September 11 does not mean the same thing to me that it does to you.  September 11 was a day of sorrow for me long before 2001. 

But it was also a day of great joy.

My son, Isaac, was born on September 11, 1992.  But my joy was almost immediately mixed with sorrow on the day of his birth.  Isaac was born with multiple severe handicaps and our joy over him has always been tempered with grief.  His childhood and thus my motherhood has been anything but typical.  We have no baby book, no pictures of those first toddling steps, no record of first words, no “aced” spelling tests to save.  My trips down memory lane probably show a landscape a bit different than yours.

And yet.

It isn’t a bad landscape.  And it’s probably not as different from yours as I think it is.  I just learned early what every mother eventually finds out.  The journey of motherhood is inevitably one of joy mixed with sorrow, one of triumph and despair, one of great hopes and huge disappointments.  As is the journey of life.

And what I learned on 9-11-92, I experienced again on 9-11-01.  I began the day with joy because we had just purchased our first house, and I was there waiting for the refrigerator to be delivered.  Then, sur-reality set it when I re-entered the plugged-in world and heard the news (hours after everyone else) – great happiness and great sadness experienced within minutes of each other.

But, what I learned on 9-12-92, I experienced again on 9-12-01 (or perhaps it took a bit longer than a day).  And that is that the sun comes up, the birds sing, the breeze blows, people love.  Life looks a little different than it used to.  Life looks a lot different than you thought it would.  But we are remarkably adaptable.  And we can choose to face bravely a life that we no longer understand.  We can choose to offer love and hope in a world that no longer makes sense.

I believe the lessons we learned on 9-11 were just reminders of what we already knew.  Life is short.  Life is fragile.  Life is hard.  And so we need to cherish the people around us.  We need to live each moment as if it counts, because it does.  And we need to do everything in our power to leave this world a little better than we found it.  We need to learn how to hope in the midst of our hopelessness and we need to learn how to offer help even when we feel most helpless.  And most of all we need to learn how to love those around us as if there is no tomorrow.

don’t just remember the pain and sadness and fear . . . remember also the sweetness of life, the inevitable sunrise . . . and let both inform the way you live

 Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Happy Birthday, Isaac.  Your life has enriched mine beyond description.

This morning I read Psalm 5

1 Give ear to my words, O LORD,
       consider my sighing.

 2 Listen to my cry for help,
       my King and my God,
       for to you I pray.

 3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
       in the morning I lay my requests before you
       and wait in expectation.

Then, this evening, I had the privelege of hearing my friend Jon’s thoughts on same.  He shared from a version which instead of wait in expectation said eagerly watch.

In talking, he shared an interesting metaphor of a pregnant woman . . . waiting eagerly, fully expecting that at the end of nine months, she would have a baby.  She isn’t sure exactly when.  She may not know the sex.  She isn’t sure what the baby will look like or how much it will weigh.  But at the end of nine months the baby she is expecting will arrive.  He went on to say that we should expect with the same eagerness that God will act.

And it made me think about expecting things from God.  On the one hand, we should expect, we are to hope, to watch eagerly.  But, sometimes, I think that we confuse expectation with entitlement.  And our prayers take on that type of flavor – This is what you promised, God, so I’m waiting for it . . . still . . . um, waiting . . . when are you going to do what you promised, God?

And my mind goes back to a certain pregnant lady (yes, it’s me), who prayed for a child, begged God in fact. 

After almost 2 years, on a Sunday in January 1992, I became pregnant.  (yes, I know the day – someday I’ll tell you that story).  And all was joy and expectation.  And I prayed for the next nine months for that baby, expecting good things, expecting normal things, expecting the . . . well, the baby experience, expecting God’s blessing.

And then . . .

the unexpected . . . seizures, wheelchairs, orthotics, doctors, specialists, therapy . . . wasn’t God listening?

And I kept asking for a different answer, kept bringing my request before God (that’s what it says, right?), for the next 14+ years.  And because I had a circumscribed notion of what I was expecting – I missed the beauty of the gift given to me.  Because I was expecting a certain mommy experience, it’s taken me almost 15 years to begin to appreciate the precious gift God has given me in my son.

