Thursday, March 30, 2017

To Whom Shall We Go?


"So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

NOAH LIVES

My son held it out to show me as he was heading to school yesterday morning. 
Still in the fog of losing a friend to a fast and brutal battle with cancer, my senior held out a patch given to him this week. It read, "NOAH LIVES"

"Do you believe that, Z?  That Noah really lives?"

"I do." he said.  

"Then that changes everything about how you walk forward through this grief."

All of the future planning and joyous yearnings for "what's next" that accompany senior year of high school halted in December when a fellow senior was diagnosed with incurable cancer and given only a short time to live.  Suddenly it was okay if time stood still on all of their future plans. It became hard to look too far ahead when that too far ahead might outlive a friend. But time never stands still and the short days of winter turned to blossoming days of spring and the senior class and our school faced a loss last week that I'm not sure anyone was prepared to handle. 

"What good can come from this?"  In his anger, his frustration that God didn't heal on this earth, his grief, my son asked that.  "What good?" I fumbled around. Gave some answers of the good I'd already seen.  I offered some verses of hope straight from God's word...verses I know he's memorized...I could tell he had long tuned me out. He really didn't want me to answer. Sometimes I don't recognize moments when I should just BE QUIET. 

A friend texted, "The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don't always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us..." (Different by Sally and Nathan Clarkson).   

Questions. Fears. Doubts. Anger. Confusion.  Hope?
Yes, hope.
My son, his senior class, our entire school, and much of our community are grieving the death of this young man as we come face to face with our own theology on suffering and death.     
All sorts of thoughts and emotions. 
Hard questions being asked...
Maybe more unsettling are the hard questions not being asked...the unspoken...
The unspoken thoughts left to their own wandering can lead to some very dark places. 
Where will this brokenness lead us?
I'm trying to carefully urge my son forward to ask the hard questions (with your Bible open), feel this pain (but please receive the comfort of people around you), do not ignore the doubts (God is much bigger than any of those), cry while you walk if you have to (or cry while you sit), be still (physically and mentally still), go for a run (but take your phone and you better answer it if I call you), talk with your friends (but focus on TRUTH), speak with our pastor (he's a wise one to guide), listen to Noah's favorite song and remember him (laugh at some of those ridiculous memories) and even wrestle with the Lord if you must...
But DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK...
Do all of this at the foot of the cross because that is the only place you will find any peace.

"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?'...From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him."  In John 6, Jesus teaches some hard things that caused many of the disciples to turn their backs and walk away.  

Hard teaching.
Too hard for some of the disciples to understand and too difficult for some to accept, so they turned and walked away. 
It just was too much. 

Jesus asked the Twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?"

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."  (John 6:68) 

That's where I pray this grief takes these young students...takes all of us... 
Wrestle. Ask questions. Take your thoughts before the Lord.
Ask Him for belief as doubts surface.
But do not harden your heart to His voice right now. 
Where will you go if you don't go to the Lord?  Who else holds the answer to eternal life?
It may be hard and incredibly painful, we might not understand, and the good might seem difficult to find, but where else can we go, Lord?  You have the words to eternal life.
There's no other safe place to fall if not at the feet of the one who holds all the answers.
There are no answers apart from Him.   

Do not turn your back and wrestle on your own. There's will be no peace in human reasoning. 
Do not cast aside God's word.  There will be no hope without it. 
Do not harden your hearts.  There will be beauty from ashes for those who soften their hearts to grow through this.   

Where will this brokenness lead us?

"So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

We grieve with hope.   
Noah's funeral---the witness of his life and his amazing family---gave testimony to a choice to follow Christ and secure his eternity in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Those who knew him best gave testimony to his faith.  So, we say with confidence that Noah lives. 

That changes EVERYTHING about how you walk forward in grief.

Praise be to the Lord who holds the words to eternal life!! 
NOAH LIVES!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fighting Fear

"For God did NOT give us a spirit of FEAR, but a spirit of power and love and of self-control."
(2 Timothy 1:7)

Then why do I struggle so much with fear?   

I can't remember if there was a time in my life I would have used the word "brave" to describe myself.  Probably not.  But I don't think I would have ever described myself as fearful.  Then I grew up, got married, had kids, and something about loving my people so fiercely and being responsible for little ones revealed a capacity for fear that I didn't know existed. 

There's a line from the movie Avengers that comes when Captain America tells Bruce Banner, "Now would be a really good time to get angry."  Bruce Banner turns around and says, "That's my secret, Captain.  I'm always angry." 

I used that line with my husband not too long after I saw that movie for the first time.  Fear...I told him...that's my secretI'm always walking along the edge of fear.  It's my default emotion in times of great pressure, stressful situations, big decisions, disappointment, confrontation, basically anything uncomfortable, I tend towards fear.           

My mom had a seemingly normal broken rib last week (painful and slightly inconvenient for her well-planned schedule) from a fall through a hole in their floor due to a remodel.  Several days after the break, labored breathing led to a second ER visit where a scan showed her chest cavity filling with blood from an artery somewhere around that broken rib.  Normally those small arteries clot on their own, but as they watched the chest tube continue to fill with blood the doctor made the call that surgery needed to be done quickly. She needed a blood transfusion and they needed to find and tie off the artery before she lost too much more blood.  The cardiothoracic surgeon, one of the best in the state, had never had to go to surgery because one rib (ONE RIB) had caused such chaos.  My brother and dad, both anesthesiologists, had never once been in a surgery like this for one rib.  Normally such a surgery would be related to several broken ribs and other internal injuries.  So much for having the comfort of the family doctors~~they were as baffled as anyone why this one little rib was wreaking such havoc in her body.     

Here comes the fear...
I texted my husband with the update..."I'm afraid"...
It takes all my energy to go into battle against it while I wait...

Through years of recognizing my tendency to be flooded with fear in the waiting, I've realized that I'm completely too weak to fight the battle of fear on my own.  I have a pile of 3x5 cards with handwritten verses that help me remember TRUTH when everything in me is wanting to cave in to fear.  I pull out my fear verse cards and I recite...and I don't really hear the verses at first, nor do I fix my mind on them at first, but I still recite. There's power in the Word of God.  It's all I know to do that works.  Only God's Word soothes...and even that is a fight because in those moments when I'm most afraid, I tend to actually fear Him (not the Godly fear that leads us to bow and worship), but the fear that causes us to tremble at what He might ask us to walk through.  So, I have to pull out my verses to remind myself of who He is and what He promises.  Over and over again I recite (sometimes out-loud, sometimes in my mind) because I'm an incredibly slow learner and it takes me a while to hear what He has to say to me. I have to remind Him (as if He's not perfectly aware) I'm much too weak for this, Lord.  His word reminds me that YEP I AM WEAK, but that's okay because HE IS STRONG. (2 Corinthians 12:10)   

Psalm 16:8 "I have set the Lord always before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."   
(Tell that to my quivering stomach.)

Psalm 46:10 "BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD." 
(Shaking Soul, BE STILL, and KNOW that I AM GOD.)

Isaiah 26:3-4 "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is kept on thee because he trusts in thee." 
(I trust you, Lord.  I trust you, Lord. I trust you, Lord. Ummm, Lord?  Waiting on that peace here.)

