The Ring

Her name was Lora; one day she would be Lora Ragan, and she would be Lora Ragan for most of her life. For more than fifty years she would carry that name, but the day that Clarence Ragan gave her the ring…that day she was just Lora. william clarence and lora raganThe origin of the ring is uncertain since Clarence was not known to be a wealthy man, but he must have thought only such a costly gift was worthy of the one he loved and worth whatever cost or effort it took to obtain it. The ring was beautiful, made of white gold encasing a beautiful red ruby, and it embodied a love and signified a promise that would forever change her life…and someday her name.

Almost ninety years elapsed and the ring was passed on to her great-grandson, Joshua Ragan Ward, whose middle name was Ragan in honor of these great-grandparents. Sometime in the decades that passed the large ruby that had once set in the center had been replaced, but it was still a beautiful and valuable heirloom…a gift worthy of his one true love.

IMG_3179And so, on September 27 in honor of the anniversary of their wedding day in 1924, the ring that once signified the promise of marriage and symbolized the engagement of Lora to Clarence Reagan, was given with the same promise to symbolize the engagement of Jennifer Lara to Joshua Ragan Ward. This beautiful white gold ring with its red stone, the birthstone of its new bearer, once more embodies a promise to forever change a young girl’s life…and someday her name.

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A Forgotten Love

IMG_3173I knew the weeds were growing taller but I have tried not to notice as I pass the garden on my way to the barn each day. It was hit hard by hail in mid August and I have abandoned the ruins. Shredded leaves, fatally bruised and rotting vegetables, and dying plants are now hidden by the weeds that were fed by the rain. It seems odd that the same storm that destroyed so many plants gave life to others, and while the recent hot days of late summer have wilted the few surviving flowers, it has done little harm to the weeds.

dsc_0028.jpgThis morning, a day off and a morning to linger compelled me to venture into the garden that seemed so unfamiliar and lost. I have never left a garden to erode into such a state. My gardens have always been such a source of pride and pleasure to me. But as my grown children now have lives of their own, my work force has dwindled and I find my own time consumed with the busyness of life that leaves little time for gardening, yard work, sewing, crafting, canning, cheese making, and other things that once served my family and gave me such pride and pleasure. IMG_3172Walking through my garden, I am saddened by the ruin but I am not motivated to move garden cleanup up on my list of priorities, and as I evaluate my life, I realize that the things I once loved must be put away – at least for a season- as other things demand my time and my heart.

As I wander through my abandoned garden, I wonder what other loves have laid claim to my heart. There are so many good distractions in my life that it is often difficult to recognize when my heart is so crowded with love for good things that it has pushed out the most important things. While gardening may worthy and productive, I pray I will always remember that a task is never more important than the people it serves. And while I want to live the life of a virtuous woman, I never want a love for prideful virtues to overshadow a love for my Lord. Sometimes it is so easy to love good things that we forget our first and only real love and that our time and our life belong to Him. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”  It is easy to say we aim for heaven, but so often it is really difficult to know our own hearts and truly recognize who or what it is we love. The older I get the more I see the need to surrender my life to the potter’s wheel; there is still so much of me that needs chipped away and reshaped and remolded. I want to be filled to overflowing with a bigger love while I freely surrender and abandon the treasures and pleasures to which I cling, and my heart gladly says with the hymnist, “Have thine own way…. Mold me and make me after thy will.”

My garden is overgrown and abandoned; it is a temporarily forgotten love, and one day there will be time to clean it and put it in order, but I pray the only love I abandon in the midst of a busy life is a love for those things that are temporal as my heart clings ever stronger to that which is eternal.

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When Did Summer Grow Old?

IMG_1241Every year, sometime around the end of July, it always surprises me to suddenly realize the days are once more getting shorter. You would think that since I get up at the same time everyday – seven days a week – and head to the barn at the same time everyday that I would notice the gradual change, but every year there is always that quiet, dark, morning when I suddenly notice how dark it is and that the early mornings are no longer lit with the grey light of pre-dawn. For me that moment always marks the beginning of the end of summer; even though quite often it feels as though summer has just begun.

By mid-August, I am flooded with memories of back-to-school days – both my own and those of my children – and I am once again reminded that summer is passing. I have always thought this remembrance of school days and summer’s end was brought to mind by the overflow of school supplies that flood the stores and the ‘back-to-school’ sale ads that inundate me wherever I look, but perhaps my memories are also integrated with the changes in the season as summer grows old and fall hints that it may soon make an appearance.

