Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Year of the Lord's Favor

Four years ago at this time, I was determined that 2008 was going to be the Year of the Lord's favor for my family--a year of new beginnings. I claimed Isaiah 61 and hung on with all my might. I even sent out New Year's cards with that scripture as the focal point. At the end of 2008, nothing had changed. Actually, some things had changed, in fact, life was getting worse instead of better. I felt completely abandoned by God. I had celebrated with friends and their new beginnings--marriages and new babies. It seemed like everyone I knew was finding favor with God but me, and I felt cheated.

As I wrestled with God through the first few months of 2008, I realized that what I was really looking for was happy endings. In fact, I was so busy looking for happy endings, I couldn't see the new beginnings that were right in front of me. They were not the new beginnings that I wanted or expected. But now, looking back over those four years, I can focus and see that there were new beginnings that year. It's like when my 4-year-old (yes, that's one of our new beginnings--just not the way I expected it) wants me to see something and she holds it about an inch from my eyes. I can't see things that close. I need her to move it farther away from my eyes so that I can focus on it. (And that distance gets farther and farther as I get older!)

My life, and the lives of my family members are still not perfect, and they won't be as long as we live on planet earth, but I'm a little better at seeing the potential of the uncertainties in life as new beginnings. I'm determined to quit looking for the happy endings--those may not come until heaven--and, instead, look at the chaos of my life with hope.

May 2012 be a blessed year of new beginnings, and may we all look at them through the eyes of Unswerving Hope!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Safest Place

Sarah Young, in “Jesus Calling” tells me that my desire to live a risk-free life is a form of unbelief. Ouch!

I recently did an exercise that lead me to get in touch with my deepest needs. I learned that one of my deepest (if not THE deepest) needs is security. I think most of my life has been all about playing it safe. I hate taking risks. I am not a thrill seeker. I have no desire whatsoever to skydive, mountain climb or even ski any faster than doing a snowplow on the green circle runs. I even have a tendency of keeping my relationships shallow for fear of hurting or being hurt. I’ve even told God that I like being shallow, that I have this deep desire to be safe. And He says, “yeah, that’s nice, but buckle up cause we’re going for a white knuckle ride!”

Sometimes, I’ve still tried to keep life stress-free and safe, but that’s nothing but a fa├žade… and denial. It’s really not safe at all. The only truly safe place to be is wherever God is, and that’s rarely a “safe” place. Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” God is not safe, but He is good.

So, I need to let go of my desire to be risk-free and find my security in this risky, unsafe, but good God. He is my unswerving hope!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Look, There's a Chicken!

We can often be a little ADD. I have some friends who joke about the “chickens” or “squirrels” that yank our focus out of a conversation. Our minds are so over stimulated, it’s hard to focus on just one thing for very long.

Yes, we joke about it, but losing our focus on Jesus can wreak havoc in our daily lives. In my devotional (Jesus Calling) this morning, I read, “I am with you in all that you do, even in the most menial task… However, your awareness of My Presence falters and flickers; as a result, your life experience feels fragmented. (to say the least!) When your focus is broad enough to include Me in your thoughts, you feel safe and complete. When your perception narrows so that problems or details fill your consciousness, you feel empty and incomplete.”

There are so many things in this life that divert our attention from Jesus and cause us to fear. And they are real, legitimate fears. I’ve been through the death of a child. I’ve watched both my parents die of cancer. I’ve witnessed my son as he struggles to stay clean and sober after years of a drug addiction so powerful that, at times, it seemed he would never be free. These are things I wish no one ever had to experience, but we all do. Whether it’s the struggle to keep a job, chronic pain, aging parents or depression, everyone has very real problems and issues that can so easily steal your joy, your faith, and your focus.

That’s why we need to make it our number one priority to know Jesus, to spend time in His presence, reading His Word and focusing on Him. Then when the fear, pain and darkness begins to engulf us, we can say, sometimes with teeth and fists clenched, “I trust You, Lord, I trust You.” Sometimes that’s all I can say. I can’t come up with any lofty words or pious prayers. It takes every ounce of energy and focus I have to look to Jesus and trust Him, rather than become consumed with the problems of life.

My devotional continues, “Though the world is unstable and in flux, you can experience continuity through your uninterrupted awareness of My Presence. Fix you gaze on what is unseen, even as the visible world parades before your eyes.”

So, as all the chickens and squirrels parade across my path, I will use every ounce of my being to maintain my focus on Jesus, to fix my gaze on what is unseen, to hold tightly to My Unswerving Hope.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Surely the Lord is in the Place!

I read my “Jesus Calling” Devotional this morning, and it talked about Jacob when he was in the desert, fleeing for his life. (Genesis 28) When he lay down to sleep that night, all he had for a pillow was a rock. But he had a dream about the presence of God. When he woke up, he exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!”

The devotional continued to instruct me to proclaim those same words at times when the Lord seems so distant. Then ask Him to reveal Himself to me in that very situation. So that’s what I will do…

… when uncertainty clouds my view of the future, I will say, “Surely the Lord is in the place!”