John 14:27 "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled; do not be afraid."     
(Lord, but I'm so afraid.)

Psalm 62:1-3 "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation--He is my fortress, I will never be shaken."  Repeat as a command to my soul.   "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation--He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." 

Isaiah 43:1-2 "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; YOU ARE MINE.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

Isaiah 41:10 "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." 

My boys' beloved choir teacher recently held a concert where all of her choirs sang beautiful hymns.  She shared that as a young girl she used to memorize the hymns sung in her church so she wouldn't have to use the hymnal.  In later years, she told us that the words to those hymns comforted her as she walked through difficult times in her life.  She let us in on her motivation for picking these hymns, "These kids don't know that in memorizing these hymns, I've given them an arsenal to use later in life when things get tough."  

An Arsenal.  
Preparation for battle. 
Verse cards are that for me...an arsenal to combat the lies of the enemy...to combat my weakness to fall prey to fear.
  
I know the exact chain of events where I realized how powerless I am in moments when life is shaken.  I've told the story before because it was eye-opening to see that I AM NOT STRONG and but by God's grace will I completely fall apart in tragedy.   

Years ago, we had just moved to Tucson and my boys were ages 1 and 3.  I remember my husband leaving to fly one day and mentioning that the flight was going to be a challenge so could I pray for him.  He'd been a military pilot several years by this point so I didn't fret every time he was in the air like I did early in his pilot training.  He was a flight lead and a pretty okay pilot.  He was leading a friend of ours that day on a flight; this friend had much more experience than my husband so I probably didn't think anything about it. I can't even remember if I prayed for him.
But I do remember the call later that evening. 

"It's me.  I'm okay.  It was terrible.  My wingman bailed.  I had to emergency land. They are bringing me back---I'll be to the area in a couple hours." 
That was it.  He was just gone and I had no idea what in the world he was talking about.  My little guys were naked ready for a bath and so I washed them quickly in the water as I thought about his phone call.  Very unsettling.  My phone started ringing again just as I got them out of the tub. 

"Our pilots are all accounted for."  That was it.  I think it was the squadron commander's wife who called.  I was still so confused.  I said something to her like "Preston said his wingman bailed. Is something going on?"  She paused, "All our pilots are accounted for."   The second time she said it I knew what this was. I'd heard of it from other wives...been told the protocol at every base we had been stationed...but I'd never been in a squadron that had to utilize its emergency phone procedure.  It meant a plane had gone down and a call meant your pilot was safe.  The fear closed in quickly.   
Someone else called.
"Turn on the tv."

I only heard bits and pieces.
Collision.
Two A-10's.
One pilot found.
Searching for the other pilot. 

My husband's call repeated in my mind. 
"It was terrible." (Collision)
"I'm okay." (One Pilot Found.)
"My wingman bailed." (Searching for the other pilot).
"I'll be back in a couple hours." (But what has happened and who will you be after this?)

It didn't occur to me that I had received a call that said all our pilots are accounted for. It didn't cross my mind that there were two other A-10 squadrons on our base. My husband said "terrible", "wingman bailed," and "I'm okay" in one quick burst.  I knew the story on the news had to involve him which meant our good friend had to be the one missing.  In that moment, I became absolutely paralyzed with fear.  From the top of my head to the tips of my toes, every cell in my body participated in the anxiety. Thinking of my husband and what he must have been through in the last hours...aching at the thought of the missing pilot and his family (our dear friends also with small children)...wondering what happens now (was it his fault?)...paralyzed I sat on the floor as my naked boys ran around and played and tried to get my attention (and maybe even peed all over the carpet)...I sat staring at the TV begging God for news that they had found the pilot alive.  I loved the Lord, believed His good in my life, studied the Bible, and memorized scripture, but the fear that overtook me in that moment stunned me. 
Where was my faith as I sat there waiting?  I felt it abandoned me.   

The phone rang a little later. 
"Do you know Preston is okay?" 
Our friend...the friend I thought was the missing pilot...his voice echoed through the phone telling me my husband was okay.  I was still so confused. 
"What?  What?  What is going on?  I know he's okay.  What about you?  He called me and told me the flight was terrible.  His wingman (I thought YOU) bailed.  They are bringing him back from somewhere a couple hours away because he had to emergency land."

Our friend's voice again, steady, "I just realized you might think we were involved.  He doesn't even know what's going on back here so that's why he wasn't more clear in what he said.  I did bail out of the flight...BEFORE TAKEOFF...because my jet broke.  I didn't even get airborne.  Preston's jet had some issues when he was flying and he had to emergency land at this other airfield because it wasn't safe to fly back to Tucson.  Someone from that airfield is driving him back.   It WAS a terrible flight.  But not a terrible flight in light of what's going on back here.  There has been a crash and they are searching for one pilot, but all the pilots in our squadron are accounted for. " 

I got off the phone and sobbed (and sobbed and sobbed.)  I cried in thankfulness that my husband was okay and that our friend was fine and that my husband's cryptic phone call had absolutely nothing to do with what I was watching on the news.  I bawled for the wife and mama who hadn't gotten a call and was watching the news while her world blew into a thousand little pieces as they searched for her husband...I cried for the other pilot, the one found.  For a moment in time I had thought I belonged to the surviving pilot and I had tasted one tiny drop of the hard road that guy was going to walk as the survivor.   

Much too late that night, when someone brought him back into town, I got a chance to hang on to my husband while he profusely apologized for his poor choice of words in describing his flight.  I explained to him my response as I had waited for the news...how I was engulfed in paralyzing fear...how I couldn't even focus on our naked children ("Are they still naked?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. "I think they had fruit snacks for dinner.").  I hung my head as I explained that I always envisioned myself being so strong when crisis hit...that I thought I would be this pillar of great trust in the Lord whenever life around me started shaking...but instead, there I sat, so afraid.

I think all of us tend toward some sort of sinful exaggeration of emotion when left to our own strength.  We can be overwhelmed by our anger, depression, despair, self-pity, FEAR, dependency, bitterness, or any other spirit that sets itself against the truth of God 's Word.  I'm learning how important it is to prepare. Arm your arsenal with truth. It's hard to build a faith and fight the battle when the raging winds are howling and the fire seems to be closing in. Spend the calm days in God's word building up faith so when the storm hits that faith can be the lifeline to which we cling. 

As I got the call that my mom's surgery was successful and they had found and cauterized the leaking artery, I was once again struck by the power that fear can have in my life.  I was reminded of how enslaving my own fear can be. I actually fear my ability to fear like an unbeliever (see, I'm always afraid of something.) 

"Will I ever conquer the tendency to jump straight into overwhelming fear?"  I don't know, but I do know every time I struggle through it, there is an opportunity to lean into God's word and practice believing itMy fear reminds me of how weak I am and also reminds me of His faithfulness in pushing me toward a more trusting faith that believes His good no matter what assignment He gives me.     

Lord, help me to have the discipline to build my faith before the storm hits and help me to arm myself for battle before the first arrow flies. Help my unbelief that leads me down that road of fear.

"Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."   (Psalm 73:25-26)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy 2017

Happy 2017!  It’s THAT year…the year on Zach’s letter jacket---I just knew Jesus would come back before now (there’s still time!)  You see, we are almost professionals at adding babies to the family…but letting one go?   Not sure how to do that.  We are only Day 20 of this year and 2017 already seems uncomfortable.  Not "bad" uncomfortable just "cracking my illusion of control" uncomfortable. Two kids enrolled in public school as of two weeks ago (don’t ask), a three-year old who is NOT potty training herself (I thought she was smarter than this), Preston serving the role as interim head football coach (plenty of time??), three college choices still on the table (why won’t he just go where I tell him?), and a bulging schedule that works perfectly for two children (which four kids should we give away?) Is it too shallow to pray that God teaches us to be comfortable  in our uncomfortable?
 
 
 
 
     "Shall we accept the good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Layered…our conversations, our emotions, our schedules.  Our giggles and tears intertwine...our fears and courage waver…our triumphs and failures rise and fall. It’s all there held tenderly within the boundaries of 2016.  Our year held unique highs and lows…a new permit driver (less cautious than the firstborn), a breathtaking homeschool ballet performance, state quarterfinals in football, a totaled mustang, several ER visits (we ER hop now to avoid investigation), and three hundred (million) soccer games.  We had a Royals foul ball “caught” by one happy 6-year old, church camp, plenty of lake weekends, Camp ThompConnell, an ambulance ride, sweet moments mentoring young girls, a week with family at Disney World, a promotion (followed by the grief and contentment of turning it down), and 365 days worth of more. In October, God graciously allowed us to make it to Georgia in time to be with Preston’s mom, Mama V, before she surprisingly passed away. No one was prepared and while her family sat planning an unexpected funeral, the sweet noise of her grandchildren playing baseball outside filled the grieving room. Life. We celebrated her life (and wept at our loss of her) in Georgia one day and the very next day celebrated a conference championship win with our football team. Odd.  Life lived in the midst of sorrow…just as she would have wanted. Celebrations and tears; mourning and then the relief of morning; and then all those in-betweens where we are building our faith to accept whatever the Lord brings…the good and the adversity.    
  
 
Zach, the energetic senior, is a college t-shirt hoarder and has fully enjoyed a year of college visits. (Now decide already!) If Hogwarts really existed, that would be his first choice. Knowing his love for children and the sciences, he envisions his future job will probably be something combining the two (he says pediatric oncologist or fudge-maker.) He enjoyed a senior mission trip this summer working with underprivileged kids, a week at Boys State studying government (he absolutely does NOT want to be a politician), and an amazing football season making All-State receiver with over 1500 yards. What a joy it has been to watch him mature in the Lord and even if he’s 10 hours away next year (BE STILL MY HEART), we will always (be able to find him with FIND MY IPHONE-what?)  be thankful that God picked him to be our firstborn.
 
Josh—the studious sophomore, generally works through his homework before he does his fun. He loves structure and thrives when he knows exactly what’s required of him (“tell me the rules.”) He does every sport ALL OUT. This year brought him an assortment of different sports braces and wraps (and his own bottle of Advil) collected through several frustrating injuries. A high ankle sprain plagued the early part of his football season and Preston encouraged him saying “Be patient. Athletes get hurt.”  I encouraged him, “Slow down. You won’t get hurt if you don’t go full speed. Josh loves math, choir, and socializing. He still plays the piano for our youth worship band (thankfully we have one that practices music) and he uses his humor to lighten up our tense moments (“the doc can’t believe with these muscles I’m not on steroids”).  
 
Madelin, the artistic 7th grader, loves pointe shoes and soccer cleats.  We can’t decide if she’s a soccer player masquerading as a lovely dancer or the reverse.  When she asks to do some new activity, we say “NO!” because she loves every new thing she tries. She just got braces (her fingernails get a break!), and has coped with this change by perfecting ridiculously silly faces. She thinks Pinterest is straight from heaven and loves to create new things. She’s mastered the art of quietly blending in with the purpose of overhearing EVERY private conversation had in this home. She loves FINALLY being in youth group and helping me (she’s a baby hog) in the church nursery. Her persistence in her quest for an Instagram is impressive, but to her dismay, we still have enough energy to say no.
 
Savannah, the event-planning 4th grader, uses every emotion and event as an opportunity to celebrate (or “at least give me a cuddle night.”). Soccer gives her a chance to display her competiveness and ballet gives her a chance to practice some graceJ. She’s our hand-made gift giver and regularly hides notes for her brothers in their lunches. They repaid the favor with a lunchbox note on her first day of public school and you would have thought they bought her the world. Her awareness of other people is a gift and she loves to love others in tangible ways. Oh her sweet emotions…if we had a quarter for all the hurt feelings her college would be funded. 
            
Noah, the conversational 1st grader, might just be the quarterback in our family (if only he didn’t like baseball more!). His soccer coach nicknamed him the “Little General” because he loves directing people (the kid does have some good ideas).  He’s only been in public school for a week, but we assume he’ll be voted First Grade Class President by the end of the month. Outgoing Noah loves to lead people, loves the outdoors, loves baseball, and loves conversation.  He’s masterful at word usage (with passionate expression) so we see him as a future lawyer, politician, or game show host.  He loves going to school and told me he’s sorry he doesn’t miss me but he just forgets about me during the day.  
  
Hope, our delight, turned 3 on Christmas and she has no idea what it’s like to not be completely smothered in love. There’s always someone to entertain her, to dry her tears, to tickle her, to love on her. We might be either raising helpless or royalty. Actually, she really is quite independent and probably our biggest daredevil. Her trusting heart believes someone will always be there to catch her. She can carry on full conversations with adults and explain why she likes to potty in her pants and why she has coffee breath (“my mom lets me drink her coffee.”)  Her favorites are “chokers” (Jolly Ranchers), lip syncing to Trolls movie songs, anything pink, and dancing.  Each sibling has a sweet relationship with her--a special “fin, noggin, Dude”  handshake with Zach, chasing games with Josh, airplaning with Madelin, and playing, playing, playing with Savi and Noah.  
 
We are learning that uncomfortable is a gift…a good gift from the Lord. As Elisabeth Elliot writes, “Circumstances are an expression of God’s will…the secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”   There’s sweet freedom in relinquishing the need to see what’s next. We don’t know how to do 2017, but God knows how to do it and He will give the grace and wisdom for the moment. Our prayer is to have a heart that says “It is well” to whatever comes from the Lord's hands this year.   We pray that for all of us that 2017 is full of all the richness of life.  
 
With Love,
The McConnells
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pray

As my children get older, the more silent I grow in my advice on parenting. 

Sitting in an oral surgeon’s office, the doctor talked kindly of my daughter undergoing anesthesia.  I anxiously listened with only a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse to keep the toddler occupied.  My hands repeatedly squeezed drop after drop into the little one’s palms.  She furiously rubbed it in…drop after drop…over and over again. That’s what you do when you forget the diaper bag. Anything in your purse becomes a toy.  The doctor’s eyes lit up when he asked about our other children and found out there were six.  One would think birthing six children might make someone an expert.  Not so.  The more you have the more you realize how absolutely so very little you really know.   

