady that I always knew I could talk with and just be myself.  She was “my safe place.”  She would actually encourage me to eat more, not less! (Go figure, since she was my grandmother! 😉 )  But she loved me so much, not for who I could be or would be, but for just the way that I was.  I was always most at home when sitting by her or cooking with her in the kitchen.  Never did she pressure me about having an exact plan for the future; she always seemed so much more concerned with where I was in that moment that I was with her.  This Christmas already isn’t the same without my beloved Mammaw here with us…

Life on earth is fragile at best.  Economic hardship can rob us of our wealth.  The aging process will mar the physical appearance of our younger days.  The thief named Death will steal from us our loved ones.  Dreaded dementia or a brain injury would rob us of our educated minds, and illness could strike us and take away our health.

I don’t know about you, but there’s one realization that I have in lieu of all of this… No man–even a devout follower of Christ–is exempt from the state of this fallen world.  Stripped away from the earthly things that bring us comfort: only in this state can we see that, truly, we still exist by the mercy and grace of God alone. Only when all else fades, do we see the light of Christ…

And this is the first step towards grasping the joy of salvation.

The strength of our hearts.

In the past two weeks, the phenomenon of time has, once again, proved to be greater than my understanding.  Although I walked slower than usual, paused in places of solitude, and literally stopped to smell the roses, time has still flown.  While sitting now in a coffee shop, I reflect on the past 16 days.  Tomorrow will be Sunday, two weeks since the funeral, two weeks since the first time I picked flowers from the sprays at Mammaw’s graveside.

Healing is a process.  Healing is a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, get-through-each-minute kind of a process, and honestly, I don’t know yet if it ever truly ends, at least not on this side of Heaven.  Often, I find myself saying that my grandparents live in Grenada.  If someone asks, “How are they doing?” most times, it’s just easier to say, “He’s doing great.  Thanks for asking.”  The truth is that I still miss her.  Every minute of the day, I miss her.

Today while standing at the stove making soup, I made a promise to Mammaw.  Whenever I have children–God willing that this happens, especially if I am blessed with a daughter–I promised Mammaw that I will tell them all about her.  I will pull a chair into the kitchen and set it in front of the stove.  While letting my child stir the contents within a great big pot, I will tell him/her about the many times I did the same thing with my grandmother: making homemade Play-doh by the recipe in Mammaw’s Bell’s Best cookbook held together by duct-tape.  We will sit at the table and pour through the pages of the cookbook that she gave me before going off to college.  At the end of it, we will find her name–Gerry Harden–and the recipes that she shared within the book.  It’s called Endless Blessings, and what an endless blessing it has been and always will be to me…

Thank you for reading my ramblings tonight.  Although filled with my jumbled thoughts, hopefully there is one message that will shine through: the steadfast strength that comes from God.

“My flesh and heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:26

No matter what you are going through, God is for you.  Your flesh and your heart will fail.  Even your greatest efforts, your hardest tries, and your acclaimed achievements will fade in the shadows of the obstacles that seem to stand in your path.  But praise be to God that this does not mean that your path is at the dead end!

God doesn’t take us on detours around the obstacles in our lives.  Instead, God walks with us through each and every one.  It’s in these times that we learn most what it means to rely on God and His strength alone.

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the Lord, 

and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;

woke again

for the Lord sustained me.”

Psalm 3:3-5

Tonight, cry aloud to the Lord, and He will answer you.  Listen for His whisper… Lay down and sleep tonight and wake to the morning sustained by the love and strength of our great Father… He is the strength of our hearts.

Sleep well, dear readers 🙂

More than a rose from the casket.

On Sunday, we celebrated the beautiful life of my Mammaw, Gerry Harden.  And even though there are thousands of words in the dictionary that I could choose, there is one word that best describes that tear-filled day: hopeful.

