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. 


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


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.


 “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)

January 17, 2016

Choose to Believe

It is a silly labor and delivery story.  I waited until I was sure we had to start the hour drive to the hospital.  I almost had my man turn around half way there, and then instead had him detour to Walmart, of all places, so I could walk in circles leaning on a rack as needed. I didn't want to be at the hospital a minute longer than I had to before that baby decided to join us and greet the morning.

My plan worked, albeit a funny tale now. Just 45 minutes after our arrival at the hospital (and after some frantic running around by the staff) was our son's arrival into our lives.  I found myself looking down at the fresh, new life of a sweet baby boy. When you hold new life for the first time, you don't plan for how to move ahead.  You just
get lost in the moment as you fall head over heels in love, and you know you can figure life out.

Almost exactly four months, I found myself in the same hospital holding that same sweet, bundle of baby.  However, instead of finding myself in the room that most often welcomes life, I was in a room that often ushers in death. That little babe who had just been full of smiles was now lifeless in my arms.

Memories are fuzzy for me from that year but I remember that moment with great clarity. I didn't know how to move ahead and I knew this time I couldn't figure life out.  I looked down at my sweet son and fully
realized in that moment I had a choice to make. Would I move forward in bitterness and get lost in grief, or would I choose to believe God to be who He says He is and walk with Him through this trial?

My husband didn't know at the time and I am not sure if he still fully knows how God used him in that moment in time to help me choose.  He was devastated and yet so confident.  "God has prepared us for this," he said.
He had been singing.  He latched on more firmly to the God he already knew and trusted and because he did, he led me to do the same.

Life is about choices.

We think we can choose to rush or delay delivery - maybe make a Walmart stop or another trip around the block.  We think we can protect and safeguard.  In the end, God chooses when life greets us and when our days are done. Those are not the choices we get to make and all the worry in the world doesn't change them.

We choose what to do with what God hands us each day and every moment in it.  We choose to believe God to be who He says He is in His Word or to walk away in disbelief.

Oh I know sometimes you can't see God at work.  I know sometimes what He is doing doesn't make any sense at all and it may not even feel like He is present.  You may not feel Him working or see Him in your pain and brokenness. You and I aren't alone.

"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." 1 Peter 1:6-9 

Peter was talking to Jewish Christians who never saw Jesus walk the earth.  They never saw His miracles first hand or felt what it was like to be in His presence. They were facing some major trials and in the midst of those, they had a choice to make.  Would they believe in Jesus though they couldn't see Him?

They chose to believe.

When I was standing in the hospital room holding my lifeless son, it was hard to see God at work.  In the grief stricken weeks and months ahead, it was often difficult to see Him in our pain.   When you walk past an empty crib day after day, sometimes all you see is the emptiness not the fullness of God.  When you have nothing left to look at to see a face you love but pictures and bits of video to hear laughter that once rang through your house, your feelings at times want to deny God's goodness and that He is working.  None of us have seen Jesus walk the earth and perform His miracles.  We have not been able to sit and experience what it is like to be in His physical presence.  So, like the Jewish Christians in Peter's day, we have a choice to make.  You and I have a choice to make as life brings various trials to our paths.  Love and believe God to be the faithful, working for our good and His glory kind of God He says He is, or not?

God in His great grace through His Spirit, used the faithful example of my husband to guide my decision that day in the hospital.  I will forever be humbly grateful.  From that day on it was a daily, sometimes moment by moment decision not to trust my feelings as absolute truth about God, not to trust what I could see, but to turn to the Word of God as absolute truth reminding me how and why I can believe God. His Word daily reminded me of God's greatness, faithfulness, sovereignty, compassion, and love.

In the years since the loss of our son, God has used those lessons learned time and time again in my life.  I did not always get it right then and I do not always get it right now.  Through God's grace, daily I grow in my ability to respond like those Jewish believers long ago.  I learn to look past what I feel and what I can see with my own eyes and I make a choice to believe God - whatever my circumstances.  The choice leads to a most wonderful outcome which I have personally, repeatedly experienced.  It leads me and it will lead you to do as it says in  1 Peter 1:9 "rejoice with joy that is inexpressible."

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so 
that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

July 1, 2015

The Potter's Hands

Sometimes the news seems to come in waves.  The last few weeks there has been an onslaught of news regarding the tragic loss of children - the baby born lifeless, teenagers in a car accident, more than one child run over by a parent.  Even writing the words feels wrong and harsh and yet they are reality.  These families are struggling right now to cope with the path they've been put on but didn't ask for.  Each phone call, text, or news passed on to us was like a punch in the gut.  I know all too well a bit of the journey ahead of these families and one minute everything in me wants to spare them the path and in the next I am begging God to meet them on it and that they would see Him more clearly through it.

