Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Night Before...

Did I really expect to sleep soundly the night before my firstborn goes to school for the first time?  
Ten years after most parents have their first day of school, we are on the dawn of ours.  
I have dreaded...absolutely dreaded this night from the moment the decision to put him in school was made.  
I dreaded the tears I knew I'd cry, the second-guessing I knew I'd do, and the heightened emotions I knew I'd experience as we begin this new season of life.
I was hoping Jesus would come back before tonight.   
There's still time for Him to return and take us home...there's still several hours before the first school bell rings...but as much as I strain my ears for a sound, I don't hear the trumpets announcing my Savior...

Masterfully, I held back tears most of the day.     The torrential build up of emotion became too much as we loaded into the car for back-to-school night.      I ran into my firstborn on the stairs and he quizzically looked into my tear-streaked, vein-bulging eyes, and asked "Why are you crying now?" 

I was adamant that I was going to control my emotions, "Don't hug me.    I have to pull myself together and get rid of these puffy eyes before we get to the school."    

Apparently, he wasn't going to hug me anyway, because he was already in the front seat of the car before I finished the statement.

I lost most of my mascara on the drive there.    
Nearing the school, the freshman firstborn gasps, "Where are my shoes?"  
And we are already late and "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?   YOU FORGOT YOUR SHOES?"
This vision of walking into back-to-school night with my freshman in high school not wearing shoes is enough to instantly dry my eyes and bring color back to my face.   This is not happening.   
Even the toddler brought his shoes this time. 
I'm no longer sad he's going to school; instead, I want to slap him upside the head.    
He exaggeratedly searches around the seat and through his bag before he grins and holds up two shoes, "Just kidding.  You don't really think I'd forget to bring my shoes, do you?"
Gosh, I'm really going to miss this kid.  He somehow has me all figured out.
Maybe it's because we've been together for the last fourteen years.

Later, as he was getting ready for bed, backpack sitting by the door, lunch made in the refrigerator, I kind of wanted to pull out a scene from that book, I'll Love You Forever.   I wanted him to crawl up in my lap and just be five again.   Or better yet.   I wanted him to sneak into our room in the middle of the night, and be five again, and crawl into our bed, just because.   Just because he was little and wanted to be near.   

So, tonight, after he was asleep, I did sneak into the boys' room.    Just to peek at my babies.  I'm always amazed.  Somehow, seeing both my older sons laying in their beds, growing bodies sprawled out and filling the mattresses, grounds me to the very reality that going to school is not what makes me sad.    What makes me sad is the fact that they have to grow up.   Whether they go to school or not, the transition into manhood has already begun.  

Time is no respecter of a mama's feelings. 

The light from the street reflected on my firstborn's face and I saw a hint of baby fat...a hint of the little boy that didn't sleep in his own bed until he was six...but I can't ignore the chin that seems more defined and the shoulders that seem to be broadening.   Why can't he just be five?  His physical body fills a bed in our house for only a season of life and that hardly seems fair.  Next time my kids say something is not fair, I'll tell them what's not fair.    "What's not fair is that I'm going to love you little ones and give my life for you for eighteen years and then you are going to leave and call another place your home.   THAT'S WHAT'S NOT FAIR."
I'm not sure which of the older three children will roll their eyes first at that comment.
But every mom understands.    
Watching your children grow up is such a painful pleasure.  

The Daniel of the Old Testament.
For much of this last summer, I wished I could have a little chat with his mom.     
Daniel---the young man (teenager) ripped from his family and his heritage and his land and thrust into the greatest city of those days. Babylon.
Daniel---taken as a slave to be trained to serve the king. He's described as handsome, quick-minded, well-informed, and of noble blood, which qualified him to serve royalty.
He and other young men from Judah were taken to be trained in all areas of Babylonian culture---the language, the literature, and all other areas of life that would be useful in the king's service. This would include being trained in the knowledge of Babylonian gods and worship.
Wealth, glory, prestige, idolatry, excess.
All of it was found within the walls of this magnificent city.  
All of it within reach of these young boys if they would just make some compromises.     
How long would it really be possible for a teenager to hang on to all that he had been taught as a young boy when he was being trained daily in ways that were contrary to his God and his entire way of life? Everything he knew would have been challenged.
How long could he possible stand?

But Daniel did stand. He did stand firm in his faith and did not turn his back on God.
And God lifted him to excellence in all areas of importance to the king.
He and three other young men are the only ones mentioned of ALL the Israelite boys taken who maintained their love for the Lord.
That's not very encouraging.
All good Jewish boys would have been taught Old Testament scripture.
They would all have known about the God of Israel. They would all have known about the one true I AM.
Only four kept the faith?

