My jaw clenched as I smoothed Emma’s yellow satin dress. “Hold still.”
Fighting a frown, I ignored her giggles and tied the orange sash into a bow. Precisely aligned front and center. At least I could still control some things. My fingertips lingered at the hem of her dress.
“Isn’t it perfect, Mama?”
“Of course. It’s the perfect length for showing off long multicolored, mismatched socks. The perfect style for twirling.”
The perfect reminder of my helplessness after my only child begged me to sew the orange sash under the empire waist. Orange was the new black in my world.
Emma’s arms quivered like sprigs in a cool spring breeze as she adjusted her yellow knitted cap until its orange bow rested over her right ear. “How do I look?”
I prayed the sting in my eyes wouldn’t trickle into reality. “Peautiful!”
Her naked brows lifted over wide maple-syrup eyes. “You mean beautiful?”
“Nope. Peautiful! Perfect and beautiful.”
“You’re so silly, Mama.”
“Let me get a better look at you, Emma Bear.”
“I’m too old for nicknames.” She pinched each side of her skirt between her thumbs and pointing fingers, spreading the material into a fan. She swished her arms right to left, gazing into the full-length mirror. “I’m almost thirteen, you know.”
Almost. Not thirteen, yet. I bit my lip. “Does that mean I can’t call you Princess, either?”
Emma placed one palm flat on her chest. “Only a princess can dance with the King! That’s not a nickname. It’s my life.”
I turned toward her canopy bed and preoccupied myself with a wicker basket full of colorful patterned socks.
Emma hugged the white bedpost. “So, when are you going back to the studio?”
“Leave it alone, Sweetheart.”
“Miss Sarah’s a great dancer, but you’re the best teacher.”
I held up a matching pair of blue socks with pink polka dots and purple triangles. “For the umpteenth time, I’ll go back when I’m ready. We can’t rush God’s timing.” We couldn’t slow down His timing, either.
Emma plunged her hand into the basket and pulled out a purple sock decorated with neon green-and-black zebra stripes. She snatched one of my polka-dot socks and held her creation at arm’s length. “Now these make me feel like dancing.”
“The clashing patterns?”
“The color of joy.” Emma closed her eyes and tilted her head toward the ceiling. “The kind of joy we can’t lose, even when we’re sad.”
Forgive me, Lord. Please, help me with my unbelief. I coupled a rainbow-striped prize with the abandoned polka-dot sock. “How about this mismatched sensation?”
“I could twirl across the clouds in these.” Emma grabbed the socks and scooted to the middle of the bed. She stretched the cotton to her knees before blessing me with jazz hands and a tired laugh, complete with a soft snort.
I placed the laundry basket onto the floor and eased onto the bed. Leaning into the oversized pillows nestled against the headboard, I invited her into a side hug.
Emma settled next to me, smoothed her dress and adjusted her sash. She wiggled her toes and crossed her hands over her chest like Sleeping Beauty. “I’m ready now.”
I wasn’t ready. I would never be ready. I pulled away from my daughter, slid off the bed, and stumbled across the hardwood floor until the garage door closed behind me. Crumpled on the cement floor, I inhaled the fading scent of my father. The sunset pouring through the windows painted his tool wall with a soft peach glow.
Emma entered the garage. She clutched a mismatched pair of neon socks in her small fist. “Do you remember what you told me when Poppa Joe went to Heaven?” Her voice flowed like a hymn, soft and sure.
I pressed my cheek into the cold cement when I felt her frail body against my back.
“You said perfect healing comes when we get to Heaven with Jesus.” Her fingers combed through my hair. “You said Poppa Joe wasn’t hurting anymore.”
I pushed myself into a sitting position, slid my hands down my face, and turned toward my daughter. Emma’s smooth bare brows and relaxed grin kissed my heart.
“Don’t you believe what you told me, Mama?”
“Of course I believe.” I pulled her close to my chest. “It’s just hard.”
“God’s with us, Mama. I feel Him.” She handed me the pair of socks she’d been holding. “May I have this dance?”
I helped her to her feet, kicked off my blue ballet flats, and pulled on one rainbow striped sock and one yellow sock with hot pink hexagons outlined in neon green. I stood and extended my hand.
Emma’s laughter bounced off the walls when I twirled her in two complete circles. Her skirt rose and fell like gentle waves lapping onto a sandy beach.
After our dance, I tucked her into bed and knelt beside her. “Would you like me to pick out a pair of fresh socks?”
“I want to wear these tonight.” She placed her hand in mine. “Will you wear your dancing socks, too?”
I tapped the tip of her nose with my pointing finger. “I just might have to start my own collection.”
“I would like that very much, Mama.” She huffed a chuckle. “Will you sleep with me tonight?”
