Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Heart that can Break

As I continue in the study of Nehemiah, I am seeking the "LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands", (Nehemiah 1:5) I am working to muster the courage to pray the prayer I know God is calling me to pray.

I have wept, fasted and prayed and grieved so much for my children--all three of them--I want to be done. But God is not done. Thank God He is not not. He's not done with me, He's not done with my two children who have not yet entered His presence, and He's not done with a great big, hurting, starving, desperate world. There are so many things over which our hearts can break.

So, Lord, here is my prayer... Oh, this is scary, (deep breath) give... (I write with great fear and trembling) me a heart... (here I go)... [pregnant pause] that can... (another deep breath) break. There, I said it. I prayed it. Now Lord, show me where my heart should break and over what. I have one area in mind, but I really do want what you want, Lord.

I end this post expectantly. I've learned from experience that God answers prayers like this one. That's why my knees are knocking.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Bubble-Wrapped Heart

God has been speaking to me lately about my bubble-wrapped heart. In my last post, I shared a God-story that I also shared with a large group of women at my church. In it, I talk about my older daughter, and how devastating her death was to me. I also talk a little about my son. I didn’t go into too much detail there, but if you read between the lines, you’ll know how devastating his circumstances have been to me as well. I also lost my mom to cancer when I was 19… and my dad when I was 39.

I’ve had plenty of heartbreak in my life (and I know I'm not alone in this), and I’ve worked very hard at allowing God to do his refining work through that heartbreak. But God is revealing to me that my response has not been all good.  I can now speak of my older daughter’s death, my son’s trials, and other painful life stories without batting an eye. As I tell my stories, I hear people gasp… I see them weep. But I rarely shed a tear.

I hear other peoples’ stories of heartbreak because, let’s face it, we’ve all got them, and I still don’t shed a tear. Sometimes, I cry out to God, “What do you want me to do?!” But I don’t feel or show much sadness. Now, I am very animated. I wish I could be calm and grounded and speak with great wisdom. But I get excited, flail my arms and bob my head. I pound on tables and words come out quickly and loudly. But I don’t like sadness. I think I lack compassion.

I think my heart has been so broken that, over the years, I have tucked it safely away like a precious, but broken piece of China. It will never be exactly the same, but I don’t want it to break anymore. I found a box the perfect size and plenty of bubble wrap. I carefully packed it up, wrapped the box with tons of packing tape, and put it as far down in the basement of my soul as I could go—safely out of reach. Nothing will hurt it there. It won’t be broken any further.

But the past few weeks, through several different books, Bible studies, sermons and life experiences, I fear God is wanting me to bring my heart up to the main level, peel that packing tape and bubble wrap away, and make my heart vulnerable again. Oh I don’t want to do it!

But in my pastor’s sermon this weekend, I hear things like, “Prayer means letting God’s creative love touch the most hidden places of our being and prayer means listening with attentive, undivided hearts to the inner movement of the Spirit of Jesus, even when that Spirit leads us to places we would rather not go.” --Henri Nouwen

And in the book of Nehemiah, a study by Kelly Minter I just started, I’ve read things like, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” When was the last time I sat down and wept? (I posted to this blog on that day in Today I Cried.) But when was the last time I mourned and fasted and prayed for some days?! Five minutes here and there maybe, but not for days. And Nehemiah was weeping, mourning, fasting and praying over something that was going on very far away. It didn’t really even affect him. He was living in a winter retreat of the Persian King! Yet he allowed God to break his heart for his very distant relatives back in Jerusalem (where he had probably never been).

I have friends and family members who deal with pain… severe physical pain… all the time. It never goes away. I have friends who struggle with severe financial issues. I have friends and family who struggle with addiction. I have friends who wrestle with grief after the loss of a loved one. I have friends whose marriages and families are on the verge of crumbling. I feel bad for them and I pray for them. But do I really pray for them? Do I allow myself to feel their pain? Do I weep and mourn and fast and pray for them for days? Do I allow God to touch the most hidden places of my being? How can he when my heart is covered with bubble wrap?!

There are millions of people enslaved throughout the world—including the U.S. Millions! We thought slavery was abolished centuries ago, but it is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Little girls are stolen, lied to, abused and pimped out. Is that not enough to make me weep? Is that not serious enough to make me want to get involved?

