This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Posts tagged ‘regrets’

The Old Paths: Our Loss, Heaven’s Gain

(This was originally published in The Stokes News on December 8, 2011, in my regular column, “The Old Paths.” Due to the fact that all Internet links were broken to our old articles when Civitas Media switched websites, I am slowly but surely posting all of my old columns in my blog so that they will be archived as they SHOULD’VE been on the newspaper website.)

Mike Joyce, the longest-running sheriff in Stokes County history!

Mike Joyce, the longest-running sheriff in Stokes County history!

It was a breezy Sunday morning in Iowa. The September sun shone on my ballcap-clad head as I walked into the tunnel made by the arching cornstalks at the Field of Dreams.

I plucked an ear of corn and guiltily put it inside my jacket. Even though I had found no restrictions on picking corn, I still worried that I was committing a crime. Was that the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson shaking his head at me?

But ever since former Sheriff Mike Joyce had shown me the ear of corn his stepson Joe had brought him from the Field of Dreams, I had been determined to have one. And now I couldn’t wait to tell him about mine.

I never got to tell him.

Once home, I had to work furiously so I could resign from The Stokes News in late September. One of my final stories was about Joyce preparing for a bone marrow transplant and the importance of him being shielded from infection.

So I figured I would just save the story for when he came home from Duke Medical Center at the first of the year. He and I had big things to do! We shared a dream–to create a Stokes County Sports Hall of Fame/Museum.

On the old paths, I’d go to Danbury each Thursday to pick up the public records for the paper. If it was “my lucky day,” Sheriff Joyce would beckon me into his office–a baseball lover’s dream. His cherished baseball memorabilia adorned the walls, the cabinets, the desk.

I never tired of hearing his stories–usually baseball stories, because he was one of the few people I knew whose passion for that most excellent sport surpassed even my own. He’d loan me baseball movies, tell me little-known baseball facts and often discuss Stokes County’s own rich baseball heritage.

Sheriff Joyce felt that Stokes should have a place where local sports heroes and their accomplishments could be memorialized for the public to view. His idea captured my fancy.

I imagined the fruition of that dream. I could see the ribbon-cutting, with Sheriff Joyce presiding and local sports legends present–the Nunn brothers from up Nancy Reynolds way, Kenny Dennard, Bill Murrell, Dusty Ackley, Mikey Joyce and so many others.

I had a sneaky little plan to persuade museum supporters to name the museum in honor of Mike Joyce. I kept my idea under wraps because he would have protested, being the incredibly humble and unselfish man that he was.

We never got to plan that museum together. Just two months after Sheriff Joyce announced in late 2009 that he would not seek re-election, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

I watched him fight the good fight for nearly two years. Although I wasn’t the sports editor, I begged to cover him throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in April 2010 when Field Two at Lions Park in Walnut Cove was named after him. He reminisced about coaching teams there, telling me how he still had the game ball from when his son Mikey pitched a perfect game.

It was a cruel blow to hear that the leukemia had reared its ugly head again late in the spring of 2011. But through aggressive treatment, it was soon forced back into the abyss where it belongs.

And then it was time for the final assault on the disease–a bone marrow transplant that would conceivably put the lid on the cancer and bring Joyce home again to his beloved wife Gail and family, his trusty motorcycle and plenty of good sports to watch.

But none of us are promised tomorrow, and neither was Sheriff Joyce. Before the transplant, leukemia came back with a vengeance for a third time. I kept thinking that surely such a great man who had done such enormous good for Stokes County wouldn’t die before enjoying retirement. It didn’t seem fair somehow.

But that’s not how it works. In this fallen world, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, and as Billy Joel sang, sometimes “only the good die young.”

I was on the road to Orlando, FL, when a county leader texted me on December 1, “He’s gone to Heaven.” I was asked to write the newspaper story even though I was on vacation and was no longer the editor of The Stokes News. I gladly wrote it on my laptop as my daughter drove. It was loaded to the website using McDonald’s free Wi-fi in a little Florida town.

I spent the evening searching for remembrances of Sheriff Joyce on Facebook, taking notes on the heartfelt stories I found there. And then it hit me. I was doing exactly what writer Terence Mann (played by James Earl Jones) did in the movie that Sheriff Joyce and I loved so dearly, “Field of Dreams.”

