Thursday, August 25, 2016
As I read the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, a portion of a verse stood out to me. I hesitate, always, to give my interpretation of scripture. I dread getting it wrong and misleading someone else. I will share what my heart said and leave it to your own good judgement. Sound okay?
At the end of the 23rd verse the Lord says, "…though I have not burdened and wearied you with requests for grain offerings and frankincense."
Perhaps I am taking it too far out of context. Left alone it speaks about the way the Israelites were offering sacrifices. For me it speaks about my constant striving to earn the Father's approval - despite all the truth I know (in my head).
I've been trying to finally, at long last, stop the doing. When I list the things I do, they don't seem like very much. Yet every day is filled, and I have grown weary. I am once again caught in that trap of "shoulds." It leaves so little time for the things I have loved. I know it sounds overly dramatic, but I feel as though I don't know who I am any more. So, I am determined to pare things down a bit - and not feel guilty about it.
I began to waver on something I had determined to cut out of my schedule last evening. It sounded so good and right and involved ministry, and I felt that old tug to do. Then this morning those words.
I memorized this verse last year:
"He has told you, oh man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
So simple. Why must I try to add to what God has said? Surely out of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbling with the Lord will flow all those things I long to do - things of eternal value.
I'm so thankful for the grace and patient love you extend to this daughter. How often have You spoken this truth to my heart? You have shown me only love and mercy. You have forgiven the things I can't seem to let go of. You know and want only those things that will draw me closer to you and make me more like your dear Son. There is not one single, solitary thing I can do, either for good or bad, that will ever change that.
Painting by my talented and beautiful-in-every-way granddaughter, Stephanie.
Monday, August 22, 2016
When we're young, we make a tacit vow never to say the things our mothers said to us. Now that my years number far greater than those of my mother when she dispensed those gems of wisdom, I find I often break that vow.
Our new little grandson is a month old. When he first came home from the hospital, he slept a solid five hours a night. I told my sweet daughter how blessed they were. I talked to her yesterday. Things, it seems, have changed.
This little one has decided it's really not all that much fun to sleep. He'd much rather be in on the action - during the day and, shockingly, during the night. He's a happy little guy - just not big on sleeping right now. His parents, on the other hand, think a few hours of uninterrupted sleep would be worth a king's ransom.
As first-time parents they are trying to do everything right. They have read all the books and listened to all the advice. When one book said babies should be on a schedule by the time they are one month old, they felt they so discouraged (I told her to burn that book!)
I remember those days … and nights. I also remember calling my Mom and telling her (okay whining) about how hard it was. She said, "Honey, when he's three months old it will be so much easier." My thought in that moment was: I will not live that long! However, she was right. In three months' time life had become manageable.
I didn't think I'd ever say those words to my daughter, but there they were coming right out of my mouth yesterday. She may have had thoughts similar to mine - or worse. On second thought, she sounded too tired to think a single thing. She did say she felt comforted to know she wasn't doing everything wrong.
Isn't it funny the way life goes? We struggle through times of difficulty, and someone comes along to tell us everything will be all right - eventually. We don't necessarily like to hear those words. All we want is relief - now, please. But I do think there is comfort in knowing someone else has gone through hard times and understands. They may not have all the answers, but they have a story that offers hope.
I confess, there are times I've been in the midst of painful circumstances, and the Lord speaks a word into my heart - a word to encourage me - and I don't want to hear it. I want Him to take away the hurt, and if that isn't happening I want answers. I want to know why.
It has taken me a long time to understand that He sees things from a different perspective than my limited field of vision. Just as I stand here with all my years of experience and offer words of encouragement to my daughter, He stands with more wisdom and power and love than I can possibly describe and offers me hope. He sees beyond my current circumstances to places I can't see. Nothing comes to me that doesn't first pass through His hands - with the promise to work things together for good. Not necessarily the way I planned; not necessarily with all the answers.
It is true. I may not understand it all this side of heaven. But I believe some day He will wrap His arm around me, and we will look back together. We will look at the things that I couldn't make sense of and see how they formed a beautiful whole. Hope fulfilled.
Friday, August 19, 2016
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1: 2-4
"How do you count the trials of your life as joy?
We all want to persevere in our faith. We want our faith to be 'perfect and complete.' But who wants to go through trials to make it happen? The problem is, perseverance doesn't come from listening to a sermon. There is no inspirational bestseller we can read that will help us plumb the depths of our faith. We don't become perfect and complete by sitting in church. We learn who He really is during the most desperate part of our trials. It's about meeting God where and when we need Him most. Sure, our faith grows through reading Scripture and praying, but just as we don't know the strength of our body until we test it in a physical challenge, our faith isn't perfected until it's been tested in a spiritual challenge.