Millions of people are starving to death in the world. Disease runs rampant, leaving orphans who have absolutely no one to look after them. Is that not enough to make me weep?

SoulShift, (Steve DeNeff and David Drury) a book our pastor is currently preaching on, says,  “Jesus doesn’t want us to just obey him; he wants us to think his thoughts after him. Jesus is calling us out of the noise of voices to the silence where his voice is known. This is a place of listening!” This is the place where my heart must come out of the bubble wrap.

And, “We must learn how to listen when God is speaking, not merely ask God to speak when we feel like listening.” Ouch! That is why I am sitting here typing today. God is speaking and I am trying to listen by putting down the words I hear stirring in my heart today.

And, “Before the shift we might ask: ‘What does God want me to do?’ (a questions I’ve asked again and again) ‘After the shift we listen to what God wants me to become.’

‘Before the shift we ask God for signs.
After the shift we notice how God strengthens our wisdom to decide…’

‘We learn not to ask, ‘What should I do?’ Rather, ‘What is important to you?’

“We stop asking, ‘Why am I in this mess?’ (My question goes more like, “How did we get here, Lord? How did things get this bad?”) and start seeking to bring honor to his name in every situation.’

SoulShift and Nehemiah and my pastor are telling me, to stop asking those questions and start listening to God’s still small voice until I begin thinking His thoughts, hearing his voice resonate through mine, wanting what He wants, knowing where He is moving and joining Him there.

This is going to require unwrapping my fragile, cracked, chipped, but yet still precious, broken heart and allowing “God’s creative love” to touch it… even when it leads me where I don’t want to go—maybe even to tears.

Monday, March 4, 2013

New Life: Enduring, Persistent, Relentless

I'm going to be sharing this story tomorrow night with a large group of ladies at our church in the form of an interview. I'm feeling butterflies and I think about it. I'm a better writer than speaker... not sure I'm great at either, but I feel like God has given me a message that I can't keep to myself. So, I'd like to try it on you all. Here goes...

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how your Christian Journey.
I grew up in a Christian home, but it was one where being a Christian meant going to church every Sunday and being good—or at least looking good. As I became a wife and a mom, I worked very hard at making sure everyone thought my life was perfect. And, for the most part, it was good. Then I came across a book by Kay Arthur, called As Silver Refined. It opened up a whole new perspective for me. In the book, she talks about disappointments being God appointments, about how God refines us through difficulties. In the beginning, she tells the story of an ancient silver smith and the process he goes through in refining silver, and she compares that with how God refines us…

The silversmith starts with an ugly piece of ore that has been taken from the ground. First, he has to smash the ore with a hammer. Once he has crushed the ore, he puts it in a crucible and builds a fire. Now the fire must be very, very hot, but not too hot. He puts the crucible in the fire, but the silver is very precious, so he never leaves its side. He carefully watches as the metal melts and the impurities rise to the top. He skims the impurities off the top then allows the crucible to cool. But he is not finished. Again, he builds up his fire. It must be very hot--hot enough to melt the precious metal in the crucible, but not too hot. Again, the impurities rise to the top and he skims them off. He goes through this process several times. He finally know his work is complete when he looks into the crucible of silver... and sees his own reflection.

That is what God is doing with us... refining us as silver.

I didn’t realize until later what a divine appointment reading that book was for me. God was preparing me for some really tough times in life.

Our theme tonight is new life.  What symbolizes new life for you?
We have a little Prairie Fire Crab Apple tree on our property. It has become a symbol of new life… persistent, enduring, relentless new life. It is a story of redemption.

Why is this tree so special?
This tree was given to us almost 9 years ago by my nephew’s baseball team. Our older daughter had been to many of their baseball games.

Tell us a little bit about your daughter. 
She was a happy-go-lucky, bubbly, silly 15-year-old. We lived out West and she loved to spend much of her summers with our family here in the Midwest. She often went to my nephew’s baseball games. She got to know those boys, and they were all great friends. In March, 2004, we moved back to the Midwest, and that transition was difficult for my daughter. My priority for the next three years was to get her through that transition and through high school. But just three months later, we got the call no parent ever wants to receive. There had been an accident. Our beautiful, vibrant daughter had been killed instantly…  That little Prairie Fire tree had been given to us in her memory. We planted it between two giant rocks on our property and I turned the whole area into a prayer garden.

