Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You Are the Light of the World...

     I have been thinking a lot lately about the world we live in. I don't understand why people get so worked up about football players exercising their right to free speech by kneeling during the national anthem. It bothers me that we as a nation have grown somewhat comfortable trying to strong arm others out of their freedoms, by suggesting they be fired for exercising them.  I can't wrap my mind around how we look the other way when others are victimized. I struggle to understand the way people talk themselves into continued support of a politician running for office, who has a list a mile long of women that accuse him of rape. I have no frame of reference for the kind of evil that walks pew by pew executing children...whole families, as they duck for cover.

     My Facebook feed blows up at least once a week with friends and family arguing over the best solution to these problems. No one really listens to each other anymore. We're too busy pointing out the "flawed" thinking of the other side. The volatile issues of the world we live in and the hate that fuels them, have rendered many of us unable to see the humanity in the other. It's a dark world, and I believe people are longing for some light. So where is it?

     Matthew 5:14-16 tells us where we can find it.  "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."  These are the words of Jesus as he taught the disciples. The Church is the light of the world, or at least we are supposed to be...but are we really??

     Light can only shine brightly through clear vessels. Put a light bulb under a dark colored lamp shade, and the light still shines but it shines dimly. Put the same light bulb under a white lamp shade and and it shines brightly. My question is this, how pure, how clear is the vessel of the Church that the light of Christ is supposed to be shining through? Are we truly a town on a hill that cannot be hidden? A warm, bright glow that beckons a weary, dark world to find out more about Jesus... the Light that lives within us? Or are we more like a light dimly glowing through a dark colored lamp shade, colored by the things and the thinking of the world we live in? As I consider this, some questions come to mind that I believe are worth asking ourselves.

     Does the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, and  the way we make decisions magnify the light of Christ living in us? Do the things we post on social media, and the politicians and policies we support mirror the heart of God? Does the way we give, how we serve others, and the conversations we have with them make people walk away feeling better or broken for having been with us? Do people feel as though they have just spent time with Christ Himself, because His light shines so brightly through us?

     1 Peter 2:9 declares, " But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  This is what God says we are...but are we living it? If we really were, the darkness would not be so great in our nation right now. It's time. It's time to ask God to illuminate the darkness in our own lives and to purify us so that we can shine brightly in this dark world. It's time to cast aside sin, the bondage that weighs us down, and the things that keep the world from recognizing any resemblance of Christ in us. It's time for the Church to rise up and be that town on a hill that cannot be hidden!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Help My Unbelief...

     The doctor said she probably had an enlarged uterus or a tumor of some kind inside her abdomen, that her stomach looked distended. With these words and a script for an ultrasound, the doctor unwittingly set the wheels in motion for a life lesson I will never forget!

     During the week leading up to my mom's ultrasound I prayed hard. I prayed that it wouldn't be anything serious, that it would just be something simple that could be monitored. I prayed that it wouldn't require surgery. I prayed that if there was a tumor there, it wouldn't be cancerous. I spoke often to God about how much she had been through already, the shape she is in now, and that I could not imagine how she could manage one more serious thing. I asked for mercy. We went for the ultrasound on a Wednesday. In the days that followed, as we waited for the results I prayed the same way. Friday that week, I had just finished praying when I heard God say, "You haven't prayed that nothing is wrong. You haven't prayed that the results would come back normal."  I sat there in stunned silence for a moment. I truly am in the habit of asking for normal test results and asking for miracles, so why hadn't I?  I figured that if God was bringing this to my attention it must mean I needed to pray this way, so I did. I did...but there was still a small part of me that was so battle worn from endless unfavorable diagnoses of long term illnesses...that I wondered if we might still receive another one!

