God’s Provision

Today I read a devotion by Lysa Terkeurst and realized something about myself; something that wasn’t pretty.

I don’t always want what God provides. I want more, or something different, or I just don’t like what He chooses to provide at all.

Yahweh-Yireh (Jehovah Jireh), is the name of God meaning “God will provide.” I recalled the scenario in Genesis 22 when Isaac asked his father, Abraham, “‘Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?'”

Abraham responded, “‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.'”

I wrote about this story in a previous post, but it was not until today I realized that while I did not come down from Mount Moriah with our sons as did Abraham, Yahweh-Yireh did indeed provide, but I did not want what He chose to provide.

Of course, no one wants to experience the death of a child, so in that sense for me to state, “I did not want what God provided,” actually sounds like a reasonable, rational statement. I don’t know about you, but I am an expert at “rationalizing” my sin!

But it goes deeper than that. He did provide, in SO MANY ways when our infant son Russell died, but because I was so focused on not wanting what God provided, I failed to recognize and be thankful for what He had so abundantly given.

But in God’s sovereign plan for my life, He knew what would unfold years later…the death of our thirty -two year old son. He knew the grief work I had to do, the anger and bitterness I had to confess and deal with before I could even begin to process the death of our second son. I have always said, “I would be in a very different place spiritually today had it not been for the death of our infant son.”

In spite of the spiritual growth I experienced as a result of wrestling with God over these unnatural, out of order deaths, the mother side of me still wants to have our sons with me. I love a quote by Fred Rogers. In speaking of parenting he said, “a large part of our emotional selves will stay with that person (our child/children) as long as we live.” Emotionally I am still very much tied to my children, when in reality, two of our children are no longer with us. Just this week, a friend said to me, “You will always be their mother.”

I am reminded of a story told by Reverend John Claypool in his book, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, written after the death of his 10 year old daughter. He said that as a young boy, his family was gifted for a time with a washing machine. It seemed that the family who owned it could not, for whatever reason, use it at the time, and rather than have it just sit unused, they gave it to the Claypool family. Eventually, there came a time when they were able to use the washer once again, and they came and took it away. John Claypool remembered being really angry that the washer was gone. His mother wisely reminded him, “Wait a minute,son. You must remember, that washing machine never belonged to us in the first place. That we ever got to use it at all was a gift. So instead of being mad at its being taken away, let’s use this occasion to be grateful that we ever had it at all.”

And therein lies the key; thankfulness for each moment we are given with those we love, remembering they are our heavenly Father’s provisions, his gifts to us. We don’t deserve them, and have no “right” to them, because only God can breathe into a soul the breath of life; He is their Creator. They come to us with their unique personalities, a predetermined number of their days, their talents, their intellects, their physical characteristics, their strengths, and their weaknesses. We have them in our lives for a fixed amount of time in which we are to love them, nurture them, and point them to Jesus. In turn, they participate in helping us to become more Christ-like as they help us learn patience, humility, forgiveness, unconditional love, selflessness, dependence on the Lord, and generosity without expecting anything in return.

Like John Claypool’s mother, I remember those I love are not really mine at all; they are on loan to me for a season. When those gifts I expect to keep much longer are taken away, the Lord does provide. He answers the prayers of His people. He intercedes for us when we can’t pray or don’t know how to pray due to shock and confusion in our minds. He provides His peace of heart and mind in the midst of indescribable circumstances. He provides comfort, strength, and a desire to understand more of Him and His ways, even when His ways, painful as they may be, are the last thing I think I desire to understand.

One Small Child

I think it was sometime last week in my “read through the Bible in slightly less than a year” plan that I came across a reading in 1 Kings 14 that I’d either never read previously or that for the first time, the Holy Spirit impressed this particular passage on my mind. As I continued to ponder over these words for several days, I keep coming back to these words spoken by the prophet Ahijah to the mother of Abijah, the son of king Jeroboam. “‘ For I am charged with unbearable news for you… Arise, therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the LORD, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam‘” (1 Kings 14: 6b, 13-14, bold print, mine).