Yesterday I took a short morning walk and thanked the Lord for a day to move at a slightly slower pace. As I was enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of an early summer morning, I realized that there is something almost undetectable in the look of the land, the position of the sun, and even in the faint smells that fill the air that are reminiscent of the subtle passing of summer. Summer is growing old and its passing reminds me that although the seasons repeat themselves and are reborn every year, no two are ever exactly the same. Each passing year brings its own trials and sweet memories as the seasons of our lives pass almost as quickly as the seasons of the year. There will always be days that responsibilities demand we keep up with the hectic pace of this world, but as summer draws to an end, I am reminded once more to live fully in each season, pausing as often as I can to enjoy each moment fully and fill them with thanksgiving and praise knowing that summer is growing old and I will not pass this way again.

When Did Summer Grow Old?IMG_0891

The trees are fully clothed,
The grass is lush and green,
The flowers are in full array,
They make a lovely scene

Sweet scent of rose fills the air.
The garden shares its wealth.
Fluffy clouds fill big blue skies.
Summer seems in perfect health.

But walking this quiet morning,
I’m suddenly saddened to hear,
“Summer is growing old”
The breeze whispers in my ear.

Her days are growing shorter,
Though lovely despite her age.
Her demise has been foretold;
Summer is now a sage

When exactly did she age?
I ask myself in sad dismay
Pausing to mournfully admit
I know she will soon slip away.

I ponder how I spent her youth?
Did I treasure her young days?
Was I grateful for the sunshine
And each new grand display?

I think about the many days
I rushed so quickly through,
But I’m thankful to remember
I stopped to enjoy a few.

As summer grows old unnoticed,
Seasons of life pass quickly away.
I’m reminded to be thankful
And enjoy each passing day.

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Remembering Justin – remembering and reposting

I’m reposting from the archives today but as I read over this post, I am again awed by how quickly time passes. Today would have been Justin’s twenty-seventh birthday! I am thinking about him today and remembering all the life lessons, heartache, and joy his life brought mine and praying that as my editor and I work on the final version of my book My Journey with Justin it will someday be an encouragement and a blessing to someone else.

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I sit on the grass and arrange the flowers in the vase, their bright artificial color making a pretty display. I pull green runners of grass away from the stones and look in awe at the date carved in granite – August 7, 1986. Have 25 years really passed since I gave birth to a beautiful, red headed, little baby boy?

I think back, not to the day of his birth, but to a bright summer day 20 years ago. We celebrated that day he was five – presents for Justin and his brothers, a cake with cars, crayons and school supplies for our new venture into homeschooling, and new shoes he didn’t think he needed.

Who needs shoes when the summer days are warm and the green grass feels soft to bare feet? It was a year of abundance – abundant rain, abundant grass, abundant joy.

So much can change in a year. One year later we brought him home from the hospital with a day pass to spend his birthday at home. We wheeled him into his room in a wheelchair on loan from the hospital hoping the sight of his room would somehow trigger a reaction – a smile, perhaps an attempt to communicate. Nothing. His Daddy and I sat in his room and cried the first bitter tears of reality. The bright, comical, talkative, little boy was forever changed. There were no pictures, no cake, only presents that we opened for him – toys we hoped he might someday hold- toys that would be put away never to be used. The only ray of joy in that bitter year was the addition of a beautiful little girl born just weeks before his sixth birthday in the midst of that long hospital stay and lost summer.

Today as I pull grass runners and uncover the gray stone, I find I am just as awed at the second date carved in the rock – March 3, 2004. Seven years have passed since he left our earthly home. I grieved that night of his death, just as I grieved that day when we brought him home for his birthday – that deep, heart wrenching grief that hurts the chest and steals the breath.

I grieve again today, but the hurt is not so deep because I am reminded of the life that forever changed mine. His passing, both times, brought pain, but his presence – especially the child that would never walk or talk again – taught me the truth about joy. God used his life to teach me how to be abundantly happy despite circumstance; to be truly joyful – that dance in the kitchen gladness that overflows into praise. And so, today I take flowers and remember Justin and joy!

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Allured by Grace

GraceRecently I was reading in the book of Hosea. I always find it amazing that I can read a story that I’ve read many times before and suddenly see it in a different light – in gospel light.

In the second chapter there is the description of the calamities that befall a harlot – the harlot Gomer whom Hosea took as a wife – and the Lord uses this visual picture to warn the people of the calamities that will befall Israel…and his redeeming love for her. But as I was reading, verse 14 of the second chapter caught my attention, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.”