Finally I’m realizing, this is the answer.  This is my blessing.  This is not just God’s will for me, but, somehow, in a way I don’t understand, it’s the expression of God’s love for me.  It is God’s best for me.  Somehow, it’s immeasurably more than all [I can] ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). 

And my prayer has changed.  Instead of asking God to heal my son, I am asking Him to heal me so that I can serve Him by serving my family with love and faithfulness and joy, so that I can serve those around me with love and faithfulness and joy.  I’m asking Him for opportunities to help people every day so that I can be His true daughter.  And I’m watching . . . eagerly . . .

Around these parts it’s been raining almost non-stop for over 24 hours now.  And it’s made me think about tears.  I’ve shed a lot of tears over the past year.  Now, I’m a cryer by nature, but even for me it’s been excessive . . . and it’s getting worse.

But here’s the interesting thing.  Until very recently, my tears were tears of sorrow, of sadness, of shame, of frustration, envy, resentment, discontent; they were tears caused by pain, stress, anxiety and extreme weariness.

But, something’s been happening.  I’ve been talking to God.  And at 11:00 on a Friday morning on July 27, God began a conversation with me . . . which was really a continuation of a conversation we began in February . . . which was probably a continuation of a conversation begun on a Sunday in the 2nd grade . . . which may well have been a continuation of a conversation begun at birth or in all likelihood at conception or perhaps even begun in the mystery before time . . .

At any rate, this paragraph of the conversation, in and out of which other people flowed to be used by God to speak, encourage and challenge began on that Friday morning and continued off and on (mostly on) into the following Monday evening, reaching its peak at 8:45 p.m, at which time, though I was only beginning to be aware of it, my tears were altered radically.

It began that Sunday, in the middle of the conversation, when a scripture verse read responsively in the service caused me to weep, not in pain or regret but awed by the beauty of the truth it represented, the love that inspired it.

And now I am noticing my tears of sorrow mingle with tears of joy.  I’m weeping in gratitude for the love shown to me.  My tears of frustration and resentment are being replaced by tears of faith and hope.  Each time I read God’s word or steal an hour, a few minutes, a moment to pray is an occasion for tears – tears of gratitude for the slaking of my thirst in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

I’m finding as I go to my friend Jesus and tell Him about everything that makes me sad – there is less to be sad about.  As I take my fears to my Daddy – I find there is less to be afraid of.  As I talk to Him about my frustration and anxiety, the Holy Spirit floods my soul with peace.  As I surrender control, I find true freedom. 

I’m finding joy in the companionship of the One who knows me fully yet loves me completely.  I have hope that as I place my trust in Him, He will give my heart what to desire.

The more I know Him, the more I want to know Him.  He must increase, I must decrease.  That’s the only true path to peace, joy and love.  That’s the only way to find healing for our hurts; the only way to know lasting joy in the midst of suffering. 

It’s the only way to experience and be part of bringing His kingdom on earth.

Which kind of tears are you crying?

I went through a box of books today that came from my parents’ house.  My sisters packed it up last summer and put my name on it.  It was mostly children’s books.  And I’m the one with the children.  In it was a book called Runaway Alice.  I looked at it fondly because it was one of my favorite books from childhood, right behind the Chronicles of Narnia and the Katie John series.  I must have read it many times, because I remember the story in great detail.  You know how that is, right?  Lazy summer afternoon, just a little bored, so you reach for the company of an old friend . . .

This book is about a 10 year old girl who has been tossed around in the foster care system in a small community where everyone wants younger children.  She runs away when things get hard.  Finally, she’s run out of options and her social worker takes her to a farm wife whose sons are grown and wants to foster a little boy because boys are what she knows  . . . just until they find a place for her.

Well, predictably, after some bumps and detours, the farm woman and Alice figure out that they are meant to be together.  And, I believe, in feel-good fashion, there is even a small foster brother introduced at the end to tie everything up with a nice bow.