It seems a little background should be given here. We know from other Scripture that Israel had its share of wicked, corrupt kings; Jeroboam was among them. A former servant of king Solomon, he made calves of gold, constructed temples on the high places, and appointed priests from the people rather than from the Levites. He urged the people not to return to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem to worship. His motive was to establish his government; he was greedy for power. Because Jeroboam did not follow in the way of the Lord and encouraged the people of Israel in idol worship, the Lord vowed to destroy the the house of Jeroboam. Not only would the members of the Jeroboam’s household die, but their bodies would be consumed by dogs or birds. The only person in the family who was spared this ignominious end was Jeroboam’s young son because “in him was found something pleasing to the Lord in the house of Jeroboam”.

To learn of the death of your child is indeed “unbearable news”. But even in death, the Lord extends grace. Jeroboam’s young son went to his grave untouched by the dogs and birds which devoured the bodies of the household of his father. He was mourned by all of Israel because in him “was found something pleasing to the Lord” despite the wickedness in his father’s house. The people of Israel mourned upon learning of the death of Jeroboam’s young son not because he was well known, nor because he had established a name for himself, and not because he had great wealth; but “because in him was found something pleasing to the Lord”.

When at the end of our lives the Lord looks at those of us who call ourselves His children, may He find something in each of us that is pleasing to Him, that is, the righteousness of Christ which conforms us to His likeness, despite our proclivity to sin. Perhaps Jesus in Matthew 18: 3 says it best, “‘ Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” In and of ourselves, we are unable to “turn and become like children”; it is all of grace.

That grace is extended to us only because of the life and death of another small child who was born 2000 years ago, about whom we sing at His Advent,

“One small child in a land of a thousand/One small dream of a Savior tonight/ One small hand reaching out to the starlight/ One small Savior of life.” Song by David Meece, “One Small Child”

One small Child who changed His world, and ours.

God’s Peace and His Presence

There have been a few times in my life when the overwhelming presence and peace of God filled my heart. On April 8th of this year I experienced this, and as only the Lord can do, the experience was uniquely tailored to my circumstances.

First of all, you need to know what April 8th means to me. It was on this day, seven years ago, that we learned of the death our 32 year old son, Cullen, who died as a result of an accidental methadone/heroin overdose. At best, it is a difficult day….always. And it is significant I think, this is the seventh anniversary of his death. In Scripture, the number seven is viewed as the number of completeness, of perfection.

I know something about difficult days. June 5th is another. It was on that day, almost 38 years ago, that we said goodbye to our full term, infant son, Russell, who died of a diaphragmatic hernia. Russell was born on a Saturday, his graveside service took place on the following Tuesday afternoon. Our pastor at that time read from 2 Samuel 12, the account where Nathan confronts David with his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, telling him that the child born to him will die.

Everyone, yes, even our sweet, “innocent” babies, are born with “original” sin. It is the predicament of mankind and is as old as the events which took place in the garden of Eden. When Russell died, I knew he immediately went to be with Jesus; I had no anxiety about where he would spend eternity primarily because of the Scripture we find in 2 Samuel 12: 22-23 which reads, “He (David) said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept for I said, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me. ‘ ” (Italics, bold mine).

Then, at the time of Cullen’s death, we knew he had struggled for many years with heroin addiction, but in several months prior, he had made significant progress toward sobriety. He weaned himself from methadone, taken to curb the craving for heroin, assumed responsibilities he had previously neglected, worked on a regular basis, and had rented his own home. It seemed that his life was finally coming together; he was a changed person. Even the first responders who attended him asked us if he had heart problems or other medical issues of which we were aware.

Weeks after his death, we received the toxicology report indicating the cause of death as accidental overdose. We were stunned; naive maybe, but because we recently had seen a glimpse of our son as we knew him prior to his foray into addiction, it was difficult to come to terms with the reality of what happened.

Cullen made a profession of faith as a young child of eight years of age. He was raised in the Christian faith and seemed, as best as we could discern, to know Jesus in a personal way. There is a big difference in knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus, and we felt he had a clear understanding of the commitment he was making in giving His life to Christ.