If thinking only about the secular meaning of the word, you might wonder why I would choose hopeful as the best description for that sad day.  Even for me, in the majority of the time since Thursday morning at 10:07 am, I would have scoffed at the thought of being hopeful during this time of grief.  The temptation to focus on her absence, the lifeless body that lay in the casket, and the constant reminders of life with her before: this temptation was overwhelming.  With force, it ruled over my body, my mind, my heart, my soul.  I didn’t want to eat, sleep, talk, or carry on in life without her.  I loved her at a depth that I couldn’t even fathom.  I still do. She was my Mammaw, the mother of my very own mom, the feeder of our family, the unifying force that brought our extended family together year after year.  And in that phone call on Thursday morning at 10:58 am, she was gone…

You see, in order for there to be hope, there must be something in life that causes us to need hope in the first place.  Something has to happen that robs us of our joy, steals our passion, or even makes the journey of our life seem to have reached an end.  As the contrast to total despair, that is the only way that we can see that hope shines, cutting brilliantly through the darkness.

There is no doubt in my mind that many more tears will be shed.  Grieving is part of the healing process.  As a co-worker told me yesterday after my SECOND breakdown of the day by only 9:30 am (I had only been there for 30 minutes), “You just have to get it out before you can get it together.”

I look back now on all the tears that I’ve shed, and while I don’t regret a single one, there comes a point when we cannot continue to live in the darkness of mourning.  If we truly believe that Christ died for the sins of the world, to be the living sacrifice that would one day bring God’s children back to Himself, we cannot cling to suffering.  We must reach out in faith; we must continue on in hope.

What is difference between secular hope and hope that the Gospel offers?  Hope in this world is merely the wishing that things would be different, that things would get better, and it is marked by the possibility  that what is hoped for WILL NOT or CANNOT happen.

But this is not the same hope that we have through Jesus.

The hope that Jesus offers is based on God’s promise, the Truth.  This hope is the blessed assurance that God’s promise WILL be fulfilled!  That Jesus WILL come back and that he WILL abolish the darkness and all that’s in it, that one day we WILL sit in the lap of our Father, and He will wipe away every single tear: this is the hope that we have.  He will tell us, “Shhh, my child, death is overcome.  Mourning is no more.  Heaven has come to this new earth, and I am here.  I am here.”

On Sunday, October 16, 2011, we may have laid Mammaw’s earthly body in the ground, but we did not bury her spirit.  The life that she lived and the legacy carrying her memory forward: forever, these will always live inside of me and inside of those that knew her.  She was and still is a remarkable woman of God.  Never will I use only the past tense to talk about her because this is the hope that I have in Jesus: the spirit of my Mammaw, Gerry Harden, is still alive and well.  Right now, she is smiling down on me and on all of her family and friends.  Free from the devastation of ALS, I can hear her saying to me,”If only you knew what it feels like to be in the presence of Jesus…”  If only we could experience it on this side of heaven…

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

you have loosened the sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, 

I will give thanks to you forever!”

Psalm 30:11-12

And so here I am, learning now to praise the Lord even in the midst of this hard time.  He is the giver of real hope, the kind that, through faith, will give me the strength to keep on going and rejoice in the promise of Heaven.  Deep down, I know that I have more to cling to than a single rose that I pulled from the cover of flowers on Mammaw’s casket.  I have even more than the memories of our past together…

…I have the promise of our future together.

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Hope that comes from the Lord: what a beautiful promise this is.

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“…and I will draw near to you.”


In the last post, I shared some verses to show what Scripture says about prayer.  Now with those characteristics of prayer in mind, I want to share with you what I learned through evaluating my prayer life…

For the past couple of months, I had this nagging feeling in my stomach.  Over and over, I would try to pinpoint what exactly it was and finally came up with the answer, “I need to pray more.”  While trying to pray more was good, a well-intentioned effort, why did the nagging feeling still persist?

“In return and in rest, you shall be saved…” Isaiah 30:15

“Draw near to me…” James 4:8

Before, I looked around and saw who or what needed prayer.  Now, I look within myself, and I can feel it… These situations or those people, they don’t just need words strung together and breathed out in a sentence deemed as “prayer.”  They, us, you, me, it: we all need our hearts turned to the Lord, seeking Him above all things.  That, in my humble opinion, is the highest purpose of prayer.