I'd love to talk to the mamas of those boys, specifically Daniel's mom.      
Interview her. Pepper her with a million questions to ease my worried soul.
Surely, she holds the recipe~the magic formula~ to raising a kid whole-heartedly sold out to the Lord.
How did you prepare your son?
Did you know he was strong enough to stand?
Did you get to whisper any last words to him as Babylonian soldiers were taking him away?
Did you tell him you loved him or did you whisper scripture knowing that a mother's love would never sustain him? Only the Word of God would have that power.
Tell me your secret, Oh Mom of Daniel.

And my frantic soul this summer kept searching for the answer to raising a child that didn't turn away when leaving the home. My soul regretted lost training opportunities, and toiled over future plans and ideas to properly prepare him for a life lived in our very godless culture. I worried. I prayed. I feared a bit. I prayed some more. What I didn't take the time to do, however, was to still my soul before the God, who created my son, and remind myself whose child he really is. Deep down, I think the children in my home are mine. All mine.   I know I think they are mine because I really have a hard time releasing them to God, who might choose to grow them in ways that make them uncomfortable...or ways that embarrass...or in ways that hurt.

Several different entries in my journal talk about this desire to talk to Daniel's mom.     Tell me exactly what you did, Mama Daniel, and I'll do it.  It's not shocking that this woman from long ago didn't talk to me.   In fact, my repeated search for specific information on Daniel's mama hardly turned up any information.  Finally, finally, finally, God opened my eyes to something very important that I was missing in my quest for the specific recipe for raising a son like Daniel.    It was as though the Lord opened my heart to this,   "If I had wanted you to know about Daniel's mother, I would have mentioned her.  The secret doesn't belong to Daniel's mother.  I AM DANIEL'S GOD."  

The God, who lived in Daniel, kept the teenager strong. 
The God, who had a plan that required Daniel to be lifted far above the others, gave this young man the wisdom to withstand the temptations. 
The God, who created Daniel for such a time as that, grew him in knowledge academically and gave him favor in front of kings.          

Daniel's God is my God. 
Daniel's God is my firstborn's God.
I don't need to talk to Daniel's mom.   
I've got the God of the universe living inside me, His written word to guide me, and His promises to hold tight against my aching heart and over-working mind.
My son has that same God. 

The firstborn going to school tomorrow is nothing like Daniel being taken as a slave to Babylon.
Hopefully, we still have several years left with him in our home and under our guidance.   
There won't need to be any last minute profound words frantically whispered as I send him off tomorrow because, Lord willing, I'll be seeing him just six hours later with time left in our season of life together to do more training.
But, now that I think about my last words to him in a few hours, maybe I will steal my mom's old goodbye to me in high school, and use it with my own children as we are slowly releasing them to the world.  
She used to say, "Remember whose child you are."   
The teenager in me would always say back to her, "Yours."  
I knew what she meant, though.   
"Remember, Beloved Michelle, that you are the daughter of the King.   Bought at a price.  Redeemed for all eternity.   You.  Belong.  To.  God."

It would seem God's using that to cushion my heart on the night before my firstborn goes to school for the first time.    
Fear not.  I have redeemed your (firstborn.)  
I have summoned him by name.
He.  Is.  Mine. 
Isaiah 43:1 

I've been writing an hour and the snoring upstairs tells me that everyone else in my family seems to be at peace with this decision.  I guess this first day of school thing is really going to happen.
My ears are still straining to hear the trumpets...maybe there's still some time left, and Jesus will return. 
Instead, I hear the still, small voice calmly reassuring me on this dreaded night before...
Do not fear. 
He.  Is.  Mine.   

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

In Both, God Is Good.

Here is yet another blog that I'm not sure I should publish.  
One that's written in the process of sorting out the false things I've adopted as "gospel" from the one true "gospel" that is found in scripture.      
Yet, I'm compelled to write because, well, that's how I process, and there's a very real tension in my mind that God's goodness is possibly one of the many parts of Him that I will never fully understand on this side of heaven...something I might never be able to write about with absolutely clarity.      My heart might never be able to rest on my own limited understanding of God and His goodness and how that all fits into human suffering.    

God's Word says He is good.
Therefore, He IS good. 
2 Chron. 7:3 "They worshipped and gave thanks to the Lord saying, 'He is good.   His love endures forever.'"
If we don't believe God's word is Truth, we have much bigger eternal issues than just our understanding of His goodness here on earth.
The verses claiming His goodness are numerous in both the Old and New Testament.    
Psalm 34:8 "Taste and see that the Lord is good."
Our God is good.
Luke 18:19 "No one is good except God alone."
No one is good except God alone.
We can boldly make those statements because they echo scripture.   
God.  Is.  Good.      
It seems I have a pretty skewed view of "goodness" though because tragedies often shake me...stir me...rock my earthly world... 
I don't know how to fully mesh His goodness with evil, or tragedy, or hurts, or disappointment, but He is above this world and His goodness is not dependent on the circumstances of this world to make goodness to be true of Him.  
God does not change based on the tragedy of the day.  
Therefore, He is good in the face of sorrow.   