During his early years, Cullen was compassionate, kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, patient, respectful, honest, and loving; we saw fruits of the Spirit exhibited in his life. When addiction took over his life, he was angry, dishonest, impatient, untrustworthy, and seemingly had little regard for whatever chaos ensued as a result of his actions. It was a dark, dark time in our relationship with our son.

Before his death, he had come to us and asked for our forgiveness, and sought to make amends to us and others whom he had wronged. He indicated that above all, he wanted to regain our trust, and that he would never again almost destroy our family by his actions. We saw a real compassion and concern for his older brother, David, who also struggled with addiction.

So, when Cullen died, before we learned of the toxicology report, I had no anxiety about where he would spend eternity, Not that his “cleaning up his life” would allow him to enter heaven, but that the marked change in him, his exhibiting the fruit of a changed life, confirmed for me the fact that his profession of faith at the age of eight was genuine.

Enter Satan, the father of lies. When I saw the results of the toxicology report, doubt settled deep in my soul. Satan used the stigma and shame associated with addiction against me. The “what ifs” began to plague my thoughts. What if Cullen’s profession of faith was disingenuous? What if he was not in Heaven with his brother, Russell? What if I never saw him again?

For me it is significant, that Resurrection Day (Easter) fell this year on the day of Cullen’s Celebration of Life service seven years ago. As we know, Jesus died on Good Friday, was buried that day, and his body remained in the tomb. The time between His burial and His appearance to the women and His disciples is often called Holy Saturday. On the third day, (Sunday) we know that Jesus was raised from the dead. The sorrow of Good Friday is swallowed up in the joy of the Resurrection. For the bereaved parent, that span of time between their child’s burial and when they are reunited, may be a much longer period, not three days. For most of us, the sorrow of loss is not so rapidly mitigated by the physical reality of the resurrection; it lasts a lifetime, and the possibility of not being reunited with your child is paralyzing. After seeing Cullen’s toxicology report, that is where I found myself. Everytime I was encouraged, Satan would cast more doubt in my mind.

I have been reading through the Bible with our church this year, a first for me, or at least a first in reading it systematically. The plan our pastor originally suggested we use, allowed the entire Bible to be read in 342 days as opposed to 365 days. However, he discovered the readings did not coincide with those in Tabletalk, and some folks went to the plan outlined in Tabletalk, lasting the whole year. I forged ahead on the shorter time frame, and on the 100th day of my readings, April 8th, the first assigned Scripture was the reading of 2 Samuel 12.

What an encouragement those words were to me! Before the foundation of the world, God planned this. It was not a coinicidence, it did not happen by chance. He knows my heart, my fears, my doubts, my strengths, and my weaknesses….and in that verse, He ministered to the depths of my soul. I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (Italics, bold mine).

Reflections

As I think back over the past month or two, I can’t help but reflect upon how very different life is today from what I expected it to be. Who among us would have thought we would be limited to being in the company of no more than ten people, sitting or standing at least six feet apart, or that we would be seeing empty shelves and refrigerators in grocery stores, or that we would be washing or sanitizing our hands multiple times everyday and being ever vigilant to wear gloves and or masks when and if we ventured out, or that we would be staying at home with our pets all day? From personal observation, my style may be cramped by all of this, but my pets are happier than they’ve ever been!

Today is Palm Sunday. This is the day King Jesus rode into Jerusalem seated on the back of a donkey, an unbroken colt. But as might have been expected, there was no chaotic scene as Jesus and this untrained donkey, unfamiliar with a burden on its back, walked amidst adults and children who shouted, “Hosanna!” and waved palm branches as they made their way through the streets of Jerusalem.

These people, much like ourselves, had a different expectation of what their lives would look like. After all, was not King Jesus their Deliverer? They sought a political figure, a King, who would free them from Roman rule. He did free them; He freed them from the tyranny of sin and death, and offered them eternal security, but this was not what they expected, nor was it what they wanted. Many of the same people who welcomed Him coming into Jerusalem that day, only a few days later, were clamoring for His crucifixion.

Unfulfilled expectations have a way of changing our thinking, and can be sources of great anxiety, can they not?