Nice story, right?  But, really, not that special.  I was wondering why it caught my heart so when I was 10 that I read it over and over.  It didn’t strike any chords of similarity in me.  I never really wanted to grow up in any other family or had any particular inclination to run away.  To my knowledge, none of my friends were foster kids. 

But, here’s what I think.  Even though I hadn’t realized or acknowledged it until recently, my primary spiritual gift is mercy.  And, knowing that now, I can see many evidences of it in my childhood.  God used this book, among others, to develop my sense of justice and mercy.

Also, isn’t it beautiful how God sowed the seeds of compassion in my 10 year old heart that eventually grew and flourished and made room for the adoption of my own little “Alice” all these years later?

 . . . he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

My ViewYesterday, when I woke up, I was fretting.  I had a mental picture of myself weaving . . . without a loom.  I had the warp threads in one hand and the weft in the other, desperately trying to hold them all while with one eye I looked over my shoulder at the mess I had made of the tapestry behind me, the picture obscured by knots and snarls, loops sticking up where I hadn’t pulled the thread through completely, and holes where I had dropped the threads altogether.

“O God”, I cried out, “I can’t hold all this.  I am dropping threads all over and I don’t even know what the picture is supposed to look like.” 

And He gently said to me, “You’re not the weaver . . .  Put them down.  Take this thread.  Put it in that hole.  Pull it all the way through.”

“But,” I said, dropping the thread as I turned to look at the mess behind me, “what about that?  You can’t even tell what the picture is.”

And He patiently turned me and handed me the thread again,

“This thread.”

“That hole.”

“Don’t worry about what’s behind.  Let me take care of that.  Maybe I’ll take you back to fix some of those threads.  But maybe, after we’ve woven a little more, you’ll realize that the picture is not as obscured as you thought.  And maybe I’m fond of that “mess” because it is part of you and it’s making you into the person I’ve meant you to be all along.”

O God, what freedom to serve you, the Sovereign Lord of the universe who loves me as a daughter, delights in me.  There are no words to thank you for all you’ve done for me.

 Note: I began to write this on Wednesday and life interrupted.  So, for those of you who want to know the time-line, “yesterday” refers to Tuesday, too cumbersome to rewrite.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.   Romans 8:28-29

I am reading a book called The Divine Embrace by Ken Gire.  It in, one of the things the author advocates is reviewing the day and thanking God for the gifts received and the gifts you were able to give, as evidences, glimpses of Christ in your life.  It reminded me of Laurie’s recent post, the Art of remembering.  And today, as I was reading, I was reviewing yesterday, thinking about gifts for which I could be thankful.

You see, yesterday, my 14 year old non-ambulatory son broke his leg at school . . . or rather had his leg broken (since it is physically impossible for him to put himself in a situation in which his limbs are in jeopardy) . . . for the second time in 15 months . . . same leg . . . same spot . . . very similar circumstances.  This should not be.

So, where’s the gift? 

I was angry when I got the call; angry that my son has not been safe, has not been cherished the way he deserves; angry that my agenda had been usurped; angry that I have to keep fighting the same battle over and over; and yes, a little angry that this is my lot.

When I called the school to let them know that his leg was indeed broken, the line went to voice mail and I left a message.  Then, both times the teacher called back, I was unable to answer the phone.  I had plenty of time to think as we waited in the Doctor’s office, xray center, doctor’s office, orthopedic office, exam rooms, etc.  One of the things that happened as I was thinking is that God allowed me to think clearly over the circumstances of this lastest incident.  Even though the circumstances were very similar, the first break was clearly due to negligence, he was not being supervised properly, but this time, these circumstance really could have happened on anyone’s watch.  And, by the time the teacher stopped by the house around 5 to apologize and give us, as she put it, a chance to “rant and rave”, I was no longer angry.  I did not have to exercise any self-control to “not sin” in my anger.

