Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aahhh, Christmas!

Christmas can be so hard. We have a love/hate relationship with it. We have all had these high expectations of what it should be. Everyone says Christmas is about family and being together. We look forward to our time together, and go through all the preparations, expecting miraculous healing in our relationships like we see on the Hallmark channel. then suddenly it's over and we don't see any miracles! Most of our families are so broken, and we just don’t get those warm fuzzies that we think everyone else is getting.

I’ve decided that Christmas is not about friends and family. I know that sounds like heresy, but Christmas is about Jesus, and only about Jesus! Families let us down. Friends can only go so far with us. The miracle of Christmas is in what Jesus did and nothing else. He left heaven—can you imagine willingly leaving heaven for this messed up world?! That alone is huge. But he didn’t leave royalty in heaven to become royalty on earth. He came as a poverty-stricken, homeless, helpless infant! After creating the universe, He became a poor baby, wrapped in rags, completely dependent on others. He was born, not in a clean hospital or even a warm comfy house, but a dirty old barn! Have you ever spent time in a barn? I have and I love it, but it's not a place for the birth of a King! It's dirty, dusty, and smelly. There are mice and rats and other critters lurking in the shadows. This is the birthplace of the originator of the universe?! The more I think about that, the more it blows me away!
Jesus loved us so much that he chose to be one of us. To live among us with no special privileges or royal treatment. He came so that he could experience life as we do. He came to save us, not just for eternity, but for now too. He came to fulfill us.
We have got to quit putting our spouses, our children or our friends in God's rightful place. They can't do for us what God is yearning to do and it's unfair to them for us to expect them to! So give your family and friends a break. Quit expecting them to make your life worth living. They can't do it--they're too busy trying to get you to make their life worth living! Love them, give to them, and let God fulfill you. He's the only one who can!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hope Renewed

I am loving The Hope Experience. I am on Day 40, which talks about Naomi and Ruth. What a story of redemption! The book of Ruth was my daughter's favorite book of the Bible, so it will always be special to me. But after this past year, the story of redemption is so near and dear to my heart. I went through several months of bitterness like Naomi. I can't compare my life to Naomi's. Her loss was not just emotional, but her very survival was on the line because she had no husband or sons to provide for her. But I can relate to her grief, her loss of hope and the feeling that God had completely left her.

Her hope was finally renewed as she looked into the face of her grandson, Obed. My hope is also renewed every time I look into the face of my granddaughter. I am so moved by this picture of redemption. I'm honored to have my granddaughter in my home and humbled that God would allow me this privilege. There are still plenty of struggles ahead (and daily!) but my hope has been renewed, and that's a much better place to be than the valley of bitterness I was in a year ago! Oh how I love my Unswerving Hope!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful

I am thankful for my husband who works so hard to support us and who puts up with this crazy woman's moods and quirkieness.

I am thankful for my little princess who brings a fresh new perspective to my life and gives me hope for the future.

I am thankful for extended family and friends who have been so supportive through life's ups and downs. They have wept with us when we wept and they have celebrated with us as well.

I am thankful for friends who quietly go about their work, drawing no attention to themselves. I am humbled by them.

I am thankful for my home in the country that makes me feel like I live in a Currier and Ives Christmas card.

I am thankful for the wonderful smell of turkey roasting in the oven; a warm, cozy home and a beautiful view out my back windows.
I am thankful that I live in a country where I am still free to worship and live as I choose.
I am thankful most of all for my savior who I need so desperately because I am so flawed. Without Him I would not only be bound for Hell, but also completely incapable of surviving life on earth. I love him more each day as I continue to open the doors of the darkest places in my heart to him and he so graciously loves me in spite of my shallow faith, my judgement of others who he loves so deeply, and my pathetic attempt to live a life that brings him glory.
I am so undeserving of all these things and I realize all but One could be gone in an instant. And the One is really the only thing I need. How often I think I need so much more.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for your presence in my life. Thank you for the unswerving hope you give me. You overwhelm me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another Day at the Woodshed

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:10-12

God is really taking me to the woodshed these days. I have been so caught up in my pride, my self preservation, my isolation, my... my... my! I have not been joyful in hope. I have not been patient in affliction, and I have not been very faithful in prayer. I've whined a lot. I've complained a lot, and even blogged my confession for doing so. But I continued to whine and complain. God, how do I get out of this cycle. Every now and then between moans and cries, I hear you speaking to me, encouraging me, convicting me, calling me to get outside myself long enough to encourage someone else. But, after a pitiful attempt, I pull my head right back into my turtle shell, being overly sensitive, easily offended and pathetic. And all the while, I am offending others, trying to bring them down to my level. Oh, wretched soul that I am!

If I could just find hope in the calling that God has put on my life. If I could just believe that He will accomplish far more than I can ask or imagine in my life and in my ministry, I would be so free from competition and comparison. Free from jealousy and envy. Free to be who God has called me to be!

As I read my devotional today on The Hope Experience, this quote jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat: "Once I saw my father's sacrifice for me in the middle of our family's hardship and suffering, a patience and peace came over me. It replaced my detachment and self-pity." This is a quote about a man's earthly father, but the spiritual application just about bowled me over. Maybe I need to quit blogging, facebooking and twittering long enough for this truth to sink into my soul. How can I see my father's sacrifice for me in the middle of my family's hardship and suffering? How can I allow that patience and peace replace my detachment and self-pity? I have got to find the answer to that question or I will never grow up. God will never be able to use me the way He wants to use me.

God, help me to believe that you are able to transform me from the inside out. Help me to believe that you can will make me into the woman you want me to be. Help me to put my hope in what I cannot see, a redeemed, usable, valuable child of God.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finding Hope All Over Again

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

Yesterday I was sharing with someone about my spiritual condition a year ago. Last November I entered a black hole where I spent several months. I described it as a time when I had lost all hope in God. But I realize it was more a time of finding true hope in God.

I have been a Christian my whole life--since I was a little girl. So, I really don't remember of time of not having faith in God. I trusted God for lots of things, and life was good. But the last five years, life has not been so good.

Last November, people kept telling me to remember that God was in control. Well, if He was in control, it sure didn't look like He was doing a very good job. My daughter was dead, my son was struggling with an addiction so powerful, I felt like I was helplessly watching him die a slow, painful death, and my granddaughter was in a foster home 2,000 miles away. How could God be in control and still allow my family to suffer so deeply? A year ago, I was struggling in my faith. I had to decide whether I was going to continue to follow this God who was allowing me to be broken so deeply.

For about four months, I argued with God. I was angry with him. I asked him where he had been the afternoon the car my daughter was riding in was hit with such force that it was almost unrecognizable. I wanted to know what was keeping him from healing my son. And on top of it all, how could he let my granddaughter to continue to sit in a foster home so far away instead of moving the court system to allow her to come and live with us.

"Where are you, God!? Why won't you move on my behalf? I have covered my children with prayer since before they were born. I continued to cover them everyday when they went to school. I have trusted you my whole life and you have let me down!" Those were the kinds of prayers I was praying, and some of my friends wanted to keep their distance so they wouldn't get struck by the lightning bolt that God would surely send my way for questioning him so vehemently.

And yet, God was not moved. He didn't strike me with a lightning bolt. He wept with me. And he sang over me. He understood my pain and frustration. But he didn't budge. He knows the plans he has for me and they are plans for good and not for evil. My attempts to manipulate him to do things my way didn't work. He was and continues to be unmovable in what he is doing in my life and in the lives of my son and granddaughter. He has already completed his work in my daughter.

As I began to hear from God and sense his nearness, even as I shook my fist in his face, I fell in love with him all over again. I don't understand him, I can't see the end result, I wish it didn't have to be this way, but I trust my heavenly father. I trust him in the midst of circumstances that seem insurmountable--painful beyond survival. But God walks with me every day. He cares for me in my pain. He doesn't completely relieve it, but he comforts me. And that is my unswerving hope.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Taking Control of my Present

A year ago, we had a women's ministry big event that is near and dear to my heart. We worked so hard and poured our hearts and souls into the event. It was the first time we had done it and it turned out quite well. The day was an emotional high for me. But within a couple of days after the event, I had an emotional let-down that lasted about three months. It was a very dark time of anger and distrust of God. There were other external circumstances, but I am convinced that there is a connection between successes, the emotional highs that come with them and the lows that often follow.

That dark time was not wasted time, however. I came through it with a much deeper faith, more appreciation for God and his grace and patience with me. This blog is a result of that time and has been theraputic in helping me dig my way out. So thanks for listening!

This past weekend, we held the event for this year. I have been gearing up so that I don't experience the same crash afterward. This year's event also had a great turn out. I had a wonderful day, but the emotional high was not quite as high as last year's. Many of the external circumstances have changed, some have not. This morning I wrote in my journal several significant prayers that have been answered since my crash last year. That's the beauty of journaling. It helps me see patterns in my life so that I can begin to take control instead of letting the cycle to continue. I'll let you know how that's working for me in the next few months!