     At the end of that very day, we got a phone call. No tumors. No enlarged organs. Normal results. I was dumbfounded! I felt very much like the man in Matthew 9. He brings his son to Jesus for deliverance from a demonic spirit and says, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus replies, " 'If you can?'  Everything is possible for one who believes." The man immediately exclaims " I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  This man's son had been tormented since childhood. I imagine as a father, he had prayed many times for his son to be set free. He had probably tried everything he could to help his son, only to see terrible things happen over and over again. He comes to Jesus and says "If you can do anything"  not because he doubts, but because he has seen so much suffering he is not sure what Jesus will do. He must have believed that Jesus could do something or he would not have come at all. Jesus says, "If you can?" I imagine a slight smirk on Jesus' face, and understanding in His eyes as He lovingly brings the usage of the word "if" to the man's attention. Much like He lovingly reminded me, of what I did not ask Him for regarding my mom. I understand why the father responds the way he does. It's not that he does not's that his faith is tired. He has believed before and not seen his son delivered. But because of the loving nudge Jesus gives him, he exercises his faith one more time and wisely asks for help filling in the gaps "help me overcome my unbelief".  Just like that, Jesus casts out the demon and the man's son is made whole.

     I've been thinking about these things a lot lately.  How many times do we count God out? Maybe like me, you have consistently prayed for miracles for a loved one and received added suffering instead. Maybe like the man in Matthew, you believe but your faith is tired and you too need to ask for help to overcome the parts of you that harbor unbelief. Sometimes we pray so long and so hard without seeing answers, that we begin to pray smaller prayers. We trust God will see us through but we stop praying for deliverance. Some of us have been praying for the salvation of our loved ones for decades...and are still waiting. Others are faithfully pleading with God for deliverance from addictions or the return of a prodigal child...still waiting. Maybe you've been praying for changes in your church, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a revival of sorts...and you are still waiting. Or...maybe you have been praying for yourself. You feel distant from God, haven't heard His voice in what seems like forever, and wonder when you will ever get out of the desert you are are still waiting.

  In a sense, I had counted God out. I was not counting on Him for any miracles or normal test results. Based on the prayers I was praying, I was only counting on God to see my mom through whatever was coming next. It happened subtly without me realizing it. I am so thankful that He has brought it to my attention. In the three weeks since then, I have had many opportunities to pray. There have been some more medical tests to pray through, serious illnesses, and long term prayers for freedom and healing for friends and family. Just like the man in Matthew, I don't hesitate to say "help me overcome my unbelief"  and I will continue to do this until the "if You can" in my heart turns into "when You do" because I refuse to count God out! He still heals, restores, redeems, and delivers.

Don't be like me. Don't get so worn or discouraged from consistently praying for the same impossible things, that you start praying in such a way as to just get by. Pray the big and seemingly impossible prayers for as long as it takes for them to be answered. In our finite human vision it often looks like God is doing nothing....when really He is hard at work setting things in motion. I sit here writing this...the same person who says "help me overcome my unbelief" praising God for an answer to a prayer I prayed well over a year ago...and kept praying. Never count Him out!


Monday, September 11, 2017

Under His Wings...

  Have you ever felt haunted by a passage of Scripture? Followed around by a particular verse? As if God keeps bringing it to mind because there is something incredibly important to Him that He doesn't want you to miss? I have come to the conclusion that I  have been haunted by Psalm 91 for two years now! It could be longer...but that is the earliest I can remember Him bringing it directly to my attention.

    The first time this Psalm came to mean anything to me or began to grab my attention, was on a food pantry night in 2015. One of the guests asked if he could pray for me, and he prayed this Psalm from memory. A little while later I had a disturbing encounter with a different guest (see my blog Already There) that made me realize God had gone ahead of me and protected me from harm. I believe one of the ways He did this was by sending that man to pray Psalm 91 over me. "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust." Through this prayer I was hidden and protected in Christ.

     In the years since, I have prayed this Psalm over myself and my loved ones. I find that in times of  of uncertainty or distress, it is the first Psalm that enters my mind and exits my mouth in the form of a prayer. Yet until recently, I haven't really examined it. What does it look like to "abide under the shadow of the Almighty"? How do I duck under His wings and  "find refuge."?

   Refuge sounds wonderful right now. Refuge from crazy schedules, the weight of responsibilities, family health problems, and the national news! Anyone else? The destruction from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the threat of nuclear war with North Korea...are all excellent reasons to seek refuge. At times it can feel like the world is closing in on us. Sometimes it feels as though if one more thing is added to our shoulders, we are going to collapse under the weight of it all. I have felt that way. I am guilty of forgetting that there are wings I can hide under.

