Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Homesick

My heart absolutely melted.

Two-year-old Kacie kept pointing at the computer screen, repeating “Hi Gwaama” over and over. While her vocabulary was limited, her enthusiasm was not.

Three-year-old Addie sat there quietly for a few minutes, quite unlike her usual chatty self. Her bottom lip quivered when she finally spoke: “Grandma, I miss you. When can I come to your house?”

kacie & addie

Addie and Kacie are two of my granddaughters, and they live in Kansas City. While nothing can replace a hug, Skype is one way we stay connected. Their dad (my son Eric) had texted me earlier, saying the girls needed to “see” their Grandma and Papa. While Papa was at work that day, this Grandma was definitely up for a visit.

“Oh sweetie, I miss you too”, I said “You will be here soon. I can’t wait!” I think my voice quivered a bit, too. Their upcoming visit could not come soon enough.

Sometimes, I just get homesick. Not for a place, but like Addie, I get homesick for a person; Jesus. While I know Him here, my finite mind cannot comprehend the infinite, and the Jesus I see is only a glimmer of who He really is (1 Corinthians 13:12).

There is a yearning in me, and an instinctive understanding that the words “This world is not my home” are not just words to a song, but a greater reality than anything I know here. As fraught with meaning as this life is, there is also a sense of something missing, of incompleteness.

Oh, I get glimpses of what it will be like to see Jesus face-to-face. His creative presence hovers over the magnificence of a sunset. His voice whispers as the wind rustles leaves. His laughter dimly echoes in the gurgle of running water. But it is a distant note, a faint reflection of His glory that we will one day see.

When I experience the pain that is inherent in this world, it only increases my anticipation of the time He will wipe every tear away, and there will be no more crying and no more sorrow (Revelation 21:4).

When I finally go home, I will never again have to say good-bye to someone I love, because we will be at home once and for all time.

I will fully know Him, even as I am now fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

 welcome_home for homesick

Jesus cannot wait for it, either. He too longs for us to be with Him, and whispers to us, “You are coming soon. I can’t wait!”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

John 14:2-3

Further reflection:

  1. Is there someone you deeply miss?
  2. Do you long to see Jesus as much as you long to see that person?
  3. What do you think it will be like when you first see Jesus face-to-face?
  4. Where in your life do you get glimpses of what that will be like?

Jesus, I love you and I miss you at the same time. Though I clearly see You at work in my life and in the world, it is nothing compared to what it will be like to see You face-to-face! Sometimes I can’t wait for that, but soon…soon! I will see You in all Your beauty, and in all Your glory. It will be awesome to be home!

(the picture is of a painting called “Welcome Home” by Danny Hahlbohm)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wrinkles vs. Laugh Lines

Kids have a way of keeping us humble. They ask questions we just don’t see coming.

I was at the home of a sick friend, and playing with her daughter, Anna. Anna is a serious-natured first grader and a deep thinker, noticing things most kids miss. This is both good news, and bad news. On this day, it was bad news for me.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, coloring. She looked up at me, and in a serious tone asked, “Miss Chris, why do you have so many wrinkles?”

In obvious denial I answered, “Anna, they’re not wrinkles. They’re laugh lines!”

I showed her how when I was solemn, the lines disappeared—somewhat. And when I smiled, they became even more apparent.

 laugh lines

“So that’s why they are called laugh lines!” I assured her.

She pondered my words for a minute, then conceded, “Well, you DO laugh a lot!”

Anna had a point. I do laugh a lot, and it has made an impression on my face. All attitudes leave their mark. Someone who is a chronic worrier probably does have wrinkles! Worry etches itself into lines on our face just as surely as joy does. By joy I don’t mean the sappy “The sun is out and life is good” kind of situational happiness. I’m talking the “I belong to the Son and so it is well with my soul” kind of settled joy. That is the kind of joy that brings strength and stability to us in the midst of unsettled times.

How do we get it?

One of the surest ways is by praising God.

When we stop to think about Him—His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His strength, and His love for us—praise flows out from there. It takes our mind off whatever would worry us, and reminds us of His ability and faithfulness to deal with it.

King David put it this way, “It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night (Psalm 92:1-2).”

Begin the day by remembering His love when you get up in the morning. After all, each new day is a gift, extended to us in love. Then end the day by recalling His faithfulness to walk through each day with us.

The side benefit? “A happy heart makes the face cheerful…(Proverbs 15:13).”

Praise. It’s good for the soul. It’s also good for laugh lines.

Further reflection:

  1. Do you see God’s love and faithfulness in your life? Where? How?
  2. Find one favorite Bible verse to memorize about God’s love, and another verse to memorize about God’s faithfulness..
  3. Begin and end day with repeating those words. After one month, journal about how those truths have increased your desire to praise God.

Father, You alone are the source of true joy. Happiness ebbs and flows depending on circumstances, but because You are constant the joy I find in You can also be constant. You are worthy of all praise, all honor, and all glory forever and ever.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Check the Facts

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” “Things aren’t always what they seem.” “Don’t jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts.”

