October 16, 2017

Peace Which Surpasses Understanding

The tiles are cold underneath me so I pull over a rug to sit on, back pressed against the wall, weary head leaned back, and a towel thrown over my legs - another attempt to keep the cold at bay. My stomach growls every other minute or so reminding me that I am hungry but normally am not up to feel it at this hour, long before dawn’s light will streak across the sky.  I can feel the tiredness through every part of me but not even so much because of the hour but because of life.  Sometimes, at every turn there is hard.  I look and all around me are people struggling under the weight of hard.  I continue to hold the phone close and listen to the tears on the other end wishing there was a way to fix it all and calm the fears but feeling powerless to do so.  

Powerless is a feeling I know well. Friends and family I love and others I don't know well at all but I know of their pain are meeting each sunrise unsure of how to take the next step forward because life isn't what they expected, planned for, or wanted.  I don't even have to leave my own home to find the struggle.  What are the answers?  How can one help?  Sometimes help and answers are far from simple. 

What happens when days turn into weeks which turn into years without solutions?  What happens when the healing is long and slow or maybe there is none? What do we do when our children ask questions we can't answer?  What do we say when the loss is excruciating, the diagnosis scary, the circumstances are overwhelming, the pain (physical or otherwise) is continual, or the darkness is heavy and there seems to be no end in sight?  What do we do when we cannot understand what God is doing and why He doesn't answer the way we ask?

I have pleaded with God in the last few years, tears streaming, asking Him for answers, for healing, for change, for redemption and found myself wondering why when I am asking for things that are good, right, and honoring to Him, does He withhold the answers I seek?  Have you begged God to act in some way, to bring change, and it seems nothing happens?

What is God doing?

The answer is, I don't know. And somehow, I have begun to find some peace in the not knowing.  I still wrestle.  I still shed many tears over unanswered questions.  I still grieve and feel weary many days.  How can there be peace without understanding? The peace comes in the recognition of who I am and who I serve. 

“'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 'For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 'For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.'”
Isaiah 55:8-13 

His thoughts are not my thoughts.  His ways are not mine.  I would write stories differently where children don't die, teens don't get hurt and struggle, peace reigns in all hearts, diseases don't take over bodies, relationships aren't broken, people aren't scarred, and peaceful sleep always comes. However, my thoughts and ways are so very limited and the honest truth is, my end goal would be ease and comfort.  God’s end goal is  SO MUCH more rich, sweet, eternal, and beautiful.  There is peace when we recognize we are finite and cannot understand the mind and ways of an infinite God.  Where we think only thorns and briers will grow, He grows the cypress and myrtle (vs.13).  Where we think only brokenness will grow, He grows faith and vessels for His glory.  In all of the hard He is working to make His name known to the world - His glory known (vs. 13).  In His grace, He is always working for our good as well (Rom. 8:28) but in ways we can't imagine (Eph. 3:20). When I bow to His greatness and sovereignty, when I relinquish the need to understand or have things answered MY way, then verse twelve is true for me and I go out not only with peace, but with joy. 

The pressure is off.  I don't have to know.  You don't have to know and understand.  We cry out and we beg God to work, to save, to redeem, to heal, and we trust that whatever answer He gives is as it should be because it is coming from Someone who can see far beyond what we can, is doing abundantly more than we can imagine, and is faithful beyond what we can comprehend. 

And there is peace.

Peace and understanding are not the same thing.  Understanding is not something we are ever promised.  The outcomes we think are good are never promised. Peace is promised if we will continually believe God (Rom. 15:13) and continually lay our burdens at His feet (Phil. 4:6-7).  

My pillow will be wet with tears again many times over before my life here is done.  God created hearts in us that care so we will rightfully grieve the brokenness of this world.  I will plead and beg of God many times over on behalf of my children in these years before they leave my home and I think even more so after.  I will cry out to Him on behalf of the pain in others I love and even those I don't know well but who are experiencing first hand the pain of this world.  However, I do not have to do any of that without peace.  I can trust the heart of the One who hears it all.  I can stand firmly on the truth that every word that goes out from His mouth will accomplish what He intended for it and all will be brought to completion (vs. 11). 

I ended the call that night when the tears on the other end had subsided, and I turned to the only thing I knew that could transform my discouraged thoughts.  I turned to truth. In God’s providence and goodness, in the hours I was sleeping, a friend had sent me something written around this truth from God’s Word:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Deuteronomy 29:29 

I clung to it with every fiber of my being.  They - all those things that threaten to tear my heart apart that I do not understand - they belong to God and I can leave them there. He has given me all I need.  
And there is peace. 