   I was pondering this a few weeks ago. I had "one more thing" added to my shoulders, and in a moment of exhaustion and frustration I lashed out at God. I told Him I didn't have time for this one more thing and asked why He couldn't seem to give me a break! In that moment He reminded me of Psalm 91:4, " He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge." Instant peace. Humbling love. Here I am being fresh with God and complaining about how He can't seem to give me a break, and He offers me one under His wings. He reminds me with these words from the Psalm, that He is always there to offer rest and refuge. I was asking for a halt to my troubles and He was offering a place to rest from them. I wanted them gone and He wanted to wrap me up and see me through them.

    Over and over again, during this intense season of mothering, care giving, and ministry He has offered me refuge and I've missed it. He's provided the shelter of Himself as a place of rest in the middle of it all, and I have chosen the harder thing. I've chosen to keep doing it all on my own until the weight of it becomes too great, and I lash out at Him. Anyone else?  God's offer of rest and refuge isn't just for me. It's for all of us. We were never meant to carry around such big burdens and independently try to handle them.

    The last part of verse four reads, "His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark." I don't believe it's a coincidence that these words follow the description of being covered with his feathers and finding refuge under His wings. They are there because this is why we can rest in Him. This is why we can always find refuge under His wings. He is ALWAYS faithful. God isn't just faithful, His faithfulness is a shield. The dictionary definition of shield is " a broad piece of metal used as protection against blows or missiles".  Isn't that awesome? God invites us to take cover and find refuge under His wings, while He shields us from whatever it is life is throwing at us. When we take refuge in Him, He takes the blows for us.

  I'm so thankful that He takes the blows for us if we will let Him! He is much more capable than we are, much stronger, and much wiser. How about you? What is overwhelming you today? What's weighing so heavy on your shoulders that you feel like you're going to collapse? Join me, let's take cover under His wings while He handles life's blows for us!


Friday, May 19, 2017

When God Changes the Narrative...

     I've been living within the tension of asking God why, and giving Him thanks for the past few days. In one breath I can't help but ask why He allows such suffering, and in the next I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way He orchestrated the events. It's crazy, but I believe this is what happens when God changes the narrative.

     On Sunday, I sat with my husband and kids enjoying Mother's Day service at the small church my dad pastors. The ladies had been showered with small gifts, and just finished listening to some of the men share how much they appreciated them. It was time for the sermon. About five minutes into the sermon, my mom felt light-headed and told my husband that she thought she needed to go home. While he went to get her a glass of water, she started to sway a bit in her seat. I knelt beside her and listened as she explained how she felt and then all of the sudden, she passed out. We had been sitting in the back of the church and by now everyone had noticed something was wrong. My dad stopped mid-sermon and tried to wake her. She was breathing but not responding so we called an ambulance. I knelt in front of her, wrapped my arms around her, and prayed. Then the seizure came and fear interrupted my prayers...would this be my last Mother's Day with her?  Fear had stolen my words, but I knew I had to keep praying. I silently pleaded with God for help. He gave me the twenty third Psalm to pray and sent three other women  who came alongside of us. They laid hands on both of us and stayed there interceding until the ambulance arrived. This certainly was one of the longest twenty minutes of my life!

    This could have been my narrative. The story could have ended there and this could have gone down in history as the worst Mother's Day ever!  But something happened that changed the narrative...and of course God used my mother to set the new narrative in motion. When she woke up on the stretcher she was very upset because she thought she had ruined Mother's Day. In an effort to comfort her I said, "No you didn't, we had our Mother's Day yesterday, remember?" This was when the narrative changed for me. All the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and all I could see was God's mercy.

   The day before, I had planned to help my mom get some cleaning done. There was so much to get done that I asked God to show me what was most important. He replied, "Just enjoy your Mom today."  We had spent that afternoon catching up with each other, laughing, and eating take out...just the two of us. Saturday was a gift before Sunday's suffering. When I realized this, it opened my eyes to other parts of the narrative that God had changed. I started counting His gifts in the midst of suffering: 1. My mom hadn't slept in the few days leading up to Sunday and normally would have stayed home from church. She came because she didn't want to miss the Mother's Day festivities that my dad and the other men had planned. If she had been home, she would have passed out and had a seizure all alone. Hours would have passed. 2. She was sitting in a chair when she passed out, this too was a gift! Had she been standing, she would have fallen and broken bones because of her osteoporosis!  3. Our whole family was there when it happened. Dad did not have to go through this with her alone. 4. God given words to pray when fear stole mine. 5. The three intercessors who came alongside of us and prayed us through. 6. The Body of Christ in action at this sweet little church.