Mann collected notes from personal testimonies about the life of a small-town doctor–Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. I had once compared Sheriff Joyce to Graham in a feature story I wrote, and now I was collecting testimonies about him. Both men had dreamed of playing professional baseball.

Here are the last couple of paragraphs of my 2009 story:

Archie Graham makes it to the majors for about five minutes—not even long enough to get one at-bat. He returns to his hometown and becomes a doctor who is beloved by the entire region for over half a century.

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) agonizes over Graham’s coming so close to a dream that was never realized. “Some men would call that a tragedy,” he insists.

The wise old doctor replies, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, then that would’ve been a tragedy.”

Many would argue that the analogy is a good one for Sheriff Mike Joyce’s life. Law enforcement may not have been the “field of his dreams,” but he has striven to fulfill his destiny with loyalty and integrity. A tragedy, perhaps, for Joyce that he didn’t get to play major league baseball, but a tragedy indeed, for the citizens of Stokes County, if he had.

When Mann interviewed the locals about Doc Graham, he heard how children who could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing would never be denied these essentials because Dr. Graham would make sure they were provided for.

Similarly, I heard stories of Sheriff Joyce’s big heart. Kathy Grubbs Marshall told how she dropped in one day to see her grandpa about six months after her grandmother died. Sheriff Joyce was there and confessed that he often went by to check on Mr. Burke. He was so at home there that he went to get the “nabs jar” and they all shared a Pepsi.

Mr. Burke was a staunch Democrat and Sheriff Joyce, a rigid Republican. But that didn’t matter when it came down to deeper issues of the heart.

Another person told how the unpretentious sheriff once dressed up as a woman to take part in a womanless beauty pageant to benefit a young boy who had leukemia. Jennifer Mickey Fulp shared the story of Sheriff Joyce going weekly to visit her ailing grandpa, former Stokes County Sheriff Clyde Duggins.

No fanfare, no self-promotion, no ulterior motive other than doing the right thing and caring about fellow human beings.

Was he perfect? Of course not–the only perfect man walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

But Mike Joyce will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best people to ever breathe our good ole Stokes County air. He was one of the most beloved leaders in county history, with support from people in all political parties.

Sheriff Joyce, I will miss your quiet laugh that sometimes made no sound but shook your body. I will recall your compassionate eyes and hear your slow-paced, kind voice. I will remember your true humility and integrity and use it as a model to aspire to.

I will even admit that I pulled for the Texas Rangers in the World Series but am still glad your beloved St. Louis Cardinals won, for your sake.

I hope to press on with plans for a Stokes County Sports Hall of Fame/Museum, but it won’t be the same without you. I won’t rest until it bears your name, but how I wish you could be there to cut the ribbon.

But you’ll be watching from Heaven, I figure. I’ll bet that somehow you even know about my ear of corn from the Field of Dreams in Iowa. Hope to see you on the other side–on the new paths where there is no leukemia, no sickness, no pain.

And if there’s a field up there where old baseball players go to play the games of their dreams, save me a spot on the bleachers right beside you, will ya?

Me and Mike Joyce at WCLL

Me with Sheriff Mike Joyce on the opening day of Walnut Cove Little League when Field 2 at Lions Park was named after him. He threw out the first pitch of the 2009 season.

Your springtime is coming

Sometimes in the midst of summer’s heat, there comes a day like today–a day that seems to be set out of time. The humidity is suddenly incredibly low. Skies are the vivid blue of early autumn rather than the diluted blue of midsummer. The air is fanned by a gentle breeze that remains cool throughout this rare day when late June temperatures have plummeted from the mid-90s to the upper 70s.

When I awakened this morning and saw the type of day I had been given, I felt a special essence surrounding it. I was mentally transported to late September when summer’s heat gives way to pleasing temperatures. My 14-year-old daughter Abigail must’ve felt the same thing. She kept repeating, “It feels like fall!”

Even now at 8:08 p.m., I sit on the deck and marvel at the stellar beauty of the day. Little birds peck in my flowerbeds near me and chirp merrily. The begonia given to me by my precious Aunt Audrey last fall delights my eyes with its pinkish-red blooms. I think of how I wondered if it would live until spring when she placed it in my care last October.