… when fear consumes my present, I will say, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

… when I’ve blown it and fallen into sin yet again, I will say, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

… when life feels completely out of control and there’s nothing I can do to change things, I will say, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

… when darkness encroaches and attempts to consume me, I will say, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

… when self-pity launches me into a downward spiral, I will say, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

Then I will plead with Jesus to reveal Himself to me in those desolate places, and I will praise Him and declare that He is my Unswerving Hope.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Inescapable Love of Jesus!

Early this morning, I had one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I had gotten up early because my husband and I wanted to go and vote together before work. As I finished drying my hair, I heard a funny little noise coming from our bedroom. I knew my husband was still sleeping, so I wasn’t sure what it could be. I opened the bathroom door to hear a froggy, sleepy little voice coming from the baby monitor. Our precious little one was singing…

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong!

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
As He loved so long ago.
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Yes, she even included the second verse! As I reflected on that song today, I remembered a night about 20 years ago. I had been having one of those mom days when I was feeling so unworthy, so unlovable. As I rocked my baby, I began singing Jesus Loves Me to her. All I was trying to do was get her to go to sleep so I could have some peace and quiet of my own, but before I realized it, I had tears rolling down my face. I was so blown away by the love of Jesus. I had done nothing to earn or deserve it. In fact, I was probably trying to push Him away. But He wouldn’t hear of it. He loved me, and let me know it in no uncertain terms that night.

I haven’t been able to stop smiling all day as I recall that little croaking voice declaring the love of Jesus this morning before she uttered a single word to anyone else. How privileged are we!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Heartbreaking Scene

I witnessed a heartbreaking scene yesterday. I had a few precious moments to do some shopping alone and decided to run in to a department store to look for a few items. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a police car in front of the store. Once I parked and began walking up to the storefront, I got a closer look at what was happening. A beautiful young girl, probably in her 20’s, was standing behind the police cruiser with her hands behind her back as the officer cuffed her wrists together. I was struck by the look on her face. With no emotion whatsoever, she stared blankly straight ahead. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t look away. I don’t know if the policeman was having trouble with the handcuffs or if he was just taking his time to make more of an impact on this young woman.

Then I saw another woman, who I assume was the younger woman’s mother, standing a few feet from the scene, watching with a helpless look of disbelief. This is where my heart broke. I saw myself in the woman’s face. I know the feeling of standing by helplessly watching your child face the painful, humiliating consequences of his or her bad decisions. Your mind is flooded with questions and disbelief. “Where did I go wrong?” You suddenly remember all the times you failed your child. You feel somehow responsible for their behavior, and yet there is nothing you can do to control them. You feel so many things at once: love, pain, sympathy, anger. I’ve never felt more helpless than when I’ve had to watch my own kids struggle with the realities of wrong choices.

I proceeded into the store trying not to embarrass either of the women by gawking, but I was so impacted by their plight, it was hard to just pass by. I came out a few minutes later, and the police car was still there, and I assume one or both of the women were inside. Then I saw an elderly man, holding an adorable little boy who was probably less than a year old. I didn’t really think they were connected until I saw a young man run from the back of the parking lot and take the boy from the old man, probably the young woman’s grandfather. As the young man cradled the boy, he, too, looked questioningly and with disbelief into the back seat of the cruiser. Now I saw that this young woman’s actions affected, not just herself and her mom, but also her child.

I pray for that young woman, who, in the presence of her mother, child and grandfather, must have made the choice to shoplift. Who knows why she did it. Is she a drug addict, shoplifting to support her habit? Does she have a deep emotional hurt that compels her to steal? Did she need something that she couldn’t afford? Who knows. But I pray that she takes this as a wake up call to change her way of thinking and living. I pray that she’ll find Jesus through this experience.

I pray for her little boy, an innocent bystander of the whole situation. He will probably not remember anything that happened yesterday, and obviously didn’t understand what was going on, but what does it do to a child so young to witness his mamma being handcuffed, loaded into the back of a police cruiser and driven away?

And I pray for her mom. That she will continue to love her daughter unconditionally, yet set the hard boundaries that parents of adult children must set. I pray for her broken heart to be touched and healed by God. Because I know her pain so well, I wish I could give her a hug, tell her I’m praying for her, and let her know that God is real, and that there is hope.

I realize I could be completely wrong about many of the details of this story, but the point is, we live in a hurting world, and my heart (and the heart of God) is drawn to parents of adult children who are especially hurting.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mom Fast Day 3

Today is the last day of our fast. I’m feeling pretty good physically, but still no major spiritual breakthrough. But I do know that God is moving, whether I can see it or not. There are so many people praying about our situation, and I know those prayers are not falling on deaf ears.

