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Grief 101

Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

Grief 101

See, from His head, His hands, His feet Sorrow and love flow mingled down Did e’er such love and Sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown. (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts)

Grief is part of our world. Love and sorrow twist together in our lives.

To love, to open our hearts to others? Is to be vulnerable.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.                              C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Grief takes a toll on us all: Men and women and children. So many of us are responding to this in “Social Isolation.” But how do we experience it? 

Elisabeth Kübler- Ross did extensive studies on grief, and it helps us understand what is happening to us now. She envisioned grief as an inverted bell curve, 5 stages.

Shock & Denial

In this stage we can hardly believe what is happening. It is like nothing we have experienced so we do not have a frame of reference. 

Shock gives way to surprise as news unfolds of the event. In this Pandemic, it is disturbing and unsettling. It is frightening and brings on fear. It is a jolt to our system. Trauma intertwines with distress.

Denial comes hard on the heels of shock. Certainly, these reports cannot be true. The Pandemic may be effecting Europe; but how could it ever reach America? We are a medically sophisticated society, and surely our medical community will stop this in its tracks. The facts and figures coming in from China, Italy and Spain must be exaggerated. And as we examine the statistics on American soil, it seems negligible.

And it can’t be worse than the flu—can it? A bad flu.

We experience this every winter. And this, too, will pass.

Anger

The anger stage is multifaceted. How did this Pandemic get out of control? How can it be happening here? In our Country? State? County? Borough?

The invisibility of this beast adds to out exasperation. Give me a visible enemy, and perhaps I’ll be able to take him on. But this? Just how many times do I have to wash my hands? Studies have shown we wash our hands a total of 6 seconds. So there has been a suggestion of singing verses of “Amazing Grace”, or your favorite rock song or “Happy birthday. Tell me: exactly how many verses do I need to sing? Clever methods calm my annoyance for a short time, but give way to irritation.

I become more irritable as time goes on. Do not tell me where I can go. And the distance I have to stand from my neighbor. And how I have to handle my groceries. Or when I shop.

Irritability gives way to annoyance. I may have never baked bread before, but now I insist on buying yeast and bread flour. How dare the store be sold out! Never mind that there are plenty of Pepperidge Farm loaves on the shelves. And the bread dilemma is national in scope. Yeast cannot be found throughout the land.

I may have lost my job, been furloughed, or reduced hours. My finances will be a mess.

Or, I may be working in the medical field, delivery for UPS FEDEX or supply chain. Can’t I stay home like everyone else? Just how much exposure can I have without exposing my family?

Bargaining

Bargaining is subtle in nature. As if we could bargain with a Pandemic! But we try. It is hard to predict how long this will last. If I pace myself for 2 weeks, perhaps the worst will be over. If the extension of “Social Isolation” is for 4 weeks, I can manage. But no longer. That is all I can promise. I’ll make an agreement for the end of April, but surely not into May.

Let’s make a deal! I promise to stay isolated, but how can I see my family? My children? Don’t tell me we can’t have Easter dinner!

Perhaps all of us can have our own Easter dinner, and meet “virtually” through Zoom. That is the solution. I’ll barter with this Pandemic.

Depression

The longevity of this Pandemic begins to wear on us. 

I want out! I want my independence back and I want my freedom! I feel dejected as my routine has been disrupted. A sadness prevails, as I pace from room to room. There is only so much that I can take of these 4 walls! Cabin fever abounds.

I’ve fallen out of the rhythm of life. I may not get up in the morning, but instead, lounge in bed in despair. After all, why get up?

I am despondent as I look at myself in the mirror. My hairdresser is not open, and my roots are beginning to show.

I’m eating or drinking to console myself, feeling guilty about the comfort foods that try to ease my internal ache and melancholy.

Being “in the dumps” has never felt so real.

The internet is ablaze with jokes:

“If I hold a glass of wine or a beer in each hand, I can’t touch my face.”

“Pretty soon I’m going to need a magician, not a beautician!”

“Breaking news: Wearing a mask inside your home is highly recommended. Not so much to prevent COVID-19 but to prevent eating.”

We laugh at them, knowing there is a deep truth here. We see ourselves. And we know that others feel the same way.

Acceptance

As this Pandemic drags on, we recognize that we have to do our part.

To successfully shelter in place means nothing will happen today. But the decreasing numbers of infections will be the reward of our patience. A commitment to other’s safety will become our foremost concern.

We know there will be a “New Normal.”

Learning to manage the home front, even with humor, helps us through the “daily days.”

There are innumerable sites for parents and children to engage in fun activities.

For adults? Netflix, reading, and perhaps video games. But these all point to being at home. Alone and isolated. 

The ideal: time spent in God’s Word and with Him.

And so we reframe this time: Instead of being stuck at home? We are safe at home.

The end is in Sight

Perhaps you’ve seen yourself in parts of the Grief cycle. Perhaps this is a moment, of “Aha! Me too!”