Whatever the case, I want to be very intentional about my faith. I want to be in tune with my spirit so that I won't be blindsided by any emotional let-downs that would have the potential to take me as low as the one I had last year. I'm determined to trust and lean heavily on my Heavenly Father, who is my Unswerving Hope!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When Faith in God Isn't Faith At All

The Hope Experience Day 11

I can relate to Katuk's resignation. I struggle with that resignation and cynicism often. For a moment, it looks like faith, but it's not. It's giving up. That's why I love this devotional. It points me back to true faith in our God of love and power. Yes, bad things happen to good people and our loved ones die and struggle with life-threatening addictions and lifestyles. And no we don't control over much of what happens in this world. But does that mean we just give up and say, "What will be will be"?

NO! We continue to struggle and persevere, wrestle with and trust this God of ours who sees a much bigger picture than we can. We know that He holds all things in His hands, that we have come from Him and, best of all, that we are going to Him. (John 13:3) That is my unswerving hope!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who is my Hercules?

The Hope Experience, Day 10

My Hercules has been many things. Lately, it's been approval, affirmation, recognition. When will I get over myself?! When will I stop desiring what I may or may not get--what I may or may not deserve--what I may or may not need? Why can't just doing what's right be good enough for me?

My Offering

So many things scream for my attention--good things--but will I let them rob my little girl of my time and attention? Only I can answer that question.

But what about me? I want to be noticed too. I want people to see all the good things I'm doing. But will those things have the same eternal value as the impact I could have on one little person? It depends on what God's calling me to do. And for now, I have to believe He's calling me to a little girl who needs me. Despite what the world tells me, I can't have it all, I can't do it all.

33 Miles sings a song called Offering. In it, they say, "On my own I've made a mess of things, but you take it as my offering." That's where I am tonight. I always try to do too much for all the wrong reasons. Why can't I just focus on what's important and do that? Because I'm broken, I have holes that scream to be filled. I continue to wrestle with pleasing my employer, my family, myself. I can never seem to get all my ducks in a row. I know all I really need to do is to please God, but that feels so intangible, so hard to measure. It's easier to hear my boss say, "Good job," or my husband say, "That was a great dinner, Honey." Two-year olds don't dispense too many compliments, and neither does God. So if compliments are what I'm working for, I'm probably trying to please the wrong person.

Oh Lord, take this offering of mine--as broken as it is--as many holes as it has in it--it's all I have and I give it to you tonight.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hope in Who I am, Whose I am and Where I am Going

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself..." John 13:3 (NKJV)

Jesus was able to humble himself and serve his disciples, and ultimately face the cross, only because he knew that his Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God. If I am secure in the knowledge of who I am and whose I am, and where I am going, I can do whatever God calls me to do.

Before I even finished writing that last sentence very early this morning, my two-year-old came tiptoeing into my room. There is a message in that. Parenting a two-year-old is a challenge--especially for a 48-year-old who has been an empty-nester for 5 years. But that is what God has called us to do. We have had a divine interruption in our "early retirement" years. The house can no longer be just the way we want it--it must be childproof. My schedule is no longer my own--it has to revolve around nap times, bed time and potty training. This is not a temporary interruption. I will spend the rest of my life raising this little girl.

For now, she is the one God has called me to serve. I can only serve her well if I truly believe God has all things in His hands, that I have come from God and that I am going to God. I can only serve her well if I am secure in my identity in Christ. Without that, I am a lost, floundering soul seeking only self-protection and self preservation. It is impossible to serve anyone when my main goal is to preserve my comfort zone and protect my heart in order to keep it from being broken--again.

Never have I needed to be more secure in my identity in God--to know that God has everything in control. This world is a scary place and I need to know that God has my future and my little girl's future in his control.

Never have I needed to be more secure in knowledge of where I have come from. I need to know that I came from God and that he has a purpose and a plan for the rest of my life. I need to know that we are in the middle of his perfect will.

Never have I needed to believe more strongly in the truth that I have a place in eternity. With that truth in sight, I can endure whatever God calls me to do while I'm here on earth. No matter how long that is, it is minuscule compared to eternity.

I just want to sit in the middle of this lesson for a few minutes and make sure I really get it. I can give up "my life" on earth (what I want to do--my comfort zone) because...
  1. God has everything in control
  2. He created me with a purpose and for a reason
  3. I can look forward to spending eternity pain and frustration-free with Him

That is my unswerving hope today!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pride Can't Wait but the Just Shall Live by Faith

I've been caught by surprise by my pride. It kind of snuck up on me. At times, it has ambushed me! I didn't see it as pride, but more and more, God is revealing it to me in the subtle ways that it has taken shape in my life. I've been unwittingly hiding it. God is good about revealing those kinds of sins when we least expect it.

A few weeks ago, I was blogging about waiting. As of today, it appears that my waiting has ended. I have the thing I was waiting for, but it's not a done deal. It's still possible that I could lose it. I still have some waiting to do.

Today my devotional reading was from Habakkuk 2:2-4. God had showed Hab a vision. In chapter 1, Hab was getting impatient and had done some "righteous complaining" about the wait. God answered:

Habakkuk 2:2-4

My study Bible says that God's instruction to write down the vision was an unusual one. Typically, prophets only spoke the word of the Lord. I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea for us to write down the "visions" or hopes and dreams that God gives us--you know, those things you've been believing God for for years--the salvation of a loved one, the end to some one's endless suffering, the restoration of a relationship. I have some visions and dreams for my kids, my marriage, my church. And I've written some of them on the blog spot.

And I've also complained on this blog spot. Some of it has been righteous complaining and some of it has not. According to my pastor and the first couple of chapters of Habakkuk, there is such a thing as righteous complaining. Laying it all out before God then (this is what makes it righteous) waiting for God's prescription--His instruction--and following through on that instruction. In Hab's case (and more often than not in our cases) the instruction was to wait--in faith.

A proud man would have given up waiting. He would have taken control of the situation and made things happen. Oh, how often I've been guilty of that--until I was faced with situations that were so far out of control that I knew I could do nothing. Those have been the times that I learned the most about God, about His timing, about life, and about myself. Those have been the times when pride was exposed. It was no longer hiding, no longer subtle. It was outright distrust of God. And it took me months to work my way out to where I could trust Him again. But it was
a different kind of trust. A much deeper trust. One that knew that I could get through anything with Him. I was finally able to let go and say with every ounce of sincerity I could muster, "I trust You, Lord," even when nothing about my circumstances had changed.

As this section of scripture ends, while the proud man is not upright in his soul (and obviously doesn't like to wait,) the just shall live by faith--and that involves a lot of waiting!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Overflowing Hope!

I just came across a great website about hope--www.hopexperience.com. It was posted by an old friend on Facebook. Since my mission in life is to continue exploring and sharing my unswerving hope, I knew I had to check it out. There are daily devotionals, videos and lots more, so I encourage you to check it out too!

I've only done day 1, but I like it already, and I'm committed to following it through. Please let me know if you decide to do it too!

The Hope Experience is not a sugar-coated message that says, "Don't worry, be happy." But it goes beneath the surface of our everyday existence to find a true reason to hope, even though people we love die or go their own way without us. Even though life doesn't turn out like we planned we can put our trust in the unswerving hope that only comes from knowing God.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Redefining Hope

I'm still reading Timothy Keller's book, "The Prodigal God." What an eye-opener to my prideful sin!

Chapter 6 is entitled, "Redefining Hope." That title got my attention for a couple of reasons:
  1. My whole life message is based on the hope--the unswerving hope--that God began speaking about to me when my daughter died.
  2. After reading the first 5 chapters, I was feeling pretty convicted of my "elder brother" sins and needed to find hope for a way to be freed from them!

Keller talks about the parable of the prodigal son being, not just a story about one man and his sons, and not just to point out each of our personal sins, but how "Jesus retold the story of the whole human race and promised nothing less than hope for the world."

That flicker of hope begins with a certain desire for "home" that each of us feels. He quotes C. S. Lewis, "Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation."

I felt that feeling of longing for home in the days and weeks following my daughter's death. The longing was not for my hometown, it was for something longer ago than that--not from my earthly childhood, but from eternity past. It was kind of like a dream that you remember for a split second, but then it quickly fades away as your mind furiously tries to hold on to it. The memory of that home is just out of reach. It's right there, but you can't quite grasp it.

Back to Keller's book--toward the end of chapter 6, Keller quotes Isaiah 35, "Your God will come... he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. The ransomed of the Lord will return, they will enter Zion with singing. Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away."