I think of all the people whose lives have been forever altered by the advent of the corona virus. They too undoubtedly thought life would be different; that it would not look quite the way it does now. Not only are they disillusioned, but they are profoundly sad, wondering why they have lost a loved one; why their loved one could not have been among those who recover.

I understand these emotions. This week takes me back seven years ago when I was faced with the accidental overdose of our son, Cullen. After years of struggling with addiction, his life seemed to be getting back on track. He had rented his own house, and had accepted the responsibilities associated with home ownership. He had asked forgiveness from us and from others for his actions while in the throes of addiction. He had weaned himself from methadone and the necessity of going to the clinic on a daily basis; on the outside, life looked good. The Christmas prior to his death, we enjoyed the best family time we’d had in years! All was well.

And then April came, and everything changed. Even though the landscape of our family had been altered years before due to the death of our full term infant son, Russell, that landscape once again was irrevocably shifted. Once again, life was very different from what I expected it to be. As Melanie DeSimone so wisely stated, “I didn’t want to remember my sons, I wanted to make memories with them.”

I too was disillusioned. Why would the God whom I love and serve allow this to happen yet again in my life? Why could my son not have been among the one to two percent of heroin addicts who recover and never relapse? So many questions, so few answers.

And yet I know that God loved Cullen even more than I do, or could. He had a plan and purpose for his life, and for the lives of those of us who were left behind; a good plan, in fact, the very best one. It was not my plan, nor would I have chosen this path had it been mine to choose, but it was not.

Cullen left us just eight days after the celebration of Easter in 2013. He knew Jesus; he not only knew about Him, but he trusted Him as his Savior and Lord. Because of his faith in Christ alone, I will see him again. Heaven is a real place, and I have treasure there…two of our five sons.

Yes, sometimes life looks very different from what I expected it to be. And yet as I yield my expectations to His good plan, I find great peace. The Scripture reading for one of the devotional calendars I have for April 8th, the day of Cullen’s death, captures that thought.

The Tower of Babel

I’ve never given much thought to the tower of Babel until this week. The reading was part of the “Through the Bible in a Year” plan our church is currently following. The first nine verses of Genesis 11 reads in the English Standard Version:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

Today, we cannot even begin to imagine everyone using the same language, the same words! Verse 1 of Genesis 11 deals a heavy blow to the theory of evolution since there were obvious differences between human language and animal sounds. When I think of the word “babble”, I think of the nonsensical utterances of a young baby, or someone or several people talking so rapidly that his/their speech is incomprehensible. And while this “Babel” is pronounced, “ba-bel” with a long “a” sound and the accent on the first syllable, it seems most appropriately named to me! It may be a play on words, but in verse 9 of Genesis 11 we find these words, “Therefore its name was called Babel, because the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

People born after the Flood are all descendants of the three sons of Noah. This includes us! In the book of Acts, chapter 17, and verses 25b- 26 Paul states,

“He (Jesus) Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things, and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Notice what the people who had settled in the plains of Shinar proposed to do. They proposed “to build for (themselves) a city, and a tower whose top (reached) into heaven, and to make for (themselves) a name, otherwise (they would be) scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” I immediately thought of the Scriptures in Proverbs,

“The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. Commit your works to the LORD And your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:1-3).

And again in Proverbs 16:9 we read, “The mind of a man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

In the first few verses of Genesis 11, we see no indication of these people seeking the mind of God, and as a matter of fact, their motive was just like I find mine to be on way too many occasions, “let us build for ourselves… and let us make for ourselves a name

In effect, these people were trying to thwart God’s plans. Job, in his contrite answer to the Lord stated, “I know You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Job finally got it! God’s purposes cannot be thwarted, try as we might, and that is MERCY. In Genesis 9:1, Scripture tells us, “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.'” It was God’s intention for people to be scattered throughout the earth, not to be in one city, rallying around a tower. Had God not intervened and confused their language, they were planning to finish a tower which would have isolated them and left them altogether, after all it was more comfortable that way! But their plan was the exact opposite of what they had been commanded to do.