Let's not misunderstand what James is saying. He isn't saying we should do cartwheels when bad things happen…
That's not it at all.
James is saying that when the trials of life happen, we need to hold on to God. It's an opportunity for us to look in the dark for the less obvious blessings and mercies of God that we might overlook in the light. When we do, God shows us things that we otherwise might miss. God's light is brightest in the dark."
Laura Story: "When God Doesn't Fix It"
(emphasis - mine)
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Before I ever type a word, a blog post forms in my mind. Sentences tumble over one another and sometimes disappear before I have a chance to give them form. Often, the well-written post of my imagination doesn't quite live up to expectations. I begin typing and wonder where all the "amazing" went.
I've had a post about caring for my elderly father swirling around my head for days. It involved how difficult it's become and how, very likely, much of it could be traced back to my childhood. I ticked off all the ways my less-than-gracious behavior has been totally justified. The point, I suppose, was making myself feel better. The more I mulled it over the less justified I felt. Then I read Laura's Story's book: "When God Doesn't Fix It," and I jettisoned the post altogether.
If you are struggling with questions about why God doesn't fix the difficult, unbearable problems in your life, I believe this is the book for you. She doesn't offer nice, neat answers or ten step programs to make everything all right - or even to make it all make sense. I know that sounds counter-productive, but Laura points us to scriptural truths and practical wisdom that will encourage your heart and draw you into a closer relationship to a Father who loves you.
Back to my post. One of the things Laura said in her book drove a little arrow right into my heart. I can look at those moments with my Dad, when everything is out of control and so hurtful, and see them as opportunities for grace. Instead of responding with anger, I can choose to respond in love. Instead of listing all of the things I can justifiably feel upset about, I can remember how much grace has been extended to me.
The astounding truth is, that when I do that, not only do I show kindness to my Dad, who is struggling with so many difficult things right now, I too am blessed. I don't go through my days carrying bitterness and anger - and guilt for not handling things well. There is a lightness - and a certain joy that comes with knowing all is well in my heart and between me and the Father who has lavished grace on this rather selfish heart.
picture credit: Charlie Hang
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
When the temperature hovers near one hundred for days on end, my husband and I take our walk from our neighborhood to the air conditioned mall. I much prefer the peace and beauty of our quiet streets, but I'm too lazy to get up before the sun.
It's a very modest mall, and we have to circle it quite a few times to get in a decent walk. It would get awfully boring - if it weren't for the people. It's a wonderful mix of ages, races and personalities. Of course, I can only judge the personalty part by the outward appearance. That's where the trouble lies.
I can conjure up stories based simply on the clothes someone is wearing. There is one particular guy who we see frequently. He is very tall and, no matter what the weather, wears jeans, long-sleeved shirt, boots and a cowboy hat pulled way down. He seems to know all the store employees, stopping by every open door to chat. In my mind, I refer to him as the creepy cowboy. I've imagines all sorts of dark stories involving a tall, dark figure stalking people in the mall. In reality, he's probably just a nice guy who likes people…
I'm over at Laced With Grace today. Love to see you there!
Monday, August 15, 2016
There is the danger, when one announces a big "thing" coming, that the moment may be a bit of a disappointment to those who were waiting with much anticipation. Assuming there are one or two of those people, I apologize in advance if my moment - my epiphany - is not quite what you expected.
I've "written" this post over and over again in my wee head, and I never can seem to get it just right. I can't quite tie up all the loose ends or wrap it all in a nice neat package. Perhaps that's the nature of epiphanies. They're personal. I will do my best to share mine with you in the hope it may, in some small way, be an encouragement.
Many years ago I learned the hard lesson of trust in the midst of pain. I've written about it many times. It was a pivotal moment in my walk with the Lord. This imaginative, optimistic "little girl" discovered happy endings don't always come after the hard thing. Sometimes, we find something much deeper and richer.
There. Lesson learned. Let's get on with life. For a while, that's just the way it was - a season of relative peace. The calm before the storm.
It hit hard. We reeled under the force of it for such a long, long time. This time I didn't sink under the weight of it. I held on, and we made it through. Surely now, now life would even out.
Before the sky could clear, before we could take a deep breath the clouds reformed and the winds gained strength, and we were hit with things we could never have imagined. I kept hanging on, but something had changed.
I couldn't find words. I love to write. I had written a whole book and at one time had been bursting with ideas for another. Now I couldn't form a single thought. My once vivid imagination disappeared. I couldn't imagine a single thing. A blog post seemed like a superhuman feat.