Oh, how my heart longs for that day--to see my ransomed son set free--to see my daughter alive again! To see them, along with my parents and other relatives and friends singing and dancing, overtaken by joy! On that day, it will not be my nostalgic memory fading as I attempt to grasp it, it will be my sorrow and sighing that will be evaporating! And that is my unswerving hope, redefined!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Mother's Heart

Today my heart hurts for my son. This marks the end of a 15-month battle and he appears to be on the losing side.

To my son,
Since before you were conceived, I have prayed for you. For the nine months that you resided in my womb as the Lord knit you together, I prayed Psalm 139 over you. During your years of elementary school, in addition to my personal prayer time, I met weekly with a Moms In Touch group to pray for you, your friends and your school. When you became a teenager, I went back to Psalm 139 and began praying it over you in a new light. Again, I met weekly with a parenting group to pray for you and other teenagers like you. In the years following, as you became an adult, I've continued to beg God to show you the path He has laid out for you. For all the days of your life I have loved you and bombarded heaven with prayers for you. I have cried a small ocean of tears for you.

You may feel like those prayers fell on deaf ears, but I know they have been heard. Not one of them has gone unanswered. Not one of my tears has gone unnoticed. The Bible says God keeps them in a bottle. They are like the rain that waters the garden of our prayers and makes them grow. God promises that his deliverance arrives on the run and his salvation is right on time. He is never early and He's never late. I will continue to trust that He is right on time.

I love you, my son, and I will never stop believing in you... believing in who God created you to be... believing that He has all the answers... believing that He alone is your unswerving hope.

Love,
Mom

Monday, October 5, 2009

Elusive Humility, Deceitfull Pride

I've never thought of myself as having an issue with pride--at least not for a long time. But is it possible to be prideful in your humility? Yeah, the instant I start recognizing and relishing any humility, it immediately vanishes. Poof! Gone. How are we to seek something that at the very moment we grasp it, we destroy it?

Oh, the elusiveness of humility and the deceitfulness of pride!

God started dealing with me on this through a book I read by Joanna Weaver called "Having a Mary Spirit." I came across this book by accident. Like I've done so many times, I received it through the book club because I didn't return the little card in time. Sometimes, the books I get that way are the ones I need the most. They are the ones I don't think apply to me, but God knows they do!

Anyway, I always thought I must be more of a Mary because I really hate housework and I'm not the greatest cook. But I'm beginning to realize that just because I'm not a domestic goddess doesn't mean I'm not a doer. So I connected with this book way more than I thought I would.

Back to the main point... One of the chapters in Joanna's book is all about pride. Again, not my issue, right? Wrong! The main thing that got my attention was "The Pride Test." I was shocked at how many of the symptoms I possess! I have been oblivious to my pride! Some of the symptoms of this deceitful character flaw are:

Being easily swayed by others' opinions
Getting huffy and defensive when criticized
Hungering for admiration and praise--wanting to be the center of attention (ouch!)
Making sure others notice good works and demanding credit
Self-indulgent; making personal comfort a priority
Easily offended
Responding to problems with self-pity
Obsessing over obvious failures (pow!)
Resenting responsibilities and the lack of peace that often accompanies them
Loving people who love her (as opposed to feeling God's heart toward all humanity)

There are more symptoms, but these are the ones that reverberated through my spirit. I've known they were issues for me, but I never associated them with the sin of pride! I thought obsessing over my obvious failures was a sign of humility or insecurity, not pride!

If you've read any of my previous posts, you probably recognized more of these symptoms in me than I would like.

Now I'm off to finish "The Prodigal God," by Timothy Keller. This little book is about the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Oh, how that is resonating with me as well. The elder brother may have followed all the rules and looked good on the outside, but his heart was far from God and he was full of, you guessed it, PRIDE! God's work is never really done, is it?

Friday, October 2, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

In my devotional this morning, I read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (NKJV) I have read that scripture many times, but have so quickly forgotten its message.

Lately, instead of rejoicing always, I've been complaining. Instead of praying without ceasing, I've been whining. Instead of giving thanks, I have shaken my fist in God's face. Oh, thank God for his unfailing grace and his patience with me!

This morning, I have spent time confessing and seeking God's forgiveness for my pitiful response to life. Yeah, life is tough sometimes, but I've got to look beyond that by rejoicing always, praying without ceasing and giving thanks in all situations. That's the only way I will stay in touch with that unswerving hope that I profess to have.

So today, I wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 on a card, and I plan to keep reminding myself that instead of complaining, I will rejoice. Instead of whining, I will pray. And instead of shaking my fist in God's face, I will give thanks. For he is my unswerving hope.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Identity Crisis Continues

We had an excellent sermon this weekend on transformation. One of the things that struck me was, "The enemy of transformation is self-centeredness."

I have been in such a state of self-protection. That could also be described as self absorption or self preservation or, I hate to admit, self-centeredness. I realize that has been an issue of mine all my life, but even more so now. In five years, I've gone from being a working mom, to being a displaced stay at home mom of a teenager, to a 43-year-old emptynester, and now to a 48-year-old mommy of a toddler. Like many of you, life just keeps changing and taking unexpected turns. And with that many massive changes in such a short time, I've gone from wearing my heart on my sleeve to a self-constructed prison of isolation and back again.

In the past month I've gone from complete independence to having to be home for potty training, nap times and for our 8:00 p.m. bedtime routine every night. My morning devotional time is not the same because of the beautiful, blurry-eyed face that appears in my room, usually just as I'm getting started. Every time my laptop, my Bible or my dog is on my lap, my toddler wants to be be there too. Just since I started typing this blog, I've had to get up to refill her cereal bowl twice--once because she ate it all, and once because she spilled it all. We've been out in the garage playing and in the house playing. I can hardly finish a complete thought without interruption. As many of you know, that's the way it is when you are in charge of a toddler.

So, as the middle aged mom of a toddler, who am I and where do I fit?! I don't fit with the other young mommies at church. The women my age have grown children or older teens. My job has changed because I can't do it all with a toddler in tow. I work for my church and for a while, poured my heart and soul into my job because it was all I had. Now I want to pour my heart and soul into my little girl. Since I'm scaling back my job, my "church identity" is ambiguous. I don't know where I fit in my job and I don't know where I fit in my church. Even my position in women's ministry is a blur because my mind is a blur.

As I sat by my friend in church this weekend, listening to this sermon about transformation and self-centeredness, I felt like a glass dome had been lowered down over me that I just couldn't break out of it. It's hard to be real with people when can't be real with myself because I don't know who I am or where I fit. So I asked God, "How do I get out of this glass dome? I'm tired of walking around with my guts hanging out all the time, but I can't stay in isolation either! How do I find the happy medium?!" And I heard him say, "Tuck your guts back in and reach out to someone else!" Wow, what an epiphany. I enjoyed reaching out and talking to people I don't talk to very often after service--not my usual set of friends, but a few people on the fringe. Maybe God's on to something here. I think I'll try that more often!

The transition/identity crisis/transformation continues...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Redemption

I was just reading Paula's blog, His Ways Are Not Our Ways,  and was reminded of a similar story of redemption in my "Prayer Garden." About a year ago, we had a wind storm go through and it broke our little Prairie Fire Crab Apple tree right off at the base of the trunk.

Now, I like all my trees, especially the flowering ones like the Prairie Fire, but this was not just another pretty tree. This tree was given to us five years ago in memory of our 15-year-old daughter. When it broke off, it felt like another kick in the gut. My husband had built a fire to burn some other brush and limbs that had fallen in the wind storm. There's not much you can do with a tree that has broken off at the base, so we threw it on the fire. We both sobbed as the little tree burned. Even after four years, our grief still seemed fresh. I was mad at God. He is the God of the universe who calms the storms and raises dead people to life, could he not have allowed this one little tree to withstand that wind storm? I told him that I felt like he was so mean. We lost our daughter and one of the most special comforts we had was that tree. I had built my whole prayer garden around it. Now there wasn't even a stump!

As you can guess, this spring, several shoots grew up where our little tree once stood. All summer, I've watched it and pulled the weeds around it until I could see one strong shoot rising above the rest. Then I cut the others and continued cultivating the soil around it. Now, as Fall is approaching, that one shoot has again become a little tree! Our little Prairie Fire is not dead! It is very much alive! What a testimony that our God is not mean. It sure seems like it sometimes, but I was mistaken when I accused him of that. He is also very much alive and very much in charge. We just can't always see the work that is going on under ground out of sight. He knows what He's doing even when we don't.

So, God, again, I will trust You. Even when I can't see the big picture. Even when I can't see You working, I will believe and trust that your are doing a good thing. Thank You for showing me your redeeming power and thank you for redeeming my little Prairie Fire!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Couldn't There Be Another Way?

God, I know your Word says that if we want to share in your glory, we must also share in your suffering. But couldn't there be another way?