    The last thing I remember hearing as they wheeled my mom out on the stretcher was one of the men saying, "Let's all get in a circle and pray."  The last thing I saw as I left the building with my mom, were my brothers and sisters in Christ holding hands praying for her. I pray I never lose sight of this beautiful image as time passes. It is a reminder to me that the physical and the spiritual are not separate, they are connected and housed in one body. Through the power of Christ we can change the narrative of the physical, when we come together in the spiritual realm as one in prayer.

   The definition of a narrative is " a spoken or written account of connected events; a story".  I've been thinking about this a lot within the context of the events this weekend and within the context of suffering. I don't think I would have seen it as clearly as I do now, without the help of my dad. When we went to the emergency room we had to retell the sequence of events over and over again for the doctors and nurses. I saw that this retelling became a weight of sorts. There is something about sharing your pain out loud that makes it feel like it's happening all over again- right at that moment. I discussed this with my dad while my mom was out for tests. I mentioned to him that in the days to come, mom might need his help reminding her of the many ways God had changed the narrative. At first, he didn't seem to think that reminding her would help. It wasn't until a day later when I overheard him talking to a neighbor, that I realized it truly did help! I walked in the hospital room, just as he was repeating word for word the gifts God had given us in the middle of this trial. He was stringing them together in sequence...much like you would a narrative. God had changed the narrative for my dad too and instead of only retelling the suffering...he was sharing God's mercy gifts that had been distributed within the trial.

    So what is the narrative for this past Mother's Day? The narrative is this: God is always there in the midst of our greatest trials, our biggest fears, and our helplessness. We just need Him to open our eyes so we can see the true narrative or we miss His gifts! This is the tension between "Why" and "Thank you".  God's narrative is woven throughout each day of our lives and engages our suffering with moments of mercy in between. Yes, I still wonder why He allows the suffering, but I am so thankful...because without it I would miss Him. If I were to only focus on the darkness of the suffering, I would miss the light of His love. If I were to only focus on the medical events that happened on Mother's Day...I would miss the great lengths that God went to in protecting my mom and loving all of us through this. The enemy of our souls wants us to look long and often at the darkness and despair that is suffering, so much so that we are consumed with asking why and being upset with God for allowing it. Don't let it happen! Ask God to show you the true narrative, the light in the darkness of suffering, the mercy gifts He's woven throughout, and the many ways He's loving you through it. Don't let your heart forget that the Light shines brightest in the darkness!

   I spoke to my mom a few minutes ago. She wanted to know how I am doing...considering all that we've been through this past weekend. Do you know what I told her? I am doing fine, because I choose to focus on the Light!


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Journey in Worship...

     The weeks were long and she spent much of her time tired. By the time the weekends rolled around, the last thing she wanted to do was to go to church...especially with her bed beckoning her to sleep in. She went anyway. There's more than one kind of tired. There's soul tired...and she knew full well that the only cure for that was to go.

     It's hard to focus when you're spent...when even short conversations on the way into the sanctuary feel like you are giving away what little you have left. Worship quickly turned into a time of asking rather than praising. She often spent the first few songs asking God to lift her above her circumstances so that she could focus on Him...worship Him. It didn't happen all at once, but eventually she began to notice a change. The lyrics were no longer just words that she sang. They leapt off the screen and pierced her heart in all of the already sore places. While everyone else sang she wrestled with tear filled eyes, determined not to let go until faith became sight...until she was certain she really believed what she was singing to be true of the God that she sang the words to. Only once the wrestling was through, did she feel herself being lifted above her circumstances and into the presence of God...caught up in worship. So caught up, that prayer at the altar became a place of peaceful surrender. God's presence so sweet, so soothing, that she couldn't help but kneel with hands open to release the long weeks, the burdens- and receive whatever He wanted to give.

