The Gentleman

I love this picture.

Christian took it with his drone when the two of us snuck away last fall to Rockland Lake State Park in Rockland County, NY.  He also made this movie:

When I caught sight of this amazing creature, it took my breath away.  Bursts of autumn rusts and golds amid the greens served as the perfect backdrop for the lone marvel of the sky, its stately reflection dancing up towards the sunlight.  The bird, majestic and graceful, its wings outstretched, its blue-gray feathers gently moving with deep, deliberate strokes above the water.

How effortlessly he seemed to fly, this great blue heron, his twiggy legs dangling, his long powerful wings carrying wherever he wished.  So handsome was he, this “Lord of Rockland Lake”, clothed in sunlight and splendor.

I named him The Gentleman.

In homeschool this week, we are studying gentleness, which our family counselor, Dr. Wayne Schantzenbach, describes as, “strength under control.”  The kids and I have enjoyed many conversations about this important character quality, one which Christian and I strive to not only instill in our children but also model for them.

We sometimes fail, sometimes miserably, but it remains a goal.  And we’ve found that the “I’m sorry”s that follow the failing often serve to teach and grow us up together.

I’m thankful to have Someone to Whom I can turn for help in the midst of my struggles, the One whose gentleness surpasses all.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV).

Thank You, Lord, for this majestic bird, a breathtaking reminder of Your unsurpassed strength that can carry and keep us through every storm – and beyond.

Stuck – in a Good Way

What’s the current song that’s stuck in your head?

Mine won’t leave – I pray it never does.

In one fell swoop, Hillsong Worship’s Grammy Award Winning Song, What a Beautiful Name, has bombarded my every waking minute with not only its captivating melody but also its soul-stirring lyrics, even stealing into my dreams throughout the night.

I love it.

I sing it constantly.  My kids are sick of it.  They actually love the song, too, but they have long since passed the point of retaining any fond feelings for it.  I’ve ruined it for them, I suppose.  Sorry, dear ones.  I simply cannot stop.

What’s funny is that I’ve caught them humming a few bars here and there.  Hannah hollered at me last night as the first few words rolled off her lips.

“Mom!  You’ve got that song stuck in my head!”

I grinned.  “Well, it’s a good song – ”

“I know it’s a good song.  I just want to sing what I want to sing, and this is all stuck in my head.”

“Um, sorry, I guess?”  She laughed.

“It’s okay, Mom.  It’s stuck in a good way.”

My life is an endless song, as it seems some melody or another constantly runs through the chambers of my heart and echoes through my mind, playing a melodious background that surfaces whenever I find myself engulfed in silence.  I remember each of them, these welcome friends, played over-and-over, journeying with me through one or more of life’s many seasons.

I know what played on the radio (Mighty to Save) as Christian and I drove away from the hospital the night of John’s successful surgery.  I will never forget how God used Laura Story’s Blessings to soothe my soul during dark trials and Hillsong’s At the Cross and Oceans to quiet my heart throughout countless nights.  My spirit still thrills whenever I hear Kari Jobe’s Forever and Nicole C. Mullen’s My Redeemer Lives.

Like a patchwork quilt woven together with precious scraps of the past, each song telling its part of my story, my song plays perpetually in my mind.  I am grateful for this most recent addition.  What a Beautiful Name It Is will forever be my 2018 winter/early spring melody, one full of basking in the Precious Name of my Lord Jesus and how Beautiful, Wonderful, and Powerful He is.

I’m thankful it’s stuck – in a good way – both today and beyond.

 

It Is Finished

I don’t remember a super-sunny Good Friday.  Ever.

Perhaps somewhere in the world, but never where I’ve been.  And that’s okay with me.  It matches my mood as I take more time than usual to remember the life of Christ.

My dad took part in an Easter musical years ago when we lived in Texas.  Our church performed it in my high school (which was huge – 707 in my graduating class!) and put on a stunning recreation of Jesus’ story.  It bore great significance in my life – I still sing many of the songs to this day at the top of my lungs when I shower.

But sadly, when I went to retrieve the DVD of his musical yesterday, I couldn’t find it.  Grrr!  I was not happy about not partaking in what has become one of my most precious Easter traditions.

I opted for my second choice, The Jesus Film.  

As I watched it with my children, I found myself struck once again by the submission of Issac.  My Pastor, Frank Bolella, had taught a few months ago about Abraham sacrificing his only son, the one he had waited for and yet been called to give back to God.