It is not linear and most often, we take “two steps forward and one step back.”

We offer grace to others, knowing that we are each on an independent journey through this time. There may be similarities. But there are also differences.

“We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.” (Rosaria Butterfield)

We receive this time in faith, being confident that He is at work in us, and in His world.

We trust Him to work in us and through us to accomplish His good will.

And while we may not have a definitive date for this Pandemic to end, we do know that we have a Savior who is doing all things well.

“The tomb, normally a place of endings, became a place of beginnings. Out of if came the new hope of Resurrection life.” (Paul Tripp 4/10/20.)

Let us live in this time anticipating the resurrection He is doing within us.

Thanksgiving Traditions

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/24/2020

If you are ever on the roads at Thanksgiving, you will know that this is the most traveled holiday of the year.
People seem to be yearning to return to Mom and Dad’s, or go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. (Do they sing that song anymore? Do kids even know what it means?)

2020

Will there even be Thanksgiving?
There is talk of restrictions, curfews and limiting invitations to your own immediate family.
A general malaise surrounds the holiday as we think of Thanksgiving past—and Thanksgiving present.

Traditions Past

What are some of the traditions and memories that have made Thanksgiving so special? Every family is different, with favorite foods.
My mother was an excellent cook, and because she wanted to have something for everyone, would never consider eliminating one dish.

Potatoes

Coming from the South, my mother made mashed potatoes and turnips.
I hated them. But because my brothers liked them, they were mandatory. (No bitterness here…) They almost looked like regular mashed potatoes and you had to be careful to distinguish the two; a mouthful of that nasty stuff was a rude surprise.
I hate them to this day.
Regular mashed potatoes? Bring them on. My niece Megan, loved them too, so she sat on one side of me and we would jostle for portions.
And candied sweet potatoes? The stuff of heaven. My other niece, Melanie would sit on the other side of me, and we’d divide them.

Turkey

Going into the oven early in the day, the bird roasted slowly and released enticing aromas to tantalize our tastebuds. Stuffing and gravy followed. Rounding it out were peas, coleslaw, a vegetable tray, creamed onions, rolls and I hope I haven’t forgotten any!
Others have told me their table included: ham, creamed corn pudding, creamed rice, turkey stuffing balls, Gelatin salad, Sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, spanakopita, and lobster.

Cranberry Sauce

There has been a running question on Social Media concerning the critical question: Canned or Homemade Whole cranberry sauce. It is a hotly debated topic. Even this is a family tradition.

Desserts

Finally, the Pie! Pumpkin, Apple and sometimes Pecan pie. Whipped cream or ice cream? And we begged Mom to not include Mincemeat pie.

Formal Tables

My mother always set a formal table. The table cloth had been pressed without one wrinkle. Gleaming crystal and silver stood sentry next to each piece of antique family china. A floral arrangement graced the center of the table, and candles were lit.
It was my job the night before to set the table and clean the silver; a familiar ritual of love.
My brother and his wife continue this tradition to this day and set a lovely table with the same antique china we used growing up. You can almost hear the generations that have gone before, watching as “a great cloud of witnesses.”
Rockwell created a famous painting of Thanksgiving dinner entitled: “Freedom from Want.” It is well known and seems to capture Thanksgiving Past. I can’t help but notice the smiling faces as we catch this “snapshot” into their dinner.

A Family Thanksgiving?

This year, what will be the “snapshot” of our dinner?
Will it be formal? Or will it be more casual as we huddle outside around a fire pit? Will it be formal with china and silver? Or more relaxed with paper plates and plastic knives and forks?
It doesn’t really matter what we serve for dinner does it?
Whether turkey or ham, or any of the plethora of vegetable options.
Tradition is defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. The memories and joy of being together can still be forged even today, in 2020.
Traditions, old and new, form the glue that binds us together and is handed down through the generations, much like fine china and silver.

“Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.”


It is the legacy of generations past, and generations future.
It is the fellowship around the Holiday table that merge and mold us together, family and friends.
It is the stuff of creating memories, tradition, and home.
For this Thanksgiving, let us embrace tradition, pass on what is necessary and good, and be flexible when needed.
And in all things, let us Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.

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Cornbread and Buttermilk

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/19/2020

Cornbread and Buttermilk

I’ve been on a baking spree recently, baking cornbread. Now, I love cornbread as much as the next person, but this has a background.
A recipe was posted online that was from a Grandmother. It was a family favorite and often requested.

It beat out homemade rolls and bread.
And the love of the recipe was handed down from generation to generation.

Bonds

There is a special bond between mothers and daughters. If you are fortunate, you have been nurtured and loved. A mother’s guidance and character have poured into you intentionally, and even more, unintentionally.

Mom

“Her children arise and call her blessed.” Proverbs 31:28

As I’ve been making my cornbread, I’ve thought a lot about my own mother. She loved cornbread.