Here is what I read this morning in Joanna Weaver's book, Having a Mary Spirit:

"On that dark Sunday morning two thousand years ago, as Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb, she never expected to go away running, even dancing with joy. But that is exactly what happened. And that is the underlying truth that makes all our transformations possible--the glorious reality that death (especially death to ourselves!) will always be swallowed up by victory. And the sorrow which once threatened to undo us will be the very thing that makes us proclaim God's glory.

"...Don't miss your moment. Don't miss what God is wanting to do in your life. Right here. Right now. Right in the midst of your frustration, your pain, your everyday realities. 'Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.' Jude 24 and 25 (NKJV)'"

God, I know this is true and I know it all too well, but couldn't there be another way for us to be transformed? I know how death can be swallowed up by victory, but I also know how hard that is to grasp when you are eyeball to eyeball with death, or some things that can feel even worse than death.

Father, my friend and her husband have been sitting in a hospital for over a week now, unable to do anything but wait while their only daughter fights for her life. They say it will be months before she is "out of the woods." In fact, life may never be the same for them. My father, couldn't there be another way for transformation to occur in this family? They are a wonderful God-fearing, God-serving family! Is this really necessary? My heart so wishes there were another way, but my head knows the answer to that question. I know you didn't cause the accident, but I do know you could have prevented it. Since you didn't I know you have a purpose in it. And so I pray, Lord, that their lives will never be the same... That all three of them will come through this knowing You like they have never known You before... That they will experience that special measure of grace and nearness that You grant to those who must endure unspeakable pain and suffering... That they will sense the sweetness of Your presence even when they are filled with fear, facing an uncertain future, and yes, even when the anger and depression seem to overwhelm them. Even though this young girl is in a coma and cannot communicate with her parents, I thank you that she can communicate with You and that You are as much or more present with her than with anyone else. I thank you that Your ministering angels are posted at the head of her bed, watching over her, guarding her and protecting her.

And once again, I am drawn to the verses You spoke so strongly to my heart at a time when my sorrow threatened to undo me: "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completelness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love." 1 Corinthians 13:12 and 13 (MSG)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Identity Crises

How many identity crises can one person have? Five years ago, I was catapulted into an empty nest by the sudden death of my beautiful, blossoming 15-year-old daughter. One day I was a mom, teaching her to drive, talking with her about boys and helping her adjust to our new home, and the next I wasn't. There was a transition period as we went through the motions of the funeral and a memorial service and were ministered to by friends and family. But I remember the fear I felt as I wrote that last thank you note. What now? If I'm not my daughter's mom, who am I?

My pastor invited me to serve on our church staff as an unpaid servant. In doing so, I took a personality quiz and a strength finders test. I began learning much about myself that I didn't know, and I began to function fairly well in that knowledge. Then, just when I was getting it figured out, thinking God was going to use me in a really big way in Women's Ministry or by having me write a book or something, everything changed.

I had bought my mid-life crisis car, a cute little fire engine red Volkswagen Beetle. I poured myself into my job and ministry. My husband and I took a cruise. And we became grandparents. Life was starting to feel somewhat normal. I still grieved the loss of my daughter. Some days were worse than others, but life was pretty good and something I could get used to.

But there's always an emptiness. I didn't get the affirmation and kudos I felt I deserved from my employers. Did they have any idea how hard I was working? Probably not. And that shouldn't be what I'm working for anyway.

I began having problems with my left hip and could hardly get in and out of my cute little car.

The cruise was a bit of a fiasco when our first flight was delayed and we literally missed the boat!

This foot loose and fancy free empty nest life just didn't seem to be all it had been cracked up to be.

I'm now in my 2nd identity crisis. After having my home just the way I wanted it for five years, we are now tripping over baby dolls and dress up shoes. The driveway is cluttered with a tricycle and Fred Flintstone car. The patio door is smeared and smudged even though I just washed it. I keep restocking the diaper bag only to find its contents all over the kitchen floor--again. I'm finding myself in power struggles over nap time and bedtime. I'm exhausted, but I can't sleep. The responsibility of raising a third child are heavy tonight. The changes she has brought are mostly wonderful (see my earlier post) but the fears that came with her can be paralyzing.

And who am I anyway? I was a mom, then suddenly I wasn't, now almost as suddenly, I am again! How am I supposed to keep up, Lord? The rules of the game keep changing. The answer is obvious but elusive. Of course I can't keep up. I just have to trust the One who can!

How Quicklly Life Changes

Just when I blogged that I would be back to my normal blogging schedule, my life got turned upside down! Have you ever waited for something so long that you started to feel like it would never happen, then when it did finally happen, it caught you by surprise? That's where I've been for the past month or so.

I suddenly went from reading my Chronological Bible to the Storybook Bible. I no longer drive my little red Volkswagen Bug -- I'm back to my old minivan. For the first time in 20 years, I'm dealing with car seats, sippy cups and potty chairs.

And I'm tired. But oh, what a good tired. Because now every evening, instead of sitting in front of my computer, I get to snuggle and look into the most beautiful pair of brown eyes I've seen in a long time. I get to sing to her as she watches my lips and tries to mouth the words just like I do. Every morning, I get the greatest hugs from this pint sized bundle of energy. There is nothing like seeing someone so little toddle as fast as she can toward me because she can't wait to get that hug.

What a transition we are in. I'm transitioning at home, at my job, and even in my relationship with God. For about 4 years, I've been free to pour my heart and soul into my job, and loved it. I jumped into Women's Ministry with a passion. I've had time to write and pour out my heart in this blog. But now my heart belongs to another. I will continue to work, to serve in Women's Ministry and to write, but the bulk of my time and energy will be given to my little Snicker Doodle. My early mornings, evenings and weekends again belong to my family, rather than my personal pursuits.

I've wanted to do something great for God--something really big. Right now, the biggest, greatest thing I can think of doing... the only thing I can think of doing... the only thing I really have time to do is to love, cherish, protect, teach and nurture this little angel that has moved into our home. And that will be my main focus for as long as God allows me to do it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Invisible Woman

Last Sunday, a friend of mine came up to me in the lobby at church and shared some feelings of frustrations. She later apologized for "dumping on me." Oh, my goodness! That's what we're here for. I applaud my friend for not putting on her "I'm fine, how are you!" face and for sharing what was really happening in her head, instead of what she thought I wanted to hear.

So now, that's what I'm about to do to you because today I'm feeling like the Invisible Woman.

I feel like nothing I say is valued. Nothing that's important to me seems to be important to anyone else. I can't seem to get it all done fast enough or good enough or completely enough to please anyone, and no one seems to care that I'm trying as hard as I can. Does anything I do really matter?

It feels like it doesn't matter enough to my husband that I actually cooked a meal last night, he didn't come in until long after supper time. It doesn't seem to matter to my coworkers that there are reasons for deadlines, they blow right through them. A meeting I was preparing for today didn't happen, my coworker was too busy. And nothing matters to a 2-year-old except that she gets what she wants and she gets it right now, which is not always possible.
I am feeling really pitiful today, it may be that I'm tired, that I haven't allowed God to fill me, that my hormones are confused, or that I am going through a huge transition in my life and am feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully it's not the latter, because I'm beginning to believe that life is just one transition after another with very short breaks in between. You'd think by now that I'd be better at handling transitions. Someday, maybe I'll get it. For today, I'll just keep holding on to my unswerving hope.
Thanks for allowing me to "dump on you!"

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Journey of a Lifetime

Today my husband and I will embark on a journey that will change our lives forever. It's the answer to our most fervent prayers, and yet my knees are knocking, my heart is pounding and my stomach is churning. Am I worthy of this thing that God is entrusting to me? Am I well enough spiritually, emotionally, financially, physically for this new life? I keep asking God those questions and all I can hear is, "Do you trust Me?"

"Yes, Lord, I trust You, but..." I also see how flawed we are. I see our imperfections so clearly and we seem so powerless to fix them.

As I read the introduction to my devotional reading this morning, I was reminded of how often you have used flawed people to do some of your most amazing, world-changing things. My reading today was about Samuel appointing Saul as King of Israel. Talk about flawed. That guy had some major character flaws, and yet You used him. I think of others...
Abraham - Lied about Sarah being his wife
Isaac - Played favorites with his children
Jacob - A conniver
Joseph - A show-off and bragger
Moses - Insecure stutterer
Rahab - A prostitute
Samson - A womanizer, selfish, spoiled brat
David - A lustful adulterer, murderer and lier. Yet God still called him a man after His own heart.
Peter - A burly, mouthy sailor.
Judas - A greedy, slimy traitor. Yet he was necessary in God's plan for our redemption.
Paul - Religious, persecutor of Christ's followers

I'm sure the list could go on and on. God used most of these people in the midst of their imperfections. He didn't clean them up and make them worthy before He used them.

So Lord, can you use me in the midst of my imperfections to do the most important, world-changing, risky job in the world? A job that involves many unknowns? One that we're never really trained for or ready for? One where we have less control over the outcome than we realize? One that drives us to our knees before you with great fear and trembling? One where you entrust to us the thing more valuable to you than heaven and earth--a precious little human soul.

