This letter-turned-blog post was written to and for the women attending Mountain View Fellowship’s Women’s Retreat this past March, but it’s applicable for everyone. The retreat focused on the book of James.
To my sisters at Mountain View Fellowship,
I have been cooking most of my family’s meals from my mom’s cookbook lately. It’s a self-published one that she had printed when she was 75. It contains the tastes and scents I remember from my childhood, my teenage years, and all the years I went “back home” for visits with brand new babies or for holidays that were always more special because we were together. Creating things to nurture and sustain the bodies of the ones I love out of this simple book helps me to feel close to her and like I’m doing something she’d be proud of.
I think about my hands making the same motions hers did when I roll out the dough that should be “thin as a quarter” for Sausage Pinwheels or drop home-made dumplings“directly into the bubbles” of a boiling pot of what will become Chicken and Dumplings. I have a couple of pictures of my mother’s hands. One is from a cooking class we took together several years ago as she’s forming a croissant, and another is much more recent. As I get older, it seems that more times than not, when I look down at my own hands it’s hers that I see. This definitely produces mixed emotions. 😉
My family lost her unexpectedly on the 29th of November. It was unexpected because, even though she was 82, she was healthier, spunkier, and more active than most people I knew. Early that morning, she developed a tear in her Aorta that was bleeding into her heart. She survived two ambulance rides to different hospitals and then several hours waiting for an operating room to open up; it was such a relief to know she had made it that far. My father and sister spent several precious hours with her awake and talking, though she was in a great deal of pain.
I was at the airport by 8am, ticket in hand, thinking that I was going to help my mom recover from major surgery in which her chest would be cracked open. I wouldn’t arrive in Houston until 2pm with a change of planes and time zones. It felt like forever, and as it turned out, it was. As my plane was descending on the short trip from Austin into Houston, my phone went crazy with alerts. For some reason, I felt that instead of reading any messages, I should try to call Donn. I didn’t even know if the call would go through-we were still at about 20,000 feet, but it did. Through tears, he told me that we had lost her.
God in his great mercy had me sitting next to a woman who knew Him. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other the entire flight and I was even irritated that she chose to sit next to me on a mostly empty plane when everyone on it could have had an entire row to themselves. But she heard my phone call, and she heard me say, “Oh no…” and knew something wasn’t right. She asked if I was ok and I said the words, “I just lost my mom… I was trying to get to her.” Without hesitating, she put her arms around me and pulled me into her tightly. The first word I heard her speak was “Jesus…” and she began whispering a prayer of strength and mercy into my ear as I fell apart. She sat with me after we landed minutes later and rubbed my back and prayed until I felt strong enough to stand, which took about twenty minutes. She said she’d be praying for me, I thanked her profusely, and we hugged goodbye. I never even knew her name, but I love her to this day, and I think she probably feels the same way.
As James puts it in chapter 1, verse 17, she was a good and perfect gift that came down from the Father of the heavenly lights during one of the worst moments of my life. And that is what I pray for you this weekend and beyond, my dear sisters; that you will begin to see the Good and Perfect Gifts your Father has provided for you, even in the worst of circumstances.
First of all, you are here, in this beautiful place, with these beautiful women. What a gift.
Whether you know Christ or not, He is here, pursuing you and loving you. What a gift.
Maybe your marriage is going through a rough patch, you’re separated, the divorce is final, or you’re wondering if you’ll ever find someone who will commit to you in the first place-there are women here who have been exactly where you’re at and can speak wisdom into your pain. What a gift.
Maybe you’re struggling with your finances and are feeling hopeless about things ever getting better-but you still have a roof over your head, and food on your table, and people around you to struggle with and struggle for… What a gift.
Maybe all you want is a child of your own and it just hasn’t happened, or a doctor told you it will never happen. Your heart may be broken, but know that God is doing something in the midst of your emptiness. He’s refining and comforting you and reminding you that He doesn’t give empty presents. Your story is not finished. What a gift.
Maybe you avoid looking in the mirror because you’re so unhappy with what you see-whether it’s too large or too small, too much this way or not enough that way. Maybe you feel like a constant failure because you can’t control your weight, and you feel like you’ll never measure up to the impossible standard you’ve set for yourself. But you’ve been given this body, and it’s strong, able, and healthy- and though it may not be perfect, it serves as the hands and feet of Christ and can help and serve, minister, and love… What a Gift.
Maybe your body is broken down with illness and you don’t feel good much of the time, that you’re not half as useful to God as you could be if only you were healthy. Maybe you live under the shadow of knowing that a disease of the body or of the mind may likely come your way, as it has to others in your family… and you’re terrified. Remember that God can use you right where you are and he wrote your story before you were born. You are exactly who he created you to be and he is strong enough to carry you when you are weak and he can even use your weakness to rescue others. What a gift.
Finally sisters, remember the best and most perfect gift that came down from the Father of Heavenly Lights is Christ Himself, and we are his reflection. Your feet have walked the same earth and can carry the same good news. Your hands can heal, whether through touch and prayer or by preparing a meal for a friend in need. He created you and knows you intimately and can use you just as you are. He loves you so much he keeps you safe in the palm of his hand. Remember that when you look down at your hands, no matter your age, it’s really His hands you’re seeing.
If it has escaped you, know that you are not too far gone to feel real joy again-whether you’re in the midst of anger you can’t shake or grief you can’t outrun. Your spirit can experience true peace again, even in the churning storm that may be your life. And just like coming into the family of God, all we have to do is ask Him for it. 1 John 5:14-15 (NLT) says, “And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.”
What a gift.
I’m praying for you this weekend!