I brought much before the Lord on those tiles that night.  There are so many hurting and so many circumstances I do not understand and feel powerless to help. After much prayer, I got up off those cold tiles and dried the tears.   There was nothing fixed.  I had no more understanding how to move forward, how to help, how to fix,  and I still do not.  I did leave there though different than I had sat down.  I left with peace because I had laid down the need to understand - at least for that day.  I will need to repeat over and over but that's the wonderful thing about God, His supply never runs out.  Each time I come earnestly seeking peace, ready to trust Him with all that doesn't make sense to me, He lavishes me in His grace with His endless supply of peace. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
Proverbs 3:5

July 5, 2017

A Good God

God is good, all the time. I've been pondering this truth the last few weeks.  Good all the time?  Good no matter what happens?

Four weeks ago I thought I was driving there to sit with them while they lost their son.  Getting hit by a semi doesn't usually end well with people.  I felt physically sick.  It was the kind of drive where you pray non-stop begging God to act, to save, to work a miracle.  I had made the drive to this ER before.  I had prayed the same types of prayers only they were for my own son. I have stared death in the face, and I prayed fervently all the way there that these friends would not have to do the same. 

The grief was intense and the wait for that wonderful and awful life flight chopper was long. Though different, and though 13 years had passed, it all felt a little too familiar - the ER, the chopper, the time of year, a son. I did the only thing I knew to do - be present and pray. I stood by and sat by them in the same way they had sat by us 13 years earlier.  The weight and the wait felt too much for anyone to bear but I knew from experience, He can make anyone able.

The chopper came, the doctors went to work, and then the news came.  God had answered.  No broken bones.  No major internal trauma.  Full recovery expected. Oh the joy and relief that washed over that waiting room of so many loving, caring people!

The next day brought news that felt discouraging but following days only pointed more and more to a miracle and God was answering the prayer of not only a life saved, but full recovery.
God is good.  Many said it, myself included. 

As I drove back and forth to the hospital many times over the next several days I had to wrestle that truth out a little.  God is good.  I never stopped believing it but I throw that statement out every time God answers in the way that I think He should.  How often do I say it when He answers in a way that breaks hearts?  Is He only good when He gives me what I ask, or when He does what I think He should? When are we as believers willing to say He is good?  Is He good when we are standing over a grave, or we get a hard diagnosis, or we are still alone, or we have faced endless hurt? Is He good whether he saves a life or not even though He is always able?  Sometimes we are afraid to ask the hard questions.  The real question is, is He good all the time?

True goodness must always be good. His goodness is not based on outcomes or circumstances.  I know He is good because His Word tells me so:

“For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Psalms 100:5

I also know He is good because He has shown me so in loving me no matter how undeserving I am, in faithfully meeting me and carrying me through the hard circumstances life can bring, in gifts of grace and joy that I haven't earned, in laying down His life for me when I was His enemy (Romans 5:10), in bringing beauty out of the ashes of my life (Isaiah 61:3).  His steadfast love and faithfulness have been evident throughout my life and the lives of those I know.

“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Psalms 145:9

 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

He is good.  He is good to all.  He is working good.

The Bible is clear on God's goodness.  How I define “good” is the real problem. In my limited thinking I always want to tie it to what I want, what I see as best, what I understand.  I know my heart and mind though, and I don't want a God who bases good on what I think or I know.  I am not good.  I have come to trust that what He sees that I can't and His very character is much better than my sight and character.  His goodness is true and constant regardless of what my feelings say and regardless of what things look like through my eyes. I see so dimly (I Corinthians 13:12).

I was challenged four weeks ago, as I celebrated God’s saving and miraculous work, to proclaim His goodness even in the hard.  I am beyond overjoyed that our friends are spending this 4th of July with all of their children.  It absolutely thrills my heart that they can walk into his room and hug him.  I love that God has things in store for that remarkable, young man and his parents can be there to celebrate the milestones in life like graduation from college and perhaps marriage and grandkids.  I am praising the Lord with them for his life and God’s goodness to them.  As I look back thirteen years though, I realize that though it may not have felt like it at the time, though I didn't immediately proclaim it, God was just as good as I held my son for the last time and as I stood over his small casket.  His goodness is not defined by my circumstances and that is something that should give me great confidence.  His goodness means something bigger and beyond what I can comprehend.  He is working in a way I can't even imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21

Is God good all the time?  Yes.  Yes, He is if I define it correctly and don't tie it to my desires and my limited knowledge. Then I can stare into the valley of the shadow of death in all its darkness and unknowns and know with confidence that His goodness and mercy will forever be following me until one day I am at home with Him forever (Psalm 23). I can proclaim God is good with the same joy and certainty as when He works wonders before me knowing He is still working just as remarkably but beyond my scope of vision.


Four weeks later and lots of thinking about how God answers our prayers I have definitely determined all the time, God is good. 

April 18, 2017

Faith In the Furnace

I paced in the tiny emergency room with a team of people working steadily and soberly on my 4 month old.  It is not a situation I ever expect to be in.  As I watched the surreal moments unfold, I wrestled deep within.  First, I wrestled with my own choices that evening.  Second, I wrestled with who I believed God to be and what I believed Him able to do.  