Yesterday, we couldn’t bring ourselves to put on our happy faces and go to church. So we visited a church pastored by an old friend. His church is not in our town and we knew we could go in and not see anyone we knew (other than our friends, the pastor and his wife.) And guess what the sermon was about… Courageous, a movie about fathers stepping up to the plate and doing the courageous things they need to do to fight for their kids, wives and families. The sermon was not just aimed at fathers, but also mothers or anyone else who had settled into complacency, but needs to move into the courageous.

One of the phrases of my friend’s sermon that hit me right between the eyes was this, “You’ve followed all the rules and ended up against insurmountable odds.” Is that something like me saying to God, “I HAVE trusted and look where it’s gotten us!” According to my pastor friend, a complacent believer says, “Obstacles mean I must have done something wrong, so I quit.” But a courageous believer says, “Now I see what I must overcome.” Yes, God was speaking to us yesterday.

Another important message I heard this weekend was at an Old Testament Conference I attended. It was on Saturday, when I was feeling so sick, but the lesson that stood out to me in the fog of a major caffeine headache and nauseous stomach was about Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I’ve claimed that verse and others like it for years, but there was always one nagging question. Most of the promises of God like Jeremiah 29:11 were made during times of persecution and martyrdom. The trials our family have had are not as a result of persecution for our faith, but of the bad choices we have made. So can I still claim God’s redemption? According to Sandra Richter, the teacher of this conference, the answer is a resounding YES! According to her, the context of Jeremiah 29:11 is this: Jeremiah is standing in the devastated city of Jerusalem (I think). Israel has been defeated, the city destroyed and the blood of the Israelites is flowing freely down the streets. All this devastation occurred because the Israelites refused to obey God. And yet in the midst of all this chaos, brought on by their own bad choices, the prophet of God proclaims that God still has a plan, and that the plan is for good, and that they still can have the hope of a great future.

I hope I’m not misinterpreting anything Dr. Richter was saying, I think I got it correct. If not, someone correct me. But what I heard was, yes, I can still claim God’s promises as I seek deliverance from an impossible situation brought on by our own bad choices. I’m not sure what that deliverance looks like, and I know it’s not going to be about my own comfort and success. But it is going to be all about God’s plan for redeeming broken people.

We have learned so much through the last ten years of struggle, and I know we’re not done. Learning that God is not my giant “Santa in the Sky” who will never let anything bad or painful happen to me is probably the greatest lesson I could learn. I have learned that my life is not my own and that it’s not all about me! I have discovered that even in the valley of the shadow of death, I can have hope for a future. And even though I still don’t know for sure what I am doing tomorrow, I will face it with courage and not complacency. And that is my Unswerving Hope!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mom Fast Day Two

I am such a wimp when it comes to fasting. I was so sick all day yesterday, the first day of our fast. I decided to drink a little coffee this morning so I don’t get such a caffeine headache. So far, I feel better today.

No major spiritual break through so far, but I just keep hearing “Trust Me.” I still don’t know what I’m doing from moment to moment. But I’m praying for God to shine his light on our situation. Here’s what I read in my devotional this morning:

POUR ALL OF YOUR ENERGY into trusting Me. It is through trust that you stay connected to Me, aware of My Presence. Every step on your life-journey can be a step of faith. Baby steps of trust are simple for you; you can take them with almost unconscious ease. Giant steps are another matter altogether: leaping across chasms in semidarkness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty, trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. These feats require sheer concentration, as well as utter commitment to Me.

This makes trust sound a whole lot more active than passive.  I have felt like I’ve been too passive, and that I should do more. But I do feel like we’re leaping across chasms in semidarkness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty and trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. So today I will work at pouring all my energy into trusting Him and working with sheer concentration and utter commitment to God. I will be powered by His grace and My Unswerving Hope.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mom Fast Day One

Today is the first day of my fast. I have a bit of a caffeine headache, but I’m off to a good start. Here’s what I hope to gain from this fast:

  • ·         Wisdom and insight about how to help our son
  • ·         A closeness to God that I have not yet known. I want to live in His presence in a way that his love and peace will permeate my words and my demeanor

So, God, I commit these next three days to you. I want to know You. I want to love You. I want to share You.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Mom Fast

My hope may be unswerving, but it sure is taking a beating. Today it is bruised and bloodied. I’m at another point in my life where I have to present myself to God as I am, and it is not pretty. I cried out to God today, and all I could hear Him say was, “Trust Me.” I want to shout back, “I HAVE trusted You, and look where it’s gotten us! I’ve memorized scripture and quoted it. I’ve prayed, I’ve cried, I’ve given, I’ve set boundaries, I’ve loved ‘till it hurt. What do You want from me?!”

“Everything,” is His only reply.

“But things are getting worse instead of better! Surely You must need me to DO SOMETHING! Surely there is something I must do differently because what I’ve done for the last however many years is not working!”

“OK, go on a fast. A 3-day fast. And get three friends to do it with you.”
“God, you know how I hate fasting! I always end up making it all about me and how pitiful and miserable I feel. I don’t feel like I ever get anywhere when I fast. It just doesn’t work for me.”