In the latter part of Genesis 11:6, we find these words, “…now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” Those are frightening words, aren’t they? When we are eager to have “our” plans work just the way we want them to, we manipulate, strive, pray, and do everything we possibly can to effect our desired outcome. Do we consider that our “desired” outcome may not be the outcome that is “best” for us? Oh, but we think it is, and that is the rub! God knows each of us better then we know ourselves, and He will intervene and thwart the best laid plans to give us His best. It is often the exact opposite of what we desire, and often very painful, difficult to accept – much less understand, but His plans are ALWAYS for our ultimate good and for His glory, because He is ALWAYS good. God cannot operate in a manner inconsistent with His character.

It is so easy to “see the speck in our brother’s eye,” isn’t it? And so many times we tend to harp on “the speck” and fail to acknowledge “the plank in our own?” I could wax eloquently about how wrong these people in ancient times were, how they defied the very commands of God, had selfish motives, and wanted their own way. But the truth is, I do the same things everyday. No, I am not into tower building, but I sometimes find that I try to build myself up in the eyes of others, I make decisions without going to the Lord first to see what He would have me do, or I even fail to go to loved ones, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances with the good news of the gospel. It is so much easier and safe to stay in my “holy huddle.” So in reality, I am not very different from these people who lived so long ago.

Dear Father, forgive me when I have judgmental attitudes toward others; when I capitalize on the specks in the eye of another, and fail to see the log or plank in my own. You have blessed us all with two ears and one mouth by design so that we would listen more and speak less, particularly when are busy “babbling”, promoting our own agenda with little or no consideration as to what You would have us do, say, or think. Help us to remember that while we are to spread your Gospel to the ends of the earth, it begins with our own family members, dearly loved friends, our neighbors and those with whom we come in contact. We may not be called to go to the ends of the earth, but we each have our own sphere of influence and even that sphere of influence is by your design! As we go throughout our days, help us to be mindful of the fact that we are Your ambassadors in a hurting world, and make us worthy of our high calling in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the precious name of “Him who is able to keep (us) from stumbling, and to make (us) stand in the glory of His presence blameless with great joy, to the only wise God and Savior, be glory, majesty, dominion and power both now and forever, AMEN” (Jude 24-25).

Cullen Would Have Been 39 On October 24th

October 24, 1980 was the day he was born. I had been admitted to the hospital the previous evening due to severe nausea and susequent dehydration. My due date was the 27th, so like any mother nearing the end of her pregnancy, I was delighted at the possibility of an earlier arrival! But because I had been so sick for several days, I was very weak. Thankfully, my labor was short, and he was born just before midnight. Interestingly enough, since we called my mother shortly after his birth to let her know she had a new grandson, she insisted for the remainder of her life that Cullen was born on the 25th!

David was the big brother, 21 months older, and he welcomed Cullen into our home! They loved one another fiercely from the very start and were as thick as theives growing up! The differences in their personalities were readily apparent. David was forever the talker and the more outgoing of the two; Cullen was quieter, a thinker who was content to point and grunt, refusing even to walk until he was almost three, leaving us to interpret his needs and wants.

High school years accentuated those personality differences even more. When David got his driver’s license, I was delighted he could drive himself and Cullen to the high school every morning! Little did I know of the battles that would ensue every day over their departure time. The social butterfly wanted to leave at 6:45 while Cullen wanted to arrive no earlier than two minutes till eight! Mornings were less than optimal times for relationship building in our home!

Raising boys four boys was quite the adventure! For an only child like myself, it was pretty overwhelming at times! I mean you do question your parenting skills when at age four Cullen asked, “Are you sure you are raising us right?”

“Well, I am doing the very best I can; no one came with a printed instruction manual, so some things are just trial by fire,” I explained.

Since Cullen’s birthday was just prior to October 31st, David was anxiously anticipating dressing up and going from house to house to get candy on Halloween night. Having just gotten home from the hospital myself, I left Cullen with my mother while I took David to a few of our neighbor’s homes to trick or treat. I will never forget sweet Mrs. Mitchell saying, “Oh Susan, David is just precious….and when is your baby due?”