Believing God would somehow restore Isaac’s life, Abraham headed out with two servants and his son, finally stopping to do the deed atop Mount Moriah, the very place where hundreds of years later, Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of the world.

Isaac carried the wood on which he would lay, as Christ did His cross.  And once Abraham readied the altar, Issac took his place, without struggle, without malice.  He submitted fully to the will of his father and became what would have been a sacrifice.

If I had been Isaac, would I have tried to reason with my father?  Would I have insisted a lamb would have proven good enough, a substitute God would surely accept?  Would I have thought my father mad and launched a physical defense?

Would I have been so humble?

Had Isaac not yielded, he would never have known the miraculous outcome of his remarkable obedience.  How his father heard the angel’s voice commanding him not to slay his son.  How the testing of God brought about tremendous blessing for generation upon generation.  How well Isaac modeled the actions of the One Who ultimately died for him.

For you.  For me.

Abraham sacrificed a ram caught in the thicket that day as a substitute for Issac.  Years later, there was no sheep in the thicket, no last-minute intervention by a just yet grieving Father.  He provided the ultimate perfect sacrifice, His Son.

Jesus.

Rejected by friends.  Declared insane by family.  Tortured while innocent.  Envied by leaders.  Despised by brothers.  Beaten without cause.  Spit on by soldiers.  Mocked by accusers.  Denied by disciples.  Scorned by thousands.  Abandoned by followers.

Separated from His Father.

Unfathomable pain, a wounding only imagined by man.  Neither the bleeding nor the beating, not the thorns or the nails, but the searing agony of feeling forsaken by the One He loved most ultimately cost Him the most.

All that He may utter, “It is finished.”

Jesus’ passionate pain of great price ushered in the most magnificent victory that ever was and will ever be.  Crushing victory over the enemy and all his treasonous angels.  Victory over sin and death, suffering and sorrow, pain and sickness.

Victory to be enjoyed and celebrated forever and ever, thanks to One with the humility of Isaac, a lowly Carpenter named Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior of the World – Hallelujah!!!

 

 

Ironman Fran

“Hey Beth, Tony texted me.”  Drawing near the kitchen table, my husband paused as he placed a hand on my shoulder.  “Frannie passed out, so he called 9-1-1.  They’re at the hospital.”

I hate news like that.

We’ve borne far beyond our share of bad calls within our family over the years, but to receive one pertaining to my dear friend, Fran Lombardi, rattled my cage.  In an instant, my Cheerios® and banana breakfast became pebbles in my mouth, the rest left behind in the bowl, morphing into a soggy, pasty mess.

It’s amazing how one phone call can jolt us out of the present, thrusting us into the reality of our own mortality.

Please, Lord!  Not Frannie.

I’d met Frannie two years ago at a church retreat, and as we chatted over a cup of tea, I found her to be one of the most positive people I’d ever met.  Over time, we became dear friends, as I gleaned much from her quiet, gentle spirit and loving ways.

I didn’t want to lose her.

Thoughts raced like Thoroughbreds through my mind as I fumbled for my phone.

Dehydration?  Heart attack?  Stroke?  I gulped.  Cancer?  

I shook my head.  Stop diagnosing, Beth, and call Tony!

I punched in his number.

Her husband didn’t answer, but Christian and I offered our prayers and support on voicemail.  We rushed the kids through breakfast, and as I began getting them dressed to go to the hospital, we got word that Frannie was okay.  Earlier in the week, she’d caught a cold, and the ER doctor believed that the OTC the medication she’d taken had caused her blood pressure to bottom out.

Thank God!

Frannie is a Stage IV lymphoma survivor.  She’s enjoyed remission as long I’ve known her, but the what-if has reared its ugly head the few times something unusual has happened.

Like when she and I had planned to race the Demarest Triathlon together back in June of 2016.  It was my first race, her third, and we were excited.  We trained hard.  Our amazing husbands supported us like crazy, and somewhere between homeschooling and writing, I squeezed in my workouts in preparation for the sprint distance event.

Roughly one month before race day, I got the call.

“Frannie’s in the ER.”

She’d been over-training, gotten dehydrated, and simply tanked, but the whole experience shook us all and left sweet Frannie completely wiped out.  We all knew she shouldn’t race, but hats off to Tony for the way he handled it.

“It’s her decision.”

Frannie chose not to race, but selfless as usual, she encouraged me to compete.  I hesitated, but when I saw how much it meant to her that I continue, my mind was made up.

Press on, I did.