Everyone has heard these clichés. Here’s why: clichés are clichés because they are so often true. Sometimes things really aren’t what they seem.

This truth was driven home to me on a day I had just finished getting my nails done. While the polish dried my glance fell on a couple of cute young girls, maybe twelve years old. One of them was getting a set of acrylic nails put on. The first thought that went through my head? “What does a 12-year-old need with acrylic fingernails?” Inwardly I frowned.

I watched her as she turned to say something to her mom. That’s when I noticed her headband. Not that it was an extraordinary headband, but it was unusual because it obviously held a wig in place. As I looked at her more closely, I saw that she had neither eyebrows nor eyelashes.

chemo patient for check the facts

My heart sank as I realized that this twelve-year-old was bald; perhaps she just finished chemotherapy. The reason that her mom had brought her to the salon that day was not the adolescent vanity I had so quickly assumed it to be. Instead, it was the effort of a mom who loved her daughter and wanted her to feel beautiful again.

A few months later a picture in the local newspaper of this same young lady with the same broad headband caught my eye. She had just died of a rare brain cancer, after indeed going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy.

How quick I had been to judge without knowing the whole story.

God’s word cautions us against this, saying “do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:12).

Yikes—I don’t want to be judged the way I judge others! I do it without knowing all the facts, based upon my own prejudices, the mood I’m in, or through the filter of my own experience. Poor standards at best.

I am grateful that God sees things very differently. He knows the big picture of things as well as every minute detail, and assesses them both perfectly. He’s not deceived by pretense, because He discerns the actual thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:15). He “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Scary? A bit, because while I can occasionally fool other people with a good façade I cannot fool God. It’s also wonderful, because His motives are not like mine. His goal is not to criticize or condemn us, but to call us to Himself (John 3:16-17). He wants only to lead us into a knowledge of the truth; truth about ourselves and truth about Him.

I can trust Someone who judges with that kind of wisdom and those kind of motives.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might,  the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11:2-4)

Further reflection:

  1. Have you ever been judged unfairly?
  2. How did it make you feel?
  3. Ask God to show you if you have ever judged someone else in that same way. If so, is there any apology you need to make? Any forgiveness you need to seek?

Father, You are perfect, and You judge perfectly. I ask You to look inside me, and where there is the darkness of a judgmental spirit, reveal it to me. Please help me to look at situations and people in the same way You do, with eyes of compassion, fairness, and understanding. I long to be more like You.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Snuggle-time

Crabby, whiny, and out-of-sorts, this attitude was completely unlike her.

My youngest daughter, Megan, was usually very even-tempered and affectionate. That day she fussed about what I fixed for breakfast. She cried because the shirt she wanted to wear hadn’t been washed. She even asked to stay home from school.

When I stopped to think what might be causing her to behave so out-of-character, I didn’t have far to look: she had missed her morning “snuggle-time”.

Megan had created this routine from her earliest days, and “snuggle-time” operated within a predictable framework. She’d get up in the morning, eat breakfast, and then be ready to curl up with me or her Dad. She wanted to talk about whatever was on her mind, and to fill up on hugs.

mom and daughter reading for snuggle time

“Snuggle-time” would be repeated right before bedtime. It seemed to help her unwind before she went to sleep. On a particularly rough day I might find Megan nestling up to me at other times. That was her not-so-subtle way of telling me she’d like some extra attention.

I enjoyed these times at least as much as she did, because I loved her cuddles, and her thoughts gave me insight into Megan’s heart. But she needed that closeness. For some reason that day I had felt too busy to sit close and listen, and Megan’s mood reflected it. Her entire day was affected until I realized that it wasn’t worth the cost to her or to me to finish what I was doing. She matters more to me than that.

Sometimes I, too, find myself crabby and whiny and out of sorts, and it’s usually because I’ve neglected to spend enough time with the Lord. However mistaken it is, I tell myself I’m too busy to make the time. The good news is that He’s never too busy for me, and touching base with Him changes my whole attitude. Because He loves me, understands me, and listens to my heart.

God enjoys those “snuggle-times” when I sit with Him, tell Him what’s on my mind, and just enjoy His company. He likes to hear what I’m thinking, and for me to ask His opinion about what is going on. He doesn’t even mind if I do it more than once a day.

He likes it. But I need it!

Come near to God, and He will come near to you. James 4:8

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31b

I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2

Further reflection:

  1. What are the sources of stress in your life?
  2. Where are you going to get relief from it?
  3. How is going to God with your concerns different than going anywhere else?

Father, You know what makes me tick, what I struggle with, and what stresses me. It is only as I come to You that my soul is stilled and quieted. You alone bring peace to my heart. Thank You that You like those times when I just want to be with You.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eye on the Goal

Heart pounding like an out-of-control jackhammer and legs trembling, I had never been so terrified!

It was my own fault, really. I had made it my goal on this vacation to make sure that my fear of heights did not keep me from doing something that might turn out to be fun. So when my daughter, Bethany, urged me to go ziplining with her I told myself that I relished the challenge.