“I’m a new dad.  What advice can you give me?”   I stared at him blankly.  Advice?  My toddler was sanitizing herself to death, what advice could I possibly offer?   If only he had known.  I was in the middle of a text argument with one (heaven forbid we actually have the conversation in person), another had been left at home throwing a ridiculous “you are way too old for this” tantrum, one was waiting for the discipline sentence to be issued after being caught in a hefty lie (if lies could be weighed,) and my husband and I were in disagreement about a situation and having to hash it out in the garage because there are SO MANY EARS inside our home.  Seriously, Doc, I’m the one needing advice.    

The wisdom in him to even ask.  His humility caused me to pause before speaking. With careful words, I submitted, “I used to have a lot of advice on parenting.  But now, every child of mine has blown my last piece of advice out of the water, so I’m sorta left with nothing wise to offer you right now.” 
He replied, “All of our friends with a baby and a toddler have all sorts of helpful hints to give us.  My wife and I are trying to figure all this out.”

 “Yeah, well, I have teenagers now…there’s something about teenagers that is silencing me.” 
A missed opportunity to witness to a young family.  Overwhelmed by my own feelings of inadequacy and shortsighted failures, I offered no hope---WHEN I HAVE HOPE---to this new dad.   I’ve thought about that conversation often in the last months.  Why didn’t I give him the only advice that has transcended every stage, every issue, every attitude, every fad, every disappointment, every struggle, every argument, and every sin?  Why didn’t I tell him what my only lasting hope has been?       

Recently, a lovely woman from our church had a baby shower and we were asked to fill out a card with advice for this mom. Again, I stared at the card blankly.  I had arrived at the shower trying to over-control my teenager’s plans for the weekend (he had gently nudged, “You don’t have to control  this, Mom.”)I had thrown an adult “you’re way too old for this” tantrum in response to another child’s minor offense , and  the toddler had been drinking cream soda all morning from a sippy cup and I had no recollection if I was the one who put it in there.  
PRAY.

That’s all I could write on the advice card for the baby shower.    
PRAY.

I wish I had told that to the young doctor with the new baby.  Pray for your children. Earthly advice on child-raising changes with the times.  Pray for your children.  Pray for their hearts to be changed. Pray that they will meet Jesus face to face and be broken. Absolutely broken by their own sin. Pray their brokenness will lead them to grace and in that moment of amazing grace that they will fall madly in love with the God who knows everything about them…EVERYTHING…and loves them PERFECTLY.
We can lead them to scripture…take them to church…encourage wise friends…discipline disobedience…push them to study…teach them to pray…sign them up for youth activities…give them good books…make them to be kind…tell them our stories in hopes they won’t repeat our mistakes…

But, we cannot bring about the one thing we want most…we cannot change their hearts.  Only God can take a heart that is inclined toward selfishness and sin, and turn it toward Him. So, we pray continually, giving thanks, that God has the power to do the work that we cannot do.    
In a few hours, my oldest son will drive to school for the last time as a junior.  He’ll sit through an assembly, clean out his locker, pay his lunch bill, and turn in a final assignment.  The bell will ring and he will stroll out of those school doors as a senior.  He’ll spend the summer visiting colleges, working at a fast food restaurant, going to church camp, and training for his last school year of sports.  He’s fairly kind, knows scripture, and has a “life plan.”  None of that matters at this point, if he doesn’t truly know Jesus. 

So, we pray.

We pray for God to bring about the thing we want most.   Ezekiel 11:19 “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” 

There’s great relief in leaning into the Lord to do this work.  Great relief. If it was up to us to save our children, we would most definitely screw it up.  But in God’s grace, He has taken it upon Himself to do the saving…to change the hardest of all hearts.  I've always wondered why God would entrust sinful parents with the job of raising sinful children.  It seems like a plan doomed to fail from the beginning.  Sinners raising sinners. Yet, as my oldest son nears days when he is no longer under our roof, I'm resting in the great comfort that God did not entrust the act of saving to us.   He has perfectly completed that act Himself.  Praise God it's not up to us!
All of my tendencies to hide in my failures as a parent or even to boast in any momentary successes are quieted by the transcending hope that the God who saved me is the only one with the power to save my children.   God kept the impossible job for Himself knowing that we were perfectly incapable of doing it ourselves.  So, we step back, pray, and ask God to do His amazing work of changing a heart.  
And then we wait...   
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Ten Minutes Left To Play"

There's an endearing and annoying aspect of having a mix of older and younger kids in the home.  The teenagers give their opinions, a little too freely, about the best way to parent the little people.  Because they've lived through our parenting, they are full of suggestions on how they wish we had been as parents to them.  We regularly hear things like, "I always loved when you..." "I really hated when you and dad..." "That never works, Mom, why do you do that?"  "Why don't you try this..."  "I think they would respond better if..." "Remember when you used to..." "Why didn't we ever do this..." "Remember that thing we started and never finished..."      
I can't wait to repay the favor of unsolicited advice when they have children.      

One particular pet peeve of my firstborn is my habit of always giving the little ones a "Ten Minutes Left to Play" warning.

"You know that ruins everything, Mom," he claims.

I have never understood his complaint.  "How can it ruin everything when I'm warning you that you STILL HAVE ten minutes left to play.  It's almost as though I'm reminding you to ENJOY YOUR TIME because it's almost over." 

"See...that's what I hate about it, Mom," my oldest teenager says.  "I used to panic when you would give us the warning.   What should I do with my last ten minutes?  How did my time go so fast?  I don't want to be done playing.  I don't think I'll be able to have a good attitude about leaving even though the time-keeper has given me the ten minute warning.  Now nine minutes left.   Maybe I'm down to eight.  Seven.  Panic.  Panic. Panic.  What should I do?" 

I have always defended the warning, "But you always knew the fun you were having wasn't going to last forever.  There was always going to be an end.  I was warning you so you would enjoy those last minutes even more." 

He has never relented in his complaints of this habit.  "But I don't think that way, Mom.  I would spend those last ten minutes in absolute dread of the end.  I always wished you would have just told me at the moment it was over.  No warning.  Then at least I wouldn't have known that my last ten minutes were my last ten minutes." 

Weird. 
I guess I kind of understand his point.   But not enough to remove the phrase from my vocabulary.
I still have been known to give the little ones a ten minute warning even though the firstborn protests. 

Since we are still in the first half of the school year, I didn't anticipate anything unusual in the mail a month or so after school started.  The pile of mail always overflows from our delay in walking the 50 yards to the mailbox.  How can that short walk result in such procrastination?  Our small mail slot bulged with paper.  Normal bills.  Typical junk letters.  A late birthday card for my daughter.  Grocery ads.  More junk mail.  A postcard size flyer rested on the bottom of the mail pile almost hidden by the Price Chopper ad.   I glanced quickly at the flyer on class rings and dropped it in the trash.  Class rings.  Not yet.   

Wait.
Wait.
  
I grabbed the flyer out of the trash.
 
Summit Christian Academy
Class of 2017
Order Your Class Ring Today

In that second, I heard the dreaded countdown,
"You have ten minutes left to play."