    This was her experience week after week. Each Sunday she struggled to go but returned home feeling a little more rested and a bit more whole. She marveled at this in part, because she had never experienced worship like this before. God was using worship as a hydrogen peroxide of sorts for her soul.  Much like hydrogen peroxide stings while it works to make the dirt and infection ooze up to the surface cleaning the wound, worship brought to the surface all that needed to ooze out of her soul. As she wrestled with the words she sang during worship...the hurts, frustrations, and questions oozed up to the surface and spilled out. Each moment at the altar was a bandaging up of sorts on the road to healing. Before she knew it, she was able to sing without wrestling and worship without tears. That's when she realized that true worship is far more than singing songs of praise...or lip service. (See Matthew 15:8)  True worship is an intimate interaction of the heart with God. True worship has a way of bringing things to the surface and laying a heart bare, before the only One who can stand to look at the ugly brokenness and make it beautifully whole again.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Honest Conversations...

     I was one of those kids that said whatever came to mind...out loud. My mother frequently had to tell me, "You don't have to say everything that you think." As an adult I am thankful that she patiently repeated those words as often as I needed to hear them, and taught me the importance of choosing my words wisely. However, her words did have some unintended consequences. They often kept me from sharing my thoughts and feelings with her and dad. I was less likely to bounce ideas off of them or to go to them with problems that I had at school. To some, this may sound like a bad thing but I believe God used it for good. God became my confidant. I learned that I could have honest conversations with Him. God would never tell me that I didn't need to share everything that I thought with Him. The honest conversations I had with Him gave me clarity, confidence in decision making, and made me teachable.  As far as I can tell, the only draw back is that sometimes in my honesty I forget that I am talking to the God of the universe, my Creator, and Savior.

     I had one of those forgetful moments about two weeks ago. During that time, my mother was diagnosed with a lung disease that can only be slowed and not stopped. There are moments when watching someone you love continually suffer becomes your own kind of suffering. At least this has been my experience, as I have watched her suffer over the course of these last five years. Sometimes I feel frustrated and angry because I know God can heal her and He hasn't...yet. This was one of those times. The problem was that I needed time, space, and privacy so that I could have an honest fit! What I had was a few fleeting moments alone in the car and a few honest sentences. God welcomes our honesty...but some of the honest things I had to say were disrespectful and sarcastic. Still, in the quiet I heard Him say,  "It's okay to have your feelings and to ask your questions, but don't let them give way to anger. Anger can lead to bitterness. Don't let bitterness take root." In the midst of my sarcasm and disrespect He welcomed my questions...even though I was really questioning Him. That's when I remembered Isaiah 45:9, "Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, 'Stop, you're doing it wrong!' Does the pot exclaim, 'How clumsy can you be?' "  In that moment, I was reminded that I am just clay. Isaiah 64:8 says, "Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand." Actually, I was a very sarcastic lump of clay who was busy mouthing off to the potter about how  He could use a different method other than suffering, to shape another lump of clay, my mother!  After apologizing for my sarcasm, another humbling thought occurred to me. God gave His only Son to suffer and die on the cross...for me, and I am clay. Jesus endured suffering and death and because of that, this lump of clay has received salvation...this means anything else is icing on the cake, really.  The health of my loved ones, their very existence, God's daily provision in my life, and many other things that I have unwittingly come to expect...all icing.

   You would think that all of that would have been enough for me...enough to set my anger and frustrations straight, humble me, and put things right within me. I thought so too until I went to church that Wednesday evening. I guess I didn't realize just how deep or how long I had been shoving my thoughts and feelings. I didn't realize how long I had been telling myself that I was just waiting for time alone to have a longer honest conversation with God. What I needed to do was take a page from Psalm 15 and speak the truth in my heart. I needed to get it all out in the open with Him. He knew just how to bring me to that point. We had just begun singing the words, "You are stronger, You are stronger, Sin is broken, You have saved me" and all I could think in my heart was, "Yeah, I'm still waiting to see that You are stronger!" and immediately all that had been shoved down was about to break I left the service.

     God in His mercy and infinite love met me on the way to my car. I had been headed there to have it out with Him, but He used a precious sister in Christ to stop me on the sidewalk. We cried together, prayed together, and had some honest conversations of our own. We bore one another's burdens and in that moment the burden of being angry with God along with the weight of the hurt of suffering was lifted. All it took was an honest conversation and prayer. I've been thinking about this in the days since, and that's why I am here writing...having an honest conversation with you.