It is interesting the timing of this latest string of tragedies.  I am receiving the news of all of them knowing that just a few short days from now I will wake to the morning of the day that I faced my own similar tragedy 11 years ago.  As I have prayed for these hurting families, talked with some, and pondered each situation, I have had two thoughts swirling.  Today I will tackle one of them.

Many times I have written on the topic of our loss and what God has been teaching me over the years but I have never fully shared the story in writing. Today I will do so not to point to the events of the story but to point to the Author of it and the hope we have in Him.

The 4th of July was always one of my favorite holidays as a child.  For years my family celebrated it at the home my great grandparents lived in on Lake Movil in MN.  I can still smell the scent of the water, hear the tinkling of the wind chime, and see the many flowers they had planted and were growing on their property.  Those were innocent days in my young childhood. There has been many a 4th of July since where I wished I could journey back to those times and enjoy the simple pleasures and the carefree days they brought. We all grow up though, and the road of life begins to take unexpected turns.  Eleven years ago, the 4th of July and life as a whole changed forever when we met a huge, unexpected turn in the road.

I was a young, happy mom with two little boys only 17 months apart in age.  I wouldn't have wanted life any different.  Not only was the 4th of July coming up but also an all school reunion in the little town where we lived.  We were preparing to host my husband's family for the weekend's festivities, making our house home base as we ran to various events.

When the weekend arrived it was fast paced and busy.  I distinctly remember a lot of running around and busyness, especially on the 4th itself.  It was a Sunday and there was a community church service followed by lunch at our house.  I can remember running all over getting food ready for the whole crew and looking up to see someone was holding our 4 month old son, Micah, who had been napping.  He was all smiles but I had no time to stop.

The afternoon flew by and we set out for my in-laws' farm to grab a quick supper and then we would be off to a huge fireworks show in another town an hour away.  After we had eaten, everyone was getting ready to load the vehicles when someone noticed that my husband and one of the boys had on matching sweatshirts and me and our other son had on matching sweatshirts.  It was suggested we take a family picture so we did.  What we didn't know was that it would be the last one we would ever take with all 4 of us.

The family was a pretty big group so we drove to the show in several vehicles, one of them being our van.  Upon arriving, the vehicles went in different directions on either side of the road to find a place to park.  It was dusk and it was busy.  Thousands of people attend this show so there were cars and people everywhere!  We parked in the ditch just like we had the year before and then we all flew out of the vehicle, hurrying so we could go get a good spot to watch the show.   We never made it to that show.

  Sometimes in life you look back and wonder why you made the choices you did and there is no great explanation.  Unfortunately, on some occasions those choices are life and death.  In my haste to get us going to find good seats that night, I took Micah in his car seat, out of the van so others could get out of the back, and I set him on the grass.  Then I proceeded to grab the stroller from the back and begin to set it up.  While this was taking place, my husband had never gotten out of the van.  Someone had come up to him and asked him to move the van somewhere else. He asked if it was all clear.  All of us assumed he would backup and gave him the go ahead to move.  He backed up a few feet.  My father-in-law was in the front passenger seat and had his head turned toward my husband driving and back to see out the back.  Before he could turn around, and without any of us standing around realizing what he was doing, my husband switched from backing-up to pulling forward and to the right.  I had my back to the scene, my father-in-law never had a chance to get turned around,  and my husband had never left the van so he did not realize Micah was there.  He ended up placing the front right wheel right on top of Micah in his car seat.   Nothing quite prepares a person for a moment like that one.

We happened to be standing just a couple hundred feet from a door directly into a trauma room in the hospital.  I vaguely remember someone scooping up his seat and running it in to that room.  My husband and I followed and for the next couple hours we found ourselves watching a wonderful team of individuals fighting to save our baby. We were eventually told that he had to be airlifted to the next bigger town, they didn't have room for us, but they needed someone to get there (an hour drive at normal speeds) to sign papers.  At that point we decided that a friend would drive my husband to meet the helicopter at the next hospital and I would stay with Micah and my in-laws would drive me once he was on his way.