A couple weeks ago, a gathering of old high school friends at my parents' house in Colorado Springs almost turned tragic.   Almost. 
Dozens of kids of all ages roamed the bluffs where my parents' house rests while the adults caught up on old times safe on the confines of the deck and yard.     One side of the house is normal...gentle sloped grass leading to some pretty cool climbing bluffs...a big play set...a basketball hoop and ping pong reason for any kid to need to wander anywhere else.   
The other side of the house is a different story.   Two levels of decks sit resting on the edge of cliffs that tumble straight down to more rocky cliffs below.
All of the kids seemed content on the "safer" side of the house, so no big deal.   
No big deal except for the one kid that decided to venture, unseen by the dozens of adults at the party, to the bottom layers of deck.   
But even that should have been no big deal.  
We hang out on those decks all the time and have never had any issues.    
They are safely built decks.    AND I'm the family safety Nazi with a gift of removing all fun from every situation~or so my family says~because they "claim" I see danger in places where it doesn't exist.  If anyone would have mistrusted the stability of the decks, it would have been me.   I grew up in this house.   It's safe. 

A lone 5-year-old wandered to the lower level to look over at the cliffs below.   She grabbed onto the top of the rail and slipped her tiny feet between the bars of the deck to get a better look.    My mom happened to walk over to that part of the yard at that moment and watched as that entire section of the railing gave way and tumbled down the cliffs below leaving this small child hanging on to the only top bar that remained.   The little girl calmly set her feet back on the part of the deck still standing and ran off to play.  Bouncing with joy, she was completely unfazed by the tragedy she had just been spared.      A huge gaping hole was left with pieces of the deck strewn on the rocky cliffs below.     There is no earthy reason she didn't fall.   

With hearts beating faster, adults peered at this "almost" with praise and thanksgiving and joy at God's goodness.   God's goodness to spare this child's life.     Snippets of our conversation included "God is so good to protect."   "We are so thankful to have been spared."    "Praise Him for His protection."     Those are things that I naturally say when I see God's obvious hand saving or protecting or blessing.  
And the truth is, we are SO thankful that God spared this little girl's life.  
Our hearts DO overflow with joy that He chose to give the family more time with her.  
We praise Him for obviously intervening.   
God is good.  He is so, so, very good.

Gradually, the reunion came to an end and I looked at my phone for the first time all day.   
Numerous texts awaited.
The messages were tragic.  
A dear friend's 3-year-old niece had drown.   
This little one had drown while vacationing with family at a friend's lake house.
The time of the first text was almost at the exact moment the deck was falling out from under a little girl at my parents' house.
The contrasting results still take my breath away.     
On the same day that our good God was sparing a little girl's life in Colorado Springs by holding her back from a cliff, He was welcoming a little one into His Heavenly Kingdom.   
His hands kept a child on this earth at the very moment His arms carried one home.   
The very same good God.
And "God is good" is not what came to my mind or out of my mouth.
I couldn't find that thought anywhere. 
Because how does a good God allow a family to walk through such pain?    

I'm not sure, but we KNOW that God was still on His throne that day.
He didn't turn His head for a second and miss the tragedy.  He's Sovereign.    
He didn't mistakenly allow a little one to be taken too soon from her family.   Even a sparrow doesn't fall to the ground without His permission.     
He didn't forsake this God-fearing family for one moment.    He is close to the brokenhearted.    
And even through this unimaginable sorrow, He is still good.                
With confidence, God is still good.   
He gave permission for something so tragic, yet God reigns supreme and He has overcome all the sorrow of this world.   Somehow, in a way that transcends all understanding, He will get glory in the midst of this heartbreak and He will bring peace through such pain.   Maybe even JOY.          
Because that's who He is.
I'm realizing that deep down my view of God's goodness is often situational.  
I say "God is good" a lot.  A WHOLE lot.   
But there's often an unspoken behind it.    A "because" that I don't say, but imply.    
Because He protected.
Because the money came.   
Because the baby has a heartbeat.
Because my child is safe.
Because the fire didn't destroy their home.  
Because the hail didn't hit the farm.
Because it's not cancer.  
Because the little girl didn't fall off the deck.
God is good...

The Bible says that God is good.  
Period.   Not because.   His character is goodness.   
That goodness is not dependent on ANYTHING.   
God is good when He spares a child's life.  
God is good when He doesn't.
He will be glorified in both.
He can be praised by believers in both.