My fear of heights was strong. Okay, fear is a gross understatement—it’s more of a phobia. Put me near a precipice of any sort and I would begin to hyperventilate; sweating and shaking followed. I knew this about myself. Still, I said yes.

The guides for our group were Nathan and Richard. They turned out to be a couple of college kids, and highly addicted to adrenaline. Sure they were competent at their jobs. But as you will see, they were devious.

The course itself consisted of seven ziplines. We were taken by ATV to the first one and what did I find? My worst nightmare. The fifty-foot tall, tightly spiraled metal staircase led to the launch platform. There was no elevator to the top. They actually expected me to climb it!

Can I add that Nathan and Richard were also cruel?

Bethany bounded up the stairs, while I graciously volunteered to bring up the rear of the group. With every step upward my heart beat harder and my breath came faster. I could not look down. I could not look up. I could not look out. I could only look at the next step to take. One step at a time, I climbed. By the time I reached the top my phobia was in total control of all bodily functions. I clung tightly to the metal railing. Though I was safely clipped to it and in absolutely no danger, the entire structure swayed in the wind, fueling my fear.

“Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!” The prayer echoed over and over in my mind. If the looks I got from the others were any indication, I just may have said the words out loud.

To her credit, not once Bethany did laugh. Instead, she gently patted my arm, repeating over and over, “You’re okay. You can do this.”

I did not believe her.

Once I was on the platform, climbing back down that death spiral was definitely not an option. So I forced myself to look out at the zipline, knowing it was the only way of escape.

Richard was the first to launch. His job was to stand on the far platform and let us know when to brake as we approached. The challenge was to not brake too soon, or we wouldn’t reach that platform. If we braked too late, we would slam into both Richard and the landing site.

Some choice. Trust me, I paid attention.

I watched as five different people stepped up. One by one they soared above the ground before reaching the landing platform. No one died. If fact, they actually seemed to enjoy it. Obviously, Nathan and Richard’s adrenaline virus had infected everyone except me. Still, my apprehension reduced fractionally. At least I was no longer on the edge of hyperventilation.

I stared straight ahead at the platform that was my goal, only wanting to get there alive, took a deep breath, and stepped off.

It was like flying! Well, like a baby bird first learning to fly. I was a little uncontrolled. Instead of flying with my face neatly facing my destination I twisted from one side to the other. But still, flying! I did not die, and when I reached the far platform I raised my arms in victory, yelling “I did it!”

zip-line for eye on the goal

The next two successful ziplines left me a little less suspicious of Nathan and Richard, but they were merely biding their time. To get to the fourth zipline we were again transported by ATV. And where did it take us?

To the daddy of the first metal staircase. This one was seventy—I kid you not—seventy feet tall. I really disliked Nathan and Richard in that moment.

About ¾ of the way up, I froze. I absolutely could not make my feet take another step. The gentleman behind was very kind and encouraging. But I. Could. Not. Move.

I called up to Bethany. “Bethany, I can’t do it!”

“Yes, you can!” she encouraged me. When I heard her voice I glanced ever so quickly up. She was standing at the top, just ten feet above me. That was enough encouragement for me to finish the climb. From then on, things got much easier. I actually enjoyed the last few ziplines and was even a bit sad when the adventure came to an end.

I shook Nathan and Richard’s hands, magnanimously forgiving them for torturing me. After all, they were addicted to adrenaline. It wasn’t their fault.

Looking back, I realize that the only way I could finish the course was to take one step at a time and keep my eyes on the goal. Those are lessons that carry over into my spiritual life.

When I was climbing those metal towers, I absolutely could not look too far ahead. It was all I could do to take that next step. If you had told me how many steps there were, or the challenge it would be to climb them, I would never have taken the first one! But that’s all God asks of us: take the next step that He asks. Indeed, often He only gives us enough light for one step at a time (Psalm 119:05). But as we do what He asks, one step at a time, He gives us enough light and enough strength for the next.

Other times it was imperative to look beyond where I was standing, and focus on where I wanted to go. Seeing the goal motivated me to keep going. Watching others and hearing their words of encouragement reassured me that I could.

The biggest surprise was that as I took the next step and focused on the goal, I actually began to trust my guides and enjoy the journey. Here on earth, what better guide is there than Jesus, the lover of my soul? What better journey that the one He has picked out, designed just for me? I think of all the many grand adventures I would have missed if I had refused to allow Him to direct my steps!

His words give me the courage to take risks, to obey Him, and to keep on keeping on: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)  That is His promise, and He is faithful to keep it.

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind.  Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…                                                                  Hebrews 12:1-2a

 

Further reflection:

  1. In your life, has there been a challenge that seemed overwhelming to you?
  2. What lessons did you learn from it that can translate into your spiritual life?

Father, help me to cling to You when things seem too hard. Please give me the courage to take the next step as You give me direction, and to keep my eyes on You, knowing that You have promised to help and strengthen me. You alone are God, and are faithful to do what You have promised.