YES.  I knew I believed He could heal my baby.

  I believed He could undo what had happened.  I decided I was sure of it!  I believed and prayed with every ounce of faith I could muster amidst the sounds of beeping and voices that surrounded me. 

Later as I sat in a back seat for what seemed an endless drive to where my little man had been airlifted, I had faith that God, the Great Physician, who had brought Lazarus and others back to life, could restore life and health to that tiny body.  However, in those still moments in the darkness I also wrestled and confirmed in my heart that He was God and whatever He chose, He was still trustworthy.  I had read the whole Bible.  I knew that sometimes we believe, sometimes people long ago believed, and God healed, and God raised from the dead, and God protected or provided.  I also knew that sometimes we believe, and people long ago believed, and God answered in other ways - ways that we may never understand but somehow are just as good and right.  He worked then and works now through our faith in crushing circumstances to make people more like His Son in a way we never would be had God listened to our suggestions of how life should work out. 

Faith.

What does that really mean?  When I stepped into that room in the second ER that fateful night, I had such faith that when I saw my man holding our sweet boy with not a wire or tube connected to him, I believed for an instant that God had answered in the way I wanted despite feeling all the way there that He was preparing me to never see that sweet smile or hear that deep laugh again.  My heart leapt!  Then reality crashed down on me like a giant tidal wave crashing against the rocky shore.  He was gone - that was why there were no wires, no tubes.  

In those first moments of reality taking hold in my mind and heart, my faith collided with a wall it had never before faced.  As I wrestled with what this meant and how I would move forward, my strong husband was speaking.  He told of singing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" as our son went to be with our Father.  

Do we have faith enough to say great is His faithfulness when our whole world falls apart?  Or is it a fair weather faith that only lasts as long as God does what we think He should?  

David lost a son.  John the Baptist was beheaded.  Stephen was stoned.  Peter was crucified.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh, was thrown in prison, was ship wrecked, and was beaten - all multiple times.  And would we dare say that these men lacked faith?  Would we say they did not believe God enough and if they had, they would not have suffered so?  Had I just believed a little more, had a stronger faith, would my boy still be here to wrestle with brothers, play ball games, and celebrate birthdays?  

Faith is not telling God what we want to happen and expecting Him to do it.  Faith is trusting, believing God can do anything and will do what is good. 

Sometimes faith takes you right into the fire.  The furnace is heated up hotter than ever, and faith means stepping into it because no way out is offered.  And as we look at those flames, Satan tempts us to dismay.  Would your god do this?  "And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" (Daniel 3:15b) 


Faith Knows.  The three men who faced the fire in Daniel Chapter 3 knew in whom they had believed.

  “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."”
(Daniel 3:17-18)

 Our God is able, but even if He doesn't...  Sometimes he takes us into the flames and our prayers aren't answered the way we think is best but it isn't because He isn't able, or isn't good, or because we haven't believed enough.  It is because He knows what is the very best.  Faith means believing in God's power, sovereignty, and goodness when you can't see it for the flames.

Their faith was in the One true God. 

In verse 23 we are told they fell bound into the fiery furnace.  Sometimes we enter the flames bound as well.  We find ourselves in bondage to one thing or another and it holds us captive.  In the midst of those flames though, God will often set us free.  In verse 25 it says the king saw that the men were walking around unbound and that there was a fourth man with them like a son of the gods. The Bible doesn't tell us if the three men in the furnace could see that fourth man, but I like to think they could. Regardless, God made His presence known.  Very often, it is in the flames, when the furnace is heated to its hottest, that we see God the most clearly.  In those times, our faith grows, and the shackles that bind us fall away. 

For me, what bound me was fear, and it would take years but the furnace of loss is what God used to begin to set me free. 

They had faith in God's ability to keep them from the fire.  They had faith that God could save them if they had to enter the fire.  And they had faith that even if they were not saved at all, God was still God and He was good and worthy of their praise.

  That. Is. Faith. 

The king brought them out and one of the most powerful statements in the story is made about those men after they came out.  Their hair was not singed, their cloaks not burned, and they didn't even smell like smoke. 

They didn't even smell like smoke.

Faith knows God can take you right into the middle of a furnace and bring you out again without even a foul smell about you.  You will still be, and I believe even more so, "...the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
(2 Corinthians 2:15)

No one wants to go into the furnace.  No one wants to face the flames.  I can guarantee these three men in Daniel chapter three didn't want to be thrown into that furnace.  Their faith wasn't one though that said either He saves us or He isn't God.  They had true faith that said He IS able, but even if He doesn't they were going to trust and worship the One true God. They knew the truth of Romans 8 long before it was written: 

“No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
Romans 8:37-39

They knew He was God and He loved them and no furnace could change that. No extreme heat could melt away the truth they stood firmly upon. 