The remaining training proved nothing short of grueling for me as I dealt with the “knowing” Frannie wouldn’t compete, but her episode at the hospital stirred something inside me, a growling, burning passion that compelled me to move forward, faster, father.  Gratefulness that her cancer had not resurfaced surged within me, and when June 6th arrived, I stood ready at the start.

I raced alone.  For Frannie.

For all of her seemingly wasted hours in the pool, on the bike, and on the road.  For all the disappointment she’d surely felt for not being able to race the tri herself.  For all of the recent fear she’d had to face and the questions her heart had undoubtedly asked.

For the fact that she was alive and cancer-free!

And there she was, on the sidelines, cheering me on every step of the way along with Tony, Christian, and the kids.  She’d poured all of her disappointment into one big lump of encouragement, offering me strength in spite of her weakness, the epitome of a precious friend.

Thank you, sweet Frannie, for your millions of smiles and thoughtful words.  Thank you for loving on my kids and calling them precious.  Thank you for making the calls that count and being our family’s friend through every storm.

A friend [who] loves at all times. (Prov. 17:17)

Frannie went on to race the following year.  I had to sit out due to injury, but I look forward to racing with her (Lord-willing) this summer.

What an honor it was to watch her run, bike, and swim (with our families and our good friend, Mark), to cheer her on from the sidelines, to witness these special moments of victory in her life!  I don’t remember who had the best official time that day back in August, but I will forever remember the winner.

Iron Man Fran.

Please click the link below if you’d like to see Iron Man Fran in action:

A Smiling Six

Abby Mae turned six on Friday.

Her smile says it all.  I have zillions of pictures of her, but this one makes the top ten without question.  Sheer joy encompassed her in the Chuckie Cheese ticket blaster as she frantically grabbed at colored scraps swirling all around, shrieking with delight.

And to think I almost didn’t get to write this.

Nothing short of miraculous is her life.  Even her birthdate, 3-16, symbolizes the hand of God upon her soul.  I tell the whole story in one of my favorite blog posts titled 3-16, linked below.

https://drinkingfromthewell.com/2017/03/16/3-16/

 

A Timely Reminder

It’s finally done.

After years of living it, writing it, and praying over it, the manuscript and full proposal for my book, Carried & Kept Through the Hospital: A Provider, Patient, and Parent’s Perspective, stand complete and ready to head to the literary agent I at a conference who was interested in representing it years ago.

I pray she still is.

God’s timing is perfect.  While I sat in the River Edge Diner (locals have dubbed it the R.E.D.) on Monday night madly typing, a waitress approached me, peering at my screen.  She’d taken care of me before, and even though I had not been seated in her station, she’d wandered over to say hello.

“What ‘cha writin’?”

I told her briefly about my blog, Drinkingfromthewell.com, and its purpose, to help families during crisis and beyond.  Her face paled as her eyes clouded with tears.

“I sure could have used that.  My brother died in May of 2016 of ALS.”

She launched into a heart-wrenching account of her family’s struggles with his diagnosis,  their difficulties in acquiring resources for his care, and the toll it took on all of them.

Her story moved me.  Hers was the face of why I sat surrounded by piles of papers at a greasy spoon in the late evening hours, urgently refining pages crammed full of information that I believed would help families in their most desperate hour.

Families just like hers.

How timely the reminder.  As I finalize the proposal to send out tomorrow, please join me in praying that God would open doors far and wide for our family’s message of hope, help, and healing.  May many hear and be blessed.  May many be helped and find hope.  May all turn to Him, that He may carry and keep them.

Always.

Fight the Good Fight

Ever had a close call – the scary kind?

I have.  The time when two men followed me around Wal-Mart and then out to my car.

On Father’s Day, 2016, my family and I had stopped to pick up a few groceries after church to make a scrumptious celebratory feast.  I flew through the produce section, grabbing a watermelon and onions, unaware until I reached the back of the store that I was being watched.

I passed the children’s clothing section and noticed two tall European-looking men sporting casual business attire eyeing me.  They carried no basket and pushed no cart as they huddled along the edge of the aisle, one fingering a rack of dresses, the other boldly staring, his hands in his pockets.

Odd, I remember thinking, what are two businessmen doing in a closed toddler girls’ department?  (We live in a county that only allows pharmacy and grocery purchases on Sundays.)  I thought it strange, shrugged, and moved on.

I had a feast to prepare.

Shifting my focus to the five-item list, I grabbed a pint of cream, a gallon of milk, and a box of butter and then scurried to the cashier to make the purchase.  Within minutes, I realized that the unnerving pair had parked themselves at the store exit.

No bags in hand.