But somehow–despite my tendency to let summer’s leftover hanging baskets die inside throughout the winter–this lovely begonia survived. And now it blossoms luxuriously, lending beauty to my summer days on the deck.

You know what? I feel like that begonia now. And I feel in my Spirit that many of you readers do, too.

You’ve been through troubles and trials in your life and you’ve wondered if you would make it through the long winter that seemed to linger. Sometimes the days felt mighty cold, and you would’ve given anything for a little warmth. You woke up many mornings to a gray sky of life and prayed the sun would somehow break through your circumstances. Maybe you are still there.

Well, guess what? Our God will never fail us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). Hang on a little longer; your springtime will come. God is intrinsically a God of redemption, renewal, revival, regeneration, restoration, refreshing. He wants to renew YOU, restore YOU, regenerate YOU, refresh YOU, revive YOU, redeem YOU.

Just like the begonia that struggled to make it inside a house when it longed for the outdoors, that often suffered from lack of water due to the dry winter air inside, that needed more sunlight than it could get through my bedroom window–you, too, will once again feel the refreshing spring air, soak in the spring rains, flourish in the light of the abundant sun.

Maybe you have already come through that dark winter and are currently being refreshed by your springtime season. Then reach out to help and encourage others who still linger in winter’s chill. That’s why I’m writing this to you.

Do I have trials and tribulations? Sure do. Are things perfect in my situation? Of course not–this world is not Utopia. Do I worry sometimes and feel gray? Yep.

But despite these things, I feel like the begonia. Today, I have been so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the gratitude I feel toward God that I had no way to express it. I have a peace I have never had before, a love for people that oozes out of me until I don’t know what to do sometimes, a confidence in the favor of God in my life that I never knew until I came out of that dark winter of 2007-10 (yep, that long).

If you haven’t gotten there yet, HOLD ON! Our God is indeed faithful and true. His plans for you are of peace and for you to have a good end. Praise Him even when the results seems to be negative. Contact me and I’ll praise Him with you and encourage you.

Some of you don’t feel that you deserve to be happy. Admit it; you don’t. You feel that you have failed God so much in the past that you don’t merit the good things He wants to bless you with.

Hate to tell you this, but guess what? You DON’T deserve the blessings. Neither do I. But our God delights to bless His children. Quit thinking you’re not worthy; that can chain up your blessings. Sure, we’re unworthy in ourselves, but the blood of Jesus has made us worthy.

So, yes, because of Christ’s sacrifice, you do deserve the happiness He desires to pour upon you. You got divorced, you say? You spent some years seeking fulfillment through alcohol or drugs? So you tell me you had sex before marriage or maybe even with someone else while you were married? You hurt somebody really badly in the past? You gossiped relentlessly about a brother or sister in Christ? You had a bad attitude a lot of the time while your children were little?

Okay, join the ex-sinners’ club; come have a seat on the front row with me and most everyone else in the world. We’ve all been there, done something similar to that in some degree.

Did you repent? Are you not committing that act(s) today? Are you working diligently, with God’s help, on your attitude? Are you trusting God to fully deliver you from any addiction that lingers?

Then move on and enjoy the life you’ve been given by God. What’s done is done, and you can’t go back and undo it. And if you feel that because of the mess you made, you really shouldn’t be happy now, then think again.

Our redeeming God doesn’t want you in sackcloth and ashes for the rest of your life. He doesn’t expect you to figuratively wear widow’s weeds forever because of your dark past.

But a word of warning from one who knows: SOME PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY SELF-RIGHTEOUS CHRISTIANS OR THE ONES YOU HURT BY YOUR PAST BEHAVIOR, DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOU HAPPY AND THRIVING. Shocker, huh?

There will be those–yes, Christians primarily–who think you smile too much “after what you did and how you behaved back then!” They want to see you pay the price, be miserable, hurt on and on. I was told by a friend of mine once that a woman I knew from church years ago gets so angry when she sees me in public and I am so full of joy; she thinks I should remain in sorrow for some of my actions of the past.

