Monday, March 19, 2018

A Dare Not To Despair....

     Sometimes, worship on a Sunday can feel like a dare not to despair. People are raising their hands, clapping, and smiling as they sing songs about God's power and love. I look forward to worship, but it's hard to joyfully sing about a God who can do the impossible...when your prayers for the impossible continue to go unanswered. Suddenly, the joyful songs that others sing feel as though they are going to crush me! The lyrics jump off the screen and mock me...questioning whether I really believe them to be true.

     Yesterday we sang about an unstoppable God. The words "Fear is losing ground to our hope in You" came stumbling out of my mouth as tears rolled down my cheeks. I heard the question in my heart, "Is fear really losing ground in your life to hope in Christ?" As the song continued and we sang, " Impossible things in Your name they shall be done." I felt a bit of frustration and resentment rise to the surface. I am used to frustration...but resentment? When is God going to do these impossible things I keep asking of Him?  Will He do them?  I stopped singing and began praying. I've been down this road before and maybe, so have you. These are the kind of thoughts that lead to the road of despair. The dictionary defines despair as "the complete loss of hope, discouragement, pessimism". For my purposes here, I will add to it: Discouragement and loss of hope in God. Pessimism due to continued trials and lengthy suffering. 

     In the last month, we were told that my mom's lungs have significantly worsened. Just as we were beginning to wrap our minds around what that means for our family, she experienced some unexpected rapid weight loss. So in the days leading up to this week's worship service, I was with her at the doctor's office when they used words like "blood work and cat scan to look for tumors". I spent some time Saturday pleading with God to have mercy. I said things like, "I believe You still heal and can heal, but since You STILL haven't...could You at least have mercy and not add one more suffering to her?!!!!"  I honestly thought I had left all that at home, at His feet in my prayer time. It took me by surprise when it resurfaced during worship as we sang about God doing the impossible. I believe God had begun speaking to me about my Saturday prayer, when I heard that question in my heart about fear. He wanted me to work it through, to ponder...was fear really losing ground to my hope in Him? My Saturday prayers were desperate and had been full of fear, accusation, and weariness. I was afraid of my mom having to endure more suffering. I was also afraid of having to watch her suffer more myself. Fear often has some level of accusation with it. In my case it could be found in the words "STILL haven't".  I also believe the Enemy took that accusation and ran with it...his way of distracting me from working through the question God was asking. He ran with it right to those words "Impossible things in Your name they shall be done" and stood there snearing...reminding me of prayers for complete healing that have gone unanswered.

     The truth is, I shouldn't have been surprised...if I wasn't so tired maybe I even would have seen it coming! You see, when we got the news about mom's lungs last month I made a decision. I was not going to give Satan a chance to take me down the road of despair by messing with my thoughts and causing me to question God's goodness all over again. I refused to waste any more time on the "Where is God in the midst of suffering?" questions that I asked and God answered last year. I had determined in my heart that the moment I sensed a challenge to His goodness or a desire to focus on the suffering and the struggle, I would counter it with praise and an acknowledgement of the truth of who God really is.  I just never expected those challenges to show up in a Sunday morning worship service. Once I recognized them as such, it began to feel like a dare. I felt defiant. I felt like I was being dared not to despair.

     One of the definitions for the word dare in Merriam Webster's Dictionary is, "to have the courage to contend against". Contend against despair is exactly what I did! I stopped praying right around the time the worship team began to sing, " Nothing shall be impossible. Your kingdom reigns unstoppable. We'll shout your praise forevermore. Jesus our God unstoppable." I sang it! I sang it with all of my might and that is how I answered fear and despair! I used the song to remind the Enemy of who God is and to affirm my faith in Him even if He hasn't done every impossible thing I have asked Him to do! In that moment fear really did lose ground to my hope in Christ.

     So why share all this? Two reasons. First, For those who think church is just a bunch of nice songs and a speech by a preacher...you're missing out. Church is interactive and I think me sharing my experience speaks to that. Church is where I get to love God with other believers. I show up each week looking forward to loving Him through worship, and expecting to hear from Him throughout the service. I sit with pen and paper in hand during the sermon not because my pastors are awesome orators, (Though they are good.) but because God has given them a message for me and I don't want to miss it and I must write it down! I encourage you to go to church with the anticipation that God will meet you there. True, I spend time with God each day on my own...but look at what He accomplished inside of me in just one church service through the presence of the Holy Spirit and the praises of the people around me. Second, I have a dare for you. I dare you not to despair. I dare you to answer every "STILL haven't", every fear, and every "If God is such a good and loving God, then why?" with praise. Stop those thoughts that lead to despair with praise for who He really is. If you're not feeling it because you're hurt and angry, then remind yourself and the Enemy that He is your Creator. Stop and praise Him for giving you the breath in your lungs and the voice to express that hurt and anger to Him...He'll take it from there.





Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mom...

     I have written, deleted, and rewritten this post a few times. I feel the urge to write... to capture the essence of her  here and share it. I just keep getting stuck! Perhaps it's because I don't feel I can do justice to who she is or what she means to me. Or maybe...it's because doing so feels too much like I am limiting her to the confines of how I view her, when she still has more life in her to live and therefore is still in the process of becoming. I'm not sure...but I know I have to try.

     Mom. The word has a way of awakening so many feelings in each of us. We all have or have had mothers. For me, the word mom awakens the feeling of home. My mom has always made herself a home for me. I didn't always appreciate it or take note of it, but she was there as a shelter in whatever way I needed. When I needed consoling she was a soft place to land. When I needed a friend, she listened. When I needed correction, she was firm. Like a home provides warmth and safety...I was covered and sheltered by her prayers. She has always been love...love that taught me how to love.

     Mom made herself a home for others too. She taught a Muslim Albanian neighbor English and loved her so well, that our family was welcomed into their home as though we were blood relatives. Many Sundays our table was full. She invited people into our home, fed them, and shared life with them. In doing this she taught me hospitality and I learned that family is not limited to genetics because God sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:6) The way she made herself a home for others provided me with extra grandparents, aunts, and uncles and surrounded me with so much love! I don't think I truly appreciated all of this until I had children of my own and I learned first hand how hard it is to be a mother. I marvel at how her heart had room and she made time to love others well in this way.

     She's been a home for her grandchildren as well...perhaps more of a fun house in their younger years! She has this incredible gift of being an adult who never lost her child-like imagination or innocence. I believe when the kids were little, she enjoyed playing with their toys more than they did! She has been whatever they needed her to be at the time...just like home. When they were younger she played school, went sleigh riding, and even managed to go down the slide inside Kasa's play place! She was their fun house. Now that they are in their teens, she is their confidant and cherished friend. They share fears, concerns, hopes, and dreams with her. In this way she is a shelter, and I have no doubt they too are covered and strengthened by her prayers. 

     Strength is an important aspect of any home because it needs to withstand life's storms. God has used life's storms to shape my mom into one of the strongest people I know. I'm not talking about what the world looks at as strong...just shoving your feelings, questions, frustrations, and hurts aside and plugging on with a pretend smile slapped across your face. That isn't real strength. Real strength is raw and honest. Real strength comes from being vulnerable and wrestling with God over the unanswered questions and the suffering. Real strength comes from not always getting the answers or the outcomes you want but still loving, trusting, and resting in the One who will see you through.  This is what my mom has and out of everything she has ever given me...the gift of walking alongside her through her years of suffering is perhaps the greatest gift of all.  In this she has shown me how to love Christ and make Him my home. I learn it from our honest conversations, from the way she depends on Him and seeks Him for wisdom, and from the way she thanks Him (like she just won millions) for the smallest of things. She thanks Him for the smallest of things...even when He hasn't answered her prayers for the bigger things like healing, even when she receives more bad diagnoses, and even when He doesn't alleviate her pain. This is how she loves Him and without realizing it, this is how she loves me! She teaches me to press on, to be tenacious and yet honest in my faith and in my love for Him.

     I could go on... but let me give you a glimpse of her in her own words so you too will be encouraged to press on in whatever trials you find yourself in:


"I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14

"My dear daughter and best friend,

The Lord put the above verse in my mind for this note. In order to press on toward the goal, we need to be in the Word and I know you are. So I encourage you to keep on doing what you are and continue to be in tune to hear His voice leading you each day as to what He would continue to have for you the rest of your life.  God Bless You Happy 40th, Mom"

     These are just some of the words written in the letter my mom gave me when I turned forty this year. These words are a picture of who she is. She never stops pressing on. She never lets go of Christ. She is ever moving forward, reaching out for Him, loving Him, and learning from Him.  As I write this, I realize that it's been this way her whole life. This is how she became a home, a loving and a safe place to land for others...she made Christ her home and His love manifested in her, welcomed them in, and drew them to Himself.

As her daughter I pray, Lord, make me a home. May Your love be manifested in me!