You have told me before that there were days following the accident that were difficult to even get out of bed. I am sure creating your prayer garden gave you something physically to do.  What else did God give you to help you move forward.
We were preparing to go back out West to do a memorial service at our church there—for her friends. I was thinking and praying about what I would say to them. They were really struggling with their faith and I wanted to be authentic with them. I didn't want to spout scripture and I didn’t want them to think that I thought my daughter was perfect. That made me think of the scripture in 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” I knew that the friend they knew talked like a 15-year-old, thought like a 15-year-old, and reasoned like a 15-year-old. But she was not that 15-year-old anymore. I looked the scripture up in the Message Bible, and suddenly, God was speaking directly to me! Not to my daughter's friends. He gave me a word to hang on to that has gotten me through on days when I didn’t feel like going on. The words jumped off the page at me and brought healing to my devastated heart.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13

The Message (MSG)
12 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!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, 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.

 For my daughter, the weather has cleared and the sun shines bright! She sees it all--as clearly as God sees her. She knows Him directly just as He knows her. But for us, we're still squinting in the fog and peering through the mist. We don't understand. And until we do, we have three things to do: trust steadily, hope unswervingly and love extravagantly. [hence, the name of this blog!]

As you were holding on to that hope and moving forward, tell us what happened to your beautiful tree. 
In the fall 2008, a huge windstorm blew through and snapped our little Prairie Fire tree off at its base. It was the saddest day we had experienced since the event that brought us the tree in the first place. I thought, “How can you be so mean, God?” The one living symbol we had of our daughter’s life had been ripped from the ground just as she had been ripped from our arms. It was so painful to see it lying rootless on the ground, so my husband built a fire. We held each other and cried as we watched that broken little tree go up in flames.

As you were working through that pain with God, you had another chapter of life that was developing. Tell us about that.
The 12 months following the day our little tree was broken are like a blur in my memory. Our granddaughter, who my son named her after his sister, who he loved so much, was a year old. Things with her parents were not going well, and she was in a foster home. I thought, “God, how can my granddaughter be in a foster home?!” I made 10 trips to Arizona in 12 months. We were trying to get custody of her and bring her to live with us, but being so far away and having state agencies involved made it difficult. I was full of grief and even anger toward God. We were at the mercy of the system, but isn’t the system at the mercy of God? Couldn’t he move us through the red tape and bureaucracy to get our granddaughter home? How could He let her sit there in a foster home when she could be here with us? And, by the way, couldn’t He have spared our little tree?! What would have been so hard about that for the God of the universe?

How did God show his tenderness through all of this? 
God is so full of grace and mercy. In my grief and rage, I felt His presence… even more so than usual. I vented my anger at Him in one breath and plead for his forgiveness in the next. And I believe He understood and loved me through it. So did my friends. God was gracious enough to put several people in my life who watched me struggle and squirm… who heard me rant and rave… Who were sometimes even targets of my anger. But they also understood and loved me through it.

I remember that year, as you struggled with anger and doubt but then God began sprout those seeds of hope again.
In the spring of 2009, I went out to work on my prayer garden, and to my delight, I saw several little shoots coming up from the roots of my little Prairie Fire! I carefully cultivated the soil around it. I watched it and cared for it as best I knew how. Eventually, one shoot stood out among the rest, so I pruned the rest off and watched all summer as that one shoot continued to grow and eventually became a whole new tree! Then in the late summer of 2009, we made one more trip out West and brought our beautiful little girl home with us! She has brought so much life to our too-quiet empty nest… sometimes more than we can handle!

You have been on quite a journey with God.  From this experience, what would be your message to all of us?
Whether your life is going well, or you’re going through a difficult trial, be authentic with God. Even if you are angry with Him, confess that to Him. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Seek Him with everything you’ve got. He’ll give you something to hold on to. He gave me 1 Corinthians 13:12-13. He may not give you the same verse, but He’ll give you something. He may not give you a tree that tells the story of persistent, relentless life, but he’ll give you something.