She showed me how to put a bit of oil in each muffin pan, and pop it in the oven to melt. Then we poured in the batter. It rose with a crown and a golden crusty finish.
The aroma filled the kitchen. Creamery butter awaited.
My mother also had a cast iron mold for cornbread.
Because Mom was from the South, Oklahoma to be exact, cornbread was cherished.

Buttermilk

But let me get back to the recipe. I’ve learned over the years to substitute plain milk if you don’t have buttermilk on hand. Simply take 1 cup of milk and add 2 Tb of vinegar and stir.
Pop it into the microwave and Voila! Instant buttermilk.
But you see: this latest baking binge was for a project.
And I wanted the recipe to be “just right” so buttermilk was purchased.
Mom loved buttermilk.
When she used it, she always reserved a glass for dinner.

The Reveal

As I pulled the pans of cornbread from the oven, the aroma was intoxicating.
And I noticed the bread was raised high; much higher than the other pans I had made. Curious.
It tasted the same, but the texture was so much better!
Light and fluffy! What had made the difference? The buttermilk.

Missing Mom

The is the first of the major holidays this year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I’ve noticed a lot of people are posting how they miss their mothers. For one friend, this is the first holiday without Mom. Her daughter is missing her grandmother.

One of my favorite books in counseling was “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman. There are so many of us without mothers. And we miss them.

That feeling of “I want my Mom” has no age limit, no time limit, and no distance limit.”

Birthdays

Mom’s birthday is tomorrow. As always, anniversaries are hard.Grief and Loss During the Holidays
I miss her so. “I want my Mom” has never been more true. I will never learn to like buttermilk.
But I so appreciate it now more than ever before.
And somehow, I think Mom might be smiling and saying:

Sometimes the tried and true ways are best. And sometimes, Mom does know best.”

A World of Octobers

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/17/2020

A World of Octobers

This summer was difficult, wasn’t it? Vacations were cancelled, flights were delayed, and the every growing Pandemic pressed heavily upon us.
The splendor of spring and new flowers popping up was replaced by drying leaves and wilted blossoms. Too hot to garden and tend to weeds.
Time to rest on the porch with a tall lemonade.

Dog Days of Summer

Even our dog, Ella seemed to be lethargic. She is a Cavapoo and we take about 3-4 walks each day. Some of these are, shall we say…mandatory?
But she even seemed to “poop out” on longer walks.
Her vim and vigor flagged. When we arrived at home, she flopped on the cool floor for a reprieve. We all felt it.

Weariness

There was a certain weariness to it all.
The heat, the humidity press in upon us in Eastern PA.
But along with Covid, the isolation and separation dragged on.
Unable to visit with family and friends, we felt like we were “wilting on the vine.”

September

But sure as Fall follows Summer, the welcome cool nights came upon us.
I generally note that I make it through Summer by counting the cold fronts that come through our area.
Each one is a clearing and welcome relief to the blanching, drying heat.
By Mid-September, we can count on the change.

The Change

But in walking the dog, I began to see a change.
I first noticed the colors of Fall in decorations.
Was it just me? Were there more decorations out than normal?
Did the orange pumpkins pop more brightly?
Did gourds ever seem so yellow and nearly glow against hay bales?
The clear cobalt sky was a backdrop to the riot of color, even highlighting dark brown, bleak branches reaching to the heavens.
Sunsets became even more vibrant and clear.
Corn stalks were tied to banisters and pillars, with neat arrangements at their feet.
It all seemed to shout out: “We need color! We need vibrant hope!”

Halloween

I’ve already written about Halloween here:A COVID Halloween
So many homes got into the spirit and decorated, with anticipation of little ones coming to the front door.
Perhaps we needed a reason to celebrate?
Perhaps we needed a reason to hope.

Renewal for us All

The crisp, cool air was almost palpable in renewal for us. Even Ella perked up.
She walked with energy in her steps.
A whirling breeze might bring a gust that blew her ears back, flapping. Not to be deterred, she pointed her nose up and pressed on.
She clearly reveled in it.
Leaves were to be chased.
Sticks were to be picked up and carried along our path. And I might note: Her pride in carrying the largest log possible was evident. Head held high, and her gait could only be described as strutting and prancing.

Rain storms and Cold Fronts

This past week brought rain, wind, and a flurry of leaves to the ground. Our path was often a carpet of blazing crimson. Or perhaps a splattering of golden hues that resembled the “Yellow brick road.”
How can one resist the urge to kick leaves and revel in the crunch beneath our feet?

It was a glorious riot of color that warmed our hearts and souls, and brought little children to our front yard to leap in the leaves.
Could there be anything more glorious than that youthful enthusiasm and joy? Does anything match children’s laughter and giggles?

We Rejoice!

The hard summer has been followed by the glory of Fall.

“There us not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” John Calvin

Ann

Perhaps the best quote of Fall belongs to Ann of Green Gables:

We are so grateful for Fall and all it brings.