I thought if I took time to rest and regroup the words would come back. I knitted blankets and read. I walked. I listened to uplifting podcasts. I wanted to be very quiet, but I couldn't stand the silence. I filled it with talks, music and television.
It felt as though the lost words were a metaphor for my life. Something essential had disappeared.
I was walking in the mall, the boring mall, when it hit me. The words were gone because there was simply no room for them in my heart. I had allowed the weight of our circumstances to push everything else out. The anxiety I didn't realize I was carrying filled every inch of available space.
I felt something shift in that moment. I didn't know what it was at the time. Now I understand. I had somehow let go of hope.
Of course life is hard. Of course there are times when it seems like we just don't get a break. I think I had resigned myself to that. I had traded my childish beliefs for something God had never intended. Yes - He wants me to know He is good and that I can trust Him. But He doesn't want me to live below my circumstances. He wants me to remember His promises and to hold on to hope.
Hope - confident expectation. I know I don't need to preach you a sermon on hope, friends. Suffice it to say, when you know eternity is secure and your life is in His hands, all is well.
With the hope comes joy and peace. It's true. And words.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."
Thursday, August 11, 2016
For three years in a row they've come to set up housekeeping in the hanging planter right outside my kitchen window. Of course, I can't be certain it's the same Cardinal couple every year, but I like to believe it is. They have graciously given me the best seat in the house to view one of God's sweet miracles.
I watch them fly back and forth, tiny bits of grass and twigs in their beaks, as they construct a safe and welcoming nest for the little-ones-to-be. Once it's completed and the eggs are cocooned within the confines of their little home, Mama settles herself in to wait.
Her serenity and patience speak volumes to me. Sometimes the wind sends the planter swinging wildly back and forth. She remains steadfast. I've seen her sit through downpours, while lightning flickered overhead and thunder rolled. All day and night, with only the briefest of breaks, she guards her eggs.
And then one day I see them, little heads with wide open mouths peeking up over the edge of the nest. They are babies only a mother could love - with their bald heads and featherless bodies. Mama and Papa now begin the arduous task of keep their little ones fed. It seems they are never satisfied. No sooner have those empty mouths been filled than they are squeaking for more.
In a surprisingly short amount of time, those scrawny babies have filled out. They now look adorable - covered in soft, downy feathers. Not quite ready to take flight, they perch on the edge of the nest - contemplating the big, wide world.
There is always one, bigger and stronger than the others, who is the first to spread his tiny wings. His first flight is tentative and brief. But little by little he gets the hang of this flying business, and he's off. Mama and Papa watch. They are never far away - offering encouragement and a bit of advice (I imagine.) to their fledgling.
One by one they leave the nest under those same watchful eyes.
This spring, the nest-leaving looked a bit different. I watched as two of the babies took flight. Then I got busy and missed seeing the others. When I went to the kitchen sink later that day, I looked out of the window and noticed one of the babies on the porch railing. I thought it was dead - that it had attempted to fly away with the others and fallen onto the rail.
Just as there is always one a bit stronger than the others, there is one who is smaller and weaker. This little one still hadn't even gotten all its feathers. It looked half naked and forlorn. I stood watching - not quite knowing what to do.
Then my heart skipped a beat. He lifted his poor little head, fluttered weak wings and cried and cried. I kept hoping the parents would come and somehow rescue him, but there was no help in sight.
After a bit of hand-wringing, I grabbed a tissue (in an attempt to keep my human smell from getting on him - and, truthfully, I didn't really want to touch him) and ran out to the front porch. Timidly (I am such a coward) I picked him up, put him back in the nest and ran back inside. I stationed myself by the window and prayed help, real help, would come.
It arrived in the form of Papa Cardinal, carrying food in his beak. He bent over the nest, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was so sure all would be well.
The next day, my husband went to check on things. He found the lifeless body of that poor little baby lying in the bottom of the nest. I felt so terrible. Why would the parents abandon this one? They had cared for them with such devotion and then to leave this one to die all alone. All that little one needed was a little more time to grow stronger. It just didn't seem fair - or right.
I write this as a prologue to my story about my "epiphany." It happened during a difficult season for my family. Somehow it became a metaphor for my life at that moment. It could have been titled: "Life Is Hard." It mirrored all of the disappointment, heartache and just plain weariness. It somehow added to the already heavy weight that had settled right around my heart.
P.S. I'm sorry to leave this at such a discouraging place when my heart's desire is to encourage. Just remember, this is only a prologue. The rest of the story is coming.