Finding God in the Irish Countryside

Recently I was asked how my trip to Ireland impacted my faith and spirituality. I loved this question because it wasn’t in the Irish people or even in the Irish Churches that I felt God’s hand. It was in the land itself, three places in particular.

The first was in the Burren, an otherworldly expanse of limestone rock landscape that stretches for 150 square miles through Counties Clare and Galway, and in some places, is a half mile thick. The area gets even more rain than the rest of Ireland, and the climate is oddly temperate, so the rock is dotted with an unusual variety of plants and animals tucked into its crevices.

In the midst of this desolate appearing region is a structure called the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient portal tomb dating back to sometime around 3500 BC. This tomb wasn’t the original resting place of its inhabitants– their bodies were kept somewhere safe until only the bones remained, then the bones and special personal objects were placed into the tomb. It is atop a small hill, so it can be seen as an eerie focal point from surrounding areas.

As I climbed up that small hill, the heavy rain let up. Gusts of wind swirled around me and Irish mist kissed my face. Although not allowed past the rope that loosely surrounds the structure, I was close enough to be awestruck by beauty of those ancient stones.

My daughter wandered a few feet away on her own, and I thought about the families who once lived here. Their lives were so different from mine -different worries, different fears, different struggles, different joys. And yet, here was a sacred place where they felt a lot like I have, a place where they honored and mourned their dead, sending them on their eternal journey with personal objects to comfort them. Over five thousand years ago they cared for their dead and grieved just like we do. Throughout the whole world and throughout time, human beings all share this common experience of sorrow and loss, a fact that should make us all a bit more compassionate and charitable to each other. Continue reading →

Three Ways to Overcome the Lies of a Mourning Heart

All of us will mourn in our lives. Perhaps it will be the death of someone we love, or a relationship gone wrong, a loss of health, or a job terminated.  A mourning heart can convince itself of all sorts of things that aren’t true: My husband didn’t really love me or I could’ve made him stop smoking if I really wanted to. Maybe you’ve heard some of its criticism, too: My friend never liked me.  I didn’t deserve that job.
And, of course: It’s all my fault. Continue reading →

Life is Guaranteed to be Unpredictable; Mourning is Not

Every one of us suffers through the deaths of people we love, and grief is a strange companion. Sometimes it fades into the background and lulls us into believing it has loosened its grip on us. Then, without warning, it’s back, uninvited, unwelcome, and unkind in its sneaky ways.

I was reminded of this only a few weeks ago. My daughters and I were all together celebrating a birthday, strolling through shops and boutiques, breathing in the unexpected spring warmth on a day that was still winter, enjoying dinner together, laughing at family jokes. I was fine.

On the trip home I started to feel the first prickle of sadness in my stomach. Continue reading →

When Your Heart Wants To Help, But Your Head Has No Idea What To Say

I recently had a request to resurrect this post from back in 2015. It’s still true…..

People respond to me in different ways now that Neil has died. Some people pretend they don’t see me because they don’t know what to say. Others pretend nothing has changed. Some offer advice and worst of all, some people tell me it’s time to move on. I know they all mean well and want to help; they just don’t know how to do it. How do you help someone who’s faced a great loss when you don’t know what to say? It’s actually easier than you think. You don’t have to say a thing; you just listen.

Recently, a dear friend brought me dinner. We sat at the table long after the food had grown cold and she invited me to reminisce. She didn’t find it awkward or uncomfortable to be speaking about the dead and listened intently as I rambled on about how Neil and I met and fell in love. She chuckled with me over funny family stories and laughed at some of the ridiculous arguments Neil and I had over the years. She loved when I showed her my collection of the crazy little frogs that Neil drew on everything he wrote – messages in the girl’s lunch boxes, notes he left for us around the house, and especially on his signature homemade holiday cards. Continue reading →

When God Doesn’t Answer our Prayers

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My last post was about answered prayer. But what about the times when God doesn’t answer my prayers? There are lots of those, and I’m often jealous when I hear other’s miracle stories. “The cancer just disappeared!” or “I am so blessed; God gave me just what I hoped for!”

The Gospels often mention God’s desire to answer our prayers. Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). In Matthew 7:7, he says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and the door will be opened to you.” In Luke, we read about the widow who nagged the judge so much he finally found in her favor so she would leave him alone. Jesus tells us God will not be slow to answer those who cry out to him.

So what am I missing here? Why are some people miraculously cured and others not? Is it because they are somehow more worthy or because God loves them more than others? Did I not pray hard enough for Neil to be cured? Was I not persistent in my prayer? Those questions lead me to feel guilty, believing that if I said one more prayer or did one more good deed Neil would have survived. Continue reading →

One Woman’s Thoughts on the Mystery of Heaven

I never thought much about heaven. The idea of dead friends and relatives dressed in white robes singing hallelujah while they wandered inside the pearly gates seemed a little…. well….. boring. Not that I didn’t want to be with God, but it seemed easier for me to find Him here in everyday life. I didn’t need to consider eternity.

When Neil died I became far more interested in heaven. There was so much I needed to understand. Is heaven a parallel dimension img_2336where the dead can see and hear us but we can’t see them? Is it a jeweled city of marble palaces and heavenly music playing unceasingly? Is it a physical place on the other side of the universe in an alternate galaxy? And at the end of the world, where will all the billions of resurrected bodies fit? So many questions plagued my thoughts!

Then I had a dream of Neil.  In it, I walked out onto the patio where we always enjoyed morning coffee and evening sunsets. I found him waiting on the bench at the picnic table. “What are you doing here?” I asked him. Pointing up to the sky, he said, “The Big Guy sent me to tell you a few things.”
“Ummm…Ok…” I answered hesitantly. Continue reading →

Please, Let Me Be Invisible!

empty rockerHave you ever wanted to be invisible? Maybe so you could eavesdrop on a conversation you weren’t part of? Or maybe because you’re like me — so introverted that being surrounded by a crowd of people you don’t know is exhausting?

Last weekend I attended my first writer’s conference. Remember the very old TV commercial for Vick’s Cough Medicine where the actor announced, “I’m not a doctor; I just play one on TV”?  I felt similarly: “I’m not a writer; I just play one on my blog.”

I was surrounded by accomplished Christian women writers I respect and admire. There were bloggers whose posts I loved and authors whose books I read. The conference center was filled with energy and enthusiasm as women met with publishers and agents, sharing book proposals and blog ideas. I vacillated between “Wow, look at all these extraordinary women!” to “God, please make me invisible!” I didn’t know anyone there, and I was missing Neil. It was our anniversary. Continue reading →