This is an area where we don't have a great track record. One in which we have felt like complete failures. One that we prayed you would give to someone else. And yet, here we are, preparing to do this most impossible job. Only by Your grace, Lord, only by Your grace.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Still Seeking God's Presence

How thick-headed can I be?

Just a few days ago, I blogged about how I, like the elder brother of the prodigal son, seem to be too into myself to enjoy God's presence. Yesterday, I blogged about the presence of God being stolen from the Israelites by the Philistines and from me by the busyness of life. When I blogged about the elder brother syndrome, I had a list of goals that I was going to put into practice to make sure I took time to enjoy God's presence. I implemented most of them--except the part about my petitionary prayers following a time of worship, repentance and thanksgiving.

Thank goodness God is faithful and patient. As I opened my Bible this morning, I couldn't move on to the next day's reading. I felt that I needed to think a little more about God's presence being stolen out of my life. It was only then that I saw the recurrent theme between yesterday's blog and the one before it! Again I ask, how thick-headed can I be? Obviously, God is trying to make a point here, and I have been pretty slow in figuring it out!

So, I put down my Bible and my journal and knelt at my little "altar" which is actually a coffee table that my dad made many years ago out of a wagon seat. I began my prayer time with adoration of God, and thought of all the ways he has been at work in my life. I worshipped Him for just a few minutes, and you know what, He showed up! How can you not love God and His presence. And why would I ever let anything steal it from me or take its place? (I don't know, but it seems to happen all the time with me.) I continued my prayer time with confession, thanksgiving and finally, supplication--my requests. When I start with worship and confession, then remember how God has answered previous prayers, thanking him for that, it's much easier to have faith for the new requests that I have now. Instead of begging and pleading with God, trying to convince Him to see things my way, I found my self presenting my requests to Him, trusting Him to answer them in the way that seems best to Him. Wow, what a difference.

As I finished, it was beautiful to see my dad's coffee table that used to be cluttered with magazines, newspapers and half-full glasses of pop, now holding my Bible, my journal and my tears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Elohim, God Almighty!

Today in my Chronological Bible, I read about the Ark of God being taken captive by the Philistines. The Ark of God is His Presence, and as I read that, I thought about how sometimes I allow God's Presence in my life to be taken captive by my circumstances. I become overwhelmed with tasks or burdens from friends or family members. I get too busy and God's Presence gets pushed right out of my sight. The noise of daily living sometimes, too often, drowns out the still small voice of God.

But God is so faithful. The Philistines kept the Ark for only seven months. God's presence was not in its rightful place and He let them know. They kept moving it because entire towns were dying. Every time they moved it, the wrath of God fell on the town where it was being held. So they hitched it up to a cart pulled by two unbroken cows whose calves had been taken away. You'd think those cows would be crazy trying to get to their calves, but no, they plodded right back to Israel, pulling the very Presence of God.

But even when the Ark arrived back in Israel, the Israelites did not treat it with the respect that God requires. God does not dance in and out of our lives as we flippantly call on Him. He will not share His glory and will not compete with anything that we allow to take His place. Seeking God's presence is not something to be taken lightly. It is serious business. We can't just take God and place Him in the middle of all that we view as important. He is either Lord and the center of our lives or He is not! If His presence is not in its rightful place, all havoc breaks loose!

Lord, help me never to allow my circumstances, my busy-ness or anything I deem important to take precedence over You. Help me always to keep You in Your proper place as Supreme Champion in my life--as if I could "keep" you anywhere. But You know what I mean. Help me to recognize the times I take Your presence lightly or am flippant about who You are. Yes, you are my daddy, but you are also Elohim, Jehovah, whose name the Israelites didn't dare say out loud or even write out completely for fear of You. The awesome power of Your presence is more than my mortal body can withstand. In it is the power to heal and to destroy, to bring life and to bring death. Let me never forget who You are, Lord!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Enjoying God's Presence

Whenever I spend time reading the Bible, praying, listening to sermons, etc. I am constantly looking for a message. I am seeking to put the pieces together for a blog or some kind of prophetic word for my kids or my future. But do I ever just enjoy God's presence?

As you can tell, I am following my regular pattern this morning. I found a message and I'm putting it in a blog. Is that wrong? Is it a gift? Is it a calling? I'm not sure what the answers to those questions are, so for now, I'm just going to run with it and see what comes out.

Last week I was confronted and convicted by a quote Bill Hybels read from one of his old journals. He had written, "The pace at which I am doing God's work is destroying God's work in me." Hmmm. On the day I heard Bill read those words, our Women's Ministry was two days away from completing one of our four annual Big Events. And this event was held at my house--including every bedroom, bathroom and even the whole yard. I have been eating, sleeping and drinking this event for four or five weeks. Could the pace at which I'm doing God's work be destroying God's work in me too?

A few minutes after Bill Hybels spoke I heard a message from Tim Keller on his book, "The Prodigal God." He detailed the parable of the prodigal son from a new perspective. The "good son" really wasn't so good at all. He got angry, greedy and jealous--so much so that he refused to enter the banquet at the end. In other words, while the younger son, the prodigal, repented of his sin, entered the banquet and was saved, the elder son did not enter and therefore was not saved. Wow, never thought of it that way. He was no better than the prodigal and he was upset that his father was spending his inheritance on this party celebrating the return of the "bad son" who had squandered his inheritance.

Keller outlined some characteristics of elder brothers: They get angry when life doesn't go their way - ouch. They don't take criticism well. They only pray petitionery prayers. And they never just enjoy God's presence because they're always trying to get something from God.

Sometimes I pride myself in never having been a prodigal. I've always done good things and lived a good Christian life. So Keller is messing with my stuff here! Is it possible to be a "good elder brother" and remain unsaved? Apparently so! I'm not saying that all "elder brothers" are not saved, and neither is Keller. We just need to remember that we can't rely on our "goodness" or our "ministry" to save us!

I spent several months this past year being extremely angry at God because life has not gone my way. Wow, that one really hit home. I can't say that I never take criticism well, but I do struggle with it sometimes. I don't always pray only petitionery prayers, but it's hard not to when a constant parade of the faces of friends and relatives who are carrying heavy burdens runs through my mind during my prayer time. It's not that I never enjoy God's presence, but what is the bulk of my relationship with God? What do I spend most of my time doing or asking for when I come before Him? How often do I just bask in His presence without thinking about how I will blog about it or share it with a friend who needs an encouraging word or seek some kind of answer or hope for my kids' future?

I'm a doer. God created me that way. So I struggle with just being in God's presence. I get bored easily and waiting on God takes chunks of quiet time with few distractions. It's hard for me to be still and quiet without being asleep! That's where discipline comes in.

Based on the messages I heard last week, I'm going to reinforce some boundaries that have become a little too flimsy in the past couple of years:
  • I will have one place in my house designated for my personal quiet time with God.
  • My petitionery prayers will follow a time of worship, repentance and thanksgiving.
  • In that personal alone time, I will repent of my selfish motives for doing good works--motives like attention, affirmation, recognition or to get God to behave the way I want him to!
  • My office will be reserved for work and ministry.
  • It's not that these two worlds will never intermingle. They are way too integrated for that. But I do want to take time to enjoy my Heavenly Father's presence without bringing my family, my friends, my blog readers, my work and ministry with me! There are times I need to come alone into God's presence without what looks like the entire Verizon network following me!

Can you hear me now?! Does anybody else struggle with this stuff? I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. Let me know if you do too and how you deal with it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Two-Weeks of Joy

For more than two weeks, I have severely neglected this blog. This may sound terrible, but I’ve had more important things to do. My two year old granddaughter had come to our house for those two weeks. It’s been a very long time since I chased a two-year-old and she has been keeping me busy.

For five years, I’ve enjoyed being able to have my house the way I wanted it. No childproofing necessary. It has stayed tidy because there was no one to mess it up. There have been no toys, no booster chairs, no babies or dress-up shoes or princess houses. And it’s been very, very quiet. I think I enjoy the mess and the laughter more. It comes with the cutest little package that includes a great little belly-laugh that makes it impossible not to join right in. The little head that has bounced around this house with her confident, happy-go-lucky walk made me cry, because I knew the day to take her home was fast approaching.

Oh, there were the two-year-old battles: “I want up, no, I want down!” “I want in, I want out!” “I want more, no I’m full!” “I can do it myself, help me!” “I want juice! No, I want water! No, I want milk! No, I want juice!”

But then there are the boo boos that need to be kissed, the polite little “Tink Too’s” (Thank You.) and the “I lu you too’s” There have been bubble baths in the bathroom and bubble blowing on the patio. There have been tea parties, and dress up parties. There have been visits with cousins, and train rides at the fairgrounds. There have been wonderful story times— we read the same one every nap time and bed time. We have sung songs together and played with bugs together. What an awesome two weeks we had.