I, for one, am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

Grief and Loss During the Holidays

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/12/2020

Hard Holidays

As a Counselor, I found the Holiday times to be particularly troubling to my clients. Sure, there is the stress of decorating, cleaning, setting tables, and gifts bought and wrapped. I’d say 90% of my counseling from Nov1-Jan 15 involved “Holiday issues” including “family issues.”

But I also saw a great deal of grief and loss surrounding the holidays. How do we get through a holiday when there is an empty seat at the table? (See my previous posts on dealing with Grief: Grief 101, Grief 102)

Loss

I’ve seen whispers of loss on FB already.
“Happy birthday in Heaven, Mama.”
“Happy birthday, brother.”
Usually these posts are accompanied by a picture. The pain and loss are palpable.

My own sister, Carol Lynn, died before I was born.
Her birthday was Nov 1, and I pass that day thinking of her. What would it have been like to have had an older sister? Would we have fought? Or would we be best of friends?
I know her loss was a defining event for my parents.
No one ever gets over losing a child.

Would have, Should have, Could have

These words express loss and regret.
“If only I would have treated them differently.”

“If should have been with them in their suffering.”

“I could have done things differently.”
These are expressions we all know and use commonly. Can you hear it?
The pain and loss are palpable.

Anniversaries and Birthdays

We celebrate those we love on these special days.
But when a loved one is gone, these days pique our longing for them.
Should we mention this date? Should we ignore it? Won’t it make the person even more sad and lonely? We fear bringing on more sadness.

Speak Up

Do not think that ignoring or not speaking of them will make things better.
For the one in deep mourning, to remember the loved one brings credibility to their life.
It helps to remember them with sorrow, yes, but also with joy.
It means their life mattered.
It means their life here, for whatever amount of time, made an impact on others.

Tears

Perhaps the best thing we do in Grief Counseling is to listen well. The Grief cycle is long and hard.
To try to run ahead and ignore the stages is fruitless.
It takes time to process.

This is not the time for quick and easy answers, or platitudes.

A Time for Every Season

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

A Time to be Silent and a Time to Speak

In this Holiday season?
Let’s seek Wisdom in knowing when to be silent, and when to speak.
And when we speak, let it be winsome and gentle.
Let’s honor those we’ve lost with remembrance.
Let’s reach out to those around us and speak into their lives kindness, comfort, and hope; ultimately, let’s bring others tidings of Comfort and Joy.

Tiding of Comfort and Joy

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r When we were gone astray

Oh tidings of comfort and joy Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Of Poppies, Service, and Dad

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/10/2020

Poppies

Does anyone sell poppies anymore? I remember them as a child and teenager in my small town. I don’t think the deep implications were clear to me at that point.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate them more.

I found this explanation recently:

“Wear the poppy on the right side; the red represent the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much.

The leaf should be positioned at 11 o’clock to represent the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the time that World War 1 formally ended.”

Why the Poppy? 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row That marks our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

In Flanders Fields, John McCrae 1915

American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Program: Connecting the visual image of the poppy with the sacrifice of service made by our veterans has been an important goal of the American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Program since its inception in 1921. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, millions of red crepe paper poppies—all handmade by veterans as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation—are distributed across the country in exchange for donations that go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities. https://www.alaforveterans.org/Poppy/

Where are the Poppies?

I haven’t seen a poppy in years. I may not be positioned in the appropriate groups or clubs. But it is telling that as I reflect on Veterans Day I first think of poppies and of Service.

Faith of our Fathers

Both of our fathers fought in WW2. It wasn’t something they talked about readily, but we knew it had impacted them deeply.

We felt it as much in how they carried themselves; how they sung the national anthem with respect. How we went to Memorial Day parades and watched Veterans march by. Memorial Day 2020

How they hung the American flag with great ceremony.

Pass it On

And so we appreciate all our fathers did, and the legacy they passed on to us. We saw it as they  shared the simple beauty of raising the flag on a sunny morning. But the significance in that ritual was in the sharing with a small boy.

Teaching through example was important.

Even Now

I learned so much from my Dad. But respect for my Country was right at the top of the list. 

I know when I see a flag  at night it should be lit up. I know the ceremony of raising and lowering the flag. I can’t hear the plaintive melancholy notes of “Taps” without thinking of my Dad.

I know how a flag should be folded—solemnly and with great reverence.

And so his legacy has been passed on.

My brother continues to lift the flag every morning at their home overlooking the Delaware River that we all loved so well.

It is our prayer that it is passed on to younger generations as well.

Thanks Veterans for your service to our country. Thanks to those who have gone before us.

And thanks, Dad.

Christmas Creep

Cynthia L. Eppley Nov 4, 2020

Christmas Creep

I suppose I should have expected it. When you walk into Costco or Lowes and see the Christmas trees in August? Really?

Usually I am aghast and dismayed. But this year? Not so much.

They call it the “Christmas Creep.” The relentless marketing of Christmas closer to other Fall holidays.