When prayer is constant, sincere, focused on others as well as ourselves, Spirit-filled, and done to us closer to God, well… I don’t have the words to describe the amazing workings of that kind of prayer, but I can certainly attest to its power.  Maybe it’s the emotions that are chocking me up right now, but I’m beginning to see prayer differently now than I ever have before…

On behalf of Gerry–my Mammaw–and our family, thank you so much for continuing to keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers.  I’m going to create a category named “Mammaw’s Updates” where all of the posts about her will be posted. Thank you again, and God is good.  He is always good…

“In the path of your judgements,

O Lord, we wait for you;

your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.

My soul yearns for you in the night;

my spirit within me earnestly seeks you…”

Isaiah 26:8-9

Feeding Me, Feeding Mammaw

To all of the wonderful friends of my grandparents here in Grenada, thank you so much for the gift of food and prayer since she has returned home from the hospital!  As you can see, we have been blessed to receive all of this food, and it means so much that you have shown your love and friendship through providing us with meals that, otherwise, we would have been too busy to cook!  The picture above was the lunch spread of left overs.  I only ate peas and lima beans though so I could have some of this….

BANANA CAKE!

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One of the biggest joys that I’ve had since coming to Grenada has been feeding Mammaw.  Whenever I was staying in the hospital with her, I would carefully watch the nurses, observing every step involved in the PEG tube feeding process.  And boy, let me assure you… it is a process, indeed!

Measure out 60 cc of warm water, shake the can of formula, unstop the end of the tube, insert the syringe, unclamp the tube, pull the plunger in the syringe to check for residue, push the liquid back (if less than 100cc), and clamp the tube.  Next, take out the syringe, replace the stopper on the end of the tube, take the plunger out of the syringe and set it aside.  Then, unstopper the tube, insert the syringe and secure it.  Pour in 30 cc of water and unclamp the tube, let it drain.  Pour in formula and let it drain.  Continue pouring the formula in the syringe and let gravity drain it until the can is empty.  Flush with 30 more cc of warm water, hold the syringe  connected to the tube high in the air to let the water drain out, clamp the tube, take out the syringe, stopper the tube, and wash the syringe.  Feeding done!

I am proud to say that I have fed Mammaw by myself at least four times and have given her medicine through her PEG tube, also.  When I first saw the nurses doing this in the hospital, I never thought that I would be able to remember all of the steps.   Now though, I know them all by heart.

With full confidence, I can say this on behalf of my family.  During this time of illness of our beloved Mammaw–Gerry Harden–we are learning the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:1– “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” Just as one season was Mammaw’s mother feeding her, the next season took place over the many years that Mammaw cooked for everyone else around her.  This season lasted over 65 years! Here’s just a small taste of the times that filled those many years…

Mammaw’s 80th Birthday- 8/1/2010

 Ever since I can remember, my precious grandmother has spoiled us all rotten with cooking so yummy that it still tasted good when eaten on a full stomach!  Even better than her roast or homemade rolls though, are all the memories made while everyone was finally gathered in the kitchen.  While holding hands, we blessed the food that the Good Lord had provided, yet Mammaw had prepared.  Forever, I will cherish the times of laughter and tears—usually from laughing too much—that took place, STILL, gathered around the dining room table.  Let me tell you too, that’s when conversation is best… long after the last bite of dessert had been stuffed into the slowest eater’s belly.

Now we are entering into a  new season!  I am blessed to say that in this next season under heaven, our family and friends have the honor of feeding Mammaw.  (Another great honor is of mine is that I am learning all of her secrets for cooking.)  Even though she may not be making her world-famous roast in this season of life, Sarah Geraldine Harden is still the world’s greatest cook.  Don’t even try to tell me otherwise!  That includes you too, Mammaw 😉

Once again, to all of you—whether a friend, family member, or unknown reader—thank you so much for your support through thoughts, prayers, and food during this time of illness for Mammaw.  We are blessed to have such wonderful friends like you and, trust me, we can feel the power of your prayers!  God is always good, and your kindness is a reflection of this Truth.

With all of my love and prayers of thanks,

Sarah