Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Best and the Worst

It was the best six months of my life. It was also the worst.

My dad had a brain tumor removed that was metastatic from lung cancer. My mom was rapidly deteriorating from Parkinson’s disease and dementia. My own kids graduated; moved out-of-state; moved back to the area; got married. My two youngest daughters left for out-of-state colleges—within two days of each other!

And during that time I also took a new leadership position at my church.

Now all this was normal stuff, most of it even good stuff. College and graduations and weddings are times to celebrate. But they also mean change, and even good change takes a lot of energy to process. This much change happening all at once knocked me for a loop. It was like being in the water at the beach when one of those huge waves catches you by surprise, churning and tumbling you in somersaults so quickly that you can’t figure up from down. You end up swallowing too much sea water and getting sick to your stomach.

big waves for best & worst

That’s how I felt. Out-of-control, sick to my stomach, and not sure which way was up.

As a believer in Jesus I knew there was a firm foundation beneath me, but I just couldn’t seem to find my footing. I knew the importance of spending time with Jesus. Every time I did He faithfully restored my perspective. But inevitably another wave, another change, would slam into me and I would go tumbling off-kilter all over again.

It took time, a lot of prayer, and a lot of surrender before those waves let loose of me, and equilibrium fully returned.

As I look back, I realize that I learned a lot from that time in my life.

I learned that you can’t learn to swim if you don’t go out into deeper water. While we might prefer otherwise, sometimes the Lord deliberately puts us in situations where we are in over our heads. He wants us to learn things there that we can’t learn any other way; things like how to trust that He won’t let us drown, or that His grace truly is sufficient in our weakness. (2 Corinthian 12:9) Spiritual depth is often cultivated most deeply in those times when we hurt and struggle and desperately seek Jesus’ help.

I learned that there are times when, no matter how much we love Jesus, we get surprised by one of those huge life-waves that knock us down and disorient us. It is not sin that causes it to happen, nor sin when we struggle with it. It is only sin when we give up, doubt our Father’s love, and quit seeking help from the One who can best give it.

I learned that it is the daily habit of prayer, surrender, and time in the word that sustains us when life is chaotic. Those truths that we meditate on and the unchanging reality of God’s presence and care are what stabilizes us and rights our world.

I learned that regardless of how I felt, the firm foundation never moved. I’ve heard it said that the only constant is change. I disagree. Change ebbs and flows. There are times when life moves along placidly, and it’s easy to remain on an even keel. Other times, like that summer, change slams into you, leaving you reeling. Yet Jesus never moves away from us, nor does He cease to hear us call to Him for help. He always works in our lives in response.

No, change is not the only constant. Jesus is.

No matter what challenges we are facing, Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)  He reassures us that all things work together for good, even the changes we neither sought nor wanted. (Romans 8:28)  He is our lifeguard who sees us struggling in the deep, turbulent water and comes to rescue us, tenderly keeping our head above water, and helps us regain our footing on the firm foundation of His love.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my foes, who were too strong for me….He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because He delighted in me (Psalm 18:16-19).

Further reflection:

  1. Has there been a time in your life when you experienced overwhelming change?
  2. What are some of the lessons you learned?

Father, You alone are constant. You are my Rock. Thank You that even when my world seems topsy-turvy, Your presence and Your word are unchanging. You always hear me, and You always provide the only firm foundation that endures.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nicknames

Spuds McKenzie. Spud. Killer. Buzz. Derry-boy.

My husband gave all of our kids nicknames. Many nicknames for each of them. It’s a sign of affection to get one from Alan. He never really ponders them; they just fly out of his mouth and somehow stick. Those listed above are some of the ones he gave our son Derek early on.

Each of Derek’s nicknames reflect a part of him; he was called “killer” because of his competitive drive on the soccer field. Spud was shortened from Spuds McKenzie, and given as a result of a major black eye that made him look like the terrier in commercials. Buzz came from the haircut that he sported for years. Derry-boy? Who knows!

