Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Isaac

My grandson isn’t perfect.

As the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family, he definitely brings us great joy. Isaac is a party in a four-year-old body! He’s never known a stranger, just friends he hasn’t met. No one has more fun or lives with greater joy. And he loves Buzz Lightyear, often running around in a cape yelling, “To infinity…and beyond!”

But still, he isn’t perfect.

His parents, Stew and Annie, went in for a 3-D sonogram when they were about 18 weeks pregnant.

“It’s a boy!” they learned.

As they began to celebrate, the technician grew quiet. Alarmed, their joy turned into apprehension.

The technician left the room, bringing the doctor back. He examined the screen, then turned to face the anxious parents-to-be.

“Look right here,” he said, pointing at the screen. “See this? That’s a cleft palate. We’ll keep monitoring it, but it’s pretty obvious.”

Now, in the overall scheme of birth defects, a cleft palate falls low on the catastrophic list. In fact, it is the most common birth defect. But knowing their baby would need multiple surgeries in his life overwhelmed Stew and Annie.

It was a rough pregnancy after that, too, full of dire possibilities and equally grim predictions. Annie grew to hate her doctor visits, because he always gave her something new to worry about.

August 14, 2007 Annie was to be induced. Several hours later, Isaac Alfred Montgomery was born by c-section, active and squalling. The nurse immediately rolled him towards the nursery in order to run tests to determine the severity of the cleft, and to check if he could nurse properly.

Isaac is the first grandchild for both sides of the family, so we were all eagerly awaiting his arrival. When the nurse went by with the bassinette, we cornered her and finagled our way into seeing Isaac for the first time.

The cleft was pronounced, but he was amazingly beautiful nonetheless. Some serious celebrating ensued in that hallway!

Each time I saw Isaac after that I noticed the cleft less and less, until it ceased to register at all. It wasn’t that I ignored it; I just didn’t see it. All I saw was my grandson, and how much I loved him. The cleft simply did not matter.

Isaac had his first surgery when he was only three months old. Annie almost backed out of it. She loved her little boy just the way he was—cleft and all, and struggled with putting him through the pain the surgery would cause him. But she decided that the greater love was the one that allowed him pain, in order to make his life better.

This surgery repaired his cleft lip, and the plastic surgeon who did it was an artist. Looking at Isaac now, you can barely notice where the scar runs. Though there are several more surgeries in his future, we are told that when it’s all finished, there will little evidence of the original defect left.

Isaac

While it’s hard to think of all that is in store for him—the challenges, the surgeries, and the pain—I am convinced that his suffering will build character he could not acquire any other way; qualities of compassion, empathy, perseverance, and courage.

I have come to the conclusion that’s how God sees our trials, too. We are His children, and He loves us just the way we are. But He also yearns to see us stand before Him, minus the defects that now mar our character. He knows what we don’t; the imperfect does not need to remain that way. As we are shaped by suffering and trials, we are transformed. Character is built in us that cannot be acquired through any other means. God loves us enough to allow us the kind of pain that leads to deep change within us.

Far better than Isaac’s doctor, God is the true master surgeon. Suffering is not His goal, but one of the tools God uses to shape us. Trials are necessary to build into us qualities that reflect His character.

His word puts it this way: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Because we believe that, and because we trust the One who shapes us, we can choose to ”rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

His artistry in shaping us is perfect, because He operates with the end result in mind. He knows just what is needed in order to achieve the results He desires. And He allows absolutely no more trials than necessary.

He does it because He loves us, and because He wants to shape and perfect us.

He does it better than any plastic surgeon!

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

Further reflection:

1.  What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced?
2.  How did you respond to it?
3.  Share with someone how that event changed you.

Father, I don’t like pain. I don’t like seeing people I love suffer. And I’m not yet to the point that I can count every trial as “pure joy”. But I trust You. I trust that You love me and the ones I love. I trust You to be with me every moment, especially when I am hurting. And I trust that the pain You allow has a purpose, and that it will bring change to my very imperfect character.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

View from the Top

Imagine this—six adults and thirteen kids on three sites. Our camping trips with Alan’s two brothers were never quiet, nor was it boring either. The neighboring campers tended to do one of two things; join us, or ask for sites at the other end of the park!