Perhaps God has some flames He has asked you to walk in.  He is still God.  Maybe He is going to set you free through those flames, or maybe the heat will help you to see more clearly who He is and how He is working, or maybe He is going to use it to make you a sweeter fragrance to this lost and hurting world.  True faith doesn't mean we avoid the pain of the furnace if we just have enough of that faith.  True faith means that whether God chooses to rescue us before we ever enter; or allows us to go in and rescues us out of it; or allows the furnace to end our life; we still believe He is a good, faithful God because His Word tells us He is and He has shown it to be so all throughout history. 

He hasn't promised me an easy life if I trust Him.  He's promised me He will be with me whether fire, or flood, or both (Isaiah 43:2).  Standing in the ER nearly thirteen years ago, all I could see were the flames all around me but I know, He was walking around in them with me.  Thirteen years later, I know there is not even a scent of smoke.  

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Not perfection and not ease, a future and a hope.  Sometimes those things come best through faith in the midst of the flames.

December 24, 2016

Have a Mary Christmas (because sometimes Merry isn't possible)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...except when you can't.  

What happens when you are celebrating Christmas as a family of three instead of a family of four?  I remember wrestling every single day through the month of December.  Everywhere, everything was about merriness, joy, family togetherness, and fun and none of that was a possibility for me or my family. Everything felt so incomplete and it was all a reminder of how much I wanted life to be different than it was.  I wanted two little boys to take pictures of, to help open gifts, to play with and read to, and put their names on Christmas cards.  However, where there had been two, there was now one.

Merry?  No.  Christmas was not merry.

What happens when you can’t find any merry?

What happens when your child is suddenly gone right before Christmas?  What if it was your fault in some way?  Where do you find any merry for Christmas?

What happens when your family is such a mess that you are ready to just quit and all you have left is tears?  You’ve tried all you know to bring them together and now what?  How are you supposed to have a merry Christmas?

What happens when cancer strikes?  Maybe your child, parent, sibling, or friend is sick, or maybe he is already gone.  Now what about the merry in Christmas?

What if medical mysteries have you stuck in a hospital over Christmas and your family can’t be together?  You never got the shopping done or even remembered it was December most of this month because of the stress!  What now?  Do you dig deep and just be merry because ‘tis the season?

What if the unthinkable happens and someone you loves takes her own life?  You may wonder how you can ever find merry again?

What if your house is empty again this year?  Still no children to help make cookies and decorate.  Is there even a reason for merry? 

Or what do you do when three days before Christmas, you watch your husband unexpectedly pass away, and you are left with several children?  Merry?  I don’t think so.

Those are just tiny pieces of what I have heard or read from others over the last month.  Just one month - so much heartache.  And what about others? What about when you find yourself alone for yet another Christmas and you don't want to be?  Or another anniversary of a death?  Or still no job?  Or the marriage is on the rocks and can you really keep going like this day in and day out?  Or when you find yourself flat on your face in failure?  Or maybe darkness has enveloped like a blanket and you don't even know why and no matter how you've tried you can't shake it off, All the while as we face these circumstances ourselves or know those who do, we hear crooning over the radio, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas..."

What happens when "merry" can't be found?  What then?

What happens when everywhere you look is a painful reminder of what isn't?  When merry and bright aren't even a thought? 

Then you are perfectly ready for a Mary Christmas.  A merry Christmas isn't always possible, but a Mary Christmas can be. 

The world Jesus was born into was not a perfect place.  It was filled with hardship and darkness just like today.  Mary was not some super human.  She had struggles and fears just like you and I and though being the mother of Jesus was an incredible honor, it was also fraught with hardship. 

In Luke 2:26-38 we are told about Mary’s frightening encounter with an angel when she is told she will be the mother of the Son of God.  She, this young woman who was not married and had not been with a man!  People were the same then as they are today.  Being an unmarried, pregnant woman was going to get talked about and it was something that would definitely be frowned upon.  She would be very much alone.  The Bible tells us in those verses she is troubled at first, and she is confused by what she is told, but her response to the angel and thus to God is remarkable. 

“I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary.  “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Mary goes on in the next verses to praise and glorify God.  So she looks at this hard road God is asking her to walk; she responds in faithful, humble obedience; and then praises God. This is how Mary starts her praise:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of  the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave." (Luke 1:46-48a)

There are several things we can learn about Mary and about difficult circumstances by looking at her praise.  First, she focuses on God's greatness.  Second, she knows to rejoice in God not in circumstances.  Circumstances change and can be full of hardship but God is unchanging.  Third, she sees that He is her Savior no matter what her circumstances.  Finally, I love that she takes note of how God really sees her and the condition of her life.  He is great.  We can rejoice in Him even when all else falls apart.  He is our Savior.  He sees exactly the condition of our lives and has not forgotten us.