2017.
Can it really be time for this stuff already?

The year my firstborn came into the world, I don't think I ever figured out his graduation year. I really have no recollection of ever focusing on that year.  2017.  So far away.   Some days it seemed too far away.  The days crept by.   The years sped on.  There was a false security that time would somehow be on my side in the raising of children.  That somehow I would escape my children growing up.  Faster and faster the years have gone...yet there was always next year.  And the next.  And then you blink and the child that you thought would never sleep through the night is ordering a class ring.  In that instant, there's this horrific realization that time didn't choose you as the favorite and that you will share the same fate of most mothers...you will truly have to launch the child that has filled every corner of the home with his presence out into a life of his own.  The infant that was completely dependent for life grows into a young man that was created to live independently from the control and protection of his parents. He develops a mind of his own, desires of his own, and ultimately he will have a life of his own outside of the boundaries of his immediate family, and that is a very, very, VERY good thing.  (Can I say it again for my heart to hear...it is a GOOD thing...a very, very, very, VERY good thing.)  His job is to grow...to change...to mature...to own his faith outside of our home.  That's what they are supposed to do. While always present the reality that my children won't stay under one roof forever, there's been this blissful naivete that maybe, just maybe, the year that changes the dynamics of our family won't come.   Maybe we can just stay like this forever.
And then the mail arrives and in a second I get the warning, "You have ten minutes left to play."

I've spent years being the recipient of older moms stopping me (generally in the middle of a terribly embarrassing outburst by one of my children) and encouraging me that children grow up so fast...enjoy them.  I've turned the corner of life and become the mom reiterating that message.  I sent my cousin, who is juggling two very small children, a snapshot of the class ring postcard, "Order Your 2017 Class Ring Today."  I texted her "Enjoy the seemingly never-ending days of little ones because one day you will get a postcard like this in the mail and it will be for one of yours."  (I like to encourage others with discouraging thoughts.)   She sent me back a picture of her two-year old holding out little hands that were completely covered in poop.  Her text back read, "Is it too much to say, 'Poop on the fingers today; class ring on the finger tomorrow."  Perfect. 
 
So, what am I going to do with these "ten minutes"?   I'm understanding my firstborn son a little more these days and his dislike for my warning that time is running out.  Can't I just stick my head in the sand and pretend this isn't coming?       

The panic doesn't help spend time wisely. 
The regret of years lost doesn't motivate me. 
The fear of what lies ahead doesn't bring lasting hope. 
And I'm far too bent on enjoying these last ten minutes to let myself grieve what hasn't happened yet.  My nostalgic nature wants to throw on the sackcloth now and wallow in my sadness that my family will, my family is changing.  My tendency is to hang on to the past a little longer than healthy...to turn "remembering" into a shrine of "how great life was when all my children were home" and miss the moments placed in front of me.   

Our amazing, 10-2 football season just ended in the District Championship game last weekend.  Following this last game, my eyes found the seniors on the team.  I watched their parents watch them.  After many hugs, tears, and an emotional talk given by the coach, our four seniors slowly made their way to the goalposts.  They took off their helmets and just sat there for a while under the lights.  Sitting side by side, they shared the endzone with one another for the last time as high school football players, while the rest of the team let them have their moments alone.   My husband snuck in behind me and gave me a hug. Together, we quietly observed them.  Finally, I shared my thoughts, "Do you realize this is the last time that it isn't the last time?"   I let that soak in for a while.  The last time it isn't the last time.   

When he didn't say anything, I figured it was because he was overcome with emotion.

I was wrong.  So very wrong.  Instead, he looked at me completely puzzled, "What are you talking about?  It's not the last time." 

"Yes, but it's the last time it's not the last time."  What doesn't make sense about that? 

And I completely lost him with that thought.  Blank stare.  Clueless head shake.  He gave me a little squeeze of pity and walked away to find some reasonable man to talk to...one who would talk to him about what a great season it had been and not someone who would talk about the game being the last time that it wasn't the last time.  I know him well and these words waited on the tip of his tongue, "WHO THINKS THAT WAY?"  UMMM...THIS CRAZY MAMA THINKS THAT WAY!  He left me alone to spend my last time before the last time envisioning how I will feel when it really is the last time. I'm pretty sure he shared a chuckle with a fellow coach at my nostalgia over next year's nostalgia.

Enough.  
Enough. 

It's one thing to have moments of sadness, nostalgia, grief, fear, or uncertainty at the changes that await, but to wallow in it?  To be paralyzed by it?  To MISS the present thinking about the future?  This is not how I want to spend these days.  A friend in the same stage of life recently shared that she wants to understand, to really grasp, Proverbs 31:25 that says, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at days to come."  Her prayer is to learn and to trust that God can teach her to laugh at the days to come.   To laugh even as she launches a son who has aspirations of joining the military and becoming an Army Ranger.     

Yes!  Yes!  I want to laugh...to look forward to...to delight in what is coming next.  Whatever that looks like.  The thought of spending the next year and a half grieving my changing family terrifies me more than the actual thought of letting go of my son.   Tears...that's fine, sadness...it will come, but I want to laugh at the hope of what God will do next trusting that even if it doesn't look like I imagined, I can still laugh with joy at the unknown. 

So, how in the world does a mama who has crazy thoughts like "the last time it's not the last time" combat the numerous moments to come that will most certainly evoke great emotion? As one who loves her children at home, how do I laugh at the reality that my future days will include children growing up and not being at home?        

First...thankfulness.  Give thanks.  Give Thanks.  GIVE THANKS!!  I can't stop the wave of emotion that hits regularly regarding this changing season of life, but by God's grace, I don't have to drown.  The practice of giving thanks.  Thankfulness crowds out dread.  Thankfulness stomps on the fear.  Thankfulness opens the door for laughter.  When I awake in the middle of the night, wondering how in the world the kindergarten little boy sleeping down the hall will be able to be happy without the presence of his older brothers in this home, I give thanks.   Thank you, Jesus, for brothers.  Thank you, Jesus, for relationships that can be kept precious even from afar.  Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of loving others.  Thank you, Jesus, for the joy you will bring this little boy even as his brothers leave this home and the excitement he will experience when he gets to visit.   Thank you, Jesus. 

Second...believing God for His good.  Jeremiah 29:11 was not written only for the high school graduate.  The promise was given to the Israelites who were living in exile at the time.  "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.'"  While that promise is lovely for the teenagers heading out into the world, the promise is also for me...for my husband...for our family.  God has plans...and those plans extend far past this snapshot of time that I have children in the home.  Those plans will unfold until I'm called to my heavenly home, and so I can believe that God's good plan for me reaches into the next seasons of life. 

Finally...don't practice borrowing from tomorrow.  I'm having to preach to myself not to spend much time imagining what life will be like my son's senior year.  Or what does "what's next" look like? There is grace for those moments that I can't borrow when I think about it today.  I can't spend too much time envisioning the changes happening in my family.  There's joy for those days...even if those days happen to be hard...there's joy waiting there to be experienced.  God equips us for what He calls us to do, so I have to trust the grace to live in this moment believing that the strength will be there for tomorrow...no matter how tomorrow looks.  Hebrews 13:21, "May the God of peace...our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will and may He work in us, what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." 