Silence. God will not be manipulated. Not by my rants. Not by my tears. He is unmovable.

So I’m going on a three-day fast, and I’m looking for three friends to do it with me. So far, I’ve had no takers. Am I the only mom who aches for her kid? Am I the only mom whose heart has been dashed to bits as she watches helplessly while her kid self-destructs? Is anybody out there who knows this unbearable pain? Or who would like to avoid it in the future? I need to see the Hand of God move in my situation. I cannot go on with my life as I have known it if I don’t. Maybe that’s the point. Whatever the case, I must see the Hand of God. Will you join me? Click this link for the facebook event:  http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=205826286150447

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Story of the Butterfly

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I know it's been around a long time, but it's a good reminder that our struggles are not without reasons. There is a purpose for every difficulty we go through.

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.
One day a small opening appeared.
He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours
as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole.
Then it stopped, as if it couldn’t go further.
So the man decided to help the butterfly.
He took a pair of scissors and
snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon.
The butterfly emerged easily but
it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch it,
expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge
and expand enough to support the body,
Neither happened!
In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life
crawling around.
It was never able to fly.
What the man in his kindness
and haste did not understand:
The restricting cocoon and the struggle
required by the butterfly to get through the opening
was a way of forcing the fluid from the body
into the wings so that it would be ready
for flight once that was achieved.
Sometimes struggles are exactly
what we need in our lives.

Going through life with no obstacles would cripple us.
We will not be as strong as we could have been
and we would never fly.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. --James 1:2-4

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Papa Prayer

I've been thinking about the Papa Prayer a lot lately. I sent the "gist" of it to my son recently, hoping to help him on his current difficult walk of faith. Why is it so easy to tell someone else what they should be doing, when you're not doing it yourself?!

Yesterday, I realized how much I need to revisit the Papa Prayer for myself. I am so prone to present myself to Jesus as the person I think I should be instead of the person I really am. 'Cause the person I really am can be very dark, angry and selfish. Does Jesus really want me to present that kind of person to Him? Uh, yeah!

As long as I keep showing up to Jesus with my happy face plastered on, I am nothing more than a white-washed sepulchre and there is nothing He can do to heal me. But when I drop the mask and begin to tell Him how disappointed I am in what I've experienced of Him, I begin to see how ludicrous my disappointment is and He is able to heal my perception of Him and free my mind from the grips of fear, worry and regret.

Does that mean I'll never have fear, worry and regret again? Uh, no! But when I do, if I'll bring them to Jesus, present my fearful, anxiety-ridden self to Him, He will correct my perception of Him and give me direction. At which point, I need to submit (oh, the dreaded word!) myself to him, do what He's calling me to do and move on! I cannot function the way He has designed me to function when my mind and emotions are consumed with fear, worry and regret. But until I get real about those things, they will consume me.

The Papa Prayer:

Present yourself to God authentically; be real with Him as you are with no one else.

Attend to how you are thinking of God, how you picture Him as you're talking to Him and then modify your perception to fit who He tells you He is.

Purge yourself of your relational faults by taking inventory of how you put your interests ahead of His and getting rid of anything that blocks intimacy with Him.

Approach God just as you are, tuning in to your passion to know Him and to honor Him above all others.

"Come to me exactly how you are. Stop trying so hard to be good. Admit that you're not so good. Admit how disappointed you are in what you've so far experienced of Me. I know you wonder if I even care. Sometimes you've hated Me. Be who you are in My presence. No, it's not a pretty sight. But I've found a way for Me to look at you with excitement. And my Father is singing over you. You won't hear the music till you come out of hiding. Come. Present yourself to Me. I'll walk with you as you present yourself to my Father. It'll be all right. Trust me."  --Jesus (From Larry Crabb's book, Papa Prayer)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Living Word

“As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:10-11

I was taught early in my Christian walk to pray according to scripture. When I was pregnant with my first child, fearful that I might not do everything “right,” I prayed Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:5 over him, trusting that God was knitting him together in my womb, that he had a great plan and purpose for him.

When our family was going through a particularly difficult time involving my first-born, I would ask advice from people who were godly and who knew God’s word. I respected and trusted them all, yet each one had different advice. I remember crying out to God, “Who do I believe?! What is truth?!” He gently reminded me that His word is truth.
So I ran back to Psalm 139, Jeremiah 1 and other scriptures and I began praying those scriptures fervently over my son. We would have good days and bad, but for over 10 years, the general direction was more of a downward spiral than what I viewed as answered prayer. I got angry with God and said, “God, I have prayed your Word over my children their whole lives, and look where it’s gotten us! Have you not heard my prayers? Have you ignored them? Are you there? Can you even hear me?!”

I got very cynical and may have even taken a step back from praying the Word over my children. Early in January of this year, I heard the Lord say two words to me: “Get understanding.” I knew exactly what He was saying: Get back into the Word. I wish I could say that I spent the past eight months digging relentlessly into my Bible. But my efforts have been a little half-hearted. I did dig out my old scripture cards that I used to carry with me everywhere I went, and I got out my Chronological Bible that I started to read several years ago. But I think I still carried that cynicism about God’s Word.