Now that Derek is older his nicknames have changed. When Derek had a job delivering pizza he became “pizza man.” Since he’s now a teacher Alan calls him “The Professor.” Or if he’s on the soccer field it changes to “Coach.”

soccer coach for nicknames

But my favorite nickname for Derek is “son.” The word alone carries a depth of meaning. In many ways it defines our relationship because it represents all our shared experiences, shared memories, and shared struggles. It means we are family, with all the rights and privileges that come with it. Most of all, it means that because he is my son, he can count on me to be there for him. There is nothing that Derek can do that will make me quit loving him.

God gives us, His children, nicknames too.

Redeemed. (Psalm 107:1-3; Isaiah 35:8-10; Isaiah 51:9-11)  Friend. (Luke 5:20 Luke 12:4; John 15:14-15)

My favorite nickname? Child of God. (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:14) It reflects who I am to Him. He deliberately chose that word because He knew it’s one I could understand and relate to. It communicates the depth of His love for me.

I love Derek—and all my kids—very imperfectly. God is a perfect Father who loves us without condition. Without measure. Without flaw. There is nothing I can do that will change the fact of His love for me.

I am His daughter.

Further reflection:

1. Do you have any nicknames? What do they say about the relationship you have with the one who gave it to you?

2. What does it mean to you to be called “a child of God?”

Abba, You are a perfect Father. Thank You that You have given me the right to be called a child of Yours. I love to picture myself as one of those kids that, while here on earth, You always made time to be with. Thank You for not only allowing me into Your presence, but for welcoming me as Your daughter, and that there is nothing I can do to change the reality of Your love for me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gunnar

Dogs are funny animals. There is no explaining why they do some of the things they do.

We currently own two yellow Labs. Duchess is only five-years-old, but she is the grandmother of our one-year-old puppy, Gunnar.

While Duchess is a pretty mellow, well-behaved dog, Gunnar is another story. He is a great big oaf! And I know that as a still-growing puppy he is probably always hungry, but this guy is way too serious about his food!

It’s bad enough that he tries to sneak into the garage where we keep it. That I can understand. But he is less than discriminating in his appetite. What dog eats raw potatoes and plastic glasses off the counter?

Worse than that, we recently left the two dogs inside because it was going to be a cold night. What did I find when I came downstairs the next morning?

Gunnar had tugged my purse off the counter, pulled the make-up bag out of it, chewed the side off, pulled two tubes of lipstick out, and consumed both of them! Of course, it wasn’t good enough for him to eat the lipsticks that I don’t use. Nooo….he had to be discerning and eat the only ones I like!

Then he hit a whole new low.

I had left the sliding glass door open so the dogs could go in and out while I worked upstairs. When I came back down, it was evident from the trash scattered in the backyard that Gunnar had opened the pantry door, absconded with brand new boxes of Raisin Bran and granola, dragged them outside, and ate them!

If he were not so loveable when he isn’t being naughty, Gunnar would be looking for a new home!

He should eat what is good for him. As his owners, we give him plenty of healthy dog food. We don’t give him chocolate (it can make him sick) or chicken bones (they can get stuck in his throat). But Gunnar still goes searching for the one thing he should not have—people food!

Sometimes, we share the same tendency.

God has given us so much to enjoy in life. So much that is good for us. His word. His people. His creation. Most importantly, He gives us salvation through His Son, a relationship with Him, and the right to be called children of God. These are wonderful things that can nourish us deeply.

Yet instead of being satisfied with the good things He’s given us, we far too often want other things. More money. More stuff. Our own way. And we never even realize that those are the very things that, rather than satisfying us, make us unhealthy.

As our Creator, God knows what is best for us.  His words are “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-3, italics mine).

Isn’t that what we want? To seek those things that are actually satisfying, instead of settling for those things that only leave us wanting more? To take of the richest of fare?

Because the more we seek Him, the more we “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8a), the cry of our heart becomes “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

And as we continue to lose the taste for those things that do not satisfy, our desire moves away from what sounds good to what is good, and our prayer is for God to “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14)

Now only are God’s words sweet, but they are satisfying!

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you (Psalm 63:4-6).