So, I was able to say to her, “I forgive you.”  I was able to say, “that could have happened to anyone.”  I was able to say, “I’m not angry.”  Ludicrously to anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ as constant companion and guide, I found myself reassuring her.  And she told me about other parents and the way they have treated her, yelled at her, cursed at her for far less reason.  

One of the things Ken Gire suggests is that when God seems silent, He is ” . . . silent in the way an artist at work is silent . . . quietly at work in [us], forming Christ in [us].

It is the last place we look when we are looking to see Jesus.

In ourselves.”

Also, the day seems to have had a curiously grounding effect on me, something I needed most desperately.  One can’t beat real hardship for dispelling formless anxieties.

So, back to gifts, evidences of Christ. 

I am thankful for having had the time and opportunity to think rationally, to review events before I was called upon to react; God’s voice saying, “This is no one’s fault.”  I am thankful for the grounding, the perspective that has taken me out of myself; God’s voice saying, “This is what’s important.”  I am thankful for friends who prayed, offered to help, came to visit just to say, “we’re here”; God’s voice saying, “I love you.”

But most of all, I am thankful for the gifts I was able to give; the gift of forgiveness; the gift of kindness; the gift of love.  Because these gifts are evidences of Christ in me.  And the difference that  she saw in me, that sets me apart from the “other parents” is the love of Jesus.  And when she looked into my face and I said, “I forgive you”, she saw the face of Christ.  No gift could possibly be sweeter; God’s voice saying, “You’re my girl.  Like Father, like daughter.”

A good day.

  . . . God works for the good of those who love him . . .

And I do . . . O, I do.

Today was a rest day for me, a day to take time to do the things I don’t have time for, a day to cease my striving and listen for the voice of God, a day I desperately needed but was loathe to take with the to do list looming.  Two very significant things happened:

1.  I woke up obsessing about something work-related that caused me a great deal of unrest the night before.  So I began the day in activity – physical action to keep myself out of my head.  I walked and talked with a friend and found refreshment and love.  Then I worked in the garden until I didn’t want to anymore.  As I worked in the garden I learned something interesting.  As thoughts of work and other responsibilities intruded, it was as if they were from another dimension.  I looked at them curiously and said to myself, what does that have to do with me?  And then, I let them fly away.  For the particularly obtrusive thoughts, mostly the one described above I prayed briefly, Jesus, give me wisdom to know how to deal with that when the time comes, and then I released it.  And I found that I could.

2.  I live a block away from an elementary school.  However, it is through the block and not down the block so I can hear them, but not see them.  Today was field day.  So there I was with my hands in the earth, listening to the children laugh and cheer.  And for the first time in a very long time I had the feeling that God is in His heaven and all’s right with the world.  And, really, isn’t that what Sabbath is all about?

So, on the advice of my wise pastor/friend Jon, I have been praying, why doesn’t your yoke feel easy and your burden light?

You’re afraid.

I’m afraid?  I didn’t think I was afraid.  I’ve never considered myself to be a particularly fearful person.  But when I examined it I realized it was true and when I asked myself what I was a afraid of the answer was basically, whatcha got?  I’ve been afraid because of financial pressures, I’ve been afraid what’s going to happen at FMC now in this big transition.  I’ve been afraid that I’m going to forget something important or drop the ball in a big way.  I’ve been afraid of what people will think of me.  I’ve been afraid that saying good-bye is not over for me – which, of course, it’s not, because saying good-bye is part of life.  I’ve been afraid in that David-way that He will hide His face from me or take His presence from me.

So, this week, I’ve been asking God to teach me how to release these fears, how to trust Him and not lean on my own understanding.

So far, this has been His response.  On Tuesday, He sent us a big pile of money out of the blue.  On Wednesday, He told me very clearly that He loves the people at FMC much more that I do.  On Thursday He directed me to Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life
    of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I ask of the Lord
    this is what I seek
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek Him in His temple.

For in the day of trouble
    He will keep me safe in His dwelling;
He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle
    and set me high upon a rock. . .
At His tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy
    I will sing and make music to the Lord

 . . . I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

And I feel lighter.  And I feel the joy returning.