I will allure her… When I first read this story, I thought about God pursuing the sinful and rebellious and his redemption of the unworthy, just as Hosea goes and redeems Gomer and brings her back so he can once more be a husband to his adulteress wife. But allure is not the same as pursuit. To allure something or someone is to attract them to you. Here in this verse, God is not pursuing the wicked or tracking them down to bring them back to Him, he is simply revealing himself and the appeal of his unmerited grace becomes irresistible – it is alluring.

The story of Hosea is a warning of pending judgment on a rebellious nation but it is also a beautiful story of mercy and the appeal of unmerited grace, and yet, I think we often fail to see the real beauty of grace in this story because we do not relate to Gomer or identify with her. It is so easy to read of God’s just punishments poured out on a wicked nation and those who practiced those things that scripture calls abominations and see them as wicked, rebellious, and wayward, and we would be right – they are; but if we could see how often our own hearts seek to satisfy, gratify, and please self – if we could see the depth of our own sin and our love for other things and self pleasure more than God (even in our pursuit of God) we would see that we too are the harlot. We are retched, horrible, sinners worthy of death and yet we are pridefully self-righteous and think that because of the good we do, we are worthy of grace – we may not want to believe we think that, but the truth is… we do.  We are not touched and transformed by the gospel story of mercy, grace, and redemption because we do not think we need redemption that badly. We identify with the prophet in this story if we identify with anyone at all, but certainly not with the harlot. We are just too good to be the harlot.

Henry Scougal wrote a small book when he was only 27 years old titled The Life of God in the Soul of Man this book had a strong influence on many great men of God including George Whitefield and Charles Wesley. John Piper quotes Henry Scougal in his book The Pleasures of God. The quote used by John Piper was this, “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”

When reading this quote my first thought is, of course, that the Lord is the object of my soul’s affections, but the more I looked inside my heart and judged it by its actions, I realized that most often self is the object of my affections. Most of the time my heart seeks to satisfy, gratify, and please itself even in its affections for God and others.

Of course there is a desire in my heart to do good, and like Paul, there seems to constantly be an inward war raging between my desires and my nature, but the worth and excellence of my soul cannot be assessed just by what it wills, but rather by what it loves. John Piper says, “The true dimensions of a soul are seen in its delights. Not what we dutifully will but what we passionately want reveals our excellence or evil.” John Piper focuses the first six chapters of his book The Pleasures of God on the attributes and pleasures of God. This is an excellent book and one I highly recommend, but we do not need to read John’s book to discover the attributes God, we can go to the source John used – scripture. Just as affections for others grow – particularly young lovers – as they learn and discover more about each other, so will our affections for the omnipotent, omnipresent, preeminent God grow as we focus our thoughts on the knowledge of him.

“The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” Oh how I want to say that God is the sole object of my deepest affections! But while my heart battles within to understand and know what is the true object of its love, while I am trying to will my heart to love, while I seek to know all I can about a God – and a love – I cannot comprehend; all the while, I am being allured by irresistible grace. He pursues us and redeems us, and just a glimpse of His grace can captivate our hearts and we find He is … at least for the moment … truly the only object of our affections because we are always the object of His.

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Daily Distractions

IMG_3135Two weeks ago, work finally slowed down and I have enjoyed several days off. The first several days I was battling a bad cold and so it was nice to have most of the week off and time to rest and recuperate. I’ve been looking forward to work slowing down some and I was trying to keep my ‘to do’ list short so I would have plenty of time to journal, blog, work on an article and my book edits, and maybe even have some time to visit and catch up with friends. I was also eagerly anticipating spending my early mornings taking long, quiet, walks and doing a little extra Bible reading. I would have time to relax and truly enjoy all the beauty and wonder of summer – or so I thought.

But Saturday, as a second week without much work was drawing to a close, I was again wondering where the week went. I did send a few long overdue letters and cards to a couple of distant friends and a letter of encouragement to my kids, but there are still letters and cards that remain unsent. I had a few phone conversations with close friends and family members and spent one day with dear friends, but more than one promised lunch date with other close friends remains undone and unplanned. Gone were the grandioso plans to make great strides on my book edits – revisions were made and sent back to my editor but not much faster than the pace I’ve managed to maintain even while working. Early mornings were given to extra chores instead of long walks while blog posts and journal entries were squeezed around yard, garden, barn, and household tasks with only a little more time and attention than they are given when I am working. I rested a little more, wrote a less than I planned, and daily struggled with a barrage of distractions that bartered for my time. There always seems to be countless household tasks that go unnoticed and undone for days, weeks, and even months at a time that I somehow feel must be done when I am off. I often remind myself that in the grand scheme of things they matter little, but some of them I conquered anyway while others remained undone and the days came and went and the weeks passed quickly by.