That is not God’s way. If only she knew how many nights I cried myself to sleep, how many days I wondered if the sun would ever shine again, how many times even now that I hurt with longing to be with my kids when they go to their dad’s house periodically, she might be satisfied with the degree of my pain.

I even overheard a “Christian” the other day on a cell phone, talking to someone who has obviously been done wrong by somebody else. That “counselor” was telling the person not to worry–that the bad person would “get theirs.” Even if they seem to be prospering right now, the “Christian” said, never fear–they’ll get what’s coming to them. The tone was very vindictive.

Yes, unless we repent, we will reap what we sow. But should we as Christians be so vengeful as to wish somebody would “get theirs”? I think not. But this Christian obviously wants someone to pay a heavy price.

If I spent the rest of my life bemoaning the less-than-satisfying way my life turned out and/or the sins I committed, then I would be of no use whatsoever to the Kingdom of God. He has set me free from my past, given me a present that is so full of joy and peace I want to explode, and promised me a glorious future with Him.

I know I’m talking to somebody who is nodding their head right now, saying, “YEAH! I know exactly what she means!” Get back up, shake yourself, commit your future to God and move on. Quit living in the realm of shame, you redeemed person you! Get your smile back. Laugh a little.

About two to three years ago, I realized that I was laughing again. I had not been aware of the fact that I had spent the last few years before that not laughing much at all. And it hit me that my laugh was now totally different. It was louder, full of bubbling joy, frequent. I honestly think I laugh more than anyone I know. I would even startle myself when I would burst into laughter at commissioners’ meetings while covering them for the newspaper when Stanley Smith would say something funny.

And I knew then that God had restored my joy–nay, even doubled it from before those dark winter years. Like the begonia on my deck, I am flourishing, and God’s favor follows me. Life won’t be perfect from here on out in this fallen world, but I have the assurance that my GOD will work ALL things (even bad ones) together for my good (Romans 8:28).

He’ll do the same for you. Hold on to God’s promises–YOUR SPRINGTIME IS COMING!

I won’t go back

You might figure that I–the gal who writes a column called “The Old Paths” for the local newspaper–would be tempted to spend too much time focusing on the past. I am indeed your local spokesperson for the “I can’t deal with progress” movement. So I often find myself with my face turned backward, longing nostalgically for what I sometimes paint erroneously as “the good ole days.”

Paradoxically, I am also a visionary who dreams of what can be. I look far into the future beyond today’s complications, clearly seeing with a prophet’s eye what awaits us if we move positively ahead in God’s Spirit.

Sandwiched somewhere in between is the present in which I have trouble living. My address tends to be either 666 Yesterday Road or 888 Tomorrow Street.

Since my separation from my ex-husband in 2007, I have spent a lot of time craning my aching neck toward the past–agonizing over where I went wrong, where we failed, what we could’ve done to fix it, what an ideal marriage could’ve been.

Is there anybody out there like me who spends time assessing the damage from the past and ends up getting bogged down in misery? Let me clarify that I am in many ways the happiest I’ve ever been. I am recently remarried to a kind, thoughtful, moral man that I absolutely adore who serves God and works hard so that I can stay home to homeschool my children and to pursue ministry in Walnut Cove. (Disclaimer: references to any good qualities of my hubster are not negative reflections on my ex-husband who also has many good qualities.)

I have an exhilarating liberty now in following the call of God. I have awesome family and friends. I laugh aloud a lot–something I didn’t realize I had lost until suddenly it came back–but now my laugh is different–louder, more joyful, more spontaneous. It’s as if I’ve tapped into a freedom and boldness that I had been too intimidated (my own fault) to step into before.

But at the same time that true happiness is present, there is an ever-present grief that hovers beneath the surface, just waiting for a weak moment to rear its ugly head. It picks those times that I am unusually tired, physically challenged, or alone late at night. Then that grief swims to the surface and bobs there until I must deal with it.

It is the grief of being divorced, the agony of having nights my children aren’t physically with me. I rehash events all the way back to the early days of that failed marriage, wondering how it could’ve been different. I ponder it over and over and over and over. . .

I didn’t get my Little House on the Prairie life–with a passel of kids (yes, I realize I have five), Ma and Pa smiling patiently despite blizzards and grasshopper plagues, happy times around the fire with Pa’s fiddle. And thus I mourn the loss of the ideal.

