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n660523893_2373225_3532784Time away with my sister and her family, in sunny Arizona, was like the wonderful rush of “ahhhh” after a strenuous workout, when the endorphins kick in.

n660523893_2373204_6163129There was much conversation and diet coke (of course!), much laughter, watching movies, sitting in the sun, walking through beautifully manicured, landscaped southwestern neighborhoods with cactus and brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea vines growing everywhere, shopping at n660523893_2373211_6705Ikea for the first time, tutoring my sis on facebook, driving around town in the little pick-up truck with my nephew Curtis, playing with their two sweet doggies, singing at the piano and visiting with my older nephew TJ, playing guitar hero, holding the snake, Vinnie (!) and just plain ol’ heart-warming love.

I always come away from time with my sister a little more enlightened and at peace.   We have a special relationship of openness and trust.

One of her sons, my nephew, yielded to temptations last year and made some choices that led him to time in probation, juvenile detention and now a rehab group home facility where he lives and is working his way through a program of healing and help.  He’s hoping to graduate this year, move out and back home with the rest of his family soon – maybe this summer!  He and his brother got to see each other for the first time in 9 months the Thursday night I was there.  Getting to spend time with both of them was precious to me.

n660523893_2373200_1385522I sat down at the piano to play a little the afternoon he was home with us and he came into the room.  He started singing a praise song I was playing, so I sang, too.  Soon we were singing all the praise songs we could think of at the top of our lungs.  As I listened to him singing the lyrics of “what can wash away my sin?  what can make me whole again? nothing but the blood, nothing but the blood of Jesus”,  “your grace is enough”,  “I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind, still You hear me when I’m calling, Lord, you catch me when I’m falling and you told me who I am…I am yours”  and “my chains are gone!  I’ve been set free.  My God and Savior ransomed me.  And like a flood, his mercy rains, amazing love, amazing grace”  tears stung my eyes and God convicted me.  I realized that I had held some judgment in my heart towards my nephew for the things he had done last year, almost as if he were a worse sinner than me.  I hate to even type those words but that’s how I felt.  As I heard him singing so passionately about God’s grace and forgiveness, God reminded me that if it weren’t for grace I’d be lost just as much as anyone else.  My sins are just as filthy and repulsive to God.  I should be so grateful for God’s love and mercy!  God showed me that he had truly forgiven my nephew and was creating a new person in him – a fresh start.  I told my nephew how much I loved him and that I could so clearly see God’s peace in his face, see purity and honesty in his eyes.  God is a god of new beginnings and I got to see one in process, right before my eyes, in the heart of someone I love deeply.  What a huge blessing!

Since I flew standby, thanks to my sister’s sister-in-law who works for Southwest Airlines, my trip home was a bit of an adventure.  I’ll share that story in another post.  Anytime I started to feel frustrated I would remember the special moments with my sis and her family and would realize it was totally worth it.  I’m so thankful for the chance to see them, especially to see my sweet nephew whose path is finally taking him out of a horrendous wilderness into newness and promise.

It seems to me that most of life is made of wilderness, challenge, difficulty, hard work, even pain.  These add dimension to what would otherwise be a flat, two dimensional life.  The mountaintop moments are not the norm but they’re so much more blissful that way.  If it was always that way we wouldn’t relish them so much or even realize how beautiful they are when they come.

I’m back to work and “real” life but feel refreshed after my getaway.  It will carry me along for some time until the next little “oasis” on my path.