But tonight, I’m a little bedraggled. I’m sitting on a plane next to an immaculately dressed young woman. She has the most beautiful bag, her nails are professionally manicured, her hair and makeup are flawless. Her outfit is perfectly coordinated. I, on the other hand, am in the tee shirt, jeans and tennis shoes that I put on at 4:00 this morning. I have no makeup on and I’m carrying a black nylon backpack. One leg of my jeans is stained where my granddaughter’s diaper leaked this morning, and there is something on the other leg that I can’t identify. I’m not on my last leg, but I am on the last leg of a 4,000-mile, 16-hour journey. I had to take my granddaughter home today. I’m not sure when I’ll get to see her again. I’m having trouble seeing my computer screen because of the tears in my eyes. (Good thing I didn’t wear any makeup.)

So, at least for a while I should be back to my regular blogging schedule, which I truly love. And tomorrow I’ll probably go through my house and pick up all the princess shoes and baby dolls. I’ll take down the princess house and put the booster seat away for now. Or maybe I’ll just leave them where they are. Either way, I will be missing that angelic little face that came out of her bedroom each morning, with blurry eyes and tussled hair. I’ll miss seeing her finger instinctively go into her nose and meander down to her mouth. She’ll only be two for a short time and I’m so glad that I got to enjoy two weeks of it. It will be a two weeks I will never forget!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Saturday Morning

Last week, I blogged about the 5th anniversary of my daughter’s death. Yesterday, I was reminded of the morning after the accident. I had gone to bed very late that Friday night after the coroner, the sheriff and our family left the house, vowing to never wake up again. I had made a conscious decision to crawl into my bed, pull the covers over my head and never get out.

But God said , “no.” Saturday morning came, the sun came up just like it always does. The birds were singing, people were out walking their dogs, biking and driving to work past my house. I thought surely the world would have stopped spinning now that my daughter—my ray of sunshine—was no longer in it.

I still tried to stay asleep. I pulled the covers up higher trying to shield the light from my eyes, but it was too late. The names and faces of people were flooding my mind. I knew they would be devastated by the news of my daughter’s death and I needed to comfort them. I had to call and encourage them! I couldn’t wait.

This had to be a supernatural move of God in my spirit because I did not have the strength or energy to think of anyone but myself during that time. I tried to shut down into a dormant state to protect my heart, my very soul. But God had a different plan and he would not allow me to sleep through it. I had to be proactive.

I am so thankful for God and the work he has done and continues to do in me. I am, by nature, a very selfish person. I felt my life had been changed more than anyone else’s by my daughter’s death, shouldn’t they be comforting me? Shouldn’t I be the one who needed it the most? Not on that Saturday morning. God put a calling in my heart that I have not been able to ignore since.

Many people have every reason to pull the covers over their heads and never wake up again. They have every excuse to numb their minds with drugs, alcohol, food or shopping. I am driven to help them know the hope that I have found in the providence of God. He put a message in my heart that first Saturday morning that I have to share.

I never thought I’d be able to see light again. I never thought I’d be able to hear a song, much less sing one. I never thought I’d be able to function after my daughter died. But here I am, five years later—functioning—active in ministry—singing as I go. That has not happened by any personal fortitude—I don’t possess it—but only by the power of my unswerving hope.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Day Like No Other

Five years ago today was just another laid back summer day for me. I was just a mom of a teenager, going through our regular routine. My husband got up and went to work just like he always does. My daughter and I slept in a little longer than usual. We were going to be babysitting my nephew that day and had plans to take him to the skate park. I had no idea that this day would change my world forever. It started out like any other day and ended like no other.

After going to the skate park, getting the oil changed in the van and making a quick stop at the grocery store, we went home. She was so excited because for the first time in months, she had plans to do something with a friend. Three months earlier we had moved 2,000 miles away from the only home she had ever known. At 15, she was trying heroically to adjust to a completely different culture and desperately to make friends in this new place. She finally met the girl next door and they had plans to hang out and go out to eat. We had our reservations about sending our daughter with such a young driver, but we wanted so much for her to make some connections in our new town.

At approximately 5:00 p.m., the car my daughter was riding in was heading west preparing for a left-hand turn. It entered an intersection where eastbound traffic actually disappears for a split second just before it rises up into the intersection. Her side of the little car took the brunt of the oncoming car which had probably been traveling at least 55 miles per hour. She was killed almost instantly.

We never got to say goodbye. We didn't have an opportunity to pray for her recovery. She was gone before we even knew there had been an accident. I had no idea when I hugged her at 3:00 that afternoon that it would be the last hug we would share in this life. I thought there would be lots more hugs. Everyday kinds of hugs, birthday hugs, graduation hugs, off to college hugs, wedding day hugs, and new baby hugs.

I remember once when she was about 14 years old, she had been at church camp. I had really missed her that week, and when she got home, she came around the corner into my office. I remember the feeling as my heart leapt. I jumped up out of my chair and hugged her. For now I can only remember that feeling and cherish it. But I look forward to feeling it again some day. When I enter heaven and I come around the corner, I envision my heart leaping again the instant I see her. We will hug like never before.

But then, I like to imagine her saying, "Mom, come on. You're gonna love this!" Then she'll lead me around another corner. I'll be greeted by my parents and grandparents and friends who have gone on before me. The reunion will great. But then she'll lead me through a giant door and there He will be. My heart will leap even higher when I see him. I believe there will be an instant recognition like seeing an old friend only more intense. My memory from eternity past will be jogged. He'll call me by name. Not Cindy, but the name that only He knows. The name that He gave me before I was born. And I will fall at His feet, filled with awe. And I will know that this life will never end. Never again will I be separated from my daughter. Never again will I be separated from my parents. Never again will I be separated from Him. Now that will be a day like no other! And that is my unswerving hope.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wait Continues

Today marked a huge milestone in this process of waiting that I have been going through for almost a year. I have prayed for much longer than that, over 2 1/2 years, for God to take care of this situation. He has not done it in the way that I would have preferred. But I believe now, more than ever, that He really is in control and that that is a good thing! There have been times when I wasn't so sure God being in control was a good thing. It certainly did not feel good at the time.

I received some news almost three years ago that made me tremble. I was so fearful of what the future would hold. Since that time, I have been through days of faith and days of fear. I have thrown myself at his feet and I have shaken my fist in his face. I have cried tears of love and submission to him and I've shouted in anger and pain at him. I've asked him to hurry up and I've asked him to wait. I have proclaimed, "Your will, God, not mine!" But I have become furious with him for not bringing about my will.

But who would know what my will is! It changes with every wave of emotion. I have begged him for a second chance and I've begged him to send someone else to do this thing that I may have to do. (So far, he has sent no one, so I am left to believe that I will be the one to do it.) God is so gracious. I am so thankful that my psychotic prayers don't phase him. My fits of anger and grief don't change his mind. He is on a steady course, accomplishing his intended goal and he knows I'll eventually find myself where he wants me.

So, with this one milestone complete, I am back to waiting. My future is still uncertain--to me. It exists only in the heart and mind of God right now. But it will be revealed and it will be good. It will almost certainly not be pain- and grief-free and it will not always be easy and clear, but it will be good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Waiting

Is there anything harder than waiting? I'm sure there is, but when you're waiting it feels so difficult. I am waiting. I've been waiting for almost a year for something very important. My life has been in limbo for months. I can't plan anything major because I'm not sure how a certain situation is going to turn out. I have an expected result, but I have no guarantee that I will get it.

We are so used to instant gratification. We expect that if we do "a," the result will be "b," and will be immediate. After all, we live in America. We have high speed Internet, microwaves and fast food. We Americans are not used to waiting. We know what we want and we go after it with gusto.

But waiting is such good exercise for the soul. It requires trust. Waiting and trust go hand in hand. That's another tough one for us Americans. We are individualists--self sufficient. We don't need anyone's help, right? That's how the West was won--by people who knew what they wanted and who had the true grit to do whatever it took to get it. They left family and friends and the comforts of civilization, knowing that they would likely never see them again.

I hate to wait and it's hard for me to trust. I know what I want and what I think is best for my situation and my first instinct is to do whatever it takes to make it happen. But I have a situation that is so far out of my control. I cannot make my expected result happen. I'm dependent on "the system" to make it happen. And "the system" is not very trustworthy. That's why I have to continually remind myself the "the system" is not the ultimate authority. God is. The system falls under Him. Ultimately, it's Him I need to trust and He is trustworthy.

In my chronological Bible this morning, I read about the fall of Jericho. God made the Israelites wait. He had them march around the city for six days before they were allowed to do anything. I wonder if some of them didn't feel foolish going out each morning and marching around the city each day, blowing trumpets. But the end result was so worth it! The city of Jericho was defeated with ease.