It ended up taking quite some time to stabilize him so he could be airlifted.  Once he was on his way, I began what felt like the longest drive of my life.  There was a long conversation in that car that night but none of it was audible.  The conversation consisted of me pleading with God to heal my son and God clearly impressing on my heart what was about to happen.  "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." (Psalm 23:4a) kept running through my mind.  I would tell God over and over that I didn't want to go there and I would know without a doubt that He was telling me repeatedly that is where we were going.  There was also a song that kept coming to mind.  The song had a line in it that said, "Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child."  I asked God many times to calm the storm this time and heal my baby, and again, I knew He was speaking to my heart that this time He would be calming me and not the storm.  There would be no healing this side of heaven.  God used that drive to prepare my heart.  I knew with certainty that not only was I about to lose my son but that he would not be alive when I arrived at the hospital.  It wasn't that I doubted God's ability to heal Micah. God met me in those dark moments in that car, helped me to understand where we were headed, and gave me the opportunity to trust Him even on this hard journey.  God could have healed him but He had different, better plans for us.

While I was driving the doctors came to my husband and said they were sorry but there was nothing more they could do.  He went in and held our baby boy as he died.  At some point that night a chaplain came to him and fumbling for words for my grieving husband the man told him that now is the time we find our faith.  My husband looked at him and with confidence told him that now is the time he could crawl into his Father's lap because he had his faith.  We both knew what we believed at this point and still believe now.   We believe in a sovereign God who doesn't make mistakes.  We believe He loves us and has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and that He is working out good things even through this tragedy (Romans 8:28).  We believe we each have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that because of that we have hope that this life isn't all there is and that there is a heaven waiting for us where we will see our son again.  (1 Peter 1:3-9)  He didn't need to find his faith because he already had it.  He and I both needed to trust God to be who He says He is in His Word and to keep His promises.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, Micah had already passed away.  I found Todd holding him in a side room and had a chance to hold him myself.  I remember looking down at him and realizing that I had a choice to make about how I would move forward in life.  Would I get lost in grief, anger, bitterness, or guilt?  Or would I choose to trust God and walk with Him through this valley.  I know God used my husband to help me confidently make the choice to trust God even if I didn't fully know what that would look like.  He told me he knew God had prepared us for this and was so sure of God's care and sovereignty in that moment.  He instilled me with confidence as well.

That night was the start of a journey we have been on ever since.  We have been learning how to fight for joy.  We have worked to cling to hope.  We have learned to understand what God means in Romans 8:28 when He said, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."  The key to that verse is the one after it.  "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Romans 8:29). This life is about God and His glory.  He uses situations like this to make us more like His son, Jesus.  The life of smooth roads does not teach us to depend on God and does not help us to become like Christ.  That is the "good."  It is not Good as we define it which would be everything just like we want it to be.  The good is making people like Christ for God's glory.  The rough roads that go through deep valleys show us how much we need God, show us who He is, and shape us to be like the Son.

The name of this blog came as a result of the story God is writing with our lives.  He took us down a hard road we would not have chosen and we learned what it says in Isaiah 64:8 to be true.   He is the Potter and we are the clay.  He is shaping us to be who He wants us to be and for His glory.  We have learned to trust the hands of the Potter.

The tragedy we faced was awful.  Eleven years later I still have times where I have to battle lies and guilt over the events of that night.  To me though, an even greater tragedy would be for anyone to read this story and walk away with the thought that we are strong people.  If you do, you missed the point entirely. We are not strong at all and that is what we learned through all of this.  We are desperately in need of God.  We were before this event and we are today.  Everyone on this planet is.  God proved HIMSELF strong and big in our lives. I want anyone reading this to walk away wanting to know that awesome and great God.  You can, and He can give you the same peace and hope He gives us everyday and certainly in the midst of our loss.  We are all sinners and that sin separates us from God (Romans 3:23, 6:23). However, God made a way for us to know Him and live with Him some day when He sent His son, Jesus, to the earth.  He lived a perfect life, was killed on a cross, and rose again 3 days later to pay for your sin and mine. We each to need to recognize we can never do enough good to pay for our own sin (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We need Jesus and are saved by God's grace when we trust in Him as God's Son and that He died for you and me to pay the penalty for our sin. (John 3:16).  That is how you can have a relationship with Christ and what will give you the hope that you have an eternity with Him ahead of you.

To the families who are grieving the loss of their children even as I write this, the ones we have recently heard about, my heart has been broken for them.  My prayer is that as they walk through this valley they would find God to be the big, faithful God we know Him to be.  I pray they would find rest in the hope of a relationship with Christ.  And I pray that they could trust the hands of the Potter as He shapes them for His glory and their good - not good as defined by this world, but the good of God's economy which means either working to bring them to a relationship with Him or working to make them like the Son.