What does Friday have in store?, I wonder with great anticipation.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.     Is. 55:8

I think everyone who reads this blog knows that my father, my well-loved daddy, passed away last summer.  He has been on my mind a lot this week and I wanted to share the following story with you. 

When I found out my dad was given 2-4 months to live, I asked the church to start praying that I would have an opportunity to speak with him about spiritual things.  My dad was raised Catholic and although I had spoken to him a few times over the years about spiritual things, I was unsure about whether he had a relationship with Jesus.  This seemed like the “right” thing to ask for.  Surely God would honor such a prayer.

Interestingly, the answer to that particular prayer was, most emphatically, “no”.  I have 5 siblings and all of them spent copious amounts of time alone with my father between his diagnosis and his death.  I was the only one who had no such opportunity.  Whenever I saw him, there were great crowds (ok at least half a dozen) of people in the room as well.  One day, I dropped my son off at his day camp and drove up to Michigan with my girls to spend a few hours with grandpa before we had to be back to pick up my son.  My mother had forgotten we were coming and was not home.  My brother was there and my dad was sleeping.  My dad woke up just a few minutes before we absolutely had to leave and it was just enough time to give him a hug and round the girls up into the car.  This was to be the last time I saw my dad while he was still capable of carrying on a conversation.

On the way home, I was crying out to God, “Oh, God, that would have been the perfect opportunity for me to share with Daddy about you.  You could have made that happen.  I don’t understand.”  Right at that moment when I was crying out, what can only be described as a wave of peace swept over me.  And God placed the thought in my heart.  “It isn’t up to you.”  Wow . . . . Ok.  I didn’t understand and I still don’t understand, but from that moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if it pleased God to save my daddy, nothing I did or didn’t do would change that.

The epilogue to this story is that a week or two later, the next time I saw my dad and the last time I saw him, he said to me, “I love you.” and “everything’s ok”.  Both of these things he said to me twice.

I don’t pretend to understand what all this means, but I trust God.  And I have great hopes of seeing my dad in heaven.  I do remember, one time, when talking to my dad about spiritual things, I offended him by suggesting that he did not really believe in Jesus.  I think, perhaps, God’s “no” answer to my prayer was to protect me from offending my father with our final conversation.  As it was, there was nothing but mutual love and respect in our final months together.

What follows is something I wrote for my dad’s funeral that was read by my brother.  I wish you could have heard him read it, because he did such a great job.

The Adjective

When I was in the fourth grade my teacher asked me what my father did for a living. I proudly announced to the class that he was an “Adjective.” It is the only time to my recollection that one of my teachers laughed out loud at me. She told me that can’t possibly be right. Outraged by her laughter, I insisted, “Oh yes, Mrs. Madison, he’s an adjective . . . I know.” After all, I was an Ybarra, I must be right. She chuckled again and gently suggested that I go home and ask him if he was an adjective.

At the dinner table that night, “Daddy, you’re an adjective, right?”

More laughter.

Then he explained to me that he was an advocate at the prison and not an adjective at all.


My father held the title of advocate for a few years in the middle of his career, but the truth is that he was an advocate all his life. From his early years, as the eldest child, helping to raise his brothers and sister after his mother passed away, through the years with the department of corrections, to his work in his service club at the end of his life, he strove to speak for those who had no voice and supported causes that brought power to the powerless. He knew poverty and disadvantage and prejudice and he fought to eliminate and eleviate them wherever he came across them in both his public and private lives.

He taught us, his children, how to love people and to love causes that could bring positive changes for those around us.

I am so proud to be his daughter. And I only pray that I can serve and bless those around me the way that he did.

I leave you with some adjectives that characterized my father . . .

giving, faithful, strict, hardworking, overprotective, kind, caring, loyal, impatient, trustworthy, self-sacrificing, stubborn, accepting, knowledgeable, smart, honest, generous, responsible, curious.

Good-bye, Daddy.