But then Achan blew it. God had told the Israelites not to keep any of the plunder for themselves. But Achan did, and he buried it in his tent, thinking no one would know. But God knew. And because of Achan's sin, the Israelites were beaten back in a battle with Ai that should have been an easy victory. Joshua didn't understand and he cried out to God. He was gut level honest with God, and God answered him. God revealed the sin and was pretty merciless in removing it from the people. He had the Israelites stone Achan, his entire family, livestock and all! Then they burned it all up and covered it with stones. Yikes! Thank you Jesus, for the grace and mercy that You brought to us!

Once the sin was removed from the people of Israel, they were instructed by God to go back to Ai. Again, Joshua had to wait. He spent the night with the people while part of his army went around to the other side of the city to set up an ambush. The plan was executed like clockwork, and the Israelites swiftly defeated the city. This time, though, God allowed them to keep the plunder for themselves. If only Achan would have waited for God's timing instead of taking what he wanted when he wanted it. He could have legally had all the plunder he wanted, but instead, he and his entire family and all his possessions lay under a pile of rubble.

OK, OK! I get the message! I don't want to end up under a pile of rubble! I will continue to wait... and trust. I will do my best to keep my relationship with God vibrant, staying in constant communication with Him so that I'll know what my next step should be. And I will wait... and trust.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Promise of Life

This morning, as I read in my Chronological Bible, I came across a verse Deuteronomy 30. "The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and all your soul and live"

I underlined that because I am trusting God to circumcise our hearts - to purify us - to cut away all the excess baggage and junk that gets in the way of us truly loving Him and living. Not only in me, but also in my descendants--my son and my granddaughter. But these two are not my only descendants. I have another one, my daughter, who didn't live. She died. Does that mean this promise wasn't fulfilled? Oh, no. In fact, I believe that my daughter is the only one of us who is truly experiencing life right now. We may have physical life, but she is experiencing spiritual life in the presence of Jesus! That's something that we have not yet seen. I thought about all that for a moment then moved on to Shane Stanford's book, "When God Disappears."

I finished the chapter on Lazarus being raised from the dead. Stanford first talks about the promise of Jesus in John 16:33. Here Jesus promises that in this world we will have trouble. What kind of promise is that?! Well, maybe it's not a promise, but as Stanford says, it's an honest statement. It's a fact. The promise comes next, "But take heart, for I have overcome the world." There's no promise to make our problems go away or that life will be easy. Just that we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.

Then Stanford starts in on a message that, given my scripture reading this morning, gets my attention. He says that God, "has made a way for us to 'take heart' and begin to truly live." Apparently, God is trying to get a message across to me today about life--true life.

I love how Stanford finishes this chapter. It's so good, I don't want to paraphrase...

"God loved us and decided that we were worth dying for. God, in Jesus, came into the muck to become like us, not only to rectify the cosmic gulf between Him and us, but to restore the brokenness in and between people. In doing so, God called us out of tombs in which we sealed ourselves, unwrapped us from our doubt and sin and misery and set us free.

"But, friend, it is still up to us to come forth and be willing to be alive again. We have to stop living like those walking around dead and start walking like a dead person who has been raised from the tomb."

Wow, that's how I want to live! Not held down by junk like self protection, self preservation and self absorption. I don't want to be held back by sin and doubt and misery. I want to remember every day that I am a dead person who has been raised from the tomb! I want to look forward to experiencing life some day in the presence of Jesus. That eternal life that my daughter has already entered. But I don't want to waste the days that I have here on earth. My job is not complete here and as long as I have breath, it will not be complete. So, Lord, let me remember that I am not just here to exist, I am not just here to survive, I am here to live, really live! And to share that life with everyone who comes across my path.

As I read the end of Stanford's chapter, I wanted to note the Deuteronomy 30 passage, but the verses are not all noted in my Chronological Bible. I looked it up in my regular Bible so I could get the correct verse. Apparently this is not the first time God has spoken to me about this subject. In my regular Bible, the exact same verse was already underlined.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Relationships--Who Needs Them?

Have you ever felt like God has disappeared? I know I have. That's why I was drawn to this great little book by Shane Stanford called, "When God Disappears." Each chapter focuses on an encounter in the life of Jesus. The chapter I'm reading today has hit me particularly hard. It's the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I've read that story a million times, but Shane Stanford brings out a whole new perspective. He suggests that the miracle, the raising of Lazarus is not the main point of this passage. In fact, he says, "Lazarus being raised from the dead may not even be in the top three reasons to take note of what happens here." Wow. So what is the point of this encounter?

Stanford zeros in on relationships. Here's what really got my attention in this chapter. "Jesus always goes to the heart of what we dread in this world. We dread being alone, so we make friends. We dread being hurt, so we don't make friends. We dread feeling betrayed, so we don't let our real selves show. We dread loss, so we choose not to love." Oh, how I relate to that! I am a people person, an extreme extrovert. I love being with people. But I have also been hurt. I have experienced major loss--mainly in the death of my 15-year-old daughter. I am also a sinful human being and I don't always treat people well. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier if I just didn't get involved in other peoples' lives.

Even though it is sometimes tempting to withdraw, to isolate myself, I can't. I need people in my life. But I get hurt. People I love die. I blow it in my relationships. So if I can't withdraw, my next tendency is to stay very shallow. Sometimes the shallow life is a great place to be! I used to just bounce my way obliviously through life, happy as a clam, dealing with nothing that threatened to burst my little bubble. But eventually, despite my attempts to avoid it, my bubble got obliterated. I had no choice but to deal with my "stuff." It felt like God had disappeared, and I had to dig really deep to find Him again. I can still tend to live on the shallow side of life, but I have learned that I can't stay there. I have to take the time to dig deep.

As I said in one of my earlier posts, motherhood has potential for the greatest joy we'll ever experience. It also has the potential to hand us pain so deep that we may think we can't survive it. I'm thinking all our relationships offer those two potentials as well. So just because they could cause pain, should we avoid them? Should we choose to keep them shallow and never reveal our true selves?

I offer a resounding NO! Shane Stanford would join in as well. He has experienced great disappointments and pain in his life, but would he choose to never have lived it? No. What about Jesus? Did he experience hurt, loss and disappointment in His relationships? Ha! Have you read the gospels lately? If so, you know He did. But out of all the ways he could have saved the world, He CHOSE to come and live in relationship with us. He CHOSE to make himself vulnerable.

So, even though I may get hurt--no, I will get hurt. Even though I will hurt someone else. Even though I will experience loss, I choose to live in relationship. I choose to let my real self be known. I choose to love.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Comfortable Versus Comforted

I have a very special journal. I got it about a year ago at a women's retreat. On the cover, among pictures of lots of my favorite things like tea pots and pretty bowls of ice cream and strawberries, are the words, "Creating a feeling of comfort."

I have not been comfortable for so long, I can't remember what it feels like. In fact, maybe being comfortable is not even what my soul longs for. Maybe there's a difference between being comfortable and being comforted.

Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that life on earth is not meant to be comfortable. If we get too comfortable, we'll never change or grow. I admit, there are times when all I want is a little comfort. Sometimes, I'm just weary. I'm weary of making this 4,000 mile round trip every 6 weeks or so, even though the purpose of those trips is to bond with my 2-yr-old granddaughter. I'm on one of those trips now. One of the problems is that every time I make these trips, I have to come face to face with the reality of the losses and disappointments that have so hugely impacted my life.

There's a part of me that misses the oblivion of my previous life... running my kids to school, band concerts and ballgames. Life was so busy back then. But it was controllable... Or at least I thought it was.

Since then, I've realized just how little control I really have. Things like ice cream and strawberries bring a very brief moment of comfort, but that's really not what my soul yearns for. My soul yearns for someone much bigger and stronger than I to love me enough to take care of the things I cannot control. That's the kind of comfort I get when I submit to God and trust His way of controlling things instead of demanding that He make me comfortable. I am comforted even in the midst of grief and loss even though I am not comfortable. Maybe being comfortable is really a myth. Maybe there is no such thing in this life as being comfortable. Maybe there was never supposed to be any such thing. Every one of us was born with a longing for a higher power. Something in us knows that we long for life to be meaningful much more than we long to be comfortable.

So, as I enjoy my granddaughter this weekend, and as I face the demons of my past, I will seek God's comfort in midst of all of it, the good and the bad. I will view being comfortable for what it is, a myth, a momentary pleasure in eating ice cream out of a pretty bowl. Oh, I will not deprive myself of an occasional bowl of ice cream, but I will remember that being comfortable is not what I was created for. Knowing God and enjoying His blessings while also allowing Him to refine me and make me into His image (even when there is pain involved) is what I was created for.

Thank You, Father, for Your amazing comfort that comes just in the nick of time. Just when I begin to feel like life is not worth living, Your comfort overwhelms me and I have the strength and courage to take the next step. May my life be full of meaning and purpose which are much more valuable than my comfort.

Friday, May 22, 2009

We All Need A Little Help Now and Then

I have an ongoing love affair with food. Food brings me comfort when I'm hurting, distraction when I don't want to deal with an issue, something to do when I'm bored, a way to celebrate when I've reached a goal and a way to connect with friends and family. It has also brought me an extra 30 pounds I don't need, high cholesterol and painful hip and knee joints. I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with food. And I know I'm not alone.

In my latest quest to conquer my distorted view of food and what it can and can't do for me, I joined Weight Watchers Online (again.) I decided to do a little more research this time than just the practices of tracking food and exercise points. I took their little quiz that's supposed to help you get to the bottom of your food addiction. I learned something that I have always known to be true, but try to ignore: I am not good at asking for help.

WW Online tells me that I need to learn to ask for help in managing my weight. It also tells me that I need to ask for help in other areas of my life. And if I do that, it will benefit me in this emotional battle I'm engaged in with my refrigerator and its contents!

Wow, I know I have trouble asking for help, but who knew that could be one of the causes for my struggle with food! It's really more about what's going on in my head and my heart than what I choose to put on my plate. In fact, maybe if I learn how to get beyond my pride and ask for help from my coworkers, family members and friends, I'll be able to have a healthier relationship with food. And who knows, maybe if I learn to really open myself up to God and ask for His help in dealing with my sins, my conflicts, my past, present and future, my hurts, my successes and my failures, maybe I won't need my comfort food at all!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Joy and Pain of Motherhood

Motherhood. I became a mother for the first time 24 years ago today. I don't know of any one thing in life that could have such potential both for immense joy and devastating pain. When we become mothers, we open ourselves up to the most wondrous joy possible in this life. Giving birth and seeing that miracle of new life occur right before our eyes is amazing. There is nothing like it. Watching our children grow and learn and discover is a truly wonderful experience.

But when we become mothers, we also open ourselves up to the potential for the most heart crushing pain I've ever imagined. Nothing hurts more than seeing your child hurt--helplessly standing by as they struggle to navigate life's twists and turns. Nothing hurts more--except maybe seeing them die.

Today I'm going to the funeral of a 24-year-old boy who could not bear life's twists and turns any longer. His mother and father will stand bravely greeting an almost endless line of well-wishers. Then they will go home to figure out this "new normal" that will be their daily lives. The well-wishers will go back to their lives and routines as usual, but this family's lives will never be the same.

This mother's life will never be the same. She will be asking God all the most difficult questions. Not just "Why," but also, "Why couldn't You have intervened?" "How could this possibly be Your will?" "How could anything positive ever come from such a tragedy?" "Where did I do wrong?" And most of all, "Are you really in control? Do You really care?"

And God will answer. There is no answer that will completely heal this mother's pain. She will have to do the hard work of feeling every excruciating ounce of the pain while allowing God to do major surgery on her heart. Only then will she be able to experience the healing that God's holy scalpel can bring. It is not a quick-fix, pain-free process. But it is a healing process. She will never "get over" her grief, but she will come out a changed person if she allows God to do His refining work.

Father, I pray for this family that is experiencing the deepest pain I have ever known. Thank You for Your faithfulness to comfort them. Thank You for Your people who will be there to comfort them--to help them remember their son--and to assure them that he will never be forgotten--that his life was not in vain--that You will bring something beautiful from this terrible tragedy. Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Grieving Community

My tiny community is grieving. In the past several weeks, this rural area has experienced some tremendous losses. The first was a school board member and little league coach, then his elderly mother. Shortly after that, a young father, head of maintenance at our local YMCA. And now the the 20-something year old son of one of our most respected and devoted teachers. Why, Lord? We don't get it. We don't understand.

Some people believe God "takes" our loved ones away when they die. Others stand firm in their belief that illness, disease, accidents and death are all the work of Satan. In my mind, if God is really God, if He is really all-powerful, if He is really in control then He could intervene. How many times have we narrowly averted an accident and thanked God for His protection? How many times do people survive and recover from deadly accidents and diseases and thank God for it? (And rightly so.) But if God is capable of blocking catastrophic events, He must also be the one who allows them.

There have been a handful of times where I've discussed this issue with God, and decided that He was either not capable or didn't really care enough about me to protect me and my loved ones from the dangers of this world. Actually, there was only one time when I really felt that way. I threatened God that if He couldn't do a better job of controlling my life that I was just going to have to take control of it myself. Oh, that is a dark, dark place to be. That I even thought for a moment I could take control of my life is ludicrous. But I was so angry with God. I was so weary of the grief, I didn't feel I could take it any longer.

This is why I love my Lord so much. Even as I angrily shake my fist in His face and threaten to leave this Christian walk, God's love does not fail me. I feel His face tenderly shining on me as He says, "I know, my precious daughter. I understand why you're angry with me. But just hold on. Hold on to Me. If you could only see what I see... If you only knew what I know... I have something in store for you and your loved ones that you can't even imagine" At the same time my words of anger are coming out of my mouth, I'm begging God for His forgiveness and grace! And you know what? He grants it! Oh, my God is so good.

I heard someone say the other day that the church today expects God to serve us--and we really do. But we've got it all backwards. God is not here to serve us, we are here to serve Him. Life is not always fair. Life is not always good, but God is. Even in the midst of grief and pain so deep you think there's no way survive, God is good. God knows your pain. He understands why you're angry with Him. But He is not willing to cater to your every whim. He wants something much deeper, much bigger for you than to meet your every desire--and even some of your perceived needs.

So just keep hanging on. Keep holding on to Him. One day we will stand in that great cloud of witnesses and say with them, "Oh, I get it! Now I understand!" And we will fall on our faces before God and thank Him for His providence, for His strength to allow the things in our lives that we were just sure could not be His will. We'll see how it all fit together to bring about His perfect will. A perfect will is better than anything we could ever have planned--deeper and more complex than we could ever have thought through. And we will praise Him for eternity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pressure and Worry - Are They the Same Thing?

I've never considered myself much of a worrier--at least not in a long time. I have survived some pretty huge life or death issues. Some of those issues continue and are truly life or death. But they are also out of my control, and I can usually (after doing the hard work of wrestling with God) lay them at His feet. Ironically, it's not as hard for me to lay those huge issues at His feet as it is for me to give Him my day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

I am still laboriously working my way through this tiny book of Chuck Swindol's, "Releasing Worry and Finding Worth as a Woman." Who knew this little booklet could hit me so hard. Well, obviously God knew, that's why he brought me to it at this particular time! I'm on chapter 3, Overcoming Anxiety. In the opening paragraph, Chuck says that anxiety "is running rampant in the lives of Christian women, causing untold destruction and burnout." Hello! Then he begins to analyze anxiety and compare it to worry. That's where I wrote in the margin, "Is the pressure I feel actually worry?" (See last week's post.)

Chuck goes on to quote Philippians 4:4-7, a foundational scripture for me. I've written it on so many index cards. Once, during a particularly difficult time, I moved one of those index cards close to a picture of my son. I kept moving it closer and closer so that every time I would look at his picture and begin to fret, I would also read that scripture. I finally cut out around it so I could tape it directly on the picture! I know what it means to stand on that scripture and claim its promise of peace.

But then Chuck starts talking about how tasks, expectations and pressures cause us to lose perspective and begin to feel anxiety. I'm pretty sure I used at least two of those three words in my last post. Now Chuck really has my attention! Then he has the nerve to say that truly "fruitful people are usually people at peace." Hm. I would not describe my week last week as me being at peace. At least not until Wednesday when I really began to try to figure out why I had no peace!

As I read on in this little book, I began putting words like, oof! pow! and bam! in the margins. Kind of like the old batman show. Chuck just kept hitting me with word pictures that described exactly who I DON'T want to be, but how I have seen myself acting in the past week or two. He wrote things like, "Anxiety siphons joy and moves us from thinking critically to becoming critics." bam! "When worry wins the battle, we take our anxiety out on others." pow! "Eventually, as thorns and thistles (Mark 4:7, 18 & 19) intensify, we become negative, bitter and narrow." whack! That is NOT the person I want to be!

And yet I am not able to make myself conform externally to what I know is right. I try so hard, but when I do, I become syrupy toward people and I know they can see through my conterfeit compassion. That is still NOT the person I want to be! I want to be saturated from the inside out with God's compassion. I want to be authentic in my encouragement of others. I want to be real and allow God's light to shine from deep inside me.

Oh, but there's work to be done! If there were no Marthas and we were all Marys, would anything ever get done? (See Luke 10.) That's the second half of chapter 3. Chuck, you're killing me here!

About Me

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I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother raising her granddaughter. I am blessed with incredible family and friends. I love working for my church and serving on our Women's Ministry Team. I especially want to reach the women who wear their "Everything's fine" smiles on Sunday, but go home to deal with tough real-life issues throughout the week.