Christmas Past

I grew up in a small town in South Jersey. Christmas was magical, at least in my memory. It included going to get our tree from a small stand on Grant Street. When we were little there was the anticipation of putting up the tree and decorating it.
Very few people use tinsel now, but to us, it was like a shower of icicles. In my enthusiasm, I’d stand on the stairs and fling it into the air, wishing it to land like new fallen snow. I’m sure my parents spent many hours separating it and placing it neatly after I went to bed.

Later it became a tradition to trim the tree together with family and friends. We anticipated it and looked forward to it after Thanksgiving.

“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks draped in Holiday style, in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…..”

The town was decorated with draped tinsel above Broadway, and at the center was either a bell (frosted of course) or a star. Driving down the main street was an event as the decorations were strung, but not lit until Thanksgiving night.

Let the Holidays begin!

Christmas Present

This year is so different. First the trees were out, and then came Christmas presents in the stores. And so it seemed that Christmas is getting pushed ahead of even Halloween.

I have a few friends who have started listening to Christmas music. In mid October.

Another friend just put up her Christmas tree. (Disclaimer: if you have an artificial tree like we do? This is so easy!)

But what is interesting to me is: Why do we push it? Why is it necessary to rush ahead?

“I don’t want to hear a single person complain that is being celebrated too early. This year has been a dumpster fire, let us be merry.”

The few friends who have gone ahead into Christmas have been admonished by others: “Its too early!”

And here is her golden response that resonates with us all:

“Especially on these cold rainy and windy days…. I needed it….. We have been all smiles since we put it up! “Because…. it’s 2020 and all the rules are out the window. Happiness ranks over anything else….. and these girls are happy!!!

A Hug for a Tree

A Realistic Christmas

So much has been taken away in 2020. How do we count the ways?

Peanuts films have been pulled:
“Its the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”
“A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Many shops have been closed.

Holiday gatherings are limited so as to limit the spread of Covid. Fear is still present.

Jobs have been lost and income slashed. How do we afford gifts this year?

But the most significant loss has been the loss of life: friends and family that have been taken this year, either from Covid or other illness. It is a different kind of Christmas this year.

A Real Christmas

“We Need a Little Christmas” was first performed in the 1966 production of Mame. But the backstory is that Mame has lost her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and she used this song to cheer up her family.

“Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now

For we need a little Christmas Right this very minute
We need a little Christmas now!

Perhaps this is not so different in our present time.

A Deeper, Real Christmas

2020 has been hard.

“This is the winter of our discontent.”

Even Joe Biden forecast:
“United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America.”

Free from Fear

“Come Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Perhaps we need to look to the True Light as we head towards Christmas.

John 1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

Our peace comes from a Deeper place than the external trappings of gifts and trees and tinsel.

O Come, O Come Immanuel!

So let’s decorate!

Let’s celebrate!

Jesus IS the light of the world.
As we sing our Christmas Carols, let us find our rest in Him.
With many unknowns before us, let us find in Him our Hope, our Strength and Consolation. As we bask in the glow of a Christmas tree, let’s find our deepest desires filled with Joy.

And as we snuggle down with our blanket and hot cocoa, gazing at the wonder of our trees?

We will know that He has overcome the darkness and He is the Joy of our longing hearts.

Politics and Wednesday Nov 4

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/2/2020

Politics

Unless you are living under a rock, you would know there is an election tomorrow. It has been called the biggest election of our times, with long lasting effects.

Perhaps it ranks right up there with COVID in how it has affected our lives, and the implications of it all.

The reactions to it all are varied, and swing from one spectrum to another.

Reactions

There are families that have separated from each other.

There is the “Different Holiday” where families have “disinvited” themselves from the table.

There are families that have come to fisticuffs. Some families have decided a “No Politics Zone” at home.

There is fear and anxiety, while we keep an eye on the Stock Market.

How do we keep an even keel in the midst of this storm?

And how do we know how to anticipate the aftermath, no matter what our political persuasion?

I could write a blog on how this all plays out, but others have addressed it succinctly. And so I share those thoughts here:

Resources:

This blog is a succinct summary of Scripture that addresses the election happening tomorrow:

God reigns

 From Barbara Lee Harper’s blog:

“God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne” (Psalm 47:8).                             

Our church has read through large chunks of the Old Testament over the last year. No matter who was in charge of what earthly kingdom, God was always at work, sometimes overtly, sometimes “behind the scenes.”                                                       

“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).

Unity

From my friend Dr. Gary Shogren, San Jose, Costa Rica

On Nov. 1: All Saint’s Day. 

The day of the year when we remember that: it doesn’t matter your race, gender, nationality, status as outsider or insider, free or imprisoned, economic level, or – esp in 2020 – political affiliation. All saints means what it means, all saints, period.

May the unity of November 1 wash away the disunity of November 3.

Gracious Father, We pray for thy holy universal Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Choose

And more from Dr. Shogren:

An invitation to my Christian friends in the US:

Choose, right now, today, how you will act if your candidate LOSES on Tuesday.