It's inevitable that we will continue to feel the pressing in of time as we sit through senior advising appointments, plan college visits, and discuss plans for the future.   The snowball of launching a child is picking up speed.   But as I hear the warning that we only have ten minutes left to play, I can practice instantly giving thanks.   Thank you, Jesus, for these precious days of preparation.  Thank you, Lord, for the wisdom  you will provide.   Thank you, Father, for giving us grace to laugh at what's to come.   I believe God for His great plans (not just for my children, but for me too!) and I'm trusting that we will be surprised by the indescribable joy that will come during the moments that I envision as the most difficult. 

"She laughs at days to come..."  Oh, how I want to believe God will surprise me with this treasured gift of laughter, which can be confidently based on God's omniscient/omnipresent/omnipotent character.  He knows all.  He sees tomorrow.  He's all-powerful.   Because of who God is...we can laugh.    

And that's most definitely how I want to spend my last ten minutes...laughing.         
    
       

 


 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Go With Him

"When your husband asks you to go somewhere with him, GO, or he'll quit asking."

A friend gently encouraged me with that several years ago when my husband surprised me with a once-in-forever trip to Hawaii for our anniversary.  I offered her a pocketful of heartfelt excuses on why this trip should not happen. 

1)  "I hate flying."  (I even turned that fact into a fight with my husband claiming that if he truly loved me, he would never have planned a trip requiring such a long airplane ride.)
2)  "I'm terrified of the ocean."  (Thanks to Jaws, I'm part of an entire generation of ocean-goers ruined by that incredibly realistic movie of a shark taking revenge.)
3)  "I don't want to be that far away from the kids."  (Never mind that my parents had joyfully offered to stay with the kids that week. That was not the point.)
4)  "I especially hate flying OVER the ocean."  (Combine two of my biggest fears and the result is a borderline panic attack at the thought of crashing into the ocean...and surviving.)

I overflowed...burst forth...with passionate reasons this trip should be postponed.   "Not canceled," I claimed, "just postponed."   Postponing the trip provided the hope...the potential...for something major to come up that would wipe this trip off the books FOREVER. 

Go.  With.  Your.  Husband.

So, we ventured to Hawaii, braved the airplane ride, frolicked ankle deep in the ocean, and came home pregnant.  (Not really. I was actually already 7 months pregnant when we went, but it sounded like a good souvenir from a trip to Hawaii.)  We truly had a fantastic time and I was incredibly thankful that my friend didn't let me sit in my excuses and fears, and encouraged me to GO and love my husband by choosing to spend time with him.  

So, today...

My husband texts..."Want to go to lunch with me?"

Obviously he's been fired...or he needs to introduce me to a son he didn't know he had.
(Oh My Word...I have no idea why my loved ones chide me for being a worst-case scenario person.  Doesn't everyone think this way?  An optimistic pessimist; one who prepares how they are going to positively react to the worst possible situation.)       
"What happened?" I texted. 
He texted back, "Nothing.  I just thought it might be nice to go to lunch with my wife."

Had he sent the text, "Can I come home and help you with something?" 
Capital letters, "YES!"   Because I have this crazy thought pattern in my brain that says "If he loved me, he'd want to help me, not just want to be with me."  Help equals love in my book.    

Had the text read, "Can I come home and keep Hope for you so you can take a nap since I know you didn't sleep well last night?" 
Enthusiastically, I would have sent back, "YES!  Hurry!"

But to take time off to go to lunch?  Hmmm...let me get back to you on that.  All I could think of were the dozens of things I wanted to get done today.  And the kids weren't going to school themselves.  And the laundry wasn't going to fold itself.   And...and... My friend's words from years ago tickled my ears.  "When your husband asks you to go somewhere with him, GO, or he will quit asking."

I texted back before I could think about it too much.
"Yes, let's go to lunch."

Then I thought about it.  My mind instantly blew up with better days for this lunch...better times...more convenient seasons of life.   I started a new text, "Friday would be better..."  For some reason, I didn't send it.   Maybe because this is the first time my husband has asked me to lunch in seven years of living in Missouri.  Maybe he knows me well enough to know that I would most likely say, "How about another time?" My husband wasn't asking me out to lunch on Friday.  Or Thursday.  Or when our kids are a little older.  He was asking me to lunch TODAY. 

What in world might happen if the laundry doesn't get folded or some third grade math flashcards are skipped?  Could we possibly ever recover from such a setback?  It might ruin the schedule for the year.   

Way back when we were dating, if my beloved had called and said "Hey, can I come see you for a couple hours?" I wouldn't have thought twice about clearing my schedule,  "HECK YA, you can come see me. How soon will you be here?"    I would have raced to brush my hair, exchanged tennis shoes for some seriously cute Birkenstocks (after all, I did go to college in Boulder), and I would have counted down the seconds until he arrived, energized by a silly giddiness that occupies early enchantment.   

When did my daily chores become more important than spending time with my husband? 
Probably so long ago that I can't even recall the moment I first chose the chore over the person.
It's happened more than I care to recall.

It's no coincidence that today my husband asked me to lunch.  Just this morning, I prayed that God would help me-teach me-to really love my husband.   To really really love him.  Not just partner with him, not just like him as a person, not just tolerate him, but to really love him.  I wasn't sure what that might look like today.  I guess it looked as simple as clearing the schedule when my husband asked me to lunch and GOING with him, joyfully, as though there was nothing else in the world that was more important.  Loving my husband better will most likely always involve recognizing the opportunity to set aside the schedule and choose my husband over my "to do" list. In reality, my husband always has a hundred things "to do," but today, he wanted to have lunch with his wife...he chose the relationship over the work.  So he asked the question.  I swallowed my excuses and went.  GO...or he will quit asking.   

We had a quiet lunch with the two little ones. (Where are the older kids in the family when we need them?) There were no earth shattering discussions, no romantic candlelight, no life-changing decisions, and thankfully no surprise introductions to a long lost son, just the choice to make the marriage relationship a priority.  The choice to look away from the "stuff" and look at one another.  One small choice at a time has the potential to add up to a legacy of making the marriage a priority.  So the opposite is true also.  How much sweeter would our marriage be if we purposefully practiced prioritizing each other a little more...or maybe a lot more.   

Jesus showed us how to love in a way that I'm realizing I don't really understand.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16) 

This looks different for everyone, but for me, laying down my life might look a little like this...choosing people...prioritizing my marriage above all other earthly relationships...choosing to read a book to the littlest when I want to put her in front of Barney...choosing to make an extra sandwich for the teenager at 10:00 pm...choosing to turn off the phone and look at the changing seasons...choosing to lay down my "schedule" for a lunch date with my husband...choosing to extend grace when I really want to lash out...choosing to forgive quickly... 

The schedule survived today and the laundry will eventually get folded (and seriously, who cares if it doesn't? It will all be re-washed in two days anyway).  There was greater satisfaction in choosing to love someone else than in choosing to love my plans for the day.   There was deeper joy in choosing to GO with my husband.       

I love many people in my life...I could probably fill pages with family and friends that I "dearly love."  Yet, I'm so selfish...so selfish.  I know very little about how to love sacrificially. I always hang on to a piece of myself when I'm loving others, protecting myself just a bit.  I'm asking God to grow in me a spirit of love that enables me to love with the same depth that caused Christ to lay down His life for such a sinner as me. By this love, the world will know that we are His disciples. (John 13:35)

It might be years before my husband asks me to go to lunch again in the middle of the week, but goodness, I'll send the "YES!" text back quicker next time he asks.  I trust that God wants to grow His love in us so much that tomorrow another choice will be presented allowing me to extend love to my husband.  God is good like that to give us chance after chance to grow in ways that honor Him.  In this world, there might be no greater opportunity to learn how to love like Christ loved us than within the walls of our home with our husband or wife.  
   