This past weekend, the sermon at our church was “Busting Myths About the Bible.” My heart was stirred again as I listened our pastor share his passion about, not only the truth of God’s word, but the life and power it contains. I realized that I used to have that same passion, but that it had diminished in me. That’s scary! This Word that I have based my whole existence on was no longer the center of my prayer life. I didn’t see it as “alive and powerful” anymore.

So I went to Hebrews 4:12 and thought back about 25 years ago when I first read that scripture and how I felt then. That reminded me of Isaiah 55:11,and I saw something that I hadn’t thought much about in the past.

God says His word will accomplish what HE pleases, and it will achieve the purpose for which HE sent it! My cynicism came because I was angry that God’s Word was not accomplishing what I wanted it to. It did not achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Ooohhh, big difference.

I had been demanding that God conform to MY desires, treating Him like that big Santa in the Sky. And when He didn’t, I got angry. God forgive me. Let me never again attempt to manipulate your Word to make it accomplish what I please. I submit to You and Your will, Your purpose, Your desires. Thank You that Your word is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword [scalpel] it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The thoughts and attitudes of my heart have needed some judging. God, restore to me my passion for your Word, my fervent desire for Your Word, for in it is My Unswerving Hope.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Little Flower Girl

This weekend was one of those times I took my gift of grief off the shelf for a little while. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with it. It was a day of celebration, and most of my energy and attention was focused on my little flower girl. If you’ve ever been the mother of a flower girl, you understand!

The first of my eight nieces got married this weekend, and even though no one at our table noticed my older daughter’s absence, or at least they didn’t say anything if they did, I felt it acutely. Between times of trying to keep my 4-year-old looking like a princess, and still letting her be a little girl, I kept my little gift of grief with me all weekend. There were two times at the wedding when I felt my older daughter’s absence most. The first was when my brother-in-law danced with his daughter to Steven Curtis Chapman’s Cinderella

And I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
‘Cause I know
Something the prince never knew
I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t want to miss even one song
For far too soon
The clock will strike midnight…
And she’ll be gone.

‘Nough said.

The second time I felt her absence so strongly was, when saying good-bye to my brother-in-law, he whispered to me that he missed my daughter. I’m sure he has no idea how much that meant to me. But most of the time it feels like hardly anyone even remembers her. It was nice to know that my husband’s brother does. 

So, I’ll shed a few tears tonight before my head hits the pillow, and tomorrow, I’ll put my little gift of grief back on the shelf and I’ll be back at life as usual. It’s what she would want, and it’s what God calls me to do. If you see me at church tomorrow, you’ll never know I was up until after midnight, spilling my tears and emotions in this little blog post. I’ll be smiling and worshiping just like always--and it will be sincere. There is plenty to smile about and be grateful for. But I’ll never stop missing my older girl—she was a flower girl once too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Ask Why?

There are so many things that happen in life that cause us to ask, “Why?” Sometimes, at the top of our lungs we want to scream, “Why?” We want to shake our fist at God and say, “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why her?” “Why this again?!”

I have a friend who has cancer. She’s not asking, “Why?” She’s asking, “Why not?” We live on planet earth. This is our temporary home. We won’t be perfect and whole until heaven. There’s no reason to think that some of us won’t get cancer. I love her response early on when she first received her diagnosis. When people tried to treat her like she was knocking on death’s door, I remember her saying, “I’m not dying, I’m living!” She has not slowed down enough to ask, “Why.” She is busy doing ministry and caring for other people. She knows there may come a time when she will have to slow down physically, but as long as she has the strength and energy, she intends to allow God to use her to do whatever He’s calling her to do.

Lysa TerKeurst, in her book, Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, says, “Asking why isn’t unspiritual. However, if asking this question pushes us farther from God rather than drawing us closer to Him, it is the wrong question.”

We’ve all had life situations when we were tempted to ask, “Why?”
  •          Why did our son get mixed up in drugs?
  •          Why have relationships between family members gotten so strained?
  •          Why does life have to be so hard?
  •          Why is there so much grief in the world?
  •         Why must people suffer?
  •          Why must children go hungry?

The list could go on and on. The problem with asking, “Why?” is, it causes me to get stuck in an endless loop and wallow in my grief and guilt. I begin to ask questions like,
  •          Why did I let my daughter get into a car with a 16-year-old driver?
  •          Why didn’t God intervene as he does with so many others who miraculously survive car accidents?
  •          Why wasn’t I a better mom to my son?
  •          Why didn’t I see that he was sliding down a slippery slope?
  •          Why didn’t I do more to protect my kids?
  •          Why hasn’t God “shown up” for my son?

Just typing those words makes my blood pressure rise. But asking those questions gets me nowhere. It does no one any good. It doesn’t bring my daughter back and it doesn’t help my son with his addictions. I can’t do anything to change the past, I can only change my future.

