And if not, he is still good

January means something different to me this year. It is a reminder of the loss of my mother one year ago. It is also a reminder of something much more life-changing than loss. Loss is one of those things where we never know how we are going to respond when it comes. The anticipation of loss is nearly as cutting as when it finally arrives. We learn much about ourselves and our spiritual status when faced with it. We can become angry and halted by suffering or become strengthened and deepened. When my family and I were introduced to my Mama’s cancer, I was uncertain which of these I’d be. Would He heal her? If not, would I still praise him? Would I still call Him good?

After my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the next couple of years were full of ups and downs in her health. She gradually declined physically while maintaining her devotion to her Savior, there was no one she loved more. By 2015 Mama’s cancer was in her lungs. On December 9th, 2017 I got a call. The call I prayed would never come.

“It’s time to come home”.

When I got there, everyone was already gathered. I walked into my Mama’s room as they were preparing her for the ride to the ER and then later to hospice house. She looked beautiful, but she had always been remarkably good at keeping up appearances for her children, no matter how she felt. The last couple months she had been cared for, day and night by my brother and my dad. Her body had limited her to only moving from the bed to the recliner, while being aided by an oxygen tank. She was in constant pain and often would sleep for long periods of time. There she sat and her face told us she was ready for what was next.

That night in the ER the Lord started a work in our lives that my family came to call “Daily Grace”. When you go through something like this there is a strange marriage between the moments that you are “ok” and the moments where you struggle to just simply breathe. Every single moment was orchestrated by our Lord. Every time we would “lose our breath”, something amazing would happen. God would happen. The Lord would send a friend, family member, and even strangers to surround us with Love. They brought us food nearly every day, they made gifts and cards and came to say thank you and pray with the woman who lived life for her Savior in front of them. 

Many people followed Mamas story, pouring the love she had once shown them – back into her and her family. During these last weeks, like every week she lived before, Mama’s main concern was telling everyone about her Savior. To make them aware she knew where she was headed, and she that was ready to go. She made everyone else her ministry in whatever way she could. Mama would refer to the nurses at Hospice House as her “angels”. The closer we got to Christmas she insisted I find them each an angel, so they would know she was grateful and loved them.

The first night I spent with her there, she gave me a list of what she wanted to get the family for Christmas. I still keep it on my phone and look at it from time to time. Though her mind had started to fade, she was determined to leave us all with something special.

Looking back, I find it significant I could help fulfill these wishes. Beyond the gifts she had chosen for each of us, she wanted to get us shirts that said, “Nani’s Tribe”, and to leave us all each a clay cast of her fingerprint. My sister and I were both carrying her grandsons, and though she would never meet them, she left them each a stuffed animal with a recording of her loving voice inside.

Over the course of nearly a month, my family and I took turns being with Mama. She asked that each of us spend the night with her alone and it was a time my siblings and I will treasure. She was careful to have moments with each of us. To forgive us for the past, to hold and love us now, and encourage us into our future. This became such a time of redemption and beauty. Mama had weeks where she seemed like “her old self”. We laughed and cried but mostly she used the time to pitch us toward the Lord.

On Christmas Eve we went over to Hospice House and brought her “special gifts” from her to the grandkids so she could see the joy she had brought them through one more holiday. Truth be told, she was losing what little stability she had left and didn’t recall much of this night or the next day. We gave them the gifts we had for her and dad and for the first time in thirty or so years, they spent Christmas in a house apart from their kids. 

I knew this would be the hardest night, not just because it would be their last Christmas Eve together but because of the beautiful thoughtfulness that had gone into each of their gifts. My dad had prepared a photo album of every single year they had spent together. On the cover was a metal heart that read “fairy tales do come true”. The book started with their very first family pictures and closed with a beautiful collection of the last family photos we took of her first full day at Hospice House. For my dad, Mama had made him a metal print of her favorite photo of them with the quote “I wouldn’t have missed this dance for anything”, scribed on the side. It was so important to her to have done for him. I can’t imagine the tenderness of that night but I suspect it was the most beautiful depiction of selfless love. 

Christmas morning, our church family had prepared us an entire Christmas feast that warmed our stomachs and our hearts. There is something so remarkable about the love of God through his children.

New Year’s came and went. Mama was noticeably close to home. The Doctors told us that now Mama had lost consciousness, she wouldn’t wake again. But they were wrong. Mama had been different the last week or so. She developed a characteristic called “terminal agitation”, where unfortunately the person who is ill becomes angry and irritable. They develop ideas that the people around them are there against them somehow. This broke our hearts. We wanted her to know we loved her then and would always. Even though we were told it “wasn’t her” it was hard not to take to heart. Still the Lord was good. Despite the doctors saying she wouldn’t, my Mama woke up in clarity one day from a nap. I was holding her hand and talking to her with my oldest sister. She looked at us and said.