   

 


      

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Peace

Our dear friend stepped into eternity with her Lord and Savior this past weekend.  As my own children awoke and gifted me with handwritten Mother's Day cards, her children awoke to learn their mama had gone to be with Jesus.  She's no longer in pain and finally free from the cancer that poisoned her body.  Amen.  Oh, but her young ones...do they understand God is good?   Do they believe He will never leave them or forsake them?  Can they still see Him through their sadness?  Do they know they don't have to be so brave right now?  While she is whole, healed, and in the land of no more tears, her family walks through hard days and those of us on the edges lift her loved ones up in prayer...that peace will overwhelm their fears, that God's people will serve them well, that our Lord's perfect love will bring comfort.    

Often I hide our old family Christmas letters in books that I've read, so that on the rare occasion I open a book to re-read, I might find a note about our family from years past.  It delights my heart to read of who we once were and how we've changed.  The letter I found this week was penned many years ago during dark days, a hard season for our family.  It was a year I contemplated staying Christmas card silent because I was sure anything positive I wrote would be dishonest.  When I opened the book and saw this letter folded within the pages, the year at the top of the letter gripped my heart.  "That year really sucked," I thought. I skimmed to the end of the page wondering what the final message could have possibly been during this year when we were feeling hard-pressed and squeezed on all sides.
 
The letter ended with a story I had long since forgotten...I don't know who originally told the story, I don't even know the context of which the story was first told or where we had heard the story, but I do remember during that challenging time for our family, the word picture seemed to sum up so much for us.  Can there be peace in the midst of a storm?
The letter from so many years ago ended with this story...        

"We heard a beautiful word picture the other day.  Two artists were asked to paint a picture of 'peace.' The first artist painted a beautiful mountain lake that was completely serene.  There wasn't a cloud in the bright blue sky; there wasn't a ripple of waves on the clear water; there wasn't a hint of a breeze in the towering trees.  The scene portrayed stillness...it was breathtakingly perfect.  The other artist's picture of 'peace' was quite different.  He painted a raging river that roared with chaos.  The sky was cloudy, the water churning, and the waves crashing.  The scene screamed action...it was overwhelmingly unsettled.   Yet, over this tumultuous water stretched a small tree branch.  A little nest was cradled softly amidst the tree branch and in that nest snuggled a little bird.  This delicate bird rested soundly...trusting...quiet...'peaceful' in the midst of the storm...completely undisturbed by the danger surrounding him."

Peace in the midst of a raging storm.  Rest amongst the chaos.  Stillness in the turbulent.  All of this impossible without Christ.  The holder of the storm, the rock on which we stand, the keeper of our lives...HE, only HE, brings peace which surpasses all understanding.  And sometimes, we have to fight for that peace.   Fight against our flesh to believe Him and wrestle with our fears to trust Him.  My mind says it's not fair for a family to lose their beloved mama and wife at such a young age.  Focusing on my idea of "good" leaves me anxious, fearful, and maybe even a little angry.  So, we fight to believe and lean into God's word.   We repeat verses over and over and over in our minds that remind us who God is even though sometimes it's hard to see His goodness from our earthly perspective.  We take captive our thoughts and make them obedient to His word, not obedient to our own human analysis.  One verse that brings peace to my fears for this family is from Jeremiah, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future.'"  God's plan is not to destroy this family...even though it feels "too early" for her to be in eternity and they're "too young" to have lost their mom. God holds them and His plan is to bring good...even if we can't see it yet.   We can believe what we don't see because we know His character and His character never changes. We can believe in this family's hope and future because God says we can believe that.    

Phil 4:6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

"The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

Peace in the midst of the storm flies in the face of human reasoning, but yet God promises peace to guard our hearts and minds as the wind howls and the waves crash.   Peace guards...posted outside of our aching hearts and anxious minds, peace allows His truth to speak louder to us than the chaos of hard circumstances.

The artists had two different perspectives on peace.  One 'peace' required no conflict; the other 'peace' magnified by the conflict.  Is it possible that peace is that much more magnificent when the circumstances scream there should be none?   How often I pray for the picture surrounding me to change believing falsely that's the only way to get back to a place of peace.   Peace in the midst of the storm is one of the beautiful promises tucked in Christ.  True peace doesn't have to wait for still waters; true peace takes its most amazing, divine stand while the storm rages.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Groaning

If a blog could be whispered, I'd whisper this one.   Some trials in life suck the breath out of our lungs, squeeze our heart to the point you think it might explode, quiet the words that normally flow easy.  Some things silence our wordy prayers and leave us with simply heart-crying groans. Words seem insufficient...and the words you do say seem shallow, silly in the midst of such ache.  Maybe I'm at such a loss because it's not my story. I'm inside the story enough to ache, but too outside to fully know how God is being faithful.   It seems impossible, yet I know He's faithful.  I believe He is faithful.  HE IS FAITHFUL.

Today, a friend walks the valley of the shadow of death, the number of her days limited.  We all thought maybe she would be the one...maybe she could be the one to fight this cancer for ten years and get her kids through high school.  If anyone had the temperament to do that, it would be her.   After a rough week at chemo, she'd sit with the two-year-old Puggles at Awanas and say, "I can feel crummy at home or I can feel crummy here.  I'd rather be here."  Even as the pain has overwhelmed in the last weeks, she said, "I just need to get this managed, so I can get on with my day." And against the medical odds, we all hoped that she would be the one who would beat it.  

The Creator of her body, the Lover of her soul, the Heavenly Father who knows how this story ends, seems to be walking her home.  I whispered to my little guy this morning, "It seems she's going to get to go Home."  He smiled, "Oh good.  Now she will be back at church."  I corrected gently, "Not this home on earth.  Home to our Heavenly Father."  He whispered back, "That's so good for her. She will be so happy to be with Jesus. But I'm so sad for her kids."  He grabs my neck and gives me a generous hug.  And I feel so spoiled because I have the energy to hang on tightly to my kids, and make them breakfast, and give a test, and use the word "tomorrow."  My journey on this day seems so easy...and not too far away, this friend's valley is so hard...   

We cry out to God for peace for the family and her two young children.  We cry out for comfort for her.  We pray against a spirit of fear for her and for her beloved family and friends.   In a stolen moment with a couple girlfriends around her hospital bed, we promise her that we will pray for her children long term.  That as we pray for our own children's purity and gentleness and salvation and spouses and...and..., that we will also pray for hers.  That her children will be prayed for by other mamas who know the deepest longings of a mama's heart for her children. It seems unfair to promise a mama that you will do for her children the one thing that she longs to do for them herself. Yet, there's nothing else we can offer...and maybe, aside from a miraculous healing, there's nothing she wants more ...than to know her children will be prayed for.        

But mostly, we groan.  We groan and trust that God understands the language of hurting hearts.
 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's Will."  Romans 8:26-27      

We trust He intercedes for us as we don't know what to say...as our prayers seems incomplete...as we seek to trust without seeking human understanding...we groan because there simply aren't words powerful enough to express... 
 