“Anything for you.”
“Of course.” I lifted her pink Bible off the nightstand.
“Go back to the studio. Teach them to feel the music, just like you taught me.” She closed her eyes. “Imagine Poppa Joe and me dancing with you.” Opening one eye, she grinned. “Freestyle!”
My laughter was like an abandoned gold mine. “It’s getting late. What do you want me to read today?”
Emma’s clasped her hands together. “Psalm thirty. Verses ten to twelve.”
I flipped through the crinkling pages. As the words blurred, I prayed for the strength to read without wavering voice or faith.
“Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
I set the Bible on the nightstand and said a short prayer before curling up next to my daughter and wrapping her in a hug.
“You’re holding on too tight, Mama.”
I forced myself to loosen my embrace and kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry, Baby Girl.”
“It’s okay.” She leaned into me. “I love you, too.”
Emma took her last breath less than three months later, a week after we rang in the New Year.
The yellow tulips in our backyard didn’t bloom as bright when they popped out of the ground the following spring. The warmth of the sun pricked my cheeks like pine needles. Still, I kept my promise after the summer haze surrendered to the nip of autumn.
When I lugged a cardboard box into the dance studio, Miss Sarah had the girls lined up at the bar in front of the mirrors.
“You’re back! You’re back!” A gaggle of prima ballerinas, ages ten to thirteen, bombarded me with hugs as soon as I dropped my cargo in the corner. Every one of these girls had attended the funeral. Everyone was grieving the loss of their friend.
“I have a surprise for you, Ladies.”
My hands trembled as I opened the box of brand-new socks.
Please, help me feel Your constant presence, Lord. I can’t do this without You.
I passed out the colorful mismatched creations. My breath quickened as the girls stretched socks over their ballet shoes.
Giggles erupted when I tossed my assistant a turquoise sock with lime green swirls and a black sock with red hearts, purple squares, and yellow triangles.
I half-skipped to the stereo and plugged in my iPod. “Drumroll, please.”
The dancers obliged.
“Let’s begin with a classic.” I selected Emma’s favorite song. “Freestyle!”
Miss Sarah dabbed the corner of her eye with her finger and slipped her feet into the unconventional dance attire.
I miss my baby girl, Lord.
I swallowed hard before starting the music. We danced, arms flowing and hips shaking to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
A belly laugh followed by a loud snort bubbled up out of my heart as I slid across the floor in my own pair of Emma’s Dancing Socks. This time, the sound didn’t squeeze my chest.
I twirled across the floor, ending in a graceful curtsey before my King.
The young ballerinas followed my lead.
Surrendering to peace, I whispered, “Hallelujah.” Deep in my soul I knew that my sweet angel was doing the same in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
“Emma’s Dancing Socks” was written after my mom received her diagnosis, Leukemia, in January 2014. After a bone marrow transplant, my sweet mom was welcomed into the arms of her Savior, Jesus Christ, on October 22, 2014. This story was previously published in Inspire Promise in November 2014.
I process my emotions through prayerfully reading the Bible and writing. I never shared this story with my mom, but I wish I would have.
“When Yes Means No,” a snippet of my mom’s story, was published as my first devotion in Our Daily Bread on April 1, 2017. As I read these two stories again and share them with you, I’m grieving the loss of my friend, Suzanne Nixon Thompson.
Suzanne battled Leukemia and had a bone marrow transplant earlier this year. She joined my mom in the loving arms of Jesus on April 6, 2017. I didn’t find out until April 22nd.
As I remember these two mighty women of faith, my heart aches but beats with peace because we shared an unshakable hope in Christ.
These fierce women of faith have changed me and inspired me. Both will be missed, their lives celebrated, and their impact for Christ will never be forgotten.
Please join me in praying for those brave warriors and their courageous families who are battling cancer, those who have survived cancer, and those whose ultimate healing came when they danced into the arms of Jesus.
As my mom said, “God is good and that’s all there is to it.” Oh, how I miss her!
Special thanks to K.B. and B.B. for providing the photos for these memes.
(Suggested Reading – Psalm 130)
During a recent retreat, I sat next to my hurting friend on the cool rock bench under a canopy of redwood trees in front of a small chapel. My heart ached as she listed the trials bombarding her from all sides. Her weary smile grieved me.
Placing my hand on hers, I sighed. “I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. God is moving in and through all that’s happening. He’ll work it all out.”
Her eyes glistened. “But when? I’m running out of time here.”
“Right on time, Sister. Even when we think it’s too long or even too late, He’s going to be right on time.” I pulled her into a hug and sighed. “We won’t be able to solve any of this today, but we can pray.”
And pray we did.