Two babies to be born within days of each other this upcoming winter. 
The news is shared just a week apart.    
Both families growing in excitement at the upcoming addition to their families.
But God's plan is different than we would have planned.      
One baby is still growing.
One baby isn't.   
One family preparing a room.  
One family grieving a loss.   
Yet, this precious Christian woman, who has just lost the little one in her womb, says to me,
"God is so good."
"This hurts.   But God is SO good." 
The strength of the Lord in this lovely woman through such heartache witnesses to me.      
Her spiritual maturity and wisdom are confirmed in that one statement of faith that allows her to boldly proclaim that "God is good even though this hurts and we don't understand." 
Somehow, I can walk away from this woman knowing without a doubt that God Is Good. 
My heart aches with this family, but I can say in agreement with them, confidently,
"Yes, God is so good."  

This week, I read a news article about a young woman killed on a lake when she was hit in the head by a piece of metal that flew off a water tube.     We had the very same accident a couple years ago, yet I walked out of the emergency with stitches and a concussion, and this woman's family is planning a funeral.    
"God is good," we had said "Because He spared my life."  
Would He not still have been good had He chosen to take my life? 
The hollowness of saying "God is good because..." now seems glaringly insufficient and weak.
Yes, we are so thankful for more days.
Yes, I'm so thankful to be around a little longer for my family.    
But He's good always.    
Not because He spared me.   
He's good even if He wouldn't have.
And He will be glorified in both. 
Let my children never think God is good BECAUSE...
He is good.   Period.  

When the cup in front of us is pleasing to us, it's easy to say that He is good.    
Jesus had a cup pass before Him.   One that included the sins of the world being placed on His shoulders.  A cup full of betrayal, physical brutality, and death.   Yet, Hebrews 12 says that "for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross."   There was joy for Him in all of His suffering because of what the end result of the suffering would be.   Could that also be true for our suffering?    

I'm realizing how crucial it is for me to rehearse His goodness and His Sovereignty and His ultimate glory in suffering before I need to fully lean on them.    Rehearse who He is during the calm seas before the storm hits.   Because a storm will hit.  It does for all of us.  The calm seas are the time to build our boat of faith with deliberate Truth because it's pretty tough to build faith during the fierce attacks of a storm...that's when we need to just cling to that which has already been built and cleave to the perfecter of our faith.    Our children need to hear us rehearse God's goodness in ALL THINGS~the giving and the taking away.   His goodness not just when situations end with positive results, but His goodness as part of God's character.   
A character that doesn't change with outside circumstances.     

One of my friends has a son with a lifelong disease that requires constant monitoring.   I've heard her say something like this, "If this illness had passed before me for my son, I would have turned it down and said there was no way this could be good or loving.    But I'm not God.    This disease passed before my Heavenly Father's throne and He said, 'Yes,' to this...and God is good.  And God is love."  This family's constant dependence on the Lord in the face of this daily struggle ministers by pointing me right back to how God can be glorified in the face of suffering. 

The immaturity of how I view the Lord is constantly brought before me as seasons of life change and I find my faith shaken...ummm, more than I wish.   The tragedy of this little girl drowning while another little girl was being spared shook me.  Yet, the shaking draws me back to God's word and reminds me to build my faith on the truth of scripture and not my own personal feelings.  I can analyze tragedy in my own power all day and there is no sense to be found in it apart from God's Word.

My friend came back from her 3-year-old niece's funeral blown away by the strength in her brother's family as they face this unspeakable tragedy.   She said that she went to help and encourage her family, but she was the one who walked away blessed.    Blessing in the midst of suffering?  God's hand moving as a funeral for a 3-year-old is planned?  No Way Possible apart from God.   No way.  There was actual JOY to be found as God's hand was seen in the grief and in the carrying of this family.   The stories she told me of the funeral week testified that God can get glory even when He doesn't withhold the sorrow.     And my friend was able to say with confidence, "God is good."  
That absolutely transcends all human understanding.      

So, I ramble and write on and on and find no outline that can be drawn. 
This seems so incomplete. 
I don't know if this should be deleted or rewritten or saved as a draft until I can write it with more clarity...until the paragraphs flow more naturally together.  It's been in rough draft form now for two weeks and it seems the concept of God's goodness through suffering requires more wisdom than I've been given. 
Maybe I'm just preaching myself a sermon.   Rehearsing over and over and over for my own small faith, God's goodness.  
His goodness no matter what. 
As life changes, I'm constantly having to remind myself of some of the very basic character traits of God.
So, I go back and start with this one...  
God.  Is.  Good.  
The "because" absent from the sentence.   
It means that He is good when He holds back the railing of a deck and saves a child's life.   
It means that He is still good when the unbearable happens.       
He. Is. Good.    
In both circumstances, He is good.