     I sense that I am not alone in how I have felt and what I have been wrestling with. Perhaps you too are struggling with hurt and anger toward God over your own suffering or the suffering of a loved one. Like me, maybe you've been so busy taking care of everyone else...that you keep shoving your feelings aside until you have time for a long and honest conversation with God. Or...maybe you talk to God but not about how you really feel, because speaking the truth in your heart is too painful and may require change on your part. I've come to realize through this experience, that the longer we wait to have those honest conversations the less likely they are to happen. Holding off only makes room for raw feelings to fester and creates distance between us and God. Eventually, it feels like God doesn't hear us at all.  Can I give you some advice...from one misshapen lump of clay to another? God, the potter loves you. Don't run from His presence or hide from the touch of His hand. Let those nail scarred hands firmly...yet tenderly shape you in the midst of trials and suffering. Don't be afraid to ask the hard and the honest questions. Say what you think, but remember who He is. Remember that the One who lovingly welcomes your honest and even at times sarcastic questions, is also the One who loved you enough to give His life. This is what I too am being challenged to always see suffering through the lens of God's love. I have no idea exactly what that means or what it will look like, but I know that's the direction He is leading me in and that is where I'll go.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

God Is Sneaky...

     I have spent quite a bit of time lately writing blogs and erasing them. I get about halfway through writing what I believe God is placing on my heart, and then my mind goes blank! I was beginning to wonder if my blogging days were over. As I prayed about this, I heard God say, " Why don't you write what's really on your mind."  I closed the laptop and replied, "I can't do that. It wouldn't be encouraging."  As I sit here typing, I'm not sure where sharing what's on my mind will go. However, since God keeps bringing it to my attention and I am getting tired of being stubborn- here I am!

     I have been frustrated with God because of my mom's suffering. She's been through a lot of suffering...five years worth to be exact. Throughout these five years I have consistently prayed for her healing. At times healing came through the doctors God led her to, and the three years of physical therapy that it took to regain most of the use of her arms. There was one time that God healed her chronic digestive problems without doctors, simply by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am thankful for these things, but there is still so much more that she needs to be healed from. She suffers from chronic pain that leaves her with little sleep. Her physical problems make her unable to drive and cause her to be alone more than she would probably like. These things limit what she can do with her grandchildren and often make her feel like a burden to others. She has suffered one thing on top of another and just when she seems to get a slight reprieve... another trial begins. Recently, the skin graft she had last year opened up and she needs to have a new one done. In addition to this she is experiencing problems with her lungs and awaiting test results for that.Will it be just a lung infection? Or will it be yet another long term illness? She handles all of this with astounding grace...and it leaves me dumbfounded. It leaves me dumbfounded because I feel like I am running out of grace. I have been frustrated with God, not so much because He isn't healing her but because He allows suffering upon suffering in her life. I struggle to see His goodness and His mercy in this. I keep thinking of Psalm 27 :13, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living." My frustration with God over the suffering He allows in my mom's life, has brought me pretty close to a feeling of despair in recent weeks. I know that I need to learn from her. I want to follow her example, in the way that she still has faith that she will see His goodness no matter what trials may come.

      I can only remember three times during this long period of suffering, that my mom expressed discouragement or weariness...but never despair. Even when she did talk about these feelings, she would always end with the words, "But I have to be thankful because..."  The things that she would say after that word "because" were not big things. They were often words like; "because I was able to dust today" , "because I got four hours of sleep last night instead of my usual three", or "because I was able to fold the laundry".  They were not the big things that I had been praying for. I long to hear her say, "because I had no pain yesterday", "because I slept eight hours last night", or "because I got complete use of my arms back".  The things that seem little to me, are big for her. All of those little things are still answers to her prayers. They are still the ways that God hears her, loves her, and provides for her. This is how she keeps from counting the little things.  She doesn't lose hope because she has had to learn to depend on God in order to do even the smallest of things...and He continues to be faithful. His faithfulness encourages her to believe that she "would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living." She's anticipating His goodness no matter what lies ahead, because she's experienced it in the smallest of things.