“Oh!” I said, “he was due on the 27th, but he was a few days early! He is at home with my mother.”

I am sure she wanted to crawl under the steps leading up to her porch! I learned that day NEVER to comment on any phase of a woman’s pregnancy…either past or present!

Cullen had to wait a couple of years before he could dress up on Halloween like his brother, but here is our little pirate!

Speaking of birthdays, we had some great birthday parties! We had one when Cullen had chickenpox! And since the show had to go on, we invited friends who’d either already had chickenpox or who had it simultaneously! Train cakes baked by me and decorated by Harold were the rage! On his thirty-second birthday, Madison wanted to have a surprise party for Cullen at our home. I was working full time, so I suggested we have it on Saturday. “But his birthday is on Wednesday!” she exclaimed. I thought to myself, “Yes, I know it is on Wednesday; I happened to be there at that blessed event!” And so Wednesday it was! We had a great time celebrating him and I am so thankful Madison suggested having a party. We had not done that in many years, and as it turned out, it was the last birthday we would ever celebrate with him.

Since I was able to stay at home with our boys, I did a lot of cross stiching, sewing, and smocking. They had a few matching outfits with cross-stiched initials. And they loved playing on their swingset in our backyard in Homewood!

Harold built a pretty elaborate treehouse for them in that backyard as well. One day, when they were still rather young, they somehow figured out a way to climb onto the roof of our house! No, I was not a negligent mother, but I had rather ingenious children! Once they got up there, the story I was told was since Cullen had on his Superman pajamas, David convinced him that he could jump from the roof to the nearest tree branch and then from there, climb into the tree house. With David cheering him on, Cullen jumped with outstretched arms and just missed the branch, landing flat on the front of his body and knocking the breath out of him! It was then that I heard screams in the backyard! Superman was not supposed to be unable to fly; he had his cape on and everything!

He ALWAYS loved his food! I think that is the reason he decided to be a chef. As a baby, when I fed him a bite of baby food, spinach, beets, carrots….he loved it all, he swallowed it and immediately placed his thumb in his mouth! As I filled the spoon and brought it to his mouth again, he took his thumb out with a florish and inhaled the next bite, always returning his thumb to his mouth! Eating was oh so terribly messy, but always so enjoyable for him!

Growing up, Cullen always liked to look neat, and put together. David, not so much. One of David’s teachers in elementary school asked, “Does David wear his shirt-tail out as an act of defiance, or does it just come untucked?”

“That’s an easy question.” I replied. “David is in constant motion; his shirt-tail simply comes untucked. On the other hand, if you notice Cullen’s being untucked, that clearly is defiance!” As they grew older, Cullen became the beatnik, and David became the neatnik!

Throughout their lives, our summer vacation was most often spent at the beach. We went to the Gulf coast often, but also frequented Hilton Head and Folly Beach on the Atlantic coast. They are vastly different beaches and each has features they loved. Cullen was an avid boogie board fan, and he enjoyed the Atlantic coast with the flat beach and hard packed sand. He also loved surfing!

He and David enjoyed the east coast very much, choosing to live and work in Charleston. During one of the major hurricanes to hit Charleston, I had been unable to reach Cullen for a number of days. While this was concerning, I thought perhaps there were outages due to no cell reception, etc. When I finally reached David, I asked if he knew where his brother was. His answer, “The last time I heard from him, he borrowed a wet suit and went surfing at Folly Beach!”

“WHAT? That is incredulous! Who in their right mind would do such a crazy thing?”

“My brother,” David replied. “Besides, during hurricanes is when you get the best waves!”

Yes, I am thankful for the 32 years Cullen was with us; the daredevil things he did stuck fear in this mother’s heart! There were angels working a lot of overtime protecting him from harm!

One year while we (the boys and I) were on the Gulf coast with out neighbor and her two girls, Cullen dressed up in one of Ali’s bathing suits, complete with tennis balls for “boobs.” It was a great picture; one I threatened to use as blackmail on several occasions!