Choose, right now, today, how you will act if your candidate WINS on Tuesday.

Not “good loser”/”good winner,” but holy loser/holy winner.

No matter the election results, Paul has already told us that a man or woman of God will REJECT idolatry (including the idolizing of a politician), hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, dissensions, factions and envy.

The man or woman of God will EMBRACE – no, better, invoke the Spirit to manifest – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (all from Gal 5). No buts, no, “but 2020 is different!!”, no exceptions.

Wednesday morning is not the time to decide how you will comport yourself! And that decision to love is exponentially more important than the candidate you vote for.

God’s Authority

While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered His authority. A.W. Tozer

Close to Home

In our own family, we have had major discussions around politics. The outcome has not always been pleasant. There have been times of distance and silence.

But eventually, through dedication and commitment, the foundation of love was realized and confirmed.

By working at it, love broke through.

And for those who are still in this struggle with family or friends?

We pray for reconciliation.

Love and Faithfulness

Psalm 85:10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

At the end of the day? Love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace prevail.

Let this be our goal on Wed., Nov 4. 

Let this be our goal as mail in ballots are counted.

And let this be our goal throughout this political season, and in life.

A COVID Halloween

Cynthia L. Eppley 11/01/2020

A COVID Halloween

Certainly you remember the excitement on that day of days: October 31. You may have had a party in school, and even a parade through the parking lot. But that was all secondary.
The big event came at home.

Dinner couldn’t get over fast enough, as you raced to down the last noodle or vegetable.
There was candy to collect! Houses to visit! And the mystery of walking through darkened streets.

You had considered for days, even weeks your costume. Would it be the store bought one? As we got older, the handmade version was more creative, whimsical, and fun. And parents everywhere would search high and low for the correct props to make the costume “just right.”

Please, please don’t change your mind right before Halloween!

A Different Halloween

This year was no different: or was it?
Some schools are not in session. Some are virtual.
I called our Borough to find out what was the “Official” stance on “Trick or Treat.” Was it happening? How do we keep a distance?

But wait: certainly we can still do Halloween?
Somehow?
And so that was when great minds came together to develop a plan.
Most of the people on our street were setting out a table with goodies galore.
The idea was this—the children could come collect their stash, while we stood safely behind the glass screen door.

Being Neighborly

A few neighbors set up a fire pit on the driveway, complete with blankets and drinks— Drinks ranging from hot cocoa to a cold brew.

Another neighbor decorated her front stoop and wrote in chalk on the sidewalk: Welcome! Candy! And she drew footprints to remember “6 ft. apart.”

Still another neighbor set up a white screen and showed scary images. And then there was the fog machine: enough spookiness for any child.

Special Delivery

But the best solution was across the street.
Remembering that they should keep their distance, they developed a delivery system that ran a long plastic tube out the front of the house. But here is where the genius came in: It emptied onto a green slide. Candy would slide through the tube, dump onto the slide, and careen downhill, bumping along the way.

A Candy Delivery System 2020

Kids waited at the bottom to see their special delivery drop into their hands.

Dusk

As we set out our candy and decorated our table, I eagerly anticipated the first group. I could hear them before I saw them:


“Candy! We gotta get the candy!”
Looking up the street, we could see kids streaming up driveways. Then they’d turn and race to the next house, eager to get their buckets filled.

Recognition

Spending time with these little ones has always been a highlight of Halloween. And this year was no different.
Standing behind the table, 6 feet away, I’d mention their costume:
“Wow! You must be a Superhero!”

Now, I’m out of touch with the most recent trends, so this was my generic praise. I had no idea who they represented, and since they were wearing masks, their muffled explanation didn’t help me. But I could mention their strong muscles. For the boys, that would get a good reaction.

Or:
“What a beautiful Princess you are!”
Again, no idea which princess this could be. But their smile and twirl was enough to let me know I’d come close enough.

Things change, and Things Stay the Same

Isn’t it funny that in these times, things have changed so much.

And yet things have stayed the same.
Kids still love candy, and want to be encouraged, recognized and praised.
Parents wanted to have their kids out to experience the thrill of being out in a costume at night, marauding through the neighborhood.

Adults called out to one another. A congenial, warm atmosphere prevailed.

Yes, there were political signs on the lawn.
Yes, there are differences.
And yes, there will be an election in 2 days.

Bottom line

But the bottom line?
Really, we all want the same for our kids.
We all want health, and food and warmth and a good education. How we arrive at all of those things may differ.

But for one magical night, we suspended differences to allow our kids to just be kids. Racing from one home to another, on a brisk October night, their hopes were realized. And for this year? Amidst all the negative things about 2020?
Perhaps this very thing is a positive highlight of 2020.