“I love you!” 

In the next moments the room was filled with the sound of Mama going down the list of “her people” and saying she loved them. We promised we would tell everyone, and we did. That was the last time my mother was conscious.

The next several days were bittersweet. We took turns sitting with her, rubbing her hands, reading her scripture and talking to her about the snow that kept falling. She loved snow. What a strange thing it was to get so much snow in North Carolina at that time and I remember thinking it had come to usher her home.

The night before Mama had passed away, most of us stayed over. It was like the Lord had given us a special insight. My oldest sister, my dad, and my brother and I took turns sitting with her. I had the first shift this night and I couldn’t seem to let it go. The Doctor said she couldn’t speak but there was a possibility she could still hear. I painted her nails, held her hand, and told her “I love you” a thousand times. I prayed all night.

The next morning, I woke to dad coming into the waiting room. Moments later my sister sent my brother in to tell us Mama was doing something different. Mama’s breathing was staggered. Sometimes several moments would go by before she took a breath. As the doctor came to my side of the bed and my brother returned to the room, Mama drew her last breath.

The Lord had taken our Mama into his presence and were honored to “usher her home”.

I find this part hard to write because my nature fumbles over the visions of my mother’s final moments. But my spirit rejoices because her story doesn’t stop here. There is hope because of Jesus and she is with Him, so very alive!

Our pastor walked into the room only minutes after Mama’s passing. 

He had no idea of his timing.

This was God!

The songs playing in the background for her last breaths were “Jesus I love thee” and “It is well”.

God!

An unexplainable peace overwhelmed us as my family huddled around her bed and thanked the Lord for her life.

God!

Always God!

God was in everything through this time in our lives. He still is. Nearly a year later, my family has not stopped feeling the ripples of His love. And more than ever we can see that they were there all along.

I don’t know your story. Your story may be nothing like this. Your story may be living this out right at this moment. Whatever the case, here is what I’ve learned.

He is still good.

He turned a time that should have been the worst in our lives, into a something incredibly beautiful. Every single day, God was there for us and He will be there for you too. Through loss, illness, and even death. Trust that He is there and still good.

Billy Rae Whittaker, a blessed child of the King, daughter, wife, and mother, lives in central North Carolina. Lover of people, all things design, and who spends the majority of her time dreaming big and planning her next family adventure. At the age of 14 she started her own business BRIMdesign. She specializes in branding, web design, and photography where she focuses on helping small businesses, organizations, and entrepreneurs realize their dreams by creating their professional image. When she isn’t building up her community of professionals, she enjoys partnering with churches and missionaries to create an online presence that glorifies the Lord and gets His message out.
www.brimdesign.com
iola magazine even in the deep

From deep to still

It is one of the most beloved and well-known passages of scripture:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” Psalms 23:1

Conjuring up an image of tranquility, comfort, and assurance, it speaks to the Father’s love and care of his children. But it also makes me wonder: if God is leading me to still waters, then why am I so often in deep waters? How did I end up there?  

Instead of lying down in lush greenery next to the softness of a babbling brook, I am more prone to find myself treading water while a storm rages around me. I feel more like Jonah awaiting the arrival of a monstrous whale than I feel like Peter walking on the waves.  

We were not made to live in the deep waters, you and I.

In fact, our human bodies can only skim the surface of the ocean’s depth; an experienced diver may go as deep as 130 feet, but that is miniscule when we realize that the ocean is over 12,000 feet deep!  

Genesis 1:2 uses the Hebrew word, tĕhowm, to describe the ocean as a deep place, the abyss, the grave. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep….”  

The same term is used in Job when God berates him for his arrogance in Job 38:1 

“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” He carries on in verse 16, “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep (tĕhowm)?”

As the Creator, only God understands what mysteries the deep holds and has walked among its subterranean stage and its vast array of amazing creatures. This place is not for man. Our bodies were not designed to live in its cavernous space – we would be crushed long before we would reach our destination. The tĕhowm was a place mankind was not designed to live in or likely ever to see. 

Therefore, God does not call us to live in deep waters. When He calls us into the water, He either intends for us, like Peter, to walk on water, or, as He did for the Israelites, He parts the water so that we might walk on dry land. We may go over it; we may go through it, but we are not to go under. We were not created for the deep waters and to the deep we do not belong.  

We belong on the green pasture beside the water. So how do we get there? 

Katie Gamble

Firstly, we must follow. God can’t lead us to still waters if we are not following Him. Sometimes we are more like the prophet Jonah, than we care to admit: determined to follow our own path in direct opposition to what God has called us to do. When we wander off on our own, we inevitably wander into trouble. At some point, we find ourselves having gone further than we thought we would, our feet having drifted deeper into the wrong direction. The water seemed calm at first….the sun was shining…the waves were gentle and soothing…

but suddenly, the weather shifted, and we found ourselves caught in the middle of a furious storm without a life preserver.  