During these past weeks I realized there will always be a struggle to do those things my heart yearns to do. Quite often I must decide what the best use of every precious moment is and many times the decision will be between what is good and what is better. I am sure there will always be a battle against daily distractions and assumed responsibilities whether they are related to work and financial obligations or the everyday tasks of running a household.

Saturday I again welcomed the opportunity to carry the mail and this week there are other welcomed opportunities to earn the income I need. My daily battle to stay quietly content and rest peacefully knowing God is in control is a surprise even to myself. I struggle not to complain when work combined with the daily responsibilities of my household make for long days and short nights and many times I must be determined to do what lays heavy on my heart even when I am weary. But when work allows a reprieve, I worry if there will be enough income to outlast the month. Instead of rejoicing that I finally have the time to do those things I love to do, I battle against a barrage of daily distractions and complain that there is never enough time. I like to think it would be easier to write without the burden of work – and perhaps it would – but eliminating outside work and the responsibility of earning an income does not completely eliminate the daily distractions that can steal my time and leave me disappointed and discouraged at what I’ve really accomplished.

My real battle isn’t work, it is an inner conflict between what I know to be true and a doubtful self that is never satisfied with the abundance it is given but always frets over both time and money. How I long for a heart that could forever conquer self and truly rest in the knowledge that God is sovereign and His provision is always enough. He provides exactly what I need in both time and money – each in season and in perfect balance. So once again, as I must do over and over, I remind myself to rejoice and be glad for God is glorious and sovereign and I am abundantly blessed.

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Exhort One Another

Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement and implored him to exert himself. ~ The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

IMG_3132When my children were little they loved the stories of Beatrix Potter. One of my sons especially loved the beautiful language used by Beatrix Potter in her stories and often used her vocabulary. This was one of his favorite passages and he would implore his siblings to exert themselves when he thought they needed some encouragement while learning to ride a bike or swim or struggle through some other difficult task.

I often used it too, especially when my children were learning to swim. As long as they were kicking and paddling they could keep themselves moving and keep their head above the water, but as soon as they began to tire and quit struggling against the water, they began to sink. Of course they also learned to float, but while floating gave them a chance to catch their breath and regain their strength, it did not move them through the water, so I would watch and cheer them on imploring them to exert themselves and keep kicking and keep paddling.

Today all my children are grown and they no longer struggle with childhood challenges, but as I watch them trying to make their way I often want to implore them to exert themselves as they struggle with sin, temptations, and the difficulties of this world. Unfortunately, life is much like a long swim and while we may need those seasons in which to float and catch our breath, we must keep struggling or we may eventually sink.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to encourage one another in much the same way the friendly sparrows encouraged Peter when he gave himself up for lost. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” ~ Hebrews 3:13

Thinking about how to continue to encourage my children in their struggles against their weaknesses and how to inspire them, I thought about the apostle Paul. Paul viewed the churches he helped establish and the people in them as spiritual children and he wrote to them to instruct and encourage them. Although he spent hours preaching and teaching, his letters to the churches were able to extend beyond the reach of his voice.

When my children were younger I tried to take time to talk with them often and while I didn’t always know their struggles or understand the challenges they faced, I tried to encourage them to do the right things and make wise decisions. Although they are now young adults, I still try to take time to talk to them and encourage them, but I don’t always say all that is on my heart. It can be difficult to parent adult children. I no longer want to chide them or correct them, but I don’t want those words of exhortation to remain unspoken simply because they are sometimes difficult to say.

Occasionally, I have sent group emails to my children when I needed to communicate something to all of them or when I want to encourage them and remind them I am praying for them, but I have been thinking that perhaps I do not write to them and encourage them often enough – I think about encouraging them and sharing things I have discovered with them far more often than I actually do. We live in a time when communication is easier and quicker than ever before in history, so shouldn’t we take advantage of the technology available at our fingertips? Letters have long been a means of communication between family and friends and there are many famous examples of letters of exhortation great men of God have written to their children or their spiritual children. Emails may be a little more time consuming and inconvenient than a text, but like a letter, they allow you to choose your words carefully and they can be read and reread. We may not write with the excellence and wisdom of those great men before us, and emails/letters do take time and careful thought, but what is the sacrifice of a little time if they can encourage a grown child, a brother, a sister, or a dear friend? 

While I wish I could spare my children many of the trials they may encounter as adults and the struggles with self and sin that they may face, I know that it is the difficult things in life that mold us and shape us. So I hope that I can encourage them to keep kicking and keep paddling when life is difficult and when they feel like giving up or think they have failed, I hope that I can always implore them to exert themselves. And it is my continual prayer that I can exhort them and encourage them lest any of them be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

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