She carried that baby to term and you know the story.  She had to travel to Bethlehem. She and Joseph found themselves alone (which was unusual for their culture), with nowhere to go, and they ended up in a stable.  She had to give birth in less than ideal circumstances, had no help, and nothing better to offer her baby than a manager.  We don’t know exactly how Mary responded, but the Bible tells us that after the shepherds had come to visit them Mary treasured all these things in her heart and meditated on them.  All through her life she seems to have this faithful, trusting response to what God asks her to go through.  It doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.  It doesn’t mean there were never tears or there was never fear, but she chooses faith.

We don’t know exactly when, but at some point in those first two years, after the magi come, Mary and Joseph have to flee with their tiny boy because Herod is out to murder all the baby boys two years old and younger.  Do you think times seemed dark?  I have often thought about what that must have been like for Mary’s mama heart to know the blood shed that took place all because of her son, the Son of God.  So many mamas had to lose their little boys.  Such darkness must have seemed to prevail.  What faith it must have taken to believe that darkness was not going to win out.  Do you think this all sounds like a Merry Christmas? 

The focus then was not “merry” but let’s not miss Mary. We don’t know exactly how she responded in each situation, but in the little windows we get into Mary throughout her life, in all the hardships she continually responds in faith and obedience.

You don't have to pretend everything is okay this Christmas.  You don't have to hold back those tears.  Sometimes the world is dark.  The world was dark when Jesus came into it too.  The world was dark for Mary as well.  God can handle your tears, your grief, and your heartache.  You don't have to be merry.

The same God who was sovereign then is sovereign now.  God was bringing hope in the midst of incredible darkness as babies were being murdered at every corner.  No one could fully understand in the midst of all that loss of life that God was making a way for death to be conquered permanently (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)!  God was bringing hope to all mankind through His Son who would one day take on the sin of the world (1 Peter 2:24), die, and then rise again.  That same God is working out a grand story of hope beyond our comprehension now in the midst of the darkness we are living in with His living Son, Jesus Christ.  We can’t see how all the pieces fit and can't see exactly what God is doing, but we can choose to ponder it all in our hearts, trust Him, and walk in obedience - like Mary. 

In Ecclesiastes 3 it says there are seasons for everything. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)

Sometimes life isn’t so dark for you and it isn’t your season to mourn.  Maybe it is a season to dance.  If that is so, then dance with your whole heart.  But if you know someone who is mourning, maybe pause the dance to sit a while with them. No guilt needed for the dance, but understanding needed for the one lacking merry.  You see as we mature we begin to realize that although there is a season for everything, the seasons overlap each other for different people and we need to be aware of what season another person may be in.   


Mary wasn't perfect.  She didn't have life all figured out.  She just faced the uncertainty of her days and the darkness with a trust in the one, true, great God.  We can do the same whatever we face when we wake up tomorrow.  So this Christmas, if the world feels dark and merry feels beyond your grasp, remember Christmas is all about bringing hope to you.  There is a great God you can trust with your future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Have a Mary Christmas.   

September 24, 2016

Be a Jonathan

I never remember it is coming, and yet, every year, faithfully for the last 12 years, there it is in my mailbox around the same day as the year before. It is always wrapped in the same brown paper, and I see the familiar handwriting scrawled across the top.  The paper and the handwriting have become as much a symbol of friendship, care, and hope as what they hold inside.  A gift.  A reminder that I have a friend who cares and does not forget, which is also a reminder of God's faithfulness. Such grace I don't deserve. 

I always feel a little choked up in the opening, not so much because of what the gift holds, but because it was sent.  It was sent and is sent every year helping me to hold onto hope on one of the hardest days of the year for me. She lives hours away and yet with a little brown paper, a little card with note written, and familiar handwriting, I feel cared for, remembered, and loved.

I've often been asked, "What do I do?  What do I say?  I don't know how to help and come alongside the hurting friend or family member.  I don't know how to help the person who has lost someone or is hurting."

She called.  Every. Single. Day. I don't have any idea how long it went on.  She didn't call because she had all the answers.  She didn't call because she thought she could fix it.  She didn't call because she had walked the same road.  She just called, and I knew she remembered me in my darkest days.  She called and I knew someone cared that the world was moving forward when I could not.  The calls weren't long.  Sometimes we chatted about the mundane.  Sometimes I shared my heart.  Sometimes I didn't.  Sometimes she offered to run an errand or take my little man and I would do a grand task that took lots of energy like vacuum the floor - because sometimes that is all a person can muster after great loss. The calls reminded me, God sees and He cares.

When people ask, "What do I do?"  My answer is usually simple - just show up.  It doesn't have to mean being physically present.  When that is possible, that is good too. Remind them God cares by showing care.

Many days another friend just stopped by.  Even in the midst of my deep grief, I knew how hard and painful that stopping by was.  I knew she battled her own feelings of survivor’s guilt.  I knew she had the inner struggle of not knowing what to do or say.  Yet, there she would be at my door again ready to just be present, or to listen, or to pitch in, in some way, in my life.  Sometimes she bore simple gifts to help, and sometimes she came empty handed but carrying something greater than money could buy - compassion and love.  We weren't the closest of friends at the time so it isn't even like there was familiarity to help ease the difficulty of the visits.  We were still in the baby stages of friendship, but she made herself available even when available was hard and that cemented a long lasting friendship. The visits were the visible evidence that God was present.