As I interceded for my friend, I thought about my own struggles in the wait. We’d been praying for one another for years−waiting, waiting, and waiting.
The words that poured over my lips became pleas for mercy.
How long, Lord? How long would my friend have to suffer? How long would my pain continue? How long would we have to wait for a breakthrough?
I ended the prayer proclaiming God’s unchanging character traits. After a breathy ‘amen,’ we left the cool rock bench. We went our separate ways with a promise to continue praying, knowing we couldn’t control how long we’d have to wait.
I prayed as I strolled toward the nearby coffee house, my back injury flaring up again. I stopped to rest on a wooden bench, enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
God planned, created, and sustained every giant redwood, every fragrant blossom, every scurrying squirrel, and every person on that campus.
Surely He could handle every detail of our lives. Surely I could trust His loving timetable.
Focused on the glorious details of God’s wondrous creation, my heart-cry changed.
Use this to bring us closer to You, Lord. Use this to make us more like You. Remind us You are and always will be faithful, good, loving, and in control.
Contemplating our physical and emotional pain and interceding for hurting friends can overwhelm us if we stay focused on our smallness, our helplessness, and our weariness.
But we can experience great peace when we follow the simple prayer of the writer of Psalm 130.
We can call on God in the midst of our struggles, feeling devastated and defeated. He knows when we’re struggling and invites our honesty.
“Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 130:1-2)
The psalmist’s surety affirms his belief that the Lord would answer because the Lord cares.
He acknowledged God’s holiness and grace (v. 3-4). His patience and hope came through his confidence in God’s unchanging character and His inability to lie (v. 5).
Waiting on God became a spiritual act of worship and trust, as sure as the sun rising each morning (v. 6).
Though there’s no indication that the psalmist received any relief or rescue from the depths from which he cried, he proclaimed the Lord’s unfailing love and trustworthiness (v. 7). He gazed past the present moment and clung to the priceless prize of redemption from sins (v. 8).
We’ll always be waiting for something in this ever-changing life.
But when we place our hope in God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, we can walk with confidence and embrace delays and detours with courageous faith.
Lord, thank You for Your unfailing love. Please help us trust You to show up right on time, every time. In Jesus’s name, Amen
Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.
I came to Him broken, fearful, and weary.
I listened to His promises, hopeful but leery.
How could I trust Someone I couldn’t see?
How could the King of Kings love someone like me?
I leaned in to hear Him, scouring through His Word.
Begging for answers, I longed to be heard.
Why would God’s Son die so I could be free?
Why would He care about someone like me?
I came to Him hungry, empty, with scars.
Longing for love, my heart locked behind bars.
When would His mercy and grace help me see,
Christ took my place on the cross . . . loving me?
Jesus, my Savior, He died in my place.
He rose three days later and saved me by grace.
How can I submit if I’m supposed to be free?
How can I resist . . . if He lives just for me?
Come to Him broken, fearful, or weary.
He can be trusted, no need to be leery.
When trials and heartache are all you can see,
know the Risen King loves you . . . just like He loves me.
Photo taken and used with permission by my husband, Dr. W. Alan Dixon, Sr.
Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.
(SUGGESTED READING – Psalm 116)
Thanks for hearing our voices, Lord (v. 1).
You’ve proven Your faithfulness time and time again.
You’ve revealed Your great love for us, demonstrating patience and grace even when we’re impatient with You.
Thanks for caring about every sob that pours over our lips and every silent cry triggered by the pain we can’t put into words.
Thanks for delighting in every song of praise we sing to You and every whispered prayer of thanks we offer You.
You invite us to be honest with You as we process our emotions. You never minimize or ignore our feelings.
And You always, always respond in love, mercy, compassion, sovereign goodness, and wisdom.
How can we ever thank You enough, loving and dependable Father?
When we can’t see You working or understand Your purpose, when the wait or suffering feels unbearable, and when we can’t even begin to imagine any good coming out of our situation, You−Almighty and Sovereign God−will always make Your presence known and offer to carry us through.
And we can trust now and forever, Lord.
You will be available when we need to call on You all the days of our lives (v. 2).
You are gracious and righteous and full of compassion, Lord (v. 5).
You are our Protector and Rescuer, our Refuge and Good Shepherd (vv. 6-9).
Please give us the desire and diligence to seek You daily in the treasure of Your Holy Word, made accessible by Your Holy Spirt, who lives in us and empowers us to live for You.
Give us ears to hear You clearly and hearts to love You by obeying You, one day at a time.
We can do nothing without You, Lord. Nothing.
Thanks for listening, Lord. Thanks for reminding us You really do care.
In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Photo taken by and used with permission from Linda Newsome.
Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.