In these moments, the deep waters are a consequence of our foolish choices, and it might get worse before it gets better. A whale might not look like an answer to prayer, but it just may be exactly what God sends to rescue you. When we repent, God forgives. When we invite Him to lead us once again, He takes back the reins and leads us to safety.  

But we can’t assume that every difficult situation is a result of our disobedience. Sometimes we find ourselves in deep water with the best of intentions.

In Matthew 14, we read the story of Peter. After feeding a crowd of five thousand, Jesus dismissed his disciples and went to pray. The disciples gathered in a boat to take them across the sea. They had already sailed a good distance against the wind when they saw Jesus walking on the lake. They were terrified, but Jesus called to them, 

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (verses 27-29)  

It is in these rare moments, when our love and trust of Jesus outshines our fears, that we attempt to do the brave and the impossible. So focused and intent are we on gazing upon our Saviour that we forget who we are and where we are: we see only Him and He is enough. We step out in faith, forgetting for a moment that we are treading on dangerously deep territory, and for a split second, we are walking on water!  

Then, just like Peter, we notice the wind howling around us – the overwhelming set of circumstances we face – and we begin to sink.  One moment we are sailing above our circumstances and the next we are crashing in defeat.  

We cry out to God. And once again, He reaches out to pull us toward safety. He who walks among the deep also walks on the waves and knows we are unable to without His mighty hand.  

If you find yourself thrashing in deep waters of difficult circumstances, know that God is in the business of rescuing. He may part the waters, or He may enable you to rise above your troubles, but rest assured that when we call on His name, He will answer. 

 “The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.”  Psalms 34:22 

Maria Dyck is passionate about helping women stand on the Firm Foundation that is Jesus Christ. A writer, musician, wife, mother and occasional chicken farmer, you can find more of her writing at www.whenwallstumble.net
iola magazine even in the deep

Paper cut flower picture

bloom paper cut picture

In the winter, waiting for spring can seem never ending. We get desperate for bird song and blossom and tulips. Whilst we can buy flowers all year round there is nothing quite like seeing nature come alive in spring in glorious pretty colour. This paper cut flower picture is a way to get creative and adorn your home with a flower that won’t die. It’s a little mindful making project and we have the instructions and template below for you to make your own beauty.

“The earth laughs in flowers”

Emerson
bloom paper cut picture
Paper cut flower

Materials & Equipment

  • plain card
  • colour or patterned paper picture frame
  • craft knife
  • cutting mat
  • printable template below

Place your template on top of some white card. Place both on top of a cutting mat.

Tape the template down to the mat to avoid movement.

Using a sharp craft knife, follow the lines of the template. You may need to go over the lines a few times to cut through the paper and card.

When finished push the ‘petal shapes’ up away from the back card to create the 3d effect. 

Using a picture frame without glass or a box frame, place your dahlia card in the frame with a sheet of coloured or patterned paper behind.

Hang and admire!

iola deep playlist

iola magazine deep playlist

We are excited to let you know that the new issue of iola is coming in January 2019 and this is the playlist we have made to go with the theme of the issue.

iola magazine: living life well – even in the deep is an issue that explores how we live when we feel stuck or buried or when we want to go deeper with God and what that means. Now you have a playlist to listen to when you are thinking about this new year, plans and dreams. Maybe last year was not what you hoped it would be, maybe you have a change coming, perhaps nothing feels like it will ever change. This issue will treat you kindly with articles from women that have travelled similar paths to you.

We love these songs by these artists and think they suit the themes of articles coming in iola: deep but the inclusion of these artists in the playlist doesn’t suggest they have endorsed the magazine!

You can listen to the playlist on spotify here:

iola magazine playlists

iola bloom playlist

The new issue is coming this September 2018! We are so excited! This issue will have the theme of bloom. Like last issue we have a themed playlist that goes along with this iola Bloom issue, and whilst you are patiently waiting for the next issue to be available, we thought we would release this playlist suggestion to get you excited about the coming issue. Now you have a playlist to listen to through August while you have the kids home from school or whilst on one of those long road trips, or relaxing by the pool or on the beach! Introducing the iola magazine  bloom playlist.

iola magazine bloom

We love these songs by these artists and think they suit the themes of articles coming in iola but the inclusion of these artists in the playlist doesn’t suggest they have endorsed the magazine!

So if you have Spotify you can listen to this playlist here:

If you don’t have Spotify just search out these songs on your favourite player and create your own playlist – we are sure you will love them!