It isn't grand words of wisdom and solid answers that ease pain.  It isn't always what you can carry in your hands either.  Struggle, heartbreak, and hurt are helped by others being "present" in some way.  Be available to people. Show them God is near by being near.

In more recent trials, another friend was always available to listen again to the pouring out of my heart.  She was quick to pray; quick to point to where real answers are found - the Word of God; and quick to send an encouraging word, verse, or song.  She couldn't be physically present but she "showed up" over and over showing herself available.  She showed she remembered, she cared, and more importantly, pointed me continually back to the One who cares most and knew all about it.

Showing up isn't easy, but it isn't as hard as we make it either.  It is simply "seeing others."  See them where they are at and then being willing to "be there."  It is a slowing down enough so people aren't a blur we are passing but are hearts with real hurts and needs.

Last year, when life weighed heavy and one boy ended up in a hospital bed, more people made themselves present in our lives.  One of these was a brother-in-law.  The days were long and weighty filled with unanswered questions.  No one could just fix it.  Nearly daily, there he would stand in the doorway, smoothie in hand, smile on his face.  It probably seems a small, simple gesture to most.  To the person in that room all day, me, it meant the world.  Someone remembered.  Someone cared and took a few moments to slow down and see.  He showed up.  He didn't come with answers.  We didn't have deep discussions.  He was just there.  He came, he brought a simple token that met a need, and he prayed. I was reminded that God provides.


“David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.”
1 Samuel 23:15-16

One man struggling and in the wilderness and the other goes to where he is and "strengthened his hand in God." What a beautiful picture of friendship and of what we can do as spouses, parents, members of the Body of Christ, and friends.  We can go to where people are.  We can meet them in their wilderness.  With technology today, that is possible from anywhere in the world.  You can strengthen another person in the Lord from anywhere.

Have you looked around lately?  Do you see hearts?  What kind of wilderness are the people around you in?  How can you show up and strengthen their hand in God? 

You and I don’t need all the answers.  We don’t need eloquent words.  We don’t need to deliver grand gifts.  We don’t even have to understand what it is like to walk in the wilderness the other person is walking. We can all be Jonathans.  Jonathan did three things.  He paid attention to where David was and what was going on in his life.  He got up and went to David, meeting him in his time of need.  Then he strengthened David’s hand in God. The strengthening comes from just showing you are aware of their need, you remember them and are praying, and you cared enough to reach out.

God has faithfully provided many Jonathans in my life.  I could write a long time if I told of all of them, and I am eternally grateful.  My prayer is that I can continue to grow in my ability to be a Jonathan to others.

How about you?  Who needs you to be a Jonathan and strengthen them in the Lord?

 Maybe it is a simple gift sent; maybe a phone call, text message, or letter; maybe it is a physical visit; or maybe it is as simple as a smoothie in hand.  Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, or how inadequate your words seem.  God doesn’t need any of that to use you to encourage another.


He just needs you available and willing – like Jonathan.

July 1, 2016

Peace

I have heard it said, on more than one occasion this month, "I can't wait until June 2016 is over."  Some have even said they cannot wait until 2016 itself is over.  So much tragedy and heartache leads people to make these comments and I understand. I don't feel the same way though.

I have thought a lot about life as I have lived it this month.  I've worked long hours.  I've played with babies and listened to their sweet laughs.  Skies have been brilliant blue, and I've watched the clouds and sunsets in wonder.  I've grieved the loss of people and other losses with no simple answers. The smell of fresh cut grass has been in the air and I've breathed deeply.  I've cried with and for my kids as they struggle to figure out this thing called life.  I've seen baseballs thrown with precision and speed and heard the crack of the bat.  I have rejoiced over wins and comforted in losses.  I have been left with questions unanswered.  Time has been spent bent over letters unsure what words you can really write to the broken.  I've laughed with friends and found joy in surprises.  I read with shock and grief the tragic news in our country and around the world.  A birthday was celebrated and new life for those who have tragically lost in the past.  I've felt great exhaustion.  I've played with, laughed with, listened to, prayed with, and cried with many youth.  I have prayed earnestly when completely unsure how to handle intense situations.  I have prayed rejoicing over God's goodness. Tears, laughter, grief and sorrow, wonder and beauty.  Every month is filled with a myriad of complex emotions and  experiences like these and years are filled with months like these.  When a month is a little more weighty like some can be - like mine has been - it is easy to wish it away because we don't like pain and we don't like hard.