     The next verse in Psalm 27 says, "Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD."  There is an expectancy in this verse. I see it in the words, "Let your heart take courage". It's as if the person is waiting in anticipation of what God is going to do.They chose to believe that they would see the "goodness of the LORD in the land of the living". They are not in despair. They are encouraged. I have a hard time waiting, especially when it comes to seeing the ones I love suffer. I didn't realize it until recently, but I tend to wait with an expectation of God's goodness showing up exactly the way I asked for the end result.  I suppose in this case that would be my mom being healed or at the very least receiving a long reprieve from any additional suffering. This is probably why I have been frustrated with God. In looking for His goodness in the end result or in the big things that I am asking for, I overlook the fact that His goodness has never truly been absent. It's been right there in the grace that He gives my mom to get through each day. It's been right there, each time she was joyful about being able to dust, sleep one more hour, or fold the laundry. His goodness even extends to me as I have questioned continuing to patiently teach me through the way my mom journeys through her suffering. Mother and author Kristen Welch writes, "God is using my story-the dreams and detours and dead ends to influence my children's story, but if I'm too afraid to go, they may be too. Our kids don't need our protection in the unknown half as much as they need to see us persevere in the known."  When I read this quote, all I could think about was how blessed I am that my mom is showing me how to journey through suffering. She's not protecting me from the unknown. We will all face suffering at various times in our lives. She's teaching me how to "persevere in the known".

     There it is. In the midst of my frustration with God, and the questions about His goodness... He sneakily and graciously shows me. It was never absent. He sneakily tells me to write what's on my mind, knowing I'd discover that His goodness can be found MORE in the midst of our suffering. He uses my mom to teach me that the darkness of suffering only serves to illuminate (clarify) the many ways He loves us. Ways we would never have spoken of as signs of His love or His being able to dust, if we had not known suffering. And yet...they were there all along!

(Note: I began writing without a title. After I realized what happened as a result of writing, the title was a no-brainer!)


Monday, January 30, 2017

The Girl...

    A few weeks ago,  I stood in the hallway waiting for the food pantry guests to come through for prayer. It was a somewhat busy night. There were kids running around and mothers trying to catch them. In the middle of all of the noise and the chaos, a little girl stopped running down the hallway long enough to look at the cross hanging on the wall...and then she knelt. Despite all that was going on around her, and a big brother who was trying to get her back to her seat in the sanctuary...she stopped and knelt in front of the cross. I watched as she folded her hands and closed her eyes. Even thought she wasn't there long, it felt to me like the room stood still. When she had finished, she got up and followed her brother into the sanctuary. In my mind's eye, I still see her there kneeling and praying in the midst of the chaos surrounding her.

   Last week was a chaotic week for me and for our country.  Several executive orders flew off of the desk of the President and millions of lives were changed in an instant. There's a lot of tension in the aftermath. Perhaps that's why I can't stop thinking about that little girl.  I don't think I have ever felt the need to kneel pray for our leaders more, than I did this past week. There is no better posture in the midst of tension, than to humbly kneel before the cross. People have been choosing positions for a while now...busy taking sides as if everything can be sorted into black or white. I can't get the thought out of my head, that there is only one position in life for the Christian. The only place we should be positioning ourselves is at the foot of the cross, in allegiance to Christ. There is only one view point that matters...Christ's. Because of this, I need to hit my knees and be that little girl in the midst of this world of chaos and tension. Let the world stand still, the social media be silent, listen to His voice, and simply ask my Savior, "What do You say?"

     "What do You say?"  What if we asked God this question more, instead of being so quick to have our own say in things? How would this change our viewpoint of the current events? Would we find that our thoughts, feelings, and opinions line up with what truly matters to Him... and with what His Word says? How would asking Him this question change the way we respond to the differing opinions of others? Would God find that our natural way of responding points to His Spirit living within us? Or do our responses to others bear no resemblance to the merciful One who loved us at our ugliest, forgave us, and set us free? These are all questions that we will find answers to when we kneel before the cross.

   We live in times that are going to require us to make choices, that we thought only people in other countries have to make. We are continually being put in the position of choosing who we are going to pledge our allegiance to. Is the church going to fall prey to the devil's schemes involving chaos and fear, and close our hearts and homes to those who are different from us? Is the church going to forget who she belongs to and pick a political party, leader, or an ideology to be her Savior? Or will she pledge allegiance to the One who has loved her enough to die for her and raise her back to life? Does she love Christ enough to drop to her knees in the middle of the chaos, silence her own opinions, and sit quietly with child like faith...waiting for the answer to the question "What do You say?"