Lysa TerKeurst says the more appropriate question is, “What?” I remember when we lost our daughter in a car accident, I didn’t care why. It didn’t matter why. Knowing why wouldn’t bring her back, so who cares? I did, however, need to know what. What do I do with this? What do You want me to do, Lord? What next? I had planned to focus on her for the next three years. I wanted to help her make the transition to our new community and get through high school. I knew after that, it was likely that I would have a lot less time to spend with her. I thought I had three years. But I didn’t. So, now that the whole focal point of my life was gone, what was I supposed to do?

I’ve been seeking the answer to that question for seven years now, and somehow, I think I’ll be on this quest as long as I live on planet earth. As long as I’m growing, learning and changing, the answer to the “What next?” question changes as well. We’ve had several other major transitions in life since our daughter was killed, and with those situations, I’ve been more tempted to ask, “Why?” But God continues to remind me to ask, “What?” instead.

So today, in what situations are You asking God, “Why?” How would asking, “What?” change how you approach that situation? Once you begin to ask God, “What?” better buckle up and hold on tight! You may be in for the ride of your life!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

To Know Him

I have a friend who is desperate to know who her “real” father is. She has a step-father who has raised her from a young age and into her adulthood. But there’s this intense inner desire “to know him,” her biological father.

I can’t imagine not knowing my father, and there’s a part of me that’s tempted to trivialize this desire and say, “It doesn't matter! You know the father who love you and raised you, who loves your kids as his own grandkids. Who cares about the guy whose DNA you carry?” I don’t ever want to say something like that about something I don’t understand. Especially when I realize that my little girl may very well have a similar issue some day.

So, the purpose of this post is certainly not to minimize my friend’s desire to know her biological father, but I do believe that beneath her longing to know him is a deeper longing to know her Heavenly Father. She does know Him. She’s a woman of strong faith. But does she really know Him? Do I really know Him?

Our pastor is preaching a series on God’s love. This weekend, he talked about God’s desire for us to know Him. Pastor briefly mentioned a scripture in Ezekiel that says, “that they may know that I am the Lord.” He unpacked to word, “know” from this scripture. It doesn’t just mean that we know about God. It’s the deepest knowing, the same as the way a husband knows his wife – intimately. It’s a covenant love.

Well, I decided to look that scripture in Ezekiel up for myself. I went to biblegateway.com and typed in “they will know” in the New Living Translation. I found, not one, but 22 verses! But I also remembered hearing “that you will know that I am the Lord.” Maybe that’s the one Pastor was talking about. So I typed in “you will know.” I found, not 22, but 32 verses! So at least 54 times in the book of Ezekiel, God expresses His desire for us to know Him deeply and intimately.

I believe God has placed within every human being, a deep, intense desire to know Him intimately. We try so hard to quench that desire with everything from relationships, to drugs and alcohol, to ministry, to food! It’s time we all learn that the only thing that will truly quench it is to know God and open up our deepest, most inner selves to Him. That’s why I’m off to read more in the strange book of Ezekiel about God’s desire for me to know Him, my Unswerving Hope!

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 as He knows us! 1 Corinthians 13:12 MSG

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Way Up is Down

Our culture is obsessed with being whole and feeling good... we want a painless pentecost... we want gain without pain; we want resurrection without going through death; we want a crown without going by way of the cross. But in God's economy, the way up is down.
--Nancy Leigh DeMoss in Brokenness

A painless pentecost, resurrection with no grave; life without death; crown without a cross, the way up is down. These are hard concepts for us Americans! We are all about working hard and reaping good results. 1 + 2 = 3, right? Good works = Blessings, right? Giving = Receiving, right? Obedience = Favor, right?

It's true that we reap what we so, and that if we never plant, we'll never harvest. But anyone who knows farms knows that there's not a bumper crop every year. Some years, like this year, you wonder if there will be any crop at all! And sometimes, the cost of farming is greater than the harvest. That's why so many small family farms have disappeared. It's not a simple science. It's not planting = reaping. There are so many variables--too much rain, too little rain, not enough sun, too much sun, pestilence, a wet spring and a dry summer or a dry spring and a wet summer, damaging wind or hail.

Does that mean we give up and quit sowing? No! We accept the good years and the hard years... and keep looking to God, our unswerving hope!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Let Faith Arise!

I just had a very brief conversation with a friend last Saturday night after church about offering up a sacrifice of praise when our hearts are so badly broken that we just don't feel it. We feel like God is no where to be found, or if He is He's just not interested in fixing things for us. Then I began hearing this song all week. I could hardly keep my hands on the steering wheel of my car this morning as I drove to work when it came on the radio. I had to come home and look up the video.

I truly believe that when we, as a sheer act of our will, worship God even when our world is crashing down around us, even when we don't feel it, that faith will arise. That is my prayer for several of my friends who are going through extremely difficult times, and they're finding it difficult to see God in their circumstances. As they lift their hands to believe again, God, let faith arise!