Further reflection:

  1. Can you think of a time that you wanted something very badly but, once you got it, found that it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as you had anticipated?
  2. Have you ever been fully satisfied by God alone?
  3. What made the difference between the two emotions?

Father, forgive me the many times I have tried to find satisfaction apart from You. Any pleasure it brought, any happiness was shallow and short-lived. It is only as I come to You, seek You, that my soul and my spirit are deeply nourished. Thank You that You delight to give us “the richest of fare”.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Her Journey

I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story, about a little girl who was born, the oldest of five children.

It was not an easy family to grow up in. Both of her parents were alcoholics. Multiple kinds of abuse were the norm. When her parents went drinking and left her and her siblings alone, she was the one to take care of the younger ones. There wasn’t anyone else to do it. Life felt pretty hopeless.

Until a friend took her to church. The church gave her a safe place. People cared about her there. No one hit her. And she found a Father who truly loved her. He considered her valuable, understood her hurts, and promised never to leave or forsake her. It was, in so many ways, her salvation.

She married young, having four kids of her own. She vowed to give them the kind of family life she didn’t have. She was the team mom for Little League, room mother who made the best cupcakes eve, Girl Scout leader. And she taught Sunday school so that other kids would know the same hope that someone had once shared with her. Her own kids helped her there, and many were the times they would hear her say, “Stand still, and see the wonders of God.” That’s how she was, always there for her kids.

I know these things, because she was my mom.

As Mom got older she developed Parkinson’s disease and its related dementia. The mom who had been the rock in our family slowly disappeared, leaving a frail, anxious, and dependent lady old beyond her years. But even in that there was much of God’s grace.

There’s one day I’ll never forget. It had been a hard day for mom, a day in which she struggled to form words, and when she did they skittered between long ago events and today, making little sense. She grew increasingly fretful at her inability to communicate, so in hopes of calming her I asked, “Mom, do you know how much Jesus loves you?”

In her only lucid moments of the day, she answered, “Yes. He’s coming for me, you know.”

Stunned, I paused. I had heard of people seeing Jesus right before they died, but surely she wasn’t that bad yet! Then I heard the motorcycle roaring down the street.

“Mom, do you mean the motorcycle?”

“Yes,” she replied.

Laughing a bit, I said “I don’t think Jesus needs a motorcycle!”

motorcycle for mom's journey

“No,” she admitted. “But sometimes He uses one anyway.” Pausing, she went on to say, “I see Him sometimes.”

“What does He look like?”

“He sits on a throne.”

I have absolutely no doubt that she did see Him, and I am so grateful for that time when she was comforted by remembering His love for her.

We knew Mom’s time was short right before she died, December 18 of 2007. My sisters, my dad and I were holding her hands. And while I would not wish Parkinsons on anyone, I am especially thankful for that last bit of time to say all those things that needed to be said: thank you, I love you, and good-bye. Straight from our hands to Jesus.

Why do I tell you this story? Because it was a follower of Jesus who told my mom how much He loved her. It was at church that she found hope and a safe place as a hurting youngster. Because others shared their faith, Mom met the Savior who was able, through her, to break the cycle of addiction and abuse in her family. And He gave her own kids a mom who taught us to love the same God who first loved her.

There are so many children like my mom who need to hear this incredible good news.

Please, keep telling those kids in your area of influence about our perfect Father, and that He is the truest place of security there is.

Keep telling them that He loves them so much that He sent His Son, and that His love will never fail.

Keep telling them, because while you may never know which kids or which lives were changed because of your words, someday others like me will be eternally grateful that you did.

To God alone be the glory.

Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.                               
                                                                                                                                               Matthew 18:5

It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. 
                                                                                                                                             Matthew 18:14

Further reflection:

1.  When did you first believe that God so loved you that He gave His only Son?
2.  Who was it who led you to faith in Jesus?
3.  Take a few minutes to call, email, or write that person, thanking them for their role in leading you to know Jesus.

Father, I am grateful for those who shared their faith with my mom. They shared in such practical ways that she came to know you for herself as a result. Please, bless those who loved You, loved her, and loved You with her. As a result, so many lives are different, to Your honor and glory.