 As Kara Tippetts wrote in her blog www.mundanefaithfulness.com  during her final days, "There will be grace for this..."

So, our hearts groan for our dear friend who is journeying through the valley, and we whisper,
There WILL be grace for this...     

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Root of Bitterness

A feverish baby woke me early.  
A list of grievances from weeks past made sleep restless anyway, so the excuse to get out of bed brought relief that finally the night was over. 
Rocking a fussy one seemed simple compared to the weight of all the chips that I had allowed permanent residence on my shoulders over the last weeks.
The bitterness had crept back in slowly; hardly noticeable at first glance.  It rested quietly in my spirit, ignored mostly, but still allowed to permeate my thoughts.  Thoughts become speech; speech becomes action. Before long, the bitter began lacing my conversation about certain topics with a touch of sarcasm; a hint of hardness surrounding my talk; the edge of a critical spirit waiting to offer an arrogant opinion.  Only unchecked bitterness can result in such anger and frustration.   
Unresolved conflict in relationships, unmet expectations of life, and the pride of thinking higher of oneself than we ought, tend to open the floodgates to all kinds of past issues. 
Moments forgotten from times past...offenses overlooked, but not really overlooked just put aside for another day...all of the yuck of yesterday resurrected.
Generalizations allowed the freedom to make bold, over-arching judgments.
Words like never and always enter carelessly.
You never...
We never...
It always..
  
Anger strangled as I laid my little one back down in her crib. 
Not anger toward the little one who had pulled me from bed; for she cuddled and loved fiercely in her need.  
What is my problem?  No single incident could incite such emotional ugliness.
No single incident except the brushing aside of the root of bitterness that never fails to eventually produce fruit that chokes out the good.   
When we want an excuse for our sin, we hunt desperately for the scapegoat that allows us to take the edge off of our own conviction of wrong and place the blame somewhere else. 
It's not my fault I'm acting this way.  I have reason.
I began to justify.  The excuses ready to bear the brunt of the blame for my internal battle.      
I started the mental list as I rocked alone, no longer softened by the gentle breathing of the baby.  I was left to give full vent to my sin. 
For this reason...I'm so angry.
For this reason...I'm allowed bitterness.  
For this...I resent.  Who wouldn't?
All of the things I'm disliking about myself these days cast away from my ownership. 
And on and on my list grew in the wee hours of the morning. The frustration energized by my endless pursuit for justification.
On and on I rocked alone. 
It's no coincidence that the one in bitterness is often left to themselves. 

When I thought I would surely pop from the listing of excuses, the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit pressed in--the Counselor that doesn't allow sin comfortable living space in a child of God's spirit--the awakening of the status of the heart that doesn't allow for Truth to be absent from the equation.  There are no excuses in dealing with our own sin; God's word burrows into the dark places and reveals the ugliness of hidden sin, our own deceptive hearts that try to deceive us into believing that we are excused.   The weight of our sin comes to light.  Oh, it's so ugly, and so overwhelming, and so seemingly unchangeable.  Just when we think we might be doomed forever, Grace gently enters; to cover, to restore, to heal, to breathe life; the undeserved gift that unveils the sin and offers us new mercies in exchange for our repentance. Turn back and be renewed.

We all have our own reasons for hanging on to a bitter spirit.
Some reasons seem more worthy than others.     
Some stories make bitterness understandable. 
Some circumstances make living joyfully hard to do.
Some seasons of life are just plain more challenging than others.
People hurt us.  We hurt others.  We are disappointed.  We do the disappointing.  
And life doesn't seem to ever really look the way we thought.  
But we are never excused to bitterness.  
Never.  No matter our story. No matter how hard the fight against it.  Bitterness is never God's best.
Jesus came so that bitterness, resentment, and anger don't have to steal life from our days.
Their power to destroy us broken by the grace and forgiveness that Jesus offers.   We forgive...we let go of what steals our joy...because we know the depth of our own need for forgiveness. 
I could never be sinned against more than I have sinned against my Heavenly Father.  I could never be the keeper of right and wrong because I'm not always wise in the keeping of right. 
I hate the root of bitterness that creeps into my life.  But I often water it, leave it to sprout, and then eat of the fruit that was permitted to grow. 
 
The image of one clinging to years worth of justifiable reasons for anger and bitterness haunts me.  
Life had been hard for her.  My heart still breaks for her years later.  Yet, there's a nagging in the heart of a Christian that whispers the question when we see years worth of harboring such bitterness,  "Is this the one hurt that could never be forgiven?"   "Is this the one thing that Jesus didn't die for?"  We don't ever get to own the right to bitterness; the poison fruit that grows from it should spur us on to fight the roots of bitterness we see in our life on our knees with all our might.  To press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus has called us to.  There's such beauty when a testimony is given and years of hard and heartache and sadness are coupled with God's grace and forgiveness and joy.   Perhaps that's why Kara Tippett's testimony (www.mundanefaithfulness.com) of living her life with such purpose, joy, and grace while dying of cancer has captivated so many of us. She could be bitter and angry at the broken journey she's been asked to walk, but instead I heard her say on a broadcast something like "We choose brokenness over anger."  There's a sweet release of comfort to hear that difficult can be journeyed without succumbing to our natural tendency toward bitterness and anger and our right to justice. We crave seeing God's power in action.  We long hearing of God's promises lived out in real life.  Beth Moore (in her study of Daniel) reminds us of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who came out of the fire that could have incinerated them, but instead "the hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them" (Daniel 3:27).  They didn't even smell of smoke.  Impossible. Only God enables someone to walk through the fire in such a way. 

Hebrews 12:15 "See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

Letting go of bitterness always costs us something.  It may cost us our treasured power over someone; it may cost us our excuses to not deal with our own sin; it may cost us our pride. But letting go of bitterness promises to bring about fruits of the spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.  I've seen my own bitterness isolate me in certain ways and lend an edge in certain relationships. Turn back and be renewed the Holy Spirit nudges.

I have a vision of the way I long to be as an older woman. I want to be like my mom.  Not that she's an old woman, she's actually quite young and beautiful in all ways, but her children are grown and her grandchildren growing.  I want to be one like her who speaks with gentleness, kindness, love, and joy at days past.  I want to be over-flowing with grace-filled speech as I grow older and I want to always be looking for opportunity to extend forgiveness and ask for forgiveness in all my relationships.  I long for there to be no sharpness to my comments; no harbored grudges that poison life of its promised hope.  I long for my grown children and grandchildren to feel refreshed in my presence in years to come because the stench of some hard yesterdays were not permitted permanent residence in my spirit.  I become this older woman by fighting bitterness today.  By choosing Kara's attitude (Jesus' attitude), my mom's attitude, and letting myself be broken by life's hardships and not bitter and not angry and not hardened.

I've been rocking in that chair a lot today.   My baby is still feverish and she needs lots of loving.  As I move closer toward uprooting this bitterness that strangles, I can't help but notice the life it breathes into my family.  I'm reminded that tending to the garden of my soul requires the continual weeding of the ugly, the rotten, smelly, in order for true beauty to have room to grow. It promises to be well worth the fight.