I don't think we should wish it away though.  We shouldn't because all of those experiences, both the glorious and the gut wrenching, are what life is made of and we see and get to know God in the midst of all of them.  Our hearts though, long for peace and rightly so.  Peace has no connection to our circumstances.  No matter how great the loss, how deep the wound, how unsure the mystery of unanswered questions, there can be peace.  That is what I thought about all this month of June.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

 Our lives will be filled with months like June 2016, but we don't have to have life perfect or answers to all of the questions in order to have peace.  We don't have to understand.  God has never, even for a moment, been out of control or left us alone.  He wants us to do as it says in Philippians - turn off the anxiousness and turn to Him in prayer with what is weighing us down, grieving us, that which we don't understand.  Then the remarkable takes place.  His peace, which we also can't understand, will move in to replace the anxious feelings and will guard our hearts and minds.  That word guard means like a sentinel at the gate of our hearts watching for and fending off worries.

When the worries, the grief, the unanswered questions threatened to choke me in June 2016, I claimed this truth and rested in that peace.  It's July.  July starts for me with the battle to be busy and not walk down a road of memories I wish I didn't have.  The temptation to be anxious already exists.  I have no idea what the rest of the month holds or the rest of 2016, but I am sure it will be filled with the good and the bad all from the hand of God.  I am also SURE I can have peace no matter what takes place.  God says in His Word He is faithful, He can carry our burdens, He is in control, and He can guard my heart with peace if I trust Him to be who He says He is. So whatever the coming days of July, the rest of the summer, and the rest of 2016 bring, I am going to keep bringing it all to the feet of Jesus, and accepting the peace He offers and that my heart always longs for.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27

June 15, 2016

When a Simple Thank You is Not Enough

I was young, just 22 years old.  New home, new city, new pregnancy and I needed a new doctor.  A friend made a suggestion and said I would really like her.  I went in nervous and unsure for that first appointment.  I was not just choosing a doctor to deliver our baby.  Because I wanted a family practice doctor, I was choosing the person who would hopefully care for my whole family for years to come.  She greeted me with a big smile, a firm handshake, and warmth.  I knew at that very moment this was the doctor for us and I never looked back.  That first appointment was almost exactly 13 years ago.

We saw her for everything.  I grew to trust her and she grew to know, understand, and believe me when I had things to say.  She walked the road of pregnancy with me many times over.  When life ended so soon after it had begun, a card appeared in the mail with her handwriting and kind words.  When I came back in announcing new life, she celebrated and took time out of her busy day to discuss my adjustment to loss.  When that next baby let out his first cry she was right there celebrating with us and I think there may have been tears.  When we found out that new life was going to be two instead of the expected one, she was the one with the ultrasound wand in her hand and had the joy of announcing it to me.  That day she continued probing around and I asked why.  She said she was looking for a third.  I told her two was great but don’t find a third! We laughed.  When those two babies came and ended up in the NICU, she walked into my room, pulled up a chair, and asked me how I was doing.  She visited long as if she had nowhere else to be – but I knew better.

When the kids really multiplied, she was never frustrated with the whole lot of us showing up for appointments even when there were five, all six and under, and we were a crazy mess.  She spoke to each one, treated each with kindness, and gave each that same listening ear she had always offered to me.  When there were tears she patiently waited.  When they wanted to see the stethoscope one more time, she showed them.  When they needed Mom AGAIN, she understood. 

Four different times we had kids hospitalized.  She was there every single time always comforting, always calm, always kind, always assuring and checking on my needs too.  Boy number four ended up in the ER for 7 hours and eventually hospitalized but the diagnosis was uncertain.  Our faithful doctor was out of town for the weekend.  Those first two days drug by and we were greatly troubled with the care we were getting and the lack of answers.  I told my husband that we just needed to hold out for Monday because our doctor would be back, she would walk in, pull up a chair, listen to everything I had to say, and then things would happen and we would be in good hands.  That is exactly what happened – and I was able to rest easy despite the great illness. 

We were always in good hands.  There was always a listening ear, always a thorough examination, and never a demeaning word or spirit.  Her laughter was rich, her words always sincere, her body language never said she was in a hurry despite countless responsibilities  All of that was true even though she worked long hours day in and day out.   I saw her making rounds at the hospital early and late, at the clinic all day, and I knew she made visits to elderly people who couldn’t get out.  She didn’t see patients, she saw people.  She didn’t see a diagnosis, she saw needs and questions she could help answer.  It wasn’t a job but a life of loving, serving, and caring for people.

As I was driving to see her today, I reflected back on the loss of a dear friend involved in our ministry for many, many years.  She shared the same doctor with us and also thought highly of her.  I hadn’t been able to attend that funeral but my husband had and so had our doctor.  On this day I thought about how much doctors give and how much they need encouragement.  I thought I would bring an encouraging word regarding this dear friend.  Toward the end of my visit I mentioned how sorry I was that I wasn’t able to attend that funeral.  She expressed deep gratitude that my husband had paid tribute to her (our doctor) during that service.  I told her how dear that friend had been to us and how thankful we were that she had been our friend’s doctor.  I thanked her for her wonderful care of our friend, said how highly our friend thought of her even to mention her in her Christmas letter, and then I told her she has meant a great deal to our family as well.