YouTube - Chris Tomlin - I Lift My Hands

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reigniting the Call

Today is one of those days when I take my precious Gift of Grief off the shelf and examine it. I reminisce, I cry a little, I allow myself for one brief moment to think of some of the “what-ifs.” Today is the seven-year anniversary of the day our daughter met Jesus face to face. It truly was a Day Like No Other.

So, what if my daughter was still here? Would we live in the house we live in now? Quite possibly not. She grew up in town and hated the thought of living in the country. We probably would have bought a place in a suburb somewhere.

Would she be graduating from college? Would she be beginning a career as a nurse? A special ed teacher? A social worker? Those were the kinds of things she talked about becoming.

Would she be getting married? Thinking about starting a family? Would she still be in our state? Quite possibly not. Her heart was out West where she grew up.

So many things would be different, but our lives are still full. I never thought I could have survived if anything happened to my children. But here I am, working, serving, parenting again. I did survive… quite well, in fact. Do I miss her? Oh, my goodness, yes! Do I wish that accident never would have happened? Absolutely! But God had other plans.

My daughter’s work on earth was done. She had finished her race, completed her course and she had kept the faith. My work, however is not finished. At least God’s work in me is not finished. I don’t know what God has in store for my future, but I cannot allow my daughter’s entrance into eternity to keep me from whatever it is God wants me to do. Quite the opposite. I’m more driven than ever to find purpose. I know that her life was not in vain, and I surely know her death wasn’t either.
I’ll never forget one day during the early weeks after her death, I sat in the yard, gazing up at the blue sky and white puffy clouds through the lush green leaves of the trees. I said to God, “How could this possibly be your will?” What He spoke to my heart was something like 2 Peter 3:9, “My will is that no one should perish, but that everyone would come to know me.” And so I said, “OK, then let’s go! Let me see someone come to know you through this most devastating heartbreak. Otherwise, there’s no way I can bear it.”

And so today, I want to reignite my fervor for the mission that I set out on that day. I’m holding God to his promises. He put in my heart that day an unswerving hope that has held on tooth and nail for seven years. I want to lay aside my pride, my selfishness, even my comfort and press on to see God’s promises fulfilled! God, if it’s your will that no one should perish, but everyone should come to know You, then let’s go! Show me what I need to be doing! Reveal Yourself to us! Give us the umph we need to get out and share Your Unswerving Hope!

I love you, my beautiful girl! See you soon, but not too soon—I have some things to do first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Has God Promised?

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

Has anyone ever used 1 Corinthians 10:13 to encourage you through a difficult time? I hear it quoted all the time in response to trials, “God will never give you more than you can bear.”

My response is an emphatic, “OH YES HE WILL!” God has often given me way more than I could bear! Now, hear me out. I know that the word used for “temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 can also mean “testing” or “trial.” But if you look at the context, you’ll see that it is more about temptation and sin than it is about the trials of this life. Either way, as I see it, God often asks us to do things that we are completely incapable of doing--on our own.

What God did promise was that He would walk with us, strengthen us, refine us, give us peace and draw us closer to Him through our trials. That’s His main purpose, to help us to know Him better and realize our utter dependence on Him. If He never gave us more than we could bear, how would we ever learn that?
That’s what my trials have taught me, and frankly, I’m thankful for that lesson (though I'm afraid it will take a lifetime to  learn it completely.) I sure wish there was a better way, in fact, I’ve pled with God for another way. But I can do that “‘til I’m blue in the face,” as my mom would say. I can also become bitter and angry because of my trials, or I can see them as opportunities for transformation. Since I can do nothing to prevent many of my trials, I’ve decided to quit pleading for a different way and instead, plead with God to help me use my trials as opportunities for transformation.

God, help me to learn my current lesson so I can move on to the next one! I don’t want to spend the rest of my life banging my head against a wall, looking for a better way when I could be allowing You to change me a little more into Your image.
What God Hath Promised

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Opportunities for Transformation

My last post was about crucifixion moments, which are opportunities for transformation. I am seeing those opportunities at every turn these days. I am wrestling with so many things in my mind and spirit. I have so many things that I just don’t want to give up and yet God is calling me to a level of surrender that I’ve not previously known.

These things I need to surrender are not all heinous sins, but they are things that vie for God’s position in my life. I just read in my Bible study this morning, “Being ruled by something other than God diminishes our commitment and will make us feel increasingly distant from Him. Being ruled by anything other than God is something God takes quite seriously. And so should I.” –Lysa Terkheurst

These things that I need to surrender are things that my flesh feels like it needs. And my flesh is not relinquishing them quietly or easily. There is something in me that needs to die, and it’s not dying without a fight—a painful, bloody fight. Not physical blood of course, but there is a tearing, scratching, clawing going on in my soul as I battle to kick some things out of my life that aren’t going to leave nicely.

