It began with a simple question, “How did Guatemala change you?” Our Thursday morning prayer group was a smaller, more intimate setting that allowed such a question and a wonderful time of testimony. While the usual attendance numbered 10-15, this day there were only six of us, three of whom had just returned from mission trips to Guatemala. Two were pastors who seemed hesitant as they pondered our leader’s question. I, too, had hesitated to attend that day, but after a few moments of their sharing, I was very glad I had made the effort to get up early…I was changed.
In the days that followed, I pondered the question for myself. I hadn’t been on any international mission trips, but I had just returned from a family visit to north Texas. “How had Abilene and Munday changed me?”
I remembered one morning of my trip in particular. I was enjoying my quiet time using my Bible and a “Jesus Calling” devotional. The comfortable easy chair where I sat in my cousin’s living room faced opposite a beautiful view of their back yard. The patio enclosure was furnished with a typical outdoor table and chairs. I sat there slowly drinking in the peace of that moment and praising God for His Presence in the present, that day’s devotion theme. The author, Sarah Young, had written about “The Divine Artist,” the art of living a divinely artful life, and then, the Lord reminded me of His Presence in my cousin’s monetary birthday gift which provided my rental car for making the long trip safely. Yes, I was blessed, indeed.
I opened my eyes and gazed around the room to see the patio again, but this time, a beautiful Blue Jay enjoyed flitting around from perch to perch on each chair as if he was purposely “showing off” his color to me! He captured my attention certainly when I realized I had not seen this northern bird since I had moved away from my home near Dallas 18 years ago. “The Divine Artist” had painted for me that morning! “Such a small thing” most people might say, but I knew God was restoring hope in my soul with the sighting of a small blue bird. His Presence manifested in my present, painting a day in the life of His daughter to help me on my way to “artful living.” To think that the Ruler of the Universe would create such an event, seemingly trivial, yet so significant in my heart…Yes, Abilene changed me.
My cousins had also planned a short day trip to our small hometown. The agenda included a driving tour to see cotton crops, the former homesteads, and a family meal with relatives at the local Dairy Queen. It was scheduled after a visit to Johnson Memorial Cemetery where my parents, my sister, and her infant son, are buried. It had been three years since I had last visited the cemetery when my mother’s oldest brother was laid to rest in the family plot. But today, this visit to “Sorrow’s Monument” was different. I was with Linda, one of my sister’s best friends. It was just by coincidence that we would be there together to embrace the moment of change in both our lives.
When Jann died in childbirth at age 22, my parents had flown her body from St. Petersburg, Florida where she had lived with her husband, Ken. There had been services there with his family and friends and again in Munday with our family, but there was no additional memorial with our south Texas community where Dad’s career had moved the family. Mom and Dad were so grief-stricken at her sudden death and felt they could not endure another emotional service. So, her high school and college chums really never had the closure they needed. To many friends, she had just moved away and never came home again.
Now after 43 years, Linda had traveled to this small rural community to mourn and pay her final respects to her matron of honor. I can only imagine her grief since I had carried my own unsaid good-byes for the same years, but I'd had many opportunities to lay them down at the monument when I visited the family plot. My friend, Nancy and I had prayed that the trip to the cemetery would bring a complete healing to this chapter in Linda’s soul.
It brought a different balm to mine to see how beautiful the bouquets were on the headstones. I had ordered the flowers to be placed for the occasion and I was indeed thankful for God’s artful gift to "grace the moment" through a local talented florist. The enemy of my soul would have me blind and barren in that west Texas wilderness, but I am grateful the Lord gave me a desire to “dress up” the monuments. It was such a simple thing to call ahead and order the flowers, but through the colorful bouquets, the Great Physician gave me a fresh vision and prescribed a new mental picture for my chart in life!
I discovered that this is the power of a simple photograph, a documentary of times to remember, people we love, places we have been, and things we cherish. All of these are evidence “we have lived, loved and been loved.” A photograph is a tangible mental picture held in my hand that proves I am fully alive to embrace life in the “then and now.” My memories still carry vivid colors and my artist’s imagination instantly transports me to places and times right along with them. I can close my eyes and visit “Sorrow” or “Dress Up with Joy.” I can continually replay the video of my painful losses and carry them laden with a heavy heart or I can choose to see Life showing off its divinely artful bouquet. Yes, Munday changed me.
I had not realized when I heard the question, “How did Guatemala change you?” that I would soon use its inspiration to help me write another family eulogy. Three weeks after my trip to Abilene and Munday, I made two trips to Harlingen where my brother is buried. His sudden death two years ago left his wife a widow at age 49. She was unable to overcome her grief at “Sorrow’s Monument.”
In preparing for her memorial, I asked myself, “How did knowing her change me? How had her life and her untimely death, her struggles, her failures and her accomplishments…how did her life lessons change me? How had our relationship and conversations, the prayers and scriptures we shared, how had the Lord used these events to affect change in me?”
Yes, now I can say that Harlingen did, indeed, change me. I gave her eulogy and I, too, stand at “Sorrow’s Monument” again. It is still painful and vivid at times, but now, when the memories come, I choose to revisit that wilderness with visions of blue birds and colorful bouquets.
Come quickly, “Dress up with Joy!” We have some artful living to do!
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