One summer we went to a dude ranch, Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch in Parshall, Colorado. Philip was only six at the time and Harold and I decided to take him white water rafting on the Colorado River. On that particular trip, we knew we would not encounter any of the more difficult rapids, and Philip would enjoy the experience. However, because Cullen, David and Jesse had enjoyed other white water experiences in their lives, they donned wet suits, were driven a few miles up river from the ranch, and floated down the Colorado River. They were so cold by the time they made it back to the ranch, they fought over which two were going to be first to get into the two hot showers in our cabin. When we returned from our white water rafting trip about three o’clock that afternoon, all three of them were in the same bed with as much cover as they could find on top of them! They all said it was the coldest they have ever been in their entire lives!

Cullen loved to play the guitar! On “family night” at the ranch, he played and David and I sang a song I wrote about our dude ranch experience to a tune he knew on his guitar!

He had a serious side as well. When he sang in the Birmingham Boys Choir, there was a young man who had sustained a tragic sports accident which greatly affected his ability to do all the things the other boys could do. This young man’s mother often told me how kind Cullen was to her son; how he stayed behind the others to help him with tasks he could no longer do, or which took him longer than it did the other boys. Cullen had a compassionate, tender heart.

Perhaps one of my favorite Cullen stories happened when he was about six years old. In 1986, we kept our first foster baby. One day, as I was changing his diaper, Cullen said, “What is wrong with his penis?”

“Nothing!” I said. “Why?”

“It doesn’t look like mine!”

“Oh, he is not circumcized, and you are!”

“What is that?”

“When you were a tiny baby, a doctor cut a little piece of skin that caused your penis to look different.”

“You mean you had that done to me!!!”

“Well, yes. We wanted all of our boys to look alike!”

“That must have hurt really bad!”

“Probably so, but it happened a long time ago, and you are all over that now!”

Somehow I knew this conversation was going to come up again when I least expected it. So I called Harold at work to alert him to the fact that Cullen and I had had this discussion. Call it a mother’s intuition if you like, but sure enough, that very afternoon, Cullen met Harold at the door and his eyes were as big as saucers.

“Daddy! Did you know that me and you, and David are all ORGANIZED, but Michael and momma ate NOT ORGANIZED?”

And I will always remember my darling husband’s answer, “Cullen, honey, your momma is not organized in more ways than one!”

Circumcized and organized do have a similar sound!

So many memories, so many stories. On what would have been his 39th birthday, I chose to remember many of the times we shared. It has been six and a half years of doing life without him; in some ways it seems like an eternity, and in others, like yesterday. He is so missed and so loved today and always.

Onxy Taught Me a Spiritual Lesson Without Really Trying!

Last night before going to bed, I sat for a few minutes with Onyx, our black lab. She loves, loves, loves to sit next to me and most of the time she is as still as can be. However, it rained really hard off and on yesterday and she hates storms. All of a sudden she started licking her feet. When she does this, she makes the most annoying sound ever, and it absolutely puts me over the edge! I had to get up and go to bed!

It bothers me so much, that I thought about it first thing this morning. I remarked to Harold, “Why in the world do you think Onyx licks her paws sometimes?’

” I guess she is anxious, ” he replied.

“What in the WORLD does she have to be anxious about? She has a warm place to live, good food, companionship (including canine, feline, and human), and she is dearly loved! How could she possibly be anxious?”

Funny, it is so easy for me to see the ludicrousness of my dog’s anxiety. This morning I saw it in myself. I said to Harold, “Hmm, that must be how the Lord views my anxiety!”

He must think, “Why is she so anxious? I have promised ‘I will never leave her or forsake her'” (Hebrews 13:5). “I have loved her with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to her” (Jeremiah 31:3). I told her not to be anxious saying,”‘What shall I eat?’ or ‘What shall I drink?’ or “What shall I wear?’ Her heavenly Father knows that she needs them all. Don’t be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6:31-32, 34). Finally I told her, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7).

Forgive me, Father, when I am doing the equivalent of Onyx’s paw licking. Thank you for letting me see this spiritual truth through the actions of my beloved pet. Just as I can see through my eyes and limited understanding the ridiculousness of Onyx’s anixety, how much more can the God of the universe view mine. In the precious, holy name of Jesus, Amen.