A Dog’s Life

Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

08/17/2020

A Dog’s Life

We never really expected to get a dog. We’d had cats before. And even the cats belonged to our son: more of a “stopover” until they could be returned to him.
There are major differences between cats and dogs. Both are cuddly and fun. But they are different:

“Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods” Christopher Hitchens (Author, The Portable Atheist )

And we didn’t time it for Quarantine. It just happened that she was ready to be picked up in February.
So when we got our Cavapoo Ella? We were surprised by how quickly we fell in love with her winsome ways.

Puppy Love

You know how cute they are as puppies. They are roly-poly and soft with little squeaks. The first few days are for bonding: laying with Ella on our chest.
It is enough to melt your heart.

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Charles Shultz (cartoonist, Peanuts)

But they also pee and poo on the rugs and floors. They want constant attention. They chase after your feet. They steal your shoes and nibble down the laces to little nubs.
They steal your heart.

What Ella Teaches Us

Perhaps you all know these dynamics. But these are new to us. It is like having a child—and now that she is 8m., like a teenager.

Talking Back

Honestly, if she doesn’t like what we are saying or doing? She literally “talks back” to us. She yips and barks, leaning her head forward for special emphasis. Perhaps she thinks if she barks loud enough and long enough she will get her way. She comes close enough to feel her hot doggy breath on our leg or knee.

Such attitude! Adolescence at its finest.

Water

Some dogs like to swim.
Ella is not one of those dogs.
We take her down to Ambler Boro Park creek and she gets her paws wet, or muddy to be more exact. This requires cleaning in the water before we leave, or a quick wash when we get home. She loves the creek. But not in the water so much.

But drinking? She loves to drink from the creek. She has a fine dish of water at home. But she prefers drinking from the creek.

Or the hose. She barks at the hose while I water the plants; she runs back and forth frantically. When I stop, I allow a trickle of water to drip. This is the drink she wants. Somehow it is preferable to her food dish.
And then she belches.

Appetite

Dogs will eat almost anything. Out veterinarian tells us Cavapoos think their name is “Drop it.” She picks up sticks, pinecones, and acorns along our walk. It is a constant battle to pry it out of her mouth. And if she is in the house? She runs with the item: most often Kleenex or napkins. Frequently she takes refuge under the dining room table where we can’t reach her. Or she darts out and we have to corner her in the living room.

Which brings me to the point: anything that you are eating is better than what she has in her dish. This brings in the aforementioned dynamic of barking. Or jumping. Insisting on her own way. On the other hand, it is a good clean up for the crumbs on the floor.

Walking

Having Ella requires time outside to potty, and walking. This has been an experience. In our many walks she has discovered birds, bunnies, cats and squirrels, oh my! And once she has seen them? She remembers exactly where they reside. So any walk requires a quick check in to see if they are there.

When she sees them she assumes her “attention” stance. Followed by a flurry of barking and pulling. Often she buries her head and shoulders in shrubs or flowers, and all we see is her frantic wagging tail as she tries to sniff out her prey.

Social Protocols

It is important to let the doggos sniff appropriately. A sniff to the rump is most often the preferred choice. And most dogs comply willingly. We have learned early which dogs are not so eager to fall into social etiquette. A short growl might simply imply a bad day.
Hackles raised mean we should stay away.

But if a “match” is made? Happy yipping ensues. Tails wag enthusiastically. Circling around each other, often their leashes intertwined.

BFF’s

Ella has her favorites. She stands on the sofa and looks for Toby and Luna, her BFFs. She knows them by name and knows where they live.
It is quite like joining a dog fraternity.

Neighbors and Friends

Lest you think that this blog is all about our love for our dog? Let me get to the main point. By far, what having a dog has taught us is the neighborhood. We’ve lived here for 27 years. We know many of our neighbors. But now we know people from blocks away. Never before have we known their dogs. We have met a plethora of new people.

She loves all people. Children up the street see her and begin chanting: “Baby Ella! Baby Ella!” And now those little children are dear to us.

I have not mentioned politics in this blog at all—but here is one I cannot resist:

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
Harry Truman (former president of the United States)

Neighborliness

And so we’ve met so many wonderful people, with wonderful dog stories. What is the best leash? What harness works for front pulling?
Where do you go for grooming?
The required walking has gotten us out of the house, and out of ourselves.

A Balm

During this quarantine time, this has been a balm to our souls.
A balm is a fragrant ointment used to heal or soothe. Something that has a comforting, soothing, or restorative effect.
While keeping “Social Distance” (A dog leash is 6 ft. long) we are able to interact with our doggy neighbors. Not seeing friends and family has been hard.

But now, new neighbors and new friends have been made.

And it makes me think, to refer to a common theme of rescue organizations: “Who rescued who?”

Cancel Culture 4

Cynthia L. Eppley

08/12/2020

Cancel Culture 4

This is my 4th and final installment on Cancel Culture. Check out Cancel Culture, Cancel Culture 2, Cancel Culture 3.)

When we were little our mothers may have told us: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
But now we have moved on from childish things.
While we cannot be naive, there must be other ways to deal with life.