Some of us loved to hike. Others did not. Usually we’d compromise and hike together partway up a trail, then stop for lunch. Soon after that the non-hikers would head back with the younger kids in tow, while the rest of us more macho hikers continued on.

That’s what we did the year we camped in Yosemite Valley. We decided to hike the Vernal Falls Mist Trail, which is the first leg of the torturous hike to Half Dome.

On one of those gorgeous July days we had a leisurely lunch at the bottom of the Falls. Then the non-hikers returned to camp to play cards and splash in the creek.

Those who continued on discovered that the trail was rated as a moderate hike, listed at 1 ½ miles long. No problem; except that the trail was composed of steps carved in the granite bordering the falls. Vertical steps. Straight up. Lots and lots of those killer steps.

We paused frequently to rest. Often hikers returning from the top encouraged us that the view from there was worth the effort. But each time we took a break it grew a little bit harder for me to keep going. After we’d hiked what felt like 5 miles started to fall behind. When my thigh muscles (and I use that term very loosely) started to quiver with fatigue, I’d had enough.

So I quit. I stopped, sat down, and called up to the group that I’d wait there for them to pick me up on their way back.

To my relief, they were just far enough ahead of me that they could see what I could not; the end of the trail. One of my kids shouted down, “Mom, you can’t give up now! Wait until you see this!”

So I picked up my protesting body and persevered to the top. And it was worth the hike!

emerald pool for View from the Top Emerald Pool, so named because of its intense deep green color, was nestled behind Vernal Falls. The ice-cold pool was surrounded by granite rocks that have been smoothed by years of water rushing over it. The kids went to the far end where the creek flowed in and had created a natural water slide. I don’t know how they survived the shock of hitting that snowmelt water, but the shrieks coming from them testified to the fun they had in exploring this God-made playground. It was picture postcard beautiful. If I had quit when I wanted to, I would have missed creating one of my favorite memories.

I wonder how often I give up too soon in other areas of my life. Sometimes it seems so hard to stay on the path that God has chosen for me. Sure, I have people with me on the journey. And God even sends people to encourage me to continue on, to finish. But I’m tired, the way is so hard, and I just can’t see the end of it.

How long, O Lord, can I go on this way?

“Just a little farther,” He says. “I’m taking you to a place that will make all this struggle worthwhile. Trust Me. I’m with you, and I won’t give you more than you can handle.”

God always keeps His promises. He knows where He wants us to go. He knows how hard the journey can be. But He sends others to walk with us, to encourage us, and to help us see the end of the struggle.

So don’t give up. Don’t quit, for the end of your trial may be just around the corner.

The view when you get there will be worth it.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and [selected] young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted; But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.  (Isaiah 40:30-31, Amplified Bible)

Further reflection:

1.  Are you facing something that makes you want to give up?
2.  Who has God placed in your life that you could go to for prayer and encouragement?
3.  Who might need the prayer and encouragement you could offer?

Father, sometimes I do get tired. Hard things seem to last far longer than I would have anticipated. But I know Your grace is sufficient in the midst of my weakness. I know You walk every step with me. Open my eyes to see those You have sent to encourage me, to see those that I can encourage, and to always be aware of Your presence that renews my strength.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Truth that Comforts

Someone was sobbing at the top of the stairs. Great, big, heart-breaking sobs.

“Kyle?” I knew my son’s voice, but it wasn’t like him to cry this hard.

“Come here, sweetie. What’s wrong?”

He flew into the living room, and threw himself into my arms.

“I miss my mom!” He choked the words out between sobs.

You see, Kyle is my son. But I am his second mom. His first mom, Cathy, had died of breast cancer when he was only six.

She was the one who rocked him as a baby. She was the one who comforted him when he cried. And she was the one who shared pizza with him and his brother as they watched the Chargers football game. There was a lot of hurt tied up in Kyle’s now 8-year-old heart.

boy crying for Truth that Comforts

The television show we had just watched chronicled the journey of one character whose friends died in a car accident. Obviously, it brought up a lot of fresh emotion.

“Why did God let her die?”

I couldn’t answer that question, so I just held him as he cried out his hurt and his sorrow and his questions. I cried, too. Cathy had been a good friend of mine, and her death was also a loss for me.