I had no way of knowing that visit would end with the news that within two weeks she would be gone and not by her choosing.  Life took a hard twist.  I was at a loss for words.  I stared into the teary face of this woman who had come to mean so much to me and to my family.  I had hardly ever talked with her outside the clinic or the hospital, but somehow in the grind and challenges of life, in the highs and lows, in new life and in death, she had become more than just a doctor. She had become an ally in the confusing world of medicine, a confidante when things were uncertain, a listener when there were concerns, an encourager when life was weighty, a help in trouble, and most of all a friend.  How does one properly put all of that into words in the face of such shocking news?  How does one explain what another person has meant to them in 13 years of growing trust and relationship? How can a person really wrap up all those years and all those experiences in a few simple sentences while overcome with emotion?  I couldn’t find a way.  I mostly held my tears so as not to make the moment harder.  I stumbled through an, “I am so very sorry and you have meant so much to our family over the years.”  Not nearly sufficient.

I cried my way home, sad over her loss.  She gave 20 years serving and loving people.  I cried over my loss.  I cried over how a person who had given so much could be dismissed so simply with no good explanation.  I felt awful that I didn’t say more in that moment but I couldn’t get past the lump in my throat and the tears stinging my eyes.  So, I sat down to write.  It was the best way I knew to pay tribute and to say thank you. 


To my doctor:  Thank you for loving and caring about each individual in my family.  Thank you for never making assumptions but always being thorough and seeking the right answers.  Thank you for being there with us celebrating the joys and mourning the losses.  Thank you for not just being a doctor seeing patients, but rather being a friend who always saw people.  My family will be forever grateful.  I can only hope those students you have taught over the years took careful note of how you dealt with people as well as your knowledge and skill in medicine and will each turn out to be even half the doctor you have been.  If they do, the world of medicine will be a better place, patients will be in wonderful hands, and people will be richly blessed like I and my family have been by you.

March 1, 2016

I'm Still Becoming

"Mom, what happened to you?  You sounded so happy there."  He said it
innocently as he read something I wrote several years ago.  He was just speaking
the truth as he saw it. I could not help but wonder, how had I gotten
here?  Then these words popped up from the past: "The most beautiful
people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering,
known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.
These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of
life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving
concern.  Beautiful people don't just happen." - Elizabeth Kubler Ros.
Someone shared those words with me a number of years ago saying they
reminded her of me which was clearly, very gracious.  Several years later,
with the words of my son ringing in my ears and those words before me, I
am at a loss.  There is nothing beautiful, gentle, or sensitive here - not
lately, not in me.

Where's the joy?


Where's the beauty that loss grows in a person?


I know the ugliness of this heart.  I know the harsh words or tones I have

used with my family.  I know the struggle for contentment and joy with no
good reason for struggle.  At one time, I knew every time I looked into
the face of one of my children it was a gift!  We never know how long we
have with anyone we love.  I knew that what God gave, even loss, could be
embraced and thankfulness found.  Now, years down the road in this journey
of life, I wonder where I have steered wrong. Why do those lessons learned
through pain and valleys seem so out of my grasp?

What happens when you are on the eve of your son's birthday, the one who
is no longer with you, and you seem to have forgotten all the lessons his
life and loss taught you?  What happens when you feel you have tarnished
his memory in the eyes of your children for your lack of joy and love in
life - and you just feel weary?


I will be honest.  I don't know all the answers to those questions right

now.  I do know where I am going to start though.

Truth.



 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring
it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

He isn't finished with me.  He won't give up on me.  He will complete what
He has started and not leave me in the messy state I'm in.


“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet
appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because

we shall see him as he is.”

1 John 3:2

I'm still becoming who God intends me to be.

I have a part to play in it as well.  I must remind myself constantly

throughout my days that I am to be a living sacrifice.  I am not living
this life for me, but in worship to the One who made me and gave His life
for me.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present

your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is
your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be
transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern
what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Romans 12:1-2

Daily I need to renew my mind by filling it with the truth of God's Word

because it is through those words I will be reminded who God is, why I'm
here, and what I am to be doing.

 I am going to celebrate my son's birthday by taking a family

holiday like we do every year.  I am going to look for joy in the little
moments, pray for my words to filled with kindness, and seek to see what
God is doing through the experiences of the day.  I will fail to do all of
that perfectly, and I will fail the next day, and the next.  However, I
know there is grace for that.

And my prayer will be:


“God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit.”
Psalms 51:10, 12

And He will, because when I am faithless, when I forget what I've been

taught, when I fail, when I struggle, when there is no beauty to be found
from past lessons learned in loss, HE is beautiful and HE remains
faithful. (2 Timothy 2:15)