My daughter Meghann, with her practical wisdom, reminds her sentimental mom that we live in a fallen world. Nobody tends to get their ideal life. Most people suffer some kind of tragedy or loss–a little boy might lose his dad to cancer, a husband might gamble away his family’s earnings, a woman may never find Prince Charming to sweep her away on clouds of marital bliss. I’ve seen parents who dream of hearing the pitter patter of little footsteps never be able to conceive and bear children.

So, yes, the sinful nature of this world more often than not rules out the “happily ever after” life.

But we rise up, repent if we’ve been guilty of sin, trust in God as a Redeemer, and move on into the future with the hand we’ve been dealt, whether by our own choices or someone else’s.

But I’m not too good at moving on. I can enjoy the present life at the same time that I spend way too much time bemoaning the failures of the past. Like a movie that is rewound time and time again, I mentally replay circumstances that are long past. And I cry bitter tears.

That was the scenario this past Saturday night. The hubster and I had had a stellar day–my son’s basketball game that morning, a fun grocery-shopping excursion, a cozy afternoon nap, Super Bowl-style food for the exciting NFL playoff games, topped off by Bible study.

My first mistake was giving in to the urge to drink the forbidden soft drink–a caffeinated one at that!

Yes sirree buddy, I was still wide awake at 3 a.m., staring into the darkness. I started off well, spending time in prayer. But that specter of “past failures” was looming nigh. Before long, I was mired up to my neck in the mud of a past I cannot change. For the thousandth time, I imagined what the ideal life could’ve been.

I wasn’t even praying, when all of a sudden I had myself a vision. A bonafide vision from the Lord. Seemingly from nowhere, I clearly saw a huge, metal door with elaborate locks on the outside. That gigantic, heavy door slammed firmly shut and the locks were set.

That was the extent of the vision, but the Spirit of the Lord began to deal with me immediately about the meaning. God was kindly but firmly instructing me to close the door on the past and not open it again. It isn’t that I am not supposed to learn from the past in order to improve my future. It is that I am to STOP hindering forward motion in my present life by keeping my face angled toward something that doesn’t even exist anymore and never did in the first place. I am to stop mourning something I cannot change.

There comes a time to take off the widow’s weeds, fold up the sackcloth and sweep up the ashes. If I don’t, I will never move confidently into the future.

When He did what He did for me in the middle of the night, I was so overwhelmed with the gratitude of His caring that much about me, that I almost immediately fell asleep in peace. I have now lived three days with no regression. If a grief-stricken thought tries to rise up, I see that humongous door shutting with finality. And I move on.

Since then, everywhere I look, there are confirmations of this express command of God to not go back. The very next morning at church, my friend Sandy brought her new gospel CD by William McDowell. She wanted us to listen to a song called “I Won’t Go Back” to use as our theme song. I had never heard it. After a few measures of it, I was totally sold. It quickly became my favorite song.

I won’t go back. The door has shut. God doesn’t want His people to mourn forever something they can’t change. He wants them to progress, to move forward in Him toward a new, albeit unexpected, life–a thriving life where they can say, “Look what the Lord has done!” Not to justify the failures and brokenness of the past, but to proclaim that He is a Restorer of our joy, a Mender of broken hearts.

Do you sometimes feel chained to your past, trapped on the broken road of your life? Well, I’m here to tell you: shut the door on what you cannot change and turn your face to the plans that your God has for you–plans to prosper you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to bring you to your expected and positive end.

Make a positive declaration to the enemy who rubs his hands together in delirious glee when you stay mired down in the muck of the past. Declare today in the words of McDowell’s song: “I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be, Before Your presence came and changed me. All my shame. . .guilt. . .sins. . .they’ve been forgiven, No more chains, fear–my past is over.”

Then shout it out with McDowell and his choir, “I am never going back to the way it was!”

And look unwaveringly forward with unobstructed vision to the bright future God has picked out just for you.

 

(To hear William McDowell’s song,”I Won’t Go Back,” click on the link below. I posted the long version which has an instrumental part which is good for an extended period of praise and worship. Enjoy this anointed song!)

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