    In these times especially, I need to be like that little girl. I need to kneel before I speak. I need to pause in the chaos of life. I need to fall on my knees more quickly and pray to the only One who can meet me right there, right in the middle of it all. I need to refuse to get up or to be interrupted until I have left it there at the cross...until I have heard the answer to the question "What do You say?". Only then can I run off free and joyful- just like the girl. Anyone else?


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hope and Cookies...

  "Thank you for the cookies, buddy. They were good! That was real nice. It gave me a little bit of hope for this world."  I have been thinking about these words from a friend since New Years Eve. I didn't know that a small bag of Christmas cookies could give someone else "a little bit of hope for this world."  Maybe that's because I tend to look for hope to show up in bigger ways.  I would have been more likely to expect my friend to feel hopeful, if just one of his many difficult circumstances had changed...than to feel hopeful because of a bag of cookies!

     During these last few days, I've begun to wonder if he is really on to something. Perhaps that's because I have been spending time with some people whose circumstances appear to be so incredibly hopeless... whose struggles are piled so high, that they appear insurmountable! I am not normally a "woe as me" type of person, but lately I find myself hung up on the overall sad/scary family health problems that seem to loom large before my loved much so that I can easily miss the glimmers of hope in between...the "cookies".

      As I've considered this, I have become more aware of the "cookies" in life. They are the small things that people say give them hope, or the way something seemingly insignificant makes a person's consistently downcast face suddenly light up. Friday, I had a conversation with a woman who has had one debilitating health issue after another, and is estranged from some of her family members. She told me, "I had the best Christmas ever this year, because my grand kids came to see me and even brought me gifts!"  Shortly after, I prayed with a man who simply asked for prayer that his wife and kids stay healthy and happy this year.  When I finished he said, "I needed that! I feel so much lighter!"  One of my girls figured out the math work that she had been struggling with, and received an excellent grade. This gave her hope that there would be more successes like this in the future. We shared a simple dinner with an elderly friend and he was so happy, that you would have thought we had taken him to a five star restaurant!  Eating a meal with others gave him hope by reminding him that he is not alone. Sometimes we think we are just listening to a person talk, having a conversation like anyone else would. Later, we discover that somehow God used the listening to lift a burden, and it gave them hope to know that someone else cares. I spent time Saturday, with a woman who couldn't stop expressing how thankful she was that God had blessed her with a rare week of minimal physical pain. Despite all of the ways He hasn't healed her yet, all of the new suffering that has occurred in recent months, and the uncertainty in her future...that tiny bit of a reprieve gave her hope!  Hope came to me in a text message from my brother. It was a picture of my niece and I that he took at Christmas...that I was unaware of. Just knowing that he thought of me and took the time to share it, gave me hope.

     Like many, I tend to think of  hope in terms of big things... big prayers answered, or an end to a big trial. While it's true that when the big things are taken care of we feel hopeful, if we make that our focus we will miss the many ways God offers us hope in between. These little glimmers of hope are the lifelines that He throws us. He sends them just in time to encourage us to hang on and to remember that He hasn't forgotten us. It's because He pays attention to detail that we often receive these glimmers of hope in what appear to be the most insignificant ways. The listening ear of a friend, a simple meal, a text, a slight reprieve from chronic pain, a prayer, a visit from love ones...these are just some of the ways He loves us. Each glimmer of hope that I mentioned was specifically tailored to the person who would receive it, by the God who loves them so. Could you imagine if He left us hanging there, in the middle of waiting for the answers or the end to the big trials...with no glimmer of hope in between?

  I made the cookies because I wasn't sure if my friend had anyone in his life to spend Christmas with. I honestly didn't know at the time whether he even liked cookies. There was nothing spectacular about those cookies. The only reason they gave my friend hope is because God was sending His love in a bag of cookies. In that moment my friend knew he wasn't forgotten or alone. I am humbled by the thought that God does this for me...for each one of us in so many ways and many times we don't even realize it. I am challenged by the thought that I want to do more of this for others!

     As long as we have Christ we have hope. As long as we have hope we have something to share, and Someone to introduce those who are feeling hopeless to.