I gulped.  There I was in my mom-dress, trying to play it cool.

Is this all in my head?

I completed my transaction and walked slowly toward the door, questioning whether-or-not the fiction-writer in me was having a heyday.  As I approached, I found no trace of the pair.  I exhaled loudly, allowing myself a small smile, chastising myself for getting all worked up.

Beth, Beth – you silly goose.

My husband, Christian, had parked close to the door, so I headed to the car.  Even before I reached it, I could tell he was yapping on the phone with his dad, wishing him a Happy Father’s Day, no doubt, as the kids bounced around in the backseat.  I whisked open the trunk and unloaded the bags.  As I reached back for the last item, I gasped.

One of the men stood there smiling wide, holding my watermelon.

My heart stopped.  Not in a good way.

Pretending to be helpful, he moved close to me, passing the watermelon in front of my face and into the trunk a little too slowly.  I felt another person move directly behind me, and as I tried to turn around, I realized I couldn’t.

He was that close.

I froze.  It took me a moment to process that this was actually happening.  Shock overtook me like quicksand a gazelle, and I found myself engulfed in a quagmire of danger.  Fear threatened to immobilize my ability to escape, and my would-be captors capitalized on my hesitation, gaining great and strategic position.

Flight-or-fight kicked into high gear and ushered in a growling Mama Bear Morgan.  Just as I was about to unload every jiu-jitsu takedown I’d practiced with my kids, the watermelon dropped into my car with a thud.  My eyes whipped to the carrier’s face, now covered in terror, his eyes riveted on one thing.

Christian staring at him in the rearview mirror.

And then they were gone.  Just like that.  Vanished into thin air.

Thank God!

I slipped into the car, not quite right.  Music swirled around me as the kids sang along, clapping and nodding their heads to the beat.  Christian, oblivious to the danger lurking outside, ended his happy chat with Dad and then smiled at me.

“That was nice of that guy to help you with the watermelon.”

Not really.

After I told him what happened, he made a U-turn to go back to Wal-Mart, hunt them down, and clean their clocks.

That’s MY man, ya’ll.

It being Father’s Day and with a carful of hungry kids, we settled for calling Wal-Mart security.  They handled my call well, stepped up parking lot patrols, and reported it to the local authorities.

The incident shook me more than I would have expected.  It also made me realize the value of being prepared for such a time as that.  We just never know.

I detailed the incident to Professor Wil Horneff of Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu and MMA in Westwood, NJ, ending my account with, “Maybe the guys were just trying to be nice, and I misread them.  Maybe they just like watermelon.”

Wil shook his head.  “No.  They had a plan.”

We’d met Wil during a time of great instability in our lives.  Our family had just survived several life storms, moved to New Jersey, and wrestled with how to return to normal life while daily grappling with intense post-traumatic stress.  At one point, we had huge concerns for our son as he seemed unreachable, unable to focus, and unaware of the depth of his need for help.

Our pastor recommended we try jiu-jitsu at Training Grounds.

From day one, we were grateful.  Master Wil took John under his wing, and within three months, John became Student of the Month.  Abby and Hannah sat on the sidelines watching John’s classes.  Soon, they asked to join the ranks, and now, all three of our kids have gained a solid foundation in self-defense through the extraordinary programs at Training Grounds.

Master Wil is fantastic, an award-winning black belt as well as a gifted teacher and communicator.  My kids love him.  All the kids love him.  He’s like the Pied Piper.

Adults, too.  Law enforcement, military, active adults wanting to stay in tip-top shape.  Wil just has a way with people.  Tough skin, warm heart, great teacher.

Winning combo.

Master Wil knows what it’s like to be bullied.   He knows what it takes to stand up and face anyone with confidence, not looking for a fight but ready to face whatever comes his way.  Everyone in class benefits from his years of experience as he pours not only skill training and technique but also wisdom and character into his students with the intent of preventing problems before they escalate.

He strives for excellence in every aspect of his organization.  Wil’s wife, Alisha Horneff, not only does a fabulous job running the office, but she also helps train the female students in the adult classes.  The other Training Grounds staff members are top-notch, too, working together to ensure all who enter receive the best possible experience.

Hats off to you, Wil, for leading by example.  Thank you for sowing not only valuable skills but also excellent character into the lives of our kids.  Thank you for inadvertently teaching me what I needed to know if things had gone differently that day back in June.

You and the entire Training Grounds staff are a blessing to many.  I thank God for you and pray He continues to use you in powerful ways to train up warriors to fight the good fight.

To the end.