(Suggested Reading = John 15:9-17)
As my husband and I recently celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I reflected on how my definition of love has changed over the years we’ve been married.
When I first met Alan, I measured love by hugs and kind words and deeds. I believed he loved me when he met my needs, when he gave me my way, when he made me feel happy, safe, appreciated, and important.
Then, I met Jesus.
His words touched a deep and wounded place in my heart, I had ignored for years: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9, NIV)
The Father, the first Person in the Trinity, loves completely, generously, unconditionally, and eternally. Jesus, the second Person in the Trinity, loves like the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, helps us love like Jesus, like the Father.
The concept of such love seems too vast and complex to even begin understanding, a goal too lofty for a flawed human being to attain. But Jesus claims it’s possible if we remain in His love.
Because we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, it’s possible to abide in Christ, to spend time with Him, to stay so close that our hearts are grafted to His.
This lifetime process of intimate communion with the Lord changes us a little bit at a time. We become more like the One who loves us perfectly, as He transforms our thinking and changes our hearts so that we can respond to Him, and to others, in Christ-like love.
The more I received Jesus’s limitless love for me, the more my love morphed from selfish to selfless in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my relationships with others.
This is an ongoing process that’s often thwarted by my sin nature, which feeds my fleshly desires to put myself first.
But Jesus asks His followers to love one another as He loves us . . . to love selflessly, willingly, sacrificially, and unconditionally (v. 12).
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (v. 13)
That can feel impossible, especially when it comes to loving those who have hurt us, those who have rejected us, and those who persecute us.
When I struggle with showing “greater love,” I ask God to remind me of Christ on the cross.
When we truly consider how much Jesus loves us, so much that He gave His life for us, so much that He endured the shame of the cross, the ruthless and relentless persecution, rejection, abuse, and pain . . . it’s harder to be selfish.
Jesus reminds us we are loved sacrificially and intimately (v. 14). We are called God’s friends (v. 15). We are chosen (v. 16).
Being loved in such a way changes us . . . changes everything.
When we truly consider what Christ gave up, how He suffered physically and emotionally, especially when He willingly allowed Himself to be excruciatingly though momentarily separated from the Father when He took on our sins and took our place on the cross . . . how can we not respond with grateful praise as we rejoice in the life-changing power of greater love?
But greater love is risky.
Others may not love us back selflessly. Others may take advantage of us, hurt us, and leave us wounded by their selfishness.
They may demand their needs met. They may fight for their way. They may place personal happiness above all else.
I can’t even count the times I’ve accepted the Lord’s greater love, but still responded by demanding my needs be met, fighting for my way, placing my personal happiness above all else.
But because of His greater love for us, God risks His heart for us every day.
When we first got married, my husband and I weren’t even close to ready for greater love.
We loved one another selfishly. We wrestled for the right to be first. We competed to see whose needs were going to get met more often, to see who would get their way more often, to see who would get to be happier, even at the detriment of the other person.
We wasted many years getting all we could from one another that we failed to see the value of giving all we could to one another.
Wising up, by God’s grace and in His mercy and power, we finally decided to submit to the Lord, and to one another, out of reverence for Christ, and longed to love like Jesus.
As we deepened our relationships with God and each other, He helped us to devote ourselves to greater love, to love selflessly, to give instead of demanding we get, to serve instead of scrounging for selfish gains.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, I began putting God and my husband first, serving the Lord and serving my spouse cheerfully as I gave generously.
I don’t always get it right, neither does my husband.
But God’s showing us the rewards of obedience (v. 14): fruit that lasts (v. 16).
Fruit . . . the bounty that results when we’re committed to loving like Jesus, giving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus.
God knows our joy will be complete, our peace will be unshakeable, and our faith will be secured when we love Him by obeying Him.
Jesus laid His life down for us, showing us how to enjoy greater love by laying our lives down for others.
Greater love requires sacrifice, knowing God is the only One who can truly meet our needs because people are fallible and will always fall short.
Greater love requires faith, trusting God’s way is better than our way.
Greater love leads to joy, which is so much better than happiness because it’s not contingent on ever-changing circumstances or the fickleness of feelings.
Greater love changed my marriage and continues to change my husband and me.
Greater love−that Jesus kind of love−saved me.
The commitment to greater love is costly, but the rewards are remarkable and reciprocal.
Thank You for loving us and empowering us to love You and others selflessly, Lord. Please help us place You first, abide in You always, and trust You completely. Give us the wisdom and courage to submit to Your way, surrender to Your will, and celebrate Your greater love, as we live for You−Jesus−the One who gave all for us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Are you really ready for greater love?
Photo for meme taken by and used with permission from Lori Renner.
Meme Created by Xochitl E. Dixon.