A Better Way
Col 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

How Can we Stand?

Rather than promoting hatred and vitriol, can we stand in horseshoes?
Can we be includers?

“If you are standing with other women in a circle and there is a woman standing alone in your circle’s vicinity–the thing to do is notice her, smile at her, move over a bit and say, “Hi, come join us!” Even if she decides to to join your circle–even if she looks at you like you’re crazy–inviting her is still the thing to do. Widen you’re circles. All the time. Also: Horseshoes are better than circles. Leave space. Always leave space. Horseshoes of friends > Circles of friends. Glennon Doyle

This was posted on Facebook over a year ago, and yet it rings even more true today. (Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative—MMHRC)

Micro Scale: The Personal Level

Reflecting back from Cancel Culture 3 ( Cancel Culture 3) if our tendency is to sin, then we would be wise to seek Scripture in how we interact with others. We must examine ourselves.

James 1:19
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Proverbs 18:13
To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:15
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.

Proverbs 18:17
In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.

Entire books have been written on communication. In our vitriolic culture, Scripture speaks into out hearts.

Outrage Culture

John Piper recently posted an article that was timely:
John Piper, 08/03/2020
Brokenhearted Boldness: A Christian Alternative to Outrage Culture
Without a broken heart, our boldness can become brash, harsh, severe, cruel, angry, impatient, and obnoxious—all in the name of Christian courage. https;//www.desiringgod.org/articles/brokenhearted-boldness?

“Today, the need I see for Christian boldness is a little different. It’s not so much that evangelicals are grasping for so-called “Christian America.” Rather, it’s our being drawn into the callout culture, the outrage culture, the cancel culture, the coddled culture. However you name it, it is very angry. And behind the relative safety of social media, it is very bold.
This boldness is seldom beautiful. But some Christian culture warriors are drawn into it and shaped by it, with the result that their boldness is distorted toward the brash, angry, contentious, coarse, snide, and obnoxious. What is needed is not less boldness. No. The world is not suffering from too much boldness in the cause of truth. Rather, what’s missing is the beauty of brokenhearted boldness.

But we know something of our own sinfulness and how quickly we can strike back in the name of boldness. Our prayer is that God would spare us from the distortion of the courage he made to be beautiful, by creating something even more beautiful: brokenhearted boldness.”

Macro Scale: Brokenhearted Boldness

Psalm 51:7
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

James 1:22
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Can we be broken by this life but pour out our life for others? This would be Jesus’ mission.

And in the midst of Cancel Culture, anger, violence, riots and hurt—what can we do in a practical sense?

Youth Life Foundation of Richmond http://ylfr.org

My friend, Heather Goodlett, saw this need in inner city Richmond. And she answered the call.

“The Youth Life Foundation of Richmond operates Learning Centers to develop leaders by making long-term investments in children from at-risk communities. By supporting students academically, developing their character from a young age, raising expectations, and investing in their lives through committed mentoring relationships, these youth will rise above their circumstances to become tomorrow’s leaders.

“Heather began teaching at Glen Lea Elementary School in the fall of 2000 where she was a Title One-Reading teacher and yearned for real change in the futures of her students. In 2000, Mrs. Goodlett became aware of the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation (DGYLF) and Learning Centers in Washington, D.C. She soon began the process of fact-finding, researching, and relationship building, and in late 2001 attended a National Training Institute for DGYLF to begin launching an affiliate program in Richmond.

“The Youth Life Foundation of Richmond was founded in August 2002 and in 2003 became an affiliate of the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation (DGYLF), a proven education and leadership development program started by former Washington Redskin football player Darrell Green. The first Youth Life Foundation of Richmond Learning Center began operating in the Delmont Plaza Apartments, a government-subsidized community in eastern Henrico County, in July 2003.

Heather Goodlett, the founder, was a Title One Reading teacher at Glen Lea Elementary School. She desired to develop a program that could make a long-term commitment to help the children and their families, and ultimately rebuild their community. With the help of the owners of Delmont Plaza Apartments and numerous private donors, this vision became a reality.
In 2008, YLFR opened our second center in the Highland Park community partnering with the Northside Outreach Center. In March 2013, we started a Middle and High School program in Northminster Church called LC Remix. The following year, YLFR started a third after-school elementary program at this church now called Atlee Church Northside Campus in September of 2014. In September 2017, YLFR expanded once again – this time to the Southside of Richmond. Southwood Learning Center for elementary students opened in Redemption Hill Church’s building, The 400.
We currently serve about 50 families and 90 children – and our growth continues.”

Micro and Macro Together

On a micro scale, and on a macro scale: Where can our lives reflect Jesus and where can we be His hands and His feet?
Where can we make a practical difference in someone’s life? In Richmond? In Washington? In Philadelphia? In our neighborhood?


In our violent world right now? This may be the perfect answer.

Open Our Eyes, Lord!

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