As his tears started to ease, we began reminiscing about her. The way she let the boys stay up late on Friday nights so they could watch their favorite tv show together. The way she was so excited to give birth to Lisa, her third baby and first little girl. The way she loved Jesus, and encouraged her kids to love Him, too. Best of all, we talked about the day we will see her again, in heaven.

Suddenly, the tears erupted again as Kyle launched himself back into my arms.

His words?

“I’m sorry my mom died. But I’m so glad God let you be my mom now.”

So am I, Kyle.  So am I.

In the same way, I have often run into my Father’s arms, weeping. When my first husband chose drugs over his family. When each of my kids went away to college. When my dad died.

He lets me weep. He listens to my hurt. He hears my questions. He is with me in my pain. And when I am ready, He tenderly speaks truth to me.

The truth that He loves me. (Jeremiah 31:3)  His love will never change, because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

He will never leave or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)

His plans for me are good (Jeremiah 29:11), regardless of how I feel at the moment.

In response my heart cries out “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge… Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” (Psalm 31:1-3)

As a good Father, He delights in that kind of prayer. I find that I, like Kyle, “have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” (Psalm 131:2) Trusting in His character and His plans restore peace to my heart.

Though I may never know the answers to Kyle’s questions, or mine, I rest in the knowledge that He is enough.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
                                                                                                                                        
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Further reflection:

1.  Pull out your favorite concordance (or online Bible resource) and look up several verses on “comfort.”
2.  Has there ever been a time when you experienced God’s comfort as described in these verses?
3.  Write down your prayer of gratitude to God for His comfort.

Father, thank You that You are with me when I hurt. Thank you that You bring comfort that is rooted in the truth of who You are and in Your love for me. Thank You that You are enough, even when my questions are not answered.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Daddy Pleeez…

“Daddy, pleeez…” Our oldest daughter, twelve-year-old Lisa, pleaded with her dad.

My husband, Alan, has a special place in his heart for all three of our daughters. When they were young he had a hard time saying no to them.

On this day it worked to our advantage.

The kids and I had long argued for a dog. We knew we wanted a Labrador Retriever. When we saw the newspaper ad for a litter nearby, we decided to go take a look.

puppy for Daddy Pleez

When we arrived there were only two three-month-old puppies left. One was a large male yellow Lab, and the other was a smaller female black one. They were adorable as they played together in that awkward puppy way. They won us over with their little puppy kisses, obviously begging us to take them home.

Oh dear…how were we supposed to choose between them?

We just couldn’t. Two puppies for seven kids seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

The only problem was convincing Alan it was a good idea. So what did I do?

You got it! I dialed his number at work and handed the phone to Lisa.

“Daddy,” she started sweetly. “You know how much we want a dog, right? Well, we found one and he’s perfect!”

How could he resist?

“Aww Lisa, go ahead.” Alan quickly gave in.

“Well, Daddy, there are actually two of them.”

Not giving him time to object, she went on: “They are brother and sister, and they are sooo cute. It would be wrong to separate them! Pleeez, Daddy, pleeez can we have them both?”

Both the puppies came home with us. Alan grew to love them, and he was the one who named them Duke and Daisy. They were a wonderful part of our family for many years.

Because they are his daughters, Alan loved doing nice things for them.

God also delights to give us good things.   “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:9-11)

He gives us salvation that we cannot earn (Ephesians 2:8-9).

He gives us the promise of His constant presence (Hebrews 13:5b).

He gives us His love and extends new mercy to us every day (Lamentations 3:22).

And He gives us His word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When it comes right down to it, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Why does God do it? Why does He lavish us with such wonderful gifts?

Because He has a special place in His heart for each of us. We are His children. “…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God “ (John 1:12). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”  (1 John 3:1)

The proof that we are His kids? “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:5b-16)

God’s gifts are way better than my husbands. Not only because He gives us what is good, but because we are His children, He gives us what is best.

Further reflection

1. Beyond those listed above, what are some of the good gifts that God has uniquely given you?
2. Spend a few minutes thanking God for all the good gifts He has given you.

Father, thank You for the way You love me. It is beyond my understanding and certainly beyond what I deserve. Yet You not only allow me to come to You with my questions and concerns, but You long for me to do so. You call me Your child and let me call you Abba. You know me completely but still love me without measure. Thank You for all the good things You give me: Your grace, Your mercy, Your love, but most of all a relationship with You through Jesus. You are a good Father, and however imperfectly I do it, I love You.