Right now, I have a couple of opportunities for transformation, and I do not want those opportunities to pass me by! As Lysa Terkheurst says, “I don’t want to wander about in a desert, unable to enter into the abundant life God has for me because I willfully put Him to the test over food!” Or any other issues in my life.

Sometimes, what comes to mind is, “Haven’t I surrendered enough? I’ve dealt with so many hard things as a mom, as a wife, as a daughter and a sister. How much more do I need to surrender?" And I hear God say, “Everything… your pride, your rights, your vices of escape and distraction… everything.”

[Heavy sigh.] And I know He’s right. He is offering me several opportunities for transformation into His image and I would be a fool to let them pass me by. So, as I start my day, I press into My Unswerving Hope and say, I will continue to the fight, transform away!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Crucifixion Moments

We’re all faced with them every day, those opportunities to die to ourselves… one tiny step at a time. They can seem so insignificant. You and I could be in the same room… even involved in the same conversation, and you may not notice my crucifixion moment. In fact, I may miss it myself. How often have I missed a crucifixion moment, and along with it, a chance to be transformed?

Nancy Leigh De Moss talks about crucifixion moments in her book, “Brokenness.” She says, “Every time you are confronted with a crucifixion moment, choose to lay down your self-life. Choose to surrender you pride, your expectations, your rights, your demands. Choose the way of the cross. Let someone else get the credit you deserve, forego the opportunity to have the last word, die to the demands of your flesh.”

Those are some tough things to lay down—my rights, the opportunity to have the last word, letting someone else get the credit I deserve? Ouch! Crucifixion moments can happen in our daily circumstances—a stressful job, a difficult relationship, family conflicts. I can choose to fight against those circumstances, responding in pride, resisting and resenting them or even giving in to despair. Or, according to DeMoss, “We can choose to respond in humility, to submit to the hand of God and allow Him to mold and shape us through the pressure.”

I’m really asking God to help me see those crucifixion moments as opportunities for transformation. So that instead of bristling and retaliating, I will allow God to break me—to break my pride—to make me more like Him. Lord, help me, during my crucifixion moments… to be more like you… and choose the way of the cross.

Solidifying Truth

I’ve been wrestling with a couple of issues in my life—pride and food. And I’ve just read a couple of books on those two issues and I want their messages to take root in me. I don’t want to just say, “that was a great book,” and put it on the shelf. I want the biblical truths of those books to change me.

The best way I know of to do that is to journal about what God is speaking to me through the things I’m reading and experiencing. So, my next few blogs will probably be based on “Brokenness” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and “Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst.

Hopefully, some of what I’m learning will resonate with someone else too.   

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Pastor, My Friend

My pastor resigned this week. He’s moving to another church. I’ve worked in ministry for over 20 years and I’ve seen lots of pastors come and go, but it’s going to take me a while to wrap my brain around this one.

My pastor is not just the leader of my church. He’s not just my boss. He is my friend. He has listened to me sob bitter tears of grief. With great grace, he has patiently endured my anger, hurt and frustration. He has been my small group leader and his wife is my dear friend. His daughters are my daughter’s favorite babysitters.

We first visited our church almost seven years ago. We visited because some kids at school had invited our older daughter. Our first visit was in early June, 2004. We visited one or two more times before the landscape of our lives was forever altered by our daughter's death. Just three weeks after that first visit, the coroner was asking me who my pastor was. We hadn’t been at our church long enough for me to consider it home, and I felt like my pastor was at our old church 2,000 miles away.

The days that followed that short meeting with the coroner were a haze of funeral and travel arrangements, sympathy cards, flowers, and thank you notes. But by August, I found myself writing “Thank you for the lovely flowers” for the last time, and I was petrified! What would I do when there were no more arrangements to be made, no more thank you notes to be written? I was already struggling with the fact that there would be no more soccer games or concerts, no more grade cards to worry about, no more proms, not to mention that there would never be a graduation to attend, colleges to visit, a wedding to plan or grandchildren born to our daughter.

I had no idea who I was or why I was here. I had no purpose. I had no place to be and nothing to do. But the day I wrote that last thank you note, I got a call from the senior pastor of our new church inviting me to come and talk with him about a project he was hoping I would do. I made the appointment for the next day. I didn’t care what the project was, I just needed something to do!

The next day, my pastor spent almost three hours with me, sharing his vision, answering my questions about this denomination that was unfamiliar to me and listening to me grieve. I’ve never had a pastor invest that kind of time in me.

That original volunteer project never did get done. But I ended up with a part-time job at the church. But it was so much more than that for me.

At a time when I had no reason or desire to get out of bed in the morning, this man offered me hope—hope that God still had a plan for my life—hope that I still had a purpose. He gave me some place to be—a reason for getting out of bed in the morning and I will always be grateful for that.

I understand why they’re leaving and I believe it’s the right thing for them to do. We’ll get a new pastor and I’m sure he’ll be great, I may even like his wife. But my pastor and his